The Woman in White made for slow reading at first. However, after about the first 250 pages, I found myself really enjoying the novel. The problem now was that I did not have as much time to read as I would like! This novel is written in the form of diary entries and testimonies recorded by various characters; therefore, it is considered an epistolary novel. Collin's novel is also considered detective fiction; all of the information is recorded in such a manner as to be presented to a judge in a trial.
In the beginning of the novel, Mr. Hartright obtains employment as painting instructor to half-sisters Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe. On his way from London to Cumberland, Hartright encounters a mysterious woman:
"There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road -- there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven -- stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments" (14).
Hartright later finds out that this is a lady named Anne Catherick, and she has escaped from an asylum. Another interesting fact about Anne is that she looks very much like the Laura Fairlie with whom Hartright falls in love. This affection ultimately requires him to leave his employment at Cumberland since Laura is already betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde.
Sir Percival is quite possibly one of the most heartless villians I have encountered! He only married Laura for her money and is an abusive spouse. Anne has been hanging around Percival's estate, Blackwater Park, in hopes of warning Laura about Percival's secret. It is implied that Sir Percival paid for Anne's stay at the asylum in hopes of keeping his secret safe. I can't wait to figure out this big secret!
(I am often intrigued by the names writers give to their characters. I am still pondering if there is any significance of Collins' character who is named after one of King Arthur's knights.)
While much abuse and betrayal has been occurring at Blackwater Park, Hartright has been abroad in hopes of getting Laura off his mind. As he returns, he finds that his love has died. At the conclusion of Part 1, Laura's ghost, or maybe Anne Catherick?, appears to Hartright as he mourns at Laura's gravesite.
Collin's cleverly employs unexpected plot twists; right when I think I have the story figured out, he throws in a surprise. This is what has kept me interested in the novel.
I have left A LOT out, but I don't want to spoil it for those of you have been thinking about reading this novel. DO IT! It has really gotten interesting, and I highly recommend it. I hope that Part 2 does not disappoint.