The Woman in White is young, beautiful, but mentally disabled. She has been living a life of fear and deprivation being sent by her mother and her accomplice to an Asylum at a very early age. Anne Catherick learnt to fear all people with the exception of Mrs Fairlie, who became her mentor and her only supporter. The mentally slow girl thus devotes her life to the memory of her patron. When the daughter of the late Mrs Fairlie is threatened to make the biggest mistake in her life, Anne appears as the woman in white to try and warn her.
Walter Hartright is a poor man, who earns his living by being a drawer master. He secures a job in the Fairlie mansion, where he meets Laura Fairlie and immediately falls in love with her. Laura, however, is to marry Sir Percival Glyde, the very man responsible for Anne Catherick’s unfortunate life. Walter leaves his beloved upon learning of her marriage. Despite Anne’s virtuous attempts, Laura is bound by a promise maid to her father to marry Glyde.
Ms Marian Halcombe is most probably the greatest character in the novel. She is the half-syster of Laura and spends her life protecting her and taking care of her interests. Witty, intelligent, and resourceful, Marian somewhat reminds me of Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Benet. The two of them are most probably the finest creatures in the Victorian Age. Strong and independent, they the role of the woman is not merely to be a part of her husband, but to have her own opinion and character. Throughout the story I got to admire Marian, her clever judgment, her strength, and her mind. Thanks to her great love, Laura and Walter manage to overcome all the obstacles in front of them.
Sir Percival Glyde appears to have it all – name, title, money, fine character, and good education. Upon marrying Laura, however, his secrets begin to appear on the surface. His dark past and his problematic future explain the marriage with Laura, based not on love or admiration but on poor need of money. Still, Sir Percival is quick-tempered and passionate and his judgement is often misguided by his emotions.
Fortunately for him, his best friend Count Frisco is there to guide him. The Italian is the second best character in the novel, even though he plays the villain. Smart, intelligent, and menacing, he matches Marian’s intellect and becomes fond of her. Fondness, which later costs him the collapse of his plan to take Laura’s money through deceit. Upon realizing the astonishing similarity between Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie the two villains form a vicious plan to rob Laura from her fortunes and to get rid of Anne, thereby securing Sir Glyde’s secret. Thanks to Walter Hartright, however, and his immense love for Laura, the story is unravelled and the guilty receive their punishment.
These and many more characters form one of the first mystery novels in world literature. Wilkie Collins uses multiple narratives (as it is done in court) to solve the secret of Sir Percival Glyde’s and Count Frisco’s past. The story is told from the point-of-view of more than one character as the offense against law is told by more than one witness. Collins’s experience in legal training helps him produce this incredible novel, where the reader is presented with controverse point-of-views and is left to form his/her own opinion.
I haven’t enjoyed a novel about 19th century England as much since my most favorite Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Definitely worth reading as it will keep you wondering until the end and the resolution, I promise you, is nothing you have expected it to be.