POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

POOR MISS FINCH by Wilkie Collins

17 June 2014

POOR MISS FINCH (chaps. 47-Epilogue) for 24 Feb. 1872: Serial Finale!

Dear Serial Readers,

And we come to the end! Lucilla and Oscar have been reunited, Nugent has been banished (as well as frozen), and Mme P has declared her charge a happy woman.

When I began this post, I felt compelled to tie up all the questions we’ve raised into similarly neat bows, but I don’t think even Doctor Grosse would be capable of such a comprehensive job. Instead, I’ll raise a few more ongoing questions/notes, and invite everyone who has read along to share how their early question have been inflected by the novel’s final chapters.

I found myself most drawn to the novel’s ongoing engagement with Lucilla as the finder and provider of evidence. These chapters often refer back to her earlier “experiment” with Oscar and Nugent, in which she employed her “own way” to tell the difference between the twins. On the one hand (pun intended), we have the Doctor insisting that her time of getting “thrill-tingles” is long past, because she has seen and has thus lost the “superfine-feelings” available only to the blind. At the same, she proves him wrong only one chapter later! There she is, feeling Oscar’s face and recognizing him as not-Nugent. This isn’t to suggest that the novel supports Lucilla’s assertion of her powers, because it stages a complex debate about whether she can “see” with her hands, but rather that it also doesn’t support the Doctor. Lucilla is still her own evidence gatherer.

We might also think about Mme P’s analysis of Lucilla’s degenerating vision through her degenerating handwriting. In this case, Lucilla is once again not the evidence-gatherer, but the provider of evidence for other characters who want to diagnose her changing condition. How do these moments of analysis fit into what Susan identified as The Tyranny of Oversight? Not only does Mme P read the change in handwriting as the legible sign of illegible impairment, but she also reads Lucilla’s new handwriting as a shift in identity. This new writer is “a stranger,” regardless of her consistent tone, because the form of her characters has changed. How does Mme P map the mutation in written form onto the form of Lucilla’s body? To what extent does the novel corroborate or complicate that mapping?

Finally, I wonder at the ways that the novel ends in an attempted placement of blame. Doctor Grosse insists that his eye surgery has not failed in recreating her sight. Instead, he tells Lucilla, “it is you who have failed to take care of your nice new eyes when I gave them to you.” Even if Lucilla doesn’t see her regained blindness as a failure, and if other doctors disagree with Grosse’s opinion, the novel gives him the space to blame Lucilla for her own disablement. Grosse neatly embodies the medical model of disability (as an individual problem which requires a cure to regain individual wholeness) while it was still being created, but is he represented as correct? Are Lucilla and her caregivers portrayed as having ruined her opportunity for vision or are the attempts to shelter her eyes and mind portrayed as ill founded from the start?

Thanks to everyone for reading along, and I look forward to your thoughts on the end of our odd little adventure!
Serially Satisfied,


09 June 2014

POOR MISS FINCH (chaps. 44-46), installments #22-24

Dear Serial Readers,

Each of these three chapters appeared as a separate installment when first published. Is there a suspenseful break after each of these chapters accordingly?

As for general observations about the Ramsgate seaside chapters 44 and 45 and Lucilla's journal, I have two comments that I'm titling "The Tyranny of Sight" and "The Tyranny of Oversight."

Getting to use her eyes is a confusing matter for Lucilla.  She doesn't "feel" the same about "Oscar" (who everyone else knows, except of course the aunt who'd never seen the Dubourg twins, is really Nugent), but she can't quite figure this out.  When she was blind, Lucilla seemed rather confident and bold in the department of desires, but not so now where her vision is beset by mists--both optically and the deception plotting of Nugent.  I'm less interested in the deception and traded places of the twins than in how Lucilla's sense of regained sight is rendered--and it's not an advantage for her.  Even her handwriting was better when she was blind and not confused by mists.  The Tyranny of Sight.

Mme. P's frequent interruptions of her supposedly faithful transcription of Lucialla's journal while in Ramsgate is the Tyranny of Oversight.  I get that she's filling in plot points, that she's showing us what Lucilla didn't know--such as the encounter between Grosse and Nugent--but still, these asides and reflexive commentaries take up pages sometimes.  It almost seems like the delays are padding to get to a particular length.  I also don't discern a clear, distinct voice from Lucilla's journal writing in contrast to P's voice, and I know from many other novels that Collins is able to devise very different voices for first-person narrators (such as Marian Halcombe and Walter Hartright and the peevish Frederick Fairlie, just from one serial).  Somehow Lucilla's voice seems too consistent with Pratolungo's narration which of course is the filter.  Voice and vision are less individual and instead rather misty. 

Time for finishing up this serial!  I guess that Lucilla and the real Oscar will be reunited before the elopement is completed, and that Nugent will be banished somehow. 

Rachel will see us through to the end next week!

Serially sighted,

03 June 2014

POOR MISS FINCH (chaps. 39-43), installments #19-21

Dear Serial Readers,

We are nearing the end, my friends and as we do so, I’m struck by this section’s explicit focus on reading, writing, and –particularly—letters. With the action rapidly drawing to a close, we have Mme. P pulled away to deal with family matters that seem to have no narrative purpose except to put her at a deliberate distance. Why is it so important that we read this section of the novel via letters and, discussion of letters, journal entries, and narrative interpretation? I’m not sure I have the answer to that question, but I can offer a couple themes that the shift brings to the fore:

1.     It further highlights the limitations of Lucilla’s new vision. At first, she cannot read or write because her doctor insists that it (like the truth) will ruin her eyes. Then when she can read and write, being able to see doesn’t give her any greater judgmental power. She can now write with her own hand, rather than relying on an aid, but her caretakers are just as capable of concealing the truth as they were when she was blind. In fact, they might be even better.

2.     Delay. Susan has already spoken about the role of postponement and delay in the novel as we wait between plot points and serial publications. By making the characters wait between letter deliveries, they too are forced to keep the pace that their form of communication allows. And even then, the novel is liable to hold back a key piece of evidence, like Miss Batchford and her stalled letter. We might not like it, but we are told that it is good for us. We have to wait until we’re ready.

3.     Lucilla gets a turn. The novel’s turn to letters and journals also represents the first opportunity for the protagonist to tell her own story in her own words. We can certainly talk about how successful that opportunity is for Lucilla, but it does represent at least a partial change in perspective.

At this point we know that Lucilla is no longer afraid of blue faces and at least Mme P thinks that Nugent is ashamed. Will Nugent follow his better angels, will Oscar reappear from the ether, or is Lucilla going to have to suss out the deception?

For next week: chapters 44-46.

Serially yours,