POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

26 August 2011

Martin Chuzzlewit 6 (June 1843) chaps 13-15

Dear Serial Readers,

I found myself only reading one more installment--I shall endeavor to pick up the pace, but too many other demands on my reading time right now!

In this installment, where Martin C. and Mark T. make the transatlantic voyage, I was especially intrigued by the description of the steerage. Martin, with his English "gentleman" class identity, resents having to mingle with the riff-raff in steerage, but Mark rallies to the democratic flavor of this miscellaneous group of travelers and tends to them all with food, song, reading, writing letters for others--"there never was a more popular character than Mark Tapley" who is "the life and soul of the steerage."

I'm also struck by how miserable the journey is on bodies--everyone seems to suffer from sea-sickness in this "unwholesome ark" of The Screw, and its "terrible transport." I've read about the "middle passage" from Africa, and wonder how the steerage conditions Dickens describes compares with the horrors of the middle passage. Being chained and without fresh air or windows or the ability to walk on the deck would be worse. Steerage is the way immigrants usually traveled. But in any case, is the prospect of opportunity (which Martin seems to anticipate) in the US worth the price of the passage? We'll see.

Next up, New York, New York! Chaps. 16-17.

Serially sailing still,

16 August 2011

Martin Chuzzlewit 5 (May 1843) chaps 11-12

Dear Serial Readers,

More travels in this fifth installment, including a paean to the "strong, healthy, hardy walk" as "better than a gig" as Tom Pinch and Martin C venture to Salisbury to meet John Westlock. More too on the petulant, sour disposition of Martin in contrast to Tom's sweetness (to a fault, John notes), and more on the insufferable Pecksniff who insults his young cousin sufficiently to make Martin resort to desperate measures--to go off to America.

Tom's horror is amusing to behold: "No, no," cried Tom, in a kind of agony. "Don't go there. Pray don't! Think better of it. Don't be so dreadfully regardless of yourself. Don't go to America!"

So ends this installment with Martin on the brink of a rash journey. I'm curious for this adventure! And I'd like to try to pick up the pace of reading a bit by moving from one to two installments per week.

For next time:
installment 6, chaps 13-15
installment 7, chaps 16-17

Serially sailing (not walking),

09 August 2011

Martin Chuzzlewit 4 (April 1843) chaps 9-10

Dear Serial Readers,

The beginning of this installment--"Town and Todgers'"--offers a perfect passage of Dickensian London with the maze of streets--"Todgers' was in a labyrinth." I think "labyrinth" must be *the* word for Dickens' London, and perhaps too for Dickens' multiplotting. I find myself drawn to some of the stories more than others, although like the streets, alleys, and whatnots, in the City of London, there are surprising plot intersections where I'm able to get better oriented. Pecksniff's London visit, in this case, is due to the business of the wealthy senior Martin, and now we know that young Martin will soon be heading abroad, at least from Pecksniff's establishment. I can't wait for narrative to sail altogether away from Pecksniff territory! Ruth Pinch is the female counterpart to her brother Tom who seems to find contentment despite the abuse she suffers as governess. Still, I hope these Pinches end up doing more than succumbing to tyrants, small as they are.

Again, like this one, the next and fifth installment consists of two chapters, 11-12. I'm wondering if the three-chapter segments, more common in later Dickens serials, offers a bit more variety for reading pleasure. I found this installment rather lukewarm and am not sure how eager I'd return for more, if I didn't have a hunch about where the plot is traveling....

Serially stalling,

03 August 2011

Martin Chuzzlewit 3 (Mar. 1843) chaps. 6-8

Dear Serial Readers,

Traveling in this novel seems to take a while--perhaps to allow sufficient time for all the reading? I was intrigued by the discussion of form by the architecture student, aka Martin C, early in this installment. Pecksniff has given him the assignment of designing assorted odd constructions--a cow-house or an ornamental turnpike. I wonder if this as an extended metaphor for the raw materials of fiction-building, where even "a cart-load of loose bricks" can be transformed into architectural wonders, like the domes of St. Paul's in London or St. Sophia in Constantinople.

Despite the various tangents and odd annexes (Slyme and Tigg), the plot thickens--we learn that grandfather Chuzzlewit's traveling companion Mary is young Martin's would-be sweetheart. As Tamara noticed about Dickens's fire-gazers, Martin relates much of this backstory to Tom Pinch while watching the flames in the fireplace, a favorite Dickensian inspiration for imaginative speculations. This seems a familiar pattern: young Martin must prove himself worthy of his love, and presumably worthy of the wealth too his grandfather withholds from him. Have I read this story already?

Eager to learn more of M. Todgers while the Pecksniffs visit London--for reasons which will reveal themselves "all in good time" (apt closing words of this number) in the fullness of seriality!

Next week: chaps. 9-10 (again, two long chapters, rather than three shorter ones).

Serially yours,