A Guest Post by Emily Simmons
One of the fun things about posting with a title like this one is that I knew I was coming back to it sooner or later. Well, The Law and the Lady is finished, and we’ve had another meeting to discuss its attractions (many) and repulsions (some, yes). Of the serialized reading experience I have little else to say. At the end of my forced hiatus I finished the novel in one gulp; it certainly wasn’t lacking in page-turning sensation. But I have been keeping ideas of reading like the Victorians in the back of my mind, and am well aware that apart from differing temporal rhythms and material realities of paper, surrounding periodical matter, and illustrations, I am distanced not a little by my 21st-century reaction to Valeria’s self-abnegating decisions in the later part of the book. She, acclaimed on the back of the OUP edition as the first “woman detective” to be the heroine of a “full-length novel,” is pleasingly resolute and stubborn throughout the first two-thirds of this novel, at least to my eye. Then, of course, she does a one-eighty for the honour of her husband, the sake of her child, &co. &co. While I completely understand the ideological and cultural necessity of this move for the novel, for Valeria as a character, and for Collins, my emotional (non-academic) reaction remains, and prevents me from understanding it as we might project a female reader in 1875 would have.
That said, I think that many ways to engage with serial texts in manners alternative to the modern paperback remain. I would, for one, be extremely interested in the kind of course Daniel proposes, which intersperse serial novels with other periodical reading matter. (With Bleak House and Household Words, as well, I’d be strongly tempted to include Cranford, or at least its second half.) Or, to return to Tara’s comments about illustration, I spent some time yesterday browsing through the original installments of The Law and the Lady in The Graphic. Each number was prefaced by a large illustration, several of which displayed Misserimus Dexter in his most spectacular poses (i.e. the few moments in the novel where he exits his wheelchair.) Clearly there is something going on here that has to do with supplying an audience’s (real or supposed) desire for the grotesque other in visual as well as textual forms. These representations, if not constitutive of plot, are at least concretizing an interpretation of Dexter’s representation that the text itself leaves more open.
And finally, to add another strand to this webby post, in our reading group discussions we repeatedly touched upon narrative gaps that seemed to be a product of serial composition, as Jen discusses here. In one chapter Valeria narrates a scene of conversation with her mother-in-law, and at the beginning of the next chapter she reveals that the conversation “(of which I have only presented a brief abstract) lasted until quite late in the afternoon” (201). Intrigued by the possibility that Valeria’s retroactive adjustments to her story might indicate Collins’s own haste, I returned to The Graphic only to find that, in this instance, the representation and its subsequent refinement occur in the same installment. Foiled! Ah well, at least I have composed this post on the spur of the moment, and am now thinking that a more appropriate title would have something to do with gathering, or pinging … Alas, I am beholden to my previous publication, so “Serialized Reading, Part II” it is.
Emily Simmons is a doctoral candidate studying Victorian Literature at the University of Toronto.