POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

19 February 2012

The Old Curiosity Shop #2 (chap 2, May 2, 1840)

Dear Serial Readers,

This story starts slowly, or in small installments, because originally Dickens meant to write a short tale for his new magazine MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK. Infact, it's Master Humphrey who is narrating the story so far of the Curiosity Dealer and his granddaughter (and, with this second installment, his grandson Fred). With three serial novels behind him (Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby), Dickens had in mind, for this weekly journal, some sketches, essays, adventures, and letters along the lines of the famously successful eighteenth-century periodicals, the SPECTATOR and the TATLER. So that's one reason why this story seems so clearly focused already and the installments so short. I learned too that book versions of this novel do include a few sections Dickens added later to the original installments. But this is because he really had not initially meant for a full-length serial. The public's warm response to Nell demanded much more. So I wonder if we'll see a shift in the style of the narrative later on, as Dickens makes the transition from a tale to a multiplot serial novel.

This second weekly installment has our Master Humphrey narrator return to the Curiosity Dealer's warehouse in his efforts to learn more about the grandfather and his mysterious occupation. No doubt There we encounter, along with Master H., Fred, the grandson who's angry with his grandfather and demands to see his sister. Fred insinuates that the grandfather is rich and yet works little Nell nearly to death, while the Curiosity Dealer claims they're poor. Dick Swiveller provides some comic interest as a human curiosity in the shop/novel, a glimpse of the eccentric characters that are part of the Dickens trademark. What struck me again is how this short installment again ends with a bit of suspense--as Nell is on the threshold. I like these small doses of narrative that close with a teaser for more--and I'll be back soon to find out what happens when "the child herself appeared."

Next time (at the end of this week, via my Mousehold Words delivery system), chapters 3 and 4. With this slow starting up pace, I'm hoping there will be some Curiosity readers joining this serial experience! If you like, you can read the first four chapters and chime in next week. Curious?

Serially shopping,

12 February 2012

The Old Curiosity Shop #1 (chap 1)

Dear Serial Readers,

I'm trying an experiment and I invite you to join me. I'm reading this serial via the Mousehold Words delivery system on my iPad or laptop rather than in a paper book format. I've asked Mousehold Words to deliver the 40 installments of THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP twice a week, and my plan is to post short comments after I read each installment (one at the start of the week, the other toward the weekend). I hope you'll join me! See the link to MOUSEHOLD WORDS in the right sidebar of the homepage of "Serial Readers."

I love the way this serial begins! The narrator as a flaneur, a man walking about London at night who encounters a little girl on a mission, is terrific as a launch into the story. Isn't this walking through the city at night, this musing and watching and wondering, like the solitary work of writing fiction and of reading it? The eponymous shop too with the "curiosity dealer" also reminds me of story-making & the shop as an emblem for the entire novel. And Nell seems an early instance of Dickens's fascination with the wise girl-child (Amy Dorrit, Sissy Jupe, Florence Dombey, Jenny Wren).

At the end of this opening number, my curiosity is piqued, eager and waiting for more. Why was Nell out alone at night in the London streets? What is the nature of the curiosity-dealer's nightly absences from home?
Stay tuned to part two of forty (second chapter)!

Serially speculating,

07 February 2012

Happy 200th Birthday to Charles Dickens, serial novelist extraordinaire!

Today is the bicentennial of Dickens's birth! To celebrate, I talked with University of the Air hosts Emily Auerbach and Norman Gilliland about Dickens's serials and about "Serial Readers"--you can download that interview through the link (sidebar).

Next week, we'll start reading Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop, originally published in forty weekly parts in his new magazine, Master Humphrey's Clock in 1841. I propose a slightly accelerated pace of two installments per week rather than one so that we'll take twenty weeks in all to read this novel. The reading for next week's launch at the bottom of this post. So for next week, February 13-20, chaps 1-2! If you click on the image of MASTER HUMPHREY'S CLOCK at the top of this screen, you'll go to a website with the installments of the novel--chapter one is waiting for you!

Serially celebrating still,

Washington Square 6 (Nov. 1880)--chaps. 30-35

Dear Serial Readers,

Today we conclude the six-part serial by Henry James. I found these final chapters of WASHINGTON SQUARE quietly satisfying, like Catherine Sloper herself. She rallies forth in her own quiet but determined way to refuse the two men who have refused or disappointed her, her father and her lover. She refuses to accommodate her father's wishes that she marry eventually and she refuses to promise him that she won't marry Morris, because she has no desire to satisfy a father who has disappointed her in his low regard for her. But Catherine also refuses Morris's renewed proposal after some decades. In that finale, she tells Morris that she didn't marry because she didn't "wish to" and that she had "nothing to gain." It's true that her father reduced her inheritance because she refused to make the promise he required, but she has enough money and property, and a comfortable life. She's a spinster by choice, and as such James gives us a new kind of heroine. I'm also intrigued by Catherine's "ancient facility of silence"--she's a woman of few words (in contrast to the babbling Mrs. P.) and yet her quiet determination speaks volumes.

As other Serial Readers have noted, we have some interesting gender reversals--it is Catherine who is the strong, silent type, not noted for her physical beauty or charms, but deeply attracted to these qualities in Morris, whose body and face (both young and middle-aged) get far more words in this story than does Catherine's. And she enjoys material independence--she has the money which Morris must marry into because of his seeming inability to make money himself--again a position more typical of women. So, again, I found Catherine's life at the end, even with that "morsel of fancy-work," quietly satisfying because she has refused both men's wishes and because she does have a life of financial autonomy and activity--not to mention that Washington Square home! Your thoughts?

Please join the next serial, Serial Readers! You can sign up for installments of Dickens's CURIOSITY SHOP via "Mousehold Words" (see sidebar) by requesting the e-delivery of TWO installments per week! Next week, chapters one and two! See the next post too!

Serially celebrating (Dickens at 200),