POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

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,