It’s May, and I’ve recently finished reading Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White for the Crimes & Thrillers book group I attend. Written some eight years before The Moonstone—where many of the characters in my own book, Gooseberry originate—it is another extremely long but impressive read.
As with The Moonstone, I found myself not really warming to the stock hero and heroine, nor even to the stock villain (who seemed to rage round in a brutish temper most of the time). But again, as with The Moonstone, it’s the supporting cast of beautifully drawn, multi-layered characters that won me over: Miss Marion Halcombe, the stock heroine’s poorer, plain half-sister, and Count Fosco, the scheming guest and friend to the stock villain. Both these characters play such large and important roles (much larger than the stock heroine and villain in fact) that it’s fair to suggest The Woman in White is actually about them—that they become the true heroine and villain of the piece.
The Gothic nature of The Woman in White owes much to its exploration of the fine line between sanity and madness, and there is a scene in the novel that is chilling: two doctors are brought into the room to examine Laura (the rich, beautiful sister) at the behest of her husband and Count Fosco in order to pronounce her insane (she’s not; she’s been ill, and at this point she’s drugged). Nobody has told Laura what’s happening to her, so she’s unaware of the danger she faces, but Victorian audiences would have recognized exactly what was going on; they would have known that the warrant required to commit her to an asylum required the signatures of two doctors for it to come into force. This month’s article from Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism recounts the story of Mrs Georgina Weldon, a spiritualist whose husband tried to do much the same thing to her. Do read it; it’s a fascinating story. Coincidentally, at that time she resided at Tavistock House, once home to Charles Dickens. It’s more than likely that, as a long-standing friend of Dickens, Collins had been his guest there on numerous occasions.
Gooseberry has just received a fabulous and very detailed review from Emma Hamilton at buriedunderbooks.co.uk. Emma, a book blogger in the UK, was a fan of Collins’s The Woman in White, saw my book being offered on LibraryThing Early Reviews, and decided to read The Moonstone—which she hadn’t read yet—before going on to read Gooseberry. Her review, consequently, is extremely insightful.
Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts normally retails for US$2.99 in most online stores, but you can still download it for free from Smashwords.com. When it comes time to pay, just use coupon code: TD22X. A word of warning: opt for the ePub version if that happens to be a format you can use; for technical reasons beyond my control it is vastly superior to the MOBI on offer.
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