POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

24 August 2010

The Moonstone (installments from May 1868): Clack chaps. 6-7, Bruff chaps 1-3, Blake chaps 1-3

I am grateful to Serial Susan for allowing me to write the lead entry on the text for this week, as I have had a few suggestions that I have hoped to share with the entire group. First, I would like to suggest that after we complete this worldly book, we turn to a course of enlightening and strengthening reading for the better guidance of our spirits. Yes! The Strength of our Spirits! I suggest not that we read about Christ, nor about God, but proper, beautiful, English, moral readings, which I will be happy to mark for all readers to help you find the most profitable sections, where you might wonder “is this me?” Tracts such as “Satin in the Library,” “The Serpent of Suspense,” and “The Letters and Remembrances of Mrs. Molly Earnest-Prune” would be excellent places for our group to begin. I find this serial group so happily suited to such readings, as it gives us the time for pious reflection on each section before advancing to the next.
I know that you, my serious serial reader friends, will understand the comfort and joy I felt at dear Mr. Godfrey finding himself free of the distractions and, I fear, profaning attentions of Rachel, allowing him to return to his Ladies and Charities. The later slander which the odious Mr. Blake’s and Betteredge’s narratives hint at about Godfrey, are merely the vile jealousy of lesser men.
Were Kari writing this herself, instead of ceding the space to me, I must in honesty acknowledge that she would speculate as to the possibility of a doppelganger for Mr. Blake. But OH! What a sadly German term for a sadly profane concept, and how sorrowful I am to consider that she would so profligately waste time on wondering about what might happen when she might use that time modestly and honorably at charitable work, such as preventing young children from stealing candy or handing out tracts warning about profanity at sporting events.
How joyful I am that I have had this opportunity to share just a few improving ideas with the group! I thank Serial Susan for the opportunity, and I hope to be asked to comment again!

For next week, continue with Mr. Blake’s narrative, as in June 1868, Chapters 4-8 were released.

17 August 2010

The Moonstone (installments from April 1868), Clack's Narrative, chaps 1-5

Dear Serial Readers,

So Lady V. dies suddenly, Rachel has accepted Godfrey's proposal of marriage, but we don't know the contents of that will Lady V. signed, Bruff drew up, and Clack witnessed, but divulged nearly nothing about. So there's some suspense afoot about the impending revelation of that will. I suspect there will be some connection between with the "outrages" against moneylender Luker (a Dickensian pun-name) and Godfrey.

Clack's Tracts! What a hilarious voice this one is--with her sowing those tracts, planting them around Lady V's house and then, after they're all returned, determining to send them in small fragments inside envelopes! I had heard that some read this novel as anti-imperialist, and it does seem that Collins is having a field day with his send-up of Clack's evangelizing, missionary zeal--all her clap-trap about "the true Christian never yields...our mission" and the related "Glorious, glorious privilege" where "we are the only people who are always right." Her Sunday-School Style is such a distinctive way of reading--what she attends to is so different from Betteredge. Again, how characters affect circumstance, or read events.

After my comment last week about how we don't know a master editor of these narratives, I found that answer quite quickly: Clack relays that Franklin Blake has requested her witnessing account and is paying her for it! So we know he has a vested interest in the disclosure of the full truth of what happened, from different eyes/I's.

For next time, the five installments from May 1868: the rest of Clack, chaps 6-7, then the narrative of Bruff, chaps 1-3, then Franklin Blake's, chaps 1-3. So three different narrators next time--should be interesting!

Serially suspicious,

09 August 2010

The Moonstone (installments from March 1868) chaps. 16-23 (end of Betteredge's narrative)

Dear Serial Readers,

So Gabriel Betteredge's narrative comes to an end! I wonder how Miss Clack (who sounds like a character piece from the board game CLUE) will proceed. I'm intrigued that we're prepared for the next witness (and Betteredge tells us that we're in effect judges, the narratives are testimonies) whom we've barely seen (one of the guests at Rachel's birthday dinner), rather than a more predictable witness, like Lady Verinder or Franklin Blake.

Collins mines the lengthy reportage in newspapers of court trials. What do you make of this scheme where the novel itself is the trial proceedings, the narratives the testimonies, and we readers the judges? Julia mentioned this structure, in relation to the question of what details to include, what to omit, and how Collins's allows Betteredge to "wander"--something not permitted in a courtroom testimony. Those of you who've read Collins's THE WOMAN IN WHITE may remember this style of interlocking witness-narrators. And, as Josh points out, and ReaderAnn echoes, these wandering details (like GB's fondness for Robinson Crusoe) illuminate the effects of character on circumstance (or on relating events).

But one difference here is that there is no master narrator (like Walter Hartright), or at least, we don't know who is telling Gabriel Betteredge to tell his version, to stick to his "own experience," not to wander, not to be "too familiar." And how has he heard that "you are likely to be turned over to Miss Clack"?

This mix of the personal with the impersonal, the up-close character-narrator with the abstract editor more distanced, imprecise, reminds me too of Franklin Blake's mini lecture on the different ways of reading the mystery of the missing Diamond: what he calls "the Objective-Subjective view," which encompasses both reading "from the inside-outwards" (the Subjective) and, presumably, the outside-inwards. Like Josh said last time, we're fed bits of information and clues, enough to keep us craving more--that "detective-fever" which Gabriel B. also calls an "infection."

So, if you have caught this fever, and want your cure to come fast, how do you stop reading ahead? Or does the slow reading/curing approach to this infection have some pleasures too?

Any thoughts about Rachel's financial needs that might motivate her to raise money on the Moonstone? Actually, she's been quite an enigma throughout, yet, like Rosanna, seems susceptible to passionate moods or mood swings. I'm reminded how women, especially uneducated, working-class women, were often regarded as conducive to seances and spiritualist contacts in the Victorian craze for such things, around the time Collins is writing. So with this gender binary (women are guided by feelings, men by reason), I'm curious to see how our female narrator Miss Clack will address the question of the Disappeared Diamond. Certainly Betteredge's emotions surface often in his narrative, especially his disdain/admiration for Cuff. I'm also amazed by all the details of the household staff, how many servants appear in the pages of GB's narration, from the gardener and cook to page boys and the different levels of housemaids--a vast and hierarchical structure, to be sure.

Finally, it occurs to me that there's a parallel between Cuff as the private detective and Betteredge as house-steward: both are privy to family secrets, to information regarding this "family scandal."

Next time, Miss Clack's Narrative: chaps. I-V. For the week after next, I'd be grateful if one of you would mind taking the lead post? I'll be traveling that week and am not likely to be able to post in a timely fashion! Just let me know here or by email.

Yours in serial secrets,

04 August 2010

The Moonstone (installments from Feb. 1868)--chaps. 10-15 (Betteredge's narrative, continued)

Dear Serial Readers,

Thanks for all these terrific posts!

In this past set of chapters we're introduced to the "celebrated character" of Sergeant Cuff. Although original readers would not have made this comparison, I thought of the Watson/Holmes pairing in Conan Doyle's Sherlock stories. Like Watson, Betteredge is the earnest narrator who, despite his attentiveness, simply cannot *see* in the ways that Cuff does. I was struck too by Cuff as a reading master, by his repeated lessons about how to be a good reader of clues, of everyday, ordinary things and events and characters. These lessons, within the narrative, are directed at Betteredge, but do we too profit from the scenes of Cuff's instruction? I read somewhere that detective novels, sensation fiction, and more generally the enterprise of reading, can stimulate a kind of paranoia, where details overwhelm us to suspect everywhere the possibilities of clues, of hidden meanings. Betteredge seems an average, close reader, attentive and able to draw obvious conclusions. But Cuff is a different kind of reader, a master reader who makes startling connections. What makes him so?

My other observation, perhaps proof that I'm reading in a different way here, is that there are evident "curtain scenes" with the end of each installment, much more so than I'd noticed in Dickens' serials. Even if you're reading an edition of THE MOONSTONE that does not show the serial breaks, you can probably tell where they fall because of the dramatic suspense with which Betteredge ends that chapter or section. Chap. 10 ends with Betteredge's "The next thing to tell is the story of the night." This would be the night when the Diamond disappears. And this is also the break between the Feb. 1 & Feb. 8, 1868 installments. Then chap. 11, which includes two different installments, notes that division with, "..and out walked Rosanna Spearman!" And the very last of these five Feb. 1868 installments ends with Betteredge hearing Lady V's voice calling to them, on the heels of Cuff's assertion that some scandal is about to "burst up in the house." Perhaps these marked divisions are part and parcel of sensation fiction that stimulate the reader on for more episodes. Did such provocative endings to installments actually stimulate sales, get readers to buy the next edition of the magazine, in this case?

So I'm curious how Julia's "DailyLit" option for today's serial reader would affect these deliberate "curtain scenes" from the original serialization? Am I finding these suspenseful accents because I know that's where the installment ended when Collins first wrote it and Dickens published it? Surely I'd read the novel's new divisions in the DailyLit mode differently! I wish I had the patience to try out the experiment!

Next time: the remainder of Betteredge's narrative, chaps 16-23.

Serially struck,