POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

20 October 2008

Edwin Drood #1 (chaps 1-5) April 1870

Dear Serial Readers,

I hope you received your first installment of DROOD via Mousehold Words, or, if you prefer the book format, that you've acquired a copy (I recommend the Oxford edition). I've installed a "gadget" (see right margin) of the image that appeared on every cover of the six installments of DROOD. You can see at the top center a cathedral entryway, and buried at the bottom, a dark underground, crypt-like space, complete with a key and shovel above it, the stomping ground of Durdles the grave stonemason. I wonder if the titled "mystery" will have something to do with Durdles and his tombstones (or "Tombatism," as he puts it).

Other scenes anticipated or shown early in the novel encircle the wrapper for DROOD, including a wedding couple to the front of the cathedral, upperleft, and then at the bottom right, someone smoking a pipe beneath a serious cloud of smoke. This figure seems of an Orientalized nature to me--the clothes, the shoes, even the face. The image echoes the opening disorienting passages of Jack Jasper in a (presumably London) docklands opium den, with three doped companions, a "Chinaman, a Lascar, and a haggard woman." A Lascar, according to my Oxford English Dictionary, is a sailor from India or SE Asia (with lnks to Urdu and Persian army). The contrast between the quintessential English Cathedral Town and the outreaches of Empire frames the novel's opening. I wonder where the narrative is headed, geographically speaking, with Ned Drood's plans to marry Rosebud and head "to the East" (or rather, southeastward) to Egypt as a civil engineer (the Suez canal was opened in 1869, and British interests in the area were growing).

About Ned and Rosebud--I was intrigued to see Dickens roll out the arranged marriage plot so soon again, on the heels of OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, the novel that immediately precedes this one in the Dickens canon. Unlike Bella Wilfer and John Harmon, though, Ned and Rosebud (which I prefer to "Pussy") seem to be moving along steadily, their arguments notwithstanding, toward their predestined marital future. But I suspect there's a major roadblock up ahead.

One more thing--the novel so far seems to have strains of that most popular serialized novel of the decade, sensation fiction. I couldn't help notice all the neo-Gothic elements, the Catholicism hinted at in Clositerham's ancient past, with the Nun's House, and the crypt, yet on the surface, a quaint English village with its proper Anglican hierarchy of dean, verger, clerk. Despite this atmospheric emphasis on the deep past, the narration is thoroughly in the present tense for the duration of this installment. That strikes me as unusual. Will this present tense last? Where will it shift to the past tense?

Please post a comment on anything at all about this installment of the first five chapters. You don't need to be seasoned Dickens reader, or even up on Victorian novels of the day. You can pick up on something I've mentioned, or head out in another direction entirely. The plan is to read and comment on the next installment (chapters 6-9) in about two weeks. I'll post my next comment around Nov. 3rd, but if you'd like me to post yours instead, please email me your remarks!

In the fullness of serial time,

15 October 2008

Coming Attraction: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Dear Serial Readers,

We're starting our next serial novel, Charles Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. We'll read this novel in the six installments in which it was originally written and published monthly from April to September 1870. Dickens died suddenly in June 1870, before he completed the novel. So we should have a lively discussion joining nearly a century and a half of readerly (and theatrical) speculations on this unwritten ending.

Here's how our reading schedule works. First, you can order the electronic delivery of your installments (in double-column format) from Mousehold Words (see sidebar for the link to this site). You can specify the schedule of delivery, from a limited set of choices. I suggest signing up for weekly delivery on Mondays (Saturday is the other option for weekly delivery), beginning this coming Monday October 20th. However, we'll discuss the installments on a biweekly schedule, starting next week. (Mousehold Words does not offer a biweekly delivery.) Our reading schedule means that the weeks of Oct 20, Nov 3, Nov 17, Dec 1, Dec 15, and Dec 28 either I or a guest blogger (one of you, I hope) will start off our conversation about the respective installment (#1 for Oct 20, #2 for Nov 3, etc). So be sure to check the blog and then post a comment on the installment we're discussing.

Of course, you can get a book version of the novel, and read that. I recommend the Oxford edition because it indicates on the top right of the left-hand page the installment. The first one consists of five short chapters, 36pp in the Oxford, or just over 19pp in the Mousehold Words format. I'll also include in my posts the next installment chapter spread, for those of you using editions without the serial notations.

Please circulate this website address to anyone who might possibly like to join us. If you have received this message by email, let me know if you prefer not to be notified each time I post on the website. Otherwise, I'll leave you on this list. If you haven't received an email notice of this post, but would like the reminder in the future, just email me. Anyone can join in!

Until next week,
Serial Susan

12 October 2008

Dombey #19-20 (chaps 58-62) April 1848

Dear Serial Readers,

Finis! I savored this concluding double number and will miss this wide cast of characters! The additional length of the last issue offers a textual fanfare of a finale. Apparently there were even more words in Dickens's initial ending, but he had to strike the last two paragraphs due to space restrictions. Those lines (reprinted in the Oxford edition), about the "voices in the waves," reiterate the watery, timeless or eternal present "voices" at the end of chap 16 when Paul dies. And they also echo the very opening lines of this number, a nice cyclical shape tied to the passage of "Time" within the story and even the passage of a year and more in the delivery and reading of the story.

And the novel concludes with a different repetition, the second generation of "Paul" and "Florence," with the past now improved in the present, the affective childhoods of this Paul and Florence much more promising given the rehabilitated Dombey.

The latency of the attention to the "Daughter after all" (as Miss Tox puts it in chap 16) continues in these last paragraphs about Dombey's secret "affection" for his granddaughter Florence: he "hoards her in his heart" and no one knows. While Dombey seems redeemed as a kindly grandfather at the end, Alice and Edith do not enjoy earthly redemption, although we do learn why they resemble each other. Both are evidently moribund in one way or another--the fallen women who perish for their transgressions.

I did appreciate Edith's resistant stance towards repenting--or rather her insistence on what amounts to a contingent repentance. It's in that section of chap 51 where Edith refers to Dombey's "own present" in relation to her "past." I found this notion of one's own present intriguing, a way to recognize the variety of presentnesses within and through the reading of the novel. Dickens continues to wield the present tense strategically in this final number, most notably perhaps when Florence returns to her wrecked father in the "ruin" of the house.

The "Retribution" chapter about the dismantling of the Dombey household--all in the present tense--makes evident that the "house" of Dombey has at least three different meanings: the business, the household--both staff and the material objects that are sold, and the family itself. It seems that only in the last sense does "Dombey and Son" survive and prosper, and only through the angelic and reproductive "Daughter after all."

Stay tuned for our next serial show, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD!

Serially signing off from Dombey and Son,