The door opened; and Laura came in alone. So she had entered the breakfast-room at Limmeridge House, on the morning when we parted. Slowly and falteringly, in sorrow and in hesitation, she had once approached me. Now, she came with the haste of happiness in her feet, with the light of happiness radiant in her face. Of their own accord, those dear arms clasped themselves round me; of their own accord, the sweet lips came to mine. ‘My darling!’ she whispered, ‘we may own we love each other, now?’ Her head nestled with a tender contentedness on my bosom. ‘Oh,’ she said, innocently, ‘I am so happy at last!’ (561)
Since Walter’s first departure, Laura has been through hell, to say the least. Following her marriage to the lying and self-righteous Sir Percival Glyde, Laura’s quality of life steadily declines. A quick recap: after leaving Limmeridge House and coming back from Italy, she complies with her abusive husband (who has taken her fortune) only to be kicked out of Blackwater Park. On her way back, she is drugged and abducted by the Count and put into a mental institution. Her identity is given to Anne Catherick, who is then announced dead. Laura escapes from the mental institution with Marian’s help, but then lives a life on the run. She develops PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from her time in the mental institution and spends months recovering from it. Gradually she returns to her old self, and then, in the passage above, she gets engaged to Walter. Now, after everything she’s been through, she’s finally happy.
When she first said goodbye to Walter, she had everything an upperclass Victorian woman should have. She lived in a large house with servants, she had a suitor, she had an inheritance, and she was talented and beautiful. Why wasn’t she happy before, then? And now that she’s living in poverty and has been through absolute hell, she’s happy?
Her statement to Walter when she first said goodbye to him closely resembles what she says to Walter above: “‘Oh!’ she said, innocently, ‘how could I let you go, after we have passed so many happy days together!'” (126). Collins uses the word ‘innocently’ in both passages, despite everything that Laura has now been through. When Laura was once “strangely pale and strangely quiet,” her face now radiates with happiness (125).
I think this passage ties back to the Victorian views on class and social constructs. When she was wealthy, Laura was expected to marry someone of a high stature, like Sir Percival. It was impractical for her to be in love with a lowly drawing-master such as Walter, because a woman of her status would never marry anyone so beneath her. However, she never wanted to marry Percival, and she was never happy when she was married to him. Now that her fortune is lost, she is free to marry whoever she pleases, regardless of societal status. Thus, in this regard, the lack of social constructs upon the lower class allows Laura more freedom, which is all she ever really wanted. In turn, she’s happier than she was at the beginning of the novel, despite the hell she’s been through.