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Poor Miss Finch (1872)

by Wilkie Collins

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326879,807 (3.58)33
What if you had been deprived of sight for your entire life -- only to have your vision restored just as you found yourself falling in love for the first time? That's the seemingly miraculous fate that befalls the Miss Finch of the title in this classic novel from abidingly popular nineteenth-century author Wilkie Collins.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Collins is perhaps best known today for writing [The Moonstone], often called the first detective story. However, there is so much more to recommend him. He had some of the strongest fictional female characters of the Victorian era, many of them deliciously pure evil. Lydia Gwilt, "bigamist, husband-poisonor and laudanum addict", Margaret Sherwin and Magdalen Vanstone are all wonders of their kind. Collins was not just a sensationalist though. He was a reformer, concerned about those whom society passed by. He had a particular interest in those with physical limitations. He addressed deafness in [Hide and Seek]. [Poor Miss Finch] addresses blindness.

The story of Miss Finch is told by Madame Paratolungo, a French widow just engaged by Miss Finch's father as a companion for his daughter. Madame Paratolungo was a woman of decided opinions. She wasted no time in telling her readers In the scattered villages of the South Downs, the simple people added their word of pity to her name and called her compassionately - 'Poor Miss Finch'. As for me, I can only think of her by her pretty Christian name. She is 'Lucilla' when my memory dwells on her. Let me call her 'Lucilla' here.

We are not to think of Lucilla as a figure to be pitied, but rather as the determined young woman she is; a person with the same concerns and interests as anyone else of her class and age.

Victorian novels all provide their heroines with a love interest and to make Lucilla fit in to this mode, Oscar Dubourg is introduced. This fine young man was hiding away in the hinterlands of Sussex due to his embarrassment and shame at having been wrongfully tried for murder. He was saved from the scaffold by the testimony of his brother Nugent, his identical twin.

Already this seems a bit much. Lucilla fell in love with Oscar, could tell the brothers apart, but would Nugent try to deceive her? This is the kind of far fetched plot which has made many throw up their hands at the idea of reading Collins.

Here Collins introduces the moral dilemma of the novel though. An eminent German surgeon believes that through a new treatment, he can restore Lucilla's sight, lost when she was a small child. Should she risk it? In his Letter of Dedication to the novel, Collins said As for the object which I have had in view in writing this story, it is, I hope, plain enough to speak for itself. I subscribe to the article of belief which declares, that the conditions of human happiness are independent of bodily affliction, ... and this is the impression which I hope to leave on the reader when the book is closed.

In the meantime, Oscar had started receiving treatment for seizures resulting from a head injury. At that time, the treatment was silver nitrate, used very little because it led to hideous disfigurement, which of course Lucilla could not see. No one had told Lucilla of the disfigurement and Oscar was convinced she would reject him at first sight. Should she be warned if she went ahead with the surgery?

Catherine Peters, who wrote the Introduction to the Oxford edition, said "Collins's plot is a spider's web of improbabilities" with superficial absurdities" This is so, but it is also the case as she goes on to say, that The odd disjunctions and connections in the story have a magic resonance, characteristic of myth and fairy-tale, and there are haunting fragmentary echoes of Apuleius and Ovid, Perrault and Grimm.

Collin's book still works today because of this age old way of delivering the message.
  SassyLassy | Aug 2, 2016 |

This is a book that features a bunch of awesome characters. There's a French governess with radical Communist views, a blind girl with weirdly racist tendencies, a set of twins (one of whom has blue skin), a peculiar German oculist who won't wash and is named Grosse (tee hee hee). There's even a five-year-old girl who runs away from home at every opportunity and stands against robbers if they laugh at her.

This is typical Wilkie Collins material - charming, interesting characters against a background of mistaken identities, recovered eyesights, dashing against-the-clock rescues, and unrequited love.

The only problem is, for the first 300 pages, NOTHING HAPPENS. (How is this even possible? There is so much great material there!). Just looots of buildup.

Then something happens.

Then nothing again, then some more buildup happens, then everything happens on the last 30 pages. Then done.

They call them sensation novels for a reason, you know? ( )
  beabatllori | Apr 2, 2013 |
Lucilla Finch is a young woman who has been blind since the age of one. The complications that ensue when her sight is restored combine with the complicatons that arise from the feelings that identical twin brothers have for her.

I was immediately grabbed by the Dickensian humor I found in the first part of the book, and which appeared from time to time throughout the book.

At other times the story became more gothic in nature, which was more in line with what I've come to expect from Collins. It never quite became truly gothic, though. I would venture to call it gothic light.

Loving Dickens and his particular brand of humor, (and pathos), as I do, and loving gothic novels as I also do, I thoroughly enjoyed Poor Miss Finch. ( )
  bookwoman247 | Aug 17, 2011 |
Having read all four of Wilkie Collins' most popular books (The Woman in White, Armadale, No Name and The Moonstone), I am now exploring his less popular novels. This one, Poor Miss Finch, was published in 1872 and unlike most of the books that preceded it, is not really a 'sensation novel', although it does have certain sensational elements (mysterious strangers, theft, assault, letters being intercepted, mistaken identities etc). It's actually an interesting study into what it's like to be blind since infancy and the emotions a person experiences on learning that there may be a chance of regaining their sight.

This book handles the topic of blindness in a sensitive and intriguing way. It's obvious that Collins had done a lot of research into the subject and the results are fascinating. He discusses the theory that when a person is blind their other senses improve to compensate for their lack of sight and he weighs up the advantages and disadvantages there would be if this person then regained their sight. I had never even thought about some of the aspects of blindness that are mentioned in the book.

The characters, as usual, are wonderful - most of them anyway. Lucilla, the 'Poor Miss Finch' of the title, is not very likeable (she has a tendency to throw foot-stamping tantrums when she doesn't get her own way) but I loved Madame Pratolungo - she was such an amusing and engaging narrator! We also meet Reverend Finch, Lucilla's father, who chooses to recite Hamlet at the most inappropriate moments, and his wife, Mrs Finch, who is 'never completely dressed; never completely dry; always with a baby in one hand and a novel in the other'. With Lucilla's little half-sister Jicks, Collins even makes a three year old girl into an unusual and memorable character.

Although I thought parts of the plot felt contrived, the story did become very gripping towards the end. This was an interesting and thought provoking read, and if you have enjoyed any other Wilkie Collins books, then I suspect you might enjoy this one too. ( )
  SheReadsNovels | Aug 20, 2010 |
With Poor Miss Finch, Wilkie Collins has again reminded me why he is one of my favorite authors. In this book he explores the psychology of blindness and attempts (by his own admission in the foreword) to show that having one's sight is not a requisite for happiness — and that for some, not having sight is actually better than seeing.

Poor Miss Finch is about a blind girl, Lucilla Finch, who has a powerful and irrational fear of dark colors. She falls in love with Oscar Dubourg, a young man who later begins suffering epilepsy and must take nitrates of silver. The drug cures the epilepsy but turns his face dark blue. Though they are engaged, Oscar is afraid to tell Lucilla about his disfigurement because of her terrible fear of dark colors. At this juncture, Oscar's twin, the artistic and confident Nugent, comes on the scene bringing an eminent oculist who promises to restore Lucilla's sight. What follows is a madcap story of deception, mistaken identities, and brotherly love gone wrong.

The story is narrated by Miss Finch's companion, Madame Pratolungo, who is a vehement Socialist and has the most wonderful ferocity about it. (I do love Collins' narrators.) Madame Pratolungo brings a dash of humor to an otherwise tense story. Herr Grosse, the German oculist who operates on Miss Finch, is also wonderful. I love the way he talks:

"It is me, my dears," said Herr Grosse. "Ach, Gott! what a pretty girls! Here is jost the complexion I l like—nice-fair! nice-fair! I am come to see what I can do, my pretty Miss, for this eyes of yours. If I can let the light in on you—hey! you will lofe me, won't you? You will kees even an ugly Germans like me. Soh! Come under my arm. We will go back into the odder rooms. There is anodder one waiting to let the light in too—Mr. Sebrights. Two surgeon-optic to one pretty Miss—English surgeon-optic; German surgeon-optic—hey! between us we shall cure this nice girls. Madame Pratolungo, here is my odder arm at your service. Hey! what? You look at my coatsleeve. He is shabby-greasy—I am ashamed of him. No matter. You have got Mr. Sebrights to look at in the odder room. He is spick-span, beautiful-new. Come! Forwards! Marsch!"

Ah fun.

This wasn't one of Collins' more popular novels, but I certainly enjoyed it. The thing about Collins is that his stories are just so hard to put down once you get involved with the plot. He has a great sense of the ridiculous and puts it to good use in his observations of his characters. This is the sort of book that makes me look for more by the same author. A good read — recommended. ( )
6 vote atimco | Sep 10, 2008 |
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What if you had been deprived of sight for your entire life -- only to have your vision restored just as you found yourself falling in love for the first time? That's the seemingly miraculous fate that befalls the Miss Finch of the title in this classic novel from abidingly popular nineteenth-century author Wilkie Collins.

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