When one really thinks about it, Mrs. Catherick falls no short of qualifying as the protagonist of this book. She is involved with two of the most evident scandals, two of the most important marriage plots in this book–one having to do with bringing about “the woman in white” and the other, the mystery to bring forth the downfall of Sir Percival Glyde.
Yet, she is nothing. She sits with her hands crossed on her lap, in her little house in the town where the clergyman bows to her. She sends Haltright away the first time he comes–although he wasn’t much better at dealing with her than she was with him–and the second time, sends him a letter in a pretense handwriting to show her “gratitude.” The text goes to much extent, indeed, to make Mrs. Catherick an unlikeable character–and this would be an understatement.
She is extremely vain. She was so when she was young, years ago with Sir Percival, and although she calls herself foolish, she never changed–“the allowance was a handsome one” (534), and she lived on the money from her so-called “enemy” for as along as before Sir Percival died, and her savings from that after. She supports a better house, better carpets, and better dresses–silk–with the money from the man she wished dead than anything else. She enjoyed her “comfortable income, in return, paid quarterly” (534). She was unjustly used by Sir Percival, thus justifying her hatred towards him. Yet it was a bargain and she enjoyed it–how to call that unjust at all? To her, the foolishness was not in vanity, but in not checking if it was safe to do so. Despite of everything that happened due to her longing for it, despite the fact that it directly ruined her life, she still cherishes the watch–“I have got them still – the watch goes beautifully” (532).
Would she ever look back to herself, and consider even remotely the fact that she might, at times, not be in the most correct position? Highly unlikely. She considers herself to “have written in the friendliest possible spirit,” and if Hartright “see[s] the necessity of writing me[her] an apology,” she would be willing to accept it (539). Friendly she may indeed have been, as she is at least being honest with her opinions. She shows without holding back how she hasn’t moved an inch from where she had been years ago, when she couldn’t resist helping a stranger for a golden watch. One might even say she was a better person than she is now, at the time–when she was young and perhaps, less caught in her own shallow pride.
This makes her, despite of everything she knows, despite of the keys she holds to so many of the mysteries throughout this novel, an insignificant character. Could she really have done so little to get revenge on Sir Percival Glyde had she not been caught up in the handsome payment she received four times a year? Had she possessed half the character of Marian Halcombe, would she have been limited her life to the sad person she had become? Yes, indeed, this novel may have never existed, this story and mystery all never created, had this one woman not labled her voluntary, self-imposed inaction as pride.