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The Woman In White Essay

1443 words - 6 pages

The Woman in White


I had now arrived at that partcular point of my walk
where four roads met - the road to Hampstead, along
which I had returned, the road to Fichley, the road
to West End, and the road back to London. I had me-
chanically turned in this latter direction, and was
strolling along the lonely high-road - idly wonder-
ing, I remember, what the Cumberland young ladies
would look like - when, in one moment, every drop of
blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch
of a hand laid lightly on my shoulder behind me.
I turned on the instant with my fingers tighten-
ing round the handle of my stick.
There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-
road - there, as if it had that moment sprung out of
the earth or dropped from Heaven - stood the figure
of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in
white garments..... (p.47)

An analysis of the above passage will illustrate why The Woman in White and
novels of a similar nature have been labelled `sensational' and denied any
significant status as realism. Most obviously, the extract shows the main
characteristic of sensationalism: the sudden shock or surprise - every drop
of Walter Hartright's blood `brought to a stop' on encountering the figure on
the highway: he grips his stick nervously in anticipation of the unknown. The
aspect of mystery and the ghostly, too, can be seen - the Woman is described
as being `out of the earth', otherworldly, her white garments, too, evoking a
ghostly overtone. The text, here, highlights yet subtler aspects of
sensationalism which I wish to discuss. Walter comes to a point where there
is a network of roads, where `four roads met'. The number of directions in
which he can travel mirrors the multi-faceted and intricate plot of Wilkie
Collins' novel. This importance of plot has become - rightly or wrongly - a
trade mark of `sensational' fiction. A further aspect of this genre is
fatalism, the predestined, the notion perhaps that is not mere chance that
Anne Catherick appears on Hartright's `lonely high-road' and not on the other
four.

The `characteristics' of the sensation novel which I have touched
upon superficially above have, critically speaking, prevented it being
bestowed with any notion of `realism'. Though I do not desire necessarily to
challenge the notion of sensationalism in the novel but I do wish to question
the apparent `lack of realism' in The Woman In White. I hope therefore to
illustrate the sensation paradox - that Collins' novel is bound in realism as
well as being `sensational'. I would like to suggest...

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