Count Fosco's death in Paris is an example of situational irony in that he avoids punishment for his participation in the scheme against Laura, only to then be killed in retribution for his betrayal of the Italian brotherhood. His punishment does not come in the form that a reader would expect it to. This irony shows Fosco meeting a violent end but does not implicate any of the major characters in this death. The irony is important because it suggests that the crimes of villainous characters will eventually catch up with them, even when it seems like they have gotten away with everything. The irony of Fosco being killed in revenge, but not by anyone related to Laura Fairlie, also keeps the violence linked to Continental, European characters, reinforcing the theme that the British characters are more rational and humane.
Walter and Percival's social positions (situational irony)
The contrasting social positions of Walter and Sir Percival at the start of the novel create an example of situational irony. Walter is a member of the middle class who has to work to earn a living and who does not own any property. Sir Percival seems to be wealthy, sophisticated, and the owner of a large estate. On the surface, it would seem like Walter is the suitor who might pose the risk of marrying Laura for her money because he has so much less income than she does. It turns out, however, that Percival, the man who seems to be far wealthier, is the one who is scheming and plotting to get his hands on Laura's fortune. Walter, on the other hand, loves Laura faithfully even when she has no income or social position in the second half of the novel. This irony offers a critique of the upper-class preoccupation with gaining as much money as possible.
Sir Percival’s death (dramatic irony)
Sir Percival's death functions as an example of dramatic irony. He believes that he can protect his secret by destroying the relevant portion of the marriage register. However, the outcome of what he hopes to achieve and what the reader ends up observing are very different, and in fact directly contradict one another. Sir Percival thinks he is going to save his reputation and his wealth, but he ends up losing his life. This irony shows that a preoccupation with maintaining social status and position can lead to destructive outcomes. It is also ironic that while the reader has expected it might be Anne Catherick or Laura who will die so that the secret can be concealed, it ends up being Percival himself who pays the price to protect his secret.
Mrs. Catherick's scandal (dramatic)
Jane Catherick's scandal is an example of dramatic irony because readers are aware that she is indeed guilty of a sexual transgression, but also that it is not the one most people think she is guilty of. Mrs. Catherick was seen having an intimate conversation with Sir Percival when she was a young woman. Her husband and everyone in her neighborhood falsely believed Percival to be Jane’s lover. Percival perpetuated this false belief because it helped to protect his own secret. However, Mrs. Catherick's scandalous secret is actually that she slept with Philip Fairlie and then hastily married Mr. Catherick to cover up her illegitimate pregnancy. Despite Jane Catherick's clever attempts to cover up her previous sexual transgression, she ends up being socially condemned for an affair she is not guilty of. This irony suggests that characters will always end up having to pay a price for social transgressions, in one way or another.
The Woman in White Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Woman in White is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.