THE chilling mystery and suspense novel, The Woman in White, was a sensation when it was first published in London in 1860 and it has never been out of print since. Its author, a Victorian writer called Wilkie Collins, wrote 25 novels, more than 50 short stories, 15 stage plays and around 100 non-fiction articles for popular magazines. Reading exciting novels was a favourite pastime in Europe and America in the second half of the 19th century and The Woman in White was a colossal hit the moment it appeared on bookstalls. Thick, meaty thrillers were the soap-operas of the Victorian era when people didn't have television or movies to entertain them. These 'novels of sensation' were usually published in serial form with a chapter appearing on bookstalls once a week. After the first few chapters of The Woman in White, readers could not wait to find out what happened next in the story. Like modern detective novels, the success of books like The Woman in White depended largely on clever, intricate plots. The author had to maintain the suspense, so that at the end of each chapter, readers were eagerly asking: 'What next?' Today's readers can quickly move from chapter to chapter until the mystery is solved, but fans of The Woman in White had to wait until the next instalment was published. The suspense was unbearable. The plot of The Woman in White has all the ingredients that are necessary to keep us on the edge of our seats. It is a mysterious tale of a female in danger, an evil aristocrat, an eerie lunatic asylum and a fog-surrounded mansion. Shudders are guaranteed from the start. Late one night, in a desolate part of the English countryside, a young man called Walter Hartright meets a beautiful young woman dressed in white. She is running away from something and wants Walter to help her, but she vanishes as quickly as she appeared. Walter has just begun a new job as private art tutor to two half-sisters, Laura and Marian, who live with their guardian in a lonely mansion miles away from anywhere. Walter is disturbed by Laura's resemblance to the ghostly woman he met that night. The two of them look so much alike that Walter decides to discover all he can about the strange woman. Laura is engaged to an English aristocrat, Sir Percival Glyde, who is only interested in getting his hands on her money. Sir Percival has a sinister friend, Count Fosco, and the two of them have come up with the perfect scheme to part Laura from her fortune. The two sisters and their art tutor soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous web of betrayal and greed. The three of them need all their resourcefulness and courage to survive the dark plot that has been hatched to destroy them. The Woman in White was written more than 140 years ago, but it is about to hit the headlines again. Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of mega-hit musicals like Evita, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, has written a brilliant new stage musical based on the book and the show opens in London in September. The Woman in White is getting ready to spread fear again. Can you answer these questions about The Woman in White? 1. What is a 'novel of sensation' and when was this type of book popular? 2. Who wrote The Woman in White and when was it first published? 3. How was the novel published? 4. How does the novel begin? 5. Why does Walter Hartright feel doubly disturbed when he meets the woman in white? 6. What is Walter's relationship with Laura and Marian? 7. Why is Laura in danger? 8. What are the names of the villains in The Woman in White? 9. Why is The Woman in White about to become popular again? 10. What other musicals has Andrew Lloyd Webber written? Answers 1. 'Novels of sensation' were Victorian thrillers. 2. Wilkie Collins wrote The Woman in White in 1860. 3. The novel was first published in serial form. 4. The story begins with a mysterious meeting between the hero and a strange woman dressed in white. 5. Walter is puzzled because the woman looks like one of his students. 6. Walter is their private art tutor. 7. Laura is rich and the villains of the story are trying to get their hands on her money. 8. The villains are Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco. 9. The Woman in White has been adapted as a stage musical. 10. Lloyd Webber wrote Cats, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera.