I DID NOT FORGET ABOUT WILKIE COLLINS. Wilkie Collins has been perpetually on my mind since last we spoke of him. Though I said the words “chillest Wilkie Collins readalong ever,” I did not intend for that to mean that I would altogether fail to participate in the readalong until it was halfway over. It’s just that I ordered a used copy of the book because it maybe wasn’t published in the US? and then it took a really long time for it to reach me.
First up, I’d like to apologize for making a small joke at Alice’s expense about the greatness of this cover. Live and in person, this cover is fantastic. I underestimated it when I saw it online. Wilkie’s hat is particularly magnificent in real life.
You guys, the hugest relief in this section — because I saw Alice mention that Wilkie Collins was going to acquire a new paramour, and I was so worried about Caroline and especially about little bb Harriet (who I guess by then was Young Lady Harriet, an even more worrying prospect) — is when poor Caroline gets married. This, for people not doing the readalong, is Wilkie Collins’s lover of low birth, whom he has been supporting for the last, like, decade, but steadfastly refusing to marry because he enjoys so much going Abroad with Dickens and banging prostitutes and not talking about it in his letters. Luckily:
She surprised everyone by walking down the aisle . . . on the arm of Joseph Charles Clow — the son of a distiller’s agent — who was aged twenty-three. She was thirty-seven and quite what she saw in this mere stripling is hard to determine.
Okay, number one, you would never say this about a thirty-seven-year-old dude in this era (or now!) marrying a twenty-three-year-old lady. Number two, the very next paragraph describes his family as “upwardly mobile.” DING DING DING I HAVE FOUND THE SOLUTION.
You guys. This is like when I read a Black Sails recap (by a dude) that was like “what was Eleanor Guthrie’s motive for having sex with Charles Vane?” For reference, here’s what Charles Vane looks like in this show:
Yes, so bewildering, what possibly could have been her motive for wanting to bang this gentleman? And not to objectify a dude from a scene where his character was just grievously wounded and then buried alive and then fighting for his life, but available evidence (though admittedly covered in blood and graveyard dirt) suggests that his dick is, uh, nothing to be ashamed of, also? Maybe that might have been in play here too I DUNNO JUST SPITBALLING.
Whatever, I was happy for Caroline when I got to that part. She deserves some financial security, and so does poor little Harriet. Wilkie is totally that bro your girlfriends dated in college who was like “babe I just can’t be tied down, that’s just the kind of person I am, I need freedom, like societal norms just aren’t as meaningful as we make them, you know?”
Of course, five seconds later, Caroline’s marriage is over, and someone who may or may not be her husband (but seems like is?) has headed off to Australia, I guess to distill things Down Under. And Caroline moves back in with Wilkie. And his new lady, Martha. And his two daughters with Martha. I am sure that wasn’t awkward at all.
The other item of note in this section (apart from Wilkie’s ongoing very conflicted feelings about Ladies) is this:
Wilkie was poking fun at British reserve. Having no such inhibitions himself, he regularly kissed his male friends, particularly the effusive Fechter.
GOOD FOR YOU WILKERSON. It’s really not fair that societal constructions of gender have left so little space for dudes to express platonic affection physically. Like I am not personally a person who is wild about touching people and giving hugs and kisses all the time? But a lot of people are, including a lot of man, and it sucks that they can’t do that without people being snide about it.
Oh, and Dickens dies. Had to happen at some point. Join us next week for Wilkie to also die. I hope that he’s able to leave adequate provision for his two sets of daughters and long-term wife-ish persons. STERN GLARE.