The Woman in White | Study Guide

Wilkie Collins

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The Woman in White | Part 2, Chapter 2 : The Second Epoch (The Story Continued by Frederick Fairlie, Esq.) | Summary

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Summary

Frederick Fairlie is Laura's uncle and guardian (until her marriage), and a hopelessly foppish, frail, and self-centered hypochondriac. Despite his shortcomings, however, he has agreed to tell his part of Laura's story at Hartright's insistence. He describes himself, "shattered by my miserable health and my family troubles, I am incapable of resistance."

Mr. Fairlie picks up the story at the point where Fanny, Laura's maid, arrives at Limmeridge with Halcombe's letter. She explains that Countess Fosco visited her at the inn before she left the neighborhood of Blackwater Park and drugged her. When she regained consciousness she had the letters, but they had been opened and read. Fanny delivers Halcombe's letter for Fairlie to read.

Fairlie reads the letter, which asks that she and Laura be welcomed back at Limmeridge House should they need to leave Blackwater. Fairlie, of course, is perturbed: "I laid down Marian's letter, and felt myself—justly felt myself—an injured man."

A few days later, Fairlie receives a visit from Count Fosco, whom he finds charming, if exhausting. Fosco tells Fairlie that the relationship between Laura and Sir Percival is coming to a head. He insists that Fairlie open his house to Laura. He also guarantees that Sir Percival will not follow or insist on his wife's return. Before leaving, Fosco recommends that Fairlie write and invite Laura to his home while Halcombe recovers from her illness at Blackwater Park. Most significantly, he asks that the letter mention that Laura should stop along the way at Fosco's home in London. Fairlie complies, simply to get rid of Fosco.

Analysis

This section solidifies the reader's view of Fairlie as a useless, narcissistic, and expendable character who is unwilling to take responsibility for his own actions. His reluctant attitude toward providing his portion of the narrative shows he will act on behalf of others only when threatened with his own discomfort.

Fairlie's lack of interest in other people leads him to pay little attention to Fanny's account of being visited and drugged by Countess Fosco. He thus misses—and wouldn't care about—the implication that Halcombe's notes have been tampered with.

Fairlie neglects any efforts to safeguard his niece, which assists Count Fosco and Sir Percival in enacting their conspiracy regarding Laura and Anne Catherick. As Fairlie writes, "I wish to mention, in justice to myself, that it was not my fault, and that I am quite exhausted."

The note that Fairlie provides to Fosco includes an important piece of information that will be significant as the story unfolds. Fosco now has written evidence that Laura has been invited to Limmeridge and is expected to break the journey at Fosco's home in London.

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