I wonder when Wilkie Collins wrote The Woman in White in 1860 that more than 150 years later it would still be being read. I’d be fairly sure he had no idea that in 2013 a woman would be able to listen to it being read to her, via headphones from her phone as she variously jogged in the early morning, drove a car to work or emptied the dishwasher. And she did all of this without the benefit of a cape or hat.
It’s a choice for discussion at a forthcoming book group meeting – between Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani – and I (wisely I now see) opted for the audiobook format. Much as I’m enjoying the tale I think the Victorian aversion to snappy story-telling would be heavy going as a last-thing-at-night read.
Still, the contrast between the fictional world where every communication is written with a quill pen and a whole plot point rests on the fact that no one can prove the date something happens and today’s linked-up digital one is sharp. I suppose that must be the measure of a good writer that even though almost everything else is unrecognisable, what the people of his creation are going through is still compelling.
Anyhow, here I am banging on like someone from the book. What I mean to say is, here’s what I’ve learned from The Woman In White.
- Feisty and clever women can’t be good looking.
- Good looking women will all be either be fey and dim or wicked and cunning.
- The postal service of 1860 would have sold for a good deal more than 330p a share. Letters arrive dependably – unless you have conniving foreigners to contend with – in the next post.
- Instead of economising, people who are financially embarrassed simply spend more money on lunatic asylum bills and paying spies to sneak around following people.
- With the invention of the television some way off, eavesdropping is elevated to an art form.
- Foreigners are a bad lot, particularly Italians.
- If you’re not of the serving classes, doing your own, or someone else’s, ‘housework’ is a big deal.
- Don’t trust anyone who is mean to animals or who loves them more than children. Oh, and while we’re at it, if something tastes a bit weird, for heaven’s sake don’t consume it.