Monday, April 23, 2012

Woman in White Week 3: The Great Chicanery

**DISCLAIMER: This post is part of a read-along, and I intend to ruin the entire plot in the most roundabout way possible.**

What I didn't talk about last week even though I was DYING to was Marian getting sick and the Fat Man INVADING her diary with his fat hands and his ho-ho-hum, you clever woman, you. And all her plans! Foiled by the curse of a delicate female constitution!

Then, FINALLY, we get to hear Mr. Fairlie's opinion on the whole matter. Why can't anyone ever leave him alone so he can polish his coins and photograph his art collection? Even the clumsy English language is set against him. And then here comes Laura's maid and her potentially squeaky shoes. IS THERE NO END TO THE IRRITATIONS HE MUST ENDURE?

And I basically underlined everything he said, because---yes, I'm really about to say this---I liked his section more than Marian's. Can we just reread his narrative out loud via group conference call? No? Fine, but I'm making you reread these two parts, because I admire his use of parenthetical statements.
"Miss Halcombe had come to say good-by, and had given her two letters, one for me, and one for a gentleman in London. (I am not the gentleman in London---hang the gentleman in London!) She had carefully put the two letters into her bosom (what have I to do with her bosom?)" (p. 419)
"(Am I responsible for any of these vulgar fluctuations, which begin with unhappiness and end with tea?)" (p. 419)
Basically, what we learn from this section is that the Countess went to the inn and DRUGGED Fanny and groped under her dress to steal Marian's letter to the attorney. You know things are serious when people are being drugged and felt up. Team Percival just stepped up their game, yo.

The other thing we learn is that Mr. Fairlie is not impressed by Fosco (he is immune to the Fat Man's charms), but he does admire his seeming lack of nerves. Personally, I think Fosco HAS nerves, but all the fat is insulating them from shock. Oh, and the OTHER thing we learned from Mr. Fairlie is that Louis, his valet, is a god among men. Seriously, Louis, I salute you.

Then Mrs. Michelson describes what I like to call "The Great Chicanery," in which Fosco and Percival HIDE OUR DEAR SWEET FEVERISH MARIAN from Laura so they can convince Laura to go to London in search of her.

And I can't quite figure out Mrs. Rubelle's motives in all this, but she gives me the heebies and the jeebies.

Much like this overzealous Ewok.

BUT YOU GUYS, our woman in white is dead! This is what we get for demanding a ghost. Poor Anne, come face-to-face with her nemesis at last . . . and it was too much for her poor heart to bear. That makes me sad. Let's not think about that anymore. BUT because everyone thinks she's Laura, she gets her one wish, which is to be buried next to her beloved Mrs. Fairlie.

Was anyone else kind of impressed by Walter's newfound bad-assitude? He survived disease and Indians in Central America and a shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico. But he can still weep into his mommy's bosom when he hears the news of Laura's death. That's my kind of man.

When Walter runs into Marian and Laura in the graveyard, Marian's first instinct is to protect him. She doesn't want him to see Laura's face. Maybe because she wants to spare him the pain of their situation, even though she could certainly use his help. I was so struck by the way she cried out to God to give Walter strength and to spare him. That was a powerful Marian moment.

But Walter will not be spared. He makes it his mission to support Marian and Laura and to expose Fosco and Percival's trickery.
"And those two men shall answer for their crime to ME, though the justice that sits in tribunals is powerless to pursue them. I have given my life to that purpose; and, alone as I stand, if God spares me, I will accomplish it." (p. 549)

Can we talk about Marian again? (As if I have to ask.) When people refer to wives as being helpmates to their husbands, I believe they are talking about what Marian is to Walter. WHY AREN'T THEY IN LOVE?
"'Don't doubt my courage, Walter,' she pleaded, 'it's my weakness that cries, not me. The house-work shall conquer it, if I can't.' . . . 'I am not quite broken down yet,' she said; 'I am worth trusting with my share of the work.' Before I could answer, she added in a whisper, 'And worth trusting with my share in the risk and the danger, too. Remember that, if the time comes!'" (p. 534)
This woman is a warrior princess. Speaking of which . . . *begin tangent* Marian and Laura as Xena and Gabrielle. Discuss.

*End tangent*

Meanwhile, not only is Laura clueless as to how she arrived in the asylum, she can't be included in current investigations because her mental state is too delicate to bear any strain. Walter even says that he has essentially stopped thinking of her romantically and compares his tenderness toward her to that of a father or brother. But maybe we're not giving Laura enough credit for her ability to assess the situation.
"You will end in liking Marian better than you like me---you will, because I am so helpless!" (p. 592)
Just let it happen, Laura. It's for the best.

This is about the time when I get really sick of hearing myself type. Speed discussion! There is detectiving, and Walter learns about Anne's childhood from Mrs. Clements, and he meets her wretched mother (SUCH a wretched mother), and, most important of all, he uncovers Percival's Secret with a capital S.

Turns out, Percival's father never officially married his mother, so he has no legal claim to the title of Baronet OR to Blackwater Park. And all he had to do to execute this magnificent scam was add a marriage listing to the church register . . . because it's the olden days, and important legal matters are recorded in a Trapper Keeper.

But before we can pat Percy on the back for his clever forgery, he accidentally burns himself to death trying to destroy the evidence. Really . . . he shouldn't be allowed to leave the house without Fosco. No good ever comes of it. But what's done is done, and Percival is out of the picture. Unfortunately, so is the only evidence of the Secret.

We have just a tiny distance to go before all is known. Onward, brave travelers!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Woman in White Week 2: Curiouser and Curiouser

**DISCLAIMER: This post is part of a read-along, and I intend to ruin the entire plot in the most roundabout way possible.**

If the last section’s defining characteristic was foreshadowing, this one’s is FOREBODING. *ominous music and thunder and a touch of cowbell*

It’s pretty clear to me that every character has done the exact WRONG thing since this story started, and it’s a little hard not to wonder how none of them saw trouble coming, because Trouble is wearing a giant sign that says I AM TROUBLE, AND, LO, I AM APPROACHING.

Take Mr. Gilmore, for instance. Did he not think it a bit curious that Percival kept steering everyone toward a wedding date that just HAPPENED to be 3 months before Laura would come of age and be able to make her own decisions without troubling her poor uncle’s fragile nerves?

Ineffectual as he may be, I'm fond of old Gilmore. He’s probably the closest thing to a father that Marian and Laura have. He does TRY to fight for Laura, even though she can’t be bothered to fight for herself, and he almost treats Marian as an equal.

All that legal stuff was pretty fishy though. And Percival was so careful to act as though he didn’t care one way or another about getting all Laura’s money in the event of her "unlikely" death. WHO'S the clever girl NOW?

Oh yes . . . this was also my favorite Mr. Fairlie moment of the whole book (so far):
"'Man?' he repeated. 'You provoking old Gilmore, what can you possibly mean by calling him a man? He’s nothing of the sort. He might have been a man half an hour ago, before I wanted my etchings; and he may be a man half an hour hence, when I don’t want them any longer. At present, he is simply a portfolio stand. Why object, Gilmore, to a portfolio stand?'" (p. 193)
"You provoking old Gilmore."

Hartright slinks away in defeat to Central America, never to be heard of again in this section.

Laura marries Percival, of course.

Marian says this:
“No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women. Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace—they drag us away from our parents’ love and our sisters’ friendship—they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel.”
UNLESS, the man is named Walter Hartright . . . in which case, fasten all you like, apparently.

Then Laura begs Marian never to get married. Not that Marian seems all that eager to hitch herself to a man's wagon (see excerpt above), but you don't ASK someone to stay single for you so they can always live with you and YOUR husband. Inappropriate, Laura.

Let’s talk about Count Fosco. I know he’s evil and manipulative and basically the Shere Kahn to Percival's Kaa, but I think we can all agree that he is MAGNIFICENT.

"Percival! Percival! you deserve to fail, and you have failed." 
He even made some headway with steadfast and true Marian, who generally dislikes “corpulent humanity.” And any man who loves animals as much as that man does can't be ALL bad. He got my vote when he winced at Percival beating one of the spaniels.

I understand how a rotund gentleman with mice crawling all over his fancy waistcoat could be viewed as creep-tastic, especially since he’s some sort of super villain, but I care not. And he DOES have the makings of a super villain with his knowledge of chemistry and everything in general. He sees things the way they are, and he SAYS so . . . and, sure, maybe he's directing this profound social commentary to one of his mice, but it's still true.
“‘You marry the poor man whom you love, Mouse; and one half your friends pity, and the other half blame you. And, now, on the contrary, you sell yourself for gold to a man you don’t care for; and all your friends rejoice over you; and a minister of public worship sanctions the base horror of the vilest of all human bargains; and smiles and smirks afterwards at your table.’” (pp. 286–287)
Zing! Point, Fosco.

The most ominous thing about him, right away, was the extreme change he produced in his wife. She went from a mouthy firebrand to a silent cigarette-rolling factory. And that reminds me of a SUPERB moment for Marian.
“‘I wait to be instructed,” replied the Countess, in tones of freezing reproof, intended for Laura and me, ‘before I venture on giving my opinion in the presence of well-informed men.’
‘Do you, indeed?’ I said. ‘I remember the time, Countess, when you advocated the Rights of Women—and freedom of female opinion was one of them.’” (pp. 282–282)
BURN! Point, Marian.

If anyone is a match for The Fat Man, it's Marian. And vice versa.

Then there’s the shady matter of the signature. When Laura refuses to sign the mysterious contract without first reading it, Percival’s true character shows even more. Behold Percy's temper. Also behold Percy acting like a whiny little baby man. He irritates Laura into acting with the most backbone she's shown thus far, and he makes Marian consider punching him in the face.

I have to wonder what this story would be like if we took out Marian and Fosco. Percival wouldn’t have anyone to undo the damage his temper causes or to change his poopy diapers. Laura wouldn’t have anyone to remind her that being a woman is not the same as being a pudding cup. Without Marian, would Laura be just another wife battered into submission, or would she rise up and fight back on her own account?

This section also marks the triumphant return of the titular woman in white, who is comically adept at outsmarting Percival and outrunning poor fat Fosco. And she knows Percival's filthy secret, which is clearly how she ended up safely tucked away in an asylum. But what do we think the secret is? Is he Anne’s illegitimate father? Is he ACTUALLY a woman? Is he in love with Fosco? (Just kidding. We already know the answer to that last one.)

The cliffhanger of the section is the conversation between Percival and Fosco. Although she had her suspicions, it’s certainly a revelation to Marian (who, might I add, donned all black to crawl onto the ROOF so she could eavesdrop . . . this woman is a ninja) to learn the extent of their money troubles and how much they depend on Laura to solve them. There is also more than a cursory reference made toward the possibility of Laura's death, which is what I’ve been waiting for ever since Gilmore's narrative.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Commence shameless self-promotion in 3...2...1...

Friends! I need your help with a matter of the UTMOST importance (well, relatively important to ME at this moment, anyway).

Book Riot is hosting a bookish pet photo contest (inspired by the book Kitty Cornered, by Bob Tarte), and I've been chosen as one of five finalists. So, first of all, huzzah to that!

Here's where the trouble starts. From here, the winner is decided solely on which photo gets the most "likes." This method of picking winners has always intimidated me because it basically means that the finalist with the most friends will win. This, in turn, means that if I lose, I'll feel like the kid who eats alone in the lunchroom.

Do you SEE why this is so important now?

Also, the winner gets a $100 gift card for the pet store of his or her choice. This is a big deal when you have two dogs who will not rest until they have eaten the ENTIRE WORLD.

Gizmo is NOT above cannibalism. Let's not test her.

So, if you choose (read: if I have sufficiently aroused your pity), simply follow this link HERE and click "Like" above the photo. We have until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 20 to win this thing, but don't worry about pacing yourselves . . . let's just sprint for the finish line and collapse afterward. And then maybe we can have a pizza party.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Woman in White Week 1: There was ALMOST a ghost

**DISCLAIMER: This post is part of a read-along, and I intend to ruin the entire plot in the most roundabout way possible.**

I have so many disorderly thoughts about this book. Let’s just start with the first sentence, which, YES, I did write down because I thought it was overdramatic and I couldn’t help but love it immediately.
“This is the story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and of what a Man’s resolution can achieve.” (p. 1)
Already, I have so many questions. Who is this patient Woman? Who is this Man, and what is he so resolute about? And WHY are these pronouns capitalized?

This book so far? Delightful. But I'm having a tiny Norwegian Wood flashback, because Pesca . . . I ADORE him. And he disappeared after the first few pages.

Things I love that came out of Pesca's freakishly small mouth:
“My-soul-bless-my-soul! when I heard the golden Papa say those words, if I had been big enough to reach up to him, I should have put my arms round his neck, and pressed him to my bosom in a long and grateful hug! As it was, I only bounced upon my chair.” (pp. 12–13)
“Have you not been longing for what you call a smack of the country breeze? Well! there in your hand is the paper that offers you perpetual choking mouthfuls of country breeze.” (p. 16)
“Deuce-what-the-deuce! for the first time in my life I have not eyes enough in my head to look, and wonder at you!” (p. 16)
COME BACK, PESCA. And, my good dear, bring Storm Trooper with you if you please.

But let’s talk about what we all REALLY want to talk about (besides Mr. Fairlie . . . OMG MR. FAIRLIE): Marian Halcombe. She had me at the first glimpse of her swarthy complexion. Hartright basically describes her as a “butter face” (you know, everything is attractive but ’er face?). I love this about her. I imagine that many a cheeky young man has approached her from behind, surveying her corset-free lady-curves and preparing a killer pickup line, only to be shocked and appalled when confronted by her almost-mustache.

But, moving past that (if we possibly can), this first description provides a lot of insight into her character.
“To see such a face as this set on shoulders that a sculptor would have longed to model—to be charmed by the modest graces of action through which the symmetrical limbs betrayed their beauty when they moved, and then to be almost repelled by the masculine form and masculine look of the features in which the perfectly shaped figure ended—was to feel a sensation oddly akin to the helpless discomfort familiar to us all in sleep, when we recognize yet reconcile the anomalies and contradictions of a dream.” (pp. 34–35)
If I may be so bold, I believe THIS is the key to Marian: She is a walking contradiction.

She makes the most ridiculously demeaning statements about women in general: Women fight with each other when there are no men around to flirt with. Women talk too much. Women are fools. Women can’t draw, because they are too flighty. And that’s just in her first few pages of dialogue!

The thing is, once you get to know Marian even a little, you realize that she is a far cry from the silly, subservient, Victorian hat rack stereotype she speaks of so frequently. She destroys, with her actions, every stereotype she perpetuates with her words. The stark contrast of the feminine and the masculine in her physical character seems to be an exact reflection of her inner character. I don’t know quite what to make of this yet, but I’m starting to suspect that our chauvinistic friend Wilkie was secretly a feminist.

Take THAT, Dickens!

I grow tired of my rambling, so I’ll just summarize the rest in these handy bullet points:
  • Hartright very accurately compares himself to a “harmless domestic animal.”
  • How BORING would Hartright and Laura be as a couple? Yawn. If he marries, Laura AND Marian, THEN we can talk.
  • This whole first section is the foreshadowingest.
  • I must confess, when it was revealed that Laura and Anne Catherick (the titillating woman in white) are almost identical, I said out loud, “THEY SWITCHED PLACES!” I no longer think that’s likely . . . but I’m holding out hope.
  • MR. FAIRLIE IS MY FAVORITE SELFISH BIGOT WHO ALSO HATES CHILDREN HE IS AMAZING. Everything he says is my favorite thing in this book.
  • I got really excited when that little boy thought he saw a ghost. *perks up* A GHOST? No . . . no, it was just that crazy white lady again.
  • Marian and Hartright’s goodbye is SO MUCH better than Laura and Hartright’s goodbye. I want them to be in love.

“She caught me with both hands—she pressed them with the strong, steady grasp of a man—her dark eyes glittered—her brown complexion flushed deep—the force and energy of her face glowed and grew beautiful with the pure inner light of her generosity and her pity.” (p. 149)

And, lest I forget, I had lofty goals for producing a dancing-cats-in-Victorian-garb GIF . . . but you're getting this instead:

Good luck sleeping tonight.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Woman in White Super-Happy-Fun-Time Read-Along begins...NOW

It's time for another Reading Rambo read-along!

We're reading The Woman in White, which I've been meaning to read for a while and is also one of the books in my Smooth Criminals reading challenge for this year. So far April is advertising itself as the month for conveniently overlapping goals, which automatically makes me suspicious. *looks askance at April*

I know almost nothing about this book, and this will be my first foray into Wilkie Collins's oeuvre. The author blurb in my Bantam Classic copy tells me that Wilkie and Charles Dickens were basically the Anne and Diana of 19th century London.
"Collins brought out the boyish, adventurous side of Dickens's character; the two novelists traveled to Italy, Switzerland, and France together, and their travels produced such lighthearted collaborations as 'The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices.' They also shared a passion for the theater, and Collins's melodramas . . . were presented by Dickens's private company, with Dickens and Collins in leading roles."
Just pretend these kindred spirits have beards.
BUT Charlie and Wilkie didn't stop at skipping across Europe and giggling over black currant wine; they were also bosom friends of douchebaggery and . . . well . . . of actual bosoms. We all know Dickens was an ass hat, and Wilkie had two mistresses that he didn't even bother to keep secret. He even fathered three kids with one of them (that lucky lady).

The good news is, he was afflicted with a horribly painful eye disease and died. So it seems as though it all came out fair and square at the last.

Now, let's make with the read-alonging!