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.


  1. As the Crowe Flies and ReadsApril 9, 2012 at 6:00 AM

    So much fun to lurk and read along with the readalong without actually participating in the readalong.  This book definitely sounds well worth my time! I mean, who doesn't want to cultivate a favorite selfish bigot?  Am I right?

  2. I'm SO glad we cited different Pesca quotes. Sigh. He's so great.

    "I said out loud, “THEY SWITCHED PLACES!” I no longer think that’s likely . . . but I’m holding out hope" -- YES. Because tropes, we know them. So I'm psyched this seems not to be the case. But I'm expecting some kind of switch to happen SOME time. As I believe I said on Laura's blog. Or someone's. I don't know anymore.

    I think I'm the only person who doesn't like sections with Mr. Fairlie. This makes me feel left out. Boo.

    Don't you want to write all the things for this book? My post got so long, I had to cut myself off and I didn't get around to discussing the plot at alllllll. BUT SO MUCH HAPPENED. Meaning SO MANY CHARACTERS HAPPENED.

    Marian's the greatest.

  3. Mr. Fairlie is amazing in a absolutely horrible and annoying person kind of way. I love how dismissive he is of everything and any time someone does ANYTHING he doesn't like (which includes talking about things other than his art and his coins) he just starts to whine about how fragile he is and insult the help.

    I'm pretty sure that cat on the far left is going to eat each of our souls.

    Oh! Oh! What if Professor Pesca and Mr Fairlie met?! That would be the most hilarious thing ever, although I'm pretty sure Mr Fairlie would faint sooner or later.

    Your Marian theory makes me like her a lot more. I don't get her: she's such a badass and I would adore her if she could just shut up about how weak and stupid all women are. If SHE proves to be a feminist, then I'll be completely content.

    Oh, and it's your fault if I'm suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after looking at these monster cats!

  5. So that's where the term "butterface" comes from.  I always assumed it had something to do with the fact that butter is generally mushy/melty/bland, none of which is particularly attractive in a face. 

    I think we all can agree that Marian is to Midori what Laura is to Naoko.  Without the depression, hopefully.  

    Also... STORM TROOOOOPPERRR!  Come back to meeee!  

  6. I think Miss Fairlie and the WiW (we're calling her that, yes?) are long-lost sisters!  Or twins separated at birth!  I am on the lookout for lockets that miraculously fit together.  

  7. I don't want to spoil the book for you! It is a gem of overdramatic Victorian literature...truly it is. But nothing could have prepared me for my inappropriate fondness for horrible Mr. Fairlie.

  8. might be right. Oh, but ewww...that would add a whole new dimension to my suspicion that Percival Glyde is the WiW's evil father. Do we dare hope for an incest angle to this story? DO WE DARE?

  9. You DON'T like Mr. Fairlie? Not even in an "I hate him but good GOD he's hilarious" kind of way? That's pretty much where my relationship with him is at this point.

  10. That part about children! How he thinks they're designed for the sole purpose of upsetting his fragile nerves . . . I LOLed. And when he said his valet wasn't a man but merely a stand for his sketchbook! He's delightfully horrid.

  11. SERIOUSLY, Pesca would say two words and bounce on his chair once, and Mr. Fairlie would die of shock to his fragile nerves. Let's make it happen.

    Sorry about the terrifying cat family. I couldn't bear the burden of that sight all by myself, so I selfishly exposed you all to it. Now we are together in our shared trauma.

  12. I think perhaps there's more to that term than I thought...because your definition makes a lot of sense, too. Oh, urban slang, you are so secretly profound.

    YES to your Marian/Midori/Laura/Naoko comparison. Although...I'm fairly certain Laura isn't going to kill herself. Is she? SO MANY POSSIBILITIES.

  13.  Did you see, I think it was Cassandra's theory? It made a looooot of sense to me. Kinda goes along with this.

  14.  I don't find him hilarious yet. Hopefully will by the time his narrative rolls around.

  15. I haven't read her post yet. I'm sneaking them in between required activities, and it's taking me forever to read them all!


    Ok. So. YAY MARIAN and, actually, yay for Collins and his interesting woman character, even if she's not allowed to actually be desirable because obviously no one wants to marry an interesting and ugly woman... But anyway, I basically agree with Alice that NO ONE is good enough for her! At least not yet.

    And YAWN at Laura and Walter. I'm thinking the novel's not going to be so much about their epic unrequited love though, so that's ok. I just generally ignored anything to do with Laura and spent my moments waiting for Marian to return.

    And OMG Mr Fairlie. He is ridiculous. And yet amazing. Hopefully the story will centre around him and his ridiculousness because he is AWESOME.

  17. Kayleigh (Comma Enthusiast)April 10, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    I'm not sure whether to be more scared of the cats or the people who dressed the cats ... 

    Also, "Deuce-what-the-deuce!" is my favourite Pescaism so far.

  18. I can't believe Mr. Fairlie gets his own narrative. I shudder to think what he could possibly have to contribute to this retelling. I SHUDDER.

  19. "Deuce-what-the-deuce!" He's like a Victorian-era Stewie from Family Guy. ; )