Throughout The Woman in White, Miss Fairlie is described as a bright figure that “passes by in the moonlight.” (48) It is imperative to take notice of this moon motif because it reoccurs frequently within the text. During class discussions, many people spoke about Walter Hartright’s “supernatural and ghostlike” descriptions of Laura Fairlie, yet no one mentioned the instant link between the moon and lunacy. If we are thinking about lunacy and its implications, single women in the Victorian Era were especially vulnerable and “easily disposable” candidates for the mental institutions. (Victorian Gothic) In this post, I would like to propose a relationship between desire and implications of madness.
Fascinatingly enough, “certificates of lunacy” were easy to acquire. The Victorian Era Asylums essentially severed ties between the “patient” and the outside world and the institution had full invasive power to control which letters the patients could receive from their loved ones. (Victorian Gothic) Unsurprisingly, I suspect that men who felt rejected by feme soles were eager to accuse them and to isolate them whilst chanting the mantra: “If I can’t have you, nobody can.”
Similarly, the issue exists once men ascribe women with emotional undertones where the female “influx of sentimentality” might perhaps be void. Walter focuses on “the white gleam of [Laura Fairlie’s] muslin gown and head-dress in the moonlight” and he is overwhelmed by a slew of “sensations” that “quicken his pulse” and raise a “fluttering in his heart.” (49) However, Laura is simply walking around her yard in the nighttime and she most likely does not intend to arouse any of Walter’s deep sensual “feelings.” Thus, if the idea of lunacy is linked to feelings of desire, what other connections are implied within this relationship? How could this link be dangerous for members of Victorian society?
(Victorian Gothic source) http://www.victoriangothic.org/the-lunacy-of-english-lunacy-laws/
Note: The Woman in White copy that I reference is different than the class edition and therefore it contains different page numbers. (Published by London Chatto & Windus)