Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

The Woman in White Podcast

Tea Tonic & Toxin: The Woman in White - Detective Story
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
The Woman in White Podcast
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Woman in White Podcast: Sensation Novel or Detective Story?

Welcome to the Woman in White podcast episode from Tea, Tonic & Toxin! In The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins tells the story of a woman locked away in an insane asylum. Well, sort of.

 

This 1860 thriller is considered to be among the first mystery novels (along with Bleak House, among others) and among the first and finest sensation novels. The story includes a ghostly woman, a secret society, switched identities, foreign agents, paranoia, bribery, blackmail, and conspiracies. Seriously, what’s not to love?

 

How to Read ItBuy it on Amazon, buy a copy at your favorite used bookstore, or read it for free (courtesy of Project Gutenberg). You can find discussion questions here.

 

Estimated Reading Time: 12 hours.

 

Yeah, we get it. Twelve hours is a lot of time. But guess what? It’s SO worth it. I mean, you’re reading a Victorian detective story for goodness’ sake. And two of the characters, Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco, are off the charts amazing.

What We're Talking About in the Woman in White Episode

Wilkie Collins has been called the creator of the sensation novel. The novel has a ghostly woman, switched identities, paranoia, forged documents, drugging, bribery, spying, foreign agents, blackmail, lies, and conspiracies. What are your thoughts about sensation novels? And in what ways is the book a detective story?

 

In his preface to the 1860 edition, Collins wrote, “An experiment is attempted in this novel, which has not (so far as I know) been hitherto tried in fiction.” The story is told throughout by the book’s characters. How did you feel about these diverse first-person narratives? What qualities does each narrator bring to the story? And how does everyone remember entire conversations and every single minute details?

 

How do Frederick Fairlie, Sir Percival, Count Fosco, and Hartright each represent distinct styles of masculinity? Did these four men feel real or familiar to you?

 

How much power do women have in The Woman in White? In what ways are the women characters ideals of Victorian womanhood? (Why do Hartright and Marian lie to Laura about their investigation? Why don’t Laura and Anne ever get to tell their own stories?) What surprised you about the women, and what frustrated you?

 

Laura and Anne end up switching places, which is one of the book’s biggest plot points. What’s the deal with these asylums? Details, please! And how did you feel once Laura’s identity was restored?

 

When Hartright returns from Honduras, he tries to restore Laura’s identity using tactics he had first used “against suspected treachery in the wilds of Central America” to the “heart of civilised London.” Why is he forced to work outside the laws and conventions of society? Why did he have to leave England and return to make this change?

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