Throughout The Woman in White, many characters go through losses that alter their life and lifestyle; Miss Laura Fairlie is one of these characters. Despite her growing forbidden love for Mr. Walter Hartright, Miss Fairlie marries another character who she does not love, Sir Percival Glyde. One point in this story, Miss Fairlie asks her half-sister, Marian Halcomb to continue to write to Mr. Hartright even though he has left and their love can never be. Laura pleads, “You write to him, and he writes to you, […] While I am alive, if he asks after me, always tell him I am well, and never say I am unhappy. Don’t distress him, Marian – for my sake, don’t distress him” (173). This passage is about people keeping in touch; however, this passage is also darker than it seems. Though not directly discussed, feelings of loss are key matters in this quote.
By telling Mr. Hartright that Laura is well, it is as if Marian is sending this version of her sister away forever, where she will live in his mind. Generally speaking, being sent away is a bad thing, like readers see through character Anne Catherick, who was sent away to an asylum, which she detests. In this case though, the happy Laura gets to be elsewhere (in Mr. Hartright’s thoughts). During this, the conflicted, fragile, and depressed remains of her character, live on and marry Sir Percival Glyde. Her happiness is lost and so are her hopes to develop a relationship with the noble Mr. Hartright.
The latter half of the quote also presents the theme of loss. The continuation of the passage above goes: “If I die first, promise you will give him this little book of his drawings, with my hair in it. There can be no harm, when I am gone, of telling him that I put it in there with my own hands” (173). This idea, of Laura including a piece of her hair in the book, I like to think, is quite significant. Hair is dead right from the start of the scalp, or from the beginning. The potential for Laura and Mr. Hartright’s relationship to grow was automatically seen as a dead idea, right as Mr. Hartright arrived (because she is already engaged). It is as if the hair is a symbol of their bond.
Laura’s loss of Mr. Hartright, and of her independence (after marrying Sir Percival Glyde) ties her to so many other characters, and their experiences in The Woman in White. This theme has been present in the story, even if not blatantly stated, from the beginning. Loss has been haunting Anne Catherick, who is trying desperately to rid, or lose her reputation of being the crazy woman from the asylum. Loss has also affected Marian. When Laura got married it was as if Marian had lost a half of herself. So much of Marian’s identity was being a protector to Laura.
Author Wilkie Collins’ inclusion of this understated theme makes me intrigued to see what is going come of Laura and Mr. Hartright and these character’s futures. The author exemplifies the theme of loss, and specifically, this repetition of women losing things (or people) most prominently through Laura. Through the showcasing of this theme, perhaps Collins is commenting on how easy it is for women to lose power over their futures, as readers see, outside sources can hinder one’s development in many specific ways.