For the last four decades or so, I’ve been a terrible sleeper. My poor wife, until my 40th birthday, had to deal with me, three or four times per week, failing to fall sleep, rolling over, and turning on a light so that I could read until I could calm my brain down enough to try and get back to Dreamland. For my 40th, however, she got me a back-lit e-reader, and the days of me needing to flip a light on at 2:00 A.M. (and interrupting HER sleep) were mostly over. Since that day, and through much trial and error, I’ve discovered that Victorian Literature has a very calming effect on me and can remarkably DECREASE the amount of time that I remain awake when insomnia strikes, and my most recent “night book” was SO EFFECTIVE at inducing unconsciousness that it took me nearly FIVE MONTHS of reading to finished it. Welcome, my friends, to…
Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859-1860)
The Woman in White was originally published as a serialized story in a couple of subscription magazines of the day, and was eventually published as a 500+ page novel in 1860. I decided to read this book partially because it’s considered a gothic classic (an early detective story) and partially because I thought it was going to be a ghost story. Sadly, there were no ghosts, although there was one woman who always dressed in white and had escaped from a mental hospital, and that’s something, I guess. There were also some classic gothic atmospherics: an old, dark, run-down manor house; a sinister plot; secret societies; a few nice deaths; and a well written and extremely detailed story, but overall, it seemed a bit ELONGATED for my taste. The prose was readable, the descriptions evocative, and a few of the characters interesting enough, I suppose—particularly the rich, misanthropic, invalid uncle whose nerves where so disturbed that even talking with his own niece for a few moments was enough to shatter him, mentally and physically, for a full week.
Unfortunately, however, the overall story was dull, and I lost interest long before the novel was over. It took an act of extreme willpower for me to push through to the end. The book is considered a classic, and a gothic classic at that, so I felt it was my duty to finish it, but unless you are a REAL fan of Victorian Romances, I don’t think I’d recommend it. There are some GREAT books from around this time which I really loved: Varney the Vampire (1847), House of Seven Gables (1851), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and Carmilla (1872), to name just a few, so it’s not that I don’t care for Victorian Gothic, I just found The Woman in White to be a bit less interesting than I’d hoped. (To be fair, I really didn’t care for Wuthering Heights, either, despite the fact that it DID have a ghost in it.) So, final words: The Woman in White wasn’t my thing—although I can suggest it if you’re looking for a powerful, non-narcotic sleep aid. Knocked my butt right out!
—Richard F. Yates