Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Evil Genius

I am almost done with Wilkie Collins' novel, something I found in our college library, something old and green-clad, crumbling yellow browny pages that threaten to evaporate as I turn them. There's some real crazy gender role stuff going on in the novel. It turns out that "evil genius" refers not to some villainous man tying women to railroad tracks but to a governess (of course) who disrupts a happy family (wife, husband, spoiled only child, spoiled mother-in-law/mother-of-wife) with her evil neediness and pale, wasted good looks. Once she's taken in by the family and the bloom is finally on her rose (good air, love of child, regular food, affection), the kind, loving father-husband of course falls in love with her and everything shits the bed.

Well, at first we're to assume that Sydney Westerfield (the governess) is in fact the "evil genius," but it turns out that the coiner of that phrase, Mrs. P, the mother-in-law/mother of the wronged bride, is herself the E. G. The man in question is not an evil genius (frankly, he's too stupid to be a villain and, in my humble opinion, should probably die in the last 40 pages); he's a victim of his dick and circumstances, according to the semi-sympathetic narrator.

I'm wondering about WC's narrator. You see, the wronged wife, Charlotte, is strong-armed by her mother and her lawyer into, horror of all horrors, filing for and getting a Divorce. The Divorce allows her to keep her daughter but ensures that she will become the scourge of civil middle class English society. So Mrs. P. allows the misapprehension of widowhood to cover over the "fact" of her daughter's Divorce, so that a new and woefully ignorant man can be reeled onto her daughter's hook. Madness of all sort ensues. What does the narrator think about all this? Clearly, he thinks that Charlotte was a chump to allow the governess access to her loving husband in the first place. Also, he thinks that Divorce is a sin. He probably wants us to see the ex-husband as a supreme putz. After all, ex-husband has managed not only to lose his family, but also the repentant governess, who sees that she will never truly have her "lover's" heart, and gives him up.

What will happen in the last 40 pages? I predict that Sydney will not survive--the bottom of the pond has been calling her name, despite her selfless act of contrition and her attempts to patch things up with her former mistress, Charlotte. I predict that the lumpen ex will manage to rewed his ecstatic former wife, Charlotte. The spoiled only daughter will remain spoiled. Somehow, Mama P will get her comeupance.

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