Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White: 19th Century Victorian femininity exposed through the accounts of multiple narrators

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Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White: 19th Century Victorian femininity exposed through the accounts of multiple narrators Readers of nineteenth century British literature imagine typical Victorian women to be flighty, emotionally charged, and fully dependent on the men in their lives. One envisions a corseted woman who is a dutiful wife, pleasant entertainer, and always the model of etiquette. Wilkie Collins acknowledges this stereotype in his novel The Woman in White, but he contradicts this image by creating strong women in the characters of Marian Halcombe, and to a lesser extent, of Laura Fairlie. Collins also explores these powerful women in relation to marriage, and their loss of identity in becoming a wife, as exemplified by…show more content…
The relationship that develops between Laura and Walter make it impossible for him to describe her objectively and he asks, “How can I separate her from my own sensations, and from all that has happened in the later time?” (48). Walter is unable to separate the facts from his own emotions, a problem which the reader must take into consideration while reading his journal. Under Walter’s guidance, the reader is entreated to acknowledge Laura as a prim and subdued young woman, whose sensitivity and appealing features fit the model of a Victorian woman. Despite this background, Laura defies this conventional image later in the novel as revealed through the writings of Marian Halcombe. As Marian describes the hardships and burdens of marriage concerning her half-sister, Laura demonstrates the courage needed to stand up to her maltreatment at the hands of her husband. When Sir Percival Glyde attempts to coerce Laura into signing a legal document without reading it, she replies, “’I ought surely to know what I am signing, Sir Percival, before I write my name?’” (247). Though he remonstrates her confident defiance with “‘What have women to do with business? I tell you again, you can’t understand it’” (247), Laura holds fast to her resolution against authorizing the document. Furthermore, she exhibits a greater understanding of business than Sir Percival will credit her, for she is wise enough to take the council of Marian and deny her husband’s

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