The Woman In White
By Wilkie Collins
Novelist, playwright and writer of short stories, Wilkie Collins, was born January 8th, 1824, the son of a popular London Royal Academician landscape and portrait painter. In the 65 years of his life he wrote 30 novels, some 60 short stories, 14 known plays and more than 100 non-fiction pieces. A friend and contemporary wrote that Collins was unconventional in character, a keen observer of human nature and possessed a playful humor that found easy outlet in his youthful spirit. As a young man he studied the law but never became a lawyer, preferring to become a writer instead. His legal knowledge and experience, however, became profoundly useful in the two novels that brought him the most acclaim, The Woman In White (published 1860) and The Moonstone (published 1868).
Wilkie Collins is often linked with his beloved friend and mentor, Charles Dickens in many literary commentaries. Having first met Charles Dickens in 1851, they remained constant friends until the years just before Dickens’ death in 1870. During their acquaintance, they even collaborated on several short stories and shared an equal spotlight of fame during most of Collins’ writing career.
The Woman In White first appeared during the years 1859 – 1860 in serial installments that were published in All Year Round, a weekly journal established by Dickens. The first installment happened to appear in the same edition as the last installment of A Tale Of Two Cities: November 26, 1959.
Like our July read, Lady Audley’s Secret, The Woman In White falls into the category of “the sensation novel”, which is believed to have been the literary frontrunner to the detective and suspense novel. The Moonstone in particular has been cited as a precursor to detective fiction in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes. It was published as a complete novel in mid-August 1860 published by London’s Low, Son, and Company, and it broke all previous sales records for novels. There were Woman In White Waltzes and Quadrilles. Perfumes were named after it along with bonnets and cloaks.
Both The Woman In White and The Moonstone are written in an epistolary style in which different narrators relate what becomes the storyline of the novel. An excellent vehicle to draw us into the mind and emotions of the storyteller, this style gives us a vivid glimpse into the Victorian mind.
Pick up a copy and start reading for our next High Tea & Book Discussion on The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins - October 1, 2011.