[Part 4 of the author's "Wives and Fathers: Fatherhood and Divorce Laws in the Victorian Novel"]

decorated initial 'T' he juxtaposition of representations of fatherhood and motherhood in Wilkie Collins’s Heart and Science centres on the reversal of conventional roles in the Gallilee household: A weak, over-indulgent, and suppressed father is manned by his heartless wife. Her financial exploitation of her brother, Carmina’s father, to cover her debts introduces another weak male protagonist. Living as an exile in Italy as he fails to conform to English society — and his refusal to hunt is significant in this novel about animal rights — he succumbs to Mrs Gallilee’s willpower: “A better husband and father — and don’t let me forget it, a more charming artist — never lived, [but he was] weak, sadly weak. [Mrs Gallilee’s] self-asserting way — well, it was so unlike her brother’s way, that it had its effect on him!” (263) Mr Gallilee, her second husband, Ovid’s stepfather and father of two daughters, whom he tends to overfeed with cakes and ices whenever he can break through his wife’s surveillance, is a weak, mild, submissive, and diminutive man — “a lazy, harmless old fellow” (48), who seems to be squashed by his large overbearing wife. He regularly flees from her scientific parlour, seeking cosy domesticity in his club, an exclusively male society, instead. His relish for food marks him as an overindulgent father whose fondness for his daughters manifests itself as a thoughtless generosity in bestowing holidays and unhealthy food — to the annoyance of the mannish governess.

Mr Gallilee’s capabilities as a good father are disputable, though he might conform to a child’s ideal of a father and, more importantly, to a concept of the gift-bearing father that emerged in the Victorian age. In A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England, John Tosh speaks of the father’s “newly enhanced role as giver of gifts” (82):

Presents from father were the prime symbolic evidence of his exclusive duty as provider for his children. In the late Victorian period the traditional figure of Father Christmas would be transformed under American influence into the most compelling symbol of paternal largesse. […] Father Christmas mirrored earthly realities in more ways than one. ‘Absent’ for 363-4 days in the year, he was a poignant, if distorting reminder of the contradictions of everyday fatherhood. (83)

The ideal middle-class working father is an absent, but generous, gift-bearing father. Collins’s fictional father-figures predominantly populate the upper or upper middle-classes and are therefore not the “middling sort” that stand at the centre of Tosh’s analysis. In short, they belong to the strata of society in which work is at best optional. After having “grubbed up [a fortune] in trade” (48), Mr Gallilee has no need to work anymore. Ovid’s dedication to his profession is described as exemplary and exceptional: “With a private fortune, he has worked as few surgeons work who have their bread to get by their profession” (48). Mr Gallilee’s only “occupation” on the other hand is his regular flight to his surrogate home, the cosy club. Yet he needs to rouse himself to assert his rights as a father and surrogate-father of the victimised niece. When his wife’s ruthless schemes to let Carmina die in order to secure her fortune is exposed, he reclaims his lawful authority as husband, father, and patriarch. As he consults the shy lawyer, Mr Mool, they attempt to regain a “manful” resolution that has so far been the prerogative of the wife:

‘Oh, my friend, my old friend, what can I do for my children?’ Amazed and distressed — utterly at a loss how to interfere to any good purpose — Mr Mool recovered his presence of mind, the moment Mr Gallilee appealed to him in his legal capacity. ‘Don’t distress yourself about your children,’ he said kindly. ‘Thank God, we stand on firm ground, there.’ ‘Do you mean it, Mool?’ ‘I mean it. Where your daughters are concerned, the authority is yours. Be firm, Gallilee! Be firm!’ (265)

The melodrama of Mr Gallilee’s reassertion of his dignity and rescue of his children is interlaced with comedy: “Out of their common horror of Mrs Gallilee’s conduct, and their common interest in Carmina, they [Mr Gallilee and Mr Mool] innocently achieved between them the creation of one resolute man” (262). Mr Gallilee is soon seen smuggling one brown paper-parcel after the other out of his own house, caught rummaging among his daughters’ clothes, and eventually announces that he has sent his daughters to their aunt, the only — and significantly off-stage — good mother-figure in the novel. Newly dignified in his knowledge that he acts “for [his] children’s sake” (265), he leaves Mrs Gallilee to her tantrums, which soon lead to raving madness. The “doctors don’t look on her violence as a discouraging symptom” (296); and altogether her breakdown is both comically presented and as a form of poetic justice. Yet a similar or rather inverted abduction occurs in The Evil Genius, written in the year of the “The Guardianship of Infants Act” of 1886, i.e. three years after the publication of Heart and Science and after the erosion of the “firm ground” on which Mr Gallilee relies.

Heart and Science concludes with the happy marriage of Ovid and Carmina, which thwarts Mrs Gallilee’s hopes that Carmina might die childless. Mr Gallilee’s daughters have been removed from the influence of their heartless mother, but not to live with their father. It is left for The Evil Genius to explore the issues and problems of a more active father-role. Nonetheless, a paternal love that is playful and indulgent is repeatedly juxtaposed with a “maternal” regime that demands order and obedience. Thus, Mrs Gallilee is first introduced making “a striking entrance” and “administering a maternal caution to one of the children” (59), while her husband is as rosy and as insignificant as a child. His first words in the book are a happy announcement that they have been to the pastry-cook: “A little, rosy, elderly gentleman, with a round face, a sweet smile, and a curly grey head, walked into the room, accompanied by two girls. Persons of small importance — only Mr Gallilee and his daughters” (63). Interestingly, Dr Benjulia’s only redeeming quality is his fondness of the younger of Mr Gallilee’s daughters, a slow, awkward, and sympathetically portrayed child:

It was only the hand of a child – an idle, quaint, perverse child – but it touched, ignorantly touched, the one tender place in his nature […]; the one tender place, hidden so deep from the man himself, that even his far-reaching intellect groped in vain to find it out. There, nevertheless, was the feeling which drew him to Zo. [246]

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Victorian Web Wilkie Collins Victorian Literary Genres Victorian Literary Genres

Last modified 16 November 2002