The Woman in White

The Woman in White Imagery

Count Fosco's foreign features

The appearance of the arch villain Count Fosco is described in very colorful and vivid language. Fosco is described as being extremely fat, with Napoleonic features. He has a fondness for animals such as canaries and mice, and enjoys having mice crawling about him. The image of Fosco is decidedly "foreign." It is not surprising that the author would wish to cast the villain in a foreign mold. In Victorian literature, the villain is often a foreigner with dubious morals who comes to corrupt a morally virtuous English society. By portraying Fosco with the facial features of one Britain’s most hated enemies, Napoleon Bonaparte, the author places him in the mold of the suspicious foreigner and enables the Victorian reader to develop an instant mistrust towards him.

Marian Halcombe's masculine features

The appearance of Marian Halcombe is also worth noting, because it totally defies the conventional Victorian female image. Marian is described as having a feminine physical form, but she also possesses very masculine features. She is described as having a “large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw,” with “almost a mustache." When Walter first encounters Marian’s face, he is surprised and amazed. This is because her masculine facial features are totally at odds with her graceful feminine figure. This discrepancy has great significance and sheds light on Marian’s character. It shows that Marian has a woman’s body but a man’s head. Although she is trapped in a woman’s body and confined to the limitations of a woman’s life, she possesses the characteristics of a Victorian man. In the story, Marian exhibits all the conventionally masculine qualities by being brave, determined and resourceful in her attempts to defend the weak and self-effacing Laura.

Laura Fairlie's delicate appearance

Laura’s physical image is also highly significant. She possesses highly feminine characteristics. She is described as having delicate features, gentle charms, and light coloring in her eyes and hair. She is fair and delicate with an innocent and truthful expression in her eyes. Laura is also described as being an expert musician, a highly prized talent in Victorian ladies. In short, Laura is painted in a highly feminized manner, and is presented as the contrasting character to the strong and masculine Marian. Laura’s feminine physical form serves to prepare the readers for her highly feminine character, which results in her being unable to advocate for herself or make decisions. Her femininity is both what inspires characters like Walter and Marian to be protective of her, and what leaves her in need of that protection.

Anne Catherick's mysterious image

Anne is dressed from head to toe in white. Her appearance in the story is always sudden and of a short duration. Anne’s repeated appearances as the mysterious woman in white gradually increases the suspense of the story. Her emotional distress and distracted manners give her an aura of unfathomable mystery. She haunts Blackwater Park like a ghost, making the sinister setting of Blackwater Park all the more uncanny. Anne’s ghostly image haunts the story and instills it with an aura of suspense, tension and enigma.