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Mystery thriller The Woman in White was written by one of my favorite writers, Wilkie Collins (1824-1889). The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) are Collins’ best known works. The poet T.S. Eliot famously said that The Moonstone is “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels...in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe." I will post about this intriguing book a later time.
Not only did Collins invent the modern detective genre, he created, in The Woman in White (WiW), the first legal thriller, and, I think, the first novel in Western literature with a heroine who explicitly defends a woman’s right to her own life. (If I am mistaken on one or both of these counts, please correct me in the Comments section below.)
Collins based WiW, and many of his other novels, on the legal knowledge he gained studying to be a lawyer, a profession he never actually practiced. In the preface to the second edition of WiW, Collins acknowledges the importance of the law to his story. He says, “A solicitor of great experience in his profession most kindly and carefully guided my steps whenever the course of the narrative led me into the labyrinth of the law.” And “All the proof-sheets which referred to legal matters were corrected by his hand before the story was published.”