When Everything We Read Applies: Trollope’s The Way We Live Now and Cicero’s Pro Archia

“For unless I had convinced myself from my earliest years, on the basis of lessons derived from all I had read, that nothing in life is really worth having except moral decency and reputable behaviour, and that for their sake all physical tortures and all perils of death and banishment must be held of little account, I should never have been able to speak up for the safety of you all in so many arduous clashes, or to endure these attacks which dissolute rogues launch against me every day.”
—”Pro Archia,”  from Selected Political Speeches by Cicero (Penguin)

It has not been the happiest of spring breaks. Spring turned into winter, and we didn’t get out much.  Oh, well, I had the opportunity during the cold snap to reread Cicero’s Pro Archia and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.

And here’s a bracing discovery.  Everything I read, from Cicero’s defense of a Greek poet’s Roman citizenship to Trollope’s satirical novel The Way We Live Now, applies to the political situation.  Naturally, the disgraceful political events in Washington D.C., if indeed our nation’s capital is still there and not at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, are at the back of our minds.  It’s not exactly comforting, but it’s obviously true that such struggles are centuries old.

I know that many of you have read The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, and indeed I wrote a short post about it in 2014.  According to the introduction of the Oxford edition by John Sutherland, Trollope wrote this superb satire in reaction to the dishonesty and corruption he observed in London when he returned after a year and a half in “the colonies.”

Trollope’s delineation of the  relationship between financial scams and politics is still very pertinent. The villain, Mr. Melmotte, a financier, floats a fraudulent railway company by selling shares for a nonexistent enterprise, and not only grows richer but buys his way into Parliament.  And Trollope’s characterization of Mr. Melmotte applies to more than one politician these days.

 He knew nothing of any one political question which had vexed England for the last half century,—nothing whatever of the political history which had made England what it was at the beginning of that half century … He had probably never read a book in his life. He knew nothing of the working of parliament, nothing of nationality,—had no preference whatever for one form of government over another, never having given his mind a moment’s trouble on the subject. He had not even reflected how a despotic monarch or a federal republic might affect himself, and possibly did not comprehend the meaning of those terms. But yet he was fully confident that England did demand and ought to demand that Mr. Melmotte should be returned for Westminster. This man was Mr. Melmotte himself.

Uncannily apt, isn’t it?

And then there’s Cicero’s Pro Archia, translated in the Penguin edition of Selected Political Speeches as “In Defence of the Poet Aulus Lincinius Archias.”  I read the Latin, but the Penguin is accessible.

Here’s the background:  In 64 B. C. a law of the tribune Giaus Papius expelled non-citizens of Rome.  (Does this sound familiar?)  Cicero’s speech was written in defense of the Greek poet Archias, who was accused of not being a Roman citizen. But Cicero’s brilliant speech is best known for its long laudation of reading, rhetoric, and, in short, the liberal arts.  Without books, poetry, and the study of rhetoric, Cicero says he could not successfully defend clients.  Archias was one of his teachers.

How could I find material, do you suppose, for the speeches I make every day on such a variety of subjects, unless I steeped my mind in learning? How could I endure the constant strains if I could not distract myself from them by this means? Yes, I confess I am devoted to the study of literature. If people have buried themselves in books, if they have used nothing they have read for the benefit of their fellow-men, if they have never displayed the fruits of such reading before the public eye, well, let them by all means be ashamed of the occupation. But why, gentlemen, should I feel any shame? Seeing that not once throughout all these years have I allowed myself to be prevented from helping any man in the hour of his need because I wanted a rest, or because I was eager to pursue my own pleasures, or even because I needed a sleep!

So here’s to the power of books!  The history is there, in novels, speeches, and poetry. And life is always, always, always a struggle.

Trollope’s Doctor Thorne

doctor-thorne-trollope-41fcbtvv3tl-_sx324_bo1204203200_I cannot tell you how much I love Trollope’s Doctor Thorne.  Have I ever had more fun reading a book? If you want to read a charming, lightning-fast comedy, this is your novel.

Trollope’s brilliant six-book Barsetshire series (The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington, and The Last Chronicle of Barset) was tremendously popular in the 19th century, and is, I would imagine, still his most popular series.  I enthusiastically recommend beginning with Doctor Thorne,  the third, because Trollope is always better when he writes long than when he writes short, and you don’t have to read them in order. (Of course some of you will read the short just to cross him off your list.)   Doctor Thorne is light, bright, and entertaining, and though the novel has its serious, even dark, moments, it is not grounded in darkness like two of his masterpieces, He Knew He Was Right (which I wrote about here), or Phineas Redux (which I wrote about here).

doctor-thorne-trollope-51nmupbvcxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Trollope had reservations about the best-selling Doctor Thorne.  He wrote, “The plot of Doctor Thorne is good, and I am led therefore to suppose that a good plot,–which, to my own feeling, is the most insignificant part of a tale,–is that which will raise it or most condemn it in the public judgment.”

Well, it is true he has a good plot, but character is the most important element.  Get past the opening melodramatic pages, which provide background,  and the characters are brilliantly-drawn, the dialogue scintillating, the satire of the aristocrats is hilarious, and the writing much more sophisticated than Trollope is ever given credit for.   David Skilton wrote, “…one of the  most remarkable things about Doctor Thorne is how little he exploits the sentimental or sensational possibilities…”

The book revolves around marriage, as so many of Trollope’s books do.  The strong-minded, plainspoken Doctor Thorne has a successful medical practice, and a happy home life  with his orphaned niece, Mary Thorne, the daughter of his dead ne’er-do-well brother, Thomas.  Years ago Thomas seduced a beautiful lower-class woman, Mary Scatcherd, whom he despicably pursued after he learned she was engaged to a tradesman.  When Mary’s stonemason brother, Roger Scatcherd, found out she was pregnant, he killed Thomas in a rage.  Doctor Thorne felt some sympathy for Roger, and arranged for his defense: Roger served six months in prison.  And Doctor Thorne has raised their niece, not thinking it prudent to tell Roger that his sister’s baby lived.

trollope-doctor-thorne-oxford-51fx2zh7x5l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Mary does not know her own identity, though, as Doctor Thorne’s niece, she assumes she is good enough to marry anyone.  When Frank Gresham, the 21-year-old heir of a great estate, flirts with her and says, at first half joking, in a spontaneous moment while walking with her at his coming-of-age party, that he loves her, one of his sisters, Augusta, overhears him and tattles to their aunt, Countess de Courcy (a ridiculous woman right out of Jane Austen). Frank’s mother, Lady Arabella, agrees with the countess that Frank must marry money.  Why?  Because her husband, Squire Greshem, is in debt, partly because of Lady Arabella.  He has sold much of their land, has borrowed huge amounts from Sir Roger Scatcherd, and the estate is mortgaged.

Mary meditates on whether or not she should marry Frank. He repeatedly asks her.   Of course she loves him; of course she knows that Lady Arabella opposes the match.  And so she  ruminates,

If she were born a gentlewoman! And then came to her mind those curious questions; what makes a gentleman? what makes a gentlewoman? What is the inner reality, the spiritualised quintessence of that privilege in the world which men call rank, which forces the thousands and hundreds of thousands to bow down before the few elect? What gives, or can give it, or should give it?

And she answered the question. Absolute, intrinsic, acknowledged, individual merit must give it to its possessor, let him be whom, and what, and whence he might. So far the spirit of democracy was strong with her. Beyond this it could be had but by inheritance, received as it were second-hand, or twenty-second-hand. And so far the spirit of aristocracy was strong within her. All this she had, as may be imagined, learnt in early years from her uncle; and all this she was at great pains to teach Beatrice Gresham, the chosen of her heart.

Mary is such a good soul!

The more adamantly Lady Arabella opposes the match, the more Frank is determined to stick to Mary.  He is ordered on a visit to his Aunt de Courcy’s castle to woo one of the most comical, intelligent characters in the book, Miss Dunstable, a thirtyish heiress to the” Ointment of Lebanon” business.  Frank believes she must be 40, and doesn’t find her attractive, but she is a smart conversationalist. She teases him out of his flirtation–she is used to everyone trying to marry her–and becomes one of his best friends.  She reminds him throughout the book that love of Mary Thorne is worth more than marrying an heiress he doesn’t love.  Without Miss Dunstble, it is probable that he might not have married Mary.

There is not just a marriage plot; there is a potential in-law plot.  It is not uncommon for potential in-laws to oppose a marriage.  In-law problems are usually treated as comical, but very often they are not comical at all.  And Lady Arabella is especially vicious in her treatment of Mary:  she bans Mary from the house, and prevents her daughter Beatrice from meeting Mary even at other people’s houses.  Beatrice and Mary, educated together, have been inseparable for years.  This is very painful for Mary and angers Doctor Thorne.  The whole village knows Mary is no longer welcome at Greshamsbury.

Sir Roger Scatcherd also plays a big role in this novel.  After six months in prison, he manages slowly to get on in life and eventually makes a fortune building railways.   He does not know that Mary is his niece, but he knows Doctor Thorne.  And his sweet wife, very uncomfortable as a “Lady,” has Mary over on a visit and loves her, not knowing the relationship.  And their sickly son, Louis, is like a shadow figure of Frank, drinks hard, has no morals, but also likes Mary and proposes to her.

As for Trollope’s writing, Adam Gopnik put it well in his article, “Trollope Trending,” in The New Yorker (May 4, 2015):

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.

Trollope is a pleasure, but I don’t regard him as a guilty pleasure.   I think he is a better writer than most people admit.  I promised yesterday I would point out some of his high-flown (!) rhetorical figures of speech. Trollope was a great fan of Cicero the orator, whom he wrote a life of, and Cicero had an influence on his prose.

The two sentences below illustrate parallelism: the elements of the sentence are repeated in the same order.

There, in one big best bedroom, looking out to the north, lay Sir Louis Scatcherd, dying wretchedly.  There, in the other big, best bedroom, looking out to the south, had died the other baronet about a twelvemonth since, and each a victim to the same sin.

And here is an example of chiasmus,  a reversing of the order of words in corresponding pairs of phrases.

“I hope so.  I have had much doubt about this, and have been sorely perplexed; but now I do hope so.”

Trollope is not as flamboyant as Dickens, whose knowledge of rhetoric astounds all of us, but he is clever,  consistent, and positively Ciceronian at times.

My Country Tis of Thee (Not): The End of Summer, Trollope As a Comfort Read, & Please No Politics on Dancing with the Stars

grounds-for-celebration-in-rain-sept-0-2016I got caught in the rain on my bike again.  There was a bad storm:  it blew up suddenly, a scary wind blew, and I barely made it to a coffeehouse before the rain.

You can’t see how hard the rain is falling in this snapshot, but trust me:  I need a rainsuit.

TROLLOPE AS COMFORT READ.   After my cat Lulu, a feline gymnast who performed flawlessly on the “uneven bars” of our dining room chairs (Gold Medal!), died of cancer a few years back, autumn began to depress me.  And so I read Trollope.  A LOT of Trollope!  He is my comfort read for all seasons.

What I love about Trollope is he’s so unseasonal: in  Can You Forgive Her?, the first of his Palliser series (known as his political novels), there are workmanlike descriptions of gardens, walks, and picnics, but you don’t read him for lyricism.  His strength lies in characterization, a deep understanding of psychology, and a brilliant analysis of politics, frighteningly like the politics of now.

trollope can you forgive her? 374371On this rereading,  I was absorbed by the parallel  love quandaries of the two heroines, Alice Vavasour and Lady Glencora. Both are unwise in love:  Alice breaks off her engagement to charming John Grey, mainly because she fears the boredom of country life, and because she is passionate about politics, and he doesn’t care.  Her distant cousin, the wealthy Lady Glencora, was coerced to give up the scatterbrained but gorgeous man she loved, Burgo Fitzgerald, to marry Plantaganet Palliser, the dull heir presumptive to the Duke of Omnium and a successful, albeit colorless, member of Parliament.

Poor Alice!  If politics are her life, why should she marry John Grey and leave London?

John Grey had, so to speak, no politics. He had decided views as to the treatment which the Roman Senate received from Augustus, and had even discussed with Alice the conduct of the Girondists at the time of Robespierre’s triumph; but for Manchester and its cares he had no apparent solicitude, and had declared to Alice that he would not accept a seat in the British House of Commons if it were offered to him free of expense. What political enthusiasm could she indulge with such a companion down in Cambridgeshire?

Everyone thinks she has made a mistake. But did she?  And can you forgive her? as Trollope keeps asking.   But the next move she makes IS a mistake.  She decides to support the political ambitions of her cousin and ex-fiance, George Vavasour, who is running for parliament and wants her money.  She promises him money for his political campaign and agrees to marry him off, though she puts off the marriage for a year. (Alice is obviously not keen on marriage.)  Things begin to go very, very wrong.

Lady Glencora Palliser is by far my favorite character.  She is whimsical and outspoken, charming and witty, and modestly refrains from reminding Mr. Paliser how much he benefits from her money.   Glencora is always in trouble with Mr. Palliser, going out for walks in the ruins at night with Alice and catching cold, or dancing with Burgo at a party, egged on by her “duennas,” a busybody widow and Mr. Bott, a very rough-hewn politican, who are  Mr. Palliser’s spies, though he denies it.   Lady Glencora is as bored by Mr. Palliser’s politics as Alice feared she might be by John Grey’s lack of politics.

He was now listened to in the House, as the phrase goes; but he was listened to as a laborious man, who was in earnest in what he did, who got up his facts with accuracy, and who, dull though he be, was worthy of confidence. And he was very dull. He rather prided himself on being dull, and on conquering in spite of his dullness. He never allowed himself a joke in his speeches, nor attempted even the smallest flourish of rhetoric.  He was very careful in his language, labouring night and day to learn to express himself with accuracy, with no needless repetition of words…

Poor Glencora!  But the women learn to compromise. The women learn to knuckle under, though it doesn’t quite seem that way.   Trollope knows marriage is a compromise.  In an authorial aside, Trollope says,

People often say that marriage is an important thing, and should be much thought of in advance, and marrying people are cautioned that there are many who marry in haste and repent at leisure. I am not sure, however, that marriage may not be pondered over too much; nor do I feel certain that the leisurely repentance does not as often follow the leisurely marriages as it does the rapid ones

Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke on Dancing with the Stars.

Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke on Dancing with the Stars.

There was a disturbing incident on  DANCING WITH THE STARS.   Tonight on the premiere, Carrie Ann Inoba, the most eloquent of the judges, was critiquing 12-time Olympic medalist swimmer Ryan Lochte’s foxtrot when there was a flurry of movement, black shadows crossed the stage, she said, “Back off,” and the very smart host Tom  Bergeron cut to commercial.  We didn’t see what happened.  Afterwards, he thanked the security guards.

So what happened? Everyone was shaken up.  According to online sources, two men ran up on stage wearing t-shirts with the name “Lochte” crossed out.  One of them fell against Lochte, his pro dance partner, Cheryl Burke, and host Tom Bergen.  Security guards removed the attackers from the stage.

This is not what we like to see on our fluffy show.   I’m not going to comment on Lochte, except:  are we really surprised by celebrities behaving badly?  We prefer it not to happen at the Olympics when they’re representing our country, but we see politicians flipping out daily on TV, Millennial bluestockings expressing “disappointment” with comedians’ memoirs  in refined little articles online, and now we see  protesters bashing Lochte On DWTS.  Come on!  DWTS is the place celebrities you’ve never heard of try to revive their careers.   It is always thrilling when Olympic athletew perform on the show.  Lochte’s dancing wasn’t bad;  as far as I’m concerned he now has earned his safe space on DWTS.  He is already suspended for 10 months from the U.S. national swim team.  Isn’t that enough?

Am I too lenient?

What We’re Reading This Weekend: Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles & Trollope’s The Claverings

lionel shriver the mandibles 41m4GoRGmnL

Don’t use clean water to wash your hands!”–Florence Mandible in Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles

It is hotter than usual this summer. Very hot.  It was 87 at noon, and that is a cool wave.  We don’t like it, but we’re used to it now.  What helps?  Water.  Lots of  water.

But will we always have water?  In Lionel Shriver’s clever, witty dystopian novel, The Mandibles:  A Family, 2029-2047, water is a luxury. There is no water in the West and there is a shortage in New York.

Shriver writes about four generations of the Mandible family.  The Mandibles have always been rich:  their fortune was built, ironically, on diesel engines (obviously a contributing factor to the pollution in 2029).  But this book is really about money:  what happens when the economy tanks in 2029 after the dollar is declared worthless in the global economy?    The U.S. has already survived “the Stonage,” when the internet was knocked out, the only real source of communication since people stopped reading print books and newspapers.  (The internet’s back.)  The Mandibles assumed there would always be money, and that they would inherit when  99-year-old Douglas Mandible, a former literary agent, died.

Now they’re poor.

My favorite character, Florence Mandible, has a “moronic double major in American Studies and Environmental Policy” and barely makes a living at her job at a shelter.  But she is good at managing water at her house in Flatbush for her partner, Esteban, and her son, Willing.  When Willing wants to take a shower, Florence thinks,

Her thirteen-year-old had bathed only five days ago, and knew full well they were all allotted one shower per week (they went through cases of comb-in dry shampoo).  Willing complained, too, that standing under their ultra-conservation shower was like “going for a walk in the fog.” True, the fine spray made it tricky to get conditioner out, but then the answer wasn’t to use more water.  It was to stop using conditioner.

The other Mandibles are fascinating though less likable:  Florence’s  therapist sister, Avery, can barely deny herself gourmet food even when her dinner guests can’t afford smoked salmon and fine wine, and her husband, an economist/professor, is a twit who tries to play by the old rules of the economy and loses all their money.  (And they have spoiled children who can’t believe they can no longer attend Sidwell Friends School.)  Florence and Avery’s father, Carter, a former journalist, must take in his father,  Douglas, and his younger wife, who has Alzehimer’s, after they are evicted from their palatial home in an assisted living/nursing home compound.   (Carter won’t let Douglas take his rare books.  He says impatiently that Douglas can download books.)

Information about money is presented in dialogue, and perhaps there are too many details. Like Florence, I’ve always found money “drear.”  But Shriver makes it simple, and if you read science fiction, you’re used to lots of complicated background that makes the future world believable.

I’m only one third of the way through it, and it’s entertaining.

the claverings oxford trollope 9780192817273-us-300AND NOW FOR TROLLOPE’S THE CLAVERINGS.   Trollope is a remarkable writer, one of the most consistent of all the Victorian writers.  He wrote 47 novels: perhaps that’s why he is underrated, as everyone says, though it does seem to me that every blogger reads Trollope.  The Claverings is not well-known, but it is very good indeed. And, according to the introduction to the Dover edition, the biographer Michael Sadlier called it one of Trollope’s three “faultless books,” the other two being Doctor Thorne and Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite.

The Claverings revolves around love and marriage: a typically Victorian plot, but imaginatively and originally treated. The hero, Harry Clavering, the son of the rector at Clavering, is in love with Julia Brabazon, a wicked, witty woman who is honest about her mercenary nature.  She jilts Harry and marries Lord Onger, a rich, dissipated, drunken man who looks 20 years older than his age (36).   Harry’s cousin, Hugh Clavering, a baronet, is Julia’s brother-in-law, and introduces her to Lord Onger.  He very cynically doesn’t care what happens to Julia.

Harry is inconsolable–for a while.  But he apprentices himself for a year to an engineer/surveyor,  Mr. Burton, and falls in love with and proposes to Burton’s daughter Florence, who is smart, likable, and ladylike. I like Florence, but she is only sketched (or so it seems so far) and Julia is clearly Trollope’s favorite. ( I must confess, she is my favorite, too.

After Lord Onger dies, Julia comes back to England.  And guess who falls in love with Julia again?

What I like about this is that Trollope doesn’t idealize Harry.  In London, away from Florence, Harry is weak and prefers Julia.  He is not heroic.

He longed to go again to Bolton Street, but he did not even do that.  If there, he could act only as though Florence had been deserted for ever;–and if he so acted he would be infamous for life.  And yet he had sworn to Julia that such was his intention.  He hardly dared to ask himself which of the two he loved.  The misery of it all had become so heavy upon him that he could take no pleasure in the thought of his love.  I must always be all regret, all sorrow, and all remorse.

No spoilers here, because frankly I don’t know what happens.  Will it end conventionally?  Well, probably.  But in the meantime I am glued to it.

Do We Need to Read or Reread Every Book by Our Favorite Authors?

Do we need to read or reread every book by our favorite authors? What happens when we read (or reread) all of Dickens, Trollope, and the Brontes?

First, on rereading Dickens. I was doing well until I got to Hard Times.

hard times dickens cover.jpg.rendition.460.707Mind you, I loved Hard Times when I first read it, and it would be a masterpiece if anyone else had written it.  But Dickens’s best novels (Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend) are so exciting, vigorous,  unpredictable  and wildly comic that this reads like Dickens “lite.” Dickens does better when he writes long than when he writes short.

The plot is entertaining, if messy, but some of the objects of his satire–education, for instance–he has done better elsewhere (Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield).  But I am fond of the characters:    Louisa  Gradgrind, a young woman educated to care only about facts and then married off in a state of emotional shock to a dishonest factory owner, Josiah Bounderby;  Sissy Jupe, the abandoned daughter of an aging clownand is a failure of the Gradgrind educational system ; and Merrylegs, the circus dog who saves Louisa’s brother, Thomas.

Hard Times is amusing, it is stylishly written, and it is socially pertinent, yes.  Set in a factory town, it is partially an exposé of the exploitation of factory workers.  Dickens also satirizes education:  Mr. Gradgrind raises the intelligent Louisa and her dissolute brother Thomas on facts, and oversees a school educating children only in facts.  The moral:  If you’re raised on facts and have no education, you are a psychological mess.

Dickens always makes brilliant use of rhetoric.  In the first paragraph, the opening speech of Mr. Gradgrind,  he repeats “Facts”  five times and “principle”  twice.

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’

Hard Times seems more suited to, dare I say it, high school classrooms.  The same with Tale of Two Cities, which we read in ninth grade.  Have you noticed how teachers so often pick the shortest books?

What is your favorite Dickens?

Golden lion of Granpere trollope 6Should I read all of Trollope?  Well, I am a Trollope fan.  I love his long novels, especially Can You Forgive Her? and He Knew He Was Right.  But I have not enjoyed his short novels.

Well, I recently embarked on  The Golden Lion of Granpere, set in France.  What kind of Victorian novel is set in France?  I wondered.  Not one I want to read, I decided.  There’s an innkeeper, and he doesn’t want his son to marry his niece.  But somehow this plot works much better in England!

It’s only 260 pages, and somebody will like it, but since Trollope lacks Dickens’s rhetorical brilliance and also needs space to develop his leisurely plots, his short novels seem blank to me!

Does this mean I like only long books?  No.

anne bronte tenant of wildfell hall 51Sp7PW34wL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Anne Bronte is a master of the short novel.  I recently reread The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. You will be relieved to know that I enjoyed it.

Although her style is not as poetic or striking as that of Charlotte or Emily, I love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne’s feminist novel about the perils of romantic love. The frame construction reminds me of Wuthering Heights. We get to know the heroine, Helen Graham, through the narrator’s intense letters to a friend, and then through the diary she gives him to read, and then back to his letter. Helen, who says she is a widow, is actually one of the first “battered women” in literature: she has escaped from her violent husband and lives  in a secluded house with her four-year-old son, supporting herself by art.  And she is so passionate and wedded to her isolation that she reminds me very slightly of a female Heathcliff.

So it’s worth it to reread all the Brontes again and again!

Do you feel it’s necessary to read every book by a favorite author?

Anthony Trollope’s Rachel Ray & Soho Passport to Crime Series

rachel ray trollope penguin 9780140434101-us-300There is one way to cope with the excessive heat: get up early in the morning.

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.

rachel ray trollope 9780192818096-us-300You 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.

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope

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.

cara black murer in the marais 51WH1LarVRL._SX331_BO1204203200_-200x300Soho Passport to Crime series.

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

soho crime Jade-Lady-394x600—Death of an Englishman by Magdalen Nabb

—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

Four Literary Links: Two Critics on Doctor Thorne, “10 Tricks for Book Nerds,” & Robert Barnard’s Mysteries

Doctor thorne trollope 51XgTazilbL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Oh, Anthony Trollope!  I’m besotted with you.  “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.” In my twenties I binge-read the Palliser series and the Barsetshire novels; then I discovered two of his most powerful  novels, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right; and in the last ten years have read most of the others.  (Many are superb.)

So I was thrilled to find a link in an email to Laura Miller’s essay at Slate on Julian Fellowes’ new TV adaptation of Trollope’s Doctor Thorne.  (I still erroneously think of Slate as a kids’ paper, but I’ll read anything on Trollope.)  Miller enthusiastically reread Doctor Thorne, the third book in the Barsetshire series, before she viewed the film. She loves the book, but considers the new  miniseries the worst Trollope adaptation ever.

Nonetheless, Miller will make you want to read Trollope, if you have not yet discovered him.

She begins,

Anthony Trollope’s “great, inestimable merit,” Henry James once wrote, “was a complete appreciation of the usual.” He was right: You won’t find a single uncanny moment in that Victorian author’s 47 novels. Yet reading Trollope in the 21st century can nevertheless be a bit spooky. That’s because seemingly everything that happens today has already been covered in one of his books, albeit in a less technologized form.

Yes, Trollope does write about everyday life, as Mr. James says, but he also has great psychological depth, for which he is not given sufficient credit.  As Miller points out, he has written about all things modern.  I have been astonished  by his insights on  love, marriage, divorce, church politics,  Ponzi schemes, psychological abuse, and corrupt elections. And I do think he had his “uncanny moments”:  he even wrote a science fiction novel, The Fixed Period.

Miller is very slightly condescending about Trollope. That’s the way of critics with nineteenth-century novels. She  trots out the cliché about Trollope’s digressive fox-hunting scenes and descriptons of Tudor houses.  At this point I no longer think those are digressions.  Does that mean I’ve read too much Trollope?

doctor thorne tv series MV5BMWUxZWYwZjEtNzQ5ZC00ZmMwLWEwZWYtNWFhMmZiMzNjZjVmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjExMjk0ODk@._V1_SX1024_CR0,0,1024,1443_AL_Ellen Moody, the author of  Trollope on the Net, also panned the new Julian Fellowes adaptaion at her blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two.  Ellen, who recently taught a class on the Barsetshire novels, has read all of Trollope multiple times and knows more about his books than almost anyone.

She begins,

Julian Fellowes has managed to turn the novel Michael Sadleir ended his ground-breaking study of Trollope on (the book that first attracted respectable attention to Trollope — with preferring Dr Thorne to The Way We Live Now) into an embarrassment. A telling travesty. Reviewers veer from lamenting the very existence of this throw-back to picturesqueness as a travesty to earnestly showing how it has eliminated just about everything that counts in the novel. Viv Groskop of The Guardian suggested we take a drug to forget this disgrace. The courteous and judicious Alison Moulds of the Victorian clinic demonstrated the central matter of the tale, medicine and illness, comic and tragic, is left out. As might have been expected, Philip Hensher of the Telegraph demonstrates that the point Fellowes gets across (and by implication, Trollope’s) is that it’s impossible to cross (ontological?) class boundaries.

So what say?  Do we skip the TV adaptation?  No, I have to see it!

3.  Looking for something light to read?  Check out Jeff Somers’s “10 Tricks for Book Nerds who Want to Fit in Reading Time At Work” at Barnes and Noble Reads.

4. I very much enjoyed this post by Random Jottings on Robert Barnard’s superb mysteries, which Pan Macmillan has reissued.  (I’ve long been a fan of Barnard’s books.)

case of the missing bronte pbb cover