The Woman in White, part 1

Tea, Tonic & Toxin

Jun 6 2022 • 53 mins

In The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins tells the story of a woman wrongfully locked away in an insane asylum. This 1860 thriller includes a ghostly woman, a secret society, switched identities, foreign agents, paranoia, bribery, blackmail, and conspiracies. What’s not to love?

1.    Wilkie Collins has been called the creator of the sensation novel. The Woman in White includes a ghostly woman, switched identities, forged documents, bribery, drugging, spying, foreign agents, blackmail, lies, and conspiracies. What feels familiar about sensation novels? In what ways is the book a detective story?

2.    In his preface to the 1860 edition, Collins wrote, “An experiment is attempted in this novel, which has not (so far as I know) been hitherto tried in fiction.” The story is told by the book’s characters. How did you feel about these diverse first-person narratives? What qualities does each narrator bring to the story? And how does everyone remember every minute detail of every conversation?

3.    How do Frederick Fairlie, Sir Percival, Count Fosco, and Hartright each represent distinct styles of masculinity? Did these four men feel real to you?

4.    How much power do women have in The Woman in White? In what ways are the women characters ideals of Victorian womanhood? Why do Hartright and Marian lie to Laura about their investigation? Why don’t Laura and Anne ever get to tell their own stories?)

5.    Laura and Anne end up switching places, which is one of the book’s biggest plot points. What’s the deal with these asylums? Details, please! And how did you feel once Laura’s identity was restored?

6.    When Hartright returns from Honduras, he fights to restore Laura’s identity, applying tactics he used “against suspected treachery in the wilds of Central America” in the “heart of civilised London.” How has he changed since the first time we met him? Why does he work outside society’s laws and conventions?

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