These are independent reviews of the products mentioned, but TIME receives a commission when purchases are made through affiliate links at no additional cost to the purchaser.

Serialized in 1859 and published as a complete work in 1860, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White catapulted the English writer’s career to new—and lucrative—heights during his lifetime, making his work the talk of middle-class Victorian society. The epistolary novel, which was published in Charles Dickens’s journal All The Year Round, follows multiple narrators to fictionalize a true case that Collins found in a French crime book called Recueil des Causes Celebres. In The Woman in White, Frederick Fairlie is a well-to-do hypochondriac who hires Walter Hartright to tutor his niece and heiress, Laura Fairlie, as well as her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Hartright and Laura develop feelings for each other, but she honors her father’s wishes and marries her betrothed, Sir Percival Glyde, a dislikable figure with questionable motives. The titular character comes in the form of the mysterious Anne Catherick, a falsely imprisoned woman who has escaped from an institution and knows a secret that could disrupt Glyde’s plans. When Laura is drugged and committed to the asylum as Anne, Hartright takes on the role of a detective, turning to sleuthing techniques to prove Laura’s identity and uncover what Glyde is hiding.

More from TIME

With its use of melodrama and domestic realism, the novel helped to pioneer the genre of sensation fiction. It also put a new twist on the tropes of gothic romance while serving as an early iteration of a detective novel. Two months into its serialization, Dickens called the story “masterly,” and to this day, the book is widely regarded as a classic. —Armani Syed

Buy Now: The Woman in White on Bookshop | Amazon

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at

Devil in a Blue Dress
The Secret History
The Honjin Murders
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Gone Girl
5 stories