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The Victorian Experience
 Prolific novelist
 Some works first
published in Dickens'
journals All the Year
Round and Household
Words
 Led a double life: sex,
shame and secrets.
 Sensation fiction; early
detective fiction
 First serialised in Charles Dickens’s journal All The
Year Round, starting in November 1859
 Gothic romance in modern dress:
 The castle becomes the country house (Blackwater)
 The dungeon is transformed into a lunatic asylum or
domestic servitude in marriage
 feudal law of droit de seigneur is transformed into
cynical men manipulating modern laws about Married
Women’s Property rights.
 also explores one of the key themes of Gothic fiction –
that the world goes awry when paternal authority is
weak, perverted or absent.
 The story of a woman falsely imprisoned in an asylum
under an assumed name from an actual French case from
1776 which he read about in Maurice Méjan’s book Recueil
des Causes Célèbres (c.1808).
 Exploits debates about the rights of married women, fresh
in the mind from the passage of the 1857 Matrimonial
Causes Act, which allowed civil divorce in England for the
first time.
 The spectacular case of Lord and Lady Bulwer-Lytton in
1858, when Rosina Lytton had denounced her husband for
his cruelties only to be confined in an asylum for several
weeks before a public outcry ensured her release.
 ‘The introduction of the
literary detective into the
history of the novel
converts the romantic
tradition of a criminal
biography that celebrates
individual freedom into the
Victorian account of
criminal detection that
subjects the self to some
objective social
authority.’(RONALD R.
THOMAS, ‘Detection in the
Victorian novel’ CC Victorian
Fiction )
Woman in white_sl
 ‘She has escaped from my Asylum!’ I cannot say with truth
that the terrible inference which those words suggested
flashed upon me like a new revelation. ... But the idea of
absolute insanity which we all associate with the very name
of an Asylum, had, I can honestly declare, never occurred
to me, in connexion with her. I had seen nothing, in her
language or her actions, to justify it at the time; and, even
with the new light thrown on her by the words which the
stranger had addressed to the policeman, I could see
nothing to justify it now (The Story begun by Walter
Hartright, V).
 ‘What had I done? Assisted the victim of the most horrible
of all false imprisonments to escape; or cast loose on the
wide world of London an unfortunate creature, whose
actions it was my duty, and every man’s duty, mercifully to
control?’ (The Story begun by Walter Hartright, V).
 Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the
Treatment of Lunatics and Their Property that
reported in 1859– 60
 During the serial run of The Woman in White, All the
Year Round also ran several articles and stories
concerning the treatment of insanity and wrongful
confinement.
 returned to the subject in 1862 in an article entitled
‘M.D. and MAD’ which discussed the reports of the
Commissioners of Lunacy in 1862.
 [W]e do not … attribute to any … of these medical gentlemen, a
conscious action under mercenary motives. The public danger
arising from their influence would be infinitely insignificant if
the fact were so. They are highly trained men, who have honestly
devoted themselves to a special study of the most difficult
questions that can occur to a physician. There is no clear
dividing-line between sickness and health of mind; unsoundness
of mind is, no doubt as various and common as unsoundness of
body… . … In questions that concern the mind, the less heed we
pay to the theorist, and the more distinctly we require none but
the sort of evidence patent to the natural sense of ordinary men
in determining what the citizen shall suffer the privations, or
what criminal shall enjoy the privileges of unsoundness of mind,
the better it will be for us. Let us account no man a lunatic whom
it requires a mad-doctor to prove insane.’
 ‘In those former days, if they had both been seen together side
by side, no person could for a moment have mistaken them one
for the other—as has happened often in the instances of twins. I
could not say this now. The sorrow and suffering which I had
once blamed myself for associating even by a passing thought
with the future of Laura Fairlie, had set their profaning marks on
the youth and beauty of her face; and the fatal resemblance
which I had once seen and shuddered at seeing, in idea only, was
now a real and living resemblance which asserted itself before
my own eyes. Strangers, acquaintances, friends even who could
not look at her as we looked, if she had been shown to them in
the first days of her rescue from the Asylum, might have doubted
if she were the Laura Fairlie they had once seen, and doubted
without blame.’ (Epoch III: The story continued by Walter
Hartright)
 Marian is "ugly" only insofar as she is masculine.
Marian's man-like features: she has the "steady grasp
of a man”; her tears "come almost like men's tears” her
hands are "as awkward as a man's”; she carries a "heavy
man's umbrella”…
 Laura and Marian express their love physically and
fervently: "She put her lips to mine, and kissed me.
'My own love', she said softly.... She reached both
hands up to my cheeks, and drew my face down to hers
till our lips met" (The Story Continued by Marian
Halcombe
(in Extracts from her Diary)
 Walter is adopted as a ‘brother’. Bonds between Walter and
Marian threaten the Walter-Laura romance.
Woman in white_sl
 ‘If the machinery of the Law could be depended on to
fathom every case of suspicion, and to conduct every
process of society with moderate assistance only from
the lubricating influences of oil of gold, the events
which fill these pages might have claimed their share
of the public attention in a Court of Justice. ‘
 However, ‘the Law is still in certain inevitable cases the
pre-engaged servant of the long purse...’
 Legally, there never was a Lady Glyde, because there
never was a Sir Percival Glyde.
 ‘The union of Laura and Marian is the novel’s most fully realised
‘marriage’, if we consider marriage a union based on emotional
depth, mutual trust, and the presumption of permanence. Collins
frequently maps the positive components of companionate
marriage on to same-sex sibling or sibling-equivalent relations, or
on to relationships that are for one reason or another not
recognised by the law. In contrast, he often presents legal
marriage as a sinkhole of deception, hostility, abuse and grubby
materialism at worst, and at best a site of placid, jog-trot
boredom. By distilling positive affect from legal marriage, Collins
produces erotically pluralist novels under the protective,
authorising cover of the conventional marriage plot. He uses the
form against itself, turning the marriage plot inside out to feature
affirmative, loving, nonmarital bonds. ‘ (Leila Silvana May,
‘Sensational Sisters: Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White’
Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 30, No. 1 (1995), pp. 82-102
Woman in white_sl
 Frederick Walker's poster
for the Olympic
Theatre's 1871 dramatic
adaptation of The
Woman in White

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Woman in white_sl

  • 2.  Prolific novelist  Some works first published in Dickens' journals All the Year Round and Household Words  Led a double life: sex, shame and secrets.  Sensation fiction; early detective fiction
  • 3.  First serialised in Charles Dickens’s journal All The Year Round, starting in November 1859  Gothic romance in modern dress:  The castle becomes the country house (Blackwater)  The dungeon is transformed into a lunatic asylum or domestic servitude in marriage  feudal law of droit de seigneur is transformed into cynical men manipulating modern laws about Married Women’s Property rights.  also explores one of the key themes of Gothic fiction – that the world goes awry when paternal authority is weak, perverted or absent.
  • 4.  The story of a woman falsely imprisoned in an asylum under an assumed name from an actual French case from 1776 which he read about in Maurice Méjan’s book Recueil des Causes Célèbres (c.1808).  Exploits debates about the rights of married women, fresh in the mind from the passage of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, which allowed civil divorce in England for the first time.  The spectacular case of Lord and Lady Bulwer-Lytton in 1858, when Rosina Lytton had denounced her husband for his cruelties only to be confined in an asylum for several weeks before a public outcry ensured her release.
  • 5.  ‘The introduction of the literary detective into the history of the novel converts the romantic tradition of a criminal biography that celebrates individual freedom into the Victorian account of criminal detection that subjects the self to some objective social authority.’(RONALD R. THOMAS, ‘Detection in the Victorian novel’ CC Victorian Fiction )
  • 7.  ‘She has escaped from my Asylum!’ I cannot say with truth that the terrible inference which those words suggested flashed upon me like a new revelation. ... But the idea of absolute insanity which we all associate with the very name of an Asylum, had, I can honestly declare, never occurred to me, in connexion with her. I had seen nothing, in her language or her actions, to justify it at the time; and, even with the new light thrown on her by the words which the stranger had addressed to the policeman, I could see nothing to justify it now (The Story begun by Walter Hartright, V).  ‘What had I done? Assisted the victim of the most horrible of all false imprisonments to escape; or cast loose on the wide world of London an unfortunate creature, whose actions it was my duty, and every man’s duty, mercifully to control?’ (The Story begun by Walter Hartright, V).
  • 8.  Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Lunatics and Their Property that reported in 1859– 60  During the serial run of The Woman in White, All the Year Round also ran several articles and stories concerning the treatment of insanity and wrongful confinement.  returned to the subject in 1862 in an article entitled ‘M.D. and MAD’ which discussed the reports of the Commissioners of Lunacy in 1862.
  • 9.  [W]e do not … attribute to any … of these medical gentlemen, a conscious action under mercenary motives. The public danger arising from their influence would be infinitely insignificant if the fact were so. They are highly trained men, who have honestly devoted themselves to a special study of the most difficult questions that can occur to a physician. There is no clear dividing-line between sickness and health of mind; unsoundness of mind is, no doubt as various and common as unsoundness of body… . … In questions that concern the mind, the less heed we pay to the theorist, and the more distinctly we require none but the sort of evidence patent to the natural sense of ordinary men in determining what the citizen shall suffer the privations, or what criminal shall enjoy the privileges of unsoundness of mind, the better it will be for us. Let us account no man a lunatic whom it requires a mad-doctor to prove insane.’
  • 10.  ‘In those former days, if they had both been seen together side by side, no person could for a moment have mistaken them one for the other—as has happened often in the instances of twins. I could not say this now. The sorrow and suffering which I had once blamed myself for associating even by a passing thought with the future of Laura Fairlie, had set their profaning marks on the youth and beauty of her face; and the fatal resemblance which I had once seen and shuddered at seeing, in idea only, was now a real and living resemblance which asserted itself before my own eyes. Strangers, acquaintances, friends even who could not look at her as we looked, if she had been shown to them in the first days of her rescue from the Asylum, might have doubted if she were the Laura Fairlie they had once seen, and doubted without blame.’ (Epoch III: The story continued by Walter Hartright)
  • 11.  Marian is "ugly" only insofar as she is masculine. Marian's man-like features: she has the "steady grasp of a man”; her tears "come almost like men's tears” her hands are "as awkward as a man's”; she carries a "heavy man's umbrella”…  Laura and Marian express their love physically and fervently: "She put her lips to mine, and kissed me. 'My own love', she said softly.... She reached both hands up to my cheeks, and drew my face down to hers till our lips met" (The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe (in Extracts from her Diary)  Walter is adopted as a ‘brother’. Bonds between Walter and Marian threaten the Walter-Laura romance.
  • 13.  ‘If the machinery of the Law could be depended on to fathom every case of suspicion, and to conduct every process of society with moderate assistance only from the lubricating influences of oil of gold, the events which fill these pages might have claimed their share of the public attention in a Court of Justice. ‘  However, ‘the Law is still in certain inevitable cases the pre-engaged servant of the long purse...’  Legally, there never was a Lady Glyde, because there never was a Sir Percival Glyde.
  • 14.  ‘The union of Laura and Marian is the novel’s most fully realised ‘marriage’, if we consider marriage a union based on emotional depth, mutual trust, and the presumption of permanence. Collins frequently maps the positive components of companionate marriage on to same-sex sibling or sibling-equivalent relations, or on to relationships that are for one reason or another not recognised by the law. In contrast, he often presents legal marriage as a sinkhole of deception, hostility, abuse and grubby materialism at worst, and at best a site of placid, jog-trot boredom. By distilling positive affect from legal marriage, Collins produces erotically pluralist novels under the protective, authorising cover of the conventional marriage plot. He uses the form against itself, turning the marriage plot inside out to feature affirmative, loving, nonmarital bonds. ‘ (Leila Silvana May, ‘Sensational Sisters: Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White’ Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 30, No. 1 (1995), pp. 82-102
  • 16.  Frederick Walker's poster for the Olympic Theatre's 1871 dramatic adaptation of The Woman in White