Study Guide

Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White

By Wilkie Collins

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Marian Halcombe

The Marian Halcombe Fan Club

We are unabashed fans of Marian Halcombe, and we aren't alone in our fandom. At the time the novel was published, Marian became a sensation. Critics liked her, the reading public liked her, and a lot of dudes even wrote Collins asking for her hand in marriage. For reals.

Why is Marian so beloved? Well, she's pretty dang awesome. Marian is brave and bold. She speaks her mind. She's got a wicked sense of humor. She's an engaging storyteller (she's in charge of nearly all of Part 2 of the novel, making her the female character with the most narrating under her belt). And she's hard-core.

Check out these fabulous examples of Marian being kick-butt:

The suppressed vehemence with which she spoke; the strength which her will—concentrated in the look she fixed on me, and in the hold on my arm that she had not yet relinquished—communicated to mind, steadied me. (

"I want to see it, Laura, because our endurance must end, and our resistance must begin, to-day. That mark is a weapon to strike him with." (

I locked that door, as I had locked my bedroom door—then quietly got out of the window, and cautiously set my feet on the leaden roof of the verandah. (

So she's a strong, angry woman… whose vehemence is a comforting force for good. She's committed to family—committed enough to fight. Oh, and she's not afraid to sneak out the window if it means helping her sister. In essence, she marries the ideal attributes of a Victorian woman (comforting, family-oriented) with a Victorian man (brave, strong, committed). Dang. Marian. Just… dang.

Marian is definitely hard-core, but she isn't a modern, 21st-century girl. She's living in the 19th century, and being the odd woman out has consequences.

Gender Bender

First off, Marian's looks are emphasized a lot, perhaps over-emphasized. She's got a hot bod, according to Walter and Fosco (shudder), but you'd think she's got Medusa's head the way people act around her:

Never was the old conventional maxim, that Nature cannot err, more flatly contradicted—never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more strangely and startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. The lady's complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache. She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw […]. (

Marian verges on being outright masculine in her looks, and that's reflected in her behavior too. Marian even describes herself as unfeminine. She's intelligent, she likes chess and arguing, and she can't do typically female things like play the piano or draw.

Ugh. Can we just take a moment to think of how horrible it would have been to live in the Victorian Era? No arguing for women? No drawing for men? Yuck.

Marian functions as androgynous, crossing gender boundaries in her behavior and appearance. But for all her "masculine" traits, she's also described as a pillar of womanhood—especially by Count Fosco, her biggest admirer. Check it out:

We were received at the mansion by the magnificent creature who is inscribed on my heart as "Marian"—who is known in the colder atmosphere of Society as "Miss Halcombe." 
Just Heaven! with what inconceivable rapidity I learnt to adore that woman. At sixty, I worshipped her with the volcanic ardour of eighteen. All the gold of my rich nature was poured hopelessly at her feet.

Uh, yikes. We think Marian needs a restraining order on ol' Fosco.

Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White Study Group

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