by Ed Morman
From the Editor: We plan to frequently spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman's description of a recent acquisition:
Wilkie Collins was an important Victorian novelist of the second rank. His book The Moonstone is often regarded as one of the earliest modern mystery novels.
In Poor Miss Finch, first published in London in 1872, Collins takes on blindness, its cure by removal of cataracts, and its return as the result of emotional stress. “Poor” Miss Finch is in love with a man whose twin brother is identical to him in every way, including tone of voice—but not including moral standing. While blind, Miss Finch can distinguish between them, the result of a presumed sensitivity to the inner goodness of her fiancé as contrasted to the inner evil of his sibling. A substitution occurs before she regains her sight, and as a sighted person she is utterly confused by the conflict between what she sees and what she feels in her heart.
Kenneth Jernigan relegates Poor Miss Finch to a footnote in his superb 1974 banquet speech, “Blindness: Is Literature against Us?” because its portrayal of the blind does not fit into any of the nine categories of stereotypes he discusses. In a footnote he credits Collins’s work with being in a tenth category, where the blind are presented as “not only normally competent but normally cantankerous.” While a bit melodramatic and lacking in verisimilitude, Poor Miss Finch is worth a read if only because of Dr. Jernigan’s positive response to it.
Poor Miss Finch is available in an accessible format online on several Websites, including the Internet Archive, where it is marked up in DAISY (<http://www.archive.org/details/poormissfinchnov00colluoft>). This novel is also available through Bookshare. Several of Collins’s better literary efforts are available from the NLS.