The Woman in White (novel)
|The Woman in White|
Cover of first US edition
|Genre(s)||Epistolary, Mystery Novel, Sensation novel|
|Publisher||All the Year Round|
|Publication date||26 Nov. 1859 - 25 Aug. 1860|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||The Dead Secret|
|Followed by||No Name|
The Woman in White is an epistolary novel written by Wilkie Collins in 1859, serialized in 1859–1860, and first published in book form in 1860. It is considered to be among the first mystery novels and is widely regarded as one of the first (and finest) in the genre of 'sensation novels'.
The story is considered an early example of detective fiction with the hero, Walter Hartright, employing many of the sleuthing techniques of later private detectives. The use of multiple narratives draws on Collins's legal training, and as he points out in his Preamble: 'the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness'. In 2003, Robert McCrum writing for The Observer listed The Woman in White number 23 in "the top 100 greatest novels of all time", and the novel was listed at number 77 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, is walking from Hampstead to London late one summer's evening, when he meets a mysterious woman dressed in white, apparently in deep distress. He helps her on her way to London, but later learns that she has escaped from an asylum. The next day he travels north to Limmeridge House, having been hired as a drawing master to the residents of the house; he had been recommended for the job by his friend, Pesca, an Italian language professor. The Limmeridge household comprises Mr Frederick Fairlie, and Walter's students: Laura Fairlie, Mr Fairlie's niece, and Marian Halcombe, her devoted half-sister. Several days after he arrives, Hartright is shocked to realize that Laura bears an astonishing resemblance to the woman in white, called Anne Catherick. The mentally disadvantaged Anne had lived for a time in Cumberland as a child and was devoted to Laura's mother, who first dressed her in white.
Walter and Laura quickly fall in love. Laura, however, has promised her father that she will marry Sir Percival Glyde, and Marian – knowing that Laura loves Walter in return – advises Walter to forget his love, and leave Limmeridge. Anne, after sending a letter to Laura warning her against Glyde, meets Hartright who becomes convinced that Glyde was responsible for shutting Anne in the asylum. Despite the misgivings of the Fairlie's lawyer over the financial terms of the marriage settlement, Laura and Glyde marry in December 1849 and travel to Italy for 6 months. Hartright also leaves England, joining an expedition to Honduras. After their honeymoon, Sir Percival and Lady Glyde return to his family estate, Blackwater Park, in Hampshire; they are accompanied by Glyde's friend, Count Fosco (who is married to Laura's aunt). Marian Halcombe is also living at Blackwater and learns that Glyde is in financial difficulties. Sir Percival unsuccessfully attempts to bully Laura into signing a document which would allow him to use her marriage settlement of £20,000. Determined to protect her sister, Marian crawls out onto a roof overlooking Percy and Fosco whilst they plot; but it begins to rain, and Marian, completely soaked, falls into a fever which shortly turns into typhus.
While Marian is ill, Laura is tricked into travelling to London. Her identity and that of Anne Catherick are then switched. Anne Catherick dies of a heart condition and is buried in Cumberland as Laura, while Laura is drugged and placed in the asylum as Anne Catherick. When Marian recovers and visits the asylum, hoping to learn something from Anne Catherick, she finds Laura, supposedly suffering from the delusion that she is Lady Glyde.
Marian bribes the nurse and Laura escapes. Hartright has safely returned from Honduras, and the three live together in obscure poverty, determined to restore Laura's identity. After some time Walter discovers Glyde's secret, which is that he was illegitimate, and therefore not entitled to inherit his parents' property. This secret was known only to Anne's mother, and while Anne never knew the secret, she spoke and acted as if she did. Many years earlier, Glyde had forged an entry in the marriage register at Old Welmingham Church to conceal his illegitimacy and hence unlawful inheritance of estate and title. Believing Walter either has discovered, or will discover his secret, Glyde attempts to destroy the register entry, but the church vestry catches fire and he perishes in the flames. Confronting Anne's mother, Hartright discovers that Anne was the illegitimate child of Laura's father, which accounts for their resemblance. On returning to London to resume his battle with Fosco, Hartright marries Laura. When he secretly tails Fosco to investigate him, Hartright also discovers that Fosco belongs to, and has betrayed, an Italian secret society (dubbed "The Brotherhood"), of which Pesca is a high-ranking member with enough authority to dispatch him. Using Fosco's weakness as bargaining chip, Hartright now has the power to force a written confession from Fosco and Laura's identity is restored. Fosco departs from England in haste, only to be discovered by the Brotherhood's agents some time later and murdered. Since Hartright and Laura have married, on the death of Frederick Fairlie, their son becomes the Heir of Limmeridge.
- Walter Hartright—A poor young man who earns his living as a drawing master.
- Frederick Fairlie—A fanciful, selfish invalid, owner of Limmeridge House in Cumberland. Laura's uncle. His irresponsibility in handling matters concerning Laura's welfare as her guardian is one of the key factors that lead to the success of Count Fosco's plan.
- Laura Fairlie—Mr Fairlie's gentle, pretty niece, an heiress and an orphan.
- Marian Halcombe—Laura's half-sister and companion, not attractive but intelligent and resourceful. She is described as one "of the finest creations in all Victorian fiction" by John Sutherland.
- Anne Catherick ("The Woman in White")—A young woman said to be of disordered wits. It's heavily implied that she's an illegitimate daughter of Laura's father.
- Mrs Catherick—Anne's unsympathetic mother, who is in league with Sir Percival Glyde in committing her daughter to the asylum.
- Sir Percival Glyde—Laura's fiancé and then husband, he is an unpleasant baronet with a secret. He is able to appear charming and gracious when he wishes, but his true character appears soon after his marriage to Laura. Walter later discovers that his secret is that his inheritance of his title and estate was unlawful because his parents had never married, and to obtain it he forged a false marriage register entry.
- Count Fosco—Sir Percival's closest friend, his full name is revealed to be Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco. A grossly obese Italian with a mysterious past, he is eccentric, bombastic, urbane, but also unfathomably intelligent and menacing. He takes especial interest in little animals, and keeps many birds and mice as pets. The Count greatly admires Marian for her intellect, so much that he is willing to compromise several weak points in his plan (such as allowing Marian to retrieve Laura from the asylum) for her sake.
- Countess Fosco—Laura's aunt, once a giddy girl but now humourless, cold and in thrall to her husband and his schemes.
- Professor Pesca—A teacher of Italian, and a good friend of Hartright. The professor finds Hartright the Limmeridge job, introducing him to Laura and Marian, and proves to be Fosco's unexpected nemesis.
- 1975 Tim Kelly stage melodrama Egad, the Woman in White
- 2004 Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical The Woman in White
- 2005 Constance Cox stage play The Woman in White
Film and television
- two 1912 American silent films
- two 1917 American silent films
- 1929 British silent film adapted by Robert Cullen starring Haddon Mason as Walter Hartright and Louise Prussing as Marian Halcombe
- The 1940 film Crimes at the Dark House (1940) directed by George King is loosely based on The Woman in White with Tod Slaughter playing the part of the false Sir Percival Glyde and Hay Petrie as Count Fosco.
- 1948 Hollywood film adapted by Stephen Morehouse Avery starring Gig Young as Walter Hartright, Alexis Smith as Marian Halcombe, Eleanor Parker as Laura Fairlie/Anne Catherick and Sydney Greenstreet as Count Fosco.
- 1971 - "Die Frau in Weiß" German TV miniseries, adapted by Herbert Asmodi, directed by Wilhelm Semmelroth, starring Christoph Bantzer as Walter Hartright and Heidelinde Weis as Laura Fairlie/Anne Catherick
- 1982 BBC miniseries adapted by Ray Jenkins starring Daniel Gerroll as Walter Hartright and Diana Quick as Marian Halcombe
- 1982 Soviet film under the Russian title Zhenshchina v belom, directed by Vadim Derbenyov and starring Aleksandr Abdulov as Walter Hartright and Lithuanian actress Gražina Baikštytė as both Laura Fairlie and Anne Catherick
- 1997 BBC TV series adapted by David Pirie starring Andrew Lincoln as Walter Hartright and Tara FitzGerald as Marian Halcombe; also broadcast on PBS television in 1998
- Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child published the novel Brimstone (2004), featuring a modern re-imagining of the villain Count Fosco.
- James Wilson, The Dark Clue (2001): a "sequel" to The Woman in White
- "Victorian Mysteries: Woman in White" created by FreezeTag Games (2010)
- Wilkie Collins (26 November 1887). "How I Write my Books". The Globe.
- "Mr Wilkie Collins in Gloucester Place". Number 81 in 'Celebrities at Home' The World. 26 December 1877.
- "100 greatest novels of all time". Guardian. 2003. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
- "BBC - The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 18 October 2012
- The Woman in White, notes by John Sutherland, ISBN 0-19-283429-0
- "The Woman in White". Samuel French Ltd. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
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