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)