After reading Charles Dicken’s Hard Times, I was convinced I would not find a more obnoxious or disagreeable character than Mr. Josiah Bounderby. I was mistaken. In truth, it was actually two characters in Wilkie Collins Poor Miss Finch who frustrated me, to the point where I would occasionally blow heavily out my nostrils like a winded hippo. The character of Oscar Dubourg is a meek and mild man, willing to abandon his bride, all because his face takes on an unnatural blue hue (I am guessing slightly darker than a Smurf). In contrast, the character of Nugent Dubourg begins, for the most part, as a favorable man, introducing the oculist Herr Grosse to cure Lucilla Finch of her blindness. Yet he turns out to be a master manipulator, willing to see his brother miserable in exchange for his own happiness. The two brothers interchangeably stirred up feelings of irritation and frustration in me. The questionable and, especially in Nugent’s case, immoral actions that pave the way for these two characters’ endings provides one with abundant material for criticism.
It is Lucilla’s fear of dark colors that drives the main plot. Yet, I disagree with Jessica Durgan’s statement that Lucilla’s prejudice means, “it is she who stands in the way of the couples happiness” (772). While I agree Lucilla’s preconception of dark hues is what refrains Oscar from confiding in his fiancé, she is never actually told, and therefore never given the chance, to come to terms with Oscar’s changed appearance. Even after regaining her sight, Lucilla is, ironically, kept in the dark. Once over the shock of first seeing Oscar’s face, Lucilla later reveals to Nugent (in the guise of Oscar) that she “was terribely frightened by [her] own imagination, before [she] saw him…After [she saw him [she] soon got over it” (341). Although her sight is only temporarily restored, with it Lucilla realizes her fears “to be both irrational and immaterial” (Durgan 773).
Oscar’s inability to tell Lucilla the truth, despite having multiple opportunities, provides insight into his degree of grit and nerve. After a quarrel with Madame Pratolungo, Oscar proceeds to write a letter, lamely stating at the end, “I hope you did not really mean that…write and tell me whether you did or not?” (215). Pratolungo’s immediate exasperated reaction, “write and tell him?” (215) was akin to my own. Face-to-face confrontation is clearly something Oscar shies away from, no matter his adversary. In another event Mr. Sebright, the English oculist, encourages Oscar to be present when Lucilla first gains back her sight, declaring that “if [Oscar was] sure of [his] place in her affections, she will end in forgiving [him]” (228). Despite this professional advice, Oscar fails to tell Lucilla the truth once she is able to see, and abandons her shortly after. It takes a great deal of pain and heartbreak before Oscar realizes that his “discoloration need not determine his future happiness” (Durgan 777).
Madame Pratolungo comes to recognize Nugent as a slippery and self-interested character. Yet it is Herr Grosse’s threat to reveal Nugent to be, “no more Oscar Dubourg than I am” (365) that finally drives the imposter away from Lucilla. It seemed only fitting that Nugent finds his end by freezing to death, which my initial thought upon learning was: “did he turn blue?”
Collins, Wilkie. Poor Miss Finch. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
Durgan, Jessica. “Wilkie Collin’s Blue Period: Color, Aesthetics, and Race in Poor Miss Finch.” Victorian Literature and Culture 43 (2015): 765-83.