Study Guide

The Woman in White Gender

By Wilkie Collins

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Wilkie Collins was a fan of women's rights. He even opposed marriage because he thought that, as a legal institution, it was unfair to women. But the feminism in The Woman in White is all sorts of problematic. The book acts like being "feminine" and being intelligent are mutually exclusive. The super-smart Marian is portrayed as masculine, and the lovely Laura (who isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer) is so passive that she nearly fades away. Most of the other women in the book are some combination of foolish, insane, and/or mean.

But the men don't fare much better. Aside from Walter (the ideal Englishman), we have a lot of idiots, fools, villains, and, worst of all, questionable foreigners. Yeah: we told you it was problematic.

Questions About Gender

  1. Overall, are women depicted in a positive or negative light in the novel?
  2. Walter frequently acts and speaks for Marian and Laura. How is this significant in terms of the way the book depicts gender?
  3. How do Fosco and Sir Percival represent two distinct styles of masculinity?
  4. Is Laura's passivity a product of her gender?
  5. What insights do Marian's frequent asides about gender and gender injustice give us into her character?

Chew on This

All the women characters in The Woman in White are somehow victims or are victimized over the course of the story.

The Woman in White is highly concerned with the problems and injustices that impact women.

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