Out of all of these readalong posts, this one – being about the end of the book – is the most *spoilery*! So, beware.
What I have learned from reading The Woman in White is that adding a Secret Society at the end, complete with Italian sleeper agents and scar-faced assassins is a knock-out way to end your Victorian novel. (And wow, Pesca, who would have thought?)
So, Count Fosco surpasses Sir Percival’s garden-variety villainy by leaps and bounds:
1. “I am thinking,” he remarked quietly, “whether I shall add to the disorder in this room, by scattering your brains about the fireplace.” The Count’s true colors come out and it’s like Victorian noir.
2. When Walter starts asserting his righteous cause, Fosco shuts him up with “Gently, Mr. Hartright. Your moral clap-traps have an excellent effect in England – keep them for yourself and your own countrymen, if you please.” Ooh, burn.
3. His letter of confession concludes “They are worthy of the occasion, and worthy of
His signature is the end of his sentence, like the movie title appearing at the end of a trailer. The man has style, which it’s fair to say that Sir Percival never had at all.
4. His Achilles’ heel was Marian. For weaknesses, the man has taste.
5. Fosco dies by being assassinated and thrown in the Seine and his Secret Society brand is marked in blood with a T for “Traditore” – that is, traitor. Sir Percival trapped himself in a vestry and accidentally set it on fire. To the greater villain, the more sensational death.
And I don’t want to forget Madame Fosco. When she told Walter, “If I had been in his place – I would have laid you dead on a hearth-rug” and then coolly sat down with her book while the Count took a quick nap, she was the iciest she has ever been and it was rather awesome.
Speaking of icy women, how about that Mrs. Catherick? I loved that we get a little more of her, in the form of a letter to Walter. Towards the end of the letter, she invites Walter to tea as a token of her thanks, but then lays down some ground rules for such a meeting. She closes the letter with “My hour for tea is half-past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.” This delighted me to no end.
Walter himself really rose to the occasion, borrowing the menace of the Italian Brotherhood to serve his own purpose. The bit with the letter to Pesca as a safeguard was impressive.
As much as The Woman in White is about an honorable man (Walter) setting a wronged woman (Laura) to rights, Wilkie Collins clearly takes pleasure in writing his villainous and amoral characters and the things they say.
In contrast, there’s the depiction of Laura. At one point, Walter describes himself as serving “the cause of Laura and the cause of Truth.” That is what Laura is – a cause, a representation of virtue that needs to be protected. Laura as a person has a brief moment of flinty resolve at Blackwater Park before devolving into a vague presence once more, spending most of the story ignorant of everything. (Anyone else creeped out when Laura showed off to Walter how heavy her purse was with the money she had “earned”?)
At one point in Walter’s confrontation with Count Fosco, Walter reveals that Laura is his wife. Walter says “I could see that I sank in his estimation, as a dangerous man, from that moment.” I don’t think it was meant this way, but I fancied that Fosco’s estimation of Walter sunk, because Fosco was thinking “Her? You chose her, when Marian was right there?”
My hopes of seeing Marian face off with the Count were not realized. They met off-screen but it wasn’t really a face-off. But for all that Marian’s active role was diminished, to this reader’s disappointment, she was instrumental in averting Count Fosco’s plans. Her sheer awesomeness made Fosco surrender several advantages that he had. Also, Walter and Laura’s children are going to have the best aunt ever! Under Marian’s tutelage, they will be extraordinary mini-ninjas.
Let’s see here, there were a couple more odds and ends that I wanted to mention. First, I thought it was interesting that the story ended up being about three half-sisters: Laura had a half-sister on both her mother and her father’s side. Kudos to whichever bloggers called it on Anne’s parentage.
Also, how funny is it, that at the end everyone is like, hurrah, let’s celebrate that Mr. Fairlie died and we have an inheritance now!
Well, this has been a fantastic book and a fantastic readalong! I’m writing this several days before the designated day for posting and I can’t wait to read everyone else’s thoughts.