Wilkie Collins exerts a great deal on the female strength, influence, undertaking in decision and femininity on his novel, for instance, Lydia Gwilt in Armadale, Magdalen Vanstone in No Name, Rosamond and Sarah Leeson in The Dead Secret, Marian in The Woman in White, Blanche and Anne Silvester in Man and Wife, and Madame Pratolungo in Poor Miss Finch.
In The Law and the Lady, written in a first-person narrative, the heroine Valeria is much more ambivalent and complicated to other heroines. It is probably because to whatever degree of resolution she has in desperately restoring her husband’s reputation and happiness; she also needs to deal with and defy against the indisputable authority of law and order in vindicating her husband innocence to “Not Guilty”. In this case, she has to stick herself in a dilemma and fight against in her mind the inherent gender’s stigmatization and question her degree of determination. Perhaps sometimes the arguments would be irritating and vertiginous to the male readers?
No matter what dilemma she has to face, her strength and influences on other male characters in the novel is not to be overlooked. In Oxford Edition’s introduction, it is said that “Valeria herself transgresses wifely roles to give her husband back his name; Eustace is unable to uphold the codes of patriarchal authority, indeed collapses into a ridiculous parody of masculinity in attempting to do so.” See how Valeria topples over the inborn frailty of her gender and usurps the empowerment of men ! She has the impulsiveness, unpredictability, and resolution to undertake reckless actions in seeking truth and light and to reveal the mystery of the case, but not in wanting of appreciation and praising. “Valeria” in Latin suggests of strength and resolution. She has “a nose which inclines towards the aquiline bend”. Collins puts his mind and body into the heroine (he understands women so much!) that “she” has such meticulous observations in dissecting women of society. Some observations of hers are so interesting regarding a female’s weakness and delicateness:
- “Trifles, which women of a coarser moral fibre would have passed over without notice, were causes of downright agony to that exquisitely sensitive temperament.”
- “Women are infinitely superior to men in the moral qualities are the true adornments of humanity.”
- “Among the hundred thousand mysterious influences which a man exercises over the woman who loves him, I doubt if there is any more irresistible to her than her influence of his voice.”
however some are wrenching to the heart on a woman’s passion and love to the other half:
- “Had we already exhausted the narrow yet eloquent vocabulary of love? Or had we determined by unexpressed consent, after enjoying the luxury of passion that speaks, to try the deeper and finer rapture of passion that thinks?”
- “Women are contradictory creatures. The sigh affected me more than all his arguments. I felt myself blush for my own headstrong resistance to him, as I took my leave and turned away into the street.”
- “If she would have been content to live on friendly terms with me, and never to exact demonstrations of tenderness, we might get on pretty well. But she wants love.” (Eustace Macallan)
On the other hand, Valeria expresses her steadfast strength and resolution, something which other characters distinguish it strongly:
- “Neither relations nor friends shall prevail on me to falter and fail in my husband’s cause. The assertion of his innocence is the work of my life.”
- “What is bred in the bone will never come out of the flesh.” (Benjamin)
and all the characters, especially in the case of men, would not outmaneuver her delicateness and resolution in this matter.
- “We are indebted to her for these results…We should never have seen so much as a glimmering of the truth. She has the first claim to the fullest information. Let her have it.” (Mr. Playmore)
Seems like all the characters are defeated and overwhelmed by her strong characteristics, and Collins really has the determination to uphold women’s place than ever!