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Serialised Victorian novel written by Wilkie Collins. Run from 1859 to 1860.Walter Hartright, a young drawing master from Victorian London, gets a job teaching art to two young women, half-sisters Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie, at Limmeridge house in Cumberland. While on the road to the house he encounters a mysterious woman in white. He tries to help her, but she runs away. Upon arrival, he discovers that the Mysterious Waif is an escaped mental patient named Anne Catherick, and that Anne bears a striking resemblance to Laura Fairlie. Walter and Laura fall in love, but she has been promised in an Arranged Marriage to local nobleman Sir Percival Glyde. However, nothing is as it seems, and a dark conspiracy is being hatched.The book is often considered the first Victorian sensation novel. It has been adapted many times: a play, several films (at least five films just in the silent era, as well as a 1948 film from Warner Bros. ), two different BBC television adaptations, and an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
The novel provides examples of:
Affably Evil: Count Fosco, charming and courteous even when his plans involve kidnapping, Mind Rape, and murder. In the 1948 film he has Laura locked in an asylum and is driving her mad, but he still makes the help there be nice to her.
Babies Ever After: A common Victorian cliche, and perhaps more peculiar than most in this novel, as Laura has been the Ill Girl for most of it.
Bait the Dog: Enigmatic Minion Count Fosco. Fosco is so friendly and charming that the heroines turn to him for help against the seemingly main villain, Sir Percival Glyde, who is a Dastardly Whiplash type. Turns out that Fosco is actually a master villain who is aiding Glyde. It's also shown that Fosco has cowed and abused his wife into becoming a Stepford Smiler and it has been argued by British critic John Sutherland that the discrepancies in time between what Fosco says it took for Anne Catherick's death and what another character reports is meant to suggest that Fosco killed her after a prolonged period of torture and rape.
Laura is an adorable lady and Walter and Marian love her so much, and she them. Then her soon-to-be husband appears, and let the torturing of readers begin. She suffers terribly in her unhappy marriage, and she's a part of very evil scheme.
It's also implied that this happened to Anne. She was probably as pretty as Laura, but her mother neglected her. We meet her when she's broken already, though she does have a kind friend who takes care of her.
Butterface: Marian. Her gorgeous and perfect body is described in great detailed while she stands at the window. Then she turns around and... but her face. Walter didn't expect her to be ugly.
When he goes to share what he's learned with Fosco, he takes precautions so that, when he's asked "Have You Told Anyone Else?", he can assure Fosco that he has, and killing him would therefore not solve anything.
He happily makes a deal with Fosco that will get him what he wants but allow the latter to escape from the law scot-free because Walter assumes karma will punish him anyway.
Gold Digger: When the marriage settlement for Sir Percival's marriage to Laura is drawn up, his demands make it clear that he's after her money. Mr Fairlie nods it through anyway, over the strong objections of the family lawyer.
Gone Horribly Right: Sir Percival's attempt to destroy the incriminating evidence against him. He sets light to it, and dies in the resulting fire.
Identical Stranger: Anne and Laura, apparently (Walter discovers that Anne was Laura's half-sister.)
I Gave My Word: Laura promised her dying father that she'd marry Sir Percival, and she sticks to that promise even after she realises she could never love him.
Ill Girl: Anne, Marian and Laura all take their turns. In Anne's case it's a heart condition; Marian gets soaked in the rain and promptly goes down with typhoid fever; and Laura takes months to recover from what Fosco's machinations did to her.
The Ophelia: Anne and Laura. Though their mental health problems are described as rather troubling but Mr Hartright takes great pleasure in taking care of Laura and making her better. Anne's weak and confused mind do not make her attractive at all.
Smart People Play Chess: Marian is good at it. When she plays with Count Fosco, she discovers very quickly that her let her win on purpose. She immediately tells him what the hell, he apologizes and utterly destroys her in their next game.
Worthy Opponent: Marian Halcombe to Count Fosco. Cue rambling about how intelligent/courageous/perfect she is and how they could rule together under different circumstances (if he wasn't married, and he wasn't trying to get her sister's fortune, for starters). But one has to wonder what part of this comes from pure, candid, objective esteem, independent of the fact that the old goat is in love with her. At least in two occasions when she could have been owned by him, he just lets her off.
Adaptational Attractiveness: Collins is quite clear with his Butter Face description of Marian in the novel. Unsurprisingly, this is never done in adaptations. In the 1948 film she's played by Alexis Smith, in the 1997 TV adaptation by Tara Fitzgerald, in the musical by Ruthie Henshall—lovely women all.
Tropes found in the 1948 film:
Babies Ever After: This version does the novel one better by having both Marian and Laura with babies.
Hitler Cam: Used for Fosco as he is explaining the conspiracy to Marian.
I Never Got Any Letters: Marian and Laura figure out that Percival intercepted the letters that Laura was sending her about how terrible Percival is.
Mind Rape: Fosco is doing this to Laura in the asylum, convincing her that she is actually Anne.
Please, I Will Do Anything!: Marian offers to give herself to Count Fosco and run away with him if he will confess and restore Laura to her life. He is in the process of taking her up on it when Walter and the cops arrive.
Polyamory: Surprisingly, this is hinted at in the 1948 film even more strongly than it is in the Collins novel. In the film, Walter expresses his love for Marian after earlier expressing it for Laura, and in the end Marian has borne Walter a son, and the whole clan is living together as in the book. Notably, nothing in the movie indicates that Walter is out of love with Laura.
Pragmatic Adaptation: The character of Professor Pesca is eliminated, Sir Percival is killed accidentally by a Mook, and Count Fosco is killed by his wife the Countess, who turns out to be Anne Catherick's mother (making Laura and Anne cousins, not half-sisters as in the book). And the Sexless Marriage implication of the book is definitely averted, as Laura is pregnant with Percival's child.
Thunder Equals Downpour: Marian is standing on a window ledge eavesdropping on Fosco and Percival. One clap of thunder is followed by a drenching rain.