Thursday, 24 March 2016

Classics: The Woman in White

The Woman in White
Rating: 5/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy Courtesy of the Publisher, Alma Classics! 

In love with the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie, the impoverished art teacher Walter Hartright finds his romantic desires thwarted by her previous engagement to Sir Percival Glyde. But all is not as it seems with Sir Percival, as becomes clear when he arrives with his eccentric friend Count Fosco. The mystery and intrigue are further deepened by the ghostly appearances of a woman in white, apparently harbouring a secret that concerns Sir Percival’s past.

A tale of love, madness, deceit and redemption, boasting sublime Gothic settings and pulse-quickening suspense, The Woman in White was the first best-selling Victorian sensation novel, sparking off a huge trend in the fiction of the time with its compulsive, fascinating narrative.

I'm back with another beautiful cover and wonderfully presented edition from Alma Classics! I think the thing I like most about the covers for these books is that while they're simple...they're eye catching and beautiful and I can't stop staring at them. I'm not trying to work out how to get the marks from my grubby fingerprints off the cover! 

I was never too sure what The Woman In White was all about, I'm well aware that Dickens and Collins where buddies, and that sparked my curiosity, but whenever seeing the book mentioned I wasn't entirely sure of it's genre. I for some reason thought it was a ghost story, it's not! It's a very early thriller/suspense novel as you will be told by, well, anywhere. God knows how I came up with ghost story! 

I'm not going to lie, while looking at the portraits in the front of this edition...I think the author looks a tad bit creepy! It was nice to see his lady friends though, seeing as they're mentioned in another part of the edition a fair bit! I also know what his house looks like when I go blue plaque hunting! Assuming, that there is actually a blue plaque on his house! We shall see! I would also like to mention that his handwriting was downright atrocious and I feel for anyone who had to decipher it! 

This edition informs me that the story in this particular edition is based on the earliest version of the book, when it was serialised in Dickens' All The Year Round, and collated with editions up to 1861 to make sure it's all up to date, which explained why there are two different prefaces, both of which are very interesting! I enjoyed reading the authors reaction to people's reaction to the story and his characters and how it was originally serialised and so on! I find it all kind of fascinating, to see what the sentiments where on the book! 

I eagerly dove in to the story, and I have to say...this may just be one of my favourite classics! Don't get me wrong, there where a couple of bits where not much was going on in the beginning..but once things got going the sense of foreboding builds up and you get such a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach when you're reading and then things happen, and then you're right there with one of the narrators on his quest for justice! The book ends so satisfyingly as well. I fully blame Game of Thrones for my insistence that bad guys get what's coming to them! Or maybe I should blame other novels for making it so that I expect baddies to get their comeuppance! 

The thing that hooked me first, was Walters friend Pesca. Purely because he was so dramatic/theatrical and kind of hilarious! He had me chuckling quite a bit and I was actually sad he wasn't in the book more! So he hooked me in, and then we have The Woman in White make her first appearance and my brain was like OMG ghost, but it swiftly became apparent that I actually know nothing about this book, and my brain needed to pipe down with what it thought it knew! Immediately I was invested in the book. It was a little bit daunting because it's just shy of 600 pages, but I had so many questions from the start that I needed to have answered...who is this woman? What's going on? How did she escape? Why was she there in the first place? 

There's intrigue from the start, and I found the writing to be very compelling, especially as certain narratives left you with a sense of impending doom, shall we say. Some more than others, anyway! Certain parts of the book gave me a creepy feeling, and there was mystery all over the place, not surprising considering that this is considered to be one of the very first detective stories! 

You may have noticed that I said narratives, plural. Yep. There's multiple narratives and I wasn't sure why at first, but as the book goes on, you start to realise something very bad is going to happen and that these narratives written after the fact, most likely are evidence or something. We mostly have Walter's narrative, he tells the story in the beginning and then at the end in a couple of different parts. I actually liked Walter, I felt for the poor guy, and I liked that he ended up investigating everything himself, something which he may not have usually done. His determination was admirable, as was his intelligence and cunning at the end, I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for him to be outwitted, but nope! He got him in the end! His narrative wasn't all thrills all the time, in the beginning, after the encounter with WIW, it's all him teaching the ladies, and the romance developing and so on, his later narrative is more action packed, and I felt like his character was a lot less....what's the word...I'm not sure, I just felt like his character had improved from his time away! 

The next narrative we had was the Fairlie Lawyer, Vincent Gilmore....his was efficient and to the point and left us with the chilling sentence, "No daughter of mine should have been married to any man alive under such a settlement as I was compelled to make for Laura Fairlie"considering he repeated that.....oooomminouuuuusss! 

Next up we have Marian Halcombe's narrative, she is the half sister of Laura, her narrative is told through her diary and this is the narrative when things really start to happen. They take a rather chilling turn, and I was on the edge of my seat at multiple points. Things really started to go wrong and I was just as frustrated as Marian was, a lot of things where happening and I was like "oh no, not good....really not good" and I was just as in the dark as Marian herself! From this point...the plot thickens and the intricacies start to show themselves. 

Mr Fairlies narrative...dear lord. It was kind of funny to be honest, because his character is so ridiculous, or so I think. It was funny right up until the end when it got so foreboding. We then go to Eliza, the housekeeper at Blackwater's narrative. Hers was my least favourite I have to say, "my husband this" "my husband that", she went off on one once or twice and kept quoting the Bible and so  on. I kinda didn't like her because she defended Fosco and the characters clearly up to no good as well, but she did take a stand against Percival and she stuck with Marian and Laura. She also left us with an even more ominous feeling. I didn't trust the narrative of Fosco's cook at all. At this point my brain was reverting back to history classes and assessing the narratives as if they where sources, working out which where reliable and which where not, and why and so on. Mostly because at this point it became obvious that they where related to some sort of legal thing, whether a trial or something else. Fosco's narrative? Just as infuriating and flamboyant as the man himself. 

There are a couple of other narratives but spoilers! Plus they where totally reliable. So as you see we have a fair few narratives, and I loved the changes between them, each narrative handed off to the next narrator perfectly, at the right time! The story was continued when another character had left the situation, or gaps where filled in where one narrator didn't know something and so on. It created the story fantastically, as well as building up the suspense and the intrigue and at times confusing you as much as the characters so you weren't entirely sure what, exactly, had gone on! 

I liked that each narrative had a very distinct voice that stuck out from the others. Fosco for example, had a very flamboyant way of narrating. Marian was intelligent and logical but hampered by being female, Walter could do what she could not in a lot of cases, and was just as intelligent. You got a feel for the character and what they where like through their narrative, as well as through the eyes of the others. 

As you can probably guess, we have a fantastic cast of characters and each of them is quite lively! I will admit, I enjoyed reading about all of the characters...including the bad ones! They where all just written so well, and even the ones you hated you had to admit...they where brilliantly written. 

I liked Laura and I had the most horrible feeling that something bad was going to happen to her that just got worse and worse over the course of the book, mostly because Percival was so freaking shady! I was mentally shouting at her not to do it, because I figured I knew what he was going to do. I mean...I wasn't far off, but I was still surprised! I was hoping for a happy ending for her, and not entirely sure she'd get it! Although, I didn't really understand her logic with the whole engagement thing. 

Marian was one of my favourite characters, I loved her! She was a female, but she was a lot more outspoken than most females of the time. I loved reading about her stating her opinions and chattering to Walter or other characters. She was so fiercely intelligent and brave, and determined to save her sister no matter what. She was quite the detective herself, actually! 

I need to mention Mr. Fairlie because....what even?! He has to be read to be believed. I still can't quite decide if he's just over dramatic or incredibly weird. He's very selfish though, and I rolled my eyes so many times whenever he was in a scene, and half the time had to laugh at his ridiculousness. I'm surprised no-one had bumped him off. 

On to Sir Percival Glyde, the shadiest of the shady. I knew he was shady as soon as the dog growled at him and wouldn't go near him. I don't trust anyone that a dog doesn't like. I really didn't like him at all, he was so slimy, and has his whole gentlemanly facade up to get what he wanted. There was something not right about him and then his true colours are revealed, and what a bad guy. I really thought he was an incredibly terrible baddie until it became evident he was actually kind of pathetic and a little bit stupid. 

Fosco, clearly the brains behind everything. Constantly having to reign in Percival. I wasn't sure of him at first, he knows how to talk his way around things, he's super intelligent and even I was a bit taken in by him at first. I mean...he was doing all those nice things...his true nature is revealed more and more as it is to the narrators, and he is SUCH a nasty piece of work. 

Like I said, the sense of foreboding builds more and more as you read, and the book gets more and more chilling. As you're reading each new narrative, you're making more and more connections and putting the pieces together, but still missing a few. I actually found the book scary at one point, because I started to think about being a woman in that time period, and everything that would have entailed, and reading about what happened to Laura..I mean..I wouldn't be entirely surprised if similar circumstances had actually happened in the past. Women where so powerless in that time, it's scary. Anyway, I had a few ideas of what was going to happen, but the closest I came to being right was to only being half right! I ended up being surprised so many times, except with Anne! 

The thing that strikes me about the book, is that usually this time period is really romanticised, and I'm not entirely sure why. When you read other books such as Austen and it's all romance and everything is great and okay maybe you might be inclined to romanticise the time period. But then if you read a book like this...hell no. You have a woman who has to marry a man over 20 years older than her, who in order to marry him has to agree to his terms which means leaving her money to him when she dies instead of who she wanted because her Uncle said so. You then see how she's treated by said husband, how she and Marian are thwarted at every turn in getting the help they seek. I felt so frustrated on their behalf because there where a lot of things they couldn't do, and more things they couldn't do because they where female, and he was SIR Percival. Honestly, it makes me think that I am SO GLAD I didn't live in that time! 

Once again Alma have saved me, and made reading a classic super easy! The notes on the text are a GODSEND. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I would have understood a lot of it without the notes, but with the notes, I felt like I could fully comprehend everything that was being said or implied. I got the references and so on. I feel like if I hadn't had the notes to help me understand some of the phrases and references, I would have stumbled through some of it missing the point! I am I supposed to know about bathing machines or what exactly bills at three months means?! Thank you Alma! 

I particularly enjoyed reading all of the information on the author at the back of the book. I knew even less about this author than I did about Austen or Bronte! All I knew was that he was friends with Dickens because I'd stumbled across a book called Drood! This edition provides you with all the information you could want on the guy, and he was certainly unusual. His situation with his lady friends in particular! I wouldn't be pleased if I was Martha! I also winced and was glad I was eating while reading about his illness and his "agonised shrieks" *shudder* 

I also loved the section on his works, that summarised each novel of his! I enjoyed this one so much that I'm thinking I should probably check out The Moonstone next! Although, I ended up totally spoiling The Woman In White for myself. It was like 1am, and I'd been reading it and reading it and finally managed to tear myself away and was kind of absent-mindedly browsing the back of the book, and then ya know...accidentally read the synopsis for The Woman in White and found out what was going to happen. I mean..maybe it was a win because instead of picking it back up like I was debating, I did the right thing and went to sleep, safe in the knowledge that justice would be served! Although, when I read the rest of the book I was kinda like....but whyyyyy did they get off so easy! No-one ever found out about "Sir" Percival and his little secret! 

The Woman in White is a fantastically gripping story, that pulls you in with the growing sense of foreboding and the narrative style. The plot is incredibly intricate, and very well thought out and executed on the authors part! I enjoyed reading about the characters both good and bad, and ya know..ridiculous in one case! Despite being an intimidating near 600 forget about all of that as you're reading and working out what's actually going on, and trying to guess what will happen next. This edition makes the book easy to read, and easy to understand the context of the book and the time it was written, as well as allowing you to get to know the author of the book a little better too! 

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