The Woman in White | Study Guide

Wilkie Collins

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The Woman in White | Part 1, Chapter 3 : The First Epoch (The Story Continued by Marian Halcombe) | Summary

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Summary

After Gilmore leaves for the first time, Laura tells Halcombe she has decided to inform Sir Percival of her love for another—without mentioning Hartright's name. She says she will let Sir Percival himself decide whether or not to continue with their betrothal. Halcombe is shocked by this idea, but she cannot change Laura's mind.

Sir Percival is presented with Laura's statement that she loves someone else, and she offers him the opportunity to break the engagement. He responds, "it is the dearest object of my life to keep the engagement." Laura tells Halcombe, "I must submit, Marian, as well as I can." She gives Halcombe a little book of Hartright's drawings to safeguard in case she dies.

Halcombe has been in contact with Hartright and has used her contacts to help him secure a position with an expedition headed to Central America. She receives a letter from Hartright saying that he has accepted the job and describing the dangers ahead. Halcombe decides to burn the letter rather than worry Laura.

A wedding date is settled on for late December. Halcombe writes in her journal, "Before another month is over our heads she will be his Laura instead of mine! His Laura!" Halcombe can't help but cry "miserable, weak, women's tears of vexation and rage."

Halcombe tries her best to see Sir Percival in the best possible light, but fails. The honeymoon in Europe is planned, and the wedding takes place.

Analysis

This section of the book is written in the first person, and is presented in the form of Halcombe's journal entries. Readers become aware of her emotional ups and downs, her doubts and fears, her suspicions and her plans.

Halcombe's entries show how much Laura depends on her and how strongly Halcombe feels about her responsibility for Laura's welfare. She is shocked by Laura's definite stand on marrying Sir Percival. For the first time, Halcombe says, "the resolution was all on her side, the hesitation all on mine." She is very clear that she has the ability to shape the direction Laura chooses and is torn about how to use her power.

Halcombe tries valiantly to question her own fears about Sir Percival. She says, "I must and will root out my prejudice against him." She notes that he is a handsome man with "grace and ease of movement, untiring animation of manner, ready, pliant, conversational powers." At the same time, she can't help but notice his "incessant restlessness and excitability" and "his short, sharp, ill-tempered manner of speaking to the servants." It becomes evident that these behaviors are just the tip of the iceberg. By exploring her own prejudices, Halcombe provides readers with insight into both her own character and Sir Percival's. She also creates a clearer picture of a man whose villainy is hidden behind good looks and a charming manner.

Much of this segment is dedicated to exploring the female perspective on the events that have placed Laura and her fortune in Sir Percival's power. Halcombe's frustrations explore the theme of female powerlessness: "No father, no brother—no living creature but the helpless, useless woman who writes these sad lines."

Halcombe's journal entries disclose her fierce loyalty to her sister. Her writing shows her to be open-minded, intelligent, and extraordinarily frustrated with her position in life. Although her sexuality is never mentioned, some commentators have suggested that Halcombe is intended to be a lesbian. This idea is supported to some degree by her reference to Laura as "hers." Certainly, Halcombe never mentions being attracted to any man and makes many comments that suggest she would prefer to have a man's role in the world.

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