Mrs. Catherick was the mother of Anne Catherick, the ‘Woman in white’ from Wilkie Collins’ novel of that name. She conspired with Sir Percival Glyde of Blackwater Park.
She was once married to a parish clerk in Old Welmingham. Prior she had been in service at Varneck Hall, there she met Philip Fairlie, a guest of the master, whom she had an affair with that resulted in her becoming pregnant with Anne. Before Anne’s birth she became acquainted with Sir Percival Glyde who gave her fine presents, a golden watch with chain, in return for letting him borrow the key to the church register. She first learned later that Glyde had made a falsified marriage entry to the register to conceal the fact that he was illegitimate. Glyde’s mother was already married to an Irish man, when she met his father, Sir Felix Glyde, but her husband abandoned her and she lived under her maiden name and afterwards she and Sir Felix lived together as man and wife abroad without anyone suspecting them as something else. While no one had raised any doubts to Sir Percival’s right to the title and estate, he needed a certificate of his parents’ marriage to borrow money on Blackwater Park.
However Mrs. Catherick and Sir Percival were caught by Mr. Catherick who immediately accused his wife for infidelity and abandoned her. When Mrs. Catherick demanded Sir Percival to clear her name, he refused, pointing out that if the village thought they had an affair, they would never suspect the truth. And if Mrs. Catherick’s role in making that falsified entry was discovered she could be punish as his accomplish. But Sir Percival did offer to make a generous annual payment as a compensation on two conditions, Mrs. Catherick would hold her tongue and never leave Old Welmingham without his permission. That way he would always know where to find her. Mrs. Catherick, who was still pregnant with Anne, accepted them.
Afterwards she and Anne lived in Old Welmingham. As agreed, she wrote to Sir Percival asking for permission to leave the village and usually got it. One time she was allowed to go to Limmeridge, Philip Fairlie’s estate, to nurse a dying half-sister. She took Anne with her and left her in Mrs. Fairlie’s care to be schooled. Mrs. Fairlie became very fond of Anne noticing the strong resemblance between the child and her own daughter Laura. The fondness amused Mrs. Catherick with the knowledge that the lady of the house was fond of her husband’s illegitimate child.
After the death of the half-sister Mrs. Catherick returned to Old Welmingham with Anne, who, out of gratitude to Mrs. Fairlie, began always wearing white. That notion strained the relationship further between mother and daughter.
One time Mrs. Catherick got an answer from Sir Percival on one of her requests to leave Old Welmingham, but the gentleman had probably been in a bad mood at that time, because in the letter he refused her request in a foul language that angered her so much that she spoke out in Anne’s present. She revealed that she could ruin his life, if she told anyone his secret. Once she calmed down, she feared that Anne might have understood too much of her words, despite that she didn’t tell the secret.
The next day Sir Percival came on an unexpected visit to make amends, having understood that his angry letter might have consequences. But when he insulted Anne, the girl demanded an apology threating to expose his secret and ruin his life. She was repeating her mother’s words as if they were own. Mrs. Catherick tried to convince Sir Percival that Anne had no knowledge of the secret and was only bluffing, but Sir Percival insisted on shutting her away, but agreed to send her into a private asylum rather and a pauper asylum on Mrs. Catherick’s insisting.
Years later, soon after Anne had died, Walter Hartright, who was searching for Glyde’s secret visited her. She was very uncooperating, but a sarcastic remark about Glyde’s mother, made Walter suspect that the secret was concerning the family of Glyde’s mother, which led him to discover the falsified entry by comparing a copy of the register with the original and saw that the marriage entry was not in the copy.
When Sir Percival died in an attempt to destroy the evidence, Mrs. Catherick wrote to Walter explaining the whole story, feeling he deserved it.