The Big Read V: The Woman in White -- Wilkie Collins The Third Epoch: The Story Continued by Walter Hartright, Chapters I-VI
I told a patron yesterday that I remember so little (ie: nothing) about this book that I've started to wonder if I ever actually had read it before. I very clearly remember walking around with it. I remember opening it. Maybe I never got any further than that? I do have a tendency for getting distracted... Anyway, spoilers follow.
The Third Epoch: The Story Continued by Walter Hartright, Chapters I-VI
I. In which Walter sets the stage.
• Well, I did ask how Sir Percival and Count Fosco would get away with it:
Torn in her own lifetime from the list of the living, the daughter of Philip Fairlie and the wife of Percival Glyde might still exist for her sister, might still exist for me, but to all the world besides she was dead. Dead to her uncle, who had renounced her; dead to the servants of the house, who had failed to recognise her; dead to the persons in authority, who had transmitted her fortune to her husband and her aunt; dead to my mother and my sister, who believed me to be the dupe of an adventuress and the victim of a fraud; socially, morally, legally—dead.
Really? No one (except Walter and Marian) at all recognizes (or is willing to admit) that she is Laura? In some of the cases, I would, of course, accept and expect that -- cough*Mr. Fairlie*cough -- but surely there are others? Maybe I'm just being slow because I'm reading this at 4am. (Can't sleep.)
• Walter's had quite the Hero's Journey, huh? He practically walked through Death, even.
• Soooo... maybe laura's mind has snapped, and that's part of why people won't accept her as her?:
Forlorn and disowned, sorely tried and sadly changed—her beauty faded, her mind clouded—robbed of her station in the world, of her place among living creatures—the devotion I had promised, the devotion of my whole heart and soul and strength, might be laid blamelessly now at those dear feet. In the right of her calamity, in the right of her friendlessness, she was mine at last! Mine to support, to protect, to cherish, to restore. Mine to love and honour as father and brother both. Mine to vindicate through all risks and all sacrifices—through the hopeless struggle against Rank and Power, through the long fight with armed deceit and fortified Success, through the waste of my reputation, through the loss of my friends, through the hazard of my life.
If she has reverted to a semi-childlike state, that STINKS -- especially because she'd gotten so much more formidable. Unless this is a double-switcheroo and Walter and Marian are just deluding themselves that the woman they're living with isn't Laura. NO. I am not going down that road. She's got to be Laura.
II. In which we are told how Walter, Marian and Laura came to be hiding in London.
• So that's how they did it -- Fosco went on the offensive and told everyone that Anne Catherick was wandering around telling everyone that she was Laura. So smart. Once again, I really do wish he would use his powers for good. But then he wouldn't be as great a character. So he'll have to stay evil.
• Marian just gets better and better -- rather than pitching herself out of a window or something, she tries to get justice. Sending the lawyer over to investigate Laura's "death" doesn't pan out, so:
Shortly afterwards she was confined to her room by a relapse, her weakened physical energies giving way under the severe mental affliction from which she was now suffering. On getting stronger again, in a month's time, her suspicion of the circumstances described as attending her sister's death still remained unshaken. She had heard nothing in the interim of Sir Percival Glyde, but letters had reached her from Madame Fosco, making the most affectionate inquiries on the part of her husband and herself. Instead of answering these letters, Miss Halcombe caused the house in St. John's Wood, and the proceedings of its inmates, to be privately watched.
Is the "severe mental affliction" grief, or something else? Do all of the main characters in this book go a little bit nuts? Laura, yes. Walter, I'm starting to think maybe a little bit, yes. Marian...?
• I don't understand how Sir Percival has ANY friends, let alone a whole circle. Maybe because he spends a lot of (Laura's) money on them?
• Mrs. Vesey freaked out when Marian showed. Rats. I was hoping that Laura'd avoided Fosco at the station and hidden out with her.
• Well, hell. If Fosco stuck Laura in an asylum, NO WONDER she's a mess. And I feel terrible that Marian's suffering has caused her to become so much less... stomp-y:
It cannot be said that this conversation led to the result of even partially preparing Miss Halcombe's mind for what was to come. But it produced, nevertheless, a very serious effect upon her. She was so completely unnerved by it, that some little time elapsed before she could summon composure enough to follow the proprietor of the Asylum to that part of the house in which the inmates were confined.
OH MY GOD, HE DID DO IT. WHAT A BAD, BAD MAN. I really didn't see that coming! I really, really thought she'd been able to avoid him. (Somewhat unrelated, but have you read Fingersmith? You should.)
• I shouldn't have worried about Marian so much, as she's now planning to illegally spring Laura from the asylum. Her reasoning, I think, is sound:
A very little reflection, when the capacity to reflect returned, convinced her that any attempt to identify Lady Glyde and to rescue her by legal means, would, even if successful, involve a delay that might be fatal to her sister's intellects, which were shaken already by the horror of the situation to which she had been consigned.
And as everyone still thinks that Laura is Anne Catherick, that's why they're in hiding. Okay, NOW I get it.
• WOW. So that's how he did it. (Seriously, kids. You have GOT to read Fingersmith.)
• I hope that we find out whether or not Laura did see Mrs. Vesey...
• "From that date until the fifteenth of October (the day of her rescue) she had been under restraint, her identity with Anne Catherick systematically asserted, and her sanity, from first to last, practically denied. Faculties less delicately balanced, constitutions less tenderly organised, must have suffered under such an ordeal as this. No man could have gone through it and come out of it unchanged." Being a woman, of course, she snapped.
• Still hoping that someone will chuck Mr. Fairlie out a window. If he hadn't been such a &*%$!, everything could probably have been resolved somewhat easily with Fanny's return.
• And that's why they ended up in London. Anne Catherick may have died, but the Woman in White lives on. Laura is becoming her.
III. In which Walter begins to compile evidence and we finally hear more about Laura's condition.
• Our Marian is coming back: "Her large steady black eyes looked at me with a flash of their bright firmness of bygone days. "I am not quite broken down yet," she said. "I am worth trusting with my share of the work." Before I could answer, she added in a whisper, "And worth trusting with my share in the risk and the danger too. Remember that, if the time comes!""
• The passages about the healing of Laura's mind are heartbreaking. And VIVID.
• The investigation and the planning begin! There is Still Hope.
• So Laura never did go to Mrs. Vesey's house.
• And this is why Mrs. Michelson's testimony was so defensive of Count Fosco:
On returning from Mrs. Vesey's, I instructed Marian to write (observing the same caution which I practised myself) to Mrs. Michelson. She was to express, if she pleased, some general suspicion of Count Fosco's conduct, and she was to ask the housekeeper to supply us with a plain statement of events, in the interests of truth.
• I really like that Wilkie included this section about Walter compiling the evidence -- it adds verisimilitude. And it gives the earlier sections a whole new spin, knowing that they -- or some of them, at any rate -- were written before everything was resolved.
• And Walter heads out to see the lawyer, though he's quite worried about being recognized. Or maybe even killed?
IV. In which Fosco returns, sort of.
• Uh oh. Mr. Kyrle's opinion:
"So far as your own convictions are concerned, I am certain you have spoken the truth," he replied. "I have the highest esteem for Miss Halcombe, and I have therefore every reason to respect a gentleman whose mediation she trusts in a matter of this kind. I will even go farther, if you like, and admit, for courtesy's sake and for argument's sake, that the identity of Lady Glyde as a living person is a proved fact to Miss Halcombe and yourself. But you come to me for a legal opinion. As a lawyer, and as a lawyer only, it is my duty to tell you, Mr. Hartright, that you have not the shadow of a case."
Wouldn't it be worth trying to get evidence from Anne Catherick's mother? I know that she's Afraid of Scandal or Sir Percival or SOMETHING, but REALLY. At some point you have to stand up.
• COME ON! How could anyone not love Walter? (cue up an awesomely dramatic swell of music):
"There shall be no money motive," I said, "no idea of personal advantage in the service I mean to render to Lady Glyde. She has been cast out as a stranger from the house in which she was born—a lie which records her death has been written on her mother's tomb—and there are two men, alive and unpunished, who are responsible for it. That house shall open again to receive her in the presence of every soul who followed the false funeral to the grave—that lie shall be publicly erased from the tombstone by the authority of the head of the family, and those two men shall answer for their crime to ME, though the justice that sits in tribunals is powerless to pursue them. I have given my life to that purpose, and, alone as I stand, if God spares me, I will accomplish it."
I can almost see him shaking his fist at the sky and eating a dirty carrot and everything.
• YIKES. Horrible Sir Percival is back in England. In London, specifically.
• And, NOOOOOOO! There's someone on Walter's tail!
• Oh, good. He lost them. I think.
• I KNEW IT! I knew the note had to be from Count Fosco! Open it, Marian, open it!
• Okay, that doesn't surprise me -- Fosco basically tells Marian that if she doesn't Pursue Justice, he'll leave her alone. Oh, and: "If Mr. Hartright returns to England, hold no communication with him. I walk on a path of my own, and Percival follows at my heels. On the day when Mr. Hartright crosses that path, he is a lost man."
• Marian's getting kind of bloodthirsty. Which is understandable. Is it wrong that while I want our three heroes to get a Happy Ever After, I also want Count Fosco to escape? Probably. Well, I can't help it. He's just... rad.
• And now Walter's headed to Blackwater to try and find out when Laura left, as it might help their case -- hey, while you're there, WHY DON'T YOU TRY TALKING TO ANNE CATHERICK'S MOTHER???? Arg.
V. In which progress is made.
• Walter's attempts to discover The Date of Laura's Departure From Blackwater are not going well.
• WHO IS THE MAN IN BLACK? It couldn't be Sir Percival himself, could it? And it couldn't be Count Fosco, because Walter would have noted his size. Is he just an unnamed hired goon? But it doesn't seem as if he was there to spy on Walter -- it seemed like he was there for another reason, and that the timing was a coincidence. So maybe it was Sir Percival -- it would be fitting for Walter to describe him as the Woman in White's opposite: the Man in Black. At the same time, it's hard for me to think of Sir Percival as remotely formidable. He's just such a tool.
• Walter's feeling the desire for revenge -- not just for the crime, I think, but also because Sir Percival married Laura. And, awwww (and oooooo):
These words are written under no prompting of idle self-contemplation. Passages in this narrative are soon to come which will set the minds of others in judgment on my conduct. It is right that the best and the worst of me should be fairly balanced before that time.
• FINALLY. They start thinking about talking to Anne Catherick's mother.
• It's really weird that Laura's beloved father was such good friends with Sir Percival. I don't get it.
• The letter to Todd's Corner bears fruit:
The next morning I set forth to seek an interview with Mrs. Clements. This was my first step forward in the investigation. The story of the desperate attempt to which I now stood committed begins here.
Six chapters into Book Three, the story begins. Nice, Walter. (I know what he means, it's just funny.)
VI. In which the story begins. (Heh.)
• Wow. So Walter didn't tell Mrs. Clements about Anne's death. No wonder he said that he was going to admit to some shady moves. (That's like the time that Veronica Mars didn't tell Abel Koontz' daughter that he was dying...! Yep, I went there. Always important to bring dated pop culture references into my readings of the classics....)
• WOW. So Mrs. Clements ran into Count Fosco. And trusted him. (Of course.) And we learn how Anne came to be in his power. It's kind of awesome to think back at how he was figuring the angles and planning his moves as it all unfolded. It's the sort of book that would make for a great visual timeline.
• I'd never thought of Madame Fosco as an "elderly lady".
• SAD.: "From that time to this she had remained in total ignorance of the cause of Anne's disappearance and of the end of Anne's story." I understand why Walter didn't tell her, but, still. SAD.
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
The Second Epoch: The Story Continued by Frederick Fairlie, Esq.; The Story Continued by Eliza Michelson
The Third Epoch: The Story Continued by Walter Hartright, Chapters I-VI
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