The Woman in White: Ode to Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco
Welcome to the Ode to Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco podcast episode from Tea, Tonic & Toxin! In The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins tells the story of a woman locked away in an insane asylum. Well, sort of.
This 1860 thriller is considered to be among the first mystery novels (along with Bleak House, among others) and among the first and finest sensation novels. The story includes a ghostly woman, a secret society, switched identities, foreign agents, paranoia, bribery, blackmail, and conspiracies. Seriously, what’s not to love?
When the novel was published, Marian Halcombe became a sensation. Critics and the reading public liked her. Men even wrote Wilkie Collins asking for her hand in marriage. She’s fabulous because she’s angry, brave, rock solid, and bold. She speaks her mind. She narrates nearly all of Part 2 of the novel (score!). And she combines the ideal attributes of a Victorian woman (comforting, family-oriented) with a Victorian man (strong, willing to fight). Win-win-win.
Estimated Reading Time: 12 hours.
Yeah, I get it. Twelve hours is a lot of time. But guess what? It’s SO worth it. I mean, you’re reading a Victorian detective story for goodness’ sake. And two of the characters, Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco, are off the charts amazing. So amazing that Sarah and Carolyn have devoted an entire episode to them.
What We're Talking About in the Woman in White "Ode to Marian Halcombe" Episode
Count Fosco, “a man who could tame anything,” became the model of modern crime novel villains. Why are men like this so terrifying?
Hartright says Marian is ugly. “Never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. Her complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache.” Why are her looks so important?
Marian is repelled by Fosco, who nonetheless “has attracted me, has forced me to like him.” Despite Marian’s looks, Fosco adores her. “At sixty, I worshipped her with the volcanic ardour of eighteen. All the gold of my rich nature was poured hopelessly at her feet.” Thoughts?
Marian tells Laura, “Our endurance must end, and our resistance must begin to-day.” Marian climbs out a window and crosses the roof of the verandah – in the rain – to eavesdrop on Sir Percival and Count Fosco. Carolyn found this to be the most thrilling scene in the novel.
Why does Marian increasingly focus on revenge against Fosco as the novel progresses? In what ways does this fixation feel real & human?
For all her admirable traits, Marian is a product of the 19th century. Many readers find her both inspiring and frustrating. How about you?
At the end, Count Fosco calls Marian the “first and last weakness” of his life. In what ways does this admission feel real and human?
Are Marian and Fosco the true protagonists of The Woman in White? How does the story end for Hartright, Marian, and Fosco?
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