Study Guide

The Woman in White Memory and the Past

By Wilkie Collins

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Memory and the Past

The Woman in White is like an exercise in memory. Memory is tied very closely with storytelling in this novel: from Marian's diary to the testimony of various characters, telling a story is largely about the power of recalling details and facts. With her insane detail-recall ability, Marian should go try out for the Memory Championship

On the one hand, memory is about facts. It's sort of like those memory exercise games in a puzzle book, or like a police procedural where a revolving door of guest stars give us details about a crime. But we get another kind of memory here too: the memory of trauma. The emotional impact of dealing with the past, especially past traumas, crops up a lot in both the details and the narrative structure.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. How does Marian's sharp memory help define her character?
  2. People seem able to remember entire conversations and minute details with extreme clarity. How realistic is this, and does everyone's super memory work within the framework of the story?
  3. How does the novel use foreshadowing (particularly when Walter is narrating) to build suspense? How does this relate to the theme of memory?

Chew on This

The way characters deal with the memory of trauma is a strong character-building tool throughout the novel.

For such a tell-all book, we rarely get much detail about particularly traumatic events such as Laura's time at the asylum. This is because, as far as this novel is concerned, the memory of trauma is more important than trauma itself.

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