Socialist Worker

The Woman in White's narrow plot fails to deal with sexism properly

by Fran Manning
Issue No. 2602

The cast of the BBCs the Woman In White

The cast of the BBC's the Woman In White

History to date has been the history of Great Men.

It is a sad fact that much literature—particularly that which is regarded as Great Literature—more often than not tells tales of ruling class lives.

One of the first mystery novels, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, is no exception. It deals with a squabble over inheritance rights within the context of forbidden love between a wealthy heiress and a struggling artist.

This skewed representation of history is partly caused by the reality that artists must sell their art if they are to live. And those most able to purchase art are the upper classes themselves.

The Woman in White begins with our main character as a painter who chooses reluctantly to sell his artistic abilities for want of money.

The first episode in the adaptation hints at themes of sexism and stigma around mental health.

It particularly does this through the characters of Anne, escaped from an asylum, and Percival, who has a terrible secret.

Given the narrow confines of the original plot, it is difficult to see how subsequent episodes in this adaptation will be able to explore these themes.

The dramatisation will no doubt make for intriguing entertainment on Sunday evenings, with its lavish scenery and quaintly dressed characters.

But unless the adaptation plans to significantly alter the original plot, those expecting a vindication of the #metoo movement, as suggested by some reviewers, will be disappointed.

The Woman in White, BBC1, Sundays at 9pm

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Article information

Tue 1 May 2018, 16:50 BST
Issue No. 2602
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