The Woman in White and The Fictional World of Archives

Original Novel Title: The Woman in White
Author: Wilkie Collins
Publisher: Published as a serial in All the Year Round (literary periodical started by Charles Dickens), and in Harper's Magazine 1859-1860; various hardcover and paperback book editions since then.

This review is based on Penguin Classics, London, 1985.

Guaranteed to delight those who appreciate Victorian melodrama, The Woman in White is more than just an exciting story of deception, madness and murder. The central mystery to the story, that which provides the villain's motive, hinges on archival documents. The hero, Walter Hartright tracks down a parish marriage register:

"He opened the door of one of the presses...and produced a large volume bound in greasy brown leather. I was struck by the insecurity of the place in which the register was kept. The door of the press was warped and cracked with age, and the lock was of the smallest and commonest kind. I could have forced it easily with the walking-stick I carried in my hand. 'Is that considered a sufficiently secure place for the register?' I inquired. 'Surely a book of such importance as this ought to be protected by a better lock, and kept carefully in an iron safe?'" (Collins, W. The Woman in White, p. 519).

Suspecting falsification of the original register, Hartright goes on to find a copy of the register kept by a previous vestry-clerk. His exciting discovery instigates the climax of the book and proves, once again, the importance of archives.

  1. Read an online edition of The Woman in White courtesy of Bibliomania.

CONTENTS: The Fictional World of Archives

Submitted by Katy Hughes, archivist, 1998.04.14. Updated 2001.03.13.