The Woman in White

Many years ago, I read and was completely mesmerized by Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, considered by many critics to be the first modern detective story. But for various reasons, I never found time for Collins’ earlier novel and first big success, The Woman in White — until recently. It doesn’t surprise me to find myself engrossed by the novel, caught up in its plot, entranced by its atmosphere, reveling in Collins’ rich prose. What has surprised me, however, is the number of people who’ve commented that it’s one of their own favorites or that they too have long wanted to read it. Certainly I understand that the novel has persisted in popular culture — not just in its original form but also as a BBC movie and as a major musical — but the energy and enthusiasm behind people’s responses has taken me by surprise. And it was only after I started reading the novel that I discovered we’re in the middle of the 150th anniversary of the book, which was serialized between 1859 and 1860 and then published in book form in late ’60. A recent article in the Independent surveyed the book’s reception (and controversy) way back when and also checks in with several of today’s writers about the impact that the novel had on them. Not only is that article worth checking out, but I’d also urge folks to pick up the book itself, especially now that there’s some sesquicentennial excitement behind it!

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