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EN 1006 Chapter Notes -Wilkie Collins, Pearson Education, Gout

Course Code
EN 1006
Megan Hillman

of 5
The Woman in White
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About the author
Wilkie (William) Collins can be described as the author
of the first full-length detective stories in English. Born in
London in 1824, he was the son of a landscape painter.
He was educated at private schools, but received his real
education on a two-year tour of Italy with his family. He
trained as a lawyer, but became a full-time writer in his
early twenties. During the 1860s, with the publication
of novels of mystery, suspense and crime, he became
a household name. Of these novels, The Woman in
White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) were the most
successful, and are still widely read today.
Collins was very highly thought of by contemporary
critics and his books were widely read in both America
and Europe. The famous British author Charles Dickens
was his friend and mentor, and like Dickens, Collins was
a tireless social campaigner. After 1870, Collinss novels
concentrated more on social issues such as prostitution
and vivisection than on good story-telling.
Collins suffered from gout, and was addicted to opium for
the last twenty-seven years of his life (at the time, opium
was considered to be a safe painkiller). Collinss private life
was unconventional: he had two mistresses and married
neither of them, although he had three children by one,
Martha Rudd. He died in 1889.
Late one night on a lonely road a young art teacher, Walter
Hartright, meets a strange woman dressed all in white.
They talk together and Walter is puzzled by the fact that
the woman knows a member of the family he is about to
start work with. Walter goes to Limmeridge House and
starts his new job, teaching art to two half sisters, Laura
Fairlie and Marian, whose parents are both dead. He falls
in love with Laura, who closely resembles the ‘woman in
white’, but Laura marries another man, as she promised
to her father. She is unhappy, as her husband is interested
only in her money. He also has a terrible secret that the
woman in white’ knows. He and his sinister friend plot
to steal Lauras money by substituting the ‘woman in
white’ for Laura. But Lauras husband dies in a fire trying
to eliminate the traces of his forgery. Laura and Walter
reunite and get married.
Chapter 1: One night Walter meets a strange woman
dressed all in white. They talk together and Walter is very
much surprised to hear the woman talking about the place
and the family he is on his way to see. Before he can ask
her any questions, she disappears.
Chapter 2: Walter goes to Cumberland. At Limmeridge
House he meets his pupils, Marian and Laura, who
are half-sisters. Walter notices that Laura resembles the
woman in white’ very much. He tells Marian about the
strange woman. She is keen to help him solve the mystery.
Chapter 3: Walter enjoys his life at Limmeridge House.
He falls in love with Laura and makes friends with
Marian. But Marian advises him to leave Limmeridge
House, because Laura is engaged to baronet Sir Percival
Glyde, who is coming soon. Laura receives an anonymous
warning against her future marriage, and Walter
remembers the ‘woman in white’ talking about some
wicked and cruel baronet. He thinks the warning letter
is from that woman.
Chapter 4: Walter goes to the churchyard to see the
strange woman who was seen there. They meet and she
gives him her name, Anne Catherick, and that she has
escaped from the asylum where Sir Percival shut her up.
Then she gets frightened and runs away.
Chapter 5: Before Walter goes away, he and Marian go
to the village to find Anne Catherick to talk to her. When
they arrive, they find that Anne has already gone.
Chapter 6: Mr Gilmore, the family lawyer, comes to
draw up the marriage settlement. He sends a copy of the
warning letter to Sir Percival asking for an explanation.
Walter leaves Limmeridge House. Laura is very unhappy
as she is in love with Walter.
Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White
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Chapter 7: Sir Percival Glyde comes to Limmeridge
House and explains that Annes mother used to be his
loyal servant. To thank her, he paid for her daughter Anne,
who has mental problems, to be placed in an asylum.
Marian writes a letter to Mrs Catherick and receives
confirmation that this is true. After that Laura agrees
to marry Sir Percival, as she does not want to break her
promise to her late father.
Chapter 8: When discussing the marriage settlement, Sir
Percival insists on having his wifes money in case of her
death. Mr Gilmore does not like the idea. As Laura is not
twenty-one yet, he visits her uncle, Mr Fairlie, to discuss
it. But Mr Fairlie agrees to Sir Percivals claims.
Chapter 9: Walter leaves for Central America for eighteen
months. Lauras wedding date is decided – 22 December
– in four weeks’ time. Sir Percival tries to find Anne
Catherick, but she is gone. Sir Percival and Laura get
married and leave for Italy.
Chapter 1: Six months later Marian comes to Blackwater
Park, Sir Percivals house, where she learns that Mrs
Catherick has secretly visited to find out any news about
her daughter. Marian decides to visit Mrs Catherick.
Chapter 2: Sir Percival and Laura come from Italy with
Count Fosco, Sir Percivals friend. Laura is very unhappy,
its clear now that her husband married her for her money
only. To clear out his debts he needs to obtain his wifes
money. Marian overhears a conversation and tells Laura
about it.
Chapter 3: Sir Percival learns about Mrs Cathericks visit
which makes him very angry. He tries to make Laura sign
some document about her money but fails. Outraged,
Sir Percival leaves Blackwater Park.
Chapter 4: Marian and Laura go to an old boathouse
and see a strange figure. They become frightened and go
home, but someone is following them, and it is not Count
Fosco. Laura goes to the boathouse again and meets Anne
Catherick there. Anne tells her she wrote the warning and
followed her last time. She also says she know a terrible
secret about Sir Percival. Suddenly she gets frightened and
runs away without revealling the secret.
Chapter 5: Sir Percival comes back. Count Fosco, who
has seen Lauras meeting with Anne, tells him about the
meeting, and they go to the boathouse to wait for Anne
there. But Anne never appears. Sir Percival reads Annes
note to Laura and becomes frustrated.
Chapter 6: Marian eavesdrops on Sir Percival and Count
Fosco plotting to obtain Lauras money in the event of her
death. Count Fosco asks about the woman he has seen
with Laura in the boathouse. Sir Percival explains it is
Anne Catherick and says that by coincidence, she looks
as if his wife would look after a long illness.
Chapter 7: When spying on Sir Percival and Count
Fosco, Marian becomes so terribly ill and is bedridden.
Sir Percival closes up Blackwater Park, and Count Fosco
moves to London. Laura is told that he has taken Marian
with him and she also leaves for London. But Marian is
still at Blackwater Park. She had been moved to another
Chapter 8: Lady Glyde arrives at Count Foscos house.
She looks very frightened and very ill. The next day she
dies. Lady Glydes body is sent to Limmeridge and buried
in her mothers grave.
Chapter 9: Walter Hartright returns to Britain, where he
learns about Lauras death. He goes to Limmeridge to visit
Lauras grave, as he still loves her. But in the churchyard he
meets Marian, and the still very much alive, Laura.
Chapter 1: Marian, Laura and Walter rent a small flat
in London. Marian tells Walter their story. After she
recovered from her illness, she learned that Laura had
died of a heart problem. Anne Catherick had been found
and put in the asylum again. Her mental problems got
worse and she thinks she is Lady Glyde. Marian went to
the asylum and found Laura there. She helped Laura to
escape, and they went to Limmeridge, where they met
Chapter 2: Laura says that Count Fosco met her in
London and took her to some place to meet her sister.
There he gave her a cup of strange tea, she fainted and
recovered in the asylum. Using their similar appearance
Sir Percival and Count Fosco placed Laura in the asylum
as Anne Catherick, and moved Anne to Count Foscos
house, where she died as Lady Glyde.
Chapter 3: Walter wants to find out Sir Percivals secret
so he can use it to destroy him and goes to see Mrs
Catherick. At the end of a difficult conversation, she tells
him to go to the church and look at the book of marriage
The Woman in White
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Teacher Support Programme
Chapter 4: Walter goes to the church and finds that
the entry for Sir Percivals parents’ marriage is a forgery
– his parents never married, which means that he is not
a baronet and has no legal rights for Blackwater Park.
Moreover, he can be sent to prison.
Chapter 5: Sir Percival understands he is in danger and
comes to the church to destroy the forged page. He
accidentally starts a fire, gets trapped inside and dies.
Chapter 6: Sir Percivals death is officially recognized
as death by accident. Walter receives a note from Mrs
Catherick explaining the extraordinary resemblance of
Laura and Anne – they are half-sister, and have the same
Chapter 7: Walter comes back to London. He tells
Marian the whole story, but they decide to tell Laura
only about her husbands death. Walter and Laura get
married. Walter brings Laura to Limmeridge House where
he explains what has happened. She is legally recognized
as being alive, and after her uncles death, inherits
Limmeridge House.
Background and themes
Where the story came from: The plot of The Woman in
White, although very exciting, seems unlikely: a woman is
robbed of her money when her identity is confused with
another woman who looks like her. It is now known that
Collins found the basic plot for The Woman in White in a
book of French crimes which he bought from a bookstall
in Paris. This book, Recueil des Causes Celebres, by Maurice
Mejan, gave an account of a sensational lawsuit which was
strikingly similar to the events in Collinss novel. There are
even similarities between the people in the lawsuit and the
main characters in the novel.
Similarly, the dramatic meeting of the hero Walter
Hartright with the ‘woman in white’ at night on a lonely
road, also had a basis in real life. The famous English
painter, John Millais, tells the story of how he and Collins
were walking in North London one evening, when they
heard a scream in a garden nearby. A young and beautiful
woman in a long white dress came running towards them,
begging for help. Collins followed her and did not return
that night. The womans name was Caroline Graves and
Collins subsequently lived with her for many years.
Genre: Written in 1860, The Woman in White is one of
the most successful examples of ‘the novel of sensation’.
This genre of fiction first started in the 1860s and was
characterized by stories of mystery and crime – sinister
secrets that were slowly uncovered, in an atmosphere of
great suspense. Even though the events were often unlikely
and sensational, they took place in everyday settings of the
time, and this created a feeling of greater realism. Wilkie
Collins was a master of this genre.
Modern detective novel: The ‘novel of sensation’ gave
rise to the modern detective novel. Indeed, in The Woman
in White, Walter Hartright and Marian act as amateur
detectives. The Moonstone (1868), Collinss other huge
success, is even more of a detective story.
Heroes and heroines: Novels of this kind generally
have a hero, a heroine and a villain. In The Woman in
White, there are two heroines and two villains. Laura,
the woman Walter loves, is the type of woman popular
with Englishmen in the nineteenth century. She is very
beautiful, very feminine, and very inactive; she does
almost nothing. Lauras sister, Marian, on the other hand,
is extremely clever, practical and active; she takes care of
Laura. She is also ugly. The novel demonstrates the strong
tendency of men in nineteenth century England to see
desirable women as very feminine and passive.
Villains: The two villains in The Woman in White are Sir
Percival Glyde, Lauras husband, and his friend, Count
Fosco. Sir Percival, although evil, is not as clever as
Count Fosco. It is Count Fosco who thinks up the plan
that substitutes the ‘woman in white’ for Laura, and it is
he who carries out the plan. This adds complexity and
interest to the story; and what fun it is to have two villains
rather than one!
Suspense: When Wilkie Collins wrote The Woman in
White, he was at the height of his writing ability. The
plot is detailed and carefully worked out. The creation of
suspense is extremely skillful. The book was first written in
serial form and consequently chapters often end on a note
of suspense. The author uses the new and experimental
technique of different characters telling the story at
different points. This is a superb way of creating greater
interest, and Collins brilliantly creates an atmosphere of
fear. It is no surprise that the novel remains so popular