Emily Trevelyan’s Moral Code in “He Knew He Was Right”

Anthony Trollope’s  He Knew He Was Right is my favorite novel at the moment, simply because I know it less well than my two other favorites, War and Peace and Villette.  And I consider He Knew He Was Right even greater than The Way We Live Now, which is often cited as Trollope’s greatest (see Robert McCrum at the Guardian and John Lanchester at NPR).  I almost wonder is there is a man/woman split on these two classics:  The Way We Live Now is about finance; He Knew He Was Right focuses on marriage.  Mind you, I love both novels almost equally.  But I am fascinated by Trollope’s views on the making and disintegration of engagements and marriages In He Knew It Was Right.

In this brilliant novel, the marriage plot is at its thickest.  Can two obstinate people have a happy marriage? A seemingly well-suited couple, Louis Trevelyan, a wealthy Englishman, and Emily Rowley, the daughter of Sir Marmaduke Rowley, the governor of the Mandarin Islands, have fallen in love and are engaged to be married.  Emily’s mother, Lady Rowley, observes that Louis has one fault:  he likes to have his own way.

“But his way is such a good way,” said Sir Marmaduke. “He will be such a good guide for the girls!”

“But Emily likes her way too,” said Lady Rowley.

And that is the crux of the novel.  What happens when a strong-willed couple disagree and will not see each other’s point-of-view?

The marriage between Louis and Emily is all billing and cooing at first:  they live in an extravagant house in London, and  Emily’s charming sister Nora lives with them because the Trevelyans can help her make a good match, i.e., with a rich man.   Louis and Emily have a little boy who is the apple of their eye.

Suddenly everything changes.  Louis becomes pathologically jealous of the frequent visits of Colonel Osborne, a flirtatious 50ish man who is one of Emily’s father’s oldest friends, as she frequently points out.  Emily does think she views the Colonel as a father figure, and he is much too old to be attractive to a woman in her twenties.  But she is oblivious of the fact that Colonel Osborne glories in mischief.  He caused a rift between another couple, as Louis’s friend Lady Millborough warns him, and the jealous husband took his wife to Naples to get away from him.  She asks, Couldn’t Louis just take Emily to Naples?  When Louis decides he and Emily must separate, Lady Millborough is appalled.  She tries to talk to Emily, but the talk of obedience to her husband does not go over well. Emily says, “And I will obey Mr. Trevelyan–in anything reasonable,”

Louis, Colonel Osborne, and Emily in the park.

Why is Emily so hard to empathize with?  She is right, and her husband is wrong.  But in the beginning, she carries things so very far.  Louis is tormented with jealousy, but she does nothing to assuage it.  Even Nora tells her to take a step back, but Emily fusses, argues, and continues to be defiant, writing notes to the Colonel, in which she implies that her husband is being unreasonable.  It drives Louis crazy–literally.

And so the couple separate.  Their friend Hugh Stanbury (eventually Nora’s suitor) arranges for them to live with his mother and his strong-willed spinster sister, Priscilla, in a nice biggish house in a village.  Even here Colonel Osborne cannot leave Emily alone.   He enjoys his mischievous flirtation and pays her a visit.  There is much gossip in the village after Emily “receives” him, and even Nora is not sure that he should have visited.  And the  mad Louis, who has hired a detective to keep an eye on her, becomes, if possible, even madder on the point of Emily’s “sins” when he learns of the visit.  And Priscilla tells Hugh that things have gone too far, what with the Colonel and the detective and the gossip, and that it is not right for them to continue to live with Emily and Nora.

My inner spinster is almost, if not quite, in agreement with Priscilla.  On the one hand, I love Nora (if not Emily), and want them to have a home.  I also want Priscilla and her mother to have a nice home:  before they lived in a tiny cottage.  But all the women are (rightfully) uncomfortable about the Colonel’s visit.  Only Emily seems not to notice his transgressions.

Emily has a strong moral code, and as a feminist I agree that she should be able to see anyone she wants.  But in a marriage compromises are made, and where there is jealousy someone usually has to bend.  Couples do break up due to jealousy, but not over a father’s friend!  Colonel Osborne is not worth it.

I do not empathize with Louis Trevelyan, and do not mean to indicate that I do.  But Emily is only sympathetic as a mother:  her insane husband’s kidnapping of their child is one of the cruellest acts in the history of fiction.  One question that is never quite answered is whether Louis’s madness could have been prevented, or whether the mad jealousy would have manifest itself later with someone else.  Trollope seems to have regarded the jealousy as inevitable.  I am not sure.

This is a rich novel, with a large cast of characters, most more sympathetic than the Trevelyans, and all at the center of a web of engagements (some broken) and marriages (that we hope will be happy).  And he is an unusually effective writer. It drives me crazy when people say Trollope’s style is flat. It is simple, unembellished, and seems more modern than that of most 19th-century writers.

Trollope’s “He Knew He Was Right” & Literary Links

I am rereading He Knew He Was Right, my favorite novel by Trollope. Is this his masterpiece?  Well, I am fond of most of his books, but I do think this is one of the greatest Victorian novels.

This is a timeless and unputdownable novel about a marriage that becomes unbearable because of a husband’s pathological jealousy and his  wife’s rightful insistence that he has no reason to be jealous.  But he knew he was right, and she knew she was right, so the couple separates with disastrous results.  But I am equally intrigued by the various subplots (which aren’t quite subplots, because some get equal time) about other marriages being made, especially a worldly young woman’s reluctant falling in love with a penny journalist.  If only she could bring herself to marry the rich Mr. Glascock!  And what about the two spinsters pushing thirty who are both courting the affections of the vicar?

This is my fourth reading, but knowing the outcome makes no difference to the pleasure.

I started HKHWR last week after finishing Cousin Henry (which I wrote about here) and smugly planned to finish the 800 pages today.

Turns out it is 930 pages, so my calculations were wrong.

Meanwhile, you can read an essay about He Knew He Was Right at the TLS, “Reading Trollope in the Age of Trump.”

LITERARY LINKS

1. Check out Howard Jacobson’s essay, “Why the Novel Matters,” at the TLS.

I don’t mind you thinking me a scaremonger. Scaremongering has a respectable history. The fact that we’re still here after so many prophecies of doom doesn’t, to my mind, prove the prophets were mistaken – only that the worst hasn’t happened yet. That state of “savage torpor”, for example, into which Words­worth saw the “discriminating powers of our mind” descending – did he get that so wrong? Wrong about the torpid, maybe. We are too hectic to be torpid. We troll, wear trainers and fulminate. But is “savage” so wide of the mark? Wordsworth was describing what made his age unpropitious to poetry. Need I state what makes our age unpropitious to the novel?

2. Obama has posted his Summer Reading list at Facebook.  He writes, “This week, I’m traveling to Africa for the first time since I left office – a continent of wonderful diversity, thriving culture, and remarkable stories.”  And he lists six books by African authors, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

3.  At Tor you can read “Five SFF Books in Which Art Matters,” by C. E. Polk.

I love art and illustration. My childhood obsession with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood led to hours with art history texts. I’d need a fortnight just to properly do the Met. And so I love it when SFF books engage with art and culture, providing insight into the history of the world, their aesthetic, and their values. There are plenty of literary works revolving around art, and artists, but SFF provides a number of stories where art matters—to the story, to its society, and to its character.

Happy Weekend!

Not Long Enough: Cousin Henry by Anthony Trollope

Trollope was a master of the long narrative, but he could not write a really first-rate short novel.

Mind you, Victorian writers were rarely known for their spare style, and the leisurely Trollope needs ample space to unfold his plots and reveal his astute knowledge of psychology.  He is one of the smartest Victorian writers:  his unimbellished style is so readable that we sink into his narratives unconscious of the length.  His best books, among them The Last Chronicle of Barset and The Way We Live Now, are 800 to 900 pages long.  Yet they are fast reads.

I cannot say the same of his short works, which I have found disappointing.  Cousin Henry, just 280 pages long, has moments of brilliance but it is mostly drudgery: it reads like an outline.  Sometimes Trollope develops a dramatic scene with pithy dialogue (sometimes in dialect) or enlightens the reader with a precise description of the inner workings of a character’s mind. But overall it is lackluster and uninteresting.

And yet it is in some ways a fitting book to read after Orley Farm (which I recently read and posted about here).  Both novels deal with dodgy wills and unscrupulous heirs.

In Orley Farm, which Trollope considered his best novel (and it is nearly a masterpiece), Lady Mason, the beautiful, intelligent heroine, forged the codicil of her husband’s will 20 years ago so her son Lucius, then a baby, would inherit Orley Farm instead of his rich older half-brother.  She was accused of forgery in court, but found not guilty.  Now new evidence has turned up, and the case will be tried again. Lady Mason is a sympathetic character, older and wiser, shattered by her trouble but hoping to hide her guilt from her son, who is now a young pompous Oxford-educated farmer.   And she is much tougher than her sympathetic neighbors and friends think she is–Trollope even uses the words “hard” and “she-wolf.”  And as more and more friends realize her guilt, they try to minimize her pain.

In Cousin Henry, we have another tangled will.  The squire, Indefer Jones,  in old age  changes his will in  favor of the male line.  He will leave the property to his once-wild nephew Henry, now a stolid clerk, instead of to his very smart niece, Isabel Brodrick, who has lived with him for 10 years.  He summons Henry from London, and when Henry comes, the squire despises him and cannot bear to be around him.  Isabel is also very rude to her cousin, whom she finds very stupid.  And so he is.  And so when Isabel goes home to visit her father, Uncle Indefer decides to change his will again in favor of Isabel.  And then he dies.

But what happened to the will?  No lawyer was called, but two tenants say they were called in to sign it.  Henry denies all knowledge of it.  But  he had actually spotted the will in a book of sermons by his uncle’s bed, and simply shelved the book.  Henry does not dare destroy the will, and yet he is uneasy and hardly dares to leave the bookroom. And the tenants and townspeople are brusque and offensive to him when he goes out, because Isabel should be the heiress.

And Isabel, the sympathetic character, is such a spitfire that she, too, is almost a caricature.  She won’t accept £4,000 from her cousin, even though that was her uncle’s intention. Trollope often writes about strong-minded characters, but Isabel, even though she is right morally, comes off as eccentric  rather than admirable. Her father and stepmother plead with her to take the money from Henry, because they are very poor and can hardly support her in addition to their young children.

The book starts out very well, and then goes downhill.  It is a very slight book.  Trollope could have written a brilliant 800-page novel on this theme, but instead he produced one of those show-don’t-tell books that I don’t care for even in the 21st century.

Classics for Non-Intellectuals: Who Is Your Favorite Victorian Writer?

The deepest book I’ve read all summer…

This summer I’ve written about effervescent classics by P. G. Wodehouse, Elizabeth von Arnim, and Patricia Moyes.  Where, you may wonder, are my rants on modern mores? Where my extravagant enthusings about Ovid’s epic? Well, the daily news is so dreadful that I now focus strictly on the light and whimsical. After skimming The New York Times, I want to quaff a Wodehouse cocktail, drink a von Arnim cup of coffee, or sip a liqueur at a 1960s party in a Moyes mystery.

Mind you, I haven’t abandoned the traditional classics. I am currently devouring (or quaffing) an 800-page Victorian novel by Anthony Trollope.

I am a mad Trollope fan.  He is, I always say, the greatest Victorian writer for non-intellectuals . He is not a master of rhetoric like Dickens, nor is he a an elegant stylist like Eliot, but he is consistently solid and intelligent. His understanding of politics, psychology, and finance is curiously modern. The best of his well-plotted novels never go out-of-date.

I am loving Trollope’s Orley Farm, a neglected novel about a lawsuit against a fascinating widow, Lady Mason, who was cleared of the charge of forging a codicil to her husband’s will 20 years ago.  She won the case, and her son Lucius, then a baby, inherited Orley Farm. Now the case has been reopened, and Lady Mason’s 60-year-old lawyer, who is half in love with her, realizes she is guilty, though he won’t admit it.  Her 70-year-old neighbor, Sir Peregrine Orme, is so outraged by the accusations and convinced of her innocence that he proposes marriage to her, hoping his own name will protect her.  Ironically, it is her Oxford-educated son, Lucius, the beneficiary of the forged codicil,  who caused the reopening of the case by revoking the tenancy of two fields long rented by Mr. Dockwrath, a lawyer.  Furious,  Mr Dockwrath reviews the legal papers in the case and digs up new evidence to get revenge.   And Mr. Mason, Sir Joseph Mason’s son by his first marriage, is eager to dislodge Lady Mason.

Orley Farm is Trollope’s Bleak House, and in a way Lady Mason is Trollope’s Lady Dedlock, though Lady Dedlock’s sin is that of having a baby out of wedlock, while Mason committed a financial crime.  Although we readers do not approve of Lady Mason’s actions, she is mostly a sympathetic character, and complex in a way that those on the right side of the law are not.  Trollope realistically describes her weariness, depression, fearfulness, and remorse, as well as her failure to act in any way that might hurt her son.  But there is a huge cast of characters, and love and marriage as well as money are at the center.

The novel is brilliant, if you can get past the first 30 rambling pages.  Trollope has a problem with beginnings, and I was dismayed by this one. But then he gets a grip, and suddenly his prose smoothes out and he fascinates us with his distinctive character portraits.   Doctor Thorne, one of my other favorites, also suffers from Bad Beginning Syndrome.

Although I know there are many, many Trollope fans out there, because we all went a little crazy during the bicentenary in 2015, we all have our own favorite Victorian writers.  Who is yours?

The Complete Edition of Trollope’s The Duke’s Children & Three Literary Links

Are you a Trollope fan?  Do you prefer his long, rambling novels to his shorter books? Do you wonder why The Duke’s Children, the sixth book in the Palliser series, is shorter than the other five?

Well, it was an editing problem.  Charles Dickens Jr., editor of the periodical All Year Round, thought the book too long, so Trollope cut 65,000 words.  But the good news for Trollope fans is that Steven Amarnick, a scholar, with  a team of researchers,  restored the original text from the manuscript in the Yale library

The complete edition is available from two publishers.  In 2015, The Folio Society published the complete edition in  two volumes ($330), ” and this month Everyman Library published a less expensive hardcover ($27.50).

Do we need a “complete edition of The Duke’s Children? I love Trollope’s long books:  the longer the better.   But the shorter version has  been around since 1880, so isn’t that the actual book?  (I had the same feeling when it turned out Raymond Carver wasn’t a minimalist: it’s just that Gordon Lish cut out all the words.)

In 2015, Adam Gopnik mentioned the Folio Society complete edition of The Duke’s Children in an essay on Trollope at  The New Yorker: 

Much matter that had been cut by Trollope for practical reasons has been restored, but the truth is that the editing does not actually change the contents significantly. Trollope is not a sentence-by-sentence writer, or even a scene-by-scene writer; really, he is a character-by-character writer. We finish his books with portraits of people, and a few sentences added or subtracted don’t alter our feelings about the book.

The Trollope group on Yahoo (trollope@yahoogroups.com) is interested in the affordable new Everyman complete edition.  They plan tentatively to discuss the complete Everyman edition in November.  Clinton Hall writes,

If we decide as a group to read this revised novel after we complete our readings of the three novels on our to-read list, we would start the read about early November, by which time there will possibly be used copies available for less at Abebooks and other online retail outlets.

But in the meantime I do hope at least a few of us on our list will read the book independently in the next month or so and then pass on their recommendations to Natalie or me, or to the list itself, as to whether they think it would be a worthwhile group read on list this year.

AND NOW FOR THREE LITERARY LINKS.

1 At the Tea and Tattle podcast, Jane Austen fans and other readers will enjoy a  conversation between novelists Diana Birchall, the author of Mr. Darcy’s Dilemma, and Janet Todd, author of A Man of Genius.  These two witty writers discuss how and when they began reading Jane Austen, how they became friends at the first Jane Austen conference (of about nine people!) in the ’80s, and what inspired them to write novels expanding or reworking Jane Austen’s novels.

2 At the TLS, in a review entitled “Shivering in Stockings,” Caroline Franklin takes issue with Shelley DeWees’ new book, Not Just Jane: Rediscovering seven amazing women writers who transformed British literature.

She writes,

It seems that collective amnesia at HarperCollins has wiped a whole generation of enthusiastic feminist scholarship from its ken. Do they think that American universities still teach a 1950s canon, dictated by Ian Watt’s The Rise of the Novel (1957) or A. D. McKillop’s The Early Masters of English Prose Fiction (1956)? DeWees is young, so perhaps does not remember those Virago reprints (utterly necessary before e-texts and Google books) of classic but out-of-print fiction by women, or Dale Spender’s polemic Mothers of the Novel: 100 good women authors before Jane Austen (1986) and the Pandora Press series it introduced. Yet approving quotations from those same feminist pioneers, Professors Janet Todd and Amanda Foreman, for example, enhance the HarperCollins publicity. Indeed, DeWees’s endnotes attest to her not only knowing but drawing on and synthesizing the spadework that has already been done over the past thirty years.

What I like about Franklin’s contentious approach is that she talks about other books about women’s lit.  What I don’t like?  I can just see men going “RAH–Cat Fight!”  (You would be surprised at how many times I have heard those words, usually about something on a TV show, not in the TLS.)

3. And there is a fascinating article at The Barnes and Noble Review about science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany, winner of four Nebulas and two Hugos and the Lambda award twice.  T. W. O’Brien writes,

Delany grew up in Harlem, back when it was the epicenter of black culture in America. He has described having had one set of friends on the streets of Harlem, and a completely different set of friends at Dalton, the private, primarily white school he attended on New York City’s Upper East Side. He went on to the Bronx High School of Science, then to City College of New York. But he dropped out of college after only one semester to write (at age 19) his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor (recently reissued with two other early Delany novels under the title A B C: Three Short Novels). He also married the poet Marilyn Hacker in 1961. Between 1962 and 1968, he published a total of nine sci-fi novels and a number of short works, including his four Nebula Award winners, Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, “Aye, and Gomorrah”, and “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” (which also won the Hugo Award, and is one of my favorite SF story titles of all time).

 

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?