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The Woman in White
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2012/13 Group Reads - Archives > The Woman in White - Part 5

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Sarah | 269 comments Here are some discussion topics for this section.

What is your impression of Mrs. Clements, both now and in comparison to her previous appearance in the story?

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Sarah | 269 comments I will post more questions later, as I am still reading the novel myself.

Sarah | 269 comments Here are a couple more topics for consideration:

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Thoughts on Collins’ treatment of women? For example, some of the female characters are very cunning and endowed with what, in the nineteenth century, were considered masculine qualities.

message 4: by Lily (last edited Dec 21, 2012 11:07AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Sarah wrote: "Here are a couple more topics for consideration:..."

Sarah, FYI, I don't believe there is any limitation on editing a note that we post by the poster her or himself. So, if for example, you want to keep your questions together in a post at the beginning of a thread, I believe you would always be able to go back and edit that post. There is nothing "wrong" with scattering questions throughout a discussion, but just in case you'd rather not, thought I'd mention this option.

I have used this ability to keep modifying posts several times recently on another board where I have been inserting illustrations and later want to go back and add commentary or descriptive material that I would have put with the pictures in the first place if I had either had time or had the material at the time. This does create the possibility that some readers will miss such updates, because, if I recall correctly, updating a message does not cause it to be marked as new. So there are some tradeoffs in using this feature.

Sarah | 269 comments Thanks for the advice, Lily! I will probably go ahead and add to the posts in the future then since most of the group members might not read these later threads until they get to that point in the book. The questions are just to stimulate discussion anyway; I don't want anyone to think that they can't just talk about their own take or ideas! I would rather hear what everyone else thinks, but I wanted to offer some things to think about. :-)

Sarah | 269 comments My discussion for Part 5:

The pace of the novel has approached a fast clip by now, as things start to fall into place. Walter’s continued inquiries seem to be in vain, and the appearance of the man in black makes an interesting contrast to the woman in white. Collins’ thematic use of color is very interesting and thought-provoking. Obviously white symbolizes innocence and purity, while black denotes the sinister and evil. However, despite such cliché icons, the story is not at all black and white but rather remains, for the most part, grey.

When Mrs. Clements was first introduced earlier in the story, my impression was that she was a kind woman who had Anne’s best interests at heart, and Walter’s encounter with her now enforces this for me. As aspects of Mrs. Catherick’s past emerge, it becomes apparent that she may hold the key to the prevailing mystery of the novel—i.e, the Secret and how it pertains to Anne. I find Mrs. Clements’ warnings not to visit Mrs. Catherick somewhat puzzling; if she can shed light on what happened to Anne and the current state of affairs, I should think that Mrs. Clements would find it necessary for Walter to speak with her. I suppose, though, that her reluctance stems from her previous knowledge of Mrs. Catherick’s personality.

The potential clue which Walter obtains from his interview with Mrs. Catherick (who, interestingly, lives at number 13) leads him to a telling revelation, albeit only after several obstacles. (view spoiler) Mrs. Catherick’s subsequent narrative was not altogether surprising, although I did note her intelligence in maintaining an anonymity which would keep her identity from being proven. Again Collins endows a woman with nineteenth-century, masculine, worldly knowledge.

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments I am trying to speed up my reading with one eye on the upcoming read of another novel, and I hope that it is kosher to post my thoughts before the official opening day.

Sarah, I agree with you - Collins indeed relies very much on symbols and imagery to flesh out his characters, but some of his images (especially number 13) are quite corny. On the other hand, I also feel that more and more pieces of the puzzle are coming up together to form one complete picture. We already know how the scheme worked in general, and we know that Sir Percival's people are keeping an eye on Walter.
There are also passages, extracts, and ideas in the novel that I find hard to believe, namely the overwhelming wave of humanism and love when Sir Percival was trapped in the vestry. The constant reassurance that Walter loves Laura in 'a sisterly way' is another example. We do know that he is driven by strong love, then why not openly admit it?
On a personal note, Mrs. Catherick is a grotesque character in the malice she exudes and in her desire and vanity to be bowed, but then her letter has such a condescending tone that one can physically feel the tangible mood of silly superiority and vulnerability. And as it becomes obvious from the letter, not all questions have been answered. More reasons to keep on reading.

Sarah | 269 comments No problem, Zulfiya! :-)

I agree that some passages in the novel are seemingly exaggerated or otherwise not very believable. I, too, was taken aback at the response to Sir Percival being trapped in the vestry (I even wondered if perhaps it wasn’t really him!). As for Walter’s continually-proclaimed “sisterly love” for Laura, I wonder if it could be that he must repress his true love for her in order to proceed cautiously and thoroughly with avenging her. If her were to admit the depth of his affection, it might cause him to throw caution to the wind and ultimately be unable to help her. Overall, while there are flaws, I think that Collins does a good job of keeping up the suspense and only revealing the answers a bit at a time, thus enticing the reader to continue.

message 9: by Deborah, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4487 comments Mod
At this point, I don't even want to put the novel down, and had to stop because I was getting ahead of myself.

One thing to keep in mind with regard to the exaggerated or cliche aspect of the novel, was that the case when it was written? I'm thinking probably not. Also, re the sisterly love of Hartright, I think Collins uses that to explain to the reader that he was not trying to "live in sin" or take advantage of Laura in any way. This was probably the most concise way to describe that situation.

I actually loved the fact the Sir Percavel died in fire - an allusion to hell is what occurred to me. He so justly deserved it. I think, in most cases of tragedy, human nature does reach out to help. Not always, of course; but we are also talking about a more simple time here. Class structures, educational differences, and strong religion were all part of this time period. For me, that makes the rescue attempt realistic for its time.

Re the letter from Mrs. Catherick, I agree that she takes a holy than thou position throughout it. I tried to keep in mind that this was a woman shunned by her community for something that she did not do. She faced scandal and became an outcast in her community and with her husband. Would it change you to be somewhat power hungry (i.e. the bowing)? It might if you'd clawed your way back to somewhat of a position of acceptance. Remember just how easily a woman's reputation could be forever ruined.

One of the things I have always loved about Collins is his strong women characters. Since I grew up a mystery reader, this was a novel a well-read friend suggested. Not only did it have the mysterious aspects that I loved, but it had wonderful, strong women characters. I was hooked immediately and have been ever since.

We now know why Mrs. Clements was Anne's only friend - because she was more like Anne's mother than her biological parent. I'm not sure her reluctance to have Hartright contact Mrs. Cathrick was a way of protecting Anne's information or to protect Hartright from something. I don't think Collins really lets us know the answer.

It's also interesting to me that Collins didn't end the book with the fire. He nicely continues to string us along with his tale. Looking forward to the grande finale.

Casceil | 220 comments Zulfiya wrote: There are also passages, extracts, and ideas in the novel that I find hard to believe, namely the overwhelming wave of humanism and love when Sir Percival was trapped in the vestry.

If you are referring to the community effort to save Sir Percival, I don't this it was an outpouring of love. It started with Hartwick's offer of five shillings to everyone who helped. But also, I think people in a situation like that usually want to help if they can, particularly if they can do it as part of a crowd. It may have helped that what they were asked to do (get a beam) took them away from the immediate vicinity of the fire, and did not seem particularly dangerous.

Sarah | 269 comments Deborah wrote: "At this point, I don't even want to put the novel down, and had to stop because I was getting ahead of myself.

One thing to keep in mind with regard to the exaggerated or cliche aspect of the nove..."

I agree with your interpretation that Sir Percival’s death in the fire was analogous with hell, and while it is easy to disparage Mrs. Catherick, you make good points regarding why her character is so distasteful. It is definitely refreshing to have several strong women characters, especially when Collins, in my opinion, writes them in such a way that they are realistic; while Dickens focuses largely upon abominable social conditions, perhaps it could be argued that Collins deals with contemporary social stigmas such as mental illness and the independence (or proto-independence) of women.

Sarah | 269 comments Casceil wrote: "Zulfiya wrote: There are also passages, extracts, and ideas in the novel that I find hard to believe, namely the overwhelming wave of humanism and love when Sir Percival was trapped in the vestry...."

Casceil, thanks for reminding us of the specific circumstances of the attempted rescue. This makes the scene less fantastic and perhaps alludes to the fact that, although the townspeople and Walter made an effort to save him, Sir Percival was destined to this fiery death. As Deborah points out, the story progresses without him, indicating that there is more to the mystery than his part in it.

Casceil | 220 comments "Proto-independence." I like that.

message 14: by Lynnm (last edited Feb 02, 2013 11:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynnm | 3027 comments I was a bit disappointed with the "secret." I realize that it would be a huge scandal at the time, but really it just boils down to the fact that Sir Percival's parents weren't married. It wasn't as if they were complete pretenders, having nothing to do with the estate.

Also, why do Laura and Anne look so much alike? We still don't know who the father is. Is it Mrs. Catherick's husbands? Or Sir Percival? She claims that Anne is her husband's child and not Sir Percival's child, but neither man explains why the two looks alike. Is there something that is going to come out in the last chapters? Sir Percival was a friend to the late Mr. Fairlie, and Fairlie promised Laura to Sir Percival. Does Sir Percival have something on Mr. Fairlie? I'm just thinking aloud here...just ignore me. ;)

I found the villagers lack of sympathy to Sir Percival's being locked in the building with a fire a bit shocking. They had to be offered money to help? I know they are poor, but even poor people should want to help someone who is dying in a fire. We know that Sir Percival is a bad person, but they don't. And even a bad person doesn't deserve to die like that, symbolic as it may be.

Last point. Even though Mr. Hartright is doing a lot to help Laura and Marian, I don't really like his "I just like Laura as a sister now" comments. It may be so that the reader doesn't think that his actions are based on the idea of future gain. But it could come off as, she's not as pretty as she was before her troubles, and therefore, I'm not attracted to her anymore.

Sarah | 269 comments Lynnm wrote: "I was a bit disappointed with the "secret." I realize that it would be a huge scandal at the time, but really it just boils down to the fact that Sir Percival's parents weren't married. It wasn't..."

I, admittedly, was expecting the Secret to be much more dramatic, too. I was ready for it to tie in with the similarities in Laura’s and Anne’s appearance, and I was waiting for a further explanation of Laura’s being promised to Percival, so I can understand your frustration at this point in the novel. As far as the fire is concerned, it seems that the villagers believed saving Percival to be a lost cause from the beginning, although that doesn’t excuse their lack of fervor prior to being offered money. You bring up a good point, that they were unaware of Percival’s crime; indeed, it is Walter who has to be restrained from trying to save him.

Speaking of Walter, I can see where his attitude toward Laura can seem insulting, but I am guessing that from a 19th-century standpoint, this would be a gallant or chivalric stance to take, although I could be wrong. In a way, she is not the same Laura that he fell in love with because her mind is suffering from what she’s been through, and perhaps Walter feels that admitting romantic love for her at this point would make it seem as though he were taking advantage of her. Would she understand or be able to give marriage vows in her fragile mental state? Plus, until Percival died, she was still legally bound to him (divorce would likely not have been granted, even if she had sought it). Also, women during this time period would have been expected to go through a period of mourning (probably at least a year) before even considering courting again. I can’t account for Collins’ reasons in having Walter curb his love for Laura during the investigation into the crime, but that would be my best guess.

Casceil | 220 comments "The secret" may not seem like a big deal, since Sir Percival was his father's son, but in those times it was a very big deal. Percival had absolutely no legal right to inherit anything from his father. He committed fraud on a grand scale by forging a fictitious marriage record. He basically stole an estate and title. Having a witness out and about who could testify to his fraud did create a very real risk for him.

message 17: by Casceil (last edited Feb 02, 2013 12:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Casceil | 220 comments Also, as for the villagers' willingness to let Sir Percival burn, at least until they were offered money to help, remember that this man was utterly despicable and had done nothing to help the local people or make them think well of him.

Lynnm | 3027 comments Sarah wrote: "Lynnm wrote: "I was a bit disappointed with the "secret." I realize that it would be a huge scandal at the time, but really it just boils down to the fact that Sir Percival's parents weren't marri..."

I thought it would tie into Anne's and Laura's similarities as well. I think that is why I was disappointed. And I also know that Sir Percival's secret was a very big deal, but it just wasn't what I expected. And there was no foreshadowing of what it ultimately was...unlike Anne and Laura.

And yes, you are right about Hartright's attitude towards Laura as "gallant or chivalric." She had changed, is fragile, and unfortunately until Sir Percival's death, still married.

I'm behind on my reading, but I am going to start the ending chapters this afternoon. Hopefully, they will clear up the mystery of Laura's and Anne's looking alike.

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