Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White: 19th Century Victorian femininity e

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 Madame Fosco. He reveals personal details about the women by employing a journal-style novel, one in which most characters have the ability to describe the action in their own words and thoughts. In this way, Collins can craft a mystery where both sexes are in a constant power struggle and the women are as well-equipped to be detectives as the men. The character of Laura Fairlie is an interesting one to explore; on one hand, she appears to be the embodiment of Victorian sentiment. Laura is emotional and considered very feminine by all narrators in the novel, and initially seems to be controlled by men because of the promise she makes to her father on his death-bed. Her consent to this loveless marriage with Sir Percival Glyde also proves her to be stronger than an average Victorian woman might be; she is a moral, respectable woman, whose conscience will not let her betray the promise to her father for an alternative escape. The reader first meets Laura through Walter Hartright’s eyes, and... ...ntellect with regard to detection and solving a mystery. In The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins employs a changing narrator that gives voice to powerful women and their struggle against the oppressions of marriage. With the characterizations of Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie, he dismisses the outmoded notions of Victorian womanhood, and places equal power between the men and women in his novel. Madame Fosco is representative of the passive Victorian woman, and her extreme change in character forces the reader to examine the negative aspects of marriage for these women more closely. With the distinct accounts of different authors, the reader is able to gain insights into these women and their motives for accepting or denying their gender roles in the novel. Works Cited Collins, Wilkie. The Woman In White. Oxford University Press, Inc: New York. 1996.

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