Sunday, October 17, 2010
I finally finished the marvelous Wilkie Collins' mystery, The Woman in White. I participated somewhat faithfully in the 150th Anniversary Project, which meant that I read the novel in the weekly installments, formatted and with the original illustrations, following the same serialization schedule as when it was first published in All the Year Round.
Occasionally I got a bit behind and had to read several installments at once, and in August I got very busy with personal matters and couldn't finish up the book on schedule, so I did so just a few weeks ago.
While I enjoyed experiencing the story in a similar manner to that experienced by its first readers, I found that I lost track of some of the details over time and had to refresh my memory regarding events and characters, I did like the slow pace that allowed savoring and stewing versus gulping and gorging.
I felt a deep affection for both Walter Hartwright and Marian Halcombe, and I think Count Fosco is such an interesting character, a real amalgamation of opposing traits, that made him truly creepy but fascinating. Laura Fairlie, on the other hand, is almost a non-entity--bland, passive, feeble, pale. She and her double, Anne Catherick, are both ghostly--spooky in their tenuous grasp on life, and it is fitting that both teeter on the edge of sanity at various points in the book.
I don't consider The Woman in White the best Victorian novel. The two Collins novels I've read, The Woman in White and The Moonstone, both are told via fictional diary entries, testimonials, and letters that do give the story a realism and immediacy, but I miss the narrator's voice that can comment omnisciently on life, society, etc. For example, thing what a tragedy it would have been had George Eliot chosen to write Middlemarch in this fashion.
It's not the best Victorian novel, but it is a classic and I enjoyed reading it over the past nine months. I'm particularly glad to have finished up just in time for Halloween!
Now, I'm waiting for NetFlix to deliver the movie tomorrow. It stars Justine Waddell (Molly in Wives and Daughters) as Laura and Tara Fitzgerald as Marian. I couldn't find the 1982 BBC mini-series, but remember trying to watch it years ago (not having read the book) and falling asleep, which put me off reading the book until I found out about the irresistible anniversary email serialization project.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I started reading Wilkie Collins' wonderful novel The Woman in White in weekly installments last November. The WomaninWhite.co.uk is issuing weekly installments of the novel, formatted, on the same schedule, and with the same marvelous John McLenan illustrations as its original publication in Charles Dickens's periodical All The Year Round.
I started out sticking to the weekly schedule, but then started saving up a month's worth of installments to read in one sitting as other reading projects intruded on the weekly schedule. I'm really enjoying reading the novel this way. For one thing, this process means I can't plow through, skimming for plot points, and missing the forest for the trees. For another, I often feel a sense of loss when I finish a really good book--I miss the friends I've made between the covers, and wish that we could go on meeting regularly so that I could hear about their latest adventures. Reading a long novel in weekly/monthly batches drags out the process without making me feel guilty that I'm not getting on with it!
I did pull my paperback copy of the book off my bookshelf last weekend when I got caught up to June to find out where we were in relation to the end and discovered we're about two-thirds done with it.
I read WiW a long time ago and remembered the basic outline but not most of the details so this has been almost like reading it for the first time. It's a good novel, but I do wish Collins hadn't based so much of the plot on the uncanny resemblance between two women. This is just the kind of thing that makes those who don't love Victorian novels roll their eyes and groan.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I just signed up to receive email pdfs of Wilkie Collins' most famous novel, The Woman in White, following the same publication schedule as the novel received in Charles Dickens's periodical All The Year Round 150 years ago this Monday.
Visit WomaninWhite.co.uk for details on how you can sign up to get emails of weekly installments. A separate pdf will be published each week on the website as well, and the pdf is designed to capture the feel of the original.
I've been wanting to reread this book for awhile and this is the perfect way to do so--reading the installments on the same publication schedule as they originally had. What a cool idea!
As an aside, in looking for an appropriate image for this post, I found this painting shown above. It's called The Somnabulist, and it was painted in 1871 by Sir John Everett Millais, who might have been inspired by the immense popularity of The Woman in White. Here's a bit about the painting.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I was inspired to select The Moonstone (Oxford World's Classics) from the tottering TBR pile so that I could get a more out of the Wilkie Collins tour sponsered by the Classics Circuit. It was a great choice--I'm glad I finally got around to reading it and can put a tick mark next to it on the list of classics read--but it wasn't necessarily a great book. A good book, yes, by all means, but not great.
More than anything else, The Moonstone is a mystery story. Told from the point-of-view of several characters, some quite minor to the plot actually, the narrative is a series of recollections that sometimes sound as if they were legal statements for a trial. While I can appreciate the air of authenticity this gives to the fiction, it does tend to get a bit tedious, especially if the characters are long-winded. I did think that Collins did a superb job in staying in character, with each of the narrators having their own distinct voice.
Also, considering that the novel first was published serially, Collins did an incredible job in keeping his details straight as he unfolded the mystery. It's hard enough to keep a story bounded from beginning to end anyway, but to do so without being able to revise the beginning to suit how the end evolves is simply staggering.
There are a fair number of interesting characters--Cuff and Bruff, the detective and the lawyer, the trio of cousins (Rachel, Godfrey, and Franklin), the Robinson Crusoe-reading steward Betteridge and his lady's maid daughter, and my favorite, Ezra Jennings, an opium addict who solves the mystery, at least 90% of it. I see a lot of Dickensian characterization particularly in the latter part of the book--for example, Octavius Guy (aka 'Gooseberry'), the little boy who works for Mr. Bruff, is afflicted with eyes that "projected so far, and they rolled about so loosely, that you wondered uneasily why they remained in their sockets."
Although in my last post on The Moonstone, I did include a couple of passages, I found the book remarkably thin when it came to passages that stirred my soul, challenged my intellect, or left me breathless with admiration. In other words, Collins told a good, interesting story but I didn't come away from reading it thinking that it had changed me in any way.
A good book, but not a great one. Now I need to get the movie on order!
Monday, November 02, 2009
Today is the kickoff of the Wilkie Collins tour, sponsered by The Classics Circuit.
Today's tour stop provides an overview of Collins and a brief look at serialized novels. Visit the Sophisticated Dorkiness blog for stop 1 on the tour.
In anticipation of this tour, I started Collins's 1868 novel The Moonstone last week. I'm about half done--finished the long first part in which Gabriel Betteridge, faithful servant to Lady Verinder, recounts his version of events. It was interesting at first but got to dragging, and I found myself getting irritated with Betteridge's constantly self-effacing and long-winded narration.
The second part, that of Miss Clack's acerbic and self-righteous testimonial, has renewed my interest in the story. I admire how Collins made the two narrators I've encountered so far sound so differently from each other, and she's such a refreshing change from Betteridge.
I've heard that the narrator of The Moonstone is one of those unreliable types, so I'm constantly second-guessing what they're saying. Since there are multiple narrators, I can only assume that it is the master himself, Franklin Blake, the character who collects the various accounts of the story together and has the last word, that is the unreliable one, but I'm still not trusting anyone and I'm not going to cheat and find out before I finish the novel.
Best bits--I'm not that far into the Miss Clack part, but the meeting of the Committee of the Mothers'-Small-Clothes-Conversion-Society was an absolute joy. In the words of Miss Clack:
We had a meeting that evening of the Select Committee of the Mothers'-Small-Clothes-Conversion-Society. The object of this excellent Charity is - as all serious people know - to rescue unredeemed fathers' trousers from the pawnbroker, and to prevent their resumption, on the part of the irreclaimable parent, by abridging them immediately to suit the proportions of the innocent son.
Here's another gem from Miss C, this time channelling Mary Bennet:
Oh, my young friends and fellow-sinners! beware of presuming to exercise your poor carnal reason. Oh, be morally tidy. Let your faith be as your stockings, and your stockings as your faith. Both ever spotless, and both ready to put on at a moment's notice!
I think I may have just found my new motto: Let your faith be as your stockings, and your stockings as your faith.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
The Haunted House
is, according to The Victorian Web, the second of two collections of stories by Dickens and a few fellow authors. The stories are framed by the premise that a group of friends is living together in a presumably haunted house and they share their stories about the ghosts they encounter in the house over a Christmas holiday.
I was quite excited when I heard about this book and promptly ordered a copy from Amazon and dropped everything and read it when it arrived. My enthusiasm waned as the stories didn't quite live up to the premise, though some were interesting as stand-alone pieces. My main complaint is that they weren't really ghost stories insofar as having the narrator experience a paranormal encounter. Rather, they were stories that the fictional inhabitants of the house (i.e., Dickens, Collins, Gaskell, et al) were told by the ghosts in their rooms. But, those fictional inhabitants didn't actually tell about how they interacted with the ghosts, which is the whole point of a ghost story, in my opinion.
My favorite of the collection was Wilkie Collins', "The Ghost in the Cupboard Room," in which the ghost in the room recounts why he is haunted by a candlestick. It is truly an interesting story, inventive, well-written, and suspenseful. You don't know until the end whether the circumstance described in the story (i.e., the narrator is bound and gagged and left in the hull of a ship watching while a candle burns down and the man awaits his death as the flame approaches the long powder match that his captors have devised as his final torture) is the one that makes a ghost out of the narrator.
My least favorite is a toss-up between Dickens' "The Ghost in Master B's Room," and, sadly, Gaskell's "The Ghost in the Garden Room." I never could figure out what Dickens story was about--it wavered between the absurd and the pathetic without a coherent story line. Gaskell's turned out to be "The Crooked Branch," which I read in the Gaskell anthology, Gothic Tales (Penguin Classics). It was my least favorite in that collection as well, being utterly depressing and somewhat predictable. In this collection, it merely underscored my criticism that these weren't really ghost stories at all, but were called as such because of the frame around them.
My second favorite story was the one by George Augustus Sala, "The Ghost in the Double Room." This was a very inventive story in which, despite the age-old narrative trick of it-was-all-a-dream, the narrator is afflicted (aka haunted) by the ague, that is he develops the shakes on the eve of his wedding and cannot shake them. I've never read anything by Sala before, but I'm motivated to look for more of his works. This was a fun, highly readable story.