115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Designing the Victorian Serial Novel: Prophecy within The Woman in White

Lauren Peterson, University of California, Davis

I read the dream visions in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White within the context of a Victorian culture attracted to biblical prophecy. I show that Collins references the biblical dream visions and interpretations of Joseph and Daniel (Genesis xl. 8, xli. 25, and Daniel iv. 18-25) to connect prophecy, captivity, and form.

Proposal: 

Whether through premonitions or dreams, characters within The Woman in White point to a designed future throughout the narrative, as if they can prophesy the content of the novel's future installments. Walter Hartright's repeated references to a preordained "chain of events" and the prophetic dreams of Anne, Laura, and Marian all express a prominent Victorian belief in contractual prophecies, where the future becomes fixed by declarations in the past. There has been little attention paid, however, to the role of prophecy in Victorian serial novels, even while these novels, such as The Woman in White, were published in the context of a culture attracted to prophecy and a book market flooded with religious texts. Since the serial form partly reflects aspects of Victorian culture, as argued by Linda K. Hughes and Michael Lund, connections between prophecy and the serial form need further analysis. The common Victorian belief in biblical prophecy, I show, plays a significant role within the serial form for Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White. As prophecy within the novel places constraints on future events, the design of future installments also constrains the narrative. In this paper, I argue that The Woman in White’s prophetic visions expose the limits and affordances of the serial form: As the serial form’s design holds captive both the novel’s author and characters, the prophetic visions create the serial's required suspense.