Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Before I get to my review I would like mention that we survived the big storm that hit England, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark.  Luckily for us, we didn’t experience any damage. Our boys were not happy about staying inside and no matter how hard I tried to convince them we were protecting them, they just gave me nasty looks.


Atticus just slept most of the time.


I’m pretty sure Miles is calling me a name that rhymes with witch.

Not everyone was fortunate and my thoughts are with the friends and family who lost loved ones and sustained damage to their homes.

Last year I read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I loved it. Recently I read The Woman in White (published 1859), the fifth book by Collins and it’s considered an early example of detective fiction. Right from the start I was hooked. For those unfamiliar with the story, here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

‘In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white’

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with pyschological realism.

One of my favorite aspects of this detective story is that it’s told by multiple narrators. Each person adds another piece to the puzzle, yet Collins does not give everything away. Instead he built up the suspense, which forced me to stay up late several nights in a row in my quest to figure out the mystery. The book is long, over 600 pages, and not once did I find my mind wandering. His writing and his attention to detail kept me intrigued.

The story also adds insight into the restriction of women’s rights in Victorian England. In fact, those restrictions are the center of the mystery. His inclusion of this not only educates readers, but does so in a way that the reader doesn’t feel like Collins is preaching.

This mystery has it all: suspense, Gothic elements, delightfully creepy villains, strong character development, and there aren’t any dull moments. It’s on my 1001 list. The Observer rates this novel 23rd on their top 100 greatest novels of all time. Unfortunately, this is the last novel by Collins on the 1001 list. However, I will be reading more by him. I consider myself a fan now and if you are looking for a wonderful Victorian mystery novel, I highly recommend this book. This is the 84th book I’ve read from my 1001 list. I need to read six more before the end of the year to stay on track. Also this is my second contribution to Carl’s R.I.P. I didn’t read as much as I wanted to for this challenge, but there’s always next year.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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38 Responses to Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

  1. bulldog says:

    I second your sentiments about those that have had such heartache in the countries you mentioned… one realises just how small we are when nature shows us its might… loved the review…

  2. Vishy says:

    Sorry to know about the storm, TBM. Glad to know that you are safe.

    Beautiful review! I read ‘The Woman in White’ many years back and liked it very much at that time. I don’t remember much of the story now, but I remember the strong brave heroine and the villainous Count Fosco. I want to read it again.

    • TBM says:

      Count Fosco is such a creepy villain–he made my skin crawl. I loved hating him. So many of the characters are such a delight to meet, even the kooky ones.

  3. Aw, how cute are those boys! 🙂

  4. hillarypat says:

    Glad to hear that you made it through the storm ok. I actually just received The Woman in White in the mail yesterday! My plan was to make it a good way through before Halloween but now, seeing its length, i don’t think that its going to happen!

  5. This is one of my all-time favourite books – it’s so good! I recommended this to a colleague of mine who’s just finished it and he loved it as well. The only drawback is Laura, she’s so one dimensional. Collins is like his friend Dickens in that respect; they both like the ‘angel of the house’ Victorain stereotype.

    • TBM says:

      Laura was my least favorite character. I see why he made her that way, but it didn’t make me love her. Now her sister–loved her. I loved how she handled the count.

  6. So if you had to judge between Moonstone and WiW, which one would come out the winner?

  7. IsobelandCat says:

    With Affinity, and Fingersmith, I think Sarah Waters is even more Wilkie Collins than Wilkie Collins! I agree with you, these are gripping books, superbly plotted.

    • TBM says:

      I need to read Affinity. I saw it in the charity shop recently and like a numpty I didn’t buy it. I’m regretting that now. I didn’t see the Waters connection too much with Moonstone. But this one, I kept thinking of Fingersmith. And yes, the book is perfectly plotted and I loved every second. If I could go without sleep I would have loved to read this in one sitting.

  8. lynnsbooks says:

    Such a great book! I love Wilkie Collins.
    Look at lovely Miles all wrapped up in pink! hee hee.
    Lynn 😀

  9. If looks could kill – Miles definitely looks less than impressed :). Glad you guys are ok!

    • TBM says:

      Miles was not happy that he didn’t get his normal walks. I did take him to the park as soon as the coast was clear for a wicked game of fetch, but he can hold a grudge.

  10. Rorybore says:

    Sounds like a very intriguing and interesting read. I love mystery novels that have a more historical setting — it just seems to add to the whole tone of the story. Will have to check this one out.
    Miles is such a cutie!!

    • TBM says:

      I’m a sucker for Victorian writers. I always have been and since moving to London two years ago, I’ve been reading more and more. Miles says thanks!

  11. Beth Ann says:

    I knew you had a storm but did not realize the extent of it. Yikes! Glad you guys are safe and sound. Atticus has the typical cat reaction and Miles looks ticked off. Hope he has forgiven you by now.

    • TBM says:

      Miles is much better now. we just returned from the park and now he’s beat from playing fetch. Our new place has a big park right across the street. Miles loves it! Yeah, nothing really impresses Att. Major storm–he doesn’t care. Just sleeps.

  12. We had this book for our under-grad in …wait for it….1979!! Have completely forgotten how it goes. Must hunt for the book and brush up my memory. I remember that it was “un-put-downable.”

  13. Geoff W says:

    I’m definitely going to have to check out more Wilkie Collins. The detective fiction and the rights of women in early Victorian England sounds fascinating.

    • TBM says:

      I think you would really like this one and you can argue more with me about who you think is more entertaining: Dickens or Collins. It’ll be fun 😉

  14. Caroline says:

    It wasn’t very stormy here but I’ve heard it was bad in England.
    This books sounds like an absolute winner. I like the idea that it’s told from different points of view. If it was that long, I’d be tempted now. Well, I am tempted, willl just, not pick it up rigth away. 🙂

    • TBM says:

      You might want to wait till after German Literature month. And are you doing Dickens in December? But Woman in White is excellent and I think you would like it.

  15. Fergiemoto says:

    Glad to know you were ok during the storm. Must have been frightening at times.

    • TBM says:

      the wind kicked up quite a bit, but most of it was overnight and I slept through it. It was eerie the next day when I took Miles out and no one was outside.

  16. Jo Bryant says:

    this sounds like my type of book

  17. I love, love, loved The Woman in White and The Moonstone when I was younger! I re-read The Moonstone a couple of months ago and enjoyed it so much that I plan to read The Woman in White again soon. I think I’ll wait for a gloomy winter day (so I won’t have to wait long) because Victorian mysteries are perfect in that kind of weather!

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