The Woman in White

Preface to the first English book edition, 1860



AN experiment is attempted in this novel, which has
not (so far as I know) been hitherto tried in fiction.
The story of the book is told throughout by the
characters of the book. They are all placed in
different positions along the chain of events; and
they all take the chain up in turn, and carry it on
to the end.

If the execution of this idea had led to nothing
more than the attainment of mere novelty of form,
I should not have claimed a moment's attention for
it in this place. But the substance of the book, as
well as the form, has profited by it. It has forced
me to keep the story constantly moving forward;
and it has afforded my characters a new opportunity
of expressing themselves, through the medium of
the written contributions which they are supposed to
make to the progress of the narrative.

In writing these prefatory lines, I cannot prevail
on myself to pass over in silence the warm welcome

vi                           PREFACE.

which my story has met with, in its periodical
form, among English and American readers. In
the first place, that welcome has, I hope, justified
me for having accepted the serious literary responsi-
bility of appearing in the columns of 'All The Year
Round,' immediately after Mr. Charles Dickens had
occupied them with the most perfect work of con-
structive art that has ever proceeded from his pen.
In the second place, by frankly acknowledging the
recognition that I have obtained thus far, I provide
for myself am opportunity of thanking many corre-
spondents (to whom I am personally unknown) for
the hearty encouragement I received from them
while my work was in progress. Now, while the
visionary men and women, among whom I have
been living so long, are all leaving me, I remember
very gratefully that 'Marian' and 'Laura' made
such warm friends in many quarters, that I was
peremptorily cautioned at a serious crisis in the
story, to be careful how I treated them -- that
Mr. Fairlie found sympathetic fellow-sufferers, who
remonstrated with me for not making Christian
allowance for the state of his nerves -- that Sir
Percival's 'secret' became sufficiently exasperating,
in course of time, to be made the subject of bets (all
of which I hereby declare to be 'off') -- and that

                           PREFACE.                           vii

Count Fosco suggested metaphysical considerations
to the learned in such matters (which I don't quite
understand to this day), besides provoking numerous
inquiries as to the living model, from which he had
been really taken. I can only answer these last by
confessing that many models, some living, and some
dead, have 'sat' for him; and by hinting that the
Count would not have been as true to nature as I
have tried to make him,if the range of my search
for materials had not extended, in his case as well as
in others, beyond the narrow human limit which is
represented by one man.

In presenting my book to a new class of readers,
in its complete form, I have only to say that it
has been carefully revised ; and that the divisions of
the chapters, and other minor matters of the same
sort, have been altered here and there, with a view to
smoothing and consolidating the story in its course
through these volumes. If the readers who have
waited until it was done, only prove to be as kind an
audience as the readers who followed it through its
weekly progress, 'The Woman in White' will be
the most precious impersonal Woman on the list of
my acquaintance.

Before I conclude, I am desirous of addressing one

viii                           PREFACE.

or two questions, of the most harmless and innocent
kind, to the Critics.

In the event of this book being reviewed, I venture
to ask whether it is possible to praise the writer, or
to blame him, without opening the proceedings by
telling his story at second-hand? As that story is
written by me -- with the inevitable suppressions
which the periodical system of publication forces on
the novelist -- the telling it fills more than a thousand
closely printed pages. No small portion of this space
is occupied by hundreds of little 'connecting links,'
of trifling value in themselves, but of the utmost
importance in maintaining the smoothness, the
reality, and the probability of the entire narrative.
If the critic tells the story with these, can he do it in
his allotted page, or column, as the case may be ? If
he tells it without these, is he doing a fellow-labourer
in another form of Art, the justice which writers owe
to one another ? And lastly, if he tells it at all, in
any way whatever, is he doing a service to the reader,
by destroying, beforehand, two main elements in the
attraction of all stories -- the interest of curiosity, and
the excitement of surprise ?

Harley Street, London,
    August 3, 1860.

All material on these pages is Paul Lewis 1997, 1998