The Woman in White: A Novel for Hysterical Times
Wilkie Collins’ haunting mystery of false identity and female instability reflected one of the lunacy panics of the age. Sarah Wise looks at three events that inspired The Woman in White.
I had now arrived at that particular point of my walk where four roads met – the road to Hampstead, the road to Finchley, the road to West End, and the road back to London. I had mechanically turned in this latter direction, and was strolling along the lonely high-road ... when, in one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my shoulder from behind me. I turned on the instant, with my fingers tightening round the handle of my stick. There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road – there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven – stood the figure of a solitary woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments, her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her. I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this extraordinary apparition stood before me, in the dead of night and in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. The strange woman spoke first. ‘Is that the road to London?’