Collins hammers home the point that women in England, regardless of their social standing, their education, their moral behavior or their finances, have few legal rights for protection. Laura Fairlie is robbed of her identity and her inheritance by a greedy, unscrupulous husband. Mrs. Catherick has her reputation ruined by a misunderstanding that leaves her divorced and alone at the mercy of the man who caused the misunderstanding. Anne Catherick is falsely imprisoned in a mental institution, as is her half-sister Laura Fairlie. Both escape without the help of any man and go into hiding. Countess Eleanor Fairlie Fosco is denied her rightful inheritance by her older brother Philip simply because he disapproves of her marriage. This drives her to crime to gain back her inheritance. Laura Fairlie is assaulted by her husband and finds no help from the law to protect her, and even her guardian, Frederick Fairlie,... An Analysis of Female Identity in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White This article looks at the issue of female identity in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. It analyzes two key scenes from the novel to reveal how construction and style inevitably influence the representation of identity, as well as assessing the text in relation to genre, particularly the role of the Gothic in Collins's narrative. A prevalent theme in The Woman in White is confinement. Both Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie are confined in a mental asylum by Sir Percival Glyde. The novel effectively reworks traditional Gothic conventions in its depictions of confinement and the female characters' jailer. The Woman in White belongs to the genre of 'sensation' fiction, Collins's novel being regarded as innovative as it is the first, and arguably the greatest, of the English sensation novels. Sensation fiction is generally considered a hybrid genre in that it combines the elements of romance familiar to readers of Gothic fiction and the domestic context familiar to readers of realist fiction. In The Woman in White the terrors of eighteenth-century Gothic fiction are transferred from their exotic medieval settings, such as those employed in the novels of Ann Radcliffe, and relocated in contemporary nineteenth-century English society. Melodrama is a genre closely related to sensationalism. Some of the features of melodrama, such as extreme states of being, situations, actions; dark plottings and suspense, are clearly apparent in the storyline of The Woman in White. The character of Laura Fairlie comes closest to a typical melodramatic heroine, especially in terms of physical appearance, being young, fair and beautiful. She also embodies both purity and powerlessness. However her role in the story is curiously passive as she is denied a formal narrative voice. Her passivity is the counterpart of her half-sister Marian Halcombe's activity. Marian is a complex individual whose characterization falls outside conventional literary or social models, partially evinced in the striking physical contrast between her face and body. Walter informs the reader that her figure is "tall, yet not too tall; comely and well-developed... her waist, perfection in the eyes of a man" (p.31). Yet her facial features are somewhat inconsistent with her body: "the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache. She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw" (p.32). The formal nature of Walter's description employs melodramatic techniques yet the incongruous content of this description appears to challenge melodramatic conventions. Sensation fiction's emphasis on plot means that it often depends on secrets, which seem never-ending: as when one secret is uncovered, another is revealed. The presence of secrets inevitably invites spying, an action Marian chooses to take in one of the novel's most suspenseful scenes, when, fearing that her half-sister's livelihood may be in danger, she spies on the villains Sir Percival and Count Fosco in the dead of night. A...
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