I’ve had this sitting on my bookshelf for quite a long time. It was part of a 3 classics for $10 deal from a long time ago. There were 2 classics I wanted, but I did not know what to get for a 3rd. So I randomly chose this one, The Woman In White. Never heard of it before then. It ended up being one of my better decisions because this book was absolutely wonderful to read!
What I love about this book is how the plot went from being relatively simple to something so big and complex. Like a seed, it grew into a large tree with sprawling branches. Told in different points of views by various characters, The Woman In White begins with a drawing master named Walter Hartright. A bit down on his luck, his good friend Professor Pesco manages to find Hartright a job as a drawing instructor for two ladies at Limmeridge House. The night before his journey, he runs into a mysterious woman dressed all in white, on the road to London. She becomes quite excited to know that Hartright is heading to Limmeridge House, a place she remembers fondly from her childhood. After assisting her with directions, Hartright finds out that the woman he just helped is a patient who has escaped from an insane asylum.
Upon arriving at Limmeridge House, Hartright meets his new pupils: Marian and Laura. Hartright and Marian develop an instant friendship, bonding over the mysterious woman in white he encountered and wondering who she could be and what fond memories she has had at Limmeridge House. However, Hartright’s heart falls for Laura instead, who coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to the mysterious woman in white. Laura, too, appears to also have fallen for Hartright; unfortunately, she is already betrothed to the baron, Percival Glyde. Marian implores Hartright to not upset the family by respectfully asking him to leave before the obvious attraction between Laura and Hartright interfere with the already established engagement, which Hartright agrees to.
As if being heartbroken wasn’t enough, Laura receives a mysterious letter from anonymous defaming her future husband, Percival, and telling her not to marry him. Percival Glyde himself comes to Limmeridge House to set matters straight — he determines that the letter is from the mysterious woman in white, who is named Anne Catherick. He knows her mother, a faithful servant from the past, and helped sought medical help for her disturbed daughter by paying for her stay in the asylum. Thus, Anne hates Percival. Explanation understood, Laura marries Percival and becomes Mrs. Glyde.
The courteous and polite Percival Glyde suddenly transforms into a controlling and short tempered version of the baron. He knows Laura has fallen in love with another and is frustrated that she does her duties as his wife with no love. He is also in some financial trouble and is angry that he has to ask his wife for money. Laura and Marian, in the mean time, have become more interested in who Anne Catherick is, who continues to try to contact Laura, but at the same time, have to fear Percival’s foreign friend, Count Fosco. Fosco is an incredibly cunning man and appears to be mixed up somehow in Percival’s financial issues. Part of his involvement is to stop Laura and Marian from contacting Anne Catherick, as she knows Percival’s terrible Secret, which could be the downfall of both Percival and Fosco.
You might be thinking that I just gave away most of the plot — crazily enough, that’s all just the BEGINNING! The story becomes incredibly layered and complex from this starting point, and yes, Hartright does appear again later in the story. I am still in awe at what I have read. They call this a ‘sensation’ novel and I understand what they mean. We have lots and lots of plot here — spying, family secrets, insanity, secret identities, kidnapping — you name it, it’s got it. It’s also a mystery novel, sort of, because of all the secrets that come to light, which Hartright and Marian try so hard to solve for the sake of their beloved Laura.
What I also like about this book is that it’s a book that was written in 1860 about that time period. Therefore, it does what few historical novels can do — it truly immerses you into the time period. Everything feels so authentic about the time, from the language used to write to the manners and courtesies expected of the characters in each of their stations in life, to their hobbies, etc.
I am just so, SO pleased with this novel. I surprised myself by enjoying it so damn much. I know some people are hesitant to read older books because the language isn’t contemporary, and I myself am like that sometimes too, so I completely understand; however, this book was surprisingly easy to read, and easy to become addicted to. I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good classic novel to read, and I hope you will enjoy it too!