Friday, May 28, 2010

Woman in White

It is a completely satisfying experience to read a thoroughly good book.  It is so uplifting to me to read a book that not only has good plot and great characters but is also well written.  Have you ever read Woman In White by Wilkie Collins?  If so, join with me in saying "Bravo" to Mr. Collins, and if not, let me urge you to do so.  If you've never heard of it, do not despair, for neither had I until just recently.  Now that you have heard of it, make haste! Run, don't walk to your nearest library and begin! At once!

Ok, see how I'm trying to talk like him now?  That's the one problem I've found with reading literature written by such genius as Wilkie Collins.  It's the same way I feel after reading one of Jane Austen's.  They have the same way of describing their characters so deliciously, of developing a plot so carefully and to the purpose that fill me up with excitement.  I shuddered as I was reading it to think what I would write in my notes about it for Goodreads.  (Something I do because I have a tendency to forget what I think of a book once it is read and put away, and it's nice to have it written down somewhere so I can say, "oh yes, I thought such and such" before I decide whether or not to read it again. Obviously in the case of this book every decision about whether or not to read it will end the same way: I'll read it.)  Anyway, before I began that long parenthetical statement I was shuddering.  I felt like, like, I'm floundering here, can you tell? I felt like to try and describe Mr. Collins' use of words with nothing but words of my own would be like asking a two day piano student, albeit a true lover of music, to sit at the piano and describe their feelings for Rachmaninoff using only the medium of the piano itself.  Horror!  It would be like asking the child of Michelangelo to express his love for his father by creating an artwork for the big man himself.  Impossible! And not merely because Michelangelo had no children! (Did he?)  So, now you know I cannot use words to express how I felt about this novel, this writing.

Why are we not asked to read works such as this in our English classes?  Why do they make us suffer through Thomas Hardy when we could have been reading the works of his contemporary, my new pal Wilkie?  Oh well, luckily I came through unscathed, but I feel certain that if the books chosen were more Woman in White and less The Awakening or Tess of the D'urbervilles then more of my classmates would have subscribed less to old Cliff and his notes.

For a sample, this line describing a character made me laugh out loud: "Some of us rush through life; and some of us saunter through life.  Mrs. Vesey sat through life. ... A mild, a compliant, an unutterably tranquil and harmless old lady, who never by any chance suggested the idea that she had been actually alive since the hour of her birth.  Nature had so much to do in this world, and is engaged in generating such a vast variety of co-existent productions, that she must surely be now and then too flurried and confused to distinguish between the different processes that she is carrying on at the same time.  Starting from this point of view, it will always remain my private persuasion that Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when Mrs. Vesey was born, and that the good lady suffered the consequences of a vegetable preoccupation in the mind of the Mother of us all."

Genius! To be compared in such a way, even if it is to a cabbage, I could never have felt offended.  People just don't write like this anymore. 

And this, from the introduction, written by our pal Wilkie in discussing his book, made me think of you Heather, and your honorable quest for story:

"It may be possible, in novel-writing, to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters: their existence, as recognisable [sic] realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told.  The only narrative which can hope to lay a strong hold on the attention of readers, is a narrative which interests them about men and women - for the perfectly obvious reason that they are men and women themselves." Harley Street, London February 1861 - (Wilkie Collins, Preface to the Present Edition, 1861.)

And so I go now to Goodreads, to try and make my tribute.  If you'd care to read it (or any of my thoughts on the books I've read) just click on the picture of it on your right.  Sigh.


  1. I dont know if i could read this book. I dont even know what it is about, but just reading the small paragraph you put in your blog almost made my head spin. really! and if i were to guess how long this book is, i would say 250+ pages. Therefore, maybe if i find the time i might just refer to old Cliff for some guidance. Sorry. You know me. I cant even really read Jane Austen either. Its too much.

    But speaking of "Cliff". it reminded me of "Cliff Notes." When (how ever many of us) would wright each other about happenings w/ boys in our lives...too funny. I think i might be the only one of the group who isnt on the "board of directors" yet. lol.

    ...OMGoodness! i just thought of the best idea for my book! get excited!!!!

  2. lol. Sorry for the misspelling above. *write* was how i meant to spell it. Spelling things wrong makes me feel like i look uneducated, so i had to correct it! ;)

  3. :( The Awakening is one of my favorite books ever! So beautifully written. I loved it as a senior in HS, but loved (and understood) it even more after being married and having a child. I recommend you give it another shot.

    But, I also have enjoyed Thomas Hardy (though in a different way than Kate Chopin - whose life was amazing, btw). I've never read Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but have read Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge. They definitely make you think and are great for book group discussion.

    Have you ever read Their Eyes Were Watching God? Absolutely beautiful; another favorite foisted upon me in my HS days. I guess I'm a nerd, but I really enjoyed quite a lot of what we read in school(though what I didn't enjoy I really hated).

    I'm into non-fiction these days. Guns, Germs, and Steel probably being my most recent read (difficult to get through but well worth the effort!). I could go on recommending books all day long, so I'll stop there. I'll have to add your recommendation to my to-read list!

  4. I'll agree with Al, in that my head is spinning. I'm going to be on a plane for a few hours on Sunday, so maybe I'll stop at the library tomorrow and see if I can put my hands on it...

    And yes Al, I do remeber "cliff notes" I had totally forgotten about that... funny

  5. Hey Ames! I'm glad that you liked it!! I loved it, too. I also really enjoyed reading your description of. The idea of asking me to describe (only through the piano) how I feel about Beethoven or Mozart would be painful. And impossible.

    So yeah, I really liked how you wrote your post, and I'm glad you liked the book. Did you see it because I read it, or did you hear of it through a different source?

  6. Keep reading, Amy. And, keep posting. We don't have to eat the roses to enjoy them. Sometimes just being close is great. grandpa H.

  7. Well, that paragraph sold me on that book.