Posted at 11.19.2018
According to Lyn Pykett " most of Collins's novels explored how gender functions were constructed, and, at the same time, explored various pressures for and anxieties about changes in gender functions in the mid-nineteenth century" (2005: 128) and "offered a critique of the course and gender hierarchies of Victorian modern culture" (2005: 223). The Woman in White is one of those books to which Pykett referred to and Collins uses his unconventional heroine Marian Halcombe to provide his purposes. Within this chapter I want to show that Marian's unconventionality resides in the way she looks and behaves and that allows Collins to challenge gender roles and that she is used to blur gender restrictions.
The novel begins with Walter Hartright's words "This is actually the story of just what a Woman's persistence can go through, and what a Man's resolution can perform. " (Collins 1) After an initial reading of the novel these words will establish he is an unreliable narrator at least, if not a man who consciously needs to mislead the readers into convinced that a woman is only passive and must put up with and that only a man is strong and with the capacity of great deeds, when this isn't always the case, especially in this novel. I say this because throughout the novel there are male character types that must have patience and put up with and female heroes that are resolute and dynamic. For example, Sir Percival must have tolerance if he wants to enter possession of his wife's money and Count up Fosco constantly reminds him of that "patience, Percival -endurance. ' You're always conversing of persistence'" (Collins 285). Marian Halcombe, although a woman, has resolution "Miss Halcombe slice the knot of the tiny humiliation forthwith, in her resolute, downright way" (Collins 42) and throughout the book her quality will recommend her as a powerful woman as I'll show down the road in this chapter. His words can be interpreted as reflecting the Victorian ideology of the separate gender assignments for men and women. However, I claim these words aren't fully illustrative for this content of the book and for its heroes because of Marian Halcombe and what she presents in the economy of the book. What she does indeed shows that a woman is not always patient and long lasting but can be resolute.
Marian Halcome "whose a lot more "interesting" character presents the only significant variation on business-as-usual in the novel's gynaeceum" (Miller 176) is portrayed from the beginning of the novel as being between the genders in the sense that her physical description shows she "is both masculine and feminine" (Pykett 2005:126). From her description it could be seen that at this time in the narrative that her femininity resides in the beauty of her body and her masculinity in the characteristics of her face. Walter Hartright describes her and his contradictory reactions thus
Her shape was tall, yet not too extra tall; comely and well-developed, yet not extra fat; her head placed on her shoulder blades with a straightforward, pliant firmness; her waistline, efficiency in the eye of a guy () The lady's
complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her top lip was almost a moustache She acquired a large, stable, masculine mouth area and jaw; dominant, piercing, resolute dark brown eyes; and heavy, coal-black hair, growing unusually low down on her behalf forehead ()To check out such a face as this set on shoulders a sculptor could have longed to model--to be charmed by the modest graces of action through which the symmetrical limbs betrayed their beauty when they changed, and then to be almost repelled by the masculine form and masculine look of the features where the perfectly shaped figure ended--was to feel a experience oddly comparable to the helpless uncomfortableness familiar to us all in sleep, when we recognise yet cannot reconcile the anomalies and contradictions of any dream.
As Sophia Andres well remarks Walter's "conventional expectation of femininity is unsettled by the disjunction of femininity with masculinity" (371) when he first views Marian and his reaction might have been the reaction of any other Victorian that possessed set conceptions about the way a woman had to appear to be but I dispute that Collins mocked in ways the gendered targets of Victorians when he created Marian and confirmed that women aren't yet and this masculinity can characterize a female too and not only a guy. Her sister Laura makes an indirect remark about her masculine face when she returns from her honeymoon and exclaims that she overlooked her "own dear, dark, smart, gipsy-face" (Collins 188). Talking about Marian's information Valerie Pedlar notes that "Walter confirms himself in person with a female who is never easy to categorize and who falls outside regular literary or communal models" (76) My view is that it is exactly because she cannot be categorized by the traditional society of this that she is seen as expressing Collins's contempt for the Victorian gender norms and gender definitions.
Apart from her masculine face she has other masculine physical traits of which she is aware "My hands always were, and always will be, as uncomfortable as a man's" (Collins 204) because they're big. Another remark that she makes about herself and this implies she actually is alert to her masculinity is the fact made when she attempts to avoid herself from crying because she says "My tears do not stream so easily as they ought-- they come almost like men's tears, with sobs that seem to tear me in portions, and this frighten every one about me" (Collins 144). When she makes selections about her personal items she intentionally shows her masculine aspect because from Laura we learn that she has a "horrid heavy man's umbrella" with which she "always would go out with when it rained" (Collins 188). Her personal options like that of experiencing a man's umbrella rather than a smaller woman's umbrella show that she disregard the etiquette of that time period which furthermore means that her wishes are definitely more very important to her than what others think is right for a female to do. You might think that a talk about the fact that she's a "heavy man's umbrella" is not very illustrative for the subject of this chapter however the fact that it is heavy demonstrates Marian has physical power and since women in that period were considered fragile emotionally, morally and bodily and she is a woman, again points to 1 final result: Victorian gender anticipations are flouted.
According to Carolyn Oulton "her masculinity is initially signaled in the recommendations to physical traits such as undesired facial hair" (84) but throughout the book instances when she is viewed as masculine and treated like if she were a guy and when she behaves in a masculine way occur. Masculinity is associated with physical and mental power and Marian possesses these attributes that last but not least make those who know her realize she is unique. One of these people is Eliza Michelson who thought to Laura when she became aware that Marian experienced disappeared from Blackwater Area even though she was unwell "Remember, my woman, what astonishing energy there may be in Pass up Halcombe" "She may try which other ladies in her situation would be unfit for" (Collins 344). She actually is an extraordinary female and without doubt people observe that.
Count Fosco is surely the one one who most sees how different she actually is from other women and admires her despite all her masculine traits. He says to Percival when they discuss about how to enter ownership of Laura's money
She is well-defined enough to believe something, and vivid enough to come downstairs and listen, if she can get the chance. (Collins 285)
Can you look at Neglect Halcombe rather than see that she's the foresight and the image resolution of a guy? With that girl for my pal I would snap these fingertips of mine at the earth. 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 100 times--I walk, in your English phrase, upon egg-shells! Which grand creature--I drink her health in my sugar-and-water--this grand creature, who stands in the effectiveness of her love and her courage, company as a rock, between us two and this poor, flimsy, fairly blonde partner of yours--this magnificent female, whom I admire with all my heart, though I oppose her in your hobbies and in mine, you drive to extremities as if she was no sharper no bolder than the others of her sex. (Collins 291)
He acknowledges her as a powerful enemy because she is resolute, courageous and clever as a man but he is also with the capacity of viewing her as a feminine woman and this furthermore makes him admire her. After reading her journal he states
Admirable female! I allude to Pass up Halcombe. Stupendous effort! I make reference to the Diary. Yes! These pages are amazing. The tact which I find here, the discretion, the uncommon courage, the wonderful power of ram, the correct observation of persona, the easy sophistication of style, the enchanting outbursts of womanly sense, have all inexpressibly increased my admiration of this sublime creature, of the spectacular Marian () Under happier circumstances how worthy I will have been of Pass up Halcombe--how worthy Neglect Halcombe could have been of ME. The sentiments which animate my heart and soul assure me that the lines I've just written exhibit a Profound Fact.
He not only praises her for all those that she is and does indeed but he also seems to declare his love on her behalf. He considers himself powerful, "courageous as I am naturally" (Collins 545) and sensible and she being an "unparalleled woman" as he himself noticed, might have been the perfect match for him accurately because of her strong nature. They are extremely much alike. She is "the first and last weakness of Fosco's life" (Collins 556). What Collins seems to suggest through Count Fosco's voice would you not blame Marian for not being as female as women need to be but on the contrary is the fact that such atypical Victorian women as her should be acknowledged in their society although they undermine men's domination. Not merely Count number Fosco realizes that she has things in common with men and admires her. Walter Hartright says about her "She captured me by both hands--she pressed them with the strong, stable grasp of a guy She quit, drew me nearer to her--the fearless, noble creature" (Collins 107).
The same Count up Fosco who discussed Marian in such admiring conditions had talked recently in conditions that share the mentality of that time period about ways that men can rule women and about image resolution that is characteristic of men which women cannot own. After reading what he later on says about Marian and after all of the instances when she uses her quality it is clear that Marian does not fail in resolution which again classic ideas of the time do not completely apply in her circumstance.
Human ingenuity, my pal, has hitherto only learned two ways that a man can manage a female. A method is to knock her down--a method basically implemented by the brutal lower orders of the individuals, but utterly abhorrent to the sophisticated and informed classes above them. The other way (much longer, much more difficult, but in the finish not less certain) is to never recognize a provocation at a woman's hands. It retains with pets or animals, it supports with children, and it supports with women, who are nothing but children grown up. Quiet image resolution is the one quality the pets or animals, the children, and the ladies all fail in. If they can once tremble this superior quality in their get good at, they obtain the better of HIM. If they can never flourish in disturbing it, he has got the better of THEM
Although Marian has manly impulses like this of striking Sir Percival "I started to my ft as suddenly as if he had struck me. If I had been a guy, I'd have knocked him down on the threshold of his own door, and also have left his house, never on any earthly concern to get into it again. But I got only a woman--and I liked his better half so dearly!" (Collins 218) and Matter Fosco, "My hands tingled to hit him, as if I have been a guy!" (Collins 495) she refrains herself because she has learned that a violent function would do her no good as she is in neither situations in the position of increasing anything from reaching them. Often, her transgressions of gender jobs are created with the goal of protecting her sister and in the first circumstance if she strikes Sir Percival she hazards being thrown out from his house going out of her sister unprotected from his villainies and in the second case the problem is the same, she risks giving her sister unprotected and by themselves as Walter is not in the city to stay with her. With all her transgressions her options as a woman are limited and being truly a man would have certainly opened up more possibilities on her behalf. When she arrives at Blackwater Area she waits impatiently for her sister's entrance from her honeymoon vacation and she affirms
If I only had the privileges of a man, I'd order out Sir Percival's best horses instantly, and rip away over a night-gallop, eastward, to meet up with the rising sunlight (. . . ) Being, however, nothing but a female, condemned to endurance, propriety, and petticoats for life, I must respect the house- keeper's thoughts, and try to compose myself in some feeble and womanly way. (Collins 174)
The last phrase describes the condition of middle-class ladies in Victorian England, condemned to a home existence but these are definitely not her own words expressing her beliefs and ideas because she says that she "must respect the housekeeper's thoughts" and the actual fact that she mentions this thing makes me interpret what she says as being the ironical rendering of the housekeeper's words.
Marian is happy when many people around her, for example Count Fosco, see her masculine side and treat her differently than they would treat a typical Victorian woman "He flatters my vanity by talking to me as very seriously and sensibly as though I was a man" (Collins 197). Not all who meet her treat her like Matter Fosco and there is an amusing point in time with a institution teacher that feels she actually is as traditional Victorian girl, therefore fragile and who will try to safeguard her from a shock. Rather than being grateful she is ironical and the answer to his attitude shows that she is unhappy when people treat her as a poor woman
"I beg your pardon, Neglect Halcombe, " interposed the school-master a little uneasily--"but I think then you've got to not question the boy. The obstinate folly of his storyline is beyond all idea; and you might lead him into ignorantly----" "Ignorantly what?" inquired Neglect Halcombe sharply. "Ignorantly shocking your feelings, " said Mr. Dempster, looking very much discomposed. "Upon my term, Mr. Dempster, you pay my feelings a great go with in thinking them fragile enough to be shocked by this urchin as that!" She flipped with an air of satirical defiance to little Jacob, and started to question him straight. (Collins 72- 73)
On the other side, although she is unhappy when people think she actually is a poor person she herself has occasions of weakness. Those occasions attest she actually is feminine too. After the dialogue with Laura, during which Laura said she was going to marry Sir Percival in the end, she starts off to weep "The tears--miserable, weakened, women's tears of vexation and rage-- started to my sight. She smiled unfortunately, and put her handkerchief over my face to cover up for me the betrayal of my very own weakness--the weakness of all others which she understood which i most despised" (Collins 159). She despises vulnerable people and attempts to cover up her own weakness. She will believe that it is the fact that she actually is "only a woman" (Collins 529) and has a woman's body which makes her vulnerable and that this weakness is not representative for who she is really inside. Her femininity is not as accentuated as her masculinity but no doubt that it is an integral part of who she is too and she learns to simply accept it. After she goes with Laura and Walter she's to take care of the household and she says to Walter
"Just what a woman's hands ARE fit for, " she said, "early and late, these hands of mine shall do. " They trembled as she performed them out () the unquenchable nature of the girl burnt shiny in her even yet. I saw the big tears rise solid in her eye, and fall slowly but surely over her cheeks as she viewed at
me. She dashed them away with some her old energy, and smiled with a faint representation of her old good spirits. "Don't mistrust my courage, Walter, " she pleaded, "it's my weakness that cries, not ME. The house-work shall overcome it if I can't. " (Collins 390)
Although moments like the one mentioned within the last paragraph that show her femininity are not as many as those that show her masculinity they are present in the book. For example, in the beginning of the novel Walter is stunned to see she has masculine qualities and he desires her to have an inexpressive facial appearance like this of a guy and to hold the voice of a man too but he's pleased to notice that "her dark face lighting up with a teeth, and softening and growing womanly the moment she started to speak () These peculiar words of pleasant were spoken in a definite, ringing, pleasant tone of voice (Collins 25). Also, she dresses in a womanly way. Walter notices when he looks at her, Mrs. Vesey and Laura that she actually is "richly clad" with "delicate primrose-yellow color which fits so well with a dark complexion and black scalp" (Collins 44). When she prepares to spy on Matter Fosco and Sir Percival she says that "An entire change in my own dress was imperatively essential for many reasons (. . . ) In my ordinary evening outfit I took up the room of three men at least" (Collins 287). When Walter asks her if she would write to him after he leaves Limmeridge House "her dark sight glittered--her brown complexion flushed deep--the push and energy of her face glowed and grew beautiful with the genuine internal light of her generosity and her pity" (Collins 107) showing that despite her masculine face she actually is with the capacity of having womanly feelings.
Another second when her femininity is revealed is when she talks with Walter about telling Laura that her hubby died and Walter notices that "An unaccustomed tenderness trembled in her dark eyes and softened her stable mouth, as she glanced away at the clear chair where the dear companion of most our joys and sorrows had been relaxing" (Collins 499). She's a "robust physicality" (Oulton 85) but her body has its limitations and because of that she has to stop doing things despite herself like as soon as when she would like to go and look for Laura after talking with Count up Fosco who informed her she does not have to sign Sir Percival's take action "my mind was giddy and my knees trembled under me. There was no choice but to provide it up again and go back to the sofa, sorely against my will" (Collins 244). The limits of her body show again her femininity.
From the beginning of the novel she makes mean and sarcastic remarks about women herself included. For instance, she says to the puzzled Walter Hartright that "How can you expect four women to dine jointly only every day, rather than quarrel? We could such fools, we can not entertain one another at table. You observe I don't think much of my very own love-making, Mr. Hartright () no female does think much of her own love-making, although few of them confess it as widely as I do" (Collins 25-26). Her words can be interpreted as showing her disappointment for the way women react. I view that at the same they show she tends to have misogynistic views on women. Normally misogyny is associated with men and in cases like this her words furthermore show that she actually is masculine too. She observes his bewilderment and remains "I am going to offer you some tea to compose your spirits, and do all a female can (which is very little, by-the-bye) to hold my tongue"" (Collins26) The irony is the fact that she does not keep her tongue but on the contrary so her remark is somehow sarcastic attacking the ideology of separate gender roles. After she says this Walter remark that she was "laughing gaily" (Collins 26) which means this sustains what I've just said. Other types of remarks about women via her are "Women can't draw-their heads are too flighty, and their eye are too inattentive" (Collins 27), "Women, as everybody knows, constantly work on impulses which they cannot clarify even to themselves" (Collins 227) and "Women can resist a man's love, a man's fame, a man's personal appearance, and a man's money, nonetheless they cannot avoid a man's tongue when he knows how to talk to them" ( Collins 228).
According to Lyn Pykett she "does not think a lot of either sex" (Collins 126) and her affirmation is proved by Marian's words about men "No man under heaven deserves these sacrifices from us women" (Collins 159). The identical Lyn Pykett sustains that "Collins uses Marian's proto-feminist pronouncements and her effective participation in rescuing Laura and supporting Walter to restore her half-sister's individuality as a way of questioning and challenging current gender jobs" (Collins 126). In the light of the concerns mentioned in this section it is clear these instances named by Pykett are not really the only ones when Collins issues gender roles. Another case when gender jobs are obviously challenged is when Marian disregards all the guidelines of proper womanly behaviour and spies on Count up Fosco and Sir Percival staying on the top of an verandah. Throughout the novel she is effective and helps Walter not only by doing different activities that are not typical for a woman in the Victorian period but also giving him tips that are helpful and this determine him to trust her.
In an years when few middle-class women experienced the power to do something contrary to the gender norms and defy the hierarchy of gender functions of their modern culture she is one particular example of woman who behaves in a different way than expected so when for example she fails to express her opinion as she usually does people around her are astonished. Such a situation is when asked by Mr. Gilmore to state whether they should trust Sir Percival when he said that Anne Catherick was taken by him to the asylum with the authorization of her mother she says nothing at all and his effect is "resolute, clear-minded Neglect Halcombe was the last person on earth whom I will have expected to find shrinking from the expression of an judgment of her own" (Collins 117).
According to Lilian Craton " the "dark and unpleasant" attributes of Marian's appearance defy the female ideal but permit her strong sense of individuality as do the masculine personality characteristics" (133). I trust her but I would also add that her feminine qualities should not be disregarded. Marian is not described exclusively by the masculine but by the masculine and the female at the same time and the actual fact that she is a combination of the two is exactly what make her unique. By showing her as being between genders Collins subverts traditional Victorian gender explanations. She does not comply with contemporary gender assignments and as a result she affirms her individuality.