The Woman in White

Foreign Devils and Funny Foreigners: Approaching The Woman in White College

The Woman in White, with its many twists and cliffhangers, reflects the turmoil of Victorian England, which was becoming a multicultural society. London’s hosting of the 1851 World Fair, a lavish affair hosted in a massive “Crystal Palace”, reflected both this transformation and England’s pride in its important place on the world stage. Yet the growing waves of immigrants arriving in England also provoked fear and tension; caricatures in the then-popular magazine Punch reflect the fear of competition for jobs and of foreign thieves. In his novel, Collins represents attitudes towards Italian immigration through the characters of Fosco and Pesca. The two men embody a variety of Victorian stereotypes of Italians specifically and foreigners generally: Fosco is both the suave charmer and Machiavellian poisoner; Pesca is simultaneously an irremediably foreign buffoon and member of a dangerous political society. By giving these two characters personalities based around often-conflicting stereotypes, Collins gives them more depth than a number of his British characters; by seemingly pandering to his audience’s clichés, he subverts them, giving the presumed “funny foreigner” or “foreign devil” archetypes nuance and credibility.

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