The Woman in White

Caleb Crain writes:

To slip the leash in the 19th century, it was usually enough to move without leaving a forwarding address, and that was how some in the working class shook off inconvenient debts and marriages. Most in the bourgeoisie lacked the option, however, because they valued their social identity too highly to sacrifice it, not to mention the property associated with it. Their fantasies of release had to be extreme in order to be plausible: what if I went insane? What if everyone thought I was dead? What if there were another person with my name and one of us took the other’s place? What if my legal identity turned out to be a sham because my parents were never really married? If all else failed, there was always laudanum, which blurred the edges very nicely.

(LRB 11 September 2008)

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