A couple of months ago I discussed Tolstoy short stories and how people of different generations discussed each other. Seeing as Wilkie Collins was alive and writing around the same time as Tolstoy (and they both had great beards), I thought I’d return to the subject through his eyes.
The Woman in White was first published in 1859. It was in serial form in a magazine owned by Charles Dickens (called ‘All the Year Round’) and it’s a sort of early detective story. It’s generally considered by modern critics to be his best work and was certainly extremely commercially successful despite not being received well by critics at the time. It’s jolly good fun anyway.
Quite early on in the book, Walter Hartright gives us his thoughts about the difference between his own generation and that of his parents. Walter is a fairly young man so I was a little surprised:
[W]e of the young generation are nothing like so hearty and so impulsive as some of our elders. I constantly see old people flushed and excited by the prospect of some anticipated pleasure which altogether fails to ruffle the tranquillity of their serene grandchildren.
I wondered if that was the spirit of the times – bear in mind Collins would only have been in his mid thirties – but I’ve not seen this sort of sentiment expressed elsewhere. Am I missing anything? Does he just mean that young people are more laid back? Does he mean ‘tranquillity’ in the same way as modern comedians like Catherine Tate use ‘not bovvered’?
Different parts of the story are told by different narrators and once we get to Vincent Gilmore we’re on more familiar ground. He is described as an old gentleman, although I don’t think his age is ever specified, and it doesn’t take him long to start discussing the social failings of the young:
There are three things that none of the young men of the present generation can do. They can’t sit over their wine, they can’t play at whist, and they can’t pay a lady a compliment.
He doesn’t discuss young women so I’m not certain if he thinks they suffer from the same social failings, but I’m going to assume that he does.
Anyone brave enough to say if they self-identify as young or old, and whether they can sit over their wine, play whist and pay a lady a compliment?
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