The Fair Dreamer, engraved by Illman Brothers (picture by Knut Ekwall)
This engraving, titled The Fair Dreamer, depicts a woman reclining on a tree trunk with one arm over her forehead and the other grasping a vine on the tree. She wears many petticoats that are pulled up to reveal her pointed shoes; she is young, and her accessories include a hat and parasol. Her outfit and the scenery indicate that the temperature is warm, probably summer. A boat is visible in the bottom right corner of the image, and she seems to be next to a stream or pond; the grasses around her are the kinds of greenery that grow near a body of water.
Looking at the image, the viewer can see that the woman is likely daydreaming. She is taking a break from her stuffy life within the home to visit somewhere she is not normally. By looking at the boat, the viewer can infer that she either rowed herself to this location or had someone else (likely a man) bring her there. Knowing some things about Victorian ideas of gender, it is more likely that the latter is the case. Women were too delicate to do such manly things as rowing themselves down a river, right? This idea of delicacy is echoed in The Woman in White with Laura Fairlie. Laura is considered so pretty and delicate that she is hardly left on her own for one moment. Even when she draws and Walter “sells” the drawings to make money for the household, he describes them as “poor, faint, valueless sketches” (Collins 479). Walter feels the need to take care of Laura and make sure she never finds out that he is not actually selling her worthless drawings; she is too delicate to hear news like this, and it would hurt her.
Like Laura Fairlie, the woman in the engraving was probably not left on her own when she went to do her ‘fair dreaming’ next to the water. She is arranged in such a position in the image that her artist has made it clear exactly how she came to be dreaming in that position and who is there with her. This image is a definitive reference to the ideas of gender in Victorian art and literature and perpetuates ideas that men had about the states of women’s minds and bodies.