The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins Right up front - this is not going to be a book you'll enjoy if you get at all impatient with characters pondering "what does it mean" and going into lengthy reveries, even when they're in the process of revealing the Big Secret. Collins seems to adore teasing the reader by drawing things out. (To be fair, it's a serial, so that happens.) It may also take some patience here and there to put up with the extreme (perhaps excessive) goodness of the hero and heroine. There were quite a few times I wanted to throttle them both because I have a low tolerance for silent suffering.The person I love the most in this is Collins, our author, because his presence is just as strong as any of the characters. He's the one making the snide remarks here and there, mocking conventions (practically winking at the reader), and the one also mocking his own hero and heroine at times, very subtly. (I don't think that's just me seeing that, I think it's there purposefully.) I'm pretty sure that, like me, his favorite character here is Marian, judging by the way he writes her and has her speak. His descriptions are really well crafted, and when you least expect it a humorous line will pop up out of nowhere.The things I found frustrating - that I nitter on more about below - are the passivity of Laura (which is indeed saying something about the typical, child-like and sheltered-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness Victorian woman/literary heroine but is nevertheless annoying to read), and the lack of true comeuppance for Mr. Fairlie (the fair is a lie!), who I felt deserved Infinite Suffering (one cheering crowd and a paralysis are not enough), as he was a more villainous character than any of the scenery-chewing villains. Also the true heroine of the story is Marian (I am SO on team Marian), and though Collins does not harp on (after the first) about her oh-horror ugliness, she is relegated to "I am happy to sit by, watch your children and grow old" status. (Aside here - did anyone else think it odd that Marian and Walter seemed to have a better intellectual-working-together-"marriage" than Laura and Walter?!) The only hat tip to her intellect and bravery (she IS after all, the one who physically rescues our helpless princess from the Asylum, not the hero) is "well, our brilliant villain sees her true intellect/worth." Not enough. I think I'm supposed to say that, and that Collins agrees that it's unfair. But it's enough to make me give it a star less since rereading (which is what my stars are about) will put me back in my anger/annoyance/the past is unfair mode.Gutenberg version is here.Confession of happily self spoiling end here.Randomly, a great Guardian article on the book, and a quote from it: "Manufacturers produced Woman in White perfume, Woman in White cloaks and bonnets, and music-shops displayed Woman in White waltzes and quadrilles." Which makes me wonder if people were eventually quite sick of hearing it referred to!Thoughts and quotes while reading:I had the feeling that this was one of those books that I'd read before and just couldn't remember. Now that I'm a bit of the way in I know that nope, I haven't read this. And that I do not much like Mr. Hartright. His heart may be right (yes I see what you did there Collins!), but I just don't like his way of assessing people, even though I get the idea he's supposed to be a hero.From The Story Begun By Walter Hartright, IV:"...She had not heard my entrance into the room; and I allowed myself the luxury of admiring her for a few moments, before I moved one of the chairs near me, as the least embarrassing means of attracting her attention. She turned towards me immediately. The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. She left the window—and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward a few steps—and I said to myself, The lady is young. She approached nearer—and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!"First, I love the way this is written, because for the time period the last thing I would have expected was this kind of brutal honesty. At the same time I was also immediately "well, and what do YOU look like, flouncey art teacher?!" Not to mention that the "ugly woman" (Miss Halcombe) seems to have more wit about her than anyone in the book so far.I felt something of the same annoyance at Hartright's description of Miss Fairlie, and of her uncle Mr. Fairlie. One is an angel of loveliness, the other is a peevish hypochondriac. From The Story Begun By Walter Hartright, VII, description of Mr. Fairlie:"...His feet were effeminately small, and were clad in buff-coloured silk stockings, and little womanish bronze-leather slippers. Two rings adorned his white delicate hands, the value of which even my inexperienced observation detected to be all but priceless. Upon the whole, he had a frail, languidly-fretful, over-refined look—something singularly and unpleasantly delicate in its association with a man, and, at the same time, something which could by no possibility have looked natural and appropriate if it had been transferred to the personal appearance of a woman. My morning's experience of Miss Halcombe had predisposed me to be pleased with everybody in the house; but my sympathies shut themselves up resolutely at the first sight of Mr. Fairlie."Maybe it's just my overly-sensitive trope alert going off, but is this the "gay male as villain" or at least as "gay male as unnatural and unlikable by real, heroic men?" Anyway, it rubbed me the wrong way, and made me more suspicious about the true heroic nature of the narrator. Though I should add here that I certainly didn't care much for Mr. Fairlie either.So the Ugly Woman and Effeminate Male descriptions made me pretty firmly anti-Hartright. It also annoys me that Miss Halcombe has the "steady grasp of a man" in her handshake - and that man-ishness seems implied to make her ugly, while now it just makes me wonder that this isn't a good thing. She seems far stronger, and better able to deal with things than Hartright.Am fairly certain that much of what annoys me at this point are things that would seem alien to any Victorian. In other words, I'm being too much the modern reader....I've been wanting to rant about how very, very easy it was to get a woman tucked away for a good long time in an asylum of any kind for the flimsiest reasons - since at the time women were notorious for being weak, hysterical creatures - but I'll just leave it at that. ...I think one reason why I've paused so long before picking this up again is the frustration of the waiting process until the Big Awful Marriage That Everyone Dreads (except the bridegroom). The only person I really like so far is the one who wants to do something about it, and who expresses her own frustration - Miss Halcombe. She's also suitably annoyed that Mr. Fairlie dumps so much on her shoulders rather than take any responsibility (for anything) himself. The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe, II (28% in)"So much the better!" I cried out passionately. "Who cares for his causes of complaint? Are you to break your heart to set his mind at ease? No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace—they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship—they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel. And what does the best of them give us in return? Let me go, Laura—I'm mad when I think of it!"The tears—miserable, weak, women's tears of vexation and rage—started to my eyes. She smiled sadly, and put her handkerchief over my face to hide for me the betrayal of my own weakness—the weakness of all others which she knew that I most despised."Miss Halcombe is constantly in the wrong for being manly (or so it seems in descriptions), but then berates herself for crying which is supposedly bad and womanly. Which all makes no sense when she appears braver and more likable than any of the men in the book. [Insert moment of teeth gnashing and facepalming for me, the reader.]Another quote (same % as previous one) and example of why this is my favorite character:"I went out. If, as soon as I got into the passage, I could have transported Mr. Fairlie and Sir Percival Glyde to the uttermost ends of the earth by lifting one of my fingers, that finger would have been raised without an instant's hesitation. For once my unhappy temper now stood my friend. I should have broken down altogether and burst into a violent fit of crying, if my tears had not been all burnt up in the heat of my anger. As it was, I dashed into Mr. Fairlie's room—called to him as harshly as possible, "Laura consents to the twenty-second"—and dashed out again without waiting for a word of answer. I banged the door after me, and I hope I shattered Mr. Fairlie's nervous system for the rest of the day. "....That our villain - ok, assumed villain - is Sir Percival - well, I can't wait to see how well continued comparisons to the other Percival hold up....Ah ha! I'm not the only one thinking - well here, is this foreshadowing or what? (Same % as last two quotes, and I'll spoilerhide it all.)"Before another month is over our heads she will be HIS Laura instead of mine! HIS Laura! I am as little able to realise the idea which those two words convey—my mind feels almost as dulled and stunned by it—as if writing of her marriage were like writing of her death."I've been suspecting all along, especially ever since the will business, that Percival's going to kill her for her money. Or plans to anyway. He's not exactly being subtle. (Well, I was wrong there!)...With all the talk of Miss Halcombe being manly, it's extra weird to read of her being a rival to Sir Percival (29% in):" I was obliged to tell her that no man tolerates a rival—not even a woman rival—in his wife's affections, when he first marries, whatever he may do afterwards. I was obliged to warn her that my chance of living with her permanently under her own roof, depended entirely on my not arousing Sir Percival's jealousy and distrust by standing between them at the beginning of their marriage, in the position of the chosen depositary of his wife's closest secrets."During this period in history it was actually considered quite the norm to have a sister or close family member go along with the married couple on honeymoon. Which was why, of course, Laura thought her cousin would be going with them....I am really going to have a very hard time forgiving Collins for not making Miss Halcombe the heroine. (Except actually, she really is, isn't she.) Laura is so dutiful and boring - and I especially hate it when she's compared to a child (The Second Epoch, The Story Continued By Marian Halcombe, I, 31% in):"Laura has preserved, far more perfectly than most people do in later life, the child's subtle faculty of knowing a friend by instinct, and if I am right in assuming that her first impression of Count Fosco has not been favourable, I for one am in some danger of doubting and distrusting that illustrious foreigner before I have so much as set eyes on him."Being child-like is very like being ignorant in this sense, and not really something to admire....This is the sort of prose that makes me enjoy the book the most, again Miss Halcombe (same place as previous):"...I was terribly afraid, from what I had heard of Blackwater Park, of fatiguing antique chairs, and dismal stained glass, and musty, frouzy hangings, and all the barbarous lumber which people born without a sense of comfort accumulate about them, in defiance of the consideration due to the convenience of their friends. It is an inexpressible relief to find that the nineteenth century has invaded this strange future home of mine, and has swept the dirty "good old times" out of the way of our daily life....The change in the lady, once she's married the Count, and one of the great examples of why he is not merely a figure of humor (36%):"I wait to be instructed," replied the Countess, in tones of freezing reproof, intended for Laura and me, "before I venture on giving my opinion in the presence of well-informed men.""Do you, indeed?" I said. "I remember the time, Countess, when you advocated the Rights of Women, and freedom of female opinion was one of them." "What is your view of the subject, Count?" asked Madame Fosco, calmly proceeding with her cigarettes, and not taking the least notice of me."It is truly wonderful," he said, "how easily Society can console itself for the worst of its shortcomings with a little bit of clap-trap. The machinery it has set up for the detection of crime is miserably ineffective—and yet only invent a moral epigram, saying that it works well, and you blind everybody to its blunders from that moment..."That the Count rewards his wife with bon-bon's like treats for a dog is completely creepy....37% in, in the midst of the Count's long speech:"...When John-Howard-Philanthropist wants to relieve misery he goes to find it in prisons, where crime is wretched—not in huts and hovels, where virtue is wretched too. Who is the English poet who has won the most universal sympathy—who makes the easiest of all subjects for pathetic writing and pathetic painting? That nice young person who began life with a forgery, and ended it by a suicide—your dear, romantic, interesting Chatterton... ...Come here, my jolly little Mouse! Hey! presto! pass! I transform you, for the time being, into a respectable lady. Stop there, in the palm of my great big hand, my dear, and listen. You marry the poor man whom you love, Mouse, and one half your friends pity, and the other half blame you. And now, on the contrary, you sell yourself for gold to a man you don't care for, and all your friends rejoice over you, and a minister of public worship sanctions the base horror of the vilest of all human bargains, and smiles and smirks afterwards at your table, if you are polite enough to ask him to breakfast......I say what other people only think, and when all the rest of the world is in a conspiracy to accept the mask for the true face, mine is the rash hand that tears off the plump pasteboard, and shows the bare bones beneath."Now that, that is a great social critique....An example of the "let's pause and ponder and pester the reader into impatience" moment of narrative, 76% in:"...Am I trifling, here, with the necessities of my task? am I looking forward to the happier time which my narrative has not yet reached? Yes. Back again—back to the days of doubt and dread, when the spirit within me struggled hard for its life, in the icy stillness of perpetual suspense. I have paused and rested for a while on my forward course. It is not, perhaps, time wasted, if the friends who read these pages have paused and rested too."...Really wonderful description, 76%:"...I passed through the clean desolation, the neat ugliness, the prim torpor of the streets of Welmingham. And the tradesmen who stared after me from their lonely shops—the trees that drooped helpless in their arid exile of unfinished crescents and squares—the dead house-carcasses that waited in vain for the vivifying human element to animate them with the breath of life—every creature that I saw, every object that I passed, seemed to answer with one accord: The deserts of Arabia are innocent of our civilised desolation—the ruins of Palestine are incapable of our modern gloom!....After reading so much detail about the Count, I do find it somewhat awful (as does Marion) that he apparently likes her, 87%:"It is hard to acknowledge it, Walter, and yet I must. I was the only consideration. No words can say how degraded I feel in my own estimation when I think of it, but the one weak point in that man's iron character is the horrible admiration he feels for me. I have tried, for the sake of my own self-respect, to disbelieve it as long as I could; but his looks, his actions, force on me the shameful conviction of the truth. The eyes of that monster of wickedness moistened while he was speaking to me—they did, Walter! He declared that at the moment of pointing out the house to the doctor, he thought of my misery if I was separated from Laura, of my responsibility if I was called on to answer for effecting her escape, and he risked the worst that you could do to him, the second time, for my sake."If you add this up with all the other times he's said admiring things about Marian, and the part where she admits to unwillingly liking him at times - ew. Though at the same time he's the only man that seems to truly appreciate the depth of her intelligence, and to actually love her for that - because you do get the idea that the Count would run away with Marian if he could. He's an amusingly written villain, yet at the same time there's something revolting there too. And of course there's more overt love in the Count's chapter, later.....88% in, time for moral lessons :"..."The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children." But for the fatal resemblance between the two daughters of one father, the conspiracy of which Anne had been the innocent instrument and Laura the innocent victim could never have been planned. With what unerring and terrible directness the long chain of circumstances led down from the thoughtless wrong committed by the father to the heartless injury inflicted on the child!"It's really the thoughtless bed-hopping of dad - man's sexual weakness - that has allowed the evils to befall both daughters. Oddly I was just reading about this sort of "Victorian men's extra-marital sexuality is the crime all women suffer for" - but specifically in books authored by women here....Still hating how Laura is as useless as ever. First she's not allowed to hear information because she's too innocent and must be sheltered. Now, after marriage and various ordeals, she becomes even more childlike, then as she grows better still has to be sheltered, 89%:"...Examine her privately, or examine her publicly, she is utterly incapable of assisting the assertion of her own case."So again she's helpless even to claim her own identity, and again must be sheltered from all sorts of knowledge. I really don't see how anyone could find her character likeable, at any time in the book. At best she's both sad and depressing....Wait, how did Hartright marry Laura if she can't prove she's Laura?! What name did they use on the registry? That bit was just skipped right over.