Charles Allston Collins

Charles Allston Collins

“He mixed  up sense and nonsense in the strangest confusion…In short, he was just like himself-a mixture of the strangest and the most opposite qualities; at one time, perfectly clear and reasonable; at another, breaking out into rhapsodies of the most outrageous kind, like a man in a state of delirium.”

Are we already intrigued to unfold the mask of the villain of the story? Here he is, Miserrimus Dexter – miserable but dexterous in mind, sensitive in temperament and deftness in mental agility, bustling in his wheelchair. To me, he is the most unbelievable villain among all Wilkie’s novels which I have read; he is a person coming out of an imagination, but Wilkie has the whim in using the first-person narrative account of Valeria that enables him to describe Dexter and his movement in the most interesting and wildly way, and makes his phenomenal villain come to life and see him in our own very eyes:

“The fantastic and frightful apparition, man and machinery blended in one – the new Centaur, half man, half chair – flew by me again in the dying light.”

“The moment after, the terrible creature touched the floor as lightly as a monkey, on his hands. The grotesque horror of the scene culminated in his hopping away on his hands, at a prodigious speed, until he reached the fire-place in the long room.”

after the vivid and wonderful description of Miserrimus Dexter and his extravagant activity of enacting the resurrection of Shakespeare and Napoleon and so on, Valeria is almost captivated by his rich expressions and limitless creativity going on in his mind, and even determined to have her second visit to Dexter’s abode.

“One of our first amusements as children (if we have any imagination at all) is to get out of our own characters, and to try the characters of other personages as a change–to fairies, to be queens, to be anything, in short, but what we really are. Mr. Dexter lets out the secret just as the children do, and if that is madness, he is certainly mad…I hope the confession will not lower me seriously in your good opinion; but I must say I have enjoyed my visit, and, worse still, Miserrimus Dexter really interests me.”

Just really thought Dexter could almost be a useful companion to Valeria in dissecting the case,  the results appears to be strange and startling! Actually he is not as brilliantly imaginative and inventive as we think; this eccentric man suffers from a condition of “monomania”, and this latent mental problems would not break down his body provided that his mind is not to be excited or aroused negatively and interminably in any way. This could only be done when his miserable past and nostalgia are not to be recalled by any person in his lifetime; but in this case, Valeria, who requests and persists in seeking the truth of the poisonous case of his husband, knocks on his door…(Doppelganger strikes again right in the first interview between Dexter and Valeria!)

Another character, not so much lovable to the readers but presents herself in a distinctive way is Ariel, the cousin of Dexter but most willing to be his submissive and compliant servant. Ariel, a name designated by Dexter, comes from an allusion of The Tempest by Shakespeare, looked and dressed in man’s clothes.When realising this connotation, I thought Ariel would play a strong part to the revelation of the mystery of the plot, with her selective mutism to the crowd, like Hester Dethridge in Man and Wife, or Sarah Leeson in The Dead Secret. I could have expected more when reading this sentence (using as a tool/sidekick to Dexter):

“Miserrimus Dexter had sunk down in the chair. The rough man lifted his master with a gentleness that surprised me. “Hide my face,” I heard Dexter say to him, in broken tones. He opened his coarse pilot-jacket, and hid his master’s head under it, and so went silently out–with the deformed creature held to his bosom, like a woman sheltering her child.”

Dexter plays a great part to Collins to use so many connotations in the narrative and when describing his interior of abode. The Life of A Wandering Jew, The Career of A Wandering Jew, The Flying Dutchman drawn with cruelty images by Dexter and being hanged on the walls of his abode, all shows the scorn and contempt for the order and authority. It also underlines the determination and journey of Valeria of finding the truth of the court case, as well as emphasizes the outward physical weakness to Dexter as nothing when he himself has the self-conceit, intellect and resourcefulness as his strength to outdo the rest.

My flight of fancy when reading this novel:

  • Major Fitz-David would be the whodunnit in the novel as Beauly as the accomplice. In the beginning of the novel, we are shown a book of keepsake and locks of hair, and seems to always have a look of guilty horror and pale face. Finding that the Major is an admirer of beauty, he might get Beauly pregnant, but not willing to shoulder the responsibility, thinks of poisoning Sara and get Beauly be married to Eustace whilst a phantom suicide is made on Sara. (very silly. Only inference without logical thought)

The ending is doing everyone justice. I mean not justice, but it satisfies my opinion that such amazing and pitiable character of Dexter should not be doing something too mischievous and vile to poison his love interest, the wife of Eustace Macallan. But it is pain to see how unrequited love is doing everyone a misery. It may be satirical but joyful to see Major Fitz-David who seems to be all worldly and free-wheeling to admire any beauty he likes compared to other characters of the novel.

In that end, I quote a sentence found on New Yorker website:

Collins’s sensational plots ensnare readers but are also a tool of self-discovery. 

We are not only enchanted and intrigued by the story and plot and resolution going on with this novel, but also we can grow with the heroines and other characters, to realise the every virtue, tolerance and assiduity will earn their own reward.