Happy Valentine's Day!
That book is the Woman in White, a story in which an Evil Baronet marries a beautiful innocent young lady, and then to get her money he swaps her out for her doppelganger (possible illegitimate half-sister) who is dying. Real wife goes in the asylum under her doppelganger’s identity, fake wife dies and leaves husband to enjoy all her money. He is aided in his plot by an Even More Evil Count, and foiled in his plot by the Beautiful Ingenue’s Poor But Virtuous Suitor and Her Feisty Older Sister.
This story is super implausible, but not for the reasons you think.
Wilkie Collins, the author of this book, had at least three personal acquaintances who had actually shut up their actual wives in madhouses with no trouble.
The only time it didn’t work out was with the Bulwer-Lyttons.
ROSINA BULWER-LYTTON: I’m very angry with my husband!
DOCTORS: Very angry, eh? And you’re a lady. Sounds hysterical to me!
ROSINA BULWER-LYTTON: He let my daughter die in a cheap hotel and wouldn’t even let me see her!
DOCTORS: Women! Get all worked up over the least little thing. Well, she definitely seems crazy, throw her in the loony bin.
EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON: Woo hoo! Everything’s coming up EDWARD! Time to run for office!
THE PRESS: Time to dig up dirt!
THE PRESS: … Did you just lock up your wife for literally no reason only five minutes ago?
EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON: … Maybe.
DOCTORS: In retrospect our diagnosis of ‘crazy’ might have been a little hasty. It’s possible we meant to write ‘cranky’ on those reports…
ROSINA BULWER-LYTTON: I am free. And in a shocking turn of events, I am EVEN MORE ANGRY than before.
EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON: Women! Get all worked up over the least little thing.
ENGLAND: Let that be a lesson not to lock up your wife in a madhouse when it’s election year.
ENGLAND: Any other year is cool.
So, as you can see, The Woman In White is a Gothic. People taking terrible advantage of innocent young things. Shadow selves that spell disaster. The Right Man and the Wrong Man. The Right House (it’s called Limmeridge) and the Wrong House (it’s called Blackwater, and might as well be called Fortress of Evil Doompants). Terrible family secrets! Ladies accused of being mad, and wondering if they are actually going mad.
But The Woman In White is not just a Gothic. It has a lady sleuth. It is a TWO FOR ONE.
Very few Gothics do, because the Gothic Heroine is spending so much time running away from danger with speed, or being understandably confused. But The Woman In White has two heroines, the innocent Laura and her half-sister, Marian.
Miss Marian Halcombe is a badass. Nobody is stealing her sister’s identity and locking her up in a loony bin on Marian’s watch.
But we open with our hero. Tragically, we only have one of those. His name is Walter.
WALTER: I am a drawing master offered the chance to go down to a country house and teach two young ladies how to draw. Hope they’ll be hot. Hot and rich.
PESCA: I am the Italian friend who offered Walter this chance!
WALTER: Heh, yeah. He’s my friend. Heh, ITALIANS. He’s so short, and he thinks he can play sports like Englishmen can! He tried to swim and I had to rescue him, of course. Not hearty and athletic like the sons of England! Foreigners are hilarious!
PESCA: My pal the xenophobe. You should totally marry one of these hot ladies down the country and be rich. Marry up, buddy!
WALTER: I find your ideas compelling, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
ANNE CATHERICK: Hi I am a strange lady dressed all in white who’s going to creepily creep up on you in the dead of night!
WALTER: Ahhhhhhh! Ahhhhhhh! Ahhhhhh! Are you a GHOST?
ANNE CATHERICK: No, dude. Pull yourself together. I’m just escaping from a madhouse.
WALTER: Oh, that’s all right then.
WALTER: Hang on a minute. Come again?
ANNE CATHERICK: Hail a cab for me, would you, buddy?
WALTER: Well. I guess it’s wrong to lock sane ladies up in madhouses. And this lady is touching my arm. It’s kind of sexy.
ANNE CATHERICK: You’re a gent.
WALTER: Well here I am at breakfast in Limmeridge House. Hope breakfast will be… hot.
LADY’S BACK VIEW: *is very promising*
WALTER: I like big butts and I can not lie
You other brothers can't deny
That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist
And a round thing in your face
You get sprung!
( The Woman In White, Her Clone, And The Clone's Sleuth Sister Who Got BackCollapse )
The great thing about The Woman In White is that Wilkie Collins received a huge bunch of letters from gentlemen describing their position in life and fine estates, and asking who the lady Marian Halcombe was based on was, and whether she would accept their hands in marriage.
Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Irish aristocrat and revolutionary, called his yacht Marian Halcombe ‘after the brave girl in the story.’
Dudes went CRAZY for Marian. People sneer at ladies for loving Edward in Twilight, but loving a fictional character is not just for ladies.
Holly Black’s advice on romance is “You cannot date a boy in a book. But you can date a boy who LOVES BOOKS. And that is what you should do. Because he will prioritize not just reading but also the things about books that make fictional boys appealing. A sense of romance and adventure and narrative drive. He is probably looking for someone from a book too.”
So I feel The Woman In White does a lot of stuff, but the two things I took away: seeing a girl not running, not scared, not trapped, but trying to figure all the crazy Gothical stuff out, was AWESOME.
And guys can love an imaginary lady.
This is why a sleuthing lady and a boy who lives and loves people largely in his imagination are the stars of Unspoken.