The Woman in White – A Chronological Study

By Andrew Gasson

Text and images © Andrew Gasson 2010

The Woman in White was first published in serial form in All the Year Round from 26 November 1859 to 25 August 1860 (40 parts) and concurrently in Harper’s Weekly from 26 November 1859 to 8 September 1860 (42 parts – the last three parts of All The Year Round were spread over five weeks).  It rapidly became Collins’s most popular novel and was subsequently issued in numerous book editions.  The identification of these early editions is difficult: first because of their variety and number; secondly because of the virtually simultaneous publication on both sides of the Atlantic; and thirdly because of the many changes in the complicated text introduced by the author.


Collins continually revised his works in matters of style and detail.  In The Woman in White the complex nature of the plot, revolving as it does about certain key dates, obliged him in the interests of accuracy to make several alterations in the actual chronology of the story.  These changes can to some extent be linked with its publishing history and the progress of its many early editions.

The most well known error of chronology is that first described in The Times of 30 October 1860.  The plot relies on the fact that Laura’s departure for London took place the day after Anne Catherick had died under Laura’s name.  In the book edition the date of that death was 26 July whereas as the reviewer points out ‘…we could easily show that Lady Glyde could not have left Blackwater Park before the 9th or 10th of August.  Anybody who reads the story, and who counts the days from the conclusion of Miss Halcombe’s diary, can verify the calculation for himself.’

Collins wrote to his publisher, Edward Marston of Sampson Low, on 31 October ‘If any fresh impression of The Woman in White is likely to be wanted immediately, stop the press till I come back. The critic in the Times is (between ourselves) right about the mistake in time.3 Shakespear [sic] has made worse mistakes – that is one comfort. And readers are not critics, who test an emotional book by the base rules of arithmetic – which is a second consolation. Nevertheless we will set the mistake right at the first opportunity. I will call in Ludgate Hill the moment I get back.’  Despite this stated intention, the book, which according to The Times review, was already in its third edition, was not revised in this particular respect until the first one volume edition in 1861.  Here Collins wrote in a new preface ‘Certain technical errors which had escaped me while I was writing the book are here rectified.’  The main correction involved putting back the relevant dates by sixteen days so that Miss Halcombe’s Diary at Blackwater Park, for example, commences on 11 June instead of 27 June.  But as Kendrick has pointed out, the different Narratives of the story are so closely interwoven that this alteration introduces yet further inconsistencies such as those to be found in  Mrs Clement’s testimony.

A second chronological error had already been noted by The Guardian of 29 August 1860 where the reviewer writes ‘…and it is almost a compliment to point out a slip in vol. iii, where an important entry in a register, assigned in p. 149 to September, is given in p. 203 to April.’  From a publication stand-point, the significance of this error in Hartright’s Narrative is that it has been corrected by the time of the second edition.

The majority of purely textual changes occurred between the serial version in All the Year Round and the first English, three volume edition. Corrections to errors of punctuation, spelling and grammar have been documented in the 2009-10 sesquicentennial republication in the original weekly parts by Paul Lewis.  They are now available with a detailed week by week commentary at changes made by Collins were thoroughly documented in footnotes to the 1969 Riverside edition which also noted several other related alterations in chronology including:

Miss Halcombe’s Diary at Limmeridge House commences on 8th instead of 7th November (10th Number).

In Miss Halcombe’s Diary for 27 November, Laura’s marriage date is changed from 23rd  to 22nd December. (11th Number).

In the Narrative of the Tombstone, the dates of Laura’s marriage and death have been changed from 23 December 1849 and 28 July 1850 to 22 December and 25 July (26th Number).

In the Narrative of the Doctor, the date of death has been similarly changed from 28th to 25th July 1850 (26th Number).

In Fosco’s Narrative, the dates of Anne Catherick’s death and Lady Glyde’s arrival from London have been changed from 28th to 25th July 1850 (40th Number).

In Mr Fairlie’s Narrative, however, ‘The fifth, sixth or seventh of July’ in All the Year Round becomes ‘towards the middle of July’ in the English three volume edition but ‘at the end of June, or the beginning of July’ in the 1861 edition (22nd Number).


Many commentators have stated that the Harper edition in one volume preceded the English publication in three volumes.  In 1922 Sadleir wrongly says of the English edition.  ‘This book was published in September 1860’ and, writing in 1950, that the US edition “Preceded the English edition by one month.” That statement echoes Brussel writing in 1935 who states that ‘The New York edition was issued during August 1860, and the London edition was not published until September of the same year.’ These errors have been repeated by many booksellers and some commentators.

Robinson, on the other hand, suggests that both English and US editions were published on or about 15 August.  Parrish gives a date between the 14th and 31st August for the English edition (taken from information in The Publishers’ Circular) and between 15th and 31st August for the Harper edition without citing any source and refraining from giving priority to either the English or US edition.

In fact, as will be shown later, the English edition was published around 15 August and predated the New York edition by two weeks.

The Woman in White was first announced by Sampson Low in The Publishers’ Circular as early as 2 April 1860.  It was then advertised as ‘to be published shortly’ for the next three months until on 2 and 17 July it was described as ‘available immediately,’ although the novel had not by then actually been completed.  It was not until 26 July that Collins wrote to his mother ‘Hooray ! ! ! ! !  I have this instant written at the bottom of the four hundred and ninetieth page of my manuscript the two noblest words in the English language – The End – and, what is more, I have wound the story up in a very new and very pretty manner.  We shall see if the public are of my opinion.’

The Publishers’ Circular for 1 August 1860

On 1 August 1860, Sampson Low became more precise and in its ‘List of Books for the month of August’ where the first title isThe Woman in White with a publication date of ‘the 15th instant.’  The same issue of The Publishers’ Circular carries on p. 407 the advertisement ‘Notice – THE WOMAN IN WHITE, by Wilkie Collins, Esq., Author of the Dead Secret will be ready on Wednesday 15 August at all Libraries and Booksellers in Town and Country.  In 3 vols. Post 8vo. 31s 6d.  To provide against disappointment in obtaining a supply of this work in the day of publication, orders must be received by the publishers before the 8th instant.’

On 15 August Sampson Low has a further notice that ‘THE WOMAN IN WHITE … may be obtained this day’ and the book is listed in the fiction section of the editorial review of current publications.  This date is further confirmed in the subsequent issue of The Publishers’ Circular where it is listed as published from the 14th to 31st August, the dates cited by Parrish.  There were also advertisements in The Times, the first of which appeared on 9 August stating ‘NOTICE. – MR. WILKIE COLLINS’ “WOMAN IN WHITE” may be obtained, complete in 3 vols., at all libraries on Wednesday, the 15th inst.’

Collins himself, however, states in a note he added to the first page of the manuscript of The Woman in White that the publication date was 16 August.  His own dates for All the Year Round are incorrect (though are close to the actual dates of publication which are three days earlier than the date printed on the issue), so there may be some doubt about 16 August.

From Catalogue of Original Manuscripts by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 18 June 1890

The original Mss of The Woman in White By Wilkie Collins

‘I began this story on 15 August 1859, at Broadstairs, and finished it on the 26th July 1860 at 12 Harley Street, London.  It was first published, in weekly parts, in “All the Year Round”, beginning in the number for November 23rd 1859, and ending with the number for August 22nd 1860.  During the same period, it was periodically published at New York, US (by special arrangement with me) in “Harper’s Weekly.”  The story was reprinted for the first time, by Mess Sampson Low, Son, & Co.  It was published in three volumes post 8vo, on the 16th of August 1860.  In the United States, in Canada, and in Germany it was also reprinted, about the same time; and, shortly afterwards, a translation of it into German appeared at Leipzig.  A French translation followed, published at Brussells (sic) and Paris.  The first chapters (forming the first weekly part, and the opening of the second) were rewritten, after they had  been set up in type.  The printed fragments inserted, here and there, at the beginning of the Mss comprise those portions of the first proofs which it was not found necessary to alter, and which were attached to the written text to save the trouble of transcription.  The whole of the rest of the Mss was written for the press, once, and once only – exactly as it is here preserved.  In all cases, where there is any important difference between the printed copy and the original manuscript, the additions and alterations (Miss Halcombe’s Dream, for example, among the number) were made, on the spur of the moment, upon the proofs – which I have not preserved.   Wilkie Collins, October 4th, 1860.]

After the sale in three volumes had come to an end (in February 1861) an edition in one volume, with a photographic portrait of the author, was published in April 1861.’


THE WOMAN IN WHITE. By Wilkie Collins. Author of The Dead Secret After Dark, etc., etc., London: Sampson Low, Son & Co., 1860, 3 Vols.

Vol. I pp. viii + 316
Vol. II pp. (ii) + 360
Vol. III pp. (ii) + 368 + 16pp. advertisements dated Aug 1, 1860.

Purple cloth, blocked in gold and blind.  Pale yellow end-papers.  No half-titles.  Preface dated August 3, 1860.
Because of its huge popularity, there were several issues of The Woman in White within the first few months.  Robinson, for example, states that seven impressions appeared in six months whilst Ashley records that ‘…published in mid-August … Five editions were called for in the next two months, and a seventh appeared in February.’

In fact there are eight three volume editions. The first – which is of course not indicated as such – followed by the SECOND EDITION to the SEVENTH EDITION, printed on the title page, and likewise the NEW EDITION.

Volume 1 of the first English edition in three volumes

The true first edition is now rarely seen and requires the 16pp. publisher’s catalogue to be dated August 1860.  Sadleir sounds a note of caution, stating that first editions which he had seen had advertisements dated November 1860 ‘so that they belong clearly to a later issue.  The Woman in White is a case over which the buyer should take great care.  A so-called “New Edition” was issued in the
year of publication and with binding identical to that of the first edition, for which reason only the right advertisement matter can show that a copy is untampered with.’  This caveat from 1922 is even more important today when one considers the possible price for such an important but scarce first edition.  The New Edition referred to is encountered more often than the first and is frequently described erroneously as a second edition.

Title-page of the seventh three volume edition

Collins wrote to his mother on 22 August ‘… the whole of the first impression was sold on the day of publication. I am going today to get my money – and I hope to hear that the second impression is doing well.’

This issue may well have been a second impression of the first edition containing the later advertisements to which Sadleir refers because The Guardian error of chronology was not published until 29 August.  There is, however, an identifiable issue with ‘second edition’ on the title page with correction of The Guardianerror as well as changes to at least some of the errata listed by Parrish for the first edition.  The editorial review of thePublishers’ Circular for 15 September 1860 (p. 454) records the ‘2d. of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins’ in their ‘more important publications of the fortnight’ and Sampson Low featured this second edition in their bound-in book advertisements.  Copies of this edition usually have advertisements dated November 1860 but advertisements for May 1860 have been seen in at least one copy.

Also in The Publishers’ Circular for 15 September 1860 (p. 464), a third edition is advertised as being ‘available on the 24th instant’ and is similarly identifiable from the title page.  The next editorial, dated 1 October, refers to a fourth edition.  This issue similarly has the words ‘fourth edition’ on the title-page and at least one further difference in Parrish’s errata.  A fifth edition is listed in the issue of 16 October (p. 503) and Sampson Low advertised a ‘New edition this day’ on 1 November (p. 554).  Thereafter all reference in the Publishers’ Circular until the end of 1860 is to the new edition in three volumes although there are other issues with ‘sixth edition’ and ‘seventh edition’ clearly stated on the title page.

The new edition appears to exist in two distinct states for volumes II and III.  In the case of volume II, p. [1] sometimes carries its signature ‘B’ but is sometimes unsigned.  In volume III two collations have been seen:

[ii] + [1-3] + 4 – 368 + 16pp. advertisements dated November 1, 1860.
[ii] + [1-2] + 3 – 368 + 16pp. advertisements dated November 1, 1860

Since the first of these collations is the same as that of the first to seventh editions, it may be that the second variation represents a later state.

As the various three volume issues have differences in both chronology and errata, there is some justification in referring to them as ‘editions’ although the second edition in particular may have had more than one ‘impression’.


THE WOMAN IN WHITE.  By Wilkie Collins, Author of “Antonina”, The Dead Secret”, etc., etc.  New Edition.  London: Sampson Low, Son, & Co., 1861.  1 volume. Pp. viii + 496.
Magenta cloth, blocked in gold and blind.  Pale yellow end-papers. Half-title.  Steel engraved, additional illustrated title page by John Gilbert, opposite a mounted portrait photograph of Collins.

It is generally stated that the first one volume edition was published in February 1861, the date of the author’s revised preface.  Further study of The Publishers’ Circular, however, shows that despite mention of The Dead Secret and Antonina in the same Sampson Low one volume series, The Woman in Whitewas not advertised until 15 April 1861.  The issue for 1 May records a publication date from the 15th – 30th April, although the publisher’s own advertisement states ‘The cheap edition of The Woman in White is published this day, May 1st.’  A similar notice in The Times for 26 April 1861 states ‘Cheap edition, with a Photographic Portrait of Wilkie Collins, THE WOMAN IN WHITE. This day, in 1 vol., price 6s., handsomely bound in cloth,’

Frontispiece by John Gilbert to the first one volume edition

This one volume edition is of interest for several reasons:

It contains a new preface dated February 1861 (despite the apparently later date of publication).
It is the first occasion on which The Times error of chronology is corrected and it contains several other alterations in the text.
Parrish records variations in the style and position of the printer’s imprint (W. Clowes and Sons  on p. [iv] or William Clowes and Sons on p. [ii] with additional variations in the binding.
It contains a notable misprint on p. 190 with ‘marrying we’ for ‘marrying me’ although this is absent in some copies.
It forms part of the first collected edition of Collins’s works, Sampson Low’s ‘cheap and uniform edition’ of seven titles dated from 1861 to 1865.
It contains a mounted portrait photograph of Collins – several versions of this image are known and Collins himself wrote to his mother on 8 January 1864 to say he had to sit again for Cundall & Downes as ‘All the “negatives” of the photographic portraits in The Woman In White are exhausted by the large sale’.
It forms the basis for the text for the majority of subsequent editions.


THE WOMAN IN WHITE. A Novel. By Wilkie Collins, Author of “The Queen of Hearts”, “Antonina”, “The Dead Secret”, “After Dark”, &c., &c., &c.  Illustrations by John McLenan.  New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers. 1860.
1 Volume, pp. 264.

Publisher’s advertisements occupy pp. [1] and 2 (dated August 1860); and [261-264].  This edition contains seventy-four illustrations by John McLenan taken from Harper’s Weekly.  Dark brown cloth, blocked and lettered in blind; spine lettered in gold and illustrated in silver with the figure of a woman.  Brown end-papers.  No half-title.  (This edition was issued in various coloured cloths – usually brown or black – and also in paper wrappers).

The advertisements form part of the collation and there appear to be three distinct states.  Two of these (1) and (3) are noted by Parrish whilst (2) was originally described by Howard Mott.

P. [261] has ‘Muloch’ for ‘Mulock’ and lists nine of her books; p. [262] advertises The Mill on the Floss.
‘Mulock’ is spelled correctly on p. [261], eleven titles are listed and p. [262] advertises The Mill on the Floss.
‘Mulock’ is spelled correctly with eleven titles listed but p. [262] carries an advertisement for nine titles by W. M. Thackeray.

First US edition in paper wrappers

The serialisation in All the Year Round ran to exactly 40 numbers.  The publication in Harper’s Weekly extended to 42 numbers because Collins’s final instalments had a word count nearly double that of the usual number.  This delay probably accounts for the lack of illustrations in the final two parts.

In contrast with the first English, Harper’s edition follows the original All the Year Round text very much more closely so that the great majority of chronological errors remain uncorrected.  With the exceptions of a single change in each of the 15th and 38th numbers, alterations in the text of the US edition occur only in the 33rd, 34th and 35th numbers where most but not all of the English changes have been incorporated.  In the case of the 38th number, the omission of Mr. Vesey’s letter means that it is altogether absent from the Harper’s version in both places where it might have appeared in the text.  Harper reissued this edition for some years – copies dated 1862, 1864, 1865, 1870, and 1871 are known and all follow precisely the text of 1860, so that all of the errors of chronology, including those pointed out by The Times and The Guardian are perpetuated. This approach is once again in contrast with the many alterations between English serial, three volume and one volume versions.  The revised text was not used by Harper until 1873 as part of the uniform edition of Collins’s works on the occasion of his visit to America that year.  The 1860 first US edition contains no preface, although a shortened version of that published in the English first does appear in the 1864 Harper’s edition.


Advertisements for The Woman in White by Harpers in both The New York Times and The World do not appear until 30 August 1860 where they announce the book as ‘Published this day’.  There is a further advertisement in The New York Times of 22 September 1860

in the ‘Just Published’ section announcing ‘The new edition will be available in a few days.’  This statement may well refer to one of the later states of the US first edition.

Collins is unlikely to have given Harper priority since this could have damaged his own claim to copyright.   The practicalities of their accommodating the final double length instalments would also have led to some delay in publication.  Taking Collins’s own words into account together with the Sampson Low advertisements leaves little doubt that The Woman in White was first published in England on or about 15 August whereas the date in the USA appears to be no earlier than 30 August 1860.


Collins wrote on 3 August 1860 that the book ‘will be published this month’ in England, Germany, America, and Canada.  The German publication was presumably the English version published by Tauchnitz in 1860 as volumes 525 and 526 of ‘The Collection of British Authors’, its chronology being the same as that of the three volume, first English edition. The Canadian edition was published in Toronto by McLear & Co. The two column, un-illustrated text follows All The Year Round rather than Harper’s Weekly or the three volume edition which suggests it was published late summer or early Autumn 1860, and could even pre-date the US edition.

In 1861 La Femme en Blanc, an authorised translation by Emile Forgues, was published by Hetzel in Paris with a new preface by Collins dated June 1861.  In 1862 Voight & Günther published a German translation Die Frau in Weiss by Marie Scott which Collins dedicated to the All The Year Round sub-editor William Henry Wills.  An apparently unauthorised translation Die weisse Frau was published in Stuttgart the same year.

In the USA, Collins suffered from his perennial difficulty with pirated editions, despite his best endeavours on behalf of Harper to provide them with proofs as rapidly as possible.   Nevertheless, twenty years later he bitterly recalled in Considerations on the Copyright Question addressed to an American Friend ‘… for every one reader in  England I have ten readers in the United States … I can only tell you, as a basis for calculation, that one American publisher informed a friend of mine that he had “sold one hundred and twenty thousand copies of The Woman in White.”  He never sent me a sixpence.’

The Woman in White has never been out of print since its first publication in 1860.  Sutherland suggests that the equivalent of more than 100,000 copies were sold of All the Year Round, together with a probable 50,000 copies of the 1861 edition.  If these numbers are added to those from the various three volume editions; subsequent English reprints by Sampson Low, Smith, Elder (from 1865) and Chatto & Windus (from 1875); several later issues by Harper; and numerous translations, it can be seen that during the 19th century The Woman in White sold in truly prodigious quantities.




15 August 1859

Collins begin writing The Woman in White

26 November 1859
Serialisation begins in All the Year Round and Harper’s Weekly

January 1860
Sampson Low acquires book publication rights

2 April 1860
First announcement by Sampson Low in the Publishers’ Circular

26 July 1860
Collins completes writing The Woman in White

3 August 1860
Date of preface to first edition

15 August 1860
First English book publication

22 August 1860
Second impression ‘selling well’

26 August 1860
Serialisation completed in All the Year Round

29 August 1860
Guardian review

30 August 1860
First US book publication

August or September 1860
First Canadian book publication

8 September 1860
Serialisation completed by Harper’s Weekly

By 15 September 1860
Second edition and correction of Guardian error

24 September 1860
Third edition

Between 14 and 29 September
Fourth edition

By 16 October
Fifth edition

By 1 November 1860
Sixth and seventh editions

1 November 1860
New edition

February 1861
Date of preface to one volume edition

15 April 1861
First advertisement for one volume edition

Between 15 April and 1 May 1861
Publication of one volume edition with photograph

Autumn 1861
Authorised French translation

Early 1862Authorised German translation.

Copyright acquired by Smith, Elder

Copyright acquired by  Chatto & Windus


Page, N., Wilkie Collins: The Critical Heritage London 1974 p. 103.
The Letters of Wilkie Collins, Baker, W. and Clarke, W. Basingstoke 1999 p. 191. 
Kendrick, W. M. ‘The Sensationalism of The Woman in White’ Nineteenth Century Fiction 32 (June 1977) 23.
Page p. 90
Lewis, P. The Woman in White in its original parts;150th anniversary project.
The Woman in White, ed. Anthea Trodd Boston 1969.
Sadleir, M. Excursions in Victorian Bibliography London 1922 p. 140.
Sadleir, M. XIX Century Fiction London 1951 p.95.
Brussel, I. R., Anglo-American First Edition, 1826-1900, Volume I, East to West London 1935 p. 45.
Robinson, K. Wilkie Collins: a Biography London 1951 pp. 145-146.
Parrish, M. L., and Miller, E. V. Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade: First Editions Described with NotesLondon 1940 pp. 39-41.
Baker and Clarke p. 184.
The Publishers’ Circular p. 422.
The Publishers’ Circular p. 415.
The Times 9 August p. 5 e.
From Catalogue of Original Manuscripts by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge 18 June 1890
Robinson p. 147.
Ashley, R. Wilkie Collins London 1952 p. 59.
The Public Face of Wilkie Collins, Baker, W., Gasson, A.,  Law, G. and Lewis, P. London 2005 p.209.
Parrish pp. 139-140.
The Publishers’ Circular p. 477.
The Times 26 April p. 13 d.
Parrish pp. 42-43.
For example, Smith, Elder and Chatto & Windus editions in the 19th century; and Everyman, Odhams and Oxford University Press editions in the 20th century.
Mott, H. Papers of Bibliographical Society of America Vol. 26 3rd quarter 1942.
See Lewis, The Woman in White in its original parts;150th anniversary project, which gives a week by week commentary on word count, textual comparison and illustrations.
BGLL, to E. M. Ward 3 August 1860 pp. 203-204.
Collins, Wilkie Considerations on the Copyright Question addressed to an American Friend London 1880 p. 12.
Sutherland, J., Victorian Novelists and Publishers’ London 1976 p. 42.

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