I Say No (1884) by Wilkie Collins

books_isay_ybcw“Literature has hardly paid sufficient attention to a social phenomenon of a singularly perplexing kind. We hear enough, and more than enough, of persons who successfully cultivate the Arts – of the remarkable manner in which fitness for their vocation shows itself in early life, of the obstacles which family prejudice places in their way, and of the unremitting devotion which has led to the achievement of glorious results.

But how many writers have noticed those other incomprehensible persons, members of families innocent for generations past of practicing Art or caring for Art, who have notwithstanding displayed from their earliest years the irresistible desire to cultivate poetry, painting, or music; who have surmounted obstacles, and endured disappointments, in the single-hearted resolution to devote their lives to an intellectual pursuit – being absolutely without the capacity which proves the vocation, and justifies the sacrifice. Here is Nature, ‘unerring Nature,’ presented in flat contradiction with herself. Here are men bent on performing feats of running, without having legs; and women, hopelessly barren, living in constant expectation of large families to the end of their days.”

As the above paragraph indicates, many persons, who with an enormous passion for what they do, are often overlooked as anonymity and unacknowledged due to their failure of not attaining remarkable results regardless of the hardship they endure and the diligence they put in. I Say No: or the Love-letter Answered, in my idea, is that Wilkie, through the story, avuncularly and humorously gives a nod of encouragement to the persons, including us readers, who work persistently, morally and assiduously for their passions, and guides those stray suffered ones back on the right track of fortitude, perseverance, and hope.

“The passion of revenge, being essentially selfish in its nature, is of all passions the narrowest in its range of view.”

After James Brown received that letter replied with only three words – “I Say No”, the love-worn man incurred an unexpected death. Arrest warrant issued, people who were acquainted with James Brown were shadowed by his tragic death and each suffered mentally in a great deal. But four years after James’s daughter, Emily, was imparted by her beloved aunt that her father died of heart diseases, the “acknowledged” truth that Emily knows was later on challenged and concealed by her admirers, as well as a self-absorbed friend for different reasons. The good self-denying ones concealed it purely out of love and interests towards Emily. However, the merciless antagonist irrigated it as the seed of retribution: when obstacles were in the way, the revelation of the truth was used as shortcuts to achieve the means.

So some would say, what really happened to the mysterious death? “The wound could not have been inflicted, in the act of suicide, by the hand of the deceased person…” Based on this court hearing, it made the ending all the more of a anti-climax. The solution of the mystery was solely based on Emily’s trusting attributes and belief without any proof of evidence. Nobody including Miss Jethro, Mrs Rook, and Reverend Mirabel was blamed in the end. I thought Reverend Mirabel was the murderer as it seems like the authors of the contemporaries tend to attack the false philanthropy and pretentiousness of a person who induces an interesting and extreme contrast between his social position and character. But all Reverend Mirabel possesses was disconcert and fear. Mrs Rook, on the other hand, was only atoned for her sin of greed. Therefore this ending was a bit disappointing. I actually could not figure out why Wilkie chose to end the narrative in this way.

All in all, the case why I always adore Wilkie’s works is the way he masters the skills of dissecting characters’ emotional ambivalence, which makes long paragraphs a satisfying read. I Say No has a lot of paragraphs and element about indecisiveness, confusion, and puzzlement, and I somewhat enjoy it.

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Wong Sarah

Making reading the essential part of my life

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