22 May, 2012

The Woman in White - Part the Third


No sooner had I mourned the lack of Frederick Fairlie, Esq., than he appeared in all his selfish, crotchety glory. Well, not exactly no sooner - first someone else takes up Marian's narrative in her diary. The sheer magnitude of that intrusion gives me the creeps in a very personal, visceral way.

I had this relationship lo, these many years ago that was simply awful. I was 21 and what can only be called a child, and like many a country girl was completely taken in by charm and occasional dribs and drabs of kindness followed by monstrous neglect. Y'anyway, I kept a notebook behind my bed where I poured out the abuses and soreness on my silly little heart in what can only be called verbal diarrhea. Seriously, it would have been heart-wrenching if I'd had any self-control whatsoever, but instead it probably read like the rantings of an attic-bound Mrs. Rochester who was favored with Yellow Wallpaper. One day I came back from school to find my notebook open on the table to a page with handwriting on it that wasn't my own; I was told in the addendum that he "assumed it was left for him to read since it was in the open" - as in, tucked under the bed but not completely out of sight. I got no apology, no explanation for his behavior in either reading my freaking diary or anything else; just a condescending note saying that now he'd read it and was glad that he knew "how I really felt."

The experience taught me that thoughts are not meant to be shared unless they are fully-formed and tempered like Athena; I've never kept a diary since.

Marian wasn't in (much) love with Fosco, but her fears and puzzlings were hers and hers alone. Fosco's audacity in not only reading but writing in her diary - where he knew she would return and therefore see it - is the point where readers who are still on the fence should fall squarely on the side of Count Fosco as Evil (Genius) and Violator of People.

Ok, then we get to Frederick Fairlie, who says things that make me laugh out loud like, "I find it's best to give in to Marian - it saves noise," and (my personal favorite), "What have I to do with bosoms?" What indeed, Mr. Fairlie. How's Louis, your occasional book stand and the most accommodating of servants? Hmmm?

And then the narrative is taken up by Mrs. Mickleson, the housekeeper at Blackwater Park and a fascinating sketch of a woman. Collins takes his opportunity to turn the traditional prejudice of the upper class toward the lower on its head as well as to illustrate the deep xenophobia that characterizes a lot of Victorian fiction: Mrs. Mickleson is completely taken in by Count Fosco, is worshipful of his status as a nobleman, and attributes all of his potential faults to being "foreign." She even gently berates Laura, reminding her that foreigners mostly grow up in "popery," and that she (Laura) shouldn't think the worse of him for it. It must be Laura's upbringing as a Proper English Lady that keeps her from telling Mrs. Mickleson to STFU - that or her insufferable lack of spine. It's probably the latter.

Next, we turn back to Walter Hartright, who talks... and talks... and talks. It's sad to me that Marian doesn't get to tell her own kickass part of this story. She adds Jail-Breaker to her already impressive title of Sherlockian Ninja without even betting an eyelash, she suggests everything that Walter then does, and she takes on the chores of their new establishment like a champion while Laura sits and recuperates from being in an asylum for three weeks. Seriously, I begin to think that Wilke actually was the closet feminist that we all claim him as; all the female characters in this book are stone-cold clever except for Limp Laura, and all the men are rather useless unless they are traipsing about Central America learning how to evade capture by darting around a corner, with the obvious exception of Fosco, Evil Genius, of course.

Laura, meanwhile, is being told that her little drawings are being sold for money so that she can feel like she's "contributing" to the family fund, when really they're being bought by Walter and treasured up. This makes my feminist heart rage a little - or rather, a lottle; it's okay to lie to Laura, but it's not okay to disguise yourself to avoid detection? What she went through was undoubtedly pretty horrible - mental patient care wasn't (and still isn't) exactly top-notch - and Laura being Laura probably didn't consider that she might be rescued. BUT STILL. She even knows on some level that Marian is better than she is; she tells Walter that she's afraid he'll start to love Marian more than he loves her. to that I say, pssssht! Marian is too good for you, Milquetoast Hartright. Take your mental case and leave Miss Halcombe to a better fate than making you think all her good ideas are your own forever. Speaking of which, my favorite part of this reading was when Marian suggests writing to Mr. Fairlie to get the story of what happened at Limeridge House, because I had already read it! Hurrah for high-context writing!

Walter decides to do something manly and discover Percival's seeeeeeeekrit, which turns out to be "LOL parents weren't married!" And on the way he meets Mrs. Catherick, Anne's mother, who is the living embodiment of this guy:

"When I have changed my mittens, I shall be all in black."

I think I'll ship Mrs. Catherick and Mr. Fairlie for the rest of the novel. Someone bring me a Pesca, STAT!

*I know I've read all this before, but I forget what happens sometimes. It's a giant book!