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The woman in white analysis

Writing at the turn of the twenty-first century, D. But a large proportion of literary scholars today think of all texts as unstable in a similar way. Media such as novels change in large and small ways over time, be it the addition of illustrations, publication in e-text format, or the release of a sequel that changes how readers view the first book. As people wrote about, pirated, merchandized, and adapted the novel, conversations about the narrative changed over time. In the twenty-first century, we benefit. The variations that emerge in T he Woman in White offer us a range of ways to think about reading and publishing throughout the nineteenth century and beyond.

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The Woman in White

Philipp Erchinger's densely argued essay, "Secrets Not Revealed: Possible Stories in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White" , which appeared in an issue of Connotations devoted to the theme of "Roads Not Taken," seeks to make Collins's text yield up some of those narrative or textual secrets that, as Frank Kermode maintains in his essay "Secrets and Narrative Sequence," are concealed by an author's efforts to "'foreground' sequence and message" Kermode Such secrets, Kermode argues, remain hidden to "all but abnormally attentive scrutiny" and are only brought to light by a "reading so minute, so intense and slow that it seems to run counter to one's 'natural' sense of what a novel is" Kermode Erchinger is clearly an attentive reader.

He is also an inventive reader who suggests that there is no good reason to suppose that it is Laura rather than Anne who escapes the plotters and marries Hartright. He seems to suggest that the concealment of this fact may not simply be a consequence of Hartright's evasiveness as a narrator, but rather is one of its motivating factors.

Instead, he seeks to analyse Collins's novel as "a highly intriguing fabric of individual fictional discourses, managed, manipulated and lined up by an equally fictional editor, Walter Hartright, whose true motives […] must […] necessarily remain […], despite all his declarations to the contrary, fundamentally unreliable" Erchinger This response will suggest some other roads one might take through Collins's manipulations of Hartright's manipulations of this highly intriguing fabric of individual fictional discourses.

Erchinger's starting point is his observation that the novel's chief narrator, Hartright, uses "the machinery of the Law" Collins 5 as "an operative framework for the whole novel", a "theoretical model […] that has been devised to structure the practical writing and reading of the narrative text, ensuring the credibility of its statements and the economy of its effects" Erchinger Much of the essay's subsequent argument turns on what Erchinger describes as the "irresolvable tension" 49 regarding the Law which, he argues, is established in Hartright's opening justification of his narrative method and is developed throughout the novel.

This tension results, Erchinger suggests, from Hartright's presentation of the Law as, on the one hand, an "authoritative system of clarification and distinction," and, on the other, as so "highly unpredictable and erratic" in its operation, as to create "an uneasy feeling of hidden secrets and unresolved cases" Erchinger The Law is not the only locus of tension or ambivalence introduced in Hartright's opening remarks on the narratives which constitute the text of The Woman in White cf.

While Hartright appears to offer the ultimate in fictional realism as well as the forensic objectivity which is appropriate to a legal investigation or a '"Court of Justice," the narratives that follow are, in fact, all limited and subjective. Moreover, while Hartright insists that his ordering of the narratives is designed to "trace the course of one complete series of events" as clearly as possible, Collins's construction and ordering of the narratives is designed to create and perpetuate the narrative secrets for as long as possible and to maximise the sensational effects of the sensation novel—"the whole interest of which consists in the gradual unravelling of some carefully prepared enigma," as one early commentator on the genre put it Spectator Indeed, as U.

Knoepflmacher pointed out in his essay on The Woman in White and the "Counterworld of Victorian Fiction," Hartright's comparison of his method of assembling the narratives with the operations of a Court of Law is patently a false analogy. A trial in a Court of Law involves both "the knowledge of the offence and the offender" and "a detached, ex post facto analysis of events" Knoepflmacher On the contrary, the "narrative strips" Knoepflmacher 62 assembled by Hartright draw readers into a shared time scheme with the characters who are involved in those events, and, for much of the narrative, readers share the ignorance of several of the narrating characters about the precise nature of the offence to which Hartright refers in his opening remarks.

One might argue that the central tension in the novel is not, in fact, an "irresolvable tension" regarding the operations of the Law, but rather a tension between the Law—which is consistently presented as being compromised by "the money question," as the lawyer Kyrle puts it Collins —and Justice.

Crucially Hartright repeatedly presents himself as a fighter for Justice in the face of the unreliability of "the machinery of the Law. Moreover, one of the lessons that Hartright presents himself as having learned in the course of the events narrated is that sometimes Justice can only be obtained outside of the operations of the Law.

As he reflects towards the end of the narrative: "The Law would never have obtained me my interview with Mrs Catherick. The Law would never have made Pesca the means of forcing a confession from the Count" Collins The narratives which he has gathered together are presented to readers who are to act as judge and also, perhaps, as jurors. For Eliot, as for many of her contemporaries, "the law courts, understood as a containing structure for retelling stories, provided a constitutive way of imagining [the] novel's form" Grossman 4.

Erchinger, on the other hand, interprets Hartright's references to the "machinery of the Law" and the "Court of Justice" in the opening paragraphs of The Woman in White as referring to a "legal enquiry. Does this really describe the process of a Court of Law or Justice? In England a Court of Law is adversarial and involves advocacy. Forensic skills are used to interrogate evidence and witnesses, to find gaps in the stories they tell, to advocate alternative readings of the evidence and to tell alternative stories.

This is an aspect of the operations of a Court of Justice on which Hartright does not dwell—yet another example of his narratorial evasiveness. Hartright is, of course, as Erchinger notes, a notoriously unreliable narrator. Indeed, as Kermode reminds us in "Secrets and Narrative Sequence," all narrators are unreliable, what is remarkable is that we should have "endorsed the fiction of the 'reliable' narrator" Kermode One of the most recent among the numerous critics to have explored Hartright's unreliability is Maria Bachman, who sees his narrative manipulations, concealments and control of information as central both to the novel's obsession with secrecy and to the way in which it keeps its secrets "hidden deep under the surface" Collins This is certainly the "logic" of the sensation novel.

From its inception readers and reviewers of sensation fiction recognised that secrecy was not only the driver of its plots, but that it was also its theme or subject, and its fundamental "enabling condition" Showalter Indeed, one might argue that, particularly as practiced by Collins, the sensation novel goes out of its way to foreground the interconnectedness of its use of secrecy as a narrative device to capture and keep the attention of readers and its exploration of secrecy as a broader cultural phenomenon.

If the unreliable Hartright presents us with a series of narratives that conceal as much, if not more, than they reveal, he is nevertheless curiously open about his secretiveness.

He frequently calls attention to his concealments and manipulations. Often the ostensible reason for the omission or editing of information is narrative clarity. Thus at the beginning of "The Third Epoch," Hartright resumes his narrative one week after the sensational scene in which Laura appeared to him beside her own gravestone, noting that he must leave "unrecorded" the "history of the interval," whose recollection makes his mind sink "in darkness and confusion" Collins Such emotion must be suppressed "if the clue that leads through the windings of the Story is to remain, from end to end, untangled in my hands" Collins Similarly, notwithstanding his opening claims about letting everyone "relate their own experience, word for word" Collins 6 , Hartright reveals his editing of the words of Laura and Marian, an act which he justifies in the interests of clarity: "I shall relate both narratives not in the words often interrupted, often inevitably confused of the speakers themselves, but in the words of the brief, plain, studiously simple abstract which I committed to writing for my own guidance, and for the guidance of my legal adviser.

So the tangled web will be most speedily and most intelligibly unrolled" Collins In short, throughout, Walter openly suppresses details which he deems irrelevant to "this process of inquiry" Collins 5 , or "the Story" Collins 5 , often using the argument of clarity and rationality to justify his exclusions. But what is "the Story"? Or is "the Story" the one referred to in the novel's opening paragraph: "this is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve" Collins 5?

Walter is the author of both stories, and both have their own concealments. The "plain narrative" Collins , the result of the supposedly forensic untangling of the clues that lead through the windings of the labyrinth of the conspiracy, is merely reported to— rather than shared with—the readers.

The "plain narrative" is Laura's story. Hartright's omissions, concealments and editing have the effect of making "the Story" his story. This story is not the forensic untangling of clues, but something altogether different. It is a story of providential transformation by sensational events. Thus, for example, Hartright's recording of the fact that he must leave unrecorded the events of the week following the sensational reunion at Laura's graveside, is followed by this proclamation: "A life suddenly changed—its whole purpose created afresh; its hopes and fears, its struggles, its interests, and its sacrifices, all turned at once and for ever into a new direction—this is the prospect which now opens up before me" Collins In this declaration one of the textual secrets which Ann Cvetkovich has detected in The Woman in White erupts onto its narrative surface.

This is the secret of the way in which many of the novel's more sensational moments "enable the more materially determined narrative of Walter's accession to power to be represented as though it were the product of chance occurrences, uncanny repetitions, and fated events" Cvetkovich As Cvetkovich argues, Hartright's presentation of his own and the other narratives that make up The Woman in White works to conceal the fact that his "pursuit of justice allows him to further his own interest" Cvetkovich Hartright's protestations about the Law's inadequacies thus act as a cover for the fact that it is precisely the inadequacies of "the machinery of the Law" which set him on a particular road.

The road taken is the road of "opportunity" on which the uncovering of the secrets and crimes of aristocratic men such as Sir Percival and Laura's father allows him to ascend to the social position of which they proved themselves unworthy, and, in Glyde's case, occupied illegitimately. Bachman, Maria. Albert Pionke and Denise Tischler Millstein. Farnham: Ashgate, Cvetkovich, Ann. Lyn Pykett. Basingstoke: Macmillan, Grossman, Jonathan. Kermode, Frank. DOI: Showalter, Elaine. Anthony S.

London: Croom Helm, Aberystwyth University Wales. Collins, Wilkie. The Woman in White. John Sutherland. Oxford: OUP, Eliot, George. Adam Bede. Valentine Cunningham. This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More. Necessary Always Enabled.

Many Women in White: A Novel Evolves

Philipp Erchinger's densely argued essay, "Secrets Not Revealed: Possible Stories in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White" , which appeared in an issue of Connotations devoted to the theme of "Roads Not Taken," seeks to make Collins's text yield up some of those narrative or textual secrets that, as Frank Kermode maintains in his essay "Secrets and Narrative Sequence," are concealed by an author's efforts to "'foreground' sequence and message" Kermode Such secrets, Kermode argues, remain hidden to "all but abnormally attentive scrutiny" and are only brought to light by a "reading so minute, so intense and slow that it seems to run counter to one's 'natural' sense of what a novel is" Kermode Erchinger is clearly an attentive reader.

Noted for its suspenseful plot and unique characterization, the successful novel brought Collins great fame; he adapted it into a play in This dramatic tale, inspired by an actual criminal case, is told through multiple narrators.

A thriller promises its readers suspenseful thrills, just as The Woman in White did when it first hit the stands in , and which it continues to do to this day—despite the fact that our social mores have changed considerably since the Victorian era. The encounter is both unexpected and cinematic. The dark, deserted road, coupled with the late hour contrasts vividly with the light touch of the extraordinarily dressed woman and her mundane question. Walter quickly learns that the woman dressed in white is Anne Catherick, an escapee from a lunatic asylum, and that she bears a striking resemblance to the innocent heiress, Laura Fairlie, with whom he falls in love. The Woman in White and its contemporary counterparts are anchored by a common set of preoccupations.

The Woman in White Reader’s Guide

Justice is self-regulating in The Woman in White , as the characters who commit crimes are fittingly punished, while the virtuous characters receive suitable rewards in exchange for their efforts. Collins uses Walter …. Identity and external appearance are presented as fluid and deceptive in The Woman in White , which centers around a mysterious and deadly case of switched identities. In the novel, identity is closely bound up with public recognition, to the point where loss of public identity is equated with a total loss of self. It is also implied that people develop their identities based partly on how society treats them because of their external appearance…. Marriage is presented as a great risk for women in The Woman in White. Women in nineteenth-century Britain had fewer rights than men because of the societal belief that women were inferior to men. Throughout the novel, Collins is critical of marriage, as the female characters in the novel stand to lose…. Nineteenth-century British society was rigidly organized by class, but social mobility was made possible through the rise of the middle class and the self-made man, meaning a man without family connections or land who became wealthy through his own efforts. The Woman in White reflects British, middle-class values of the nineteenth century: the virtuous, hard-working protagonist, Walter Hartright , triumphs over….

The Woman in White Analysis

The Woman in White is Wilkie Collins 's fifth published novel, written in It is considered to be among the first mystery novels and is widely regarded as one of the first and finest in the genre of " sensation novels ". The story is sometimes considered an early example of detective fiction with protagonist Walter Hartright employing many of the sleuthing techniques of later private detectives. The use of multiple narrators including nearly all the principal characters draws on Collins's legal training, [1] [2] and as he points out in his preamble: "the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness". Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, encounters and gives directions to a mysterious and distressed woman dressed entirely in white, lost in London; he is later informed by policemen that she has escaped from an asylum.

Sensation fiction thus fused the Gothic romance with the Realist novel, finding horrors not in some fantastical Medieval castle, but behind the doors of apparently normal suburban semi-detached houses, where secrets festered and multiplied.

Although Walter uses certain legal methods, such as the compilation of written evidence, to build his case against Sir Percival, the law itself is depicted as a limited institution that is easily influenced by powerful individuals. Therefore, law is presented as a force that can easily be abused and used against vulnerable people like Laura and Anne. The structure of The Woman in White suggests that the collection of written evidence is an effective way of reaching a fair verdict in a court of law—at least in theory.

The Woman in White Study Guide

Published in , one of the two novels with The Moonstone for which Collins is most famous. It firmly established his reputation with the reading public and helped raise the circulation of All the Year Round. As Smith, Elder found to their cost, 'everyone was raving about it.

In this book, there is a story of a French widow who is drugged by her brother and then imprisoned in a mental asylum under a false name. The brother then usurps her estate. Wilkie Collins was immediately fascinated by this story and resolved to write a story with a similar plot line. He initially planned to set the beginning of the story in Cumberland, but then read in the newspaper the story of a patient escaping from an asylum. Thus, he created the scene where Anne Catherick escapes from the mental asylum in the beginning of the story. The novel was published in 40 weekly installments between November 26, and August 25,

JavaScript seems to be disabled in your browser. For the best experience on our site, be sure to turn on Javascript in your browser. This novel revolves a lot around the split between cold, hard facts and emotion. This divide crops up in the narrative, the themes, and especially in the tone. Nailing down the tone in this book is kind of complicated, since we are dealing with so many different first-person narrators. But there are still some things all the narratives have in common. Since our man Walt is the chief narrator, we're using his narratives to help us sort out the tone.

Apr 17, - Need help on themes in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White? Check out our thorough thematic analysis. From the creators of SparkNotes.

Collins belongs the credit of having introduced into fiction those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors. In The Moonstone he single-handedly developed most elements of the classic detective story. With The Woman in White Collins created the archetypal sensation novel, spawning generations of imitators.

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