All the things we know about him reveal much of his inner personality. Though he is close on sixty years of age he is nervous and sensitive but shows unmistakable mental firmness and power. He is of great culture and, one of the firsts of the experimental chemists living and he is tactful and clever. His intelligence enables him to judge and understand people, and assess the value of those he comes across; – He has evidently discovered that Laura secretly dislikes him — but he has also found out she is extravagantly fond of flowers.
(244) To his intelligence we can add shrewdness in the sense that he instinctively does or says the right thing. His behaviour at the lake shows how much of an unscrupulous diplomat he is. When Marian objects to his illustration of crime and virtue, he simply replies, “Miss Halcombe is unanswerable, (… ) that is to say so far as she goes. Yes! I agree with her. ” (257) Finally, and it is not the least of his peculiarities, he is able to dominate human beings in the same way as he can cope with the most savage beast.
All these details would be enough to arouse the reader’s interest, but because no hint concerning his past is given except that he is an Italian who had run away from his country, the man is surrounded by mystery; – The interest which I really cannot help feeling in this strangely original man has led me to question Sir Percival about his past-life. Sir Percival either knows little, or will tell me little about it. (245) Moreover, his personality combined with the ascendancy he gains over people make them afraid of him. The forthcoming events will only confirm that fear.
We are going to deal with an unusual kind of criminal, and, strangely enough, Sir Percival seems to be among those who fear him the most. -2- Sir Percival Glyde : a conventional Victorian evil villain In the treatment of the two villains, if Fosco is the stronger one, Sir Percival is the traditional bad Baronet. Once married, his behaviour rapidly takes a new turn and he becomes rash and ill-tempered, – [his manner] is much more abrupt than it used to be. He greeted me, (… ) with little or nothing of the ceremony and civility of former times. (237)
He has impredictable moods and several times is on the edge of violence. However, it is important to know about Sir Percival’s past as it determines his evil acts. It turned out that his parents were not married so that in order to enter into possession of his title and property he falsified the marriage register. He therefore must spend the rest of his life covering that living lie in order to marry a wealthy lady. This strong need for wealth gives him a formidable incentive to achieve what he wants, even if it necessitates the doing of evil things.
He finally meets the end he deserves — death — like the evil villain of Victorian melodrama that he is. A death brought about by the stubborn determination of his pursuers. c) Two unflinching investigators -1- Marian Halcombe: the great female character of the novel Of the female figures, the one who illustrates Collins’ skill in building characters without the contemporary conventions of fiction is Marian. Walter gives a full physical description of her “graceful bantering way” (58) and he is “struck by the rare beauty of her form” (58).
However, this description has an expected twist to it, for, much to the reader’s surprise, The lady is dark (… ) The lady is young (… ) The lady is ugly (… ) (58) One very common convention of the Nineteenth Century novels was the use of two heroines, one dark and one fair, the dark one being as a rule passionate, haughty and plain. However Collins’ dark heroine is a forthright woman of integrity and power. She is warm, sensitive and intelligent and the author manages to make her even more credible when she happens to break down in accepted womanly fashion, “They are gone!
I am blind with crying” (217). Marian plays a leading role from the beginning of the novel. It is largely she who initiates the local investigation and is, like Walter, fascinated by the mystery of the woman in white, – I am all aflame with curiosity, and I devote my whole energies to the business of discovery from this moment. ” (63) -2- Walter Hartright: a conventional hero Walter is the main character and the hero of the story. His meeting with the woman in white starts off the whole mystery: “Let Walter Hartright, teacher of drawing, aged twenty eight years, be heard first.
” (33) Thus is the way in which he is introduced in the preamble. We are not given a detailed description of him. What we know is that he is sensitive, upright and courageous. He is fascinated by the mystery woman, and active in the hunt to find out more about her, but is even more determined to unravel the plot and to pursue and trap the culprits. He shows perseverance and stamina as well as the good-sense and ingenuity of a modern detective, although he was not designed to imply a real policeman, which he is not,
He is respected for his bravery and noble qualities and thus certainly is a conventional Victorian hero, a trustworthy character — “I will trust you” says Marian (418) — who helps to bring about a resolution and who carries out the will of the author to reach a happy ending. -3- On the minor characters The minor characters are also created with consummate skill as they all contribute basically to the atmosphere of the novel and have a function in the unravelling of the plot and in the overall narrative structure of the novel.
They range from evil personified with Mrs Catherick and Mme Fosco, to eccentricity with Pesca and Mr Fairlie, to unscrupulousness or devotion with the solicitors, and to the Gothic-type character with Mrs Rubelle. They all play their parts in reinforcing the credibility of the main characters and creating the atmosphere of mystery and fear that pervades the novel. 1″It’s impossible to change this formula without losing the impact of (detective) novel”. Boileau & Narcejac, Le roman policier (Paris : Quadrige, Presses universitaires de France, 1994) p. 5.