The Woman In White Essay Research Paper

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The Woman In White Essay, Research Paper THE WOMAN IN WHITE: THE CREATION OF A NEW REALISM? I had now arrived at that partcular point of my walk where four roads met – the road to Hampstead, along which I had returned, the road to Fichley, the road to West End, and the road back to London. I had me- chanically turned in this latter direction, and was strolling along the lonely high-road – idly wonder- ing, I remember, what the Cumberland young ladies would look like – when, in one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly on my shoulder behind me. I turned on the instant with my fingers tighten- ing round the handle of my stick. There, in the middle of the broad, bright high- road – there, as if it had that moment

sprung out of the earth or dropped from Heaven – stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments….. (p.47) An analysis of the above passage will illustrate why The Woman in White and novels of a similar nature have been labelled `sensational’ and denied any significant status as realism. Most obviously, the extract shows the main characteristic of sensationalism: the sudden shock or surprise – every drop of Walter Hartright’s blood `brought to a stop’ on encountering the figure on the highway: he grips his stick nervously in anticipation of the unknown. The aspect of mystery and the ghostly, too, can be seen – the Woman is described as being `out of the earth’, otherworldly, her white garments, too, evoking a ghostly overtone. The

text, here, highlights yet subtler aspects of sensationalism which I wish to discuss. Walter comes to a point where there is a network of roads, where `four roads met’. The number of directions in which he can travel mirrors the multi-faceted and intricate plot of Wilkie Collins’ novel. This importance of plot has become – rightly or wrongly – a trade mark of `sensational’ fiction. A further aspect of this genre is fatalism, the predestined, the notion perhaps that is not mere chance that Anne Catherick appears on Hartright’s `lonely high-road’ and not on the other four. The `characteristics’ of the sensation novel which I have touched upon superficially above have, critically speaking, prevented it being bestowed with any notion of `realism’. Though I do not

desire necessarily to challenge the notion of sensationalism in the novel but I do wish to question the apparent `lack of realism’ in The Woman In White. I hope therefore to illustrate the sensation paradox – that Collins’ novel is bound in realism as well as being `sensational’. I would like to suggest also that the result is the creation of a new, higher realism, different to that of writers such as Eliot and Trollope. I believe it would be appropriate, initially, to define the traditional connotation of the term `realism’. The common view is that the main function of realism in fiction is mimetic; that to be realistic is to attempt to convey an accurate imitation of life as it is: we are supposed to be left with the impression that these realistic characters have

lived and breathed. I first want to demonstrate the degree to which The Woman in White defies this traditional code of Victorian fictional realism. When reading Collins’ novel we cannot fail to be struck by the intricacy of the plot. This is what grips us so, what makes us read on, what forced Anthony Trollope to stay up all night to finish the book. It is the design and plot that is uppermost in our minds; we are not necessarily concerned about the feelings of Marian Halcombe or Walter Hartright. Undoubtedly in The Woman In White, character is subordinated to plot. The former is dictated by the latter. It is Anne Catherick’s initial confrontation with Hatright on the road to Limmeridge House that sets the whole chain of events in motion. In fact it could be traced back to