MARIAN. The second epoch of The Woman in White is the Marian Halcombe Show. Not coincidentally, the second epoch of The Woman in White is by far the best of the epochs. It begins shortly after Laura’s marriage to Sir Percival Glyde, when Marian is waiting to welcome her sister to their new home at Sir Percival’s estate, Blackwater. Even before Laura and Sir Percival come back from their awkward honeymoon, it is clear that there is nefariousness afoot.
When Laura does get home, she refuses to talk about how Sir Percival has been acting because marital confidence, I guess? Mainly, Laura is stupid. If the teams are Laura and Marian against Sir Percival, Count Fosco, and Lady Fosco, it’s basically three against one-half, because Laura counts as negative points. That is how dumb she is. It warmed my heart when this happened:
“I have always heard that truly wise men are truly good men, and have a horror of crime.”
“My dear lady,” said the Count, “those are admirable sentiments; and I have seen them stated at the tops of copybooks.”
You have to love a villain who says all the same things you are thinking about Laura Glyde. I get that Marian and Walter love her for her extreme goodness, but legitimately: her extreme goodness is the only quality she possesses. Meanwhile, here’s what Count Fosco (and I) have to say about Marian Halcombe:
“Thank your lucky star,” I heard the Count say next, “that you have me in the house to undo the harm as fast as you do it. Thank your lucky star that I said No when you were mad enough to talk of turning the key to-day on Miss Halcombe, as you turned it in your mischievous folly on your wife. Where are your eyes? Can you look at Miss Halcombe and not see that she has the foresight and the resolution of a man? With that woman for my friend I would snap these fingers of mine at the world. With that woman for my enemy, I, with all my brains and experience—I, Fosco, cunning as the devil himself, as you have told me a hundred times—I walk, in your English phrase, upon egg-shells! And this grand creature—I drink her health in my sugar-and-water—this grand creature, who stands in the strength of her love and her courage, firm as a rock, between us two and that poor, flimsy, pretty blonde wife of yours—this magnificent woman, whom I admire with all my soul, though I oppose her in your interests and in mine, you drive to extremities as if she was no sharper and no bolder than the rest of her sex.”
Oh, yeah, and I meant to say that Marian overhears the Count say this because she has climbed up on the MOTHERFUCKING ROOF to do some eavesdropping in the rain. She wouldn’t have to do this if she had any allies, but because she has negative allies, she is forced to extreme measures.
As I mentioned in the first post, Wilkie Collins brilliantly portrays the way Marian lacks the power to get herself and Laura out of the power of the men who control them.
I felt already, with a sense of inexpressible helplessness and humiliation, that it was either [the Count’s] interest or his caprice to make sure of my continuing to reside at Blackwater Park, and I knew after Sir Percival’s conduct to me, that without the support of the Count’s influence, I could not hope to remain there. His influence, the influence of all others that I dreaded most, was actually the one tie which now held me to Laura in the hour of her utmost need!
“In the meantime say nothing to any one of what we have heard and seen.”
“Because silence is safe, and we have need of safety in this house.”
Poor Marian. Poor Laura, even. (Needless to say, Laura’s the one saying “Why not?” like she doesn’t even know what her life is.)
Honestly, the suspense in this section is murder. Marian’s never in doubt that Sir Percival and Count Fosco are up to shady doings, so the suspense is about whether Marian can clever herself and Laura out of the bad men’s clutches before whatever their plan is comes to completion. Spoiler alert: She can’t.
BUT IT IS NOT HER FAULT. Failing the typhus fever thing, or certainly if she had allies and money like Count Fosco has, Marian would stomp all over Count Fosco. She is easily as smart as him. If she had allies and money, she could eat twelve Count Foscos for breakfast. Marian rocks and none of what happens is in any way her fault.
(It’s Laura’s fault. For being a moron.)