Walter’s Creepy “Love” for Laura

While there are lots of bizarre events occurring in The Woman in White, few passages made me feel as downright uncomfortable as the passage where Walter Hartright proclaims his love for Laura. Instead of saying sweet things about the girl he has fallen for, as would be expected, Walter goes on for paragraphs talking about his urges to touch Laura. He states that he “had just enough work to do, in mounting his employer’s drawings, to keep his hands and eyes pleasurably employed, while his mind was left free to enjoy the dangerous luxury of its own unbridled thoughts” (Collins 64). In other words, Walter likes doing his work because it gives him lots of time to think dirty thoughts about Laura, and it gives him something to do with his hands other than struggle to keep them off of her.

He doesn’t talk about any part of Laura’s personality that he finds appealing, instead he discusses the many parts of her appearance that he is attracted to. Walter goes into great detail describing how “the more attentively Laura watched every movement of his brush, the more closely he was breathing the perfume of her hair, and the warm fragrance of her breath. It was part of his service, to live in the very light of her eyes- at one time to be bending over her, so close to her bosom as to tremble at the thought of touching it” (Collins 65). Walter and Laura have barely interacted so far in the story, especially never a heartfelt, meaningful interaction, so I can’t imagine that Walter knows that much about Laura other than what he has observed at face value. Walter’s “love” for Laura is certainly only lust, and it is definitely obsession.

The lecherous way he talks about Laura does not give me warm and loving feelings. Walter even portrays himself in a creepy way when he talks about having to put up a guard  to prevent him from the temptation of the “beautiful and captivating women” that his career allows him to be around (Collins 66). Walter, you officially skeeve me out. The more times Walter announced that he loved Laura, the less I believed it. His “love” towards her is actually just extreme sexual desire.

2 thoughts on “Walter’s Creepy “Love” for Laura”

  1. It’s really interesting to compare your observation’s about Walter’s feelings for Laura with Diane’s thoughts on Laura’s feelings for Walter ( You’re right: that passage is pretty darn uncomfortable. Walter’s feelings about Laura are so exclusively sexual that they’re kind of creepy, and it’s interesting to note that any sexual feelings that Laura might have for him are, at most, repressed. And saying they’re repressed is pretty generous. She hides his sketches under her pillow, yeah, but it’s not like she’s taking them in and out of boxes or anything. Laura has been infantalized for most of the novel so far, but she’s certainly not infantalized in this scene, and I don’t think that has anything to do with Walter respecting her agency as a person

  2. During the chapters monopolized by Walter’s narration, I kept being reminded of the concept called the “male gaze” as well as

    The male gaze theory states that much of media, art, and literature illustrates women from a male vantage point or perspective. In this manner, women are reduced to objects of men’s sexual desire. As oconnork notes, Walter does not seem to care much about Laura’s personality, he primarily focuses upon how much he would like to touch her. His internal narration reveals that he spends his time time watching her. His male gaze is not limited to Laura, however, he also casts his eyes upon Marian and only stops sexualizing her when he realizes that her face is not as beautiful as her body.

    The pleasure that Walter derives from watching Laura can be summed up in the term “scoptophilia.” Scoptophilia refers to a “pleasure in looking”, which is especially associated with colonialism and Orientalism in art. The subject in a painting, for example, may be looked upon in an intimate manner, but will be unaware that they are being watched. A famous example of this idea is the painting “Women of Algiers”, where several women in a harem are not aware that an audience (the person viewing/painting the picture) is watching them in such a private moment. The pleasure is gained not only by looking, but also in knowing that the object of your attention is not aware of your presence. In this way, the subjects in the painting are reduced to objects. I believe that Walter is experiencing scoptohilia as he watches first Marian and later Laura.

    A fascinating avenue I am interested in exploring is the nature of the gaze/scopophilia in how he views both Marian and Laura (Marian as a “darker” figure, Laura as a white figure) in the context of Victorian-era colonialism.

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