The Woman In White : Wilkie Collins (Real Reads adapted edition)

I’ve tried the Woman In White quite a few times. This is primarily due to a moment in the Chalet School books where Miss Annersley (IIRC)  chucks a white dress on for a literary themed fancy dress party and, when the prefects spend an entire evening saying, “Gosh Miss Annersley whoever could you be?”, her reply is something along the lines of “I’m the Woman in White dudes, dur”.

I struggled heavily with the original so I was very interested to pick up this adapted version by the Stroud based publishers Real Reads Ltd. The version I have is wrapped in a dull as anything solid green cover so I was relieved to see that the Amazon listing has at least some attempt on a cover design.

This adaptation is actually rather nice. The publishers state that they’ve aimed it at 8-12 year olds and I would suggest that it slides more to the older side of that spectrum. Textually, it’s handled well and addresses some of the melodramatic complexities that stymied me in the original text. It is an adaptation, rather than an abbreviated version, so shifts some plot points and omits others. The story itself flows breezily and I thought whoever did the original ‘cutting’ did it really well. It’s energetic and then quiet in all the right places.

I liked that there was an initial ‘cast listing’ of characters. Each key character was presented with a little potted biography and with a portrait. This sort of touch is really useful as it gives a frame of reference to refer back to should the reader struggle. I also liked that we got an illustration of them as it helped to tie the character to the illustrations throughout the book. However the illustrations themselves are a bit curious because I don’t think I liked them. They feel a bit off and a little bit too self-consciously aware of their context.

I’m always a little nervous of adaptations of texts as it’s all too easy to detract from the original. I think this edition works well but doesn’t wholly succeed. It demands a certain level of reading confidence to begin with and could, I imagine, prove intimidating to those who pick this up through serendipity. If the reader is confident in handling this level of story, with these sprawling cast of characters and historical detail (there’s no glossary included), then I could see them doing well.

As an adapted text this works very well and stands quite solidly as a story of dodgy doings and sensational incidents. I’m just curious as to what relevance or purpose this could be put to in the ‘real’ world. The publishers seem to posit this book as a step towards the original and I’d be interested to see whether a reader actually takes this step or simply settles with this adaptation because I know that personally, once I know “who did it”, I’ve got no inclination to read another version of the story.

I tell you what though, I would absolutely love it if somebody did a graphic novel of The Woman In White. I think that might actually work pretty damn well.

The Woman In White can be read in its entirety on Project Gutenberg here.

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