Mrs Zant and the Ghost by Wilkie Collins

In Mrs Zant and the Ghost (The Ghost’s Touch), Wilkie Collins implies two concepts or conflicts of the contemporaries: supernatural vision of persons and the agreed matrimonial act imposed by an ecclesiastical belief.

In the story, protagonist, Mr Rayburn, and his daughter, Lucy, encountered a young lady (Mrs Zant) in Kensington Gardens whom they believed was distressed by agitation and troubled by illness. Mrs Zant seemed to overlook their presence but approached them, saw through them with an unspeakable fear. Intrigued by her presence and concerned about her helplessness, Mr Zant followed her to a lodging house with his daughter and contrived to find out the truth. Through Mrs Zant epistolary confession, she experienced a certain kind of vision, not by sight but by feelings. While she wandered under the tree, she felt everything in reality disappeared before her eyes, every sound of hearing among the surroundings was completely erased and only her sense remains. “I felt an Invisible Presence near me. It touched me gently.” The unknown entity touched and embraced her and she felt a rapture of joy. She acknowledged the unknown entity to be her husband, who died of consumption (or the overdose of sleeping drops) after they had not married to each other for long. According to the letter to Mr Rayburn, she returned to the Park for the first time since she had convalesced from brain fever; and this was the place where she used to take a stroll with Mr Zant when they were betrothed.

“Judged from the point of view of the materialist, Mrs. Zant might no doubt be the victim of illusions (produced by a diseased state of the nervous system), which have been known to exist — as in the celebrated case of the book-seller, Nicolai, of Berlin — without being accompanied by derangement of the intellectual powers.”

In this story, Wilkie Collins mentioned the case of Nicolai, who had seen supernatural figures during the days incessantly, for two years, while his habitual treatment of bloodletting was ceased. One morning in February 1791, out of his nervous mood and annoyance with his business, he saw phantasms for the first time, which were only seen by him, and did what the mortals did in the daytime at the market – transacting businesses, some were even on horsebacks, and some were with dogs. The figures also spoke to him occasionally. It seemed like a pleasing view, a normal spectra. But once he applied bloodletting again, the phantasms never reappeared. There was a paper of his called “A Memoir on the Appearance of Spectres or Phantoms occasioned by Disease“, in which Nicolai acknowledged that this vision was subjected to his bodily ailments, “the whole panorama was exhibited on his own retina, and the working brain behind was the manager and scene-shifter of the show”. Compared with this context, Mrs Zant did not reflect what her passing fancies of her brain into her vision, but according to the preface of the story, a plausible and unknown supernatural presence “reached mortal knowledge through the sense which is least easily self-deceived: the sense that feels”. In Wilkie Collins’s contemporaries, illusions and ghostly encounters were gradually superseded by scientific explanation under the progression of secularism, but in my point of view, Wilkie Collins really tried to ascertain that every man is certainly with feeling, and immortality, supernatural entities, religions, and superstitions are still some requisite components to propel his stories in reflecting the beauty of fate, faith, hope, and a belief which can constitute humans value better virtue, and even exert a moral and fatal punishment on the misdeeds, just as what we had read in Man and Wife, The Two Destinies, and The Moonstone.

“In his way of thinking, if one man may marry his wife’s sister, and no harm done, where’s the objection if another man pays a compliment to the family, and marries his brother’s widow? My master, if you please, is that other man. Take the widow away before she marries him.”

As we had read in Wilkie Collins’s novels, he was concerned much about the welfare and state of women in their matrimonial lives. In Man and Wife, a doubt arises in Scotland on couples that could be announced as husband and wife legally when the third witness is present, as well as mentioning the case of Irregular Marriage in Ireland. In Woman in White, we learn the unfair Married Women’s Property Act in Victorian England; however in Evil Genius, we see lenience towards the fairer sex in marriage act concerning the divorced law implemented in Scotland.

In the case of Mrs Zant and the Ghost, the story touches the subject of Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act, which stipulated in 1835 that a widower was illegal to marry the late wife’s sister. It was considered incestuous as husband and wife were made one flesh upon marriage. However, perhaps as to be seen more “protective” to women and due to “moral” concerns, a widow was allowed to be married into a husband’s brother’s household. In this opinion, it was based on the fact that the in-law family needed the wife to conceive of a future heir, or to accept the in-law daughter under a roof so that she would not be left destitute. This act was not repealed until 1905. It is a shame I have not read it, but Dinah Maria Craik and Felicia Skene wrote Hannah and Inheritance of Evil Or, the Consequences of Marrying a Deceased Wife’s Sister, respectively, based on this law. In Mrs Zant and the Ghost, Wilkie Collins, in my point of view, might be questioning the Parliament if this act of “levirate marriage” was really without consequences and if it was really in every nuptial case without misdeeds and immoral motives on the male’s part.

In this story, we can see again another case of Wilkie Collin’s challenging the contemporaries. Although Mrs Zant and the Ghost might not be an eye-catcher compared with his other works, but all works could be treated as gems if they are to be digged diligently.

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Wilkie Collins – My Soul Asylum

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The Cliff Path, by Edmund Leighton

I haven’t read Wilkie Collins’s works for a while, as there are some books I think I have been wanting to read for long, I have accomplished some of them, but some are still left on the shelf. Honestly as reading those novels, the emotions are not as strong as reading Wilkie Collins’s stories. There is always a time I feel I need to go back to the basics and get to read some of his books again; especially recently I am finding myself at lost, feeling listless when I am back home. I do not have much social life, do not know where to go to and what to do apart from my assiduous nature to work, work, work.

When in solitude, I resort and correspond myself to the characters of Wilkie Collins’s works. He is an irreplaceable author and occupies a significant portion in my reading world. Some characters are too Eccentric and feel at ease only on their own. Being of course the essential and indispensable existence of the books, the stories which are full of sensation and mystery would not be so much fascinating and absorbing without them. On the other hand, on an emphatic scale, they are eagerly waiting to have someone who is willing to delve into their minds and understand their poignancy. As a reader, eccentricity in Wilkie Collins’s stories is one of the most tantalizing aspects and always ends up to be my favourite part of the plots. I get to know and feel the characters through their confessions, their monologues and epistolary writings. Rosanna Spearman and Ezra Jennings from The Moonstone, Hester Dethridge from Man and Wife, Sarah Leeson from The Dead Secret, Miserrimus Dexter from The Law and the Lady, Miss Dunross from The Two Destinies, and so forth. They are always alone, they are phlegmatic, full of regrets, and they long to love and admire a person, to be forgiven of the sins that had committed in the past, to be accepted and respected by whoever that is tolerant enough and has a big heart. As a quote from one of Wilkie Collins’s novel, everyone tends to have a time who is prone to be alone, to observe the aura and the surrounding atmosphere. It is impossible of a person who had grown up and been in solitary moments is not stirred in emotions by the eccentric characters that Wilkie Collins protrays. Being in solitude is the moment in real life that you can develop an unique self.

They are not sociable; they are hardly ever seen to make acquaintance with each other; perhaps they are shame-faced, or proud, or sullen; perhaps they despair of others, being accustomed to despair of themselves; perhaps they have their reasons for never venturing to encounter curiosity, or their vices which dread detection, or their virtues which suffer hardship with the resignation that is sufficient for itself. (I Say No, Wilkie Collins)

Reading Wilkie Collins’s stories, you read about Reconciliation. That is why you always have a good feeling when reaching the end of the stories. In Hide and Seek, there are regrets for readers, of course, that the unrequited love on the aspects of man-and-woman endearment between Madonna and Zack is not fulfilled in the end though it is compensated with the most affectionate tenderness. However, more importantly, it is the comradeship between Matthew Grice and Zack Thorpe that should be considered and regarded as the best solution in the story. The friendship is subtle in the beginning but grows into a passionate nature in the end emphasizing with that astounding secret they share. Even between The Two Destinies, the common feature of reconciliation in the end is similar – the separation, the rumination, the abandonment of oneself into an unknown place, and finally, the undying, limitless love, and the recognition of one to another. There is no wordy decoration, the recognition of love is simple, straight-toward and without pretension. That is why I always adore Wilkie Collins’s writing.

The time came; and on either side, the two comrades of former days — in years so far apart, in sympathies so close together — lived to look each other in the face again. The solitude which had once hardened Matthew Grice, had wrought on him, in his riper age, to better and higher ends. In all his later roamings, the tie which had bound him to those sacred human interests in which we live and move and have our being — the tie which he himself believed that he had broken — held fast to him still. His grim, scarred face softened, his heavy hand trembled in the friendly grasp that held it, as Zack pleaded with him once more; and, this time, pleaded not in vain.

“I’ve never been my own man again” said Mat, “since you and me wished each other good-bye on the sandhills. The lonesome places have got strange to me — and my rifle’s heavier in hand than ever I knew it before. There’s some part of myself that seems left behind like, between Mary’s grave and Mary’s child. Must I cross the seas again to find it? Give us hold of your hand, Zack — and take the leavings of me back, along with you.” (Hide and Seek, Wilkie Collins)

Another essence is the Empowerment in Wilkie Collins’s stories. Talking about empowerment, I mean a woman’s empowerment, a progress of self-realization and enlightenment, a consciousness that a heroine can believe herself as she has the ability to execute her power, to achieve and accomplish, and an ability to be her own self. A heroine can also be reticent and sufficient to protect and defend what she thinks is right, which it should not be regarded as sacrifice but a moral act. For instance, in The Law and the Lady, isn’t Valerie the propeller to assert her husband’s innocence against the notorious verdict of “not proven” in that case? In Man and Wife, Anne Silvester is a strong character who is initially teeming with ambivalence of whether to submit or to defend the dignity of herself against the protagonist’s control which she finds that the harmful relationship has been eclipsing her own free will. In the end, she toughens herself. The disposition of the heroines in Wilkie Collins’s might not be uncommon in his contemporaries, but it is the enlightenment of a woman who is resilient and satisfied at the same time that she could decide her life on her own. It is not important to focus on whether a woman could set to be free from a man’s life in the end, but it is important that a woman has a story, has a past, can think proactively, and gets to have an opportunity to explore and execute her power.

The first instinct of girls in general, on being told of anything which interests them, is to ask a multitude of questions, and then to run off, and talk it all over with some favourite friend. Rachel Verinder’s first instinct, under similar circumstances, was to shut herself up in her own mind, and to think it over by herself. This absolute self-dependence is a great virtue in a man. In a woman it has a serious drawback of morally separating her from the mass of her sex, and so exposing her to misconstruction by the general opinion. (The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins)

I might not be focusing on Wilkie Collins’s works on literary aspects, but these are some of the reasons for my love of his works; that he is considerate and treats every character as an individual, which also includes us readers. It is his contrivances of genuineness, virtue and beauty to compose a story that moves me.

The Legacy of Cain (1888) by Wilkie Collins

Millais, John Everett, 1829-1896; The Twins, Kate and Grace Hoare
The Twins, Kate and Grace Hoare, by John Everett Millais

“I resigned myself to recognize the existence of the hereditary maternal taint, I firmly believed in the counterbalancing influences for good which had been part of the girl’s birthright…With the great, the vital transformation, which marks the ripening of the girl into the woman’s maturity of thought and passion, a new power for Good, strong enough to resist the latent power for Evil, sprang into being, and sheltered Eunice under the supremacy of Love.”  – The Governor

The Legacy of Cain, a book with a name of biblical connotation, written by Wilkie Collins in his late years, is another novel carried out with a “mission”. This book actually tries to elaborate some of his published works that he touched on before; but the main theme here is the argument over the term of hereditary moral characteristics (nature). One’s reputation is important, once ruined it is irretrievable, which will then be passed on to next generations. Its reputation is not confined to pecuniary deterioration as in other novels of the contemporaries, but it is actually the ruin of moral character. It might be genetically shared and looked down upon by the general public. Wilkie Collins explicates that this might not necessarily be the case. In many Victorian novels, many protagonists forbear and defeat destitution through diligence and fortitude. In Legacy of Cain, under the general stigma regarding the passing of motherly sins and characteristics to the daughter, positive nurture and upbringing however prepare heroines to forbear future obstacles. Most importantly, it is of her individual cultivation of good and inner strength which assist her to confront the hardship in the end. In general it is individual virtue and peace of triumphing the bad and public stigma.

“There are inherent emotional forces in humanity to which the inherited influences must submit; they are essentially influences under control – influences which can be encountered and forced back. That we, who inhabit this little planet, may be the doomed creatures of fatality, from the cradle to the grave, I am not prepared to dispute. But I absolutely refuse to believe that it is a fatality with no higher origin than can be found in our accidental obligation to our fathers and mothers.”  – The Governor

One of the obstacles in The Legacy of Cain is human emotions. The intense plot constitutes a sisterly competition for the love of a handsome but a weak gentleman of a respectable background. It echoes a resemblance of the charismatic preacher, Mr Miles Mirabel in I Say No.

The story-line and characters induce a bit of interaction and guesswork for readers. For example, I keep guessing who is the daughter of a ruined mother as well as the adopted one in the family. Of course, it is a test which tempts and reveals to readers that their judgement are not always the truth. Eunice is the simple-minded character in the beginning. She is more impressionable than her sister, Helena. Helena, on the other hand, shines and always contrives to win others’ heart over Eunice with her cleverness and beauty (You might have guessed it correctly who the adopted daughter is! But you know, once you are indulged in Wilkie’s narratives, it is not easy to see 🙂 ). This didactic approach might remind readers of Man and Wife, in that case, athleticism – the revival of manly virtue is set to compete against personal nourishment of virtue in good and kindness. In Legacy of Cain, it is the artifice of beauty against the unblemished virtue of humility in competition of love and confrontation of obstacles.

To compete for one’s love turns out ugly; it derives an emotional force which overrides hereditary morality, and is one of the most tainted, fatal and incurable flaws existing in human nature – an emotion of jealousy. Jealousy is the tool in the story which induces one’s rage, fury, and desperation so as to unveil mortal masquerades and to see clearly of the counterbalancing and conflict of intrinsic good and evil in an individual’s heart and character. In Eunice’s case, she lets jealousy subside instead of linger. She chooses the “giving-up-and forgiven-all” attitude to her sister Helena as well as to her lover. It might be an exemplary virtue which is always exhibited in many pure female characters in Wilkie Collins’s works – the considerate, and caring ones in the family, a character who has gone through a process to enlightenment and self-realisation to become a better person – it might be heart-wrenching; however, readers who are familiar with Wilkie Collins’s stories would know him to be a considerate author as he always gets you a warm feeling to know that fate is destined to restore true lovers in the end.

I hope Penguin, Oxford and other publishers could do more Wilkie’s titles with introduction and explanatory notes. I am running out of ideas!

The Mystery of Charles Dickens: A Tale of Mesmerism and Murder by John Paulits

9781780921778Between 1844 an 1845, during the time of Dickens’ excursion with his family, he was acquainted with the de la Rues in Genoa. Emile de la Rue, a Swiss banker, confided to Dickens that his English wife Augusta was having troubles with facial tics and sleepless nights. Taught by Dr. Elliotson in London, Dickens returned to Genoa and underwent sessions of mesmerism to put Augusta into a trance-like state, so that she could be cured during the process of awakening and dreaming. However, the One and Only Dickens, the Great Original, the master that all men great and small who gravitated towards this resplendent being, was defeated in this one and only circumstance. During the trance, Augusta divulged to Dickens that she was actually haunted by a “phantom” in her subconscious mind, and little was known by Dickens that twenty-five years later, in doing the justice to the Swiss banker’s wife, and having a righteousness in mind to uncover the deepest depth of a gruesome truth in writing the Mystery of Edwin Drood (what excitement to find out this name is a play of anagram!), the inescapable jeopardy was awaiting Dickens to meet his accursed end.

“You have caused these attacks. You are the source of these attacks. Do not sit there and act as if your wife’s attacks are but a small price to pay to possess the likes of you! You talk as if you were some rare and precious prize. What you have done is to destroy the woman’s peace of mind, her health, and her stability.”(p. 122)

The Mystery of Charles Dickens is one of the most interesting books I have read. One of the aspects which makes this book unforgettable is that there is a great juxtaposition drawn between the nuptial/familial affections of Dickens’ and that of de la Rues. Some dialogues actually remind me of the biographies and fiction I read about Dickens with his wife Catherine.  In Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold, Catherine is also portrayed as an insecure wife, suffered from indisposition and stuck in a rotation of birth-giving confinement. In truth, before the separation in 1858, Dickens even made his instructions to set up a partition wall in the bedroom and accused of Catherine being suffered from mental disorder. In The Mystery of Charles Dickens, Catherine is more belligerent and acrimonious to Dickens, perhaps used to illustrate Dickens being the restless and unique character in search of the truth and justice in this mystery. But still, both Catherine Dickens and Augusta de la Rue were victims in a way that their misfortune was self-disguised as blessings that they believed the total darkness of their lives was illuminated by a rare and precious light like their husbands, but the truth is that the relationships were actually a deception, a psychological detriment, and they were only seen as impressionable beings.

“Dickens seemed now to control the very respiration of his audience. There were passages where taking a breath, making a disturbance, however slight, would have been a sacrilegious impossibility.” (p.138)

On the other aspect, Dickens, when put onto paper in fiction, biographies, and projected on screens as the protagonist of possessing restless and inquisitive mind, is a character who makes one very excitable to dissect, devour, and admire in words. “Dickens’ command over his audience amazed de la Rue. The Room no longer seemed a collection of individuals but had become one attentive thing, pushed, pulled, driven, frightened, amused, and entertained by the man in the small circle of light.” (p. 138) I really enjoy reading these kinds of enlivened passages in the book narrating Dickens with his reading desks, citing aloud his works during his farewell reading performances on stage, and every time he has read the murder scene of Nancy by Sikes in Oliver Twist, Dickens was described as being too exhausted and overwrought that he needed to stagger off from the stage being flanked by two men in assistance.

Vengeance plays a major part in the book. There is Dickens’s vengeance against Emile de la Rue’s immoral filth that he needed to make it come alive in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (admittedly I still haven’t read it), and on the other side, Emile de la Rue’s mistaken vengeance against Dickens for ruining his life and hopeful possibility to attain a high social status in London is ubquitious in the story. Emile de la Rue’s sinful tramps around Rochester is especially making one feel really tense while reading it, even better than the mesmerising chapters on Augusta (I find some dialogues quite humourous, especially the bits when Dickens was convinced he had a great pair of visual rays that could subdue Augusta). Emile was really one of a rogue in the book, and those chapters make me really want to explore Gad’s Hill once in a lifetime. (Although I think it has been turned to a school for a long time but I really hope someday I could visit this place).

By the way, Dr Elliotson is also another interesting person in the book, apart from him being an expert of mesmerist, little did I know he was also an eminent phrenologist. But most importantly, he actually underwent a successful operation of amputating a patient’s penis using mesmerism as an anesthetic. So, one must get hold of this book to dig more information!

Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins (quote 2)

Our faculties are never more completely at the mercy of the smallest interests of our being, than when they appear to be most fully absorbed by the mightiest. And it is well for us that there exists this seeming imperfection in our nature. The first cure of many a grief, after the hour of parting, or in the house of death, has begun, insensibly to ourselves, with the first moment when we were betrayed into thinking of so little a thing even as a daily meal.

Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins (quote)

Nothing was more characteristic of Mrs. Blyth’s warm sympathies and affectionate consideration for Madonna than this little action. The kindest people rarely think it necessary, however well practiced in communicating by the fingers with the deaf, to keep them informed of any ordinary conversation which may be proceeding in their presence. Wise disquisitions, witty sayings, curious stories, are conveyed to their minds by sympathizing friends and relatives, as a matter of course; but the little chatty nothings of everyday talk, which most pleasantly and constantly employ our speaking and address our hearing faculties, are thought too slight and fugitive in their nature to be worthy of transmission by interpreting fingers or pens, and are consequently seldom or never communicated to the deaf. No deprivation attending their affliction is more severely felt by them than the special deprivation which thus ensues; and which exiles their sympathies, in a great measure, from all share in the familiar social interests of life around them.

Hide and Seek, Wilkie Collins

“If love is the law then this is a crime…” Blind Love by Wilkie Collins

9781551114477[T]he one unassailable vital force in this world is the force of love. It may submit to the hard necessities of life; it may acknowledge the imperative claims of duty; it may be silent under reproach, and submissive to privation – but, suffer what it may, it is the master-passion still; subject to no artificial influences, owning no supremacy but the law of its own being.

Blind Love is the last novel which Wilkie Collins assiduously worked on until the forty-eighth chapters followed by Walter Besant with the remaining sixteen under “actual detailed scenario” and “fragments of dialogue” left by Wilkie’s instructions. Moral obligations are ubiquitous in this story; the nature of relationships gives powerful impact upon the characters with relative consequences.

“This misplaced love of mine that everybody condemns has, oddly enough, a virtue that everybody must admire. It offers a refuge to a woman who is alone in the world.” – Iris Henley

“Blindness” refers to one’s inescapable irrationality within the scope of relationships and the self. In this story, the historical backgrounds of  “Irish business”, under the unionist’s point of view, was irrational, and the underlying meaning of “being insured for life” in the 19th century would ironically lead to a life destruction.

Indeed, this novel has a pessimistic tone in it; every character has life’s little uncontrollables which are completely not sober in human nature out of his and her own being. However, gleams of hopeful light are shed on the readers the moment when each character is awakened by his or her own circumstances. One of the reasons for Wilkie Collins’s works being so enticing is the enlightenment and empowerment when a character who is always regarded inferior by his or her ranks toughens up against the hard life’s necessities.

In Blind Love, the female voice is one of the strongest and remarkable in Wilkie’s works, and we should not disregard the significance of this story being more inferior to his other notable works. We see the struggle of the three female characters in this story – Mrs Vimpany (a former actress and an infamous doctor’s wife), Iris Henley (whose husband was of a noble rank but being disinherited from his family’s fortune), and last but not least, Fanny Mere (a fallen woman / housemaid). Each was once impressionable and fettered by a distorted love.

In Iris’s case, however, the feeling of implicit trust in her husband was still ambivalent and not being destructed nearly until the end of the story. She was infatuated with the man and married to the scope of Norland’s domesticity against her friends’ wishes. In her solitary hours, she was more sober to see through the veil of his recklessness, but in the darkness of time, Lord Harry’s sweet tooth, high spirits and talks of “self-reproach” filled her up with hope again. The veil was not lifted up until she could discover a vile conspiracy concerning Lord Harry’s association with a bad company – Mr Vimpany, a notorious doctor in his profession, alike Count Fosco in The Woman in White with a pecuniary greed.

“You have been brought up to believe, perhaps, that people in service are not men and women. That is a mistake – a great mistake. Fanny Mere is a woman – that is to say, an inferior form of man; and there is no man in the world so low or so base as not to be able to do mischief. The power of mischief is given to every one of us. It is the true, the only Equality of Man – we can all destroy. What? a shot in the dark; the striking of a lucifer match; the false accusation; the false witness; the defamation of character; – upon my word, it is far more dangerous to be hated by a woman than by a man. And this excellent and faithful Fanny, devoted to her mistress, hates you, my lord, even more”… – Mr Vimpany

The inner struggle of Iris Henley might try readers’ patience, but it is the duel against the misandristic (a treat for us reader, but thankfully she wasn’t one in the end) Fanny Mere (the hunter) and Mr Vimpany (the prey) which makes the plot much more exciting. It is an unexpected rival of the ranks. Each has own secrets not to be divulged. Fanny Mere’s background, unluckily, was not a mystery. We get to know where her hard life came from, and from there she got hold of her strength and stamina to compete against the villain of the story.

Regarding the plot, some are disappointing to me, for example, the story does not touch on the grief of Hugh Mountjoy concerning the assassination of his brother, and the restitution and payback of the money to the insurance company is a bit unbelievable.

However, readers who are familiar with Wilkie Collins’s works might feel bits of excitement when some of his notable elements are drawn into the story, for instance, the mental seclusion from society with an ill-fated marriage, the banishment of the man and wife, and the domestic environment likened to the living of a solitary confinement set within the prison walls…the extremity would always imply that main characters, normally a heroine, would proactively conduct her next move to defy the current hardship and life, with satisfactory outcomes to us readers.

Although the plot and the tension might not be up to my liking compared with his other works, the female voice, the doppelgänger, the atonement (one of my favourite elements of his works) are within in this novel, so I would want more fellows who like his works not to evade this story nevertheless.