Conceptions of Femininity and Masculinity in the Woman in White

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In Victorian times, the roles that men and women played were tremendously different and particular. Women were seen as flighty, emotionally charged and dependent where as men were the dominant, aggressive, decision makers. Often the male's role in society was the more significant of the two, and women were seen as the inconsequential homemakers. In the novel The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins, we see how the author uses the gender roles in order to add to the outrageously scandalous plots and themes through his eccentric characters. Two characters the author uses to portray these masculine and feminine distinctions are the characters of Marian Halcombe and Mr. Fairlie, and through these distinctions we can see how exactly the author challenges the traditional gender roles of that time. The character of Mr. Fairlie is seen as a physically weak and childish invalid. The physical description given when Mr. Fairlie is first introduced describes him as having no facial hair, small, womanish feet, and other delicate features.

"His beardless face was thin, worn, and transparently pale, but not wrinkled…his eyes were a dim grayish blue, large [and] prominent…his hair was scanty, soft to look at, and of that light sandy color…his feet were effeminately small and were clad in buff-colored silk stockings, and little womanish bronze-leather slippers. Two rings adorned his delicate hands…he had a frail…over-refined look-- something singularly and unpleasantly delicate in its association with a man" (39). Aside from his very feminine physical features, he is also described as having a weak stamina; "please don't bully me, I'm not strong enough" (160) and being an invalid; "My uncle, Mr. Fairlie…he is an invalid" (33). Many men of that time, and of that age, were strong, and robust. They were working laborious jobs, or mandating properties and businesses, and although Mr. Fairlie was heading the household he lived in, he neither bothered with, or cared about what went on...
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