The Woman in White Setting
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England, Mid-19th Century
If you've ever watched a Masterpiece Theater movie, you're probably familiar with mid-Victorian settings. Moors! Country Houses! London Fog! Horses and carriages, hoop skirts and top hats! Yeah, you know the drill.
Well, we get all those things in The Woman in White: country houses, London-town, and even some fog. But the settings in this novel are more than just atmospheric backdrops. Every major setting has some social commentary or a theme attached to it, and the biggest running theme is the contrast between the city and the country.
Bright Lights, Big City
Let's kick things off with city locations. Much of the novel takes place in London. As a big city, London is a good place to hide. Walter, Anne, and Fosco all take advantage of London's ability to swallow people up and conceal them.
London never really protects anyone, though. It's a potentially dangerous place with some harsh social realities. London may hide people, but it rarely does so for long… it frequently helps expose people to danger and expose their true identities.
Count Fosco tracks down Marian and Laura and then reveals his true feelings for Marian (to her disgust) on a little side street in the thick of London. Walter tracks down Fosco and has a major confrontation at Fosco's house in the heart of London. And Anne is simultaneously revealed to Walter and promptly swallowed up by London in a quick scene where she gets into a carriage.
What's fascinating is that we see so many aspects of London in the novel. It's a place as diverse as the characters that inhabit it, so it makes sense that we get scenes of both the wealthy London high life as and the poverty of the city.
One Stereotypical Gothic House, Coming Right Up
Welcome to Sir Percival's house, Blackwater Park. This setting definitely reflects the novel's two main villains, Fosco and Percival. Marian finds Blackwater hideous, and puts her own spin on the overtly gothic and dreary place:
I discovered that good judges could only exercise their abilities on Sir Percival's piece of antiquity by previously dismissing from their minds all fear of damp, darkness, and rats. (22.214.171.124)
Sounds cheery. Marian recognizes the dangers of this place right away, and during her residence there she's subject to a lot of violence and a near-deadly illness. But Blackwater isn't always hideous: the fact that it can sometimes appear inviting is what's really scary. In this sense, the house acts as a sort of parallel to Sir Percival and Fosco, who are both as charming as they are dangerous.
[A]ll very nicely ornamented in the bright modern way, and all very elegantly furnished with the delightful modern luxuries. None of the rooms are anything like so large and airy as our rooms at Limmeridge; but they all look pleasant to live in. (126.96.36.199)
A Landscape Painter's Paradise
The last major setting in this book is by far the nicest: Limmeridge House, the Fairlie family home, is a beautiful place filled with tons o' romantic imagery:
The view was such a surprise, and such a change to me, after my weary London experience of brick and mortar landscape, that I seemed to burst into a new life and a new set of thoughts the moment I looked at it. (188.8.131.52)
At the gorgeous Limmeridge House, the characters really seem to commune with the beauties of art and nature. It's a site of culture, where people are always reading or painting or playing the piano. Even crazy Uncle Fairlie can't bring the place down. He may live there, but there's a sense that Limmeridge House is really a reflection of Marian and Laura. The fact that all our heroes end up there reveals just how positive a setting it is.
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