Challenging the Institution of Marriage and the “Marriage Plot”

The Woman in White follows appears to follow a variation of “the marriage plot” from the Victorian Era. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the novel only echoes the marriage plot, leaving room to question the institution of marriage itself, therefore almost entirely dismantling the marriage plot. When Laura and Marian are reunited, after Laura had been away with her new husband Sir Percival, Laura exclaims to her sister, “How often you have made me mock-speeches of congratulation on my wealth! Oh, Marian, never laugh again. Thank God for your poverty- it has made you your own mistress and has saved you from the lot that has fallen on me” (Collins 258). Laura very clearly denounces marriage because of her own misery, expressing her opinion that it would be better to be a mistress than to be married, or, at least, married to Sir Percival. This is particularly interesting given that there was a common sentiment that there was an overabundance of women who were unmarried in England at this time, as expressed by William Rathbone Greg. Laura’s distress in her marriage causes her to believe that it would be better to not be married, even though it there was a perceived societal notion that being a single woman was a horrible thing to be. This inherently questions the institution of marriage by showing a woman in an unhappy marriage, wishing she could be released and envying her sister who remained unmarried. The rest of the novel continues to question conventional marriage as Sir Percival’s motives are revealed, and later, when Laura and Walter get “married” even though no one knew she was still alive at that point. This begs further questions of what exactly constitutes as a marriage, further challenging the conventional “marriage plot” and the institution of marriage.

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