Young Walter Hartright, a poor drawing teacher, falls in love with his beautiful student, Laura Fairlie--who is already engaged to be married. It's a romance that can't end well. Then events take a sudden turn with the appearance of a mysterious woman in white, and it's no longer a simple love story. Why does the ghostly woman bear such a close resemblance to Laura? What is the reason for her fiance's furtive behavior? And above all, who is the eccentric Italian count so intimately interested in them both?
Fairly clear lines separate black and white: the protagonists are admirable characters, though not perfect, and the villains are either weak and selfish or vividly evil. There are some discussions regarding good and evil and such truisms as "blood will out." One villain seems to personify the charming aspect of evil (the Devil as he masquerades as an angel of light, as it were), and almost demands admiration for his cunning - but he is, if anything, portrayed as even more terrible because of that.
A married woman who has been abused by her husband lives in the same house as another man who loves her. Her sister is present, and there is no hint of immorality: the man behaves like a brother to both women.
The main characters aren't explicitly Christians, but they do pray when in trouble and exclaim "Thank God" when glad. The widow of a clergyman is portrayed as a decent, but altogether starched and moralistic character.
A man is burnt to death inside a vestry; and a woman dies, under stress, of heart complications. Neither of these instances are very graphic. Madness and asylums play an important role, and the whole story has a Gothic atmosphere.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine is drunk in a fashionable setting; it is implied that one character drinks too heavily, and he is seen in an intoxicated state at one point. One of the main characters is drugged.
Two illicit affairs are mentioned and are important to the plot. They are not graphically described, however. A married man professes to be in love with another woman; some of the things he says are fulsome and odious to her, but not explicit.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
There are some infrequent instances of swearing, such as "Good God!" and "What the devil!" "D*mn" is used semi-frequently by one villain.
Instead of being a cut-and-dried detective story, this book is rich with beauty and feeling. Everything hinges on the intricate mystery, particularly the well-being of the characters who are so well developed that they seem incredibly real.