POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

27 May 2014

POOR MISS FINCH (chaps. 36-38) Installments #16-18

Dear Serial Readers,

More delays!  Will Lucilla's sight be restored during her convalescence, and if so, to what extent? And which of the twin brothers will prevail as Lucilla's suitor and, eventually, husband? The good/evil binary that Mme P constructs in her story of Oscar and Nugent keeps blurring and shifting.  Now is each one"good" inasmuch as he selflessly wants the other brother to succeed with Lucilla?  But, when will she see the light of who they are and how will she respond to the deception?

I'm struck by how the narrative seems to play with the cliche of "love at first sight."  Nugent says as much--"from the moment I first saw that heavenly creature...."  And the reverse seems true as well with Lucilla recoiling from Oscar's blue face at her very first sight of him.  However, there is a great deal of questioning whether vision is a reliable sense for knowing the world. Not only does Lucilla claim that her sense of touch is superior to sight, but also the narrator draws the comparison between the surface view or "outer covering which is physically wholesome" with "the inner nature which is morally diseased." Perhaps only Jicks's vision is reliable--or is it?

Does vision also function as a disability to see beyond a surface appearance in some respects? I'm also struck by Oscar's blue face, a kind of social disability that is the side-effect of his cure of a life-threatening disability of seizures.

For next week: chapters 39-43.  We're approaching the end!

Serially stalled,



Rachel Herzl-Betz said...

Terrific observations, Susan! I was actually just reading about how it was actually a cliche of Victorian melodrama to pair cured vision with a revelation of true love. The 18th century "saw" the invention of new treatments for cataracts, so the medical cure for blindness became a kind of stock plot. I ran into this background in the context of Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth, but I wonder if Collins might not also be playing with those conventions in his take on "love at first sight." If the stock narrative assumes that vision is necessary for love to be either valid or reciprocated, what does it mean if this formerly blind woman can no longer love her intended? Or, what might it mean for the value of that love if she can't trust her newly acquired vision?

Of course, fooling the blind character has been a stock plot device since Chaucer (think of The Merchant's Tale), so this novel's prioritization of touch potentially complicates several established assumptions about the place of blindness in a narrative.

Barbara said...

I continue to be uni-focused on delays, interruptions, and suspense and so I’m grateful for all of these wonderful observations on blindness (the epistemological implications of, the cultural history of, etc).

In this section I belatedly realized that this novel reverses *The Woman in White*’s “story of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and of what a man’s resolution can achieve.” Lucilla is certainly not patient and both Oscar and Nugent, in their different ways, are resolution challenged. I was sometimes frustrated with inconsistencies and jumps in the plot and would be curious about what Collins thought of this novel. Did he consider it a success? At any rate, I look forward to seeing if Nugent’s current resolve is successful.