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The Woman in White

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Author: Wilkie Collins
Published: 1860
Language: English
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 82.1
LoC Category: PR
Downloads: 56,675 1809
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The Woman in White is widely regarded as the first in the genre of 'sensation novels'. It follows the story of two sisters living in Victorian England with their selfish, uninterested uncle as their guardian. Marian Halcombe is the elder of the two sisters, and a remarkably ugly woman, but with courage, strength and resourcefulness in abundance. The younger, her beautiful half-sister Laura Fairlie, is engaged to a rich man by the name of Sir Percival Glyde.

Show Excerpt

his hand, the golden Papa has a letter; and after he has made his excuse for disturbing us in our Infernal Region with the common mortal Business of the house, he addresses himself to the three young Misses, and begins, as you English begin everything in this blessed world that you have to say, with a great O. 'O, my dears,' says the mighty merchant, 'I have got here a letter from my friend, Mr.----'(the name has slipped out of my mind; but no matter; we shall come back to that; yes, yes--right-all-right). So the Papa says, 'I have got a letter from my friend, the Mister; and he wants a recommend from me, of a drawing-master, to go down to his house in the country.' My-soul-bless-my-soul! when I heard the golden Papa say those words, if I had been big enough to reach up to him, I should have put my arms round his neck, and pressed him to my bosom in a long and grateful hug! As it was, I only bounced upon my chair. My seat was on thorns, and my soul was on fire to speak but I held my tongue, and let Papa go o

Reader Reviews

Average Rating of 4.2 from 22 reviews: *****

Excellent prose not withstanding, the book was infinitely longer than it needed to be, with some parts staggeringly boring. Collins also attempts to subvert our imagination by being overly descriptive about the most mundane subjects, yet becoming very vague with others. Add to that the convolution of what was already an uninteresting plot, and you have the makings of, at best, a mediocre story. My understanding is that this story was serialized at the time of its release. That may have altered my perception of the overall story.

As for some of the characters-I'm not that familiar with the customs of the Brits during that time period, but the first part of the book seemed to have an undercurrent of lesbianism between Marian and Laura. Maybe it was customary of loving sisters at the time, but their touchy, feely, lip-locky behavior would likely be seen differently today. Not making any criticisms on that front; it was probably all that Collins could get away with in 1850. It also seemed that Laura was perhaps as feeble minded as Anne, just less noticeable, given her very different upbringing. Ultimately, she knew she had to marry a man though, as society required, but Marian would always be there-always.

One last thing: Did Walt ever go back to court on that assault thing? Again, such a convoluted story maybe I missed that.

El Fraser

Well I wish I had read the works of Wilkie Collins sooner, but now I have discovered him and am very glad. The Woman in White is just superb from start to finish and since I love 'period' books - well there you are then. A ghost, but not a ghost, love stories, plotting relatives - it is all there. Beautifully woven. Wilkie Collins is an excellent writer. My heartfelt thanks to "Many Books".


it gets inside of feel it for real !!!!
and that\'s why i just luv it!
the thing that we don\'t expect is exactly what we need to have new visions of the life and that what this novel if full of.


A great book. I really enjoy reading it and recommend it.


Excellent. Fascinating characters, intricate plot. Be prepared to focus and pay attention to detail, your efforts will be rewarded.


Lest someone intending to read this book is discouraged by the mixed nature of the reviews, let me state categorically - this is an enthralling and unputdownable Gothic mystery. It stands up to, and indeed surpasses, the profusion of thrillers and mystery novels of our time. To whatever extent it appears dated, it is only because of the social milieu of 150 years ago (which provides the reader with a fascinating window into that time), but the motivations and actions of the characters remain as compelling and realistic as if they were set in the 21st century.

From the very first chapter the reader is drawn into a web of intrigue, mystery and fear which doesn't let up till the denouement. The twists and turns create real tension and it is difficult to finish a chapter without wanting to press on to the next - quite an achievement for a novel of this length.

The reviewer who is complaining about the story presenting an inadequate feminist statement has obviously not paid attention to the character Marian Holcombe (the heroine's friend and alter ego). The nominal heroine Laura Fairlie IS relatively colourless, which is how she's been consciously portrayed by the author for good plot-related reasons, but that says nothing about the author's own feminist beliefs or non-beliefs. (Read Wilkie Collins' other novels No Name and Armadale if you are looking for strong female protagonists). In The Woman in White, you need to look out for that unforgettable character, Count Fosco.

A book not to be missed, even by those who are ambivalent towards the classics.


Long Mystery Novel. Be prepared to for it. I didn't stop reading the book though. Annoyed at some of the characters at first but I was glad I stuck to the end. Looking back not bad, and actually pretty good.

Maria Wendt

Marcus, you are out of luck; I am a seventeen-year-old girl who just loves this book. I am also very educated and have read extensively. Very lengthy, in-depth review though, sorry you didn't like it. :D


A wonderful and great book. Recommended to everyone. The story is written very nicely. I just love it


I'm currently reading this novel for my A2 English Literature course... And I'm hating it.

After 5 years of focusing on feminism in literature, the most prominant theme we've always been forced to focus on, I find this novel completely devoid of any inspiration - both as a piece of literature and as a feminist statement.

Collins introduces uninspired characters who lack, well, character! The protagonist, Walter Hartwright, fails to impress - honestly, he does nothing. The most impressive thing he does in the entire novel is run away from some thugs.
The narrative mostly concerns an inheritance, with explanations about the conditions of said inheritance dragging on for pages... and pages... and pages. It doesn't stop.

As a feminist piece of literature it completely cops out on its message by the end of the story... Collins seemingly wimps out and decides to settle for an ending that can't possibly be considered controversy - clearly the profit he made from the story meant more to him than creating support for women.

I find it both offensive and ignorant to be told that I'm 'uncultured' or 'stupid' for not enjoying this novel as I happen to be very cultured for a 17 year old.

As evidence for the tediousness of the story here is a section:
'It is impossible to refer intelligibly to this document without first entering into certain particulars in relation to the bride's pecuniary affairs. I will try to make my explanation briefly and plainly, and to keep it free from professional obscurities and technicalities. The matter is of the utmost importance. I warn all readers of these lines that Miss Fairlie's inheritance is a very serious part of Miss Fairlie's story, and that Mr. Gilmore's experience, in this particular, must be their experience also, if they wish to understand the narratives which are yet to come.

Miss Fairlie's expectations, then, were of a twofold kind, comprising her possible inheritance of real property, or land, when her uncle died, and her absolute inheritance of personal property, or money, when she came of age.

Let us take the land first.

In the time of Miss Fairlie's paternal grandfather (whom we will call Mr. Fairlie, the elder) the entailed succession to the Limmeridge estate stood thus--

Mr. Fairlie, the elder, died and left three sons, Philip, Frederick, and Arthur. As eldest son, Philip succeeded to the estate, If he died without leaving a son, the property went to the second brother, Frederick; and if Frederick died also without leaving a son, the property went to the third brother, Arthur.

As events turned out, Mr. Philip Fairlie died leaving an only daughter, the Laura of this story, and the estate, in consequence, went, in course of law, to the second brother, Frederick, a single man. The third brother, Arthur, had died many years before the decease of Philip, leaving a son and a daughter. The son, at the age of eighteen, was drowned at Oxford. His death left Laura, the daughter of Mr. Philip Fairlie, presumptive heiress to the estate, with every chance of succeeding to it, in the ordinary course of nature, on her uncle Frederick's death, if the said Frederick died without leaving male issue.

Except in the event, then, of Mr. Frederick Fairlie's marrying and leaving an heir (the two very last things in the world that he was likely to do), his niece, Laura, would have the property on his death, possessing, it must be remembered, nothing more than a life-interest in it. If she died single, or died childless, the estate would revert to her cousin, Magdalen, the daughter of Mr. Arthur Fairlie. If she married, with a proper settlement--or, in other words, with the settlement I meant to make for her--the income from the estate (a good three thousand a year) would, during her lifetime, be at her own disposal. If she died before her husband, he would naturally expect to be left in the enjoyment of the income, for HIS lifetime. If she had a son, that son would be the heir, to the exclusion of her cousin Magdalen. Thus, Sir Percival's prospects in marrying Miss Fairlie (so far as his wife's expectations from real property were concerned) promised him these two advantages, on Mr. Frederick Fairlie's death: First, the use of three thousand a year (by his wife's permission, while she lived, and in his own right, on her death, if he survived her); and, secondly, the inheritance of Limmeridge for his son, if he had one.'


My favorite! I couldn't put it down as every line holds a suspense that draws me deeper into the mystery. Warm, rommantic, yet thrilling and cruel.


Very very good book. You won't leave it out of your hands!

I finished the book in no time, turning the pages, waiting to see and trying to anticipate what the next page will bring to Laura's, Marian's or Walter's adventure.

Characters are very well described, the scenes are described with all the necessary details (not too many when there's no need for them) and the plot is written in such way that makes you wonder what could happen next.

I would highly recommend this book.

Carol Jo

The Woman in White is an excellent book and it was a privilege to read it. The writing was brilliant(masterful usage of the English language in all respects), the plot exciting, the characters well drawn out and I am envious of those who are going to read it for the first time.


I'd never heard of Wilkie Collins before I got my Kindle. In searching out free classics, I of course found a number of references to this classic mystery. I inferred from the title that the woman in white was a ghost (who knows why!) so fully expected some specter to rise out of the misty moors. Instead, I was surprised to find myself in the grip of a diabolical and tragic tale told by several different and distinct voices. While a tad overlong - why use one word when you can use six? - my thumb rarely left the Next Page button. I had no desire to 'cheat' on Walter, Laura, Marion, Anne, the Baronet and Fosco with another book, and in fact could barely put down my Kindle until I could no longer keep my eyes open in the wee hours of the night. Collins was a genius at keeping the reader guessing, which I did throughout. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, Collins read my thoughts and threw me a curveball. And though the language is very old-fashioned and formal - think 19th century England - I had few troubles figuring out the odd unfamiliar phrase. Of course, it was tough not to chuckle at the quaint and genteel 'evils' that seem so commonplace today, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book. If anything, it added to it. After reading - and thoroughly enjoying - The Woman in White, I can clearly understand why this classic has endured.

A note on Kindle formatting: I have seen reviews of other Kindle freebies that were badly formatted and/or edited, but that was not the case with this book. Not only were there few (if any) typos, the formatting was quite readable. The one addition I would have liked is a linked table of contents. If you find a 99 cent version that boasts such a TOC, I'd recommend buying it instead of downloading it for free as I would have like to have looked back at different characters' accounts after reading them.


This is the best book I have read todate..... The romance, suspense, and mystery. This book kept me in wanting more after every page and it was very hard to set it down to get other stuff done. I would recomend this book to any one who likes a good clean romance mystery novel.


Meh its too long it got boring after a while not great not bad... plots kinda interesting but there was too much other talk in it... could've reduced the size of it by a lot... i agree... 2 stars.

R Stephan

Certainly a mystery classic, although I couldn't stand the obvious stupidity of Laura long. For needing that stupidity to develop the plot, I won't give full points, but I'll certainly look at other works from the author.

Rene Hasekamp

This is a great novel and certainly a must-read. It is a mystery novel you can't put down, because it never is clear where the story will go next.

The story is told by the main characters, in succession, which gives an extra dimension to the book.

Not for nothing (about) six movies, two tv miniseries and a musical (by Andrew Lloyd Webber) were made after this book. Sadly the best one (with Jenny Seagrove and Diana Quick) is not available on dvd. The rest is too much abridged. So, if you want the whole story, read the book. And read it again!

Saxon Slade

I always hope discerning readers know how to ignore the reviewers like Leo who can be found all over the Internet dissing things that they aren't capable of appreciating.

This book is a classic page-turner that will keep you guessing. It is one of four exceptional novels that Collins wrote before his personal life, particularly a laudanum addiction, began to catch up with him. Anyone who enjoys a Victorian pot-boiler (not an oxymoron; they were known as "sensation fiction" novels) should read Wilkie's greatest: Woman in White, The Moonstone, Armadale, and No Name. You won't be sorry, unless you are like Leo.

J A Henningson

This is one of the best gothic novels ever written. The character portrayal of Marian as a woman before her time is remarkable. Of course, the sexism of the 19th century is horrific, but that is the reality. Immerse yourself in it and enjoy a great yarn.


What a bore. Deliberately dilated narration. The novel could be reduced at least thrice.

Wilkie Collins apparently did not hear the saying that brevity is the soul of wit. Probably he thought, being an opium addict, that he writes succinctly enough.

And thay call this stuff a detective fiction classic! In my opinion this is merely a feminine romance.

madeeha iqbal

A must read! Best of Collins after the Moonstone. Characters are strong and story is classic! A good long reading!



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