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Friday, May 29, 2009

Women in the novel

Though women play a significant role in the novel, they are given very little voice. The only narrative told from a female perspective is that of Miss Clack. The selection of Miss Clack is an interesting choice considering her bad judgment of character. She is the niece of Lady Verinder's late husband and, for the most part, an outcast from the family. Despite her professed biblical wisdom, she is unwise in thinking Godfrey to be an admirable person while Rachel is perceived as being evil and untrustworthy. Miss Clack is very fond of passing out Christian tracts and particularly persistent in trying to ensure the eternal salvation Lady Verinder of whom she is skeptical. For Collins, she is a complete caricature and is his opportunity to take a shot at organized religion. Kenneth Robinson, in his biography of the author, points out that Collins had encountered many evangelistic women (Wilkie Collins, 221).

However, it becomes obviously that the one voice that is missing from the novel is Rachel Verinder, the subject of all of the action. She is main female character but the only time her views are presented, it is through other, mostly male characters. Jennifer Swartz has an explanation for her silence. She explains that English laws of coverture removed a woman's right to property and essentially took her voice. For that reason Rachael, as a married woman when the novel takes place, is not given an opportunity to present her side of the story, which is very convenient to Collins in order to maintain the mystery until later in the novel. Therefore it is no coincidence that the only female narrator is a single woman because a single woman had more rights than a married woman ("Personal Property at Her Disposal," Victorian Sensations, 160-169).

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