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The Woman in White
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2012/13 Group Reads - Archives > The Woman in White - Part 1

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Sarah | 269 comments I have compiled a few preliminary questions to consider, which you can use to facilitate the discussion if you like. Feel free to jump in with your own thoughts, ideas, and questions!

How does the use of the epistolary format affect the novel? Do you like this way of telling the story? Why do you think Collins employed it?

How does Collins use foreshadowing early in the novel to alert the reader to what might transpire later on?

What are your initial impressions of the Woman in White? Initial character impressions overall?

Emergent themes—identity, masculinity vs. femininity, romance, insanity, appearance vs. reality, etc.


Sarah | 269 comments Also, as always, please label any spoilers!


Sarah | 269 comments Ok, everyone. I know that it's early, but I am posting my initial thoughts/impressions for the section of the novel encompassed in part 1 for anyone who might want to peruse it before reading the novel. I have hidden spoilers, but my discussion does contain summarizing of events that are not crucial to plot development. I look forward to your own thoughts and ideas!



In the Preamble to The Woman in White, Collins immediately directs the reader to the core message of the coming tale: “This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and of what a Man’s resolution can achieve.” Such a statement at the outset makes me curious as to what will follow and how this quotation will be fulfilled. The epistolary format, presenting the novel in terms of a legal deposition, is interesting in many ways, the first being that there is a shifting narrative voice. Although this arrangement allows multiple viewpoints to be presented, it also leads to a logical questioning of each narrator’s veracity and leaves it to the reader, for the most part, to determine who speaks with the least amount of bias. I found it interesting that, despite this format, the story by and large follows an Aristotelian plot structure—hence the interwoven narrators and the way Walter Hartright’s account is interspersed. In comparison to other Victorian-era novels, I think that the epistolary arrangement of this one makes it unique; many other works of fiction during this time period relied on either the traditional third-person omniscient or first-person narrator—one exception that comes to mind is “Dracula,” written several decades later.

Thematically, the story is in many ways familiar. We see the emergence of such topics as romance, the masculine vs. the feminine, appearance vs. reality, light vs. dark, and insanity. As such, from the beginning it is clear that the novel is going to be both mysterious and sinister; dark undertones surface almost immediately with Walter’s inexplicable reluctance to fulfill the position as drawing-master at Limmeridge and his ensuing encounter with the woman in white on the road to London. Her sudden appearance and odd behavior introduces the topic of insanity to the story, and the fact that she mentions Limmeridge House suggests that she will play some later role and is not merely a passing figure (of course, that she is the eponymous character of the novel enforces this!).

The introduction of Marian Halcombe is rather amusing, I think. She seems to have all of the physical qualities associated with the Victorian lady, until Walter sees her face. Thus she is set apart as extraordinary in a sense right from the beginning (so far, Collins doesn’t seem to refrain from making certain facts obvious from the onset), and her keen mental faculties are soon established also. Laura, on the other hand, seems to better fit the ideal woman—as set forth by the Cult of True Womanhood, a phenomenon identified with the years 1820-1850.

(view spoiler)

Overall, my initial impression of this first section is that the story is not going to be a conventional one, in which two people fall in love and overcome a few obstacles and then live happily ever after. The fact that The Woman in White is hailed as the first detective novel and is emblematic of the sensationalist genre in literature indicates that we are in for some interesting turns of events.


Lynnm | 3027 comments Just read the first three chapters. I'm early so I won't post anything except that I really like it so far.

I read it decades ago so it is don't remember a thing.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4493 comments Mod
I just finished reading this section and am looking forward to the discussion. I'll try to be patient and wait for the first. Like Lynn, I read this more than a decade ago, am relishing every moment, and it is as if I'm reading it for the first time. This novel has a special place in my heart. It was the first Victorian novel that I read.


message 6: by Casceil (last edited Dec 30, 2012 05:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Casceil | 220 comments Sarah wrote "I think that the epistolary arrangement of this one makes it unique; many other works of fiction during this time period relied on either the traditional third-person omniscient or first-person narrator—one exception that comes to mind is “Dracula,” written several decades later."

Didn't Wuthering Heights (1847) use something similar? For that matter, let's not forget Clarissa, Samuel Richardson, 1748.


Sarah | 269 comments Casceil wrote: "Sarah wrote "I think that the epistolary arrangement of this one makes it unique; many other works of fiction during this time period relied on either the traditional third-person omniscient or fir..."

Yes, Clarissa is an epistolary novel, and Wuthering Heights was written in the first person. While I was reading The Woman in White it seemed to be unique because the epistolary format introduces a wide array of narrators and ways of relating the story (such as Marian's diary), which is something that I have noticed more often in twentieth and twenty-first century literature than in that written in the nineteenth century. To clarify, I didn't mean to indicate that Collins was the only author to employ this technique, just that in comparison to many other contemporary authors such as Dickens, Twain, etc. it seemed unusual to me. I guess in my mind I usually associate multiple narrators and a shifting narrative voice with more modern writing.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4493 comments Mod
Yeah, we can finally discuss this segment. I love this book deeply for a variety of reasons. I really enjoy the epistolary format. While I can see how many narrators might make people question their accuracy, I always felt that I was getting a better picture because of so many viewpoints.

Miss Halcombe is an much more interesting character to me than Miss Fairlie. I love the juxtaposition of the beautiful body, the great mind, but the ugly face. In fact, I've enjoyed her personality so much that I found myself forgetting she was supposed to be ugly.

Re the insanity of the Woman in White. I don't trust yet that she is insane. During this time period, it was very easy to put a woman into an asylum by her husband or close male relative. This occur for the simple reason that the male didn't approve of the females actions. So is she really insane or has she been put away for some other reason? Also her nervousness could be a result of being institutionalized while completely sane.

Although we haven't met Percival Glide yet, Collins has already made me dislike him. I also don't like the "ill" uncle because I think his illness is mostly fictional. It will be interesting to see how these characters develop.

While I read this book years ago, I truly am coming to it with fresh eyes. It was the first Victorian novel I had ever read, and at the time, I found the language challenging. Now, I just find it beautiful and am able to focus more on some of the smaller details. This is one book I have a hard time putting down.


message 9: by Lynnm (last edited Dec 31, 2012 11:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynnm | 3027 comments I'm with Deborah - so glad we can finally discuss.

I haven't given much thought to the fact that it is an epistolary novel. To me, while I realize that it is indeed an epistolary novel, it isn't as noticable as a novel that is structured with letters rather than other types of epistolary forms.

What struck me more was - again as Deborah said - with the juxtapositions in the novel. Miss Halcombe and Miss Fairlie. Mr. Hartright and Sir Percival Glyde (even though we haven't met Sir Percival, everything points to a wolf in sheep's clothing). The two Mr. Fairlie's.

I very much like Miss Halcombe. She is strong, witty, articulate, intelligent, rational. And it annoys me that Hartright - even though I like him overall - is so taken up with Miss Fairlie merely because she is beautiful. Her character doesn't have much form so maybe I'm am being unfair, but she's doesn't have much substance. Does Collins do that intentionally to make a point? Sad that society at that time would think of Laura - rather than Marian - as the ideal woman. I am being too harsh - she isn't that bad - but I like strong female characters so I am biased.

I don't think that Anne Catherick is insane. A bit strange, but definitely not a candidate for an asylum. Looking forward to finding out the story between Anne and Sir Percival.

I also liked the tone of the novel. Somehow Collins makes it a bit scary without the usual settings. Yes, Hartright and Anne meet at night alone in a desolate area. But after that, there isn't the usual - the Limmeridge house isn't a gothic horror, the ocean setting is bright, not gloomy. Even the scene in the graveyard isn't frightening. Mr. Fairlie is selfish but not a terror hiding something terrible. I think that Collins is able to add the tension by just keeping the reading in the dark - just enough mystery about what has happened and what will happen in the future.


Sarah | 269 comments Deborah wrote: "Yeah, we can finally discuss this segment. I love this book deeply for a variety of reasons. I really enjoy the epistolary format. While I can see how many narrators might make people question t..."

I think that your take on the epistolary format is exactly what Collins was trying to accomplish. In my Barnes and Noble edition, in the 1860 preface, Collins writes that this experimental format “has forced me to keep the story constantly moving forward; and it has afforded my characters a new opportunity of expressing themselves, through the medium of the written contributions which they are supposed to make to the progress of the narrative.” He goes on to say in the 1861 preface that “It may be possible, in novel-writing, to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters: their existence, as recognizable realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told.” In my opinion, employing a variety of narrators adds to the mystery because as the reader you have to sort through them and figure out whom to trust and believe.

I agree too that Miss Halcombe is much more interesting; in breaking free from the stereotypical Victorian notion of the “ideal woman,” Collins has created a character who exhibits wit and who becomes a great asset to the story. (This is not, of course, to downplay Laura’s role.)

Insanity during the nineteenth century, and even today, is definitely stigmatized. It was definitely easier to commit someone to an asylum during Collins’ time, particularly females because, as you mention, they were in some sense the “property” of their male relatives/husbands. To return to Marian Halcombe, I think that this is part of what makes her so unique. She has a mind of her own, and I wonder if the other characters—particularly the males—might find her intimidating or dangerous? Just something to consider as the novel progesses…

Mr. Fairlie did annoy me, but I actually found him rather humorous at times because he was so narcissistic. He isn’t someone with whom I would wish to associate in real life, but meeting him in a novel makes me laugh because he is so ridiculous. As for Percival Glyde, any thoughts about why he is portrayed so negatively before we even meet him?

I am glad that you are enjoying the novel!!! I look forward to hearing your further impressions as we continue to read!


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4493 comments Mod
Lynnm wrote: "I'm with Deborah - so glad we can finally discuss.

I haven't given much thought to the fact that it is an epistolary novel. To me, while I realize that it is indeed an epistolary novel, it isn't a..."


I felt the same way about Miss Halcombe and Miss Fairlie. And just as strongly because I, too, love a strong female character. As usual, Lynn, we're both on the same page (pun intended).


Lynnm | 3027 comments Sarah wrote: "In my Barnes and Noble edition, in the 1860 preface, Collins writes that this experimental format “has forced me to keep the story constantly moving forward; and it has afforded my characters a new opportunity of expressing themselves, through the medium of the written contributions which they are supposed to make to the progress of the narrative.” He goes on to say in the 1861 preface that “It may be possible, in novel-writing, to present characters successfully without telling a story; but it is not possible to tell a story successfully without presenting characters: their existence, as recognizable realities, being the sole condition on which the story can be effectively told.” "

Thanks for posting, Sarah - very informative. I also have the B&N edition, but I always save the preface until after the read the novel.

Again, I haven't thought much about the form of the novel, but I think that is because I've only read Mr. Hartright's narrative. When it changes in the next section, I know it will hit me then.


Lynnm | 3027 comments Deborah wrote: "As usual, Lynn, we're both on the same page (pun intended). "

:-)


Sarah | 269 comments Lynnm wrote: "I'm with Deborah - so glad we can finally discuss.

I haven't given much thought to the fact that it is an epistolary novel. To me, while I realize that it is indeed an epistolary novel, it isn't a..."


I can’t answer for Collins as to why Laura is idealized, but my thought is that perhaps because she is obviously weaker than Marian, she could be controlled more easily. I am not saying that Walter is a villain or would try to manipulate her, but it is my experience when dealing with nineteenth century female characters that, like children, they should be seen and not heard. Perhaps this childlike, fragile aspect of her character adds to her allure? You might want to compare/contrast Count Fosco and his approach to women when we come across his character, as I think that you raise a very valid and interesting point.

I was also intrigued by Collins’ ability to construct a frightening story without the usual gothic details that we would find in, say, Poe’s work. That is part of why I enjoyed this novel so much. It is a piece of sensationalist literature but without the bells and whistles that usually come with it, and I agree that it’s very effective.


Lynnm | 3027 comments Sarah wrote: "I can’t answer for Collins as to why Laura is idealized, but my thought is that perhaps because she is obviously weaker than Marian, she could be controlled more easily. I am not saying that Walter is a villain or would try to manipulate her, but it is my experience when dealing with nineteenth century female characters that, like children, they should be seen and not heard."

I think that it depends on who the author is. Some of the female authors that we've read have constructed very strong women.

And here, Collins created a strong woman in Marian. But in his world perhaps a woman can't be strong and beautiful at the same time? I found it interesting that Hartright describes her as having masculine features. As if a strong woman is more of a man than a woman.


Sarah | 269 comments Lynnm wrote: "Sarah wrote: "I can’t answer for Collins as to why Laura is idealized, but my thought is that perhaps because she is obviously weaker than Marian, she could be controlled more easily. I am not sayi..."

Given Collins' own unorthodox love life, it's not too surprising that he gives a rather disparaging view of marriage in this novel. As far as his portrayal of women, it seems to me that he may just be exhibiting some of the Victorian social bias about females. I think that if this is the case, then a woman with independence and intelligence would seem more like a man. He certainly seems to portray Marian as more of a heroine than Laura, which leads me to believe that he is offering her (and perhaps women like her in real life?) kudos.


Casceil | 220 comments What a delightfully complex opening, with so much to speculate about. I agree with much of what has been said above. I don't believe Anna is insane. I think Sir Percival has some reason for wanting her locked away where she cannot talk to anyone. (I wouldnt be surprised if it turns out that she had something to do with the scar on his hand.) Why is he so intent on tracking her down to return her to the asylum? The questions Sir Percival dictates to be sent to Anna's mother seem very carefully worded. Could it be that the mother agreed to have Anna put away because the alternative was something worse, such as Anna being put on trial for a serious crime?

Then there is Laura Fairley, who looks so much like Anna. As many have noted, this character seems curiously underdeveloped as compared to others in the novel. I wonder if Laura is underdeveloped as a way to leave more room for speculation about how or if she may be related to Anna. Since Anna was brought to town as a school-aged child, it seems unlikely that she and Laura could be related. Unless there is some great secret about Anna's birth. Could it be that the late Mrs. Fairlie was actually her mother (having given birth out of wedlock and secretly), and that this was the reason why Mrs. Fairlie was so kind to Anna? Alternatively, could Anna be the illegitimate child of Laura's father? (This seems unlikely. OK,I'm letting my imagination run amok. But what fun.)


Sarah | 269 comments The correlation between Anne and Laura is definitely one of the most prominent themes at play in the novel. The fact that both are underdeveloped does raise speculation. For instance, why are these two characters, arguably the two major characters, not given their own narratives? Everything we learn about them is secondhand, and furthermore, Anne remains largely absent physically from the scenes. Why? I think that the relationship between Anne and Laura, whatever it may be, could be where the explanation lies. Any other thoughts on this?


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4493 comments Mod
Sarah wrote: "The correlation between Anne and Laura is definitely one of the most prominent themes at play in the novel. The fact that both are underdeveloped does raise speculation. For instance, why are these..."

Just a question. Can we really say that Anna and Laura do not have their own sections? We've only read one small piece with one narrator, and we know that the narration changes.


Sarah | 269 comments Oops. Sorry. I'm basing it on looking at where each new narrative begins.


Lynnm | 3027 comments I don't think they have narratives. Reading the table of contents isn't a spoiler, and neither are mentioned as having a narrative. Unless it is in Book 2 in the chapter that has "several narratives" without names.


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Lynnm | 3027 comments Sarah wrote: "I think that the relationship between Anne and Laura, whatever it may be, could be where the explanation lies."

I agree. As Casceil said, maybe Anne is an illegitimate child of Mr. Fairlie. Because Mrs. Fairlie takes such an interest in Anne and writes to Mr. Fairlie about her, I doubt that Anne is Mrs. Fairlie's child.

And Marian says that there is no mention of Anne again in any of Mrs. Fairlie's letters. Maybe Mr. Fairlie's reaction ended her involvement with Anne?

All speculation. But it's fun speculation. :-)


Sarah | 269 comments My observation was based on the fact that, as Lynnm mentions, there does not appear to be a narrative dedicated to either Anne or Laura. At any rate, their voice in the novel, if they are given one, appears that it will be a small one, which I find curious.


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Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments I am curious, since you raise the subject of TOC, how do you as readers use a TOC (table of contents) to get a sense of the structure of a novel and what other techniques do you use before you even start reading?

Every text I read on how to read suggests getting a sense of the structure an author has created, yet it always seems to me they are sketchy on how to develop that skill. It is also a skill at which I don't consider myself especially proficient -- I tend to start at the beginning and just keep reading until I get entranced (keep on going) or bored (reconnoiter a bit).

I am enjoying the conversation and intend to keep on lurking, although I haven't committed myself yet to re-reading the story. At the moment, Sarah is exasperated with ... for breaking a teacup of the set (probably a lovely family favorite). I can understand her concern for the chair on which ... stands. All with an edge of an attempt at gentle humor, along with ...'s malapropisms? (Don't yet remember ...'s name without revisiting the text!)


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4493 comments Mod
I usually glance at the TOC, but I really don't spend any time on it. I usually let the book take me where it wants me to go without the TOC controlling that.


message 26: by Lily (last edited Jan 01, 2013 08:19AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Deborah wrote: "I usually glance at the TOC, but I really don't spend any time on it. I usually let the book take me where it wants me to go without the TOC controlling that."

That's pretty much what I do, too, if I even bother to look at a TOC at all. But, what I read about writing leads me to believe there is a difference between structure "controlling" versus "illuminating" -- and I want to develop my skills in recognizing how a writer is using structure to "illuminate" or make clearer (or more obscure?) the story he/she is telling.


Lynnm | 3027 comments I don't usually look at the TOC either. But with our Goodreads schedules, sometimes I am "forced" to look at the TOC. Especially in this book because it isn't the usual Chapter 1 through Chapter Whatever. We have to keep track of the narratives.

Lily - interesting thought about "controlling" vs. "illuminating." It would probably depend on the author or the story or the genre.

They also can be linked. For example, I think that in detective stories and mysteries, authors control the story by illuminating only small portions of the story to build to a climax.

You might have to also factor in how much control the author actually has over their own story and what their intentions are regarding the story.


Sarah | 269 comments Lily wrote: "I am curious, since you raise the subject of TOC, how do you as readers use a TOC (table of contents) to get a sense of the structure of a novel and what other techniques do you use before you even..."

I am really glad that you brought up the issue of the table of contents. I have noticed that many of the books I have read lately no longer contain the TOC, which I find frustrating. The TOC is often particularly important for classic novels because the author would often have a subtitle as well as a general title, which would give a short summary of the chapter. This can be useful but also a bit of a give-away.

I find that it is helpful, again especially with the classics, to research the time period and location of the author as well as the book. This helps to “set the scene,” so to speak, and to give us as the reader an idea of what was popular during that period in history. Knowing about the author’s personal background helps too; I am really glad that there is a resource section for each book that we discuss! You can also do research on the book itself, although here you have to exert some caution to avoid spoilers. The same is true when authors include reading discussion questions at the end of their book (I made the mistake of reading them first once for a modern novel and it ruined the surprise of the book!). However, you can always just look up what others have written about the book after you have finished reading it, which helps illuminate some things that you might have overlooked while reading; I personally like to read critical essays and such on the classics because they often point out things that I didn’t think about while reading. And of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with just diving into the text itself and seeing where it takes you! :-)


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Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
When choosing a book, I'll read a synopsis, review,etc. but when I am actually ready to read, I will avoid the TOC, notes on the flyleaf, back cover or anything that gives away part of the plot. I sometimes even regret remembering anything from the review, or what people have told me about the book, as then I am waiting for certain things to happen. It's an advantage of audio that you pretty much have to follow the book with no clue where it is going. This book has some surprises that might have been spoiled for me if I had been able to peek ahead.


Sarah | 269 comments The issue of controlling vs. illuminating is definitely pertinent to the detective/sensationalist novel. Keep in mind that “The Woman in White” was originally serialized, a typical publishing format during that time, so initial readers wouldn’t have had a table of contents (or needed one). Also, Collins would have wanted each published section to end as dramatically as possible to keep readership up, so he would necessarily have to control how much of the mystery to let readers into while also providing some answers along the way.


Sarah | 269 comments Robin wrote: "When choosing a book, I'll read a synopsis, review,etc. but when I am actually ready to read, I will avoid the TOC, notes on the flyleaf, back cover or anything that gives away part of the plot. I ..."

Your comment about audio versions is interesting. I never really considered that before, but it would be much more surprising to listen to it unfold rather than reading it and having the entire story in front of you.


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Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Sarah wrote: "...Also, Collins would have wanted each published section to end as dramatically as possible to keep readership up, so he would necessarily have to control how much of the mystery to let readers into while also providing some answers along the way...."

You touch here on at least one aspect of what seems interesting. It is perhaps a bit of the difference between reading a book solely as a reader and reading it as a writer as well as a reader, so that one becomes increasingly interested in how did the author pull it off, not just whether he/she did or not. Even if one never intends to write oneself, I suspect there may be some special or enhanced pleasure as a reader to be able to do at least some of one's reading from that perspective.

In fact, I have had off-line conversations in which writers expressed a desire for more [goodreads] discussions from the perspective of how an author constructed her/his book and the strengths and weaknesses of the choices made.


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments It is truly a stimulating and thought-provoking discussion. I tend to agree with the opinion that Marian is a very interesting character, and what is more important - she is 'alive' and realistic. Unfortunately, she is not the ideal type of the Victorian society, so I feel that she was not created for a matrimonial bliss by Collins. Her function is to 'illuminate' Walter on his quest to find the truth about Percival Glyde and Anne Catherick. Miss Holcombe is a liaison character between Walter and the world of the rich and powerful. But it is soothing to know that at the time when social inequality was inherent (more than now), a simple drawing master could fall in love and cherish the dream of his happy future.

Returning to the question of the TOC, in modern theory of text TOC is widely viewed as a figure of text with meta-functions; thus, it has a potential to reflect and express what the text is about. Keeping in mind this statement, it is easy to jump to a conclusion that Walter will again meet the members of the Fairlie household (according to the TOC), so this feeling of finality and sadness when he says goodbye to Marian and Laura should at least be viewed and interpreted critically.

When you discussed how reliable/biased or tendentious the numerous narrators are, the first thing that came to my mind is a novel Drood by Dan Simmons by Dan Simmons (He has recently changed his political orientation and has become conservative - and this shift of his political inclination saddens me greatly, but he is still a very skillful mainstream writer). The main character of this novel is Wilkie Collins, who is portrayed as a totally unreliable narrator:-) The readers keep guessing and questioning the validity of his numerous accounts, but I find it entertaining that his own technique backfired, and in this novel he is a character epitomizing this literary device.

One more point. I think it is ironic that only 'fair' Laura is Miss Fairlie while her half-sister is commonplace and prosaic Miss Holcombe.


Sarah | 269 comments Lily wrote: "Sarah wrote: "...Also, Collins would have wanted each published section to end as dramatically as possible to keep readership up, so he would necessarily have to control how much of the mystery to ..."

I find just about every aspect of a book and its author fascinating. It would be wonderful to discuss authorship and construction; together, they can truly inform the reader about so many deeper facets of a literary work!


Sarah | 269 comments Zulfiya wrote: "It is truly a stimulating and thought-provoking discussion. I tend to agree with the opinion that Marian is a very interesting character, and what is more important - she is 'alive' and realistic..."

Zulfiya, I think that your analysis of Marian is very pertinent. In many ways I see her as a sacrificial character; I agree that she does not seem likely to end up happily married because of her free-thinking and witty disposition, although I hate to succumb to this Victorian stereotype because, looking at this from a modern perspective, I feel that she would make a very good wife. It saddens me to think of her as an old maid character, but at the same time I think that Collins needs her to fulfill this role in the story. As you point out, she is crucial as a foil to Laura and a complement to Walter. I think that her character becomes better defined as the story progresses.

Your comments about Walter’s departure are thought-provoking. As you say, the fact that he is given another narrative later on seems to indicate that he will be reunited with the Fairlie family at some point. Something that occurred to me and that I find interesting is pausing to think about the layout of the story; as the preamble specifies, the book follows the format of a legal deposition, so actually each narrative would most likely—or at least hypothetically—have been composed after the fact. Walter’s narrative indicates this when he often uses the past tense. I wonder how this informs the overall story?

“Drood” is a good example of the unreliable narrator. I read it a few years ago, and while most of the details are admittedly foggy, I do recall Collins’ perspective being skewed by heavy opium use, of which he also partook in real life for pain (as did Dickens).

Character names are always so much fun to explore! It would be easy to attribute the name difference between the sisters to an ease of identifying them in the story, but I doubt that it was just a coincidence that Collins makes Laura “Miss Fairlie” while Marian has the more harsh-sounding surname “Halcombe.” Hartright too is interesting; could it be a hint (corny though it sounds) that his heart is true, or could it be an allusion to the animal hart, a mature stag which was coveted by hunters? Just something to consider. Also, I think that the Italian surnames which we will encounter throughout the course of the novel are worth thinking about too.


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Frances (francesab) | 1894 comments Mod
I was also struck by the splitting of the female heroine role into the ugly, strong, intelligent woman and the pretty, feminine and weak woman, and it is clear who will win the heart of the hero. Are there any examples in early literature written by men where the love interest is plain (or the less beautiful woman) but intelligent/charming? The only examples I can think of are written by women-Jane Eyre and almost all the Jane Austen heroines-Elizabeth, Fanny, Elinor, Anne definitely, Catherine perhaps. I keep hoping that Hartright will come to realize that Marian is the more interesting/worthy of the two women, but I know it won't happen.


Sarah | 269 comments Frances wrote: "I was also struck by the splitting of the female heroine role into the ugly, strong, intelligent woman and the pretty, feminine and weak woman, and it is clear who will win the heart of the hero. A..."

There is certainly a clear delineation between beautiful and intelligent with regard to Laura and Marian. It’s interesting because this distinction is evident from the first mention of the two women, so anything that might happen to either one later on in the story can’t be blamed for their dispositions. The attractive, obedient female is the epitome of Victorian women, so it’s difficult to find examples that diverge from this convention simply because that’s what it was like then. I wonder if Hester Prynne could possibly be an example of an intelligent and beautiful heroine? Although clearly her situation is negative, I think that Hawthorne, in condemning Puritanism, has a respect for her.


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Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4493 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "I was also struck by the splitting of the female heroine role into the ugly, strong, intelligent woman and the pretty, feminine and weak woman, and it is clear who will win the heart of the hero. A..."

We'll have to see how it all turns out, but maybe Collins is showing us how shallow the "perfect" Victorian woman truly is while the woman who was atypical is clearly the better woman.


message 39: by Jan (new)

Jan (auntyjan) | 485 comments I noticed how many times whiteness comes up. Not only is there of course the woman in white, but Mr Fairlie is dressed in white, the unfortunate boy who saw the alleged ghost has white hair, and the white marble of the gravestone is also very striking. It's almost as if white is a theme...
And another thought on Mr Fairlie ...his so-called " nerves" seeming to inhibit his ability to cope with life...reminds me a bit of Mrs Bennet always referring to her poor nerves, however Austen's character amuses us and is very involved with her family, while Mr Fairlie seems to remain at a distance from everything going on around him, having secluded himself in his room, not wanting to be disturbed by light or noise or anything bothersome...it's almost like a living death....he has so shut himself off from life.
So far I am enjoying this intriguing story.


Sarah | 269 comments Jan wrote: "I noticed how many times whiteness comes up. Not only is there of course the woman in white, but Mr Fairlie is dressed in white, the unfortunate boy who saw the alleged ghost has white hair, and th..."

Jan, your observation concerning whiteness in the novel is very perceptive and intriguing. I wonder what Collins is trying to say by using this kind of color imagery? White often symbolizes purity or innocence, but I wonder if there is more at play here? Keep the color theme, white vs. dark, in mind as we progress to the next section and the setting changes.

Mr. Fairlie certainly seems to be completely incapable of functioning due to his condition. It seems to me that much of this is self-inflicted or at least self-exacerbated. As annoying as his character is, I do feel somewhat sorry for him because, as you mention, he isn’t really living but rather is merely sequestered in his room doing seemingly nothing very productive. I think that his withdrawal from the family’s affairs will play an important role later on.


message 41: by Robin P, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
Mr. Fairlie's "condition" allows him to do just as he likes at all times and avoid anything unpleasant, including other human beings. He is a great manipulator and so thoroughly self-centered that I enjoyed his part (very well done on audio).

Speaking of audio, for some reason I really didn't care for the style of the woman who did Marian's voice on the recording I had, it sounded artificial compared to Walter. (If anything Marian should sound very natural and straightforward). I didn't realize until reading this thread how much I had been influenced by that. I suppose I would have liked Marian better in print. So I have been reconsidering her. Certainly she has more personality than the wimpy Laura. We see this contrast a lot in the Dickens group. The designated heroine is lovely, quiet, and largely passive. A woman who takes action or leadership can't be the main love interest.


Sarah | 269 comments Robin wrote: "Mr. Fairlie's "condition" allows him to do just as he likes at all times and avoid anything unpleasant, including other human beings. He is a great manipulator and so thoroughly self-centered that ..."

That's strange and sad that Marian's voice is not reflective of her character. I imagine her tone as being confident and matter-of-fact.


message 43: by Robin P, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robin P | 2224 comments Mod
Maybe it was just me, I'm interested to know if anyone else listened to the Audible version and had a different impression.


Lauri | 32 comments I listened to the Audible version not so long ago and don't remember being put off by any of the voices...it generally sticks with me if they do.


MichelleCH (lalatina) | 6 comments Mr. Fairlie's servants seem to suffer from the same condition; I loved these lines, " The driver was evidently discomposed by the lateness of my arrival. He was in that state of highly respectful sulkiness which is peculiar to English servants".


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The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910

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