Monday, 25 March 2013

The Woman in White continued...

Harper's Weekly, 31 December 1859, Vol.III, No.157, p.841.
Illustrations by John McLenan
Weekly Part 6.
The woman in white took me so long to read that I thought it deserved two posts (it's a substantial book). 

I really enjoyed the story. I thought that the story progression in the first epoch was rather slow so it took me a while to get into the book. It sets out lots of unanswered questions. You see the questions mounting and foresee the numerous permutations of possible distasters without clue to which one will really happen, and you start to think that you might not get any answers. However, in the second epoch there is a lot more action and the final epoch does satisfy your questions (whether the outcome is to your liking is another matter).

My favourite bit is Miss Halcombe’s diary. Marian is my favourite character in the book. She’s a wonderfully strong female character, especially for the period. Here are a few of my favourite lines relating to Marian:

"I... saw a lady standing at [the window], with her back turned towards me. The instant my eyes rested on her, I was struck by the rare beauty of her form, and by the unaffected grace of her attitude... She turned towards me immediately. The easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. She left the window - and I said to myself, The lady is dark. She moved forward a few steps - and I said to myself, The lady is young. She approached nearer - and I said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), The lady is ugly!"
- Walter meeting Marian for the first time and noticing her masculine features at odds with the more conventional feminine graces she possessed. He described the feeling he got on discovering this as:
"akin to the helpless discomfort familiar to us all in sleep, when we recognise yet cannot reconcile the anomalies and contradictions of a dream."
Marian is described (and describes herself) at many points as possessing 'masculine' qualities both in her appearance and her character. She is confident, forceful, forthright, intelligent and passionate. A balance of weakness and strength.
"I only answered by drawing her close to me again. I was afraid of crying if I spoke. My tears do not flow so easily as they ought - they come almost like men's tears, with sobs that seem to tear me in to pieces, and that frighten every one about me."
- Marian consoling her sister, Laura
"Are you to break your heart to set his mind at ease? No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace - they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship - they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel."
- Marian to Laura, discussing her husband and his behaviour.
"The bare anticipation of seeing that dear face and hearing that well-known voice tomorrow, keeps me in a perpetual fever of excitement. If I only had the privileges of a man, I would order out Sir Percival's best horse instantly, and tear away on a night gallop, eastward to meet the rising sun - a long, hard, heavy, ceaseless gallop of hours and hours, like the famous highwayman's ride to York."
- Marian restlessly looking forward to her sister's return.

There are a lot of striking and strong characters in the novel. Count Fosco is a terrifying character who is both enormously overweight and yet graceful and refined. His wife, Madame Fosco is a cold reserved woman but holds a jealous passion for her husband. Mrs Catherick is a woman convinced of her own beauty and power over men in her youth but now with a strict need to be accepted as possessing high moral status in her old age. Mr Fairlie, a selfish hypochondriac, will do anything for an easy life. Professor Pesca is an excitable, enigmatic Italian who embraces English life. With such interesting characters our lovers Walter Hartright and Laura Fairlie could get lost amongst them, but it is their love that is the central strand of the story, as Walter says: "This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve."


  1. on

    Hi Lois, I've just finished reading The Woman in White which I thought was slow to get into initially but a fantastic read. I was on the edge of my seat turning the pages to find out what happened next. How similar is The Moonstone? - MGOT

    Considering it was written over 150 years ago I think it reads very well, I love Collins as a writer, all the little humorous touches. I think if you enjoyed the Woman in White then you will enjoy the Moonstone… it does have a bit of a lead in, but it’s very good all the same! -

  2. on

    I think the novel shows several characters that act in morally reprehensible ways. They are a mixture of good and bad which I think makes them believable characters. Count Fosco is scheming and hardhearted but has refined tastes, a love of animals, a keenness use his knowledge of medicine to help those overcome illness, and a soft spot for a certain lady. Madam Fosco is also cold and calculating, she demonstrates that she would give no leniency although she has an intense love and loyalty for her husband. Mrs Catherick is possibly the one without redeeming features. She saw her daughter as an encumbrance and turned her back on her, even in her later years which she devotes to being seen as a moral and good citizen she appears to be motivated to doing this by selfish means. She wants the recognition.

    On my version of the book it describes Count Fosco in the blurb as the 'Napoleon of crime'. I recognised the phrase from the poem Macavity from T.S. Elliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. I found that the phrase is actually first used by Arthur Conan Doyle when he refers to Moriarty in the Final Problem. :)
    - MGOT

  3. on

    Hi Literary Corner, I don't know if you still blog your book reviews anymore but I just wanted to agree with you on this review. I have just read the Woman in White and I also found it to be a wonderfully exciting book. I find Marian Halcombe the most enchanting character.

    I think you are right that the inequality of the sexes within the book will be jarring for the modern day reader. However, for the period I think Marian's character is still going some way towards pushing for more equality. Although Marian might lament herself that she has "only a woman's courage", she is in-fact shown to have positive so called 'masculine characteristics' and demonstrate them to a greater degree than some of the male characters in the book (thinking of the terrible Sir Percival). Marian also rants to Laura against society's convention whereby a woman must submit to her husband: "Are you to break your heart to set his mind at ease? No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace - they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship - they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel."

    I shared your view that it seemed so strange that Walter could prefer the damsel in distress of Laura instead of the courageous Marian. A great read nonetheless. :)
    - MGOT