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The Responses of Wilkie Collins toward the nineteenth century in The Woman in White

Updated on July 30, 2016
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herrypaul has a bachelor's degree in English Literature, he likes analyzing economic, political, literature, and religion views.

1899 Chatto & Windus paperback.
1899 Chatto & Windus paperback. | Source

1. Justice

In The Woman in White Collins paid attention to a justice system in England, this happened around him, and then he composed sources to strengthen his message or his concerns. He painted the poor justice system in critical colors. He described the machinery of the law could be depended upon to understand every care of suspicion: to organize every process of inquiry. These were a tendency that a justice system could be controlled by money. First, a Court of Justice could be changed for the sake of money. His concern is shown in chap. three of part four, as the following:

'Most true!' he said. 'The fool's crime is the crime that is found out, and the wise man's crime is the crime that is not found out. If I could give you an instance, it would not be the instance of a wise man. Dear Lady Glyde, your sound English common sense has been too much for me. It is checkmate for me this time, Miss Halcombe-ha?'

'Stand to yours guns, Laura, 'sneered Sir percival, who had been listening in his place at the door. 'Tell him next, that crime causes their own detection. There's another bit of copy-book morality for detection.

...The machinery it has set up the detection of crime is miserably in effective- and yet only invents a moral epigram, saying that it works well, and you blind everybody to its blunders from moment (PP. 180-1).

Second, a ruling which told in Court by more than one witness, could be with the same object, in both cases, to present the truth always it its most direct and most intelligible aspect; and to trace thee course of one complete series of events, by making the persons who have been most closely connected with them, at each successive stage, relate their own experience, word by word. This tendency toward law mechanism is shown from the following:

'Stay a minute, Count,' I interpose. 'Accepting your illustration, surely we have one unquestionable virtue in England which is wanting in China. The Chinese authorities kill thousands of innocent people on the most frivolous pretexts. We in England are free from all guilt of that kind- We commit no such dreadful crime- we abhor reckless bloodshed with all our hearts.'

...Crime is in this country what crime is in other countries- a good friend to to a man and to those about him as often as it is an enemy. A great rascal provides for his wife and family. The worse he is the more he makes them the objects for your sympathy. He often provides also for himself. A profligate spendthrift who is always borrowing money will get more from his friends than the rigidly honest man who only borrows of them once, under pressure of the direct want. In the one case the friends will not be at all surprised, and they will give. In the one case they will be very much surprised, and they will hesitate. Is the prison that Mr Svoundrel lives in at the end of his career a more uncomfortable place than the work house that Mr Honesty lives in at the end of his career? When John-Howard-Philantthropist wants to relieve misery he goes to find it in prison, where crime is wretched- not huts and novels, where virtue is wretched too (PP. 182-3).

2. Justice as Equality

Every Individual has unique worth or dignity. Individual deserves to respect for their value as human beings. According to Alisyahbana each man mush have his own life, which agrees with his own heart (LT, 1995:16).

I had not spoken hitherto, and I would rather not have spoken now. But the expression of distress in Laura's face when she turned it toward me, and alternative than to give my opinion, for her sake, as soon as I was asked for it.

'Excuse me, Sir Percival,' I said- 'but as one of the witness to the signature, I venture to think that I have something to do with the matter. Laura's objection seems to me perfectly fair one, and speaking for myself only, I cannot assume the responsibility of witnessing her signature, unless she first understands what the writing is which you wish her to sign.'

'A cool declaration, upon my soul!' cried Sir Percival. 'The next time you invite yourself to a man's house, Miss Halcombe, I recommend you not to repay his hospitality by taking his wife's side against him in that doesn't concern you.

I started to my feet as suddenly as if he had struck me. If I had been a man, I would have knocked him down on the threshold of his own door, and have left his house, never on any earthly consideration to enter it again. But I was only a woman- and I loved his wife so dearly!

Thank God, that faithful love helped me, and I sat down again without saying a word. She Knew what I had suffered and what I had suppressed. She ran round to me, with the tears streaming from her eyes. 'Oh, Marian!' She whispered softly. 'If my mother had been alive, she could have done no more for me!' (p. 191).

Justice implies the fair treatment of people, which starts from the assumption that everyone is equal, that all men are created equal. kant, one of German philosophers, believed that all persons have unique and equal worth as human beings, which is theirs independently of the decisions or acts of everyone else(Barry, 1986:56-7). Human beings have a moral right- that is, they should be treated with dignity and respect as free and equal persons.

Collins conveys his sympathy toward the helpless and distressed people naturally. They could not have even the value of the individual which give them justice as equality. Equality is the right and proper way to deal with human beings (Barry, 1986:57). Rights are vital interest that human beings have in being free from outside interference- that is, they have in being free to make certain choices.

...Women, as everybody knows, constantly act on impulses which they cannot explain even to themselves, and I can only suppose that one of those impulses was the hidden causes of my unaccountable conduct on this occasion (p. 199).

...Women can resist a man's love, a man's fame, a man's personal appearance, and a man's money, but they cannot resist a man's tongue when he knows how to talk to them (p. 200).

The conversation above might show that Collins concerned to those who lived in helplessness, because there was no strong wish to fight for their helplessness. In the eyes of God, all men have the same status, right. There is not a man that is born in this world his status lower than others. Even though he is a woman. Women are not women who live in societies as servants, but as human beings who parallel to men. Women dislike doing something that is different to her intuition (Alisjahbana, LT, 1995:38). fate cannot control men, but men who control. In shot, men are free in doing everything.

3. Freedom

Despite the fact that freedom relates to justice as equality, in this context, Collins describes that freedom in nineteenth century in England is still influenced by: First, the law of England, for example, common law which refers to laws applied in the English-speaking world only, before there were ant statues. Second, religion, for example, Christen professed by British society. This message will prove this statement: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 'For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church' (Compare: Ef 5:22-3).

Collins understood that in nineteenth century the freedom of women was restrained, especially the married women. They could not do what they want to do. They depended upon their husband. In fat, human beings either women or men are unlike nonhuman animals. They can inhibit and control their instincts, passions, and drives. Most impotent, they can examine their actions before doing them (Barry, 1986:61). The following part expresses how the freedom of women was controlled:

I walked straight up to him, and looked him full in the face. 'Am I understand, Sir Percival, that your wife's room is a prison, and that your housemaid is the gaoler who keep it?' I asked.

'Yes, that is what you are to understand,' he answered. 'Take care my gaoler hasn't got double dusty to d- take care your room is not a prison too.'

'Take you care how you treat your wife, and how you threaten me,' I broke out in the heat of my anger. 'There are laws in England to protect women from cruelty and outrage. If you hurt a hair of Laura's head, if you dare to interfere with my freedom, come what may, to those laws I will appeal.'

Instead of answering m he turned round to the count.

'What did I tell you?' he asked what do you say now?' 'What I said before,'replied the Count- 'No.'

Even in the vehemence of my anger I left his calm, cold, grey eyes on my face. They turned away from me as soon a he had spoken, and looked significantly at his wife. Madam Fosco immediately moved close to my side, and in that position addressed Sir Percival before either of us could speak again.

'Favor me with your attention for one moment,' she said, in her clear icily-suppressed tones. 'I have to thank you, Sir Percival, for your hospitality, and to decline taking advantage of it any longer. I remain in no house in which ladies are treated as your wife and Miss Halcombe have been treated here today!' (p.229).

Implicitly, Collins shows possibilities for people to make a change, to defend their rights and to make their purpose in life. All men have equal rights which depend upon a will to live, and to change. Collins only throws out a suggestion for people that there are possibilities and chances to make a change. he encourages and strengthens them in struggling against injustice and inequality. He also gives them to make efforts with their own power to fight for their own lives and to make progress in their lives.

4. Common Law

Common law applied in the English-speaking world only. Common law, in general, connects to laws which applied in the British people before there are any statutes carry out. For example, court writes opinions that explain the bases of their decisions in specific cases, including the legal principles they consider to appropriate. each of these opinion will become an official action or decision that has happened in the past and that is seen as an example or a rule to be followed in a similar situation later.

There are two points which will be interpreted in this value. First, it is the right of the individual to seek gainful employment and to utilize his abilities- that is, to be free from a master-servant relationship. Second, it is the right of the individual to earn his inheritance.

In short, common law is a system of laws, which have been developed from customs and from decisions made by judges.


Alisjahbana, Sultan Takdir. 1995. Layar terkembang (LT). Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press.

Barry, Vincent E. 1986. Moral Issues in Business. Third edition. Wardsworth Company, Belmont, California.

Kant, Immanuel. Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Lewis White. 1959. New York: Bobbs-Merrill.

The Woman In White, published 1993 by Wordsworth Editions Limited 8b East Street, ware, Hertfordshire SG12 9HJ. Introduction and Notes added Scott Brewster in 2002.


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