Fiery Sensations

Hartright’s account of Sir Percival Glyde’s death appeals to the visual and aural senses to subliminally accentuate a happiness that would be inappropriate, by Victorian standards, to express in correlation to Glyde’s passing. The juxtaposition of the “dazzling brightness of the fire” to the “murky, starless sky” during the burning vestry scene symbolizes a satisfying shift from darkness to illumination; this shift implies that Glyde’s death will eradicate the obscurities that conceal the secrets within The Woman in White (Collins, 463). Since illumination is typically linked to the acquisition of knowledge, a fire is the perfect plot device to signify new opportunities.

Although Hartright’s actions display that he is working diligently to save Glyde from the rising flames, his melodramatic inclusion of details suggests that his actions betray his intentions. Hartright attempts to prove that “All remembrance of the heartless injury the man’s crimes had inflicted; of the love, the innocence, the happiness he had pitilessly laid waste; of the oath [he] had sworn in [his] own heart to summon him to the terrible reckoning that he deserved- passed from [his} memory like a dream (Collins, 463- 464.)” However, Walter’s overcompensation to assure the readers of his noble empathy in which he “felt nothing but the natural human impulse to save him from a frightful death” is something that I cannot buy.

During his description of Glyde’s escape attempts, Walter claims to “hear the key worked violently in the lock” from the other side of the door (Collins, 463). The violent imagery of this sexual euphemism, regardless of whether it represents a literal occurrence, suggests that Hartright is thinking about Laura Fairlie and her function within her marriage as a reluctant lock that refuses to yield to her husband’s overbearing demands. Congruently, I believe that as the light from the fire becomes “brighter and brighter,” Walter becomes increasingly more exuberant.

4 thoughts on “Fiery Sensations”

  1. I really appreciated your ideas about Walter’s feelings when confronted with his nemesis’ death. It is interesting that you pulled out the violent sexual imagery I had not connected to Laura and Glyde’s relationship when I read that scene.
    The fire as means of death for Percival stuck out to me because it is so much more active than the women’s deaths in this novel. I was struck by how much attention was given to Glyde in the moments leading up to his death. A crowd gathers, there is panic, and the events are investigated (though admittedly poorly) in an inquisition. Compared to Anne/Laura dying and disappearing passively, this exemplifies men’s power and agency in this novel.

  2. This post is so interesting. When reading, I did notice that Hartright’s actions did seem to break faith with his intentions while he was attempting to save Glyde. I also thought that line that you pointed out, about his ‘natural impulse’ to help Glyde was a little haughty. I did not think that he was thinking of Laura through the whole fire ordeal, simply because a fire is such a high-stress event, but I really like the idea that he is and totally understand it. In your last paragraph, I thought your statement that Laura’s function in their relationship is a ‘reluctant lock that refuses to yield to her husband’s overbearing demands’ was really neat. When reading the other blog posts, the one titled, ‘Laura is basically Walter’s Dog’ states that after Laura is released from the asylum, Walter is no longer having feelings for her. Combining these two posts, maybe Walter’s demands are not actually all that overbearing, maybe he’s just wants the Laura, before the asylum, back. Maybe his forceful actions during this fire are a passive aggressive way to express that stress.

  3. Your analysis in that first paragraph reminded me of the death card in tarot, which is essentially the card of transitions. Sir Percival Glyde’s death definitely serves as a turning point in the novel’s plot, as it marks the end of one line of inquiry for Walter and the beginning of another. Meanwhile, while tarot cards were invented much earlier for the purpose of gaming, the use of tarot in mysticism is, I believe, a Victorian invention, so it is possible that the use of death to describe transitional periods and new beginnings came out of that period.

  4. Adding to this and how you don’t buy that Walter just lets go of all the evil things he has done to his precious Laura, Walter is basically just trying to be the hero of the situation. He sees that the servant and the church clerk are hopeless, he suddenly decides to take action saying “Stoop!…And hold by the stones. I am going to climb over you to the roof- I am going to break the skylight and give him some air!” (516). As I was reading this section I could picture Walter puffing out his chest and making his voice deeper in order to make us think he’s a regular ol’ Superman. Also, all he said he was going to do was give Sir Percival some air, not try to save him from the burning building or try to put the fire out, or get help from anyone else who was more equipped to help. And this narrative is told through the perspective of Walter himself so of course he’s going to try to make himself look good to the audience, and most importantly, to Laura. He lays it on a bit think, though like when he says “The horror of remaining inactive, all that time, was more than I could face.” (517). Like, is it really more than you could face Walter, or is it your problem going away for good?

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