Student Response to Poor Miss Finch

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?”


Works Cited

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.


3 thoughts on “Student Response to Poor Miss Finch

  1. I absolutely love your comment: “did he turn blue?” I never thought of that but it is a fitting end for Nugent, they are identical twins after all. I’m also unsure if this is really a happy ending for Lucilla. She does get out of marrying the man that preyed on her blindness but she marries the man that is afraid of her ability to see his face that has been turned blue by a medication that healed his epileptic seizures. She fell in love with Oscar sight unseen to begin with, so why would being honest and upfront with Lucilla cause his such trepidation. Herr Grosse seems to be the only man who is truly concerned for Lucilla’s personal health and wellbeing and yet he lies to her as well, if only to allow the healing to complete. Madame Pratalungo with her perfect sight and worldly knowledge fails to see Nugent as a bold opportunist. Did he turn blue?!


  2. OP,

    I find your perspective on the characters to be refreshing. So often I have heard from others in the class that Lucilla is the most irritating of all the characters in the novel, when in fact it is those around her that constantly deceive her that are even more annoying. So often I found myself yelling at the books: “JUST TELL HER ALREADY!”
    I also appreciate your comment on dark hues and how Lucilla is no longer afraid of them when she is finally able to see Oscar, but I just want to expand on it a little. So often we are horrified by what we cannot see (a common trope in most suspense films), but once we are able to see, we realize that our fear of it wasn’t all that rational. I, for one, have been scared by many a thing that I could not see that turned out to be just a cat or bird. It is the fear of the unknown that most likely terrifies Lucilla. And it definitely does not help that even what Lucilla does know is probably not the complete truth because those around her have altered it so as to “protect” her.


  3. I also appreciate your post, and like Ken, I love your comment about Nugent maybe turning blue. I agree with your frustrations regarding the brothers, especially with Oscar withholding the truth from Lucilla. This scenario reminds me of a few common lessons that one learns in one’s early school years. For starters, telling the truth is always the better option. Oscar would have avoided much hassle if he only told Lucilla the truth. After all, trust and acceptance are foundational in any healthy relationship. Lucilla experiencing and accepting the blue hue reminds me of the lesson to always try new things before discounting them. Although Lucilla could not not fully experience dark colors before she regained her sight, Lucilla overcomes an irrational fear once she sees the hues, and I agree with Catherine that her fear is most likely of the unknown rather than dark colors. As someone who works with young children, the “moral of the story” components, the fear of dark colors, and Oscar turning blue in a way reminds me of an odd children’s book. I wonder which authors Collins influenced, particularly if he influenced any authors of children’s literature. Or, was Collins influenced by any tales, authors, or aspects of early children’s literature himself? Food for thought!


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