Halfway through the Woman in White and…

at times it’s a hard pill to swallow. Never mind the languidly long, never ending reams and reams of ranting (see what I did there?!) which is to be expected but something that I should have seen coming but didn’t was the surreptitiously inserted sexism. Women in the novel are portrayed in one of two ways; either as incredibly meek or as manlike in their defiance.

(Warning minor spoilers)

Lets start with a brief summary. Walter Hartright one of the main protagonists encounters a strange woman in white one evening on his way to London. The story alternates between different points of view all relating back to this strange lady and her mysterious connection to Walter’s love interest Laura Fairlie.  The novel is brimming with mystery, scandal, insanity and unproclaimed love (is there really any other kind?).

Now back to the stereotyping.  The women are portrayed as meek and submissive with no mind of their own. If they show defiance, anger and intolerance towards men they are either depicted as insane or their outer and inner qualities are described as being man like. Who wouldn’t find this irritating and a little distracting to read? Marian, Laura’s confidante is one of my favorite characters in the book. She is strong minded, intelligent, a force to be reckoned with and yet the very first description of her is as follows:

“Never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more strangely and startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. The lady’s complexion was almost swarthy and the dark brown on her upper lip was almost a moustache” (p.28). 

There are various other instances where Marian is referred to as being “dark” and Laura is depicted as having a shining innocence on her face at all times. These two extremes are at times difficult to grasp but at the same time, as I am slowly beginning to realize these perceptions of women are true to the times. Without giving away too much, the mysterious woman in white is also depicted in unfavourable terms. 

It probably seems like I am being unfair and highly judgmental of this book but it’s my first classic and I am slowly muddling through and trying to focus on the positive points in the novel (I promise I will have some to share in the review). What do you think about sexism in novels? Do you find it to be distracting? Does it get your blood boiling? Or have you read enough classics that you, unlike me, have come to accept it?


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