Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1860)

Walter Hartwright opens the novel narrating a strange encounter with a woman in white on the outskirts of London. Helps her find a carriage, and finds out that she has escaped from psych ward. Walter gets a job teaching drawing to Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe. He falls in love with Laura (who looks exactly like Anne), but is relieved of post because Laura is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde,a  hot-headed landed gentry who turns out to be quite awful. Walter goes to South America. Mr. Fairlie signs away Laura’s fortune (20.000 pounds). 10,000 pounds have also been left to her, but will go to Countess Fosco if she dies before the Foscos do. Laura marries, goes to Rome, and then returns. Percival spends loads of money. The hugely fat Count Fosco returns with them. Anne begins to come around (wearing white b/c of attachment to deceased Mrs. Fairlie) talking about a “Secret” that will bring Percival crashing down. Turns out her mother has told her about the secret, without giving the content, and Anne used this to advantage in youth and was consequently sent to asylum. Laura and Marian become prisoners—through an ingenious plan, Fosco and Percival switch the dead Anne with the living Laura in order to have Laura put into an insane asylum—but also mange to get the money to pay the debts. Marian breaks her out, Walter returns, and they begin to try to reconstruct the evidence that will reveal Percival’s secret and also prove Laura’s identity (the latter comes down to a matter of dates; the former comes down to a marriage log in rustic church). Percival attempts to burn the log and burns the church down with himself inside. Percival has spuriously inserted his name into the log (a sin), that in fact covers up the original sin of Philip Fairlie who fathered both Anne and Laura by different mothers. Battle continue with Fosco, who si blackmailed into writing his account of the story. He is part of an international secret society (in which Pesca is high-ranking member), he flees but is tracked down and killed in Paris. Laura and Walter are married and their child inherits Limmeridge.

Preface: Lays out form of the story: characters provide narration along a roughly chronological chain—no overlap, so the various perspectives are not complicating the scene described (they rather highlight the characters—and clarify the story)…characters becomes means to a plot. Any overlap is ABOUT PLOT NOT ABOUT CHARACTER.

Narration: both narrator and organizer of evidence.

Story vs. law: acknowledge of “facts” being inadequate to the task of narration.

Discussion of Crime: the perfect crime is one in which no one knows the crime has been committed. Think about this as form for all narrative: SECRET. Secret takes on substance.

Function of the lawyer or man of business – Mr. Gilmore is impersonal recorder of events, as pure functioning machine. Cf. Bruff in Moonstone.

MADNESS enters as medicine into a family crime (no longer associated with larger cosmic determination, but firmly domestic)

Sir Pericval’s crime is a solution to a problem via the limited protocols of marriage.

Inheritance: similar routing of the spurious inheritor as in Wuthering Heights.

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