The Woman in White

The Woman in White Summary and Analysis of Marian's Narrative, Part 2


The narrative resumes six months later, at the end of June. Laura and Sir Percival are about to return to England, accompanied by Count Fosco and his wife. Marian has already moved to Sir Percival's estate, Blackwater Park, to await their arrival. Marian knows that Walter has arrived safely in Honduras, but has not recently heard from him. No trace was ever found of Anne Catherick and Mrs. Clements and the search for them has been abandoned. Mr. Gilmore has fallen ill, and as a result has had to leave his work and go abroad to recover. Mr. Fairlie is relieved to have been left to his own devices at Limmeridge House. Letters from Laura during her time abroad have been vague and non-descriptive, leaving Marian deeply unsure of what her sister's experience of marriage has been like.

Marian spends the following day exploring the gloomy estate, and is horrified when she comes across a wounded dog. Upon bringing him back to the house, a housemaid explains that it was likely shot by Baxter, the gamekeeper. When Marian seeks further explanation by questioning the housekeeper, she learns that the dog belongs to Mrs. Catherick. Mrs. Catherick visited the estate the previous day to ask about Anne, since she had heard rumors of someone resembling her daughter having been seen in the neighborhood. No one at the estate had heard anything about these rumors, though they were struck by her saying that there was no need to tell Sir Percival about her visit.

Upon Laura's return, Marian is startled to see that she is still unwilling to give any details about her marriage and relationship with Sir Percival. From what she can observe, Sir Percival seems unsettled and often suspicious. Marian has also been observing Count Fosco and his wife. She is shocked by the change in the former, who has gone from a silly and talkative woman to someone very reserved and cold. Count Fosco, by contrast, is a larger-than-life and colorful figure, who puzzles Marian, but whom she cannot help but admire, even though she also distrusts him. A short time after the return, the group is interrupted at lunch by news that Mr. Merriman has arrived to see Sir Percival. Percival seems distressed by this news and leaves in a hurry, at which point Fosco explains to the rest of the group that Merriman is his lawyer. This unexpected arrival seems to indicate that Merriman has very serious news to share. As the two men exit from their meeting, Marian overhears their conversation. Merriman refers to Laura's signature being obtained on a document in the presence of witnesses, within a week's time, and suggests that if this does not happen, the longest delay he could obtain on the payment of bills would be three months. Percival is quick to assure him the signature will be obtained.

Marian presumes that Sir Percival is experiencing financial problems, and needs money from Laura. She shares this news with her sister, who is unsurprised and agrees not to carelessly sign anything. Marian speculates that Count Fosco must know something about these troubles, but is also struck by how attentive and kind Sir Percival has become. The next morning, the whole group goes on an excursion to the estate grounds. During this excursion, Marian ends up revealing that Mrs. Catherick visited the house; this news agitates Sir Percival until Fosco urges him to be calm. Sir Percival hurries back to the house to question the servants, and Marian fills in the Count about all the events related to Anne and Mrs. Catherick. When they return to the house, Sir Percival is about to leave for a journey.

Before he goes, he invites his wife, the Count and Eleanor into his study to attend to a business matter. Count Fosco, however, insists that Marian serve as the second witness, since there might be ambiguity about he and his wife both being witnesses. Sir Percival directs Laura to sign a document, and when she asks what she is signing, he says in too much of a hurry to explain it. When she holds firm, he becomes increasingly angry, accusing her of mistrusting him. He becomes increasingly angry with Marian when she stands up to him, and takes Laura's side. Laura and Sir Percival argue, and she is about to leave in anger, when Marian begs her to stay on the good side of Count Fosco. Fosco gets Percival to admit that the signature could wait until tomorrow, and urges him to return to the subject after he comes back from his trip. Percival reluctantly leaves, vowing to get Laura's signature the following day.

After his departure, Laura wonders if he is going in pursuit of Anne Catherick now that he has heard there are rumors of her being in the area. She also admits to Marian how unhappy her marriage is, but declines to go in to detail. Instead, she and Marian discuss what to do now. They are convinced the document was an agreement in which Laura would agree to lend him money, and they worry about where the money would go, and what kind of responsibility she might be held to. They write to the lawyer who has taken over for Mr. Gilmore, asking for his advice, and request that he reply by special messenger so that they can get the answer in time before Sir Percival's return. As Marian mails this letter, she is distracted by Countess Eleanor, which seems suspicious and leads her to verify her letter later. It seems possible that someone has opened the letter, so she reseals it.

The evening, Marian and Laura go for a walk, and Laura shares the details of her marriage. Percival has been cruel to her from the beginning, and she has pined constantly for Walter. When Marian cautions her about being careful to conceal Walter's identity, Laura explains that Percival already knows who her beloved is. Marian is stricken with remorse for having discouraged the relationship between Walter and Laura. As the two women start to return to the house, they see a figure walking near the lake. They hurry back, thinking they are being followed, but reach the house without incident. Once there, Marian is able to account for the whereabouts of everyone from the house, leaving her confused as to who could have been outside on the grounds.


The reunion of the characters at Blackwell Park, as well as the introduction of Count Fosco and the Countess, make it clear that all of Marian's worst fears about the marriage have been realized. As soon as she gets to the estate, all of the imagery suggests that this is a dark and foreboding place. Everything seems to be stagnant, decaying, and potentially dangerous. The death of the dog on Marian's first day there offers vivid symbolism of something innocent and trusting coming to a violent end, foreshadowing potential threats to both Marian and Laura. Laura's initial refusal to give any details about her marriage is more chilling than a description might have been, because it leaves the reader in suspense as to what kind of abuse she might be experiencing. The fact that the Countess, who had been a very willful and stubborn woman before her marriage, now seems completely submissive, offers a further perspective on how a domineering husband can break a woman's spirit.

The introduction of Count Fosco offers another threatening presence. At the same time, Marian cannot help but be fascinated by him. While Percival is grim and dour, Fosco is colorful and charismatic. As an emblem of the Continental European, he is very different from the English male characters, and seductive because of his exoticism. He was clearly very compelling to Eleanor Fairlie, who seems to have somewhat resembled Marian in her willfulness and non-traditional attitude. The fact that he has managed to control her and make her subservient suggests that he is just as interested in dominance as Percival is, but that he is more skillful and smooth at manipulation and trickery, rather than brute force.

This difference becomes very clear as Percival tries to force Laura to sign some sort of agreement without allowing her to know what it specifies. As Mr. Gilmore predicted and feared prior to the marriage, Percival seems intent on securing access to Laura's money. The fact that despite his large estate he is impoverished and in debt introduces a further critique of the old landed aristocracy. By this time, it was not uncommon for ancient and well-established families to have the trappings of wealth but no available cash. Percival seems to think that he can simply tell Laura what to do and she will unquestioningly obey him. However, even docile Laura is not that trusting, and she stands up for her own intellectual ability by insisting that she could understand the terms of the contract if it was explained to her.

Marian also takes on the role of Laura's champion, defending her and warning Sir Percival that Laura has legal rights. At the same time, Marian is uncomfortably aware that these warnings are hollow. As her husband, Sir Percival has almost complete control of Laura. Moreover, with Walter overseas and Mr. Gilmore now away recovering from illness, Marian and Laura have no male ally to turn to. This leaves them both in a very vulnerable position, and despite Marian's apparent strength and defiance, she knows that as a woman she is very limited in how much she will be able to protect and help Laura.