View Full Version : A WIW Discussion?

08-05-2009, 09:54 PM
Back in the day, I looked on Wilkie Collins as a bizarre Dickens hanger on. I have softened since, in part due to a teacher on a 19th century literature group who was an astute Collins advocate.

I read WIW shortly after university, but must have not read it well, since I can't remember much of the novel but for a fleeting passage. I have started it again if any lit netters would like to discuss the book informally.

Warning: I am dreadfully slow and have been fingering my edition since before the death of my desktop in June, and I am still in the first chapter, but I am going to read it and get it done before Christmas:eek2:.

Logos, if you do chance upon this post, offhand, do you know if LN has his later novel with the legless poet? I am sympathetic to Wilkie's sympathetic treatment of the disabled in the Victorian era, but I can look it all up on the by and by, I am being lazy.

08-06-2009, 05:58 AM
Not Logos, but I think I have found it and the answer is yes provided it is The Law and the Lady (http://www.online-literature.com/wilkie-collins/law-and-the-lady/)that you are after. Since it has been on my list a good long while Id like to join in but it probably wont have the time till I get back from my hols in october ( going on a 4 week holiday :banana: )

08-06-2009, 07:42 PM
Thanks Nightshade. I will, eventually, have some observations. :)

08-22-2009, 03:28 PM
I suppose I can quote myself from another thread and add this, without worrying too much about credibility, at this stage: "Pesca is interesting; maybe he is somewhat overblown as an Italian expatriate."

I am just at the point where Walter Hartright is expressing unease about accepting the teaching post.

Still can't remember the plot, which bothers me, since I know I read this book, not long after I took my degree...

09-09-2009, 10:12 PM
I am now on chapter 6 (http://www.online-literature.com/wilkie-collins/woman-in-white/6/), and Hartright has met the femme fatale of the novel, with that episode's anxious subtext about one's *place*, and was struck, now that he is at his post, with Marian's little monologue here:

"I hope you come here good-humouredly determined to make the best
of your position," continued the lady. "You will have to begin
this morning by putting up with no other company at breakfast than
mine. My sister is in her own room, nursing that essentially
feminine malady, a slight headache; and her old governness, Mrs.
Vesey, is charitably attending on her with restorative tea. My
uncle, Mr. Fairlie, never joins us at any of our meals: he is an
invalid, and keeps bachelor state in his own apartments. There is
nobody else in the house but me. Two young ladies have been
staying here, but they went away yesterday, in despair; and no
wonder. All through their visit (in consequence of Mr. Fairlie's
invalid condition) we produced no such convenience in the house as
a flirtable, danceable, small-talkable creature of the male sex;
and the consequence was, we did nothing but quarrel, especially at
dinner-time. How can you expect four women to dine together alone
every day, and not quarrel? We are such fools, we can't entertain
each other at table. You see I don't think much of my own sex,
Mr. Hartright--which will you have, tea or coffee?--no woman does
think much of her own sex, although few of them confess it as
freely as I do. Dear me, you look puzzled. Why? Are you
wondering what you will have for breakfast? or are you surprised
at my careless way of talking? In the first case, I advise you, as
a friend, to have nothing to do with that cold ham at your elbow,
and to wait till the omelette comes in. In the second case, I
will give you some tea to compose your spirits, and do all a woman
can (which is very little, by-the-bye) to hold my tongue."

Since we have a man who defied his proper place in society putting gender contempt in a woman who also doesn't quite fit.

09-10-2009, 06:03 PM
Ive go birthday money for books and have my eye on a nice edtion of WIW will probably get started/read it while Im on holiday and then post back. :D

Dark Muse
10-02-2009, 06:13 PM
I have recently started reading this book, and so far I am quite engaged within the story. I just love the prose and it caught me instantly, and I cannot wait to keep reading more. I am quite intrigued so far.

It is interesting the juxtaposition between the two sisters within the story. They are complete opposites from each other. Marian seems to be level headed, rational, and very direct and frank, and with the state of her sister and Mr. Fairlie, she is the one that has charge over the house for the most part. While Miss Fairlie is the stereotype of the Victorian woman. She is young and beautiful, but seen as delicate, and helpless, a little flower, that needs to be treated a child and taken care of, and seems as if she could snap under too strong of a wind.

One of the shocking things about the introduction of Marian is when her face is revealed. No one really expects her, upon such a perfectly proportioned body, to be seen as so ghastly from the neck up. Though considering her facial appearance, it may be a physical manifestation of her mental abnormality. She has the intellect of a man, and so she is given masculine features. She does not act in accordance as what would be expected of a woman of the day, and so she is "deformed" in some way to the eye.

Perhaps it is also meant to be working as a bit for possible foreshadow, with the introduction of the "lady in white" and the suggestions about her having escaped from an asylum, and the strange way she was encountered. The appearance of Marian with a face that does not quite match her body may be a suggestion of things not being truly what they might first appear to be.

10-06-2009, 06:09 PM
IPerhaps it is also meant to be working as a bit for possible foreshadow, with the introduction of the "lady in white" and the suggestions about her having escaped from an asylum, and the strange way she was encountered. The appearance of Marian with a face that does not quite match her body may be a suggestion of things not being truly what they might first appear to be.

Although the heroine does appear first, before Marian is introduced, the fact that these women stand in binary opposition to each other is a good catch Dark. Binary oppositions are important to literary criticism.

The web has decreased my reading activity, so I am not sure how fast I will move ahead.

My edition is older, and more diffficult on my eyes in bed, so I've been reading it in snatches at my writing tables, looking for easier print for sleepy needs.

10-10-2009, 01:24 AM
A few quick observations, as I am toddering along past chapter 7: I suppose this is all up to the individual reader, but I find Mr. Fairlie to be the more credible eccentric, between himself and Professor Pesca, perhaps because Collins has more confidence in sketching the English.

It isn't that voluble Italians like Pesca weren't trotting across Victorian Europe during this period, they were, and Henry James makes brilliant use of them, I just think Collins over does it with his fiery sidekick, but this is a relatively minor discontent on my part. These three characters, Pesca, Marian, and Mr. Fairlie, point to Collins skillful use of the grotesque to discomfort the reader, with a touch of androgyny about them, as Fairlie, like his niece not being quite feminine, is not masculine enough for Hartright's comfort.

Dark Muse
10-10-2009, 02:20 AM
I have not yet got that far in the story. I just started reading Chapter 4. So I haven't seen yet much of Pesca, but the brief appearance in the beginning, but I was just introduced to Count Fosco, and I have noticed Collin's interesting use of Italian characters. I had wondered if there was meant to be some particular connection or significance between Pesca and Fosco, considering they both seem to be quite boisterous in their own ways.

10-29-2009, 08:40 AM
Dark, I may have inadvertently confused things earlier, since we are no doubt reading from different editions and mine has yellowed fine print and the glue is breaking on the spine, but I have just yesterday started Gilmore's telling of the tale. I seriously underestimated Wilkie Collins, and I usually know my stuff.

I only have a couple of points, for the moment:

It might be worth comparing how different 19th century writers used claustrophobic elements. Dickens, James, Flaubert, all these use scenes of constriction for different intentions. Collins very effectively uses the suffocating closeness of Limerage House between Hartright and the sisters to burst open the pace of the story and build the pace of suspense, and by the time Anne Catherick disappears with her defenders things really start bopping.

I am hooked now, and Gilmore's voice is effectively ironic. It took me a little time to get back into this novel, but I will probably finish in the next week and a half.

Dark Muse
10-29-2009, 01:16 PM
Ahh yes, that can be sometimes a problem, with different editions.

I am now nearing the end of the book, and I really did enjoy the way various different narratives was used throughout the book to piece together the story, seeing bits and pieces here and there from different points of view to try and figure out just what is really going on.

I really quite liked Gilmore as well.

That is an interesting through regarding the use of claustrophobia, and in the case of women particularly it is representative of the way in which the domestic is really an entrapment for women, the home which should be a safe place, for women can become a threat and a danger, because of how it so often imprisons them, since they are denied taking part in the outside world, and even within their own home, are given little control or power of their own, their male guardians are their keepers, like their jail wardens within the home to have almost full control over them.

The idea of being cloistered inside somewhere does reoccur at various points throughout the story, from Limmeridge house, to Blackwater Park, and the alyssum as well as at other points throughout the story.

And of course there is Mr. Fairlie, who is completely useless and incompetent because he chooses to shut himself away from the rest of world, thus rendering him completely inept and impotent because of his inability to assert himself in anyway.

10-31-2009, 09:37 AM
I am not sure what word I'm looking for here, but most of Collins' characters seem to always be on the verge of decrepitude or an unpleasant dissipation, even the professional Gilmore, under threat of what seems to be migraines. Fairlie is an unpleasant lout of a tyrant--traits which he seems to share with Rosy, a crippled character created by Henry James who is rather unpleasant; Anne Catherick, while not actually insane, seems to have what we would call today a developmental disability, or some degree of retardation. Hartright and Laura, seemingly wholesome, by the time of her marriage to Percevial, are both emotionally unstable and depressed, and the Baron himself is scarred, has a chronic cough, and is obviously under the duress of being a fortune hunter trying to hide the worst.

In tone and mood I think Collins shares more with Trollope than Dickens, though I have read more of the latter.

I have progressed beyond 200 pages, into Marian's diary up to 12/19. Perhaps I never finished this novel. Despite the condition the paperback is in, I don't really recall the plot, though maybe I smell what's coming.

Dark Muse
10-31-2009, 07:08 PM
Hartright and Laura, seemingly wholesome, by the time of her marriage to Percevial, are both emotionally unstable and depressed

Haha that is funny, I viewed Laura as being from the very beginning as equally incompetent as looking after herself as Anne is perceived to be. She shares the condition of her Uncle, but perhaps in a more pleasant way. She was fragile from the very start and child like needing to be taken care of by her sister.

When Harthright first arrived she could not come down because of some nervous condition of hers.

Marian though described as having unfavorable facial characteristics seems to be the most put together and competent of the characters within the book. She is the most logical and more or less has to be responsible both for herself, her uncle and her sister.

She is also the only one who does not feel sorry for herself over her lot in life. She accepts her spinster role or at least does not spend her time letting unhappiness about it debilitate her and make her unfuntional in day to day life.

11-19-2009, 06:47 PM
I finally finished the novel in the middle of last week, and though I have nothing particularly original to say, on a comparative level, Collins is less dry than Trollope and refreshingly light on the melodrama, at least in relation to Dickens. I downloaded his entire corpus onto my kindle, so maybe I will have more threads later on his other, if sometimes lesser material, but WIW holds as a suspense story, even for modern readers. Some things did not sit well with me though.

Minor issues: I suspect, even in the 1860's that Marian's dream sequence about Walter's jungle teflon ability would have come off as a bit tacky. As a writer myself, I could see Collins' wheels spinning, and he needed to bring Hartright to the surface since he intended to close the narrative with his voice, but it was still a scoff episode.

Laura's marriage to Hartright was in no way legally binding, as she was deceased as a matter of law when they took their vows.

More substantial objections rest on the fact that both Anne and Laura are rather colorless supporting players, with about as much substance as a glass of water, where the women of stronger will are basically bitter crones (Fosca, Catherick), and the *good* girls are those who see their self-sacrifice as the most redeeming virtue (Marian, Mrs. Clements).

Henry James was also active in the 19th century, and even in his early works, his feminine heroines carry more ontological reality for me as genuine characters. Collins loses a few notes for the sake of pacing, but I don't think it would have taken much to give Marian her own growth arc and independence of some sort. I do not quite accept that such a dynamic person would live her life through her wisp of a half sister.

I also sense that this book perhaps wanted to be something else, perhaps a political thriller, which is why it has a few strands too many, but still, Collins has a grit that Dickens lacks, and his players are more grounded.