POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

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,