The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've read this several times in my life and I am reading it again for a group I belong to. I had forgotten how good it was. It has all of the elements of a Gothic mystery. There is a spooky old mansion with a lovely and rich young girl, an earnest but poor young man who loves the girl but can't marry her, a capable older sister, a weird, reclusive old uncle/guardian, a mysterious suitor/husband, a creepy Count and the mysterious "woman in white" who appears and disappears throughout the story.
Of course, the beautiful young girl, Laura, marries the mysterious suitor, Sir Percival Glyde, who turns out to be a cruel monster, terribly influenced by the Count Fosco and his wife, who happens to be the sister of the reclusive uncle and is bitter about her lack of inheritance. Her sister, Marian Halcombe, comes to live with Laura and tries to protect her from her husband and Count Fosco. Her devotion to Laura knows no bounds and there is a wonderful scene where she proves her mettle by climbing on the roof of the mansion and listening to an important conversation between Sir Percival and Count Fosco in the pouring rain. The poor young lover, Walter, comes back into the picture after he returns from a long time in the jungle in Ecuador, where he attempted to recover from his devastation over the loss of Laura. Walter then attempts to solve the mystery of the Count and Sir Percival and their machinations.
The two best characters in the story are Marian and Walter, and that was one of the things that bothered me about the book. When Walter first meets Marian, he sees her at a distance and she appears to have an especially beautiful figure and presence, but when she turns around, he sees that she is ugly. When he meets Laura, he finds her beautiful and falls in love with her even though, Marian is, by far, stronger, more intelligent and interesting of the two. As the book proceeds, Marian becomes his friend, partner and confidant and yet all his love still goes to Laura. I am sure I am being unfair to Collins, as he was a product of his time, but to my way of thing Marian was a much better candidate for a life companion!
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