POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

30 December 2011

Washington Square 1 (June 1880) chaps 1-6

Aloha, Serial Readers!

I'm reading James in Hawai'i, a setting that accentuates my reading of place in this first installment in Old New York. WASHINGTON SQUARE appeared transatlantically a month apart (with the first installment, these six chapters, in The Cornhill in June, and in Harper's in July 1880), a traveling experience of a different kind.

I also just finished Jeffrey Eugenides' THE MARRIAGE PLOT, an ideal post-sequel to this story about Catherine Sloper's marriage plot. What struck me about the description of Catherine in this debut installment is her sensuality. Her accentuated plainness, which I take to mean she possesses no conventional feminine beauty, and her strong appetite for food and for clothes (that red dress with the gold trim--what Lauren Berlant considers an allusion to Hester Prynne's Scarlet) imply to me a kind of sexual presence perhaps more common with male Victorian characters. She's "somewhat of a glutton" who "devoted her pocket-money to the purchase of cream-cakes"! Her response to Morris Townsend seems rather more embodied than otherwise--how else to read why dancing with him makes her dizzy?

At the same time she has the power of a fortune, or at least a prospective fortune as an heiress, which is where this marriage plot is headed. Apparently James began working on THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY just after finishing this story, so Catherine as a precursor to Isabel Archer and to Pansy Gilbert. While it's clear that Catherine's aunt likes the idea of Morris as a suitor with a proposal up his sleeve, and that Dr. Sloper is approaching this prospect as a business arrangement (he needs to check out the goods by visiting Morris's sister on Second Avenue), that Catherine imagines telling her father that she refused the proposal, and that she starts lying to him, throws some seasoning into this marriage plot. What other power does Catherine have besides refusing and dissembling? We shall see.

For next week, chapters 7-12.

Serial Seasons,

02 December 2011

Upcoming Serial: WASHINGTON SQUARE by Henry James

Dear Serial Readers,

After this two-month break in reading Victorian serials, I am announcing the launch of our next serial: Washington Square by Henry James. The six installments were published first in the London periodical THE CORNHILL from June to November 1880, and a month later (July-Dec. 1880) these installments appeared across the Atlantic in HARPER's MONTHLY MAGAZINE.

We'll start with the first installment for the week of January 2nd and we'll arrive at the sixth and final installment for the first week of February. This is a rather short serial (considering we've read many that are twenty installments), so do make plans!

#1 includes chaps. 1-6.

Serially starting up,