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,