POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

26 March 2011

Miss Marjoribanks 15 (May 1866--chaps 50-The Last)

Dear Serial Readers,

A circular plot by way of this conclusion where Tom repeats his proposal from installment #3, after he returns again to Lucilla, as he did first in #2. But presumably now he is now more like--as he had wished to Lucilla in that early proposal scene--"someone you had never seen before." It's all in the beard--and all those "heaps of Indian things."

How does "after all it was Tom" make sense? If marriage, despite Lucilla's protestations in #3 that she "had not the least intention of marrying anybody," is required "after all" for Lucilla, then marrying her cousin allows her the most continuity with the character of her very self--not only does her name stay the same, but she ascends to "Marchbanks" (yes, same pronunciation as "Marjoribanks"!) which offers her a bigger social sphere (county rather than town) and physical domestic space for her social reforming genius. Even the hint that she can pitch her political hostessing skills through Tom surfaces in her idea that "there are Members for counties as well." By keeping the marriage all in the family, with a cousin who adores her from the start and yet seems a pliable quantity worthy of her efforts (unlike poor Cavendish--I wish we'd seen that he was indeed married to Barbara Lake--), Lucilla can stay her course, and yet expand her social consciousness (as Tamara K suggested in her recent comment--)

The most curious line to me is where Lucilla compares her past efforts to reform Grange Lane and Carlingford to a woman who has "slaved...in a mill." Her interest in social reform here seems ludicrously compared with the focus of reform work by E. Gaskell's heroines, for instance. But is this a comical note, Lucilla's comparison, that ironic undertone that creeps in from time to time in this novel?

The suggestion that Lucilla will now embark on housing reform projects in Marchbank anticipates Dorothea's interests in Middlemarch--so I can appreciate Q.D. Leavis's comparison a bit better with Eliot's heroine devised only five years later. Tamara K mentions Eliot's "dead hand" in Middlemarch with the startling ringing of Papa's bell, and yes, it seems to me totally clear that Eliot read this novel--after all they had the same publisher! But I don't know if they met or corresponded. Do any of you Serial Readers know, by chance? I imagine we'll see evidence too that Oliphant read Eliot's stories published in Blackwood's--

I will say that this ending is palatable too because Tom is so familiar, but also so relatively unformed as a character compared to Cavendish, Ashburton, and any other suspects who have had far more page time in the serial. Maybe this familiar unfamiliarity is a good quality too for our "genius" Lucilla to continue to have full sway for her reform works.

Your thoughts on this concluding installment? Thanks to all of you various and many Serial Readers for this novel--I counted something like eight or nine different readers posting, a record for this slow reading adventure! I've relished all your contributions!

We will take a short break from these screen-pages before starting the serialized stories, "Scenes from Clerical Life," George Eliot's first fiction, first published in the same magazine in which MISS M appeared in serial form! I estimate that the first installment of "The Sad Fortunes of Amos Barton" (in two installments) will be for the last week of April. But I'll announce that in the next few weeks. Get ready for this next serial adventure designed for short-term readers too (since the first story is only two installments)!

Serial salutations,

15 March 2011

Miss Marjoribanks 14 (Mar. 1866--chaps 47-49)

Dear Serial Readers,

The election of all elections in this installment--but, as some of you have pointed out, an election devoid of political views. What emerges in these chapters, though, is who gets to vote, and who does not. Reform Bill debates were whirling in spring 1866 when this installment appeared. Would extending the franchise to some of working class men help Conservatives or Liberals at the polls? The Reform Bill, introduced in 1866, debated and altered and finally passed in 1867, was meant to enfranchise only "respectable" urban working men and exclude unskilled poor men by a householder stipulation. This issue of voting reform was so charged due to speculations about how new voters would aid or hurt political parties--there were demonstrations in several cities as the Reform League called for universal suffrage. And while "universal suffrgage" typically meant only men, the question of women voting was also in the air. Oliphant published an article, "The Great Unrepresented" in Sept. 1866 in Blackwood's where she notes that despite being taxpayers and householders, and even contributors to the pages of "Maga" (ie Blackwood's), "we are supposed unable to decide whether Mr Smith or Mr Jones is the best man for the borough." Yet Oliphant declines John Stuart Mill's call for women's suffrage. I was surprised to learn that it wasn't until 1918 that British legislation enfranchised all male resident householders over 21 and women over 30 who met property qualifications, and not until 1928 was there equality for women and men voters.

What we do hear about in these pages are the various boroughs of voters for the Carlingford member, from Grange Lane to Grove Street to the bargemen of Wharfside, "many of them, freemen, and a very difficult part of the populartion, excited the most vivid interest." All this flurry about voting propels the start of the installment, the only installment launched without Lucilla in view. As a woman, she is cast to the background about voting reform and the election. Even her former servant Thomas, now "an independent householder," has a vote it seems.

Lucilla's participation in politics is through proxy, through her selection of "the best man" for Carlingford. But now it appears this "best man" is not the best man for her. That frantic bell-ringing that interrupts Ashburton's proposal at the end of the installment heralds, no doubt, cousin Tom fresh from India. All Lucilla's pounding heart here suggests she's swayed by the love match for her cousin (the cousin about whom she seemed to hold a pragmatic older sister attitude early on) over the marriage of political and financial and social merit. But this familiar choice perhaps is the closest Lucilla can achieve to her past reign in her father's house; at least by marrying Tom, she remains Lucilla Marjoribanks, or becomes Mrs Marjoribanks.

I much prefer Lucilla's sealskin coat over Barbara's tin dress, that's for sure. Even so, I'm glad Cavendish and Barbara appear to be on the verge of marrying. For a novel to conclude with two women "gone off" in age at least and marrying too seems rather remarkable.

Next time--the final installment!

In some serial suspense,
Serial Susan

06 March 2011

Miss Marjoribanks 13 (Feb. 1866--chaps 44-46)

Dear Serial Readers,

To offset last week's lengthy dialogue, I'll offer a brief comment on this week's installment. Lucilla's decision to remain alone (with only cook Nancy rather than the entire household retinue) in her Grange Lane house is remarked upon sufficiently to suggest the boldness of her move not to move or to "abdicate." I wonder about the importance of Lucilla's remaining in this house which bears the marks of her interior designing. The house has become an exemplar of herself: for Lucilla and this house to part company is unthinkable. Will she retain her domestic rule then by marrying someone who can move into this house and support her life there? The relationship between property and personhood seems crucial.

One tiny leftover from last time: I had meant to mention Maria Brown, the photographer, whose picture-making career reminds me of Rose, the little Preraphaelite. I find it interesting that Oliphant does provide these examples of working women even if Rose is forced to "abdicate" her profession for home work.

There are two installments left of this novel. Our next serial reading adventure will begin in three weeks (the week of March 28): George Eliot's SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE. These "Scenes" are three stories, which ran in serial segments from January to November 1857, as Eliot's initial foray into fiction after writing essays and translations. For those of you who haven't kept up with the program of a novel's worth of installments, you might like this next selection since you could pick and choose the stories: the first ("The Sad Fortunes of Amos Barton") with only two installments, the second ("Mr Gilfil's Love Story) with four installments, and the last "Janet's Repentence" with five.

For next time, Lucilla's latest experiment continues with chapters 47-49.

Serially yours,