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The Woman in White | Symbols

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Woman in White

The woman in white is Anne Catherick, the illegitimate daughter of Mrs. Catherick and Philip Fairlie (Laura Fairlie's father). She is thus Laura's lookalike half sister, an important factor in the plot of the novel. Anne is a long-suffering character and a figure of mystery. She is also the character upon whose thoughts and actions much of the plot relies.

Anne appears for the first time in a strange and almost surreal situation: alone, garbed only in white, at a crossroads at midnight. Her virginal white garb and entire life story reflect innocence, and Anne's decision to wear white at all times comes from her association with virtuous Mrs. Fairlie. Her innocence is a result of her simple mind and inability to fully understand the villainous motives of others.

The creation of a "woman in white" is the result of a real-life event in Collins's life. A screaming woman in white actually appeared before him, running from the home of a friend's neighbor. This woman, Carol Graves, eventually became Collin's long-term mistress.

Limmeridge House

Limmeridge House is the home of Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe, and the location where protagonist Walter Hartright and Laura first discover their love for each other. Although it is the scene of some disturbing events in the story, it is also a symbol of tranquility, safety, nature, and beauty. The terrace is beautifully ornamented with a profusion of flowers. The drawing room is romantically lit and "the sweet evening scent of the flowers met us with its fragrant welcome through the open glass doors."

The characters are free to wander the grounds, and the landscape lulls the two sisters and Hartright into expressing themselves through their art and writing. The drawing room's piano also encourages the residents to display their more passionate and gentler moods.

Limmeridge House is often described in contrast to Blackwater, home of the villainous Sir Percival Glyde. Blackwater, unlike Limmeridge, is hedged in by trees; even the lake on the premises is described in dark, gloomy, and even disturbing terms. While songbirds sing at Limmeridge, snakes and rats scuttle on the grounds of Blackwater.

Insane Asylum

None of the characters in The Woman in White are actually insane, but the specter of madness hangs over the story. Anne Catherick, at the beginning of the narrative, has escaped from an asylum where, she says, she has been unjustly held captive. After her identity is stolen, Laura is confined to the same asylum. Throughout the story, the reader is kept in uncertainty as to whether Anne's stories—of Sir Percival's secret and her own incarceration—are actually true.

The insane asylum itself is described as pleasant enough; it has been carefully selected as appropriate for an upper-class woman. The significant elements of the asylum, however, are these:

  • It is a place of incarceration, from which Anne and Laura are supposedly unable to escape.
  • Both Anne and Laura are placed in the asylum in order to keep Sir Percival's great secret: that he is, in fact, not the heir to either a title or an estate.
  • Neither Anne nor Laura have the ability to resist or even communicate with the outside world about their incarceration—Anne because of her real mental challenges and social position, and Laura because her identity has been stolen.
  • In both cases, the incarceration is an example of a man abusing his power over a dependent woman.
  • In both cases the women actually do escape—Anne entirely on her own, and Laura with her sister's help. In other words, neither woman needs a man to help her regain her freedom.

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