Student Response to Poor Miss Finch

Wilkie Collins novel Poor Miss Finch could easily have been a comedy. It reminded me in a few ways of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest. While Wilde’s play is a satirical farce that pokes fun at the social structures of the day while Collins tells a much darker story. In Poor Miss Finch the case of mistaken identity is used to make us question how much of a person’s nature is tied to their outward appearance or disabilities.  Nugent’s immoral action toward the end of the novel reveal his true character which had been hidden behind his good looks and charming nature. Oscar the grotesque is revealed to be the man of higher character despite his cowardice.  Jessica Durgan suggests that Oscar’s blueness is symbolic of the subjective nature of race. I’m inclined to agree considering  the  evidence given by Durgan of similar racial themes present in Collins’ other works. I feel like this metaphor could have been extended further. Lucilla tells a story of how she is horrified by an Indian man at a dinner party, and Mrs. Pratolungo makes reference to her husband’s brownness. The lack of naturally dark skinned people in the narrative makes a strictly racial reading of the text slightly weak. The nature of appearance however I think extends further than just colour.

I found it interesting the how Lucilla is horrified of the blue brother, but is willing to trust Dr. Grosse where the sighted people prefer the opinion of Dr. Sebright. This could be explained by her strong desire to see, however Collins goes to great length to distinguish between the appearances of the two men Grosse is a “brutes” while Sebright is well put together, the very picture of a what the character imagine a Doctor should look like. I’m inclined to believe that Grosse’s treatment would have worked under more ideal circumstances but Collins leaves that for the reader to decide.

Something else I found interesting was the contrast between Mr. Finch’s voice and his physical appearance. His appearance is terribly unattractive which unlike Grosse is reflective of his overall character, he is greedy, selfish, and an irresponsible procreator. But his voice is the described as very powerful. I think this contrast exists to outline his relationship to his daughter who cannot see him and knows him by his voice. His voice is the symbol of his authority over her. His effect over the other sighted characters is less than over his daughter.

I’m conflicted by the end of the story. By having Lucilla’s blindness return the implication that outward appearance is less important than character is made quite clearly. However she comes to this conclusion earlier in the story upon seeing a Blue man at the beach. Fully sighted she admits to Nugent that she could love a man so disfigured. This all works well from a narrative point of view but I dislike that Lucilla equates her blindness with her happiness. She wasn’t unhappy because she could see. It was because of the deception practiced on her that caused the dissonance. Nugent was the reason for her unhappiness. Perhaps it is because for a sighted person as myself the idea of blindness is terrifying where it is a comfort to Lucilla.

Overall Poor Miss Finch does well in it’s exploration of appearance vs. character but I find some of the message to be a bit confusing some characters appearance is not related to their character The Dubourg twins being the primary example. However Mr. and Mrs. Finch’s appearances generally correspond quite well with their characters. The two men who rob and assault Oscar  are judged initially by their appearance and the judgements made are completely justified. The novel sometimes takes liberties with it’s theme in order to progress the story.

(Googling Argyria confirms that there are indeed completely blue people out there for those unconvinced like myself)

2 thoughts on “Student Response to Poor Miss Finch

  1. I was also a little confused at the end. Lucilla admits that she no longer disliked the blue man. She loses her sight and marries Oscar, who is “disfigured” blue that she cannot see, but he failed to tell her that he would turn blue from taking the cure to his epilepsy. She ends up with the man who tricked her, but if she can’t see does it matter? She feels something when she touches Oscar but not when she touches Nugent posing as Oscar, blaming the loss of feeling on the gaining of sight. Nugent, remaining handsome through the novel, does not give Lucilla the “feel” that Oscar did, yet she ignores what she used to rely on when blind. I was wondering why she would still feel the same connection with Oscar after the deception that he allowed to happen to her.

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  2. You discussion of appearance versus character makes some interesting points, especially the difference between the doctors and how Rev. Finch’s powerful voice enables him to keep Lucilla subjugated. I think however that a great bit of your confusion as to why Lucilla returned to her blindness is answered by the introductory letter written by Wilkie Collins. We mustn’t forget that this novel wasn’t written with only concerns of plot, symmetry, etc. in mind, but was deliberately crafted to represent as close as possible the experiences of an actual blind person. Therefore, in order to present blindness as it is actually perceived by Collins’ studies of the blind, Lucilla had to again lose her sight after striving so hard to regain it, so that she could express her contentedness, and remind the reader that her lost sight does not mean necessarily she is lacking something, rather she is, corney as it sounds, simply differently-abled. That Lucilla is able to pursue her own happiness in this state is the point of all the melodrama, it is meant to open our own eyes to the experiences of others whom we cannot quite empathize with or fully understand. This message also applies to racial considerations, which I agree are minorly at play in this work. However, I think it was a conscious choice for Collins not to delve too deep into these issues as they may have overshadowed his primary concern regarding blindness.

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