- Virginia Johnson
Dateline: Hampstead, London, 1851
Twenty-something drawing master William Hartright was passing a pleasant evening en route to his next assignment as a live-in tutor for two young ladies at Limmeridge House when he was accosted by a young woman oddly garbed all in white who begged for his help. She refused to tell him her name, from whence she came or to where she was going. Being a gentleman, he escorted her, as was her design, to the nearest cab stand. Along the way, they chatted—The Woman in White, oddly intense and excitable, and he, curious to find out what he could about this very determined lady in distress.
What he did discover was that she knew the family who had hired him but, warm as her feelings seemed to be to the Fairlies, she was sufficiently troubled by another horror to bolt into the procured cab and race off towards her unstated destination. A few minutes later, Mr. Hartright saw another carriage driving recklessly and pulling up short near a policeman. The men in the carriage shouted to the officer—had he seen a woman in white? She had just escaped from their private insane asylum.
In the Victorian period, it was all too easy for inconvenient women (and some men) to be shut away for “madness” by relatives, real or purported. Mr. Hartright knew that the woman in white might be a poor soul improperly shut away…or she might be a dangerous lunatic. He eventually arrives at his destination where he is charmed by one of his pupils, the clever and strong-hearted Marian Halcombe, but he is utterly entranced by her half-sister Laura Fairlie, who is the very image of the woman in white.
The Woman in White is considered one of the first detective novels. William Hartright and Marian Halcombe both work to unravel “the clews” of hidden truths which threaten the lives and fortunes of those they hold dear. Readers who enjoy A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and the works of the Bronte sisters should take a turn around the floor with The Woman in White.