The Woman in White

The Woman in White Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Frederick Fairlie’s art collection (symbol)

Mr. Fairlie is the owner of a vast art collection. He is surrounded by expensive art pieces and spares no money in acquiring new ones. However, the owner of this huge art collection is an invalid who cannot stand any mental exertion or external stimuli. He spends his days shut away in his private quarters and is incapable of any productive activity. It is rather ironic that a person with rapidly declining physical and mental health should display such zeal and vigor in acquiring ornamental objects. Frederick Fairlie’s art collection is a symbol of his self-absorbed character and his distorted values. He neglects the important things in life and focuses all of his energy upon these useless ornaments. Furthermore, he does not acquire art pieces out of a professional interest in art, but rather to use his collection as a means of flaunting his wealth and status. The acquisition of material things is the sole purpose of his life. Apart from this, he displays little interest in the events unfolding around him, and he shows little concern for the welfare of his nieces. The Fairlie household becomes almost dysfunctional under his guardianship. His art collection is a symbol of his selfishness, vanity and greed. His art collection fails to surround him with an artistic aura; it only emphasizes his self-absorbed and obnoxious character.

Anne Catherick's white dress (symbol)

Anne Catherick prefers to dress entirely in white clothes whenever possible. She does so to honor the memory of Mrs. Fairlie, who told her that she looks nice in white. The white dress symbolizes her purity and innocence; throughout the novel, Anne is repeatedly victimized even though she has done nothing wrong, and it is even finally revealed that she never even knew Percival's secret. Emotionally and mentally, Anne is childish, in both her innocence and the way she clings to the memory of Mrs. Fairlie. The white dress also symbolizes Anne's enigmatic nature. Especially at the start of the novel, it is not clear what her history is, and whether she might be sinister or not. In fact, Anne's white garments in her mysterious first encounter with Walter even suggest that she might be some sort of supernatural figure.

Blackwater Park (symbol)

The setting of Blackwater Park is very significant. The house is an ancient mansion with five hundred years of history behind it. The house is surrounded by thick foliage which casts long shadows and blocks the view. The lake of Blackwater Park is shallow, still, and devoid of life. The old mansion, the thick foliage, the long shadows and the still water produce a threatening atmosphere charged with a sense of deadened suffocation. The threatening atmosphere of Blackwater Park is symbolic to the plot. Not only does the place house two criminals, but it is also in this place that the most evil scheme will be plotted against Laura Fairlie. The suffocating foliage symbolizes the imprisonment that the sisters will endure at this place. The threatening appearance of Blackwater Park provides the perfect backdrop for the conspiracy which will take place here.

Count Fosco’s mice (motif)

Count Fosco’s mice are frequently mentioned in the book. Count Fosco has a penchant for pets, especially mice. He treats his mice as his best friends and allows them to crawl over his body. Fosco’s fondness for mice serves to heighten his eccentricity. By repeatedly describing Fosco’s playing with his mice, Marian seeks to set him apart from no-nonsense Englishmen and to emphasize his foreignness. Fosco’s fondness for mice, his exuberant manners and his Napoleonic features turn him into an exotic spectacle. The frequent mentioning of his mice serves to remind the readers of his foreign origins and exotic manners. Fosco’s foreignness may both inspire mistrust and curiosity among the readers. It is important for the readers to focus their attention on Fosco, for he is the most fascinating male character of the novel, and will play a decisive role in shaping the development of the plot.

Count Fosco (allegory)

Count Fosco is an allegory for continental European culture. In Victorian Britain, people liked to cherish the belief that the continental Europeans are culturally sophisticated but morally decadent. On the other hand, the Victorians believe that English people possess plainer taste, but are more virtuous and upright in their character. Count Fosco’s person is a living allegory of what the Victorians believed to be the European culture. Fosco is culturally sophisticated. He is well versed in arts and masters many languages. He is well travelled and boasts a broad experience in many matters and subjects. The Victorians believed the Europeans to be more decadent in their lifestyle than the English. Fosco has extravagant taste. His fine taste in clothes is portrayed through his expensive and highly decorative waistcoats. Fosco also stands for the image of the scheming and morally corrupt European. He engages in the practices of spying, lying, conspiring and poisoning: all secretive behaviors despised by Victorian Englishmen. By inventing this sophisticated, exuberant and dangerous character, the author creates a convincing allegory for what the Victorians believed to be continental European culture. Fosco embodies all the classic Victorian stereotypes of the European man.