The best of BBC Radio 3's flagship arts and ideas programme Night Waves - featuring in-depth...
Matthew Sweet brings together a round-table of guests to explore one of the best-selling novels of the nineteenth century: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, one hundred and fifty years after it was first published in 1860. Joining Matthew are the actor and writer Simon Callow, the author Kate Summerscale, broadcaster Paul Lewis and the writer Lisa Appignanesi join Matthew to delve into the archetypal "sensation novel" of the Victorian era. The Woman in White pioneered the use of mystery, detective sleuthing and the multiple viewpoints that have become the stock-in-trade of thrillers and crime fiction ever since. No wonder that Prime Minister Gladstone stayed up all night reading the book, and even Oscar Wilde named his cat after its chief villain, Count Fosco, a part played by guest Simon Callow in teh Lloyd-Webber musical adaptation of the novel.
The Woman in White launched Wilkie Collins to a ten year period when he dominated English fiction. Matthew tries to get to the heart of the originality of this ground-breaking book. How did a figure such as Collins - a close friend of Charles Dickens - manage to create so many original devices? Did Collins' legal back-ground help him develop his literary techniques?
And today, a century and a half later, when detective thrillers are one of the world's most influential genres of fiction, how does Collins's work stand-up? Does the archaeology of the Woman in White, give us some clues about how such gripping writing would develop over the subsequent century?