I recently picked up copy of the 1997 PBS version of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White on DVD at my local library. After watching it, two things piqued my curiosity: what really happened to all the characters and how did Count Fosco meet his tragic end, as it was not included in the film version and only mentioned by the narrator at the end.
Of course, you know I was going to hunt down a copy of the book at my local library. In the end, I had to put a copy on hold as it was at another branch further in town. What I received was a tattered paperback copy of the book (one of only two copies in the whole city library system!) that looked like it had seen better days as I suspect it might have been on a school’s summer reading list at one point in its life.
While the movie was good in its own right, it differed quite a lot from the original storyline. The hidden last will and testament is non-existent in the novel as the only real reason Sir Percival Glyde wants Laura Fairlie, now his wife Lady Glyde, out of the way is because he thinks that she knows his secret, that he is not the heir to Blackwater Park, but a bastard who altered church registries to establish his ‘birthright.’ His debt has accumulated to such an extent that a marriage for money is his only object and by securing the ‘death’ of his wife, he has amply means to satisfy his creditors.
The protagonist of the story is not Marian Halcombe, Laura Fairlie’s half sister as the film makes her out to be. Walter Hartwright is the rightful hero of our story as he personally goes after Sir Percival and Count Fosco to restore Laura’s identity in society.
After reading the novel, I found a great article in the NY Times archives by a reporter who had interviewed Wilkie Collins in 1878 about his inspiration for the plot and how the title of the book came about. The author even goes on to say why he made Count Fosco an obese foreigner and how it made the perfect villain.
I found another article of interest written in 1902, thirteen years after the death of Wilkie Collins. The article quotes the opinions of Andrew Lang (writer, famous as a collector of fairy tales) after his reading of The Woman in White. Count Fosco and Sir Percival have been regulated to the status of similar villains in ‘six-penny fiction’ (ten-cent novels).
With Collins’ death in 1889 came an editorial in the NY Times, which ranked him amongst other writers of the time. “Notwithstanding his prolific pen, we must rank WILKIE COLLINS below CHARLES READE as an artist in novel writing, and in some respects, quiet humor for instance, hardly on the level of TROLLOPE.”
Now I must say, I’ve heard of Anthony Trollope with his Chronicles of Barsetshire and other novels, but I have never heard of Charles Reade. Apparently he is known for The Cloister and the Hearth written in 1861. Has anyone read it? It always amazes me to see what authors stand the test of time and which ones fall behind and are forgotten by all except Academia and the occasional curious bookworm.
Do I recommend The Woman in White? Absolutely, especially if you love mystery or detective novels and if nothing else, you’ll get a good case of the wiggins when you read about Count Fosco and his mice!
Until next time ^____^