POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

26 October 2013

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, #11, Book Fifth, chaps. 5-8 (Belgravia 1878)

Dear Serial Readers,

Many repetitions and building suspense in this penultimate installment.  First, the date--fifth of November and bonfire night--echoes the opening installment of then novel and also echoes the month of this installment. Then the repetition of the communications by signals, the fateful knocking at the door, the female figures on the stormy heath at night--how Thomasin (with baby no less) and Eustacia follow or haunt each other, as Diggory Venn confuses one for the other.  This installment also seems more accented with suspense that gets replicated in several ways--the weather, the crossed signals, the mistaken reading of Wildeve's assistance to Eustacia's escape as indication of planned adultery, and then the cliffhanger ending where Thomasin "could say no more."  Things don't look promising for Eustacia's survival.  The question remains about her method: the pistols (if not secured well), or some other way.

One of the most interesting bits to me was Susan Nonsuch's wax effigy of Eustacia, with all those pins and then the destruction of the Eustacia effigy through flames--like the burning of witches.  Of this superstition, the narrator remarks: "It was a practice well-known on Egdon at that date, and one that is not quite extinct at the present day."  This captures Hardy's sense of historical process--as a palimpsest or layering, or echoing or haunting so that the past, with its anachronistic practices, is still evident in the present.  Egdon Heath is part-fossilized history and ongoing present, like the evolutionary process of steady-state and slow transformations.  And yet, and yet--the drama of human actors on this scene!   Is Eustacia's tragic end overdetermined like the long arc of deep time?

Only the time of the last installment will tell!

Serially suspended,

24 October 2013

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE #10 Book Fifth, chaps. 1-4 (Belgravia, Oct. 1878)

Dear Serial Readers,

I'm going to leave comments on this particular installment to others, and instead answer the question: why read this 1878 initial serial publication of this novel?

Thanks to the Oxford UP edition, based on the 1878 edition, I can offer some observations. Hardy revised his novels, this one in particular, for the 1895 edition and again for the 1912 edition.  The later versions bear the marks of his more developed sense of Wessex and the parallels between his fictional names and actual places in Dorset and surroundings.  Egdon Heath of the original serial version is much more indistinct and imprecise as a setting; even the map of Wessex Hardy used in the later editions differ from the 1878 edition, although I'm not sure if the map appeared in Belgravia with the installments.  Also, while the divisions into six books appears in the magazine version of the novel, there are no book titles like "The Three Women" or "The Fascination" or "The Discovery." Instead there are abstracts of a few sentences as headnotes and previews for the installment.  You can find these in Simon Gatrell's "Significant Revisions in the Text" section at the back of the Oxford edition.

It might be interesting to consider how the abstracts, along with the illustrations that appeared in the original magazine version, work to frame and guide reading the novel through these punctuated parts separated by a month.  Beyond this, though, I think the earlier haziness of the heath in this 1878 version captures what I'd call Hardy's sense of a serial past and present--how Egdon Heath bears traces of a recorded, historical past (through proper names of people and events), but also to a past that's more inchoate, perhaps like the deep history of the geological record and evolutionary theory.

I'll be posting on the remaining three segments very soon!  Any thoughts about what happens in this installment?

Serially situated,

03 October 2013

The Return of the Native #8 Book Fourth, chaps. 1-4 (Belgravia Aug. 1874)

Dear Serial Readers,

Given many of your comments about Hardy's poetic style, his hovering over the landscape and the slow drive of plot, I found myself thinking about the alterations between description and dialogue, between the immersion in local scenery and the frenzy of the accelerating collisions between mother and son, mother and daughter-in-law, aunt and niece and nephew-in-law, and most of all the brewing adultery plot between Eustacia and Wildeve.  I find both Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia similar in their sense of feeling enclosed: one resigned to her limited life, but hoping to escape vicariously through her son's adventures in Paris, the other also dreaming of the Parisian geographical fix.  But the men seem much more wedded to Egdon, and Clym adjusts downward his aspirations as a schoolteacher into the furze-cutter, much to the dread of his young wife who wishes to escape her constricting life.

Most part of the landscape seems the reddleman, Diggory Venn, who seems almost like the furze itself (fustian furze maybe), always hovering and seeing all--a kind of analogue for the narrator. Is this reddleman a troublemaker or a peacemaker, a protective spirit especially for his beloved Thomasin?

As the adultery plot heats up by the end of this installment, I'm thinking too of Madame Bovary although there are marked differences between Emma and Eustacia.  Still, for both, romantic fantasies seem the only escape possible.

How will the landscape, Hardy's poetry of place, work with or against all the human strife and drama and especially the unraveling marriage plots?  Tune in.

Serially yours,

29 September 2013

The Return of the Native #7 (Book Third, The Fascination, chaps. 5-8)

Dear Serial Readers,

I returned to the very opening of this serial, where there is a long unwinding of the scene of Egdon Heath even before characters and dialogue appear--calm, poetic description.  In this installment, in the thick of storylines, the balance shifts--dialogue and building suspense between the triangulated desires of mother, son, and his lover.  The conflict between Mrs. Y and her son over what he will do with his life, and his choice of wife, is sharp and paired with Eustacia's demands on him--and the rush to marry.  Interspersed are the scenes of landscape, Egdon almost the silent character, the presence that is something like a witness of human dramas.  And I love how Hardy makes this environment out of deep evolutionary time--"The scene seemed to belong to the ancient world of the carboniferous period."

A corollary to this uniform, abiding presence of the landscape with its deep past is one character--the Reddleman, who seems Thomasin's guardian angel despite her declining his proposal (and now she's married to Wildeve).  The movement of those 100 guineas from Mrs. Y to Christian (who is instructed to give half to Clym and half to Thomasin) to Wildeve to Venn who then gives them all to Thomasin--the "red automaton" is an interesting fixture whose home is constant movement through the landscape.   At the close of "The Fascination" are two young married couples, but neither seems to have a rosy future, although Thomasin has those guineas. 

Serially yours, Susan

14 August 2013

The Return of the Native #6 (Book Third, The Fascination, chaps. 1-4, June 1878)

Dear Serial Reader(s),

Finally the word I've been thinking as the KEY to this novel has appeared early in this installment: anachronism!  Yet it's about Clym's beauty and men's physicical beauty as such, whereas women's beauty "may not be an anachronism." Does Hardy have in mind classical sculpture? In any case, the novel continues to flood the descriptive passages with so many allusions to the past--the near, far, and even prehistoric pasts in this setting of "the rural world" which is not ready for "forwardness."  How about Susan Nonesuch's needle attack on Eustacia in church? So much for churchgoers!  Good reason to stay clear!  This episode is also an amusing example of the superstitious view of Eustacia as a kind of witch (variation of contemporary view of her as what...a femme fatale?).  An even more interesting anachronism is the narrator calling words (to capture love and passion) as "the rusty implements of a bygone, barbarous epoch."

Such an unusual proposal scene set during a lunar eclipse--E's melancholy thoughts on love as fickle, not eternal--and then she asks Clym to talk about Paris--Geographical cure!  Historical romance!  The muted Emma Bovary allusion too-- French and English views on suicide: "In France it is not uncustomary to commit suicide at this stage: in England we do much better or much worse as the case may be."  What does *that* mean?  The "stage" here is about youthful disillusionment--when "in a young man's life... the grimness of the general human situation first becomes clear."  Yet Eustacia seems to have a more abiding sense of this grimness.  I'd say the French conclusion would be her suicide, while the English would be Clym's.  Let's see what happens....

One thread of this set of chapters that seemed so "modern" is the mother/son relationship--how Mrs. Y has high hopes for Clym to escape the limits of the "rural" life and have a career in Paris, and Clym's interest in returning to his heath homeland with his quasi-socialist ambitions to equalize classes by becoming a schoolteacher (which he then modifies to ditch the poor for the wealthier), and then of course his mother's suspicions and jealousy of Eustacia as having bewitched her son.   Mrs. Y, despite her superior class position, is not so far removed from Susan Nonesuch in how they see Eustacia.  Clym sees too the irony that despite the tension between his mother and lover, they both want the same--for Clym to return to Paris.

Next time: chaps. 5-8 in "The Fascination" section.

Serially yours,

01 August 2013

The Return of the Native #5 (Book Second The Arrival, chaps 6-8, Belgravia May 1878)

Dear Serial Readers,

If you like fast pacing and lots of dialogue and external action, then this serial is probably a challenge for you.  I'm enjoying Hardy's luxuriously slow unfolding of the world of Egdon Heath, and the meditations on and about characters across this desolate landscape. As promised at the end of #4, this installment opens with the meeting of Clym and Eustacia, whose mummer disguise as the Turkish Knight doesn't fool him.  I suppose the psychic chemistry of Eustacia (with her intense and imaginative passions--after all, she's "had undoubtedly begun to love him" already) and Clym (with his "wearing habit of meditation" and "inner strenuous") promises some fireworks later on, but not yet. I'm also struck by how Hardy uses the word "depression" to describe both Clym and Eustacia. It's interesting that the heath seems to give Eusatica more freedom to roam, as her grandfather tells her she "may walk on the heath night or day as you choose," but at the same time much isolation and time for meditation.

Not much excitement in the Wildeve and Thomasin match, after Eustacia clarifies that she's no longer interested in him.  What does interest me?  Reddleman Diggory Venn.  The chapter titled "A Coalition Between Beauty and Oddness" must surely refer to him!  His disinterested love for Thomasin, his kindness, his social status as quite malleable (he's educated, he could be a dairyman), his sensitivity to others are all part of his "beauty" along with his "obscure rubicundity of person"--love that word, "rubicundity"! What does this redness mean--how to read it?

Is it unusual for an unmarried woman to "give" the bride away, as Eustacia does Thomasin? 

Next up is Book Third, "The Fascination"--surely more on Clym and Eustacia: chaps. 1-4.

Serially yours,

24 July 2013

The Return of the Native #4 (Book II, chaps. 1-5, Belgravia April 1878)

Dear Serial Readers,

"The Arrival"--the title of this second "book" section of the novel--is a lot of fanfare for Clym's return from Paris.  Like much else in the novel so far, there's some slow building up to his appearance on the scene (as "the owner of the awakening voice"), which is filtered through Eusatcia's eager eyes and ears (yes, eavesdropping, as Maura mentioned last time).  Her situational boredom and depression for which infatuation seems the only available cure is primed for Clym's arrival.  I do see shades of Emma Bovary here, with her great desire for "a sufficient hero," this one straight from Paris. Her plot to play the Turkish Knight in the mummers' traveling Christmas show is a bit of amusing cross-dressing.  The segment ends with her searching for her love object's "form"--will he notice her?  Do we care?

Like Maura mentioned with the last segment, there doesn't seem much "love" in any abiding sense (between and among Thomasin, Wildeve, Eusatacia, and who knows yet about Clym Y.), with the exception of Diggory Venn, our local Reddleman.  Why does he get such top billing in the decent humanity chart?  Why, as Maura asked too, are we reminded that he was once a farmer, and not always a reddleman, and that his class position was once better? 

I don't know, but I see Hardy trying to reconcile clashes or what seem disparate intersections through the chance encounters and remarkable scenery of Egdon Heath. Mostly I see Hardy trying to undo the puzzle of past and present, of the past's status in the present.  My favorite sentence in this episode comes at the end of the paragraph that begins with Eustacia's contempt for mummers and mumming: "This unweeting manner of performance is the true ring by which, in this refurbishing age, a fossilized survival may be known from a spurious reproduction." Hardy's narrator, unlike Eustacia Vye, seems to value customs of the past as "a fossilized survival" over an imitation or "spurious reproduction." Maybe that's why he's not writing a historical novel here set in the distant past, but trying instead to capture that past through place, through the full landscape of Egdon Heath which includes the bonfires and the mummers with their "unweeting manner of performance."  "Unweeting" is apparently an archaic word for "unwitting"--funny that Hardy's language has scattered fossils of past words too.

As a stalwart serial reader, I have been paying attention to how each installment concludes with some suspenseful edge--this one with Eustacia as Turkish Knight scanning the audience for Clym's form.  However, each chapter seems to end with a suspenseful note, as if to prod readers to turn the page, to continue on.  I'm wondering if the cliff edge of suspense at the end of a monthly installment is much higher than those that conclude chapters.

For next time: the rest of Book II, chaps. 6-8 (end of "The Arrival").

Serially suspended,

14 July 2013

The Return of the Native #3 (Book 1, chaps. 8-11, Belgravia March 1878)

Dear Serial Readers,

I was startled to find the word "Wisconsin" in this installment!  How surprising that Damon Wildeve proposes that he and Eustacia elope there where he has "kindred" (toward the end of chap. 9).  The installment increases the choices for Eustacia's relocations away from the heath she hates (or loves to hate, and possibly can't quite give up altogether--): Wisconsin, Budmouth.  The place of coming attraction is in the installment's last line--Paris, "that rookery of pomp and vanity."  Or at least, the coming attraction of the next character Clym Yeobright is returning from Paris.

I love how Hardy juxtaposes places and times, along with the love interests, and how the appeal of these places and people is contingent on how other people desire them.  Like you Serial Readers, I also have wondered about the significance of all the classical references.  I read these (and more appear in this installment--Candaules, Dido and Carthage) as part of Hardy's conception of time (and place) where the ancient past lurks behind the present scenery, especially Egdon Heath with its vestiges of other times. Hardy does something similar with references to nature and space--like the birds in early chap. 10, the courser as an "African truant" and the wild mallard who "brought with him an amplitude of northern knowledge. Glacial catastrophes, snowstorm episodes, glittery auroral effects, Polaris in the zenith, Franklin underfoot"--there's a lot of allusion packed in here!

What do you make of the reddleman and his reddle? When Venn objects that Mrs. Yeobright might dislike his redness, he claims his color isn't by birth.  By claiming his redness isn't a matter of race, but transient occupation, of course he's trying to win some approval from Mrs. Y in his suit for Thomasin, but is there a larger issue about race, class, and social standing here?

In all the possibilities of marriage plots, what lies ahead?  If Eustacia's passion for Damon Wildeve seems dampened by the possibility that Thomasina might be willing to accept someone else instead of him, will she now turn her (bon)fire to Clym, who awaits in the wings of the next installment?  Or will she have two men to choose between?

Next time, we go to the second book, "The Arrival," chapters 1-5.  I really do intend to pick up the serial reading pace, readers, so stay tuned later this coming week!

Serially suspicious,

26 June 2013

The Return of the Native #2 (book 1, chaps. 5-7, Belgravia Feb. 1878)

Dear Serial Readers,

It occurred to me that original readers might have needed to review an installment given the one month break in publishing this novel.  I reread this installment and enjoyed it so much more the second time around!  I love the gradual revelation of the monumental Eustacia Vye who communicates with her lapsed lover Damon Wildeve by bonfire and carries around a telescope and an hour glass (because she takes "a peculiar pleasure" in seeing time "glide away").  Hardy describes within Eustacia's brain "were juxtaposed the strangest assortment of ideas, from old and from new"--and he also compares her to various figures from the past, Marie Antoinette and Mrs. Siddons (which Hardy changed in a later edition of this novel to Sappho), the Witch of Endor, and the Sphinx.

Since the novel opens on Guy Fawkes' Night (with bonfire celebrations), I suppose we should expect the volatile treason of Damon throwing off Thomasin for Eustacia in the next installments.  But are we to see Eustacia as a revolutionary female Guy Fawkes?  I don't, and Hardy says as much-- how this environment "made a rebellious woman saturnine."  Still, I'm intrigued with her a heterogeneous character of diverse parts (like a serial, almost).

The way this installment ends makes me understand how some readers have linked Flaubert's Emma Bovary with Eustacia as a depressive type, languishing from boredom and half-baked romantic fantasies.  Like Emma, she's reduced to the meager materials in her world for giving life to those dreams--or "idealising Wildeve for want of a better object."

I promise to pick up the pace of our serial reading--next time the last four chapters (chaps. 8-11) of
this first book "The Three Women" (presumably Thomasina, her aunt Mrs. Yeobright, and Eustacia).
I'll post within a week!

Serially yours,

13 June 2013

Return of the Native #1 (book 1, chaps 1-4, Belgravia Jan. 1878)

Dear Serial Readers,

The last post shows all the serial installment divisions and reading schedule--but that schedule is clearly changing! I'll post at the end the estimated date for the next session on the next installment--and we'll try to finish up this novel in month's time!

The opening portion is rather lethargic--that pastoral air in decline! So much description of place rather than person is sometimes hard to engage with.  What do you notice about Hardy's Wessex?
Notice that place comes first and then the second chapter title announces: "Humanity Appears Upon the Scene, Hand in Hand with Trouble."  Sort of like a reworked Genesis story of creation with heaven and heath first and then "Humanity" with the "Trouble" that gives a hint of suspense.

Who is this "Humanity"?  First we have Diggory Venn, the reddleman with his "lurid red" van.  The reddleman sells reddle, or red ochre dye, to farmers who mark their rams in a way that it transfers to the ewes to show that there's been some conjugal action to lead to lambs.  Then various other local folks speak in dialect and we learn about Thomasin Yeobright (great name!) and Damon Wildeve (another great name!) who have gone off to marry--but apparently that didn't work out so well, since Thomasin is actually sleeping in Diggory's red van--are we supposed to think she's marked by the ram, symbolically speaking, and in the lambing way?  Hmmm.  The installment concludes with Mrs. Yeobright scolding her niece, "'Now Thomasin,' she said sternly, 'what's the meaning of this disgraceful performance?'"  Is this enough of a cliffhanger for you to return for the next installment?

One last observation--the bonfires in across the heath seem a form of communication, and one bonfire in particular is associated with the granddaughter of Capt. Drew (whoever he is)--and she's marked (not exactly with reddle) as "very strange in her ways, living up there by herself, and such things please her."  This strange woman is surely one of "The Three Women"--the title of this first Book (not installment).  Does the original portion in Belgravia include this Book First title? And who is the third woman, Mrs Yeobright, Tamsin's aunt?  We also learn that she has a beloved son Clym who's due home.  There's a tension between the Wessex country heath (and the old folk ways of the reddleman and other inhabitants) and town life.  What's that about?

Serial Readers, what are you noticing?  I'd love to know more about what else appeared in that issue of the magazine Belgravia. Although this beginning seems ploddingly slow, acts of creation can move along in surprising ways!

I'll plan to post on installment two (Book First, chaps. 5-7) by early next week (June 17th).

Serially starting again,

11 June 2013

THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE reading schedule

Dear Serial Readers,

After a long interval, we are embarking on a new serial reading adventure--Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native!  This novel was serialized in the magazine Belgravia in 12 monthly parts from January to December 1878.  We'll read and converse on this novel much more quickly than original readers: two installments (separately) this week, and then three installments over the next month with the plan to finish up July 8th.  Thanks to Brontë Mansfield for this reading schedule which I am posting here. The very first post on the very first serial installment follows later today or tomorrow: stay tuned!

For the week of 9-16 June 2013:
Installment 1 (book 1, chaps. 1-4) for June 11th
Installment 2 (book 1, chaps. 5-7) for June 13th

For the week of 17-23 June 2013:
Installment 3 (book 1, chaps. 8-11) for June 17th
Installment 4 (book 2, chap. 1-5) for June 19th
Installment 5 (book 2, chaps. 6-8) for June 21st

For the week of 24-30 June 2013:
Installment 6 (book 3, chaps. 1-4) for June 24th
Installment 7 (book 3, chaps. 5-8) for June 26th
Installment 8 (book 4, chaps. 1-4) for June 28th

For the week of 1-8 July (final week!)
Installment 9 (book 4, chaps. 5-8) for July 1st
Installment 10 (book 5, chaps. 1-4) for July 3rd
Installment 11 (book 5, chaps. 5-8) for July 5th
Installment 12 (book 5, chap. 9 and book 6, chaps. 1-4) for July 8th