The Woman in White, and a guest blogger

Today we have a guest entry from Rich Westwood, who runs the highly-recommended website Past Offences, with news and reviews of classic crime books. He has looked at The Woman in White for us, and Clothes in Books will be reviewing Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train for his blog in the near future – his idea of simple genius was that this would be in keeping with the concept of Strangers on a Train. Look out for another entry from Rich next week.

the book:

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

published 1860

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859-60) tells of a dastardly plot against the innocent and beautiful Laura Fairlie by her cash-strapped husband Sir Percival Glyde, aided and abetted by his scheming friend Count Fosco. Collins seems to have had an eye for costume. First, we have the mysterious woman in white herself, Anne Catherick:
She held a small bag in her hand: and her dress -- bonnet, shawl, and gown all of white -- was, so far as I could guess, certainly not composed of very delicate or very expensive materials.

The white clothes stem from a childhood incident that made a lasting impression on Anne, which we find out about in an old letter:

So I arranged, yesterday, that some of our darling Laura's old white frocks and white hats should be altered for Anne Catherick, explaining to her that little girls of her complexion looked neater and better all in white than in anything else.

Marian and Laura dress differently, with the angelic but rich Laura dressing down to avoid making her poorer half-sister uncomfortable:

I was struck, on entering the drawing-room, by the curious contrast,rather in material than in colour, of the dresses which they now wore.While Mrs Vesey and Miss Halcombe were richly clad (each in the manner most becoming to her age), the first in silver-grey, and the second in that delicate primrose-yellow colour which matches so well with a dark complexion and black hair, Miss Fairlie was unpretendingly and almost poorly dressed in plain white muslin. It was spotlessly pure: it was beautifully put on; but still it was the sort of dress which the wife or daughter of a poor man might have worn, and it made her, so far as externals went, look less affluent in circumstances than her own governess.

The image is by John Lenan for Harper's Weekly.


  1. How lovely. It goes to show that women in those days were not expected to do anything very active, wearing white, pale yellow & pale grey - no healthy walks in the wet and muddy English countryside.

  2. was great posting how it was in olden days how the women dress up.....


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