I’ve heard of morning: sunrise, dew on the grass, and rabbits and squirrels nibbling on grass blades. I stayed up so late the other night rereading Trollope’s Rachel Ray that I considered staying up to see the dawn.
Well, I didn’t make it, but at any rate I loved Rachel Ray.
When people talk about Trollope, they concentrate on the six-book Barsetshire series and the six-book Palliser series. Well, I adore both series, but the standalones don’t get the respect they deserve. So I was pleased last year when Adam Gopnik did mention Rachel Ray in his article, “Trollope Trending,” in The New Yorker.
The fun of Trollope lies in his endless multiplicity: people who like “Rachel Ray” turn to “The Three Clerks,” and fans of “The Three Clerks” ask their friends about “Orley Farm.” Yet, beyond saying that his writing feels like life, it’s hard to say just how he works his magic—and a little digging shows that a sense of Trollope as a slightly guilty pleasure has been around since people started reading him.
You don’t hear much about Rachel Ray. Published in 1863, it is a charming, utterly absorbing novel about love, business, gossip, good beer vs. bad beer, jealousy, politics, and the clergy. The editor of the magazine that commissioned it rejected the serial because he was offended by Trollope’s lampooning of religion and the clergy. Rachel Ray was published as a two-volume novel but not serialized.
We all like Trollope’s smart heroines, and Rachel is one of my favorites. Because of her kindness and beauty, she attracts Luke Rowan, a handsome, smart young man who has moved in with the Tappitts, owners of the local brewery. He has inherited a partnership in the business, but Mr. Tappitt is trying to shut him out. Luke has a radical idea: why not make good beer as opposed to cheap bad beer? Tappitt is in a rage and says Luke will ruin him.
The road is not smooth for Rachel, either: women disapprove of her relationship with Luke. Miss Puckett, a pious spinster, spreads the gossip that she has seen Rachel and Luke walking together at night. Rachel’s older sister, Mrs. Prime, a minister’s widow, is furious and tells Mrs. Ray, their mother, another widow, about Rachel’s immorality.
You’ve got to love witty Rachel, who says, “Oh, Dolly, do not speak with that terrible voice, as though the world were coming to an end.”
Eventually Mrs. Prime leaves home and moves in with Miss Puckett because of Rachel’s insistence on attending a ball at the Tappitts and her friendship with Luke.
Rachel is a good friend of the Tappitt sisters, Augusta, Martha, and Cherry, but at the ball Luke dances with her repeatedly, even though she tries to discourage him. Mrs. Tappitt is furious because she wants Luke to marry Augusta and starts a campaign to destroy Rachel’s reputation.
And because of their disagreement over the business, Mr. Tappitt threatens Luke with a poker, they part, and he spreads gossip about Luke. But Luke is hardly diplomatic: he plans to sue Mr. Tappitt for his interest in the business and start his own brewery in the village if Mr. Tappitt doesn’t give in. Sheesh! (Does Luke want to start a microbrewery?)
Mrs. Ray vacillates about Luke. After Rachel receives a letter from him, Mrs. Ray can’t decide whether it is proper or not. “He writes as though he means to have everything quite his own way.” Rachel thinks it is natural.
Mrs. Ray did not quite know whether it was bad in a man or no. But she mistrusted the letter, not construing it closely so as to discover what might really be its full meaning, but perceiving that the young man took, or intended to take, very much into his own hands; that he demanded that everything should be surrendered to his will and pleasure, without any guarantee on his part that such surrendering should be properly acknowledged. Mrs. Ray was disposed to doubt people and things that were at a distance from her. Some check could be kept over a lover at Baslehurst; or, if perchance the lover had removed himself only to Exeter, with which city Mrs. Ray was personally acquainted, she could have believed in his return. He would not, in that case, have gone utterly beyond her ken. But she could put no confidence in a lover up in London.
It’s fascinating and fun, comedy and drama, though mainly comedy. This 400-page novel is a good place to begin if you don’t want to start with one of Trollope’s huge tomes.
Soho Press has a new Passport to Crime series. This small press has reissued the first novels in several popular series. Who says covers don’t sell? Has anyone read any of these?
The books are:
—The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly
—Slow Horses by Mick Herron
—Another Sun by Timothy Williams
—The Dragon Man by Garry Disher
—Crashed by Timothy Hallinan
—Billy Boyle by James R. Benn
—Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten
—Outsider in Amsterdam by Janwillem Van de Wetering
—Zoo Station by David Downing
—Siren of the Waters by Michael Genelin
—Random Violence by Jassy Mackenzie
—Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage
—The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey
—Jade Lady Burning by Martin Limón
—Murder in the Marais by Cara Black
—Eye for an Eye by Frank Muir
—Converging Parallels by Timothy Williams
—The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
—Rock, Paper, Tiger by Lisa Brackmann
—Wobble to Death by Peter Lovesey
—Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang
—The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
—White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones