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

The Book in My Bike Bag: Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right

bike council bluffs path img_0932Every summer I carry a Big Book in my bike bag.

On bike journey breaks, I flip down my kickstand (I am the last person with a kickstand), sit on a bench, and read.

It is always a Very Big Book.

He Knew He Was Right trollope 41RJjyDTOLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This being Trollope’s bicentenary,  I have reread four of his books this year.  And I now admit it is possible to read too much Trollope.   I ODed on my rereading of Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right (my bike book of the summer)It  is a very great book, one of Trollope’s best, and an engrossing novel about jealousy, madness, marriage, and money.  It is a retelling of the Othello story, set in the 19th century.   I wonder if I am  critical of the flaws in the characterization of Louis Trevelyan, Trollope’s Othello,  and the looseness of the structure, because I have read too much Trollope.

He is very good, he is often great, but he wrote too much:  47 novels.  His work is uneven.

On the other hand, He Knew He Was Right is 823 pages long, so a little rambling is in order.

Trollope writes easily and well, and has a gift for comedy.  In this novel, and also in Phineas Redux, which I read earlier this year, he also shows his gift for tragedy.  (I cried at the end of He Knew He Was Right.)

The novel begins with the story of a happy marriage.  Louis Trevelyan has married Emily Rowley, the penniless daughter of the governor of the Mandarin Islands.  Louis generously invites Emily’s sister, Nora, to live with them  in London.  She is more likely to make a good marriage in London.

Louis has everything.  He is smart, “but not a book-worm.”  He is a “handsome, manly fellow, with short brown hair, a nose divinely chiselled, an Apollo’s mouth, six feet high, with shoulders and arms and legs in proportion–a pearl of pearls!”

And then Trollope adds,

Only, as Lady Rowley was the first to find out, he likes his own way.

Emily also likes her own way.  In fact, almost everyone in this novel likes his or her own way, as Trollope is quick to tell us.

HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT TROLLOPE DOVER 7154878-LLouis and Emily are very happy at first.  But they soon begin to struggle because her father’s oldest friend, a fiftyish colonel, visits her often  and flirts with her.

Louis asks her not to see the Colonel. He is an agony of jealousy.  She says she has done nothing inappropriate and refuses to ban her father’s oldest friend.  She does not believe the Colonel is flirting.  (He is.)  Her sister, Nora, does not think there is any flirting, either, but she begs Emily to humor Louis. Should Emily or shouldn’t she have?  Would it have made things better, or would he have just become more tyrannical?

And then it takes a tragic turn.  Trevelyan is driven mad by jealousy (though is that enough to account for his madness?), and eventually he and Emily have a terrible disagreement, resulting in a separation, his spying on her, the kidnapping of their child, etc.

There are comic courtship subplots, which lighten the mood.

Louis Trevelyan’s best friend, Hugh Stanbury, is in love with Emily’s sister Nora.  She hesitates, though.  What’s wrong with him?  Well, he is poor.  He gave up the law to be a journalist.  And though Nora is in love with Hugh, she very much wants to be in love with her rich suitor, Mr. Glascock, the son of Lord Peterborough.  Why oh why can’t she be in love with the right man?   But she has to refuse Mr. Glascock.

Hugh was his rich spinster aunt Miss Stanbury ‘s favorite until he began writing for a “penny paper.”  Now she has invited his younger sister, Dorothy, to live with her, and hopes to marry her off to Mr. Gibson, the smug, conceited curate. But it is just as well that Dorothy dislikes him (she has fallen in love with someone else):  Mr. Gibson has flirted for years with two card-playing spinster sisters, Arabella and Camilla French, and his fate lies with them, if only he can figure out which one.

The third marriage subplot is smooth and without conflict.  And Mr. Glascock, Nora’s rejected suitor, falls in love in Italy with a pretty American girl, Caroline Spalding, the niece of the American ambassador. Even though Nora is engaged to Hugh, she feels jealous of Caroline.

Why read Trollope?  He’s a bit of a shaggy-dog storyteller.  Even his best books, the Palliser novels and the Barsetshire novels, ramble.

Yet he is an addictive, cozy writer.  Some will bridle at the word “cozy,” but it is true. He will not shock you. He will entertain you. We read him because he is an addictive storyteller. He is neither George Eliot nor a Dickens–but he is reliably entertaining. He is one of the best storytellers of the 19th century, and you can’t do much better than that.

Do We Need Footnotes?

Anthony Trollope

Do we need footnotes in Trollope’s novels?

In Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great, she is adamant about her loathing of footnotes.

In Chapter 94, she writes,

I once got into an argument on a Trollope mailing list with people who like footnotes.  (I hate all footnotes not written by the authors.)  The people I was arguing with maintained that they needed footnotes to understand the story, because Trollope wrote expecting his readers to know what a hansom cab was and to understand his jokes about decimalization.  I argued that they’d either figure it out by context or they didn’t need to.

I have had this same comical argument many times.  Mind you, I enjoy footnotes.  They are an art, though often of interest mainly to scholars. When I have time on my hands, I’ll skim footnotes.

But even when a footnote is necessary, it is often too protracted.  I  have gleaned everything I know about England in the 19th century from reading many, many, many novels, and I am often too involved in the story to stop.  How many times have I interrupted my reading to skim long footnotes on the history of Corn Laws or Corn law repeal, not only in Trollope, but in George Eliot, George Meredith, and Charlotte Bronte?  So far, Trollope hasn’t required me to take a test.

And sometimes the footnotes are a bit dippy.

For instance, in Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right (Penguin), Note 1 in Chapter 3 tells me that the Acrobats (a club in the novel), may have been “the Garrick, originally in King Street, a block away from Pall Mall.”

The Dover edition (left) doesn’t have footnotes, but it’s fine with me.

Jo Walton says she tries to find editions of Trollope without footnotes.

One must have notes to read Satyrica.I admit, there are times when you need footnotes.  If you read the extant fragments of Petronius’s Satryica (formerly known as the Satyricon), you rely on notes.

We have only fragments left of this risque Roman novel. Only one manuscript (in very bad shape) survived to the ninth century:  The monks did not go out of the way to copy it, and I admit there is much that might not appeal to them:  men losing their boyfriends to other men, buggering, rites of priestesses of Priapus, and witches attempting to cure the hero’s impotence.

This irreverent, sometimes obscene, masterpiece was written by Petronius Arbiter, Nero’s arbiter of taste. It is probably (so scholars hazard) a Menippean satire (a long work of prose mixed with verse) of the first century A.D.  (Some are not sure that Petronius the author is the same as Nero’s Petronius.)   The longest chapter extant, “Trimalchio’s Dinner Party,” inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Fellini’s movie Satyricon.

If you have time to read only a bit of this, I recommend “Trimalchio’s Dinner Party.”  It requires the fewest footnotes.  Trimalchio is a hilarious, kindly, vulgar millionaire, a freedman who started as an accountant.  He pisses in gold chamber pots, washes his hands with wine, dries his hands in slaves’ hair, serves gourmet dishes shaped like the Signs of the Zodiac, and has acrobats jumping through flaming hoops during dinner.  Yes, like Gatsby, he’s nouveau riche.

During dinner, when an accountant  interrupts to read  to Trimalchio about the day’s happenings, Trimalchio is shocked to learn there was a fire in the gardens at Pompeii..

Hold it,” Trimalchio said, ‘when did I buy any gardens in Pompeii?”

“Last year,” the accountant told him, “that’s why they haven’t been entered in the accounts yet.”

Trimalchio blew up.  “Whatever properties’ve been bought, if I don’t get told within six months, forget it.”

petronius-satyricon-folio1This excerpt is from Frederic Raphael’s lively translation (only available through the Folio Society, alas, but now out of print and hence cheap on the internet):

Petronius’s Latin is odd, using vocabulary rarely used, and as you can imagine, one needs the notes.  But I am laughing as I read the Latin.   The guest Seleucus philosophizes on death after a friend’s funeral.

My translation?

We walk around inflated bags.  We are less than flies.  Nevertheless, flies have some virtue; we are not more than bubbles!

Yes,we are not flies but bubbles!

Things to Do for Trollope’s Bicentennial: Reading, Stamps, and An Exhibit at the British Library

New Trollope stamp in the UK.

New Trollope stamp in the UK.

Brave blogger that I am, I often read Trollope’s wonderful books with no intention of writing about them. They are very long, very amusing,  and to write about them might dilute my enthusiasm.

To commemorate Anthony Trollope’s 200th anniversary, there are many things to do besides write.  You can buy new Trollope stamps in the UK; see a display at the British Library of the manuscript of  An Autobiography;  enjoy a Bloggers’ Trollope Challenge; and discuss his books at online Trollope and Nineteenth Century Literature groups.

Everyone is reading Trollope; everyone is writing about Trollope.

Trollope an autobiography 51gdJSPhkKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Trollope is not someone you write about. That is my belief, though I have written about him.  You read him the way you eat cookies. I just finished The Prime Minister, the fifth novel in the Palliser series.  It wasn’t the best cookie in the series–that would be Can You Forgive Her?–but it was a very good oatmeal.  It centers on politics and a misbegotten romance.

Trollope wrote 47 novels, and all of them are in print.  Which ones will I read this year?  I decided not to read the Folio Society’s new complete edition of The Duke’s Children, because it is As Big As a Bible. Instead, I am enjoying my Oxford World Classics paperback edition, which is 576 pages. This is the last book in the Palliser series.

The Duke's Children Trollope 51A9PnnHbRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In a brilliant article in The New Yorker“Trollope Trending: Why He’s Still the Novelist of the Way We Live Now,” Adam Gopnik very briefly mentions the issue of the editing of The Duke’s Children:

A handsome new edition of “The Duke’s Children,” the last novel in the Palliser series, has just been published by the Folio Society. 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.

Gopnik’s essay provides a brilliant introduction to Trollope and a scholarly analysis of the history of the reception of the books (they are back in style) and their historical context.  And he explicates Trollope’s  politics and why the books are not dated.

Gopnik says that Trollope’s politics still apply to such issues as gay marriage.

The movement for gay marriage is almost a textbook case of Trollope’s idea of how political reform happens: an impossible idea becomes possible, then becomes necessary, and then all but a handful of diehards accept its inevitability. The job of those trying to bring about change is not to hector it into the agenda of the necessary but to move it into the realm of the plausible. Once something is plausible in a semi-democratic society, it has a natural momentum toward becoming real. (Even decimal coinage happened eventually.)

I do not write about every book by Trollope I read, but I love to read about Trollope.  I have informally posted here about Phineas Finn, here about The Eustace Diamonds, here about Phineas Redux, and here about The Way We Live Now.

What Is Your Favorite Trollope Novel?

A set of the Pallisers books.

A set of the Pallisers books.

It is Anthony Trollope’s 200th anniversary, and all are frenziedly reading Trollope.

It is just like the nineteenth century!

Trollope the prime minister older oxford 0192815903.01.LZZZZZZZI became a Trollope junkie after I saw The Pallisers on TV in the ’70s. Since then I have read 40 of his 47 novels.  I recently reread the fifth book in the Palliser series, The Prime Minister.   I love the mix of politics and doomed romance in this parliamentary pageturner:  Planty Palliser, now the Duke of Omnium, becomes  Prime Minister, and his wife Lady Glencora schemes to bolster his reputation  by hosting extravagant over-the-top parties.  Trollope also tells the  story of the marriage of Emily Wharton, the daughter of a rich lawyer, and Lopez, an unscrupulous speculator who everyone knows is not a gentleman.  The novel rambles, but I enjoyed the rambling.

So it is a normal year of Trollope at Mirabile Dictu. Well, almost.   My Trollope consumption has not been entirely normal.  I purchased a copy of the Folio Society’s complete edition of The Duke’s Children  for $330 and then gave it to charity because it was too big to read in bed. I am as extravagant as Lady Glencora! only with less political effect.  By the way, the book has received excellent reviews from the TLS, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Irish Times.

Anthony Trollope The Prime Minister 51NptJzrXmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_At The Guardian, in a roundup of writers choosing their favourite novels by Trollope, I was surprised that the Palliser books are so popular. Antonia Fraser chose Can You Forgive Her?, Roy Hattersley and Kwasi Kwarteng chose Phineas Finn, and Anthony Quinn and Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, chose The Prime Minister.

What are your favorite Trollope novels?  Anybody for the Barsetshire series?  My favorite is He Knew He Was Right.   More on that later.  I’ll reread it one of these years.

Arrival of Trollope’s The Duke’s Children!

Trollope's The Duke's Children, with bedraggled geranium .

Trollope’s The Duke’s Children, with bedraggled geranium s.

I was glued to a tea-drinking scene in a 19th-century novel.

I didn’t hear the mail arrive.

I went to get tea and saw a box on the stoop.

I opened the door.

I picked it up.

The sticker said “Royal Mail” (much more awe-inspiring than USPS), and the return address sticker said The Folio Society.

Yes, my gorgeous copy of the Folio Society’s complete edition of Trollope’s The Duke’s Children arrived.

It is bound in Indian goatskin leather, with hand-marbled endpapers.


Hand-marbled endpapers, and Line counter bookmark.

And it comes with an adorable “Line counter” bookmark. Most of the pages have exactly 39 lines.  When I blog about it, I will be able to cite the line number.   Fun, fun.

The copy number is written in by hand.  It is 7__ of 1980.  And it says that:

The first complete edition of The Duke’s Children has been typeset in Miller by The Folio Society, printed on Caxton Cream Wove… It is limited to 1980 numbered copies, and 20 lettered copies hors de commerce.


At work with my Line counter bookmark.

It has an introduction by Joanna Trollope.

And there is a second volume, a commentary on the book.

My misgivings:  I  have never had a leather book before.

I am a paperback person.

My cousin the librarian is laughing at me.  “You’re not a f—ing collector and what about tea stains?”


The commentary.

Trollope write The Duke’s Children as a four-volume novel and it was  cut to three volumes. The complete edition is only available from the Folio Society.

I retort, “It’s not a collectible.  It’s mine now.”

I am a bit worried.  I read my books HARD.  I throw my paperbacks down on the couch.  I write in them.

Wish me luck!  It is no longer a collectible…  It is a reading copy!

Calumny in Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Redux & Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not…

parade's end folio society PND_p1

Lovely editions: I do not, of course, have these!

If ever a young woman read too many English novels, I was that young woman. I  read so many Victorian and modernist classics that I believed the English must behave like characters in English novels. (Americans do not behave like characters in English novels.)  I spent many happy hours with Emma Woodhouse, Jane Eyre, Esther Summerson,  Christopher Tietjens, and Mrs. Dalloway, who inhabited a glimmering fantastic England unimaginably far, far away from the Midwest.

You only read like that when you are young:  perhaps no one ever really behaves like a character in a novel.

Nonetheless, these books are far from cozy.

When I recently reread Trollope’s Phineas Redux and Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not…, I was astounded by their dark contemporary relevance.  In these two novels, the heroes must confront the savagery of defamation of character.  Slander, gossip, and libel threaten the reputations of Trollope’s Phineas Finn and Ford’s Christopher Tietjens.

Calumny is the stuff of daily newspapers and gossip, right?

Libel, slander, rumor, gossip…

Parade's End ford madox ford 51TxQjZ6-TL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In Some Do Not..., the first novel in Ford Madox Ford’s modernist tetralogy, Parade’s End, Chritsopher Tietjens, an Edwardian gentleman and a brilliant statistician with a complicated code of ethics, must deal with calumny.  His cruel wife, Sylvia, has left him with her lover, but people say she left Christopher because he was promiscuous.  They think Valentine, a suffragette, the daughter of an old friend of his father’s, is his lover..  They are in love, but they are not lovers.   Christopher cannot divorce Sylvia, who is a Catholic.  He does not think it is right to involve the much younger Valentine.

Some do not…

This is just the first book, set on the eve of World War I. .

But Sylvia returns and continues to spread scandal about Christopher  She spreads the rumor that Christopher’s lover is Ethel Edith, his friend MacMaster’s wife.  One of Sylvia’s banker boyfriends manages to queer Christopher’s account and credit rating by some clever fakery that make it seem he is irresponsible and overdrawn.

Ford describes Chris’s feelings so well.

He considered that he was dull-minded, heavy, ruined, and so calumniated that at times he believed in his own infamy, for it is impossible to stand up forever against the obloquy of your kind and remain unhurt in your mind.”

Phineas redux trollope 41gfICLC-IL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_That feeling of helplessness:  how can Christopher stop the talk? Occasionally he finds a way to disprove some of the lies, but people are altogether too eager to believe calumny.

Trollope is a far from cozy writer, though that is his reputation (perhaps people have seen too many costume dramas?).  In Phineas Redux, the fourth in his political Palliser novels, Phineas Finn, an Irishman, returns to politics.  Chosen and backed by English friends to stand for a liberal seat in Parliament, he wins a tough, corrupt election.

There is prejudice against the Irish.  In addition, Phineas has two powerful enemies hindering his political success: Mr. Bonteen, another liberal, baits Phineas publicly and influences the Minister against him, and Quintus Slide, the editor of a tabloid, the “People’s Banner,” opposes Phineas politically and is determined to bring him down.

One of the strongest weapons used against Phineas is his attractiveness to women.  A scandal is made of his loyalty to Lady Laura Standish Kennedy, an intelligent woman who has left her mad husband, Robert Kennedy, a wealthy landowner who will not divorce her.  Lady Laura is living with her father in Dresden, partly to evade the scandal, partly so Kennedy cannot force her to return by law.  (The marriage laws are cruel.)  When Laura invites Phineas to visit them in Dresden, he feels he must, because he is obligated to them for helping him financially and politically.  He has a complicated relationship with Laura:  she turned down his proposal of marriage a few years ago, but is actually in love with him. He is not in love with her.

This visit inspires  Kennedy to send  a truly mad letter to Quintus Slides’ newspaper, vilifying both Lady Laura and Phineas.  And though Phineas’s lawyer manages to slap a cease-and-desist order on the publication of the letter,  Slide viciously prints so much other scandal about Phineas that even some of his fellow politicians believe it.  And when Phineas is accused of murder, many believe he is guilty.  It is his women friends who keep him from hanging.

The power of Quintus Slide helps us that the power of the press can be for good or ill.

Reading these two novels reminds us that gossip can be a bitch.

Both these novels are remarkably well-written, and not only good stories but  curiously contemporary in their treatment of age-old problems.

The Folio Society’s New Edition of Trollope’s The Duke’s Children

The Folio Society edition of The Duke's Children

The Folio Society edition of The Duke’s Children

In March 2015, the Folio Society will publish the first complete edition of Trollope’s The Duke’s Children.  

The Duke’s Children was written as a four-volume novel, but was cut to three volumes. As the Folio Society tells us, “65,000 words ended up on the cutting-room floor.”  The restored manuscript is published in this limited edition, and a separate volume of scholarly essays and notes is included with the novel

I am excited about the new edition, because  I am rereading Trollope’s Pallisers novels:  Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, Phineas Redux, The Prime Minister, and The Duke’s Children.  If I wait till March to read The Duke’s Children, I can read the Folio Society edtion.

I dearly love the Pallisers books, which I discovered in the 1970s, when the BBC series aired in the U.S.  In those days, mass market paperbacks were often published to complement the TV series.  My set had photos of the actors on the covers.

A scene from the BBC Pallisers series.

A scene from the BBC Pallisers series.

Then, in the ’80s, I found a classier set of Oxford editions at a used bookstore. Alas,  I was not very fussy about condition, and I must say these were too well-used.

A set of the Pallisers books.

A set of the Pallisers books.

Now I have the inexpensive Oxford World Classics editions.

The new set of Oxford Palliser books

The Oxford World Classics Palliser books

Much as I like the Folio Society books (I recently saw a gorgeous edition of Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trezibond at a used bookstore), I am not a collector.  They are beautiful, but expensive.

But perhaps I’ll treat myself to the new The Duke’s Children.  I’m not traveling to London this spring, so this can be the substitute.

Reading on the Number 6

“My e-reader is planning my future.”

Not possible, you say.

phineas-finn--anthony-trollope-paperback-cover-artPerhaps not, but it is reviving my ability to read long books in public.  I recently downloaded a free copy of Phineas Finn, the second novel in Anthony Trollope’s political Pallisers series, from to my e-reader.  At home I am reading Phineas Finn in a beautiful Oxford World’s Classics edition, but on the bus my e-reader is lightweight and a 700-page book is an invisible accessory to my stylish e-gadget.

I don’t like to be seen reading Victorian novels.  Odd, I know.  But  nobody reads Trollope anymore, except David Lodge, who recently wrote a piece for The Guardian on Trollope’s obscure SF novel, The Fixed Period; David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, who wrote about Phineas Finn in 2011; and a few dozen members of a Trollope discussion group at Yahoo, who are always happy to chat about ideals of High Victorianism.

Does it matter if anyone sees what I’m reading?

Yes, perhaps it does.  When everybody else is on his Blackberry, phone, or  other unidentifiable object, I don’t want to step up to the bat with a book, and, like the old woman in the zealously book-banned society of Fahrenheit 451, say, “Play the man, Master Ridley. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace as I trust shall never be put out.”

I prefer being seen in public reading the odd candy bar wrapper.

Actually, on this day of a Midwestern snowstorm, ten inches of snow make the streets impassable, branches, twigs, and wires are swathed in snow, and the buses won’t run till noon.  I am able to stay home and read my paperback.

I am in the world of Phineas Finn.

Phineas has made his maiden speech in Parliament.  It has not gone well.

Phineas Finn had sundry gifts, a powerful and pleasant voice, which he had learned to modulate, a handsome presence, and a certain natural mixture of modesty and self-reliance, which would certainly protect him from the faults of arrogance and pomposity, and which, perhaps, might carry him through the perils of his new position. …But he had not that gift of slow blood which on the former occasion would have enabled him to remember his prepared speech, and which would now have placed all his own resources within his reach.

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope

His friend Monk tells him his speech was nothing great, but was on a par with other maiden speeches.  Phineas is miserable.

Lady Laura and her friend Violet wonder if Phineas’s speech were as bad as Lord Brentford said it was.

On the bus later today we will not be in the world of Phineas Finn.   The few people who chat are not politicians.  They are often just out of prison or  recently converted to a gushy brand of Christianity. Those who read will read “the paper,” which has gone to hell since it fired and early-retired so many staff members, and they talk about what is in the paper that has gone to hell, and how much better it used to be.

Nobody is reading the Oprah book on the bus.  Perhaps they are reading it on their ereaders.

In general, reading on the Number 6 is a private affair.  We stick to newspapers and  e-books.