En route book review #3

Zoe recommended The Woman in White as a good, cheap, classics read. And how right she was. (And good value too: 550+ closely printed pages.) I’m not going to go into the plot because a) if you’ve read it you know what it is and b) if you haven’t, I’m not going to even think of spoiling such an excellent, lurid, Victorian mystery for you.

I haven’t read much Victorian fiction. I haven’t read much because what I have read tends to irritate me. It irritates me because the heroines are so wet. I recently finished A Tale of Two Cities, a book I threw across the room 15 years ago after Lucie Manette had fainted three times in as many chapters, and with which I ended up locked in a struggle to the death this time around. (I won, clearly. But only just.) Dickens pisses me off. I find him pompous and long-winded and his legendary ability with characters is, to me, not much more than the ability to take a tic and repeat it for half a book. I also get annoyed with his reliance on coincidence, which I suspect is not actually Dickens but a fault of the literature of the age. However, The Woman in White is also built largely on a massive coincidence (I’m really not giving anything away here), yet I don’t want to punch Wilkie Collins in the face for presenting me with a massive pile of steaming unlikelihoods. On the contrary; I think I would rather like Wilkie Collins. He seems to have a sense of humour.

And, he seems to be able to write a female character with gumption. (“Anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone
who hasn’t can never know what it is. So there is no need of defining
it.”)
All hail, Marian Halcombe! Of course, she’s not pretty – it’s asking too much to ask for a character in Victorian novels to be a woman, clever, spirited, loyal, honest and attractive – but she is wonderful. When I got to the section narrated by her I gave a small cheer, simply for the chance of spending more time with her. My only complaint is that she’s so utterly devoted to that wet rag, Laura, that everybody goes to so much trouble for. (Maybe this is where I’m going wrong? Perhaps I should simper more, and faint at the first notion of calamity; would I go further in life?)

The sheer weight of the book means there’s no way I’m taking it any further; but maybe, at some future point, I shall buy myself another copy.

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