The Big Read V: The Woman in White -- Wilkie Collins The Second Epoch: The Story Continued by Frederick Fairlie, Esq.; The Story Continued by Eliza Michelson
The Story Continued by Frederick Fairlie, Esq.
In which Fosco masterfully handles Mr. Fairlie.
• Oh, my. I have a feeling that this section is going to be both maddening and hilarious. It begins, "It is the grand misfortune of my life that nobody will let me alone." Our Wilkie really was rather wonderful, wasn't he? All of these characters' voices are so distinct and real -- it's hard not to think of them as actual people. (Not that I'm trying not to -- oh, you know what I mean.)
• If he'd stop complaining for two minutes, his section would probably be two thirds shorter. Also, POOR Louis:
Shattered by my miserable health and my family troubles, I am incapable of resistance. If you insist, you take your unjust advantage of me, and I give way immediately. I will endeavour to remember what I can (under protest), and to write what I can (also under protest), and what I can't remember and can't write, Louis must remember and write for me. He is an ass, and I am an invalid, and we are likely to make all sorts of mistakes between us. How humiliating!
• Okay, I need to stop quoting, but he's just such a monster, and so funny:
At the end of June, or the beginning of July, then, I was reclining in my customary state, surrounded by the various objects of Art which I have collected about me to improve the taste of the barbarous people in my neighbourhood. That is to say, I had the photographs of my pictures, and prints, and coins, and so forth, all about me, which I intend, one of these days, to present (the photographs, I mean, if the clumsy English language will let me mean anything) to present to the institution at Carlisle (horrid place!), with a view to improving the tastes of the members (Goths and Vandals to a man). It might be supposed that a gentleman who was in course of conferring a great national benefit on his countrymen was the last gentleman in the world to be unfeelingly worried about private difficulties and family affairs. Quite a mistake, I assure you, in my case.
However, there I was, reclining, with my art-treasures about me, and wanting a quiet morning. Because I wanted a quiet morning, of course Louis came in. It was perfectly natural that I should inquire what the deuce he meant by making his appearance when I had not rung my bell. I seldom swear—it is such an ungentlemanlike habit—but when Louis answered by a grin, I think it was also perfectly natural that I should damn him for grinning. At any rate, I did.
For a guy who's so Put Out about writing this (assuming that poor Louis isn't being forced to transcribe, which wouldn't surprise me), he seems to be enjoying the pulpit.
• HA. Now poor Louis IS taking dictation.
• NOOOO! So Madame Fosco drugged Fanny? And read or replaced the letters??
• DOUBLE NOOOOO! Madame Fosco swiped the letter to Gilmore!? But of course, receiving a blank piece of paper in the mail would get Gilmore riled anyway... as he, unlike Mr. Fairlie, has a working brain.
• Note that he refers to Gilmore as "dear, pig-headed Mr. Gilmore". I wonder if his gentlemanly delicacy prevented him from using the same epithet in reference to Marian?
• Ooo, I want to KICK him. He doesn't hear anything more from Marian, so he assumes that All Is Well. Meanwhile, she's probably being slowly poisoned by Fosco or something. GOD.
• AND OH MY GOD, NOW FOSCO IS THERE TO TALK TO HIM. !!! And, ha ha ha ha:
My sister having married a foreigner, there was but one impression that any man in his senses could possibly feel. Of course the Count had come to borrow money of me.
"Louis," I said, "do you think he would go away if you gave him five shillings?"
• Mr. Fairlie's first impression on Fosco: "My first impression of him was highly favourable. It is not creditable to my penetration—as the sequel will show—to acknowledge this, but I am a naturally candid man, and I DO acknowledge it notwithstanding." Oh, yes, Mr. Fairlie, you are nothing if not candid.
• Fosco is so awesomely manipulative. If only he would Use His Powers For Good.
• HA! Yes, very candid indeed: "I have no doubt my affectionate anxiety had led to that melancholy apprehension at some time or other, but at the moment my wretched memory entirely failed to remind me of the circumstance. However, I said yes, in justice to myself."
• So Marian is sick, but not dying. (According to Fosco, but I don't see why he'd lie.) PHEW!
• Ha! And Fosco is totally messing with Mr. Fairlie about the infectious nature of Marian's fever -- Oh, no, don't worry! It isn't infectious, and I WOULD KNOW BECAUSE I'VE BEEN SPENDING LOTS OF TIME IN THE SICKROOM! Aha ha ha ha ha! Oh, Fosco, I would love you if you weren't Made Of Evil.
• Still not knowing what Fosco's Long Game is: he's pushing for a separation, he's sworn that Sir Percival won't come to Limmeridge. Cutting through all of the explanations, he REALLY wants Laura out of the way. Or something.
• WAIT A MINUTE. Are they going to bump off Anne Catherick and then pretend she's Laura and then claim Laura's inheritance while she's hiding out at Limmeridge?? No, that's insane and also completely ridiculous and just RIFE with probable pitfalls. There's no way they could get away with that. Right? I mean, RIGHT?? It would make much more sense to just bump off Laura. But that just seems too easy, and then what would be the point of having a dopplegänger?
• It seems that Count Fosco is going to be with Laura at each changing point of her journey -- if she was a more capable, determined woman, he'd probably go the whole way with her, but as it is... Also, did you notice that her health has taken a turn? She probably looks even MORE like Anne Catherick now.
The Story Continued by Eliza Michelson (Housekeeper at Blackwater Park)
I. In which I nearly lose my mind because I hate the narrator OH SO VERY MUCH.
• Mrs. Michelson is VERY aware of What Is Proper: "Lady Glyde (being no longer in Sir Percival's service, I may, without impropriety, mention my former mistress by her name, instead of calling her my lady) was the first to come in from her own bedroom."
• This bit, from the very beginning of this section, made me feel that she felt a bit that having a job was Beneath Her: "As the widow of a clergyman of the Church of England (reduced by misfortune to the necessity of accepting a situation), I have been taught to place the claims of truth above all other considerations." She also seems to have a pretty serious case of Snobbery Of The Servant Class.
• On Laura: "She was so dreadfully alarmed and distressed that she was quite useless."
• What was the Count doing at the boathouse? Waiting for Anne Catherick?
• Lots more of the Count's Amazing Superpower: Manipulation. I wonder if Mrs. Michelson ever figures it out -- I'm not going to hold my breath.
• "I advance no opinions—I offer facts only. My endeavour through life is to judge not that I be not judged." Yeah, except that your "facts" are totally colored by your opinions, but lets move along, shall we?
• What with this character and Miss Clack from The Moonstone, I wonder how Wilkie felt about religion.
• Ooo. Has Anne Catherick been found?
• HA!: "I did not suspect the Count of any impropriety—I knew his moral character too well."
• I never thought I'd find a character MORE maddening than Mr. Fairlie. But, here we are.
• And now the nurse hired by the Foscos is introduced. So first she tries to hawk copies of the aforementioned collection of her dead husband's sermons, and THEN, she proceeds to do lots of "not judging":
It has also always been my precept and practice, as it was my dear husband's precept and practice before me (see Sermon XXIX. in the Collection by the late Rev. Samuel Michelson, M.A.), to do as I would be done by. On both these accounts I will not say that Mrs. Rubelle struck me as being a small, wiry, sly person, of fifty or thereabouts, with a dark brown or Creole complexion and watchful light grey eyes. Nor will I mention, for the reasons just alleged, that I thought her dress, though it was of the plainest black silk, inappropriately costly in texture and unnecessarily refined in trimming and finish, for a person in her position in life. I should not like these things to be said of me, and therefore it is my duty not to say them of Mrs. Rubelle.
Oh, you won't say any of that, will you? At least Mr. Fairlie isn't totally self-righteous.
• And she's a complete hypocrite:
Such want of liberality towards a foreigner on the part of a lady of her education and refinement surprised me. I ventured to say, "My lady, we must all remember not to be hasty in our judgments on our inferiors—especially when they come from foreign parts."
I can't believe that I'm feeling so defensive of Laura. If Marian wasn't all passed out and feverish, she'd have had words for Mrs. Michelson.
• GAH!!!!: "Some people might have thought such conduct suggestive of brazen assurance. I beg to say that I more liberally set it down to extraordinary strength of mind." I HATE HER.
• The doctor, on the other hand, is awesome.
• AND she's thicker than thick:
"With all respect to Mr. Dawson," I answered, "in your ladyship's place I should remember the Count's advice."
Lady Glyde turned away from me suddenly, with an appearance of despair, for which I was quite unable to account.
"HIS advice!" she said to herself. "God help us—HIS advice!"
• AND she's a gossip but pretends not to be:
Sir Percival dined by himself, and William (the man out of livery) make the remark, in my hearing, that his master had put himself on half rations of food and on a double allowance of drink. I attach no importance to such an insolent observation as this on the part of a servant. I reprobated it at the time, and I wish to be understood as reprobating it once more on this occasion.
• Ooo. Sneaky Count Fosco stepped aside to let Laura into the possibly typhus-infected room. But Doctor Dawson stopped her.
• So did Mrs. Rubelle bring the typhus with her? I'm at a loss as to her real reason for being there. I mean, unless the Count really did want to help Marian. Which I could believe. But I doubt that he does many things for one reason alone... Did he bring her in to torque the doctor up a bit more so he'd be more likely to give notice? If so, he ultimately succeeded.
• Finally. It took a lot -- Sir Percival fired almost all of the servants (to save money, he says, but also, I assume, to GET RID OF WITNESSES) -- but Mrs. Michelson finally has started to think that Blackwater Park might not be a healthy (beyond the typhus) place to be:
With the house left in this strange and lonely condition—with the mistress of it ill in her room—with Miss Halcombe still as helpless as a child—and with the doctor's attendance withdrawn from us in enmity—it was surely not unnatural that my spirits should sink, and my customary composure be very hard to maintain. My mind was ill at ease. I wished the poor ladies both well again, and I wished myself away from Blackwater Park.
II. In which I am TOTALLY blindsided by a Plot Twist.
• GAAAAAAAAAAAH. Just when I thought I was coming around, she starts the chapter off with this: "The next event that occurred was of so singular a nature that it might have caused me a feeling of superstitious surprise, if my mind had not been fortified by principle against any pagan weakness of that sort." SUCH. A. COW.
• Percival and Fosco pack Mrs. Michelson off to Torquay to secure lodgings for Laura and Marian. (Man, for two broke guys, they do spend a lot of money. Spend it to make it, I guess. So they want her out of the way, for one thing. Are they really going to send the sisters to Torquay? Isn't Fawlty Towers set in Torquay? Heh. Marian Halcombe vs. Basil Fawlty. No contest, there -- even while recuperating from typhus.)
• Oh, okay. They really do just want her out of the way, as they've given her impossible requirements for the desired lodgings.
• I'm still dying to know what the deal is with Mrs. Rubelle. (Rubella is measles. But once again, maybe I SHOULD JUST READ. No wonder I've been so behind.)
• Eeek. The Countess is hanging out in Laura's room. Mrs. Michelson didn't actually see Laura before leaving.
• So she gets back from Torquay to find the Foscos have cleared out and that Margaret Poacher (GROSS) is acting as Laura's maid. Okay, in this case I agree with Mrs. Michelson about the "glaring impropriety". But more because Margaret Poacher is a sadist (and stupid) than because of class issues.
• The Foscos TOOK Marian AWAY?? Oh, wait. But then Percival says it's so that she can speak with Mr. Fairlie before Laura shows up. But I thought that was all squared with Mr. Fairlie already. Yeah. LIAR. Hey, Laura, here's a plan: While he's getting drunk (again), RUN AWAY.
• Erm... protest too much, much?:
"Do you suppose there are any secrets going on here?" he broke out suddenly; "there are none—there is nothing underhand, nothing kept from you or from any one." After speaking those strange words loudly and sternly, he filled himself another glass of wine and asked Lady Glyde what she wanted of him.
• SNORT: "Much as I sympathised with Lady Glyde in other respects, I could not sympathise with her in her unjust prejudices against Count Fosco. I never before met with any lady of her rank and station who was so lamentably narrow-minded on the subject of foreigners."
• Ooo, look at that -- Laura's strength is returning and she's getting willful again... AND she's using her BRAIN, which is always nice to see. And look at that -- Laura actually wrote a letter of her own! To Mrs. Vesey! And convinced Mrs. Michelson to secretly post it! I'm so proud!
• The Laura/Percival farewell scene suggests that Percival and Fosco have a really, really ugly plan, erm, planned:
She only spoke when he had done, and then she stopped him as he approached the door, by holding out her hand.
"I shall see you no more," she said, in a very marked manner. "This is our parting—our parting, it may be for ever. Will you try to forgive me, Percival, as heartily as I forgive YOU?"
His face turned of an awful whiteness all over, and great beads of perspiration broke out on his bald forehead. "I shall come back," he said, and made for the door, as hastily as if his wife's farewell words had frightened him out of the room.
• NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Marian hasn't actually left Blackwater Park! Mrs. Rubelle IS (probably) Evil! (I know, I know, shocker, right?) Now Laura is totally On Her Own. I hope she is able to avoid Count Fosco at the train station.
• And Sir Percival is such a horrid human being:
I saw him as soon as she did. He came towards us, slashing viciously at the flowers with his riding-whip. When he was near enough to see my face he stopped, struck at his boot with the whip, and burst out laughing, so harshly and so violently that the birds flew away, startled, from the tree by which he stood.
• So Mrs. Michelson gives notice. Which, in this case, is totally, totally understandable. Though it does leave Marian rather at the mercy of some Very Bad People.
• And now Mrs. Rubelle is being sent to London -- is she going to act as Laura's jailer now?
• Okay, Mrs. Michelson is staying to take care of Marian. Which is good. She's Awful, but she's certainly not Evil.
• And has Percival SNAPPED? I hope he falls off his horse and breaks his neck. Sure, it'd be a lame ending, but if ANYONE deserves to just DROP DEAD, it's him.
• Well, it seems clear that he's still alive at the time of Mrs. Michelson's writing. Rats. Though she never saw him again after he took off. Lucky lady.
• Harumph: "The disgrace of lending herself to a vile deception is the only disgrace with which I can conscientiously charge Mrs. Rubelle." I'll add And Seeming To Revel In It to that.
• UH OH. "I need write no particulars (and I am relieved to know it) of the effect produced on Miss Halcombe by the news of Lady Glyde's departure, or by the far more melancholy tidings which reached us only too soon afterwards at Blackwater Park."
• Wow. And she STILL believes that Fosco is/was completely innocent in all that happened. Well, she's loyal, I'll give her that. But also easily swayed by Pretty Manners. Well, as I said before, he does have the superpower of manipulation. So maybe I shouldn't be quite so hard on her.
The Reading Schedule
The First Epoch: The Story Begun by Walter Hartright, Chapters I-VIII
The First Epoch: The Story Begun by Walter Hartright, Chapters IX-XV
The First Epoch: The Story Continued by Vincent Gilmore
The First Epoch: The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe
The Second Epoch: The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe, Chapters I-V
The Second Epoch: The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe, Chapters VI-X; Postscript
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