Although My Lady’s Money (1878) by Wilkie Collins is a relatively short story compared with his other works, it is still instilled with a few Wilkie Collins’s elements. It is teeming with social objects, care and observations of undistinguished persons of his contemporaries and this novel really deserves some recognition.
Mr. Troy made no answer. In the melancholy experience of humanity to which his profession condemned him, he had seen conscious guilt assume the face of innocence, and helpless innocence admit the disguise of guilt: the keenest observation, in either case, failing completely to detect the truth.
This story draws the quotidian misconceptions and societal mores which exist in everyday life. Hearing the cousin of Late Husband, James Tollmidge, passed away, Lady Lydiard decided to draw out her 500-pound bank note in order to support financially Tollmidge’s family, but to enclose it in a letter anonymously and get it dispatched to the clergyman’s hands. As the letter was left unsealed on the table when being called upon an emergency concerning the health of her canine friend Tommie, the bank note was found missing when it was communicated to the clergyman’s hands. As visitors came and went, all persons who were present before the letter was sent were all suspected of theft. Through the interrogations of Mr. Troy, Lady Lydiard’s lawyer, a person was pointed out as the only suspect of theft – Isabel Miller, a young girl who was employed as the reader, companion for almost two years, and regarded as the adopted daughter by Lady Lydiard, as she was the one who was instructed to seal the letter. However, the interrogation was devoid of comprehensive search and questioning, persons concerned who were of rank and reputation were out of the question of theft.
“Now listen. Here’s the guinea opinion: Suspect, in this case, the very last person on whom suspicion could possibly fall.” (Old Sharon)
Accidents and mystery always happen in the most hospitable roofs, appearances do not always look like what they really seem to be. If not for the obstinacy and loyalty in proving her innocence to Lady Lydiard, she would never clear her name and further investigations would not be conducted. It was not until the appearance of Old Sharon, a ragged, unconventional “detective” who gave out this useful advice that we start to see the light for the story in culminating with a satisfying conclusion.
One thing I love about Wilkie Collins’s works is that he always delineates the social standards of his times to conflict them. The Victorian moralities are always referred to and appreciated these days but fiction writers of those times were always looking for all points of contemporary perspectives and mores, observing and accepting the irregularities, constructing their points, refuting, debunking, and wrestling with them. In the case of this story, it tackles the misconceptions that a person with ranks and said reputations should be much respected and devoid of wrongdoings. One of the most interesting scenes in the novel is the interaction between Miss Pink and Lady Lydiard. Miss Pink, a retired schoolmistress of a young girls’ academy, and the aunt of Isabel Miller, is the character who is exactly the anomaly and juxtaposition of Lady Lydiard. She is absent of title and rank but she desires it, she imitates the proprieties, refined but ostensible qualities which she considers as the criteria that only a titled person would acquire. “Miss Pink’s highly-trained conversation had perhaps one fault – it was not, strictly speaking, conversation at all. In its effect on her hearers it rather resembled the contents of a fluently conventional letter, read aloud.”Placing the primness and pride on top she was overwhelmed with shock concerning her meeting with Lady Lydiard with her “coarse terms and vulgarities”. Miss Pink and Lady Lydiard are respectively the living images of South Morden (a dull remote countryside) and London (a vivacious and fast-paced capital). Despite a place with its beautiful and pastoral nature its residents do not constitute it to become a desirable place of abode as it seems.
Thus far he had stood apart, watching her and listening to her in silence. Not a look that had crossed her face, not a word that had fallen from her, had escaped him. Unconsciously on her side, unconsciously on his side, she now wrought on his nature with a purifying and ennobling influence which animated it with a new life. All that had been selfish and violent in his passion for her left him to return no more. The immeasurable devotion which he laid at her feet, in the days that were yet to come – the unyielding courage which cheerfully accepted the sacrifice of himself when events demanded it at a later period of his life – struck root in him now. Without attempting to conceal the tears that were falling fast over his cheeks – striving vainly to express those new thoughts in him that were beyond the reach of words—he stood before her the truest friend and servant that ever woman had.
In Wilkie Collins works, he occasionally upholds dispositions of vibrancy and energy like P. G. Wodehouse concerning the aged and elderly. For example, Bertram Wooster always describing his aunts as “aged relatives” but when troubles get them, they could fiercely steam up their temper like a boiled teapot. Not without mentioning Hon. Galahad, in the case, a friendly and energetic raconteur in the Blandings series, one of my favourite characters apart from Frederick Threepwood.
“Cousins!” exclaimed her Ladyship, suddenly descending from the lofty ranges of sentiment to the low. “I hate the very name of them! A person who is near enough to me to be my relation and far enough off from me to be my sweetheart, is a double-faced sort of person that I don’t like. Let’s get back to the widow and her sons. How much do they want?”
In My Lady’s Money, characters in old age are in no way undermined as dull. They are full of energy and they know how they live their lives.
Although you might have never heard of a short story named A Step in the Dark by Kate Eyre (serialied in Cassell’s Magazine in 1887) , but Lady Lydiard really resonates the pleasant personalities of Lady Vane in person (a woman in her eighties), and I would quote one passage here,
Somehow it saddened me to watch her, Why, I can hardly tell, possible only because it is not what one looks for in a woman of her age. Yet with all her worldliness, her bitter tongue, and her love of sarcasm, I doubt if Lady Vane is any worse than many a sedate old dame, correct in manner, but hard of heart. Seldom indeed does her ladyship turn a deaf ear to the poor and needy- always provided the poor and needy do not come to her in the guise of relations – but the fact that her gifts are nearly always accompanied by cruel, stinging words, takes away from them much of their charm…
And this is a description about this mischievous Lady Lydiard,
Accurately described, Lord Lydiard’s widow was short and fat, and, in the matter of age, perilously near her sixtieth birthday. But it may be said, without paying a compliment, that she looked younger than her age by ten years at least. Her complexion was of that delicate pink tinge which is sometimes seen in old women with well-preserved constitutions. Her eyes (equally well preserved) were of that hard light blue color which wears well, and does not wash out when tried by the test of tears. Add to this her short nose, her plump cheeks that set wrinkles at defiance, her white hair dressed in stiff little curls; and, if a doll could grow old, Lady Lydiard, at sixty, would have been the living image of that doll, taking life easily on its journey downwards to the prettiest of tombs, in a burial-ground where the myrtles and roses grew all the year round.
Not only Lady Lydiard but also Robert Moody, the Lady’s steward, is a great and important character in the novel. Although in a relatively old age comparing with the youngsters in the story, he is always maturing and transforming, just like the protagonist in a bildungsroman novel. In the beginning he is a lackadaisical steward whose love we find is always unrequited; but till the middle of the story, when the theft incident happens, he becomes a revered, patient, committed, and a noble warrior of love. This is the power Wilkie Collins instilling to the aged and the underprivileged in all his works. Although the characters are of frail bodies but they are not the faint-hearted. Last but not least, the story has the exemplary ending of consolation and refuge for the soul of a reader.
Good-by to Miss Pink—who will regret to her dying day that Isabel’s answer to Hardyman was No.
Good-by to Lady Lydiard—who differs with Miss Pink, and would have regretted it, to her dying day, if the answer had been Yes.
Good-by to Moody and Isabel—whose history has closed with the closing of the clergyman’s book on their wedding-day.
Good-by to Hardyman—who has sold his farm and his horses, and has begun a new life among the famous fast trotters of America.
Good-by to Old Sharon—who, a martyr to his promise, brushed his hair and washed his face in honor of Moody’s marriage; and catching a severe cold as the necessary consequence, declared, in the intervals of sneezing, that he would “never do it again.”
And last, not least, good-by to Tommie? No. The writer gave Tommie his dinner not half an hour since, and is too fond of him to say good-by.