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,


1 comment:

Barbara said...

I am feeling remiss for being MIA for the completion of the serial. I loved reading the novel with others and always looked forward to the responses. Here are a few thoughts on the ending: the plot and plausibility points, while never perfect, seemed to get more strained and far-fetched as the novel concluded. I felt as if Collins were tired of writing and I’d be curious to know what he thought of this novel. I especially found Oscar’s switch from a delaying and vacillating character to someone who is decisive and active a bit of a stretch.

I was also interested that the novel ended with an emphasis on writing: both Nugent’s interrupted and unfinished letter and Madame Pratolungo reflections on her own writing process. I’m also struck by the fact that there are only two real crimes (I think—I may have missed others) represented in this novel—the murder for which Oscar is falsely accused and the housebreaking and assault—and they seem both essential to the main plot and a bit remote from it. I want to think more about them. And I remain interested in how this novel addresses time (the perjury of the clock! the tracking of the passage of time, the delays and suspense that are carved out of time, the waiting etc).

My own reading experience was curious. I know that this novel is about blindness and its implications and yet that was never the part of the novel I found most engaging. But it may be something I think about more in the weeks to come.

I’m most grateful to all of the comments along the way. Thank you!