a) A central intrigue of great simplicity By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, works of fiction tended to fulfil the taste of the British novel reader who liked to be amused or surprised.
Collins, like Dickens, wrote for the common man and not for the literary critic. He wanted to gain the largest number of readers by writing a story of his own times. With this in mind, The Woman in White was written to fulfil the Mid-Victorian passion for crime and mystery. The preamble sets the genre of the novel.Witnesses are to present the truth in a case as it is generally done in a Court of Justice, “in its most direct and most intelligible aspect” (33). The crime of substituting one person for another, drawn from a French Lawsuit report, provided the basic threads from which the chief characters of the novel will be gradually revealed, that is a clever devil, Count Fosco; two innocent women, a man in debt, Sir Percival; a disinherited woman who seeks revenge, Mrs Fosco.
A marked resemblance between Anne and Laura inspires the stratagem of substitution.To thwart this conspiracy, the pursuit and trapping of the culprits are carried through thanks to two characters: Laura’s half-sister, Marian, personally affected by this act of villainy; and Walter Hartright, Laura’s and Marian’s drawing-master. Such is the general outline of the story.
Though the central plot is basically simple, it is in the development that the elaboration occurs. b) A many-sided narrative In terms of English fiction, Wilkie Collins is something of an innovator of narrative form.Although there are a number of Eighteen-Century novels in which the epistolary form is used (Richardson’s Pamela), Collins extends and refines this style, so that many voices speak to the reader. Indeed, apart from the central figures, there are many transient characters who help to give evidence which completes this story.
Significantly, it is the good characters who have the most to say, that is those with a central moral orientation, who direct and condition the reader’s responses to events and revelations.The evil characters, Fosco, Sir Percival and Anne Catherick’s mother, have little or no say. Mrs Catherick reveals the subterranean plot of the story in a letter: Sir Percival’s parents were not married, so he had no claim to the title and property; Anne is Philip Fairlie’s child and, thus, Laura’s half-sister.
Fosco, too, reveals his Machiavellian plan in a letter. It is through the revelations of his main characters, that Collins allows the story to unfold. He stresses the dramatic effects by providing retrospective narration at the appropriate moment and by giving the reader clues.Each narrative is a blend of the factual and the imaginative as each character takes up the particular thread of his own story. For instance, Mrs Michelson — Sir Percival’s housekeeper — is to trace one series of events by relating her own experience, – I am asked to state plainly what I know of Miss Halcombe’s illness and of the circumstances under which Lady Glyde left Blackwater Park for London”.
(379) The reader has to piece together a jigsaw-puzzle made up of facts that may not be objectively reported as they are either reinforced or contradicted by later revelations or discoveries.- It has been positively ascertained (..
. ) that the daughter who bore her [Mrs Catherick] husband’s name was not her husband’s child. ” (493) – Read by the new light which had now broken upon me. (574) Nevertheless there is a unity in the story which contributes to the structural coherence of the book, that is the structural coherence which can be found in modern detective novels in a much more simplified way, that is the triangle which forms the basis of the structure; the victim, the villain, the detective.The fact that “il est impossible de modifier la structure [du roman policier] sans s’i??garer”, as Boileau and Narcejac put it in Le roman policier1, proves that The Woman in White already contains the germ of the detective novel while keeping the traces of a still recent fancy for the Gothic novel. B/ THE BASIC TRIANGLE a) A characterization pattern drawn from drama and comedy Before passing to the typical characters of this novel one needs to give some consideration to the characterization of comedy and drama.
According to Northrop Frye : – All lifelike characters (… ) owe their consistency to the appropriateness of the stock type which belongs to their dramatic function.