POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

18 June 2009

Romola #4--chaps 15-20 (Oct 1862)

Dear Serial Readers,

I'm going to write something very short right now and look forward to your thoughts on this installment. Everyone has such fantastic observations. Alicia's makes me think of the particularly anachronistic flavor of the narrative, and, as she points out, how Eliot weaves in this blurring of times into a descriptive passage.

What did you think of Savonarola's debut at Fra Luca's (Dino's) deathbed? I was struck by his "rich, strong voice" as a very physical presence for Romola. And what did you think about Fra Luca's vision, or, foreshadowing as inspired prophecy? How will this prophetic vision shape the narration as it continues? The use of prophecy suggests another kind of temporal blurring. There's much much more--so, your thoughts on this installment?

I will be traveling without my computer from June 19-July 5, so I'd like to propose some catching up time for all of us. The fifth installment is chapters 21-26, and that's what I'll post on the week of July 6th. I hope we'll all be.... on the same page by then!

Serially soon,

11 June 2009

Romola #3--chaps 11-14 (Sept 1862)

Dear Serial Readers,

Are you finding it difficult to keep up, to keep going, with this serial novel? I ask because several people indicated their intention to join the serial blogging this time, but unless you post here, I don't know who is reading along. Please do comment, even if you're not finding a way to keep going along with the installments. Kari found the novel rough to enter into, but more engaging later on--so don't be deterred by the Proem and first chapters, and the piles of scholarly allusions.

Julia mentioned last time the tension between inner life and external appearances of characters; this difference made me think of the narrator's occasional remarks about Florence "then" (within the narrative time frame) and "now" (the temporality of narration, presumably around 1862). I also see Kari's point--that there isn't much focus on Romola early on to warrant the title of the novel. This contrast of attention reminds me of the first books of Daniel Deronda which readers have thought might well have been titled "Gwendolen Harleth" instead. So maybe Eliot likes to warm up to her entitled characters--although I'm not sure that's the case with her other male-titled novels, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Felix Holt. But if you are interested in Romola, be assured that you'll see much much more of her as the novel progresses!

Still, "Tito Melema" might seem a better title for these early segments. I'm finding this character a bit perplexing as a (early) modern villain in that he's difficult to dismiss as totally terrible; yes, his external appearances and manners are alluring, especially to young women, but we know he's ethically challenged. But again, Eliot's psychological realism plays with such complexities. In any case, thanks to Tito's multiple attractions, there seems to be a bigamy marriage plot unfolding, much like the "bigamy novels" of sensation writers like Mary E. Braddon.

Julia also mentions the suspense around Fra Luca that closes the second installment. This time, we have the mounting suspense around Fra Luca (aka Dino) revealing Tito's betrayal to Romola as well as Tito's feigned marriage to Tessa--presumably another transgression to be revealed to Romola at some point.

Next time, installment four--chapters 15-20. I hope to hear from more of you Serial Readers lurking out there! Even a sentence or fragment of a comment is welcome!

Serially yours,

04 June 2009

Romola--chaps 6-10 (Aug 1862)

Dear Serial Readers,

Like Julia, I too am re-reading Romola, although it might as well be a new reading since so much is surprising me in the language and echoes to other plot lines. Last week there was an op-ed in the newspaper on the pleasures and value of re-reading. When I first read this novel, I was a tourist in Florence and assiduously retraced the steps of characters in pages of chapters, such as Tito's in this installment.

This time, I do not have Florence at my disposal, but I am noticing how this novel--one that seems to take prophetic vision as a subject for thinking about narrative--does anticipate other fictions. In this segment, Tito's moral dilemma about his obligation to rescue his father and his rationalizing not doing so seems a draft for Bulstrode in Middlemarch. What obligations are binding from the past and which can we slough off out of self-interest or indifference or failure of memory? Eliot unwraps the anatomy of guilt: "Under every guilty secret there is hidden a brood of guilty wishes, whose unwholesome infecting life is cherished by the darkness."

The other echo I found here is very surprising--Tessa reminds me of Hardy's Tess! There are many parallels between Tessa and Tess, Tito and Alec. But then, this story of chance seduction of an innocent beauty likely has many many versions and sources.

This echoing for me is set in play by Eliot's attention to the then/now, past/present ties that punctuate the story so far. Next time, I'll take a look at what else was appearing in the pages of The Cornhill alongside the chapters from the novel--next week, chapters 11-14.

And what about all the erudite allusions? Eliot is distinguishing this novel from "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" (her 1856 essay title). The thickness of scholastic showcasing reminds me too of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh (1856), surely a text Eliot had in mind while writing this novel.

Looking forward to your comments--what echoes do you hear?

Signing off,
Serial Susan