(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Through the help of his Italian friend Professor Pesca, Walter Hartright is engaged as drawing master to the nieces of Frederick Fairlie, of Limmeridge House in Cumberland. On the day before he leaves to take up his new position, he meets a young woman dressed in white wandering about the outskirts of London. Walter discovers that she knows Limmeridge and once went to school there with Laura Fairlie. The young woman leaves him very suddenly, and soon after a coach comes by whose passenger leans from the window to ask a police officer if he saw a girl in white. The police officer did not, and Walter hesitates to intrude. As the coach leaves, he hears the man say the girl escaped from an asylum.

Upon his arrival at Limmeridge, Walter meets the first of his two pupils, Marian Halcombe. Marian is homely but intelligent and charming in manner. Her half sister, Laura, is the beauty of the family and heir of Limmeridge House. The two girls are living under the protection of Laura’s uncle, Fairlie, a selfish and fastidious hypochondriac. Walter falls in love with Laura almost at once. After hearing his story about the mysterious woman in white, Marian searches her mother’s letters and discovers that she must be Anne Catherick, a young woman in whom Mrs. Fairlie took great interest because she so greatly resembled Laura.

After several months, Marian realizes that Walter is deeply in love with Laura. She advises him to leave, as Laura’s father asked her on his deathbed to marry Sir Percival Glyde. One day, Walter meets the woman in white again. She is in the graveyard cleaning the stone that bears Mrs. Fairlie’s name, and she admits that she hopes to thwart Laura’s coming marriage to Sir Percival. Told of this incident, Marian promises to ask Sir Percival for a full explanation.

Walter leaves Limmeridge. When Sir Percival arrives, he explains to Marian that Anne is the daughter of a woman who was in his family’s service in the past and that she is in need of hospital treatment. He says he kept her in an asylum at her mother’s request, and he proves the statement with a letter from Mrs. Catherick. His explanation is accepted, and his marriage to Laura takes place. Walter, heartbroken, goes to Central America as a painter for an archaeological expedition.

When Sir Percival and Laura come home from their wedding trip some months later, Marian finds them much changed. Laura is extremely unhappy, and Sir Percival shows his displeasure at having Marian living with them in his house at Blackwater Park. Count Fosco, a huge and self-assured Italian, arrives with his wife, Laura’s aunt, for a visit. Marian soon learns that the count is involved in money matters with Sir Percival. When Laura is asked to sign a document without looking at it, both she and Marian know Sir Percival and Count Fosco are trying to obtain money from her by fraudulent means. Over Sir Percival’s loud protests, Laura refuses to...

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