POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

27 June 2011

"Janet's Repentance" III (chaps. 10-14) SCENES of CLERICAL LIFE (Sept. 1857)

Dear Serial Readers,

This story has now swerved into a portrait of an abused wife, with the harassed Evangelical minister on the periphery. Eliot offers an array of reactions, none helpful--how Janet's mother-in-law blames this misery on Janet's failures in housekeeping, and how her own mother sees and feels helpless, and how the people in Milby see and gossip and do not feel enough. Eliot implicates the reader in this futile search for origins of abuse: "Do you wonder how it was that things had come to this pass--what offence Janet had committed in the early years of marriage to rouse the brutal hatred of this man? The seeds of things are very small: the hours that lie between sunrise and the gloom of midnight are travelled through by tiniest markings of the clock: and Janet, looking back along the fifteen years of her married life, hardly knew how or where this total misery began..."

Several "Poor Janet!" moments--reminds me of Eliot's penchant for this pitying address in later novels, especially MIDDLEMARCH.

At the end of this installment, Dempster has locked Janet out of their house--at least he did not murder her, as she expected. But to be locked out in the cold also thrusts her domestic plight into public. I'm anticipating Tryan to the rescue.

On this serial reading and ahead: I see the conversation has fallen off in recent weeks. I am curious if this relative quiet has anything to do with the stories themselves. I have been searching for how these "Scenes" are a series, but it's clear the narrative threads are unevenly stitched, with Gilfil before Barton in time, and this tale of Tryan and the Dempsters seemingly unhinged from the other two, except for the "clerical life" theme. Two more episodes and we're through with SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE. For next week: 15-21.

Upcoming serial--Dickens again! We'll start reading MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT, the last of Dickens's picaresque novels (with PICKWICK as the first),in a few weeks.

Serially yours,

19 June 2011

"Janet's Repentance" II (chaps. 5-9) SCENES of CLERICAL LIFE (Aug. 1857)

Dear Serial Readers,

The ending of this second installment, like the ending of the first of this story, is jarring, again a hook of suspense leading to the next segment of publication. But this last paragraph also hints at the title's meaning. I had thought the title alluded to J's repentance of her marriage, but now it seems geared toward her part in ridiculing and causing pain to Tynan, the Evangelical minister with a deeply sympathetic core, unlike the wretched Dempster. On the one hand, it sounds like the narrator is scolding Janet for "looking on in scorn and merriment" at Tynan. But on the other hand, we see the pernicious claws of abuse where Janet, for the paltry crumbs of her husband's affection("Gypsy" is his nickname for her! Shades of Maggie Tulliver!), stoops to take part in humiliating a good man who has noticed her own suffering.

Like Kari, I noticed that the narrator identifies as a man with memories of boyhood. What did you make of the "mural literature" of Dempster's playbill of the "reclaimed and converted Animals"? It seemed rather silly farce to me, and somewhat surprising from Dempster who appears to lack any speculative, imaginative capacity, something Eliot usually affiliates with sympathy.

Next week: segment 3, chapters 10-14.

Serially yours,

12 June 2011

"Janet's Repentance" (chaps. 1-4) SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE (July 1857)

Dear Serial Readers,

From female murderers to a High Church lawyer who has a habit of wife-beating in Eliot's final "Scene." I must say I was taken by this first installment--how we're initially introduced to Dempster's campaign against the Evangelical minister Tynan's evening lectures, and then other scenes in Milby (forerunner of Middlemarch?) replete with tea, handicrafts, and gossip, including Tynan's comment about Mrs. Dempster, aka Janet, and then finally her sad story. There's something about the form of this installment that performs the suppression of domestic abuse--until the end. All this piling up of public sphere politics, spearheaded by Dempster, and then he resurfaces at the end when he returns home, drunk, and beats Janet. Is this, like realism, or part of realism, domestic violence as ordinary or as the dirty secret everyone knows?

As Plotaholic asks about what are female murderers doing in Eliot's realist fiction, I would ask the same about the abusive husband, who has a different public face. I sometimes think Eliot uses sensational scenes (like Mme Laure or Gwendolen's held hand in Grandcourt's drowning--and do we know in either case what did cause the deaths of their husbands?)for realist ends, which could mean ambiguity, lack of resolution or full disclosure--an ending that doesn't quite conclude. It's interesting that both *Middlemarch* and *Daniel Deronda* prompted sequels.

I found moving the last paragraphs of this segment on the twin paintings over mantelpieces, one of Janet's mother, the other (Christ about to be crucified?) by Janet as a young girl, as symbolic presences of mother and martyred daughter to each other. Yet neither is able to actually speak about this horrible secret of Janet's abuse. Like Janet's mother, and Milbyites who seem to know what's going on here, the reader too can feel, but cannot do anything. I'm hoping Tynan does.

One more thing--I wonder if the "Janet" mentioned in the first chapter of the first story of Amos Barton is the same "Janet" here? Perhaps just a coincidence? Mr. Gilfil does come up in that first chapter of "Amos," and I'm suspecting that there are more networked connections across these three "Scenes."

Next week: chapters 5-9.

Serially stunned,

06 June 2011

Mr. Gilfil's Love-Story (chaps. 14-Epilogue) SCENES of CLERICAL LIFE (June 1857)

Dear Serial Readers,

On the lacking of the "clerical" in this story about Mr. Gilfil, the Shepperton rector who preceded Amos Barton of the first SCENE: maybe Eliot's point is that clerical life, like realism, is ordinary and secular. Notwithstanding the protracted botanical metaphor of Gilfil as a " whimsical misshapen trunk" (due to heartbreak over that "delicate plant" that died "in the struggle to put forth a blossom"--did Caterina die in childbirth?), this story concludes with the suggestion that Gilfil's "love-story" of long ago made him a better clergyman, a more compassionate presence than a doctrinal expert.

I found myself impatient with the story, and I'm not sure it was simply because I knew the ending near the outset (some of you know my agnosticism on readerly suspense). I found the writing at times too maudlin, overgrown with those botanical flourishes. I even had this suspicion: did Eliot write this story entirely, or did Lewes have a larger helping hand?

Yet here are some aspects that intrigued me:

*Caterina's dagger--her desire to murder Anthony, and Maynard's refusal to believe she would actually be capable of this deed--shades of other Eliotic women would-be or otherwise murderers (from Hetty Sorrel to Madame Laure and Gwendolen Harleth) and men who cannot fathom them as such.

*All the chapter divisions--this story has many very short chapters; I'm not sure what this means in terms of the serial parcel, but I found many sub-scenes within this larger scene.

*The verb tense shifts (as Julia noted)--the use of the present tense to generate suspense, excitement, or immediacy-- a way to insert the reader into the story.

*The scene shifts between humble homes and Cheverel Manor (between realism and romance), even between provincial England and Italy.

*There were elements that also reminded me of JANE EYRE (Caterina fleeing Cheverel Manor, and her vulnerability to the seductions of Anthony who cannot marry her) and AURORA LEIGH (the transplant of the Italian child onto English soil)

Next up: our third and final "SCENE"--"Janet's Repentance" (chaps 1-4).

Thanks, Kari, for mentioning the photographs from the 1907 edition. Are there ones that accompany the other stories in SCENES too?

Serially scenic,