Being eternally indebted to Wilkie (a protege of my dear Boz) for having in large part, by means of a stage play called The Frozen Deep, inspired Dickens in the creation of his greatest love story–and greatest character–in A Tale of Two Cities, I’ve felt a little obliged to get to know Wilkie’s own writings better. Some of these, e.g. The Moonstone and The Woman in White, are considered some of the earliest mystery novels, and the grandfathers of the modern detective genre.
Not possessing Dickens’ own infinite variety of characters, the eccentric and irresistible humor, nor his uncanny ability to create a hauntingly tangible atmosphere, yet Wilkie still spins a good yarn. He’s especially easy to warm up to when narrated by the great Simon Prebble, with a lovely female counterpart in Josephine Bailey.
Published in Dickens’ periodical All the Year Round in 1859-60, nearly at the same time as A Tale, The Woman in White is a gothic tale of mistaken identity, madness, mansions, hopeless love, family secrets, and villainous titled gentleman (what more can you ask for?), told from multiple viewpoints–the solid drawing master Walter Hartright (destined to fall in love with a pupil of his, Laura, who is bound in honor to marry the deceptive Sir Percival Glyde), the fiercely loyal and resourceful sister of Laura, and the juicy Italian Count Fosco, among others. Who among them is a reliable narrator? Will Laura marry Sir Percival? And who is this mysterious woman in white–in appearance, so much like Laura–who has escaped from a mental asylum and sits vigil at the graveside of the one woman who was kind to her? How does her story connect with the destinies of our protagonists?
A suspenseful and atmospheric read for any who love the Victorian gothic or mystery novel ~ and for any Prebble-loving audiophiles.