POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

28 April 2014

POOR MISS FINCH (chaps. 11-19), serial installments 4-6 in Cassell's Magazine, Oct. 1871

Dear Serial Readers,

Great comments on the first three installments! One idea I have links up with Barbara's several interesting observations about suspense and plot and time. It seems to me that the ends of each serial installment are marked by some dramatic incident designed to bring readers back for more: Jicks's white frock with the bloody words "help me!" and Oscar's epileptic fit, and finally with the sixth installment (ends with chapter 19), Oscar's treatment which will turn him into a "blue man."  I'm curious how serial format (how the novel was first written with serial publication in mind--rather than volume publication) maps onto serial forms within the story--serial crimes, serial characters (the Dubourg twins, for instance, and then the unnamed "blue man" in Paris as a prequel to Oscar treated with silver nitrate), serial spaces (even with uneven borders or location) and other possibilities.

Barbara's comment on how the two parts of the house don't align (an observation also about forms and formats) dovetails with how topsy-turvy some elements of the story seem: Oscar's feminine hyper-nervousness, Lucilla's unfeminine lack of modesty and her boldness (which Mme P links to her lack of physical sight--clearly there are advantages for a woman who does not see the male gaze!), Jicks's wandering propensities and her precocious perception about the strange men who turn into robbers, and even Mme P's aged father who uses cosmetics, false hair and teeth, and even "stays" to make himself look younger for a woman. All these are inversions of some kind from the usual!

Tamara's observation about Mme P's appropriating the male (and narrating?) gaze is intriguing.  If the novel seems to be discrediting Mme P's (masculine-linked) rationality, is it also opening up other possibilities for knowing the world?   Collins seems to explore how Lucilla's acute sense of hearing and touch do matter, sensory knowledge offset by the narrator's litany of "my poor Miss Finch."  Lucilla's blindness is not simply an impediment--instead, she's able to "see" in the dark, to apprehend the world (and people) around her in valuable ways. Mme P even notes how Lucilla leads Oscar around the house "as if it was he that was blind, and she who had the use of her eyes."  There are also ways in which physical sight seems inferior to insight or other forms of knowledge--take Mr. Finch who only sees himself, and Mrs. Finch whose "watery blue eyes" don't seem to register much. Yet the language of vision, eyes, and sight seems to appear on nearly every page. Perhaps it's only my heightened awareness of this sensory capacity that has alerted me to how contingent the narration is on a lexicon of sight.

On the treatment with silver nitrate and the blue-black complexion--this also seems a doubling or kind of serial from another Collins serial--Ezra Jennings in The Moonstone, serialized only a few years before this one.   Collins associates some physical disablements (or "disfigurement") with immaterial capacities.

I'm also curious about how Mme. P's "revolutionary" politics via her her husband matter to this story--I guess we'll "see"!

For next week: installments 7-9, chapters 20-25. Rachel will provide our lead post.

Serially yours,

21 April 2014

POOR MISS FINCH (chaps. 1-10; serial installments 1-3; Cassell's Magazine in Sept. 1871)

Dear Serial Readers,

Welcome to the world of Poor Miss Finch! The first ten chapters (and the first three installments) introduce many of our key players, but first we have to get through Madame Pratolungo. Who on earth is this woman and why is she our narrator?

I was drawn to the specific, antagonistic rhetorical relationship that she sets up with her readers. We know from chapter one that she does not think of herself as holding the same values as her implied audience. Where she is “ultra liberal,” we are “monarchy-people, sitting fat and contented under tyrants.” Moreover, she sets up a similarly divergent relationship with the provincial, English characters that fill the rest of the novel. Why, I wonder, is this person our guide to the world of the novel? Why do we need a woman who is both completely certain in her views and frequently wrong to be our guide? She explains why she’s such a proper companion for Lucilla, but what is it about her that makes her our fit companion?  Why does she get to translate this world for us, much like she attempts to translate the world for Miss Finch?

We might want to consider how Madame Pratolungo’s role as the narrator relates to Oscar’s narrative of near-incarceration. In “The Perjury of the Clock” we learn that he was almost convicted of a murder because of mistaken evidence, or more precisely, because of a mistaken reading of evidence. The case against Oscar seemed incontrovertible, based on the given interviews and material evidence, until the housecleaner’s story came to light. If we add in fact that two of the ten chapter titles are “Candlelight View of the Man” and “Daylight View of the Man,” the novel seems to set up a discussion around accuracy and individual perception. If the same set of evidence can be understood in two different ways, is one of the two options necessarily correct? When and where is there a right way of seeing, both metaphorically and literally?

Next time, look forward to Susan’s post on chapters 11-18, which include “Discoveries at Browndown” and another appearance of my beloved Jicks.

Serially yours,


05 April 2014

New Serial Reading Adventure: POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins--starting week of April 21, 2014

Dear Serial Readers,

Please join in reading Wilkie Collins's Poor Miss Finch, first serialized in Cassell's Magazine in 26 parts (from Sept. 1871 to Feb. 1872). To speed up our serial reading schedule, we'll aim for three installments per week, beginning the week of April 21, 2014.

The first three installments include the first 10 chapters (with the serial divisions after chapters 4, 7, 10). You might use the Oxford World's Classics edition of the novel, or you may read it online by downloading Poor Miss Finch

Rachel Herzl-Betz will join me in this serial reading adventure by sharing the lead posts.  We'll alternate in some fashion, so stay tuned!  Please share this website link!

Serially starting soon,

Serial Susan