Study Guide

The Woman in White Family

By Wilkie Collins

Family

Accident has made him the starting-point of the strange family story which it is the purpose of these pages to unfold. (1.1.2.6)

It's a little strange to hear Walter refer to this as a "family story," but in a bizarre way it really is about the little family that Walter, Laura, and Marian cobble together.

Mrs. Fairlie had dark eyes and hair; and her elder daughter, Miss Halcombe, strongly reminds me of her. (1.2.1.6)

It's interesting that Laura resembles her father, since so much is made about her connection to her mom, thanks to Anne Catherick carrying on about them all the time. Having Marian look like her mom sets up a nice link for Marian, who tends to get overshadowed at times by the Fairlie family drama.

Mr. Philip Fairlie had lived on excellent terms with his sister Eleanor, as long as she remained a single woman. But when her marriage took place [...] and when that marriage united her with an Italian gentleman, named Fosco [...] Mr. Fairlie disapproved of her conduct so strongly that he ceased to hold any communication with her, and even went the length of striking her out of his will. (1.2.3.16)

Oh, those crazy Fairlies. The Fairlie family history really requires a big bowl of popcorn.

As the faithful friend and servant of your family, I tell you, at parting, that no daughter of mine should be married to any man alive under such a settlement as you are forcing me to make for Miss Fairlie. (1.2.4.37)

Mr. Gilmore really pulls out the big guns here and reveals his own feelings for Laura, who is like a surrogate daughter to the kindly bachelor. Too bad he wasn't her actual guardian, or the whole Sir Percival debacle could have been avoided.

In stooping over her to kiss her, I saw the little book of Hartright's drawings half hidden under her pillow, just in the place where she used to hide her favourite toys when she was a child. (1.3.1.28)

The imagery here puts Marian in a maternal role and emphasizes her almost motherly relationship toward her younger sister Laura. Though they probably aren't very far apart in age, Laura's oft-described "childlike" nature and Marian's comparative maturity make their age difference seem much greater.

I ventured to tell you that my father's influence and advice had mainly decided me to give you my promise. I was guided by my father. (1.3.1.43)

Laura's and Marian's relationships with their parents differ in some interesting ways. Laura seems to worship her father, while Marian focuses much more on her mother's memory. Laura's reliance on her father seems a little odd, given that the man himself sounded like a bit of a punk (philandering around with Jane Catherick and acting all xenophobic to Eleanor Fairlie's husband, Fosco).

The wicked mother seemed to hate it—as if the poor baby was in fault!—from the day it was born. My heart was heavy for the child; and I made the offer to bring it up as tenderly is if it was my own. (3.1.7.61)

We're totally with Mrs. Clements on her rant against Jane Catherick, who sounds like the world's worst mother. This book doesn't deal too much with parents—the major familial relationships featured are siblings and married couples. But Jane Catherick stands in contrast to the book's good mom, Mrs. Fairlie.

"You have not got your mother's face," she said, "or your mother's heart. Your mother's face was dark; and your mother's heart, Miss Fairlie, was the heart of an angel." (2.1.6.94)

Anne's sad and disturbing worship of Mrs. Fairlie starts making sense after we learn about Jane Catherick and her terrible parenting skills. And Anne's implicit judgment of Laura (for not properly honoring her mother's memory) is even juicier when you realize that they're half-sisters.

I have no claim on her, which society sanctions, which the law allows, to strengthen me in resisting him, and in protecting her. This places me at a serious disadvantage. (3.3.3.15)

The way family ties into the law becomes a growing concern as the book progresses. Here Walter recognizes how limited he is to act on Laura and Marian's behalf, even though they are family in the ways that really matter.

"After all that we three have suffered together," she said, "there can be no parting between us, till the last parting of all. My heart and my happiness, Walter, are with Laura and you." (3.5.2.4)

Marian basically marries herself to Walter and Laura here, which is both sweet and a little strange. These three have some serious codependency issues.