Posted by: Sally Ingraham | January 6, 2010

The Big Read V: The Woman in White – 1st Installment

DSC00348by Wilkie Collins

The First Epoch: The Story Begun by Walter Hartright, Chapters I-VIII

(WARNING: I’m not going to make a huge effort to avoid spoilers in this post, so all you who have never read the book, be ye warned! Read at your own literary risk.)

There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road – there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven – stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments; her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her.

My copy of this book (donated to me by the generous Richard of Caravana de recuerdos) claims that The Woman in White is the first and greatest ‘Sensation Novel’. I can testify to it’s sensationalism! It is spine tinglingly exciting from the get go, when Walter Hartright, teacher of drawing, begins by hinting mightily about the strange and mysterious events he’s in the process of revealing – (and makes some apt observations about the Law, which even to this day is, ‘in certain inevitable cases, the pre-engaged servant of the long purse’!)

Walter so far is not incredibly interesting, but as he moves to Limmeridge House to take up a teaching engagement, the people he encounters along the way are delightful. From the hilarious Pesca, the little Italian who loves English ways, to the horribly finicky Mr Fairlie, Collins has already imagined up a fine crop of fun characters.

Marian Halcombe, who along with her half sister Laura Fairlie, is the student of art that Walter was summoned to assist, is especially fine. Her snappy conversation and lively opinions, as well as her quick curiosity, make her instantly my favorite character thus far.

Aside from the thrilling moment when the Woman appeared in the night, the ending of chapter VIII with it’s (sensational) revelation about the similarity of appearance between Laura and the Woman, has proved that my attention will be kept and held for the remaining 500+ pages.

If the opinions of our Big Read V host Lelia interest you, check them out here. Next installment coming around the 8th. 🙂


  1. I still haven’t picked up this book even though I have heard such fantastic things about it – I’m sure I won’t be able to hold out for much longer. I also wanted to let you know that I have passed on an award to you on my blog.

  2. Sarah, I’m loving this book every much as I did when I first read about twenty years ago. I love how you use the word “sensational”, and all its deriviatives, because that’s the perfect term for this read! It’s so compelling! I love how each character is drawn, and fortunately for me, my memory is such that I can’t even exactly remember who the woman in white is. So, each chapter is a new unfolding of excitement. I’m looking forward to discussing them with you. (Do you think you’ll post on each portion of the reading?)

  3. There are more great characters to come! 😀

  4. I SO wish that y’all weren’t reading this now! I really want to reread it this year, but I’ve got so many read-a-longs going this month, I can’t fit another one in. lol Wilkie Collins rocks, and Woman in White is one of his best!

  5. As Bellezza said, the characters really are amazingly well drawn. And it’s so atmospheric — I feel like I’m right in the room with them, flickering candles and all! Glad you’re enjoying it!

  6. Karen – Whoo hoo! That’s exciting – thanks! I’ll check it out. 🙂 And I’m sure you’ll like The Woman in White when you get round to reading it. It definitely seems like something that would be to your taste!

    Bellezza – The book is gripping, for sure! I am planning on posting for most of the sections, although I might wait until the 11th actually, for my next post.

    softdrink – Yay!

    Eva – Hehe. I know the feeling – I want to read The Icelandic Saga this year and it would be fun to read it when you do, as I saw that it’s on your list too, but I don’t think I’ll be able to fit it in…!

    Leila – I just blazed through the next section this morning – it’s sucking me right in! 🙂

  7. I’m hoping to get some good reading time in this afternoon — after I put together a HUGE lasagna.

  8. Okay, then I’ll post for most of them as well. I was worried that if I did that I’d give too much away for those who haven’t read it yet, but if I didn’t post enough how could I be called a participant? I’m just loving this book, and this time through, I won’t give it away like last time. I hate giving my books away, trying to decrease clutter, and then rebuying them later…

  9. Leila – Gosh, lasagna sounds like an amazing thing to me right now. Hope it was good!

    Bellezza – Like I said at the beginning of my post, those who haven’t read the book just need to watch their step! Can’t wait for more posts! 🙂

  10. […] —— Previously: The Big Read V: The Woman in White – Ist Installment […]

  11. […] —— Previously: Installments 2-4 Ist Installment […]

  12. […] Previously: Installments 5 and 6 Installments 2-4 1st Installment Introduction Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The Big Read V: The Woman in White […]

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