Wie van zins is deze victoriaanse thriller te gaan lezen, kan beter hier stoppen met lezen.
De liefhebbers zijn eenstemmig: het fraaiste personage in deze roman is graaf Fosco, wiens naam in het Italiaans wellicht niet toevallig ‘duister’ betekent. Wanneer deze aan zijn witte muizen verknochte schurk eindelijk door good guy Hartright – nog zo’n naam – in het nauw is gedreven, eist deze van hem een schriftelijke bekentenis, die graaf Fosco als volgt vervaardigt:
The Count walked to a writing-table near the window, opened his desk, and took from it several quires of paper and a bundle of quill pens. He scattered the pens about the table, so that they might lie ready in all directions to be taken up when wanted, and then cut the paper into a heap of narrow slips, of the form used by professional writers for the press. ‘I shall make this a remarkable document,’ he said, looking at me over his shoulder. ‘Habits of literary composition are perfectly familiar to me. One of the rarest of all the intellectual accomplishments that a man can possess is the grand faculty of arranging his ideas. Immense privilege! I possess it. Do you?’(W. Collins, The Woman in White (1859-1860), ‘The Third Epoch’: ‘The story continued by Walter Hartright [II]’, hst. 7. Gecit. n. Penguin ed. 1974, pp. 612-614.)
He marched backwards and forwards in the room until the coffee appeared, humming to himself, and marking the places at which obstacles occurred in the arrangement of his ideas, by striking his forehead from time to time with the palm of his hand. [...]
The coffee was brought in by Madame Fosco. He kissed her hand in grateful acknowledgment, and escorted her to the door; returned, poured out a cup of coffee for himself, and took it to the writing-table.
‘May I offer you some coffee, Mr. Hartright?’ he said, before he sat down.
‘What! you think I shall poison you?’ he said gaily. ‘The English intellect is sound, so far as it goes,’ he continued, seating himself at the table: ‘but it has one grave defect – it is always cautious in the wrong place.’
He dipped his pen in the ink, placed the first slip of paper before him with a thump of his hand on the desk, cleared his throat, and began. He wrote with great noise and rapidity, in so large and bold a hand, and with such wide spaces between the lines, that he reached the bottom of the slip in not more than two minutes certainly from the time when he started at the top. Each slip as he finished it, was paged and tossed over his shoulder out of his way on the floor. When his first pen was worn out, that went over his shoulder too, and he pounced on a second from the supply scattered about the table. Slip after slip, by dozens, by fifties, by hundreds, flew over his shoulders on either side of him till he had snowed himself up in paper all round his chair. Hour after hour passed – and there I sat watching, there he sat writing. He never stopped, except to sip his coffee, and when that was exhausted, to smack his forehead from time to time. One o’clock struck, two, three, four – and still the slips flew about all round him; still the untiring pen scraped its way ceaselessly from top to bottom of the page, still the white chaos of paper rose higher and higher all round his chair. At four o’clock I heard a sudden splutter of the pen, indicative of the flourish with which he signed his name. ‘Bravo!’ he cried, springing to his feet with the activity of a young man, and looking me straight in the face with a smile of superb triumph.
‘Done, Mr. Hartright!’ he announced, with a self-renovating thump of his fist on his broad chest. ‘Done, to my own profound satisfaction – to your profound astonishment, when you read what I have written. The subject is exhausted: the man – Fosco – is not. I proceed to the arrangement of my slips – to the revision of my slips – to the reading of my slips – addressed emphatically to your private ear. Four o’clock has just struck. Good! Arrangement, revision, reading, from four to five. Short snooze of restoration for myself from five to six. Final preparations from six to seven. Affair of agent and sealed letter from seven to eight. At eight, en route. Behold the programme!’
He sat down cross-legged on the floor among his papers, strung them together with a bodkin and a piece of string – revised them, wrote all the titles and honours by which he was personally distinguished at the head of the first page, and then read the manuscript to me with loud theatrical emphasis and profuse theatrical gesticulation. The reader will have an opportunity, ere long, of forming his own opinion of the document. It will be sufficient to mention here that it answered my purpose.