December 27th, 2010

The Woman In White: Wilkie Collins

This may or may not be the first modern thriller. Genres evolve - and there must be things that are earlier than this which qualify as almost the first modern thriller- Bleak House perhaps.  Still the modernity of the Woman in White is startling.  Wilkie has a modern mind- and goes as far out on a limb on sex and religion as any Victorian popular novelist dared. Sex: he hearts it. Religion: he despises it. All the familiar tropes are here- but fresh because they're being done for the first time. Wilkie's people are vivid. Count Fosco is fat and charismatic and looks like Napoleon and is clearly written with Marlon Brando in mind. Marian Halcombe is smart and tough, almost an action hero- and (brilliant touch, this) ugly. Wilkie likes women. Strong women- good and bad- abound in his books. He never quite dips into the supernatural, but weirdness is everywhere- with doppelgangers and odd encounters on lonely moonlit roads and- well- women in white- several of them. It's a grand book.

I've not quite finished it yet. Our hero- who has been gumshoeing around like a good'un has just marched in and confronted Fosco in his lair. Fosco "stops at nothing", but our hero has it in his power to sic the mafia onto him and Fosco knows it...