Anne Catherick in The Woman in White
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A lot is made of The Woman in White being a suspenseful gothic novel. But the only really gothic character is the creepy and mysterious Anne Catherick, the (in)famous woman in white herself.
Anne appears very abruptly on the scene, spooking Walter (and us) with her ghostly appearance and manner:
There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road […] stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments […] I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this extraordinary apparition stood before me, in the dead of night and in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. (18.104.22.168)
But the really disturbing thing about Anne is that she isn't a real ghost; she's a man-made ghost, locked up and turned into a disturbing social outcast.
The whole locked-up-in-an-asylum deal gives us insight into Anne's character. She's essentially the survivor of years of captivity, first with her cruel mother and later in a mental institution. Anne's strange appearance, her sometimes-unhinged reactions to things, and her occasionally deranged way of speaking points to a lot of inner torment and tie her strongly to the book's major themes… especially the themes of memory and identity. Mosey on over to our "Themes" section to read more.
Anne is also strongly tied to Laura Fairlie and acts, in a way, as her twin. The two women are almost identical—even sharing a father—but they are divided by life circumstances. It's only after Laura undergoes her own bout of suffering (in the guise of Anne, crazily enough) that the two women become nearly indistinguishable in appearance.
Anne herself is almost constantly slipping around in terms of identity, revealing her own fractured personality. She goes from calm to agitated to mechanical to emotional to incoherent to deranged—all at the drop of a hat. But the narrative never judges crazy Anne or views her psychological problems in a negative light. Anne is someone to be pitied, not feared. And she herself is a surprisingly crucial part of the narrative; her insight is often extremely valuable:
I looked along the two rays of light; and I saw down into his inmost heart. It was black as night; and on it were written, in the red flaming letters which are the handwriting of the fallen angel: "Without pity and without remorse […]." (22.214.171.124)
In this crazy-sounding letter to Laura, Anne is actually delivering a dead-on assessment of Sir Percival and a warning that others should have heeded. And, as the story progresses, other characters (namely Walter and Marian) start to recognize Anne's importance.
Anne Catherick in The Woman in White Study Group
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