POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

23 February 2009

The Small House at Allington--chaps 22-24 (April 1863)

Dear Serial Readers,

So these three chapters make up installment #8 (of 20). We're approaching the midpoint as the marriage plotting continues to multiply. At least, Crosbie in this installment commits engagement bigamy, yet we're told in no uncertain terms that while Crosbie can jilt Lily, he "could not jilt Lady Alexandrina De Courcy." Jilting is a particular topic for Trollope; in Can You Forgive Her? the title's question pertains to women jilters about whom Trollope does generate robust sympathy. I can't say quite the same for Crosbie, however, despite the fact that the narrator goes to some pains to disabuse us of the notion that he's merely a melodramatic villain. I suppose the Millais illustration (see sidebar) captures one reader's sense of Crosbie's anguish over his foolishness with both women, and this segment ends with Crosbie's confused regret over this Courcy Castle episode.

More to the point, how and when will Lily respond to this jilting? While Crosbie's Apollonian character seems to diminish with this turn of events, I suspect Lily's will develop under her impending change of fortunes. Part of the problem with Crosbie is that Alexandrina's temptations seem so slight--the social status and money prospects are not presented with much gusto here. Perhaps Trollope is pushing his characters and readers to revise their understanding of "fortune."

The true pleasure for me in this installment was the debut of Plantagenet (later aka "Planty") Palliser. Presumably Trollope is already speculating on his next serial, Can You Forgive Her?, which begins to appear the following year 1864. This serial also launches another series of (eventually) six delectable novels, "the Palliser series." So chapter 23 in Small House, the penultimate novel in the "Barsetshire Chronicles" series, is also the germ of a new series. Such layered intertextuality! And for those of you who have no knowledge of Planty (as of course original readers of this serial also did not have), I assure you that if ever there were a more inauspicious debut for a character who becomes the nucleus of some incredibly appetizing plot lines and characters, I don't know it!

Next week, #9, chaps. 25-25.

And with these Series Speculations,
I remain,
Serial Susan

15 February 2009

The Small House at Allington--chaps 19-21 (Mar 1863)

Dear Serial Readers,

I found this installment far more satisfying, with three varied chapters, and the courtship / marriage plots moving along with twists that prompt intriguing speculations. The questioning of cousin matches is interesting here, since these were fairly frequent in novels earlier in the century. The appeal of cousins marrying as a way to keep property within the family is evident, but Dr. Crofts (who of course has his own personal reason for advancing this view about Lily and Bernard, in contrast to the Squire) tells Mrs. Dale, "I'm not quite sure that it's a good thing for cousins to marry." That he's a medical man, and that it is the time when Darwin's theory of natural selection (happy two hundredth, CD!) populated periodical pages, gives this comment some additional heft for me.

And about Lily's love letters--her rereading Crosbie's words, kissing the paper, her obsessive visits to the the post office (Trollope's inside joke, no doubt!) and those comical exchanges with the post-mistress Mrs Crump, and her own letter writing--all this points out, again, how narrow her circumstances are, how this relationship *is* her life. Trollope continues this contrast between the lives of Crosbie and Lily, whose letter "had no incident to relate" to him, or to us for that matter, since it's excluded from the text.

I have more to say, but I also want to encourage SHORT posts, especially for those of you reading this log regularly, but think you have nothing much to relate. Short is good, even about long Victorian serials!

Next week, chapters 22-24.

Serially shorter,

09 February 2009

The Small House at Allington--chaps 16-18 (Feb 1863)

Dear Serial Readers,

I found this image (see sidebar) of Crosbie at Courcy Castle, a Millais illustration that appeared in The Cornhill with this installment. I can't say I see much of the struggling that Trollope's narrator suggests for this character around his conflict over the entitled or encastled life versus small houseness via marrying Lily. While I accept the narrator's assertion that Crosbie "was not altogether a villain," Crosbie's ability to compartmentalize in contrast to Lily's lingering gaze and thoughts might reveal their materially-gendered circumstances. For what is it about Crosbie's social status (he's a London clerk, right?) that allows him to hob-nob with the likes of the De Courcys and Dumbellos, whereas Lily is confined to occasional visits to the Great House up the road? It also seems a cheap shot to suggest that the countess's "craft" is ultimately the culprit for Crosbie's likely jilting of Lily for the wealthier Alexandrina. But clearly in Trollope's universe, material conditions exert a huge pressure on marriage plots.

I was amused this time by the allusion to Wilkie Collins's best-selling The Woman in White (1860) as Lady Dumbello enters the drawing room at Courcy Castle. Like Anne Catherick, Lady Dumbello is haunted by her modest antecedents as the daughter of a country parson. This wink to a very popular novel first serialized in All the Year Round reminds me of Julia's remark about serial installments forestalling "last moments."

In contrast to Maura's satisfaction with the previous month's (or week's, in our case) set of chapters, I found this one irksome and dull, largely because it focused entirely on Crosbie. The "elevated" De Courcys and their friends are introduced, but with so little warmth and humor that I found the lot rather tedious, especially Alexandrina and her conniving mother. And I confess I just wasn't engaged by Crosbie's straining conscience about Lily. I hope Maura is right with her hunch that his duplicity (that letter with its subtle loophole!) will lead to more interesting turns in Lily's character.

Next week, chapters 19-21. I hope to find more variety of scenes and characters, and especially more Lily and more Johnny Eames.

Serially speculating, as always,

02 February 2009

The Small House at Allington--chaps 13-15 (Jan 1863)

Dear Serial Readers,

There was an "appreciations" piece in the New York Times last week that asserts: "John Updike may well turn out to have been America's Anthony Trollope. This is high praise. They both wrote dozens of novels--including interlinked sets--and both worked at writing as if it were a kind of cobbling, a sometimes magical job to which they went deliberately each day. "
I haven't read Updike often or recently enough to be able to offer an opinion about this comparison, but I'm curious if any of you Serial Readers see a resemblance? Certainly the linked novels and approach to writing don't seem particularly distinctive, so it must be something else.

But the "cobbling" comment reminds me of Maura's observation about Trollope's installments in contrast to Dickens's clearly crafted ones. Here I'm tempted to use Trollope's own contrast between his (half) heroes Crosbie and Eames, the first rather "thoughtless"(at least in relation to Lily) and the second "thoughtful" if not always eloquent or successful. I don't think Trollope's serial writing is truly "thoughtless" or haphazard (nor Crosbie's character), but there is something less obviously worked over or thoroughly shaped, like Dickens's writing. But then, some might find this immediacy a virtue, and certainly a particular style of realism. I also might compare Trollope's writing to blogging with its quick tempo. although the narrator's intrusions seem more plentiful and more expansive than Dickens's. With Dickens's serial installments, I was always conscious of his shifting between subplots and moods within each three or four chapter set, but there's less evident diversity of this kind in Trollope. Thanks Maura for this question. Anyone else?

Finally, what about that Johnny Eames? It seems like Trollope is setting up Crosbie's fall and Eames's rise in Lily's marriage plot to me. At least, Crosbie appears increasingly less worthy of her--we learn that he "hardly understood the depth of her character," and that he is not "deep enough" to do so. Yet hobbledehoy Johnny ponders a good deal and even has sense enough to be "terribly afraid of Amelia Roper." But--can you forgive him? How are your views adjusting around these two clerks?

Next time, chapters 16-18.

Serially speculative,