29 May 2014

Satan amongst the Sofa Cushions

Drusilla Clack is one of the fictional narrators in Wilkie Collins' groundbreaking 1868 novel The Moonstone - which I won't link directly to, because I haven't finished it yet and I don't want to know the ending! The book was written serially for publication in one of Charles Dickens' magazines, which encourages the author to devise cliff-hanger endings for each chapter, to keep the readers interested. Its twisting story of the theft of an enormously valuable Indian diamond is often regarded as the first modern detective story.

Miss Clack's narrative is the second in The Moonstone, after that of head servant Gabriel Betteredge. She is, for want of a better description, something of a busybody. It's somewhat daring for Collins to have satirised the no doubt familiar character of a well-meaning religious lady who pesters all her friends and acquaintances to improve their lives by focusing solely on the spiritual. Miss Clack is definitely well-meaning, but her entreaties to strive for godliness appear to fall mostly on deaf ears. She is undaunted by such setbacks, but often resorts to unwise subterfuge such as secreting her religious tracts throughout her subject's abode, so that they might 'accidentally' happen upon some edifying religious reading material, for example when retiring to the smoking-room, or when performing their morning toilet.

The tracts that Miss Clack favours focus heavily on the seemingly ever-present danger of sin and vanity, and the ways the Devil can inviegle his way into otherwise innocent-sounding activities. Who knew that a lady's parlour presented so many potential spiritual hazards?

The choicest tracts of Miss Drusilla Clack
  • Satan in the Hair Brush
  • Satan behind the Looking Glass
  • Satan under the Tea Table
  • Satan out of the Window
  • Satan amongst the Sofa Cushions
  • A Word With You on Your Cap-Ribbons
Wilkie Collins' friendship with Charles Dickens lasted for the best part of two decades from 1851 until the late 1860s. According to Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin:
Twelve years younger than Dickens, Collins ... had read for the Bar, but only at his parents' insistence, and he was a dedicated Bohemian. Dickens saw that he was gifted, a good journalist and a striking storyteller, and found his way of life, easy and unconventional in its dealings with women, interesting. The two men shared a taste for brightly coloured clothes. Collins might appear in a camel-hair suit with a broad-striped pink shirt and red tie, and even in sober colours his physical appearance was odd, with his big head and small body, a cast in one eye and a tendency to tics and fidgets. His best biographer says he made 'a more or less conscious decision to be not quite a gentleman'. Wilkie hero-worshipped Dickens, who had risen so high that he did not need to worry any longer about whether he was a gentleman or not.

- Claire Tomalin, Dickens: A Life, London, 2011, p.232.
See also:
Books: Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)
Books: Dickens & Dostoyevsky, 3 January 2014
Books: Asking writers stupid questions, 14 May 2014
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