Game of Survival: Crossing the Boundaries of Law and Gender in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White

  • 林 佳瑩

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Canonized as the classic sensation novel Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White first serialized in Dicken’s All the Year Round in 1859 provides more than plot-driven thrill of which sensation novels are mostly accused by critics The Woman in White shows reflections on social conditions when issues of law and gender ideology are examined as the novel progresses The novel revolves around the mysteries first initiated by the figure Anne Catherick and the restoration of the heroine Laura Fairlie’s stolen identity The intriguing plot lines incur a series of detection and reciprocal espionage among the characters Therefore the present thesis takes the novel from the perspective of game of survival as the characters no matter the villains or the victims strive to survive under different circumstances Based on the thematic framework the thesis examines how the characters seek survival as both legal system and domestic ideology fail to perform as expected Chapter one looks at Collins’s criticism on the rigid legal system Loopholes in the legal system ironically allow the criminals to evade their legal responsibilities and Collins sets up an alternative court as a complement to the system to map out his idea of justice The chapter also examines the Victorian ideas about legal evidence to examine how Collins invokes his conception of justice through multiple narrative voices and the detection conducted by Walter Hartright In addition issues of respectability the game of survival implicates will be discussed as well to evaluate the situation as respectability collides with self-interest Chapter two focuses on the game of survival within the problematic households as the domestic realm As the households in the novel function poorly in fulfilling the Victorian ideology of ideal domesticity the households become the hotbed of evil and crimes In response Collins provides scenarios of sisterhood and gender blending as solutions to the problem The bonds shared in the sisterhood in which the “sisters” not necessarily of the same bloodline and class further invoke the concept of community expanding the possibility of survival for the vulnerable characters Moreover in terms of gender blending Collins shows his critique of the rigidness of the Victorian gender norms and demonstrates how characters featuring mixed gender elements possess flexibility to survive in difficulties In conclusion this thesis tries to provide a different perspective in reading the novel and further to map out how Collins’s ideas on law and gender interact with the contemporary Victorian society and culture
Date of Award2017 Jul 27
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMin-tser Lin (Supervisor)

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