Originally published in a weekly periodical between late 1859 and 1860 as a serial story, this is believed to be the first English crime detection novel. This is Victorian fiction that combines romance, mystery and Gothic horror with a psychological twist.
The story opens with an eerie encounter, in the dead of night on a moonlit London road.In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth…stood the figure of a solitary woman, dressed from head to foot in white.
Collins had me at hello. This is the story of what a woman’s patience can endure, and what a man’s resolution can achieve.
I loved the fly on the wall perspective of events as revealed through a series of narrators, starting with Walter Hartright, drawing master of the time and place, who introduced me to Marian Halcombe thusly;The instant my eyes rested on her, I was struck by the rare beauty of her form, and by the unaffected grace of her attitude. Her figure was tall, yet not too tall; comely and well developed, yet not fat; her head sat on her shoulders with an easy, pliant firmness; her waist, perfection in the eyes of man, for it occupied it’s natural place, it filled out its natural circle, it was visibly and delightfully undeformed by stays. 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!
Marian knows who she is, personally and as a woman in Victorian society. She reflects these qualities and embraces society’s expectations with elegance and grace, deftly, slowly, surely and quite successfully disarming her male audience and the reader with her charming, disarming, demeanour that both mirrors and ever so subtly mocks those expectations. Never have I been so invested in a character. I adore and applaud her. She is simply one of the most deftly drawn, beautiful and complex renderings I have ever encountered in the written word.
Without a doubt it is Collins characters that both support and propel this story, each in their own unique voice, of which Marian is but one. All brilliantly drawn and cleverly revealed as time goes by. It is a classic, therefore it is wordy, with long drawn out, highly descriptive sentences that go on and on and on as they slowly, persistently tug you forward.
No matter! I lapped up every word.