Wilkie in Winter, Epoch the Second: MARIAN

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.”

Marian is unmoved by all this praise but it makes ME happy because I know how true it all is.

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.”


“Why not?”


“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.

It’s a metaphor. Alice is Marian, and the flamingo is the sudden onset of typhus fever as a complication of getting wet on the MOTHERFUCKING ROOF.

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.)

18 thoughts on “Wilkie in Winter, Epoch the Second: MARIAN”

  1. Team Marian FTW!!! She is clearly Fosco’s mental equal, opposite in affluence. Can you imagine what she would be like if she had money too? That’s a battle I would dearly love to see!

  2. Oh, yes. Laura was such a complete moron. I actually wouldn’t have minded if she was killed off in between. I loved Marion though and felt a lot of pity for the woman in white. Poor thing.

    1. Hahahah, I wouldn’t have minded either. The story in the third epoch isn’t so fantastic that I feel we’d be losing much by taking the story in a totally different direction — like, JUSTICE FOR LAURA! or something.

  3. Now I yield to no-one in my love of Marian and Count Fosco and his white mice but stop all being so mean about poor Laura! Being bright isn’t a moral virtue (although granted it makes for more interesting characters), and being brought up to be totally dependent and a dab hand at watercolours isn’t her fault. We might not want to go to the pub with her, but she is probably a great hit with old ladies and small dogs. And the white mice.

    But you are hilarious in your meanness. 🙂 And you make me want to reread this.

    1. “Being bright isn’t a moral virtue” — You are right. You make me ashamed of myself. I suppose a large factor in the degree of vituperation I bring to Laura is that she’s such a trope of the frail Victorian angel in the house heroine, and that’s a frustrating trope for me, especially when a guy is writing it, especially when a guy is writing it who I know can write strong women.

      1. No no! YOU are right! I am so very sorry if you felt ashamed. I am officially no fun and will take myself out and – erm – I don’t know. Force-feed myself Wodehouse novels till I get a sense of humour…

        Also I should try to remember that Laura Fairlie is a fictional character….

        Maybe we ARE supposed to despise her and see the trope as boring? Even though Marian is made ‘masculine’? Wilkie Collins the feminist?

        Anyway, I am sorry.

      2. Hahahaha, I feel concerned that we’re in a guilt spiral! I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad — I meant that I do, genuinely, sometimes treat intelligence as a moral virtue, and it’s a nasty habit to have, and I should stop. And your comment just reminded me of that.

        1. A guilt spiral! I love it. I know you weren’t trying to make me feel bad – you never seem remotely to be that sort of person. And I should lighten up sometimes!

  4. Count Fosco should be the villain in EVERY book. And Marian should find some sort of Watson and a legion of smart, independent, resourceful women to assist her, like Miss Climpson and her agency, and STOP ALL THE VILLAINS while being fabulous (and keeping Mr Fairlie around, ’cause he’s delightful)

    (Laura who?)

    Now I want to send messages to all my friends screaming about Marian and the Count and Wilkie Collins and why are we supposed to be reading Nick Hornby for our book club when we could be reading The Woman in White, instead? High FIdelity is good, but this is just… on an entirely different plane. Mariaaaaaaan.

  5. LMAO! Oh man. You are so right. The ONLY thing Laura has going for her is her goodness. Otherwise? Girl’s a wet washrag. Fosco has met his match in Marian. She is something else. Chilling on the roof in the rainstorm. Pfft. Can you imagine what a force she’d be had she access to modern medicine?!

  6. This pretty much made my day. Marian is genius! I sort of felt like Collins made the comparison between her and Laura so stark as a comment on the angel in the house trope. Shaming the majority into seeing the error of their female characterising ways. Look what you could have instead, etc etc. Dickens obviously didn’t get the message…

  7. “[…] but legitimately: her extreme goodness is the only quality she possesses.”
    Agreed! I liked Marion – even thought she hates women too. Laura is the most useless character literature has ever given me. She is just an object of which the story can revolve.

    I can’t even bring myself to blame Laura, because Wilkie former her that way, formed her without will or personality. She is a pretty face, soulless drone, dead behind the eyes…. I could go on.

    (Wonderful blog though :D)

  8. I need to re-read ‘The Woman In White’ because I have forgotten most of the story except how awesome Marian is (and how astonishingly appealing Count Fosco is in his unapologetic, moustache-twirling nefariousness. I like a man who can acknowledge his opponents’ strength).

    And thanks for your fantastic post!

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