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.