The Woman in White

Caleb Crain writes:

I won’t say what the crime was, because suspense is the chief motivation for reading The Woman in White. It has often been considered a low motivation. In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster wrote that a story was not so much the backbone of a novel as its tapeworm, and suggested that the proper way to concede that a novel ought to tell one is ‘in a sort of drooping regretful voice’. It is doubtful that Collins felt the same ambivalence, though to disguise his enthusiasm for such a low literary vice he took care to blame his compelling stories on his villains. In his novels, evil makes everything happen. The virtuous merely struggle against the story’s progress, fluttering wanly and often a bit stupidly, like moths in a web. The reader’s sympathy drifts naturally to the spiders.

(LRB 11 September 2008)

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