POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

24 November 2008

Edwin Drood #3 (chaps 10-12) June 1870

Dear Serial Readers,

This third installment came out just before Dickens's death on 9 June 1870. I mention the coincidence because of the different ways death, or the culture of death, emerge in this number: allusions to Rosa's father's will, the ring from Rosa's mother's "dead hand" after drowning (kept by Mr. Grewgious who passes it on to Edwin for Rosa), and finally the "unaccountable sort of expedition" in the moonlit graveyard and the crypt (where Jasper again plies a companion with spirits of the alcoholic variety). All this attention to death and the realms and documents of the deceased does pave the way for an impending death. As Kari pointed out, the title sets up our expectations.

Although I had already read this installment before I read Julia's comment about nonverbal communication, her remarks do remind me of the many instances of what I'd call indirection, or oblique communication about what lies ahead (foreshadowing of sorts), as I'm compelled to read for clues. Take, for instance, the odd narratorial moment in chap 10 when Crisparkle visits Jasper and startles him awake: "Long afterwards he had cause to remember how Jasper sprang from the couch in a delirious state between sleeping and waking, crying out: 'What is the matter? Who did it?'" And then, during the conversation between Jasper and Crisparkle, the many times the word "perplexed" or "perplexing" describes Jasper's face from Crisparkle's perspective. Or later, Mr Grewgious's uneasiness about the ring he's given Edwin, or in the final chapter of the installment, the parenthetical remark about Jasper "always moving softly with no visible reason," after mentioning again the "unaccountable expedition" in the graveyard.

I was also struck by the attention to containers and receptacles and hidden or out-of-the-way spaces. My favorite passage comes early in this number, the description of Crisparkle's mother's "wonderful cabinet" in chapter 10. A comic version of the crypt of bones and ghosts a few chapters later, this "rare closet" has an usual locking mechanism that is a "double mystery," where the interior is "disclosed by degrees." Then the contents of condiments that people the shelves--I love this gorgeous little show of Dickens's descriptive powers which unfold a thick inventory of a Victorian kitchen cabinet! I wonder if this cabinet might work as an extended metaphor for the serial novel itself, a large container that houses many remarkably detailed small containers.

I want to invite everyone to think about how the serial format affects your process of reading here. I'd also love suggestions for links to other sites that might enrich our hypertextual networking around this Dickens novel! I'll post on #4 (chaps 13-15) in two weeks.
Looking forward to your comments--
Serial Susan

10 November 2008

Edwin Drood #2 (chaps 6-9) May 1870

Dear Serial Readers,

Apologies for my tardiness--somehow the world-outside-the-serial (aka American presidential election) distracted me from DROOD. But I'm back on track now, and will post on #3 installment (chaps 10-12) in two weeks on Nov 24th.

I'm going to frame my comments on #2 through those posted by other readers on the first installment. At the end of her post, Catherine mentioned the tension between Jasper and Ned, and Kari noted that Jasper seems to have a rather strong interest (perhaps "in love") in Rosebud. And Julia remarked on the accumulating suggestions of violence. In this installment, I had the sense that Jasper, with his mysterious mixing of mulled wine which he bestows on his guests Ned Drood and Neville Landless, had his own interests in provoking this "daggers drawn" scene between the two young men. Is this a set up or framing of sorts for the promised "mystery of Edwin Drood" to come, possibly his murder with Neville as suspect, but Jasper as perpetrator? Just guessing--I've not read this novel before! But the reading paranoia that Victorian novels (especially sensation and detective ones, which seem cousin genres to this novel) often perpetuate certainly has infected my high-alert for clues of what's to come.

The tone too is so curious--the quiet, quintessential English cathedral village of Cloisterham laced with very bizarre characters, odd eruptions of violence or cruelty or mystery, and many of the staple features of sensation fiction (drug use, the Gothic traces via old Catholic England with the Nun's House, the will plot, secrets accruing), yet the Dickensian humor too. Mr Grewgious with his Memoranda that even includes "Leave" provided a bit of comic relief after the weird "daggers drawn" incident and its gossipy aftermath.

Julia mentioned the way that rural England in the novel is joined to the wider world--a kind of Victorian globalizaiton with references across the British Empire. In this installment we meet those intriguingly strange "Landless" twins delivered to Cloisterham by Honeythunder. Is "Landless" an allusion to the colonized other, robbed of land by imperial forces? Or a marker of their in-between and geographically decentered status, not quite English, not quite Sinhalese or Indian, from both cultures or neither? From a "wretched existence" in Ceylon, both Neville and Helena are described in hybrid terms with lots of attention to their dark "gipsy" complexions, their hot tempers. Drood insults Neville about his "dark skin" and Jasper comments on "something of the tiger in his dark blood" when describing Neville to Crisparkle.

I'm especially intrigued by Helena, with the "slumbering gleam of fire" in her "intense dark eyes," after Rosa confesses to her that Jasper holds her under his Svengali-like power (even though three decades before Du Maurier's novel TRILBY introduces this character). She reminds me of other fiery, rebellious Dickens heroines, and I can't think things will end well for her.

What did you notice in this installment and where does this narrative seem to be heading?

Until next time,
Serial Susan