Day 4 – Quintessentially British

Wilkie Collins

 

“My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.”

Day 4 and we are still on the classics, not sure what to do about that. „The Women in White“ is so quintessentially british and on top of that it was the book that hooked me into the Gothic Novel Genre that I’m still a huge fan of. The book was published in 1860 in serial form in Charles Dickens‘ magazine „All year round“ and in „Harper’s Weekly“ in the US and at it’s time caused as much furore as Netflix‘ series like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things etc nowadays.

Serialized fiction was enormously popular in the Victorian era and most novels at the time first appeared as installments in weekly or monthly magazine. Charles Dickens wildy successful „The Pickwick Papers“ in 1836 is considered to have been the founding stone of the serialized format. During that time there was basically no real distinction between „quality“ and „commercial“ literature. The Sherlock Holmes stories also famously appeared first in serialization in „The Strand“ magazine.

But let’s go back to the famous „The Woman in White“. On the evening before his trip to Cumberland where the art teacher Walter Harthright plans to teach the half sisters Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie at Limmeridge House, he bumps into a scared women clothed completely in white on his way home to his lodgings in London around midgnight.

He accompanies her to the city centre and she leaves him there without telling him her name. But she does mention that she spent her childhood in Limmeridge House. After her disappearance he overhears a conversation that makes him assume she escaped from a lunatic asylum.

Hartright is still shaken from his encounter the evening before. He tells Marian Halcombe about his encounter and the try together to solve the mystery of the Woman in White. They identify her as a previous pupil of Marian’s and Laura’s mother.

Walter of course falls in love with the pretty Laura Fairly who seems to reciprocate his feelings, but the is already engaged with the shady Sir Percival Glyde. This is why the honorable Hartight reminds Laura of her obligations and leaves Limmeridge House to go on an expedition to Honduras without confessing his love to Laura.

 

Shortly before his departure Laura receives an anonomys letter which warns her to marry Sir Percival. It turns out the letter was written by the Woman in White who looks astonishingly similar to Laura. Walter meets the mysterious woman and she confesses to him that Percival Glyde has a terrible mystery that could destroy him, but she vanishes before she can let the secret out ….

There are more twists and turns to come and telling you everything would totally rotten the experience for you to read it. This is a book you will find yourself totally wrapped up in unable to stop without finishing one more chapter and another one and maybe just one more…

I recently listened to it as an Audiobook in a dramatized version and I loved it like the first time when I read it years ago, when I lived in London and was sitting on Hampstead Heath reading the book and having to escape to a nearby pub from a surprise thunderstorm – so fitting for this novel.

So I hope you will enjoy the novel, be it in London, in a pub on Hampstead Heath or just on your sofa at home.

You can get the book in German as „Die Frau in Weiß“ at dtv.

What would be your quintessentially British novel that you would recommend to read?

 

Advertisements