Dear Serial Readers,
I’ve loved reading the comments on each section! Sometimes I wish we could all just meet up and talk about Lucilla and Oscar over cookies and tea.
To continue our conversation about forms of perception and knowledge, I’ve found myself interested in the ways in which the text shows Lucilla gathering evidence. Rather than simply accepting or rejecting her own claim that she can sense dark colors, the novel shows the many sources that Miss Finch uses to learn about the world and then allows the other characters to debate her capacity. For example, in the first scene where Mme P sees Oscar and Lucilla together after the former’s transformation, Lucilla insists that she’s being denied information because of the unnatural speed of Oscar’s beating heart. Again and again we see her selecting evidence from the world around her and using it to fill in what others might perceive as gaps.
Contrast Lucilla’s search for “proof” with the rush of unfiltered senses in Mr. Finch’s horrid reading of Hamlet, and Lucilla’s efforts of selection appear even more stark. Where Mme P seems to experience every part of the awful scene simultaneously, from the sucking baby to her own distracted legs, Miss Finch has learned to isolate those aspects of her surroundings that will be useful for her understanding.
I wonder, in particular, how the mock experiment that she conducts with Oscar and Nugent (with the hand holding and the transfer of “energy”) compares to “experiments” performed in freak shows to illustrate the superhuman powers of blind performers. I know that such performances were popular during the late-Victorian era, but I’m not sure how closely that scene echoes those demonstrations.
Finally, I was struck by the novel’s refusal to provide an easy narrative to explain Lucilla’s blindness. When Nugent starts to dig into the possible ways that Miss Finch may have become blind, both Mme P and the novel deny him the comprehensible narrative that he (and we) are looking for. There was no apparent accident or disease. In fact, we can’t see any causal agent that could allow us to turn her blinding into a legible story. If we want to give narrative signification Lucilla’s blindness, we are going to have to do it on our own, because the novel isn’t going to help us.
For next week: installments 10-12, chaps 26-31. Susan will provide our lead post.