Walter Hartright, a young drawing-master, has secured a position in Cumberland on the recommendation of his old friend Professor Pesca, a political refugee from Italy. While walking home from Hampstead on his last evening in London, Hartright meets a mysterious woman dressed in white, apparently in deep distress. He helps her on her way but later learns that she has escaped from an asylum. The next day he travels north to Limmeridge House. The household comprises Mr Frederick Fairlie, a reclusive valetudinarian; Laura Fairlie, his niece; and Marian Halcombe, her devoted half-sister. Hartright finds that Laura bears an astonishing resemblance to the woman in white, called Anne Catherick. The simple-minded Anne had lived for a time in Cumberland as a child and was devoted to Laura's mother, who first dressed her in white. Hartright and Laura fall in love. Laura, however, has promised her late father that she will marry Sir Percival Glyde, and Marian advises Walter to leave Limmeridge.
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