A Book Review: The Woman in White

July 28, 2013

Written between 1859 and 1860, The Woman in White was published in weekly instalments. This Victorian novel succeeds in being accessible and enjoyable, despite its length. Slow in some places, a criticism appropriate to much 19th century writing stretching even to the beloved Brontes', the epistolary form, combined with a gripping mystery story, coalesce in generating a page turner.
Dickens was named a friend, boss and mentor to Collins and they are said to have inspired one another. Whilst both combine elements such as romance, mystery, mercenary villains, and gothic features, the reader's experience of the two authors proves distinctly different. Wilkie Collins employs a style that was coined the first detective novel and is considered foundational for "sensation fiction". Despite these achievements, Dickens remains a 21st Century household name over Wilkie Collins who was at the time one of the best known, best loved, and, for a time, best paid of Victorian fiction writers. However after Collins' death, his reputation declined whereas Dickens' grew increasingly popular. Whilst a fan of Dickens, 'The Woman in White' has certainly confirmed to me that he wasn't the only talented story writer of the time, so if you're fond of Dickens, and after something marginally less dense and literary, then maybe you will be pleased to pick up one of Collins' novels.

Following an unusual epistolary form, Collins juggles the narratorial voice between a variety of different characters all of whom gradually reveal the intricacies of the story. This form is a perfect plot device for unravelling all of the elements of the story, leaving one with blanks, questions, and intrigues on the way, facilitating suspense, and qualifying the novel as one of the first in gothic mystery fiction.

It is Walter Haltright's voice that opens the novel, whilst introducing his Italian friend Pesca, when we are made aware of the news of his appointment as drawing master to Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe of Limmeridge House. In conjunction with this revelation, one late summer's evening Hartright has a moonlit and eerie sighting of the distressed and strangely impassioned Woman in White.
'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'
Little does he know that this troubling incident, and the woman he mysteriously comes across, will prove to determine the course of his future, intercepting and intertwining with his path again and again, and haunting the following chapters.
Shortly afterwards, Hartright takes his position and forms an affection for one of the ladies, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Woman in White. This intimacy must be ruthlessly abandoned since she is priorly engaged. After a mysterious letter warning against the impending marriage, the union nevertheless takes place. Following the honeymoon, the couple settle in the family estate of Blackwater Park along with the lady's sister, and Count Fosco, the husband's close friend. 
In this Hampshire country house, the wife and sister undergo misery, confusion, and utter helplessness, at the hands of the cunning household occupants. How far will these villains go to cover the traces of their immoral past? Haltright comes to the fore as detective, but what is the nature of the mystery he will he unravel? What dangers will he overcome to uncover the truth and achieve a sense of justice? How will the uncanny resemblance between the Woman in White and Laura Fairlie conclude?

My thoughts:
I enjoyed this novel immensely. Collins employs the typical, and unfailingly interesting, Victorian themes of romance, false identity, inheritance, and mercenary villains while exploring the lengths that humans will go to for selfish motives. He examines vulnerability and mental instability whilst identifying the loyalty and determination of lovers and family in overcoming the depths of human misery.
Collins skilfully crafts his diverse characters from inspiring Marian Halcombe; innocent Laura Fairlie; to loyal, compelling yet disturbing Anne Catherick; insufferable and unbearable Mr Frederick Fairlie; intimidating Percival Glyde, to perhaps his greatest feat, the mysteriously inscrutable, and deceiving Count Fosco. These developed and interesting characters are all heavily invested in telling the story and provide further suspense and confusion caused by the suspected unreliability of said narrators.
The novel combines Gothic horror with psychological realism, avoiding all the cliches of cobweb ridden castles, haunting ghosts, and secret labyrinth passages. Instead Collins successfully creates an affecting gothic scene made more frightening when transposed into everyday life and penetrating one's own sense of domestic safety. 

I must address Henry James' criticism concerning the "ponderosity" of the novel, by justifying to you the length based on all of its other merits, and by commenting that, Mr James, you can wait to see what I have to say about your novels.

Day 2. A mother daughter weekend: Cuckmere Haven, picnicking, & more wine

July 14, 2013

After a relaxed breakfast in the garden we decided to head out for the day to Cuckmere Haven in the Seven Sisters Country Park. We made ourselves a picnic and jumped in the car. We enjoyed the drive down through the rolling hills of the Downs with the fresh air cooling us, (and blowing our hair about) as we were fortunate enough to be able to have the roof off. When we got there we fairly briskly walked along the path, not failing to admire the meanders on the way, and towards the beach where we were eager to enjoy our picnic.
Many other people had the same idea and the beach was busy with happy families and tourists enjoying the unfamiliar sun. Hungry at this point, we devoured our picnic whilst doing a little people watching.
Melon and grapes; the perfect combination which never fails to transport me to the feeling of a sunny holiday in France.
And cherries, since they're currently in season!
Having rested for a while longer on the beach we cooled down by paddling in the sea.
We admired the famous White Cliffs; I found myself feeling very lucky for being situated in a very fine part of the country with such places nearby. It's always satisfying when you can travel only a short distance and admire what's on your doorstep without all the cost and stress associated with going away!
Smiles all around it was finally time to head back through the meanders on our way back to the car and then home.

After a cup of tea in the garden we had a leisurely dinner. We enjoyed one of my favourite simple summer salads: Chicken, cucumber, and mango & fruit chutney dressing with almonds

And it was accompanied by the obligatory wine. It was hot so naturally we had to keep drinking to ensure we stayed hydrated...
And that was the end to the first of our girlie weekends, to be followed by just as an enjoyable one the following weekend.

What have you been getting up to in order to enjoy this weather?

Have you got any favourite destinations for day trips that are just on your doorstep?

Summer Salad: Pea, mint and feta

July 09, 2013

I have been wanting to make a pea and mint salad ever since last summer when I sampled a supermarket one which was very much enjoyed, and gobbled up without much delay, on a picnic. It was the perfect refreshing, light, and healthy side dish.

Last weekend, as the sun was shining brightly that same salad was all I could think about. What's more we had two varieties of fresh mint in the garden- so there really was no excuse.

This is the recipe that I came up with in an attempt to replicate the shop-bought salad. It's not by any means complex, but sometimes simplicity is best!

Fresh garden peas,
Mangetout peas,
Green beans,
and Feta

Give yourself a little time with the peas as it is fairly labour intensive, but luckily quite fun and strangely satisfying.

For the dressing:
White wine vinegar,
Lemon juice,
and a little sugar if you fancy.

And there you have it. Yum.
Serve as chilled as possible for optimum crunch and freshness.
Perfect for a picnic, or to enjoy alongside a BBQ.

What is your favourite accompaniment to a BBQ?
Do you have a side that you always prepare if you're picnicking?

A mother daughter weekend: Sun, Al fresco dining, & (a little) wine

July 08, 2013

The weekend just gone saw my return down south- and what a sunny home greeted me! Dad had just flown out to China for business, someone was obviously keen to get to the other side of the world! Not really, he had come and driven all the way to York and back to pick me up, before dashing away. So we were left just the two girls. A much needed girlie weekend was in order. And that's just what we had, lots of wonderful food, giggles, incessant chatting, and a glass of wine or two.

Mum and I both love similar food, and after heading to the supermarket and really being that annoying child, i.e picking up everything, (which I can't afford when living as a student and normally just gaze longingly at), we had picked up enough fruit and veg to seriously overdose on the stuff.
So, naturally, having considered what to have for dinner, what we decided on was nothing short of a feast.

What we came up with was perfect for the summer's evening; we dipped into our mezze platter as we spoke for hours. 

We enjoyed some fresh bread, cured meats, peppers, olives, and pea & mint salad (a recipe post of which will follow.)

When it became dark it was finally time to come in after what had been a wonderful evening back at home. It was time for bed in anticipation for the day to follow.