The Woman in White

Reviewed: February 6, 2007
By: Wilkie Collins / Dramatized by Beverly Cooper
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
3 CDs, 2.5 hours, $29.95

Wilkie Collins was one of the first big names in what we would now call the "thriller" genre. His novel, The Woman in White, was serialized in 1859, as many novels were in that period, and it seems that its installments were as eagerly awaited as Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories were some decades later.

He produced the book using what is called the epistolary narrative method, which refers to a single story told by a variety of voices, often using diaries, letters and other documents to tell the tale. Mary Shelly had used this method to relate the tale of Frankenstein some 40 years earlier, and Collins made it so popular in this novel and The Moonstone that Bram Stoker also copied it to narrate his Dracula.

The first narrator of the story is a drawing master named Walter Hartright, who meets a mysterious, anxious woman dressed all in white  and helps her to escape from some men who are chasing her, only to discover that she is an escaped mental patient.

Arriving at his new posting as an art tutor at Limmeridge House, he is amazed to discover that one of his pupils is the spitting image of this woman. He falls in love with Laura Fairlie, and she with him, but he is persuaded by her half-sister, Marian Halcombe, that their stations in life are too far apart and that he must leave, which he does.

Following his departure, Laura finds herself locked into a disastrous marriage with Sir Percival Glyde who, it emerges, wants her only for her money and is scheming, with the aid of his odious friend, Count Fosco, to acquire control of her fortune.

This narrative is continued by Marian, by the family lawyer, even by Laura's nervous uncle and guardian, each portion of the story adding to the mystery and intrigue.

The plot hinges, of course, on the similarity between Laura and the woman in white, and how Glyde and Fosco use that to engineer the apparent death of Laura in order give Glyde the money he wants. I realize this is a spoiler, but anyone who didn't pick up on this right away would have been a very dim reader or listener. The story works well even though you know exactly where it has to be going very early on.

This BTC (Between the Covers) production is a delightful dramatization of the story, condensed, to be sure, but retaining the mood and suspense of the original. There is an effective cast which really works to bring the story to life.