Tag Archives: Trollope

An Old Man’s Love: Anthony Trollope (1884)

The old man in the title of Anthony Trollope’s novel, An Old Man’s Love, is William Whittlestaff who is 50. This was a re-read for me, but the ‘old’ leaped out at me again. Apparently in 1885, 45 was the average life expectancy. Yikes! Trollope establishes immediately that William Whittlestaff, a country gentleman who leads a quiet life and is a creature of habit, was disappointed in love decades earlier when he was jilted by his fiancée. The emotional wounds are buried but not healed when Whittlestaff decides to take in Mary, a young woman, the daughter of a friend who is left without means. Whittlestaff’s housekeeper, the indominable, opinionated Mrs. Baggett sniffs trouble on the horizon and she is right.

In time, Whittlestaff falls in love with Mary and eventually proposes. Mary takes a “full disclosure” stance and tells Whittlestaff that she was once in love with John Gordon, a young penniless man. He was dismissed by Mary’s stepmother and although words of love never were spoken between John and Mary, she continues to think of him and loves him still years later. Whittlestaff is concerned about the news that Mary loved another but presses his suit anyway. Mary is penniless and feels grateful and obligated to Whittlestaff, but does gratitude and obligation justify a trip to the altar? The fact that Whittlestaff even proposed has created a monumental dilemma; Mary can accept the offer of marriage and stay or refuse and then, due to the awkwardness of the situation combined with propriety, Mary would find it impossible to remain. Mary’s eventual acceptance is fraught and tainted with pressure from both the housekeeper and Mr. Whittlestaff. Mrs Baggett is an old family servant. She doesn’t want to be replaced by Whittlestaff’s young wife, but she also takes umbrage at the idea that Mary may refuse the offer of marriage:

“Here’s a gentleman as you owe everything to. If he wanted your head from your shoulders, you shouldn’t make any scruple. What are you, that you shouldn’t let a gentleman like him have his own way?”

So Mary accepts Whittlestaff’s offer of marriage, and the day after Whittlestaff proposes who should return from the diamond mines… but John Gordon and so the drama commences.

An Old Man’s Love centres on the subsequent behavior of Whittlestaff and Mary. The novel isn’t one of Trollope’s best, and for this reader Whittlestaff is the most interesting character since his belief that Mary must/should keep her promise to him drives the action. The attitudes in the novel to the diamond mines are interesting. Trollope doesn’t detail conditions there but we get the idea that it is hellish and a den of vice. The idea that Gordon has spent time in the mines is to Whittlestaff distasteful. On one hand he sees Gordon as a moneygrubber but also as depraved. Gordon’s idiotic friend, The Rev. Montagu Blake, a man who about to get married, stirs the pot with his gossip and insensitivity. We get glimpses of Blake’s fiancée Kattie Forrester, and she seems quite aware that she is marrying an idiot. While Blake looks forward to married bliss, it’s clear to the reader that Kattie will rule the roost. But considering how stupid Montagu Blake is, perhaps that’s just as well.

Marriage isn’t exactly portrayed positively here. Mrs Baggett rues the day she married her sailor husband, who is now a one-legged drunk. If Montagu Blake maintains his level of idiocy he may continue to think he’s a lucky man snagging Kattie Forrester for a bride, but there’s the implicit idea that life in the Blake household won’t be much fun.

Trollope gently juxtaposes two possible worlds here: the safe world of the ‘elderly’ bridegroom and the potent brawn and sexuality of adventurer John Gordon. Once Gordon appears on the scene, Whittlestaff creates a number of moral arguments for keeping Mary to her promise of becoming his wife even stating that Mary can be “a young man’s slave” versus “an old man’s darling.” Whittlestaff takes a patriarchal approach towards Mary and declares that he is the safer, better choice. According to the Trollope Society, An Old Man’s Love is categorized as one of his Comic novels, and I can’t see that at all. I suppose Montagu Blake and Mrs. Baggett’s reprobate husband provide some comic relief but IMO not enough to make this a comic novel.



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The Warden: Anthony Trollope (1855)

Anthony Trollope’s The Warden is the kick-off novel for the 6-book series, The Chronicles of Barsetshire, so it’s an introduction to the social environment of the region with an emphasis on the clergy and gentry. The plot of The Warden is simple: mild, unassuming Reverend Septimus Harding is the warden of Hiram’s Hospital and preceptor of Barchester cathedral. He’s a widower and has two daughters: Mrs Susan Grantly who is married to the indefatigable Archdeacon Grantly (son of the Bishop of Barchester) and unmarried Eleanor who lives with her father in a very pleasant home on the grounds of Hiram’s Hospital. Hiram’s Hospital, an almshouse established in the 15th century for elderly wool-carders, houses 12 men. Recently, the warden stepped in and gave each man an extra tuppence a day which is added to the meagre amount of one shilling and fourpence each resident receives from the almshouse. Septimus Harding, who has been warden for ten years, receives 800 pounds a year, and in addition has 80 pounds a year as preceptor of Barchester.

All the trouble starts when John Bold, a local doctor whose practice has not exactly taken off, launches a campaign of legal action and social awareness regarding Harding’s pay. Bold contends that it was never the intention of the hospital founder that the lion’s share of the money should go to a warden while the residents receive a relatively meagre amount. The whole Hiram Hospital set-up is somewhat wobbly for the manner in which its mission has strayed from the founder’s original intent. Wool-carders in Barchester no longer exist, and now the residents are handpicked “so the bishop, dean and warden, who took it in turn to put in the old men, generally appointed some hangers-on of their own: worn-out gardeners, decrepit grave-diggers, or octogenarian sextons, who thankfully received a comfortable lodging and one shilling fourpence a day.” The fact that Harding was appointed by his old friend the Bishop and that Harding’s elder daughter is married to the Bishop’s son smacks of nepotism, and those facts add to the argument that Harding is wildly overpaid. Harding is a humble, sweet man, and he’s horrified to find himself the subject of public censure. He investigates the veracity of Bold’s legal argument, and all this is complicated by the fact that Bold is courting Harding’s daughter Eleanor.

While the plot is simple, The Warden is a study in human nature: the lambs vs, the wolves. Pride, power, stubbornness, the power of the press, the misguided machinations of the reformer, and the absolute authority of the church all come under scrutiny. The peaceful, well-established structure of Barsetshire is disrupted when Bold, a “strong reformer,” turns his energy towards Hiram’s Hospital:

His passion is the reform of all abuses; state abuses, church abuses, corporation abuses (he had got himself elected a town councillor of Barchester, and has so worried three consecutive mayors, that it became somewhat difficult to find a fourth), abuses in medical practice, and general abuses in the world at large. Bold is thoroughly sincere in his patriotic endeavours to mend mankind, and there is something to be admired in the energy with which he devotes himself to remedying evil and stopping injustice.

Bold’s directed attack on Harding’s pay–although acutely personal, is undertaken with a blind zeal which ignores the likely consequence. After all, Bold loves Eleanor, and yet it’s pride that blinds him to the consequences of his actions. But then reformers are so often about tearing down without consideration of the human consequences. Then there’s Harding, a doddery man who is happy to take this generous living until it’s pointed out that the pay he receives for is basically given for doing ‘nothing.’ And that’s an argument which festers on both sides of divide–the Archdeacon thinks his father in law is mad to give up this cushy job that requires so little of him, and yet it’s the very same argument, great pay, no labour, that the reformers and the press use. Most of the humor here comes from the insufferable Archdeacon Grantly who tries to bully his father-in-law, Harding into keeping the job. His very argument that Harding gets 800 pounds for basically nothing is exactly the argument to make Harding cringe and run. The Warden examines the layered structures of society: Law, Church, Clergy–those who prop up those structures, those who pontificate and tear them down, and the finally the humans who are supposed to be helped by both established structure and reformers but who are far more likely to be victims:

Did you ever know a poor man yet better for Law or for a lawyer?

The warden


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Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope

Time to pull another Trollope novel randomly from the shelf. This time it was Lady Anna, and on the back cover of my Penguin edition there’s a snippet: “Trollope pronounced Lady Anna (1874) ‘The best novel I ever wrote.’ ” And after finishing it, I cannot understand that statement at all–what about his beloved Barchester Towers (1857) or my personal favourite to date The Claverings (1867)? It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Lady Anna, and it certainly had its merits, but at just over 500 pages, Trollope stretches out a dilemma until it’s thinner than two-week old chewing gum.

Lady AnnaLady Anna revolves on a legal case, certainly not an unfamiliar backdrop for Victorian novels, but here instead of fusty old legalities, there’s more than a touch of scandal and a heavy dollop of debauchery. The case involves a woman known as Josephine Murray who married Earl Lovel, and from the small parish church the 24-year-old bride was taken to Lovel Grange, an “ill-omened looking place.”  Trollope tells us that she did not love her much-older husband and that she married for ambition; “she wanted to be the wife of a lord.”  Thus he sets the stage for us to have some, but not too much, sympathy for this character.

Unfortunately Josephine Murray made a very bad choice. While the Earl is an extremely wealthy man, he’s also rumoured to be quite mad. That’s as good a term as any for the Earl’s strange, antisocial behaviour

He had so lived as to teach himself that those men who devote themselves to their wives, as a wife devotes herself to her husband, are the poor lubberly clods of creation, who had lacked the power to reach the only purpose of living which would make life worth having. Women had been to him a prey, as the fox is a prey to the huntsman and the salmon to the angler. But he had acquired great skill in his sport, and could pursue his game with all the craft which experience will give. He could look at a woman as though he saw all heaven in her eyes, and could listen to her as though the music of the spheres was to be heard in her voice. Then he would whisper words which, to many women, were as the music of the spheres, and he would persevere, abandoning all other pleasures, devoting himself to the one wickedness with a perseverance which almost made success certain.

So the wicked Earl is a seducer of women, but this time, with Josephine, his best efforts fail, and he “could be successful on no other terms than those which enabled her to walk out of the church with him as Countess Lovel.”  With a lecher for a husband, you’d expect Josephine to be unhappy, but her misery goes far deeper. Six months after the marriage, the Earl announced that he committed bigamy when he married Josephine as he had a wife still living (who has since died) in Italy. He refuses to remarry Josephine and tells her that he’s back off to Italy and that she can chum along as his mistress. The Earl, now supposedly a widower, departs for Italy … alone.

Josephine, with debts mounting, lives in precarious circumstances and the only person who offers to help her is a humble tailor named Thwaite. He takes Josephine and her daughter, Anna into his home, devoting his time and money towards Josephine’s restoration as the Countess of Lovel. It’s acknowledged that the Earl went through a marriage ceremony with Josephine, but the big unknown is whether or not the Earl is lying when he belatedly revealed himself to be a bigamist. There’s some evidence that points to the fact that the woman was already dead when the Earl married Josephine, but the Earl, who’s buggered off to Italy, argues otherwise and proof, one way or another is sketchy. It doesn’t help matters that some Italian woman, alive and well, claims to be the Earl’s first wife, but she may be the sister of the deceased first Countess, simply after money.  

Josephine now has a dilemma: should she choose to pursue prosecution and win the case against the Earl for bigamy, she will, in reality, publicly acknowledge that she was the man’s mistress and that her daughter is illegitimate. Both Thwaite and Josephine expect the case to fail, but it’s the necessary first step in proving her likely-legitimate claim to the earl’s title and fortune.  The Earl (in absentia) is acquitted of bigamy and then the case is slowly fought to establish Josephine’s claim.  Decades pass, and the death of the Earl throws the issue of inheritance back to the fore. Suddenly it’s Josephine’s claim to the estate vs the claim of the new young handsome Earl ….

Lady Anna reminded me of Is He Popenjoy?–another novel about illegitimacy and a mysterious marriage that may or may not have taken place in Italy. The characters in Lady Anna were not as satisfying however, and our hero, Daniel Thwaite, the son of the noble tailor, and Anna, Josephine’s daughter are not particularly interesting characters. Daniel, a capable serious young man, seems a little on the self-righteous side while Anna is entirely overshadowed by her mother, Josephine–a far more interesting, damaged, character.

Josephine is a woman obsessed. She married a blackguard for money and position and she’s spent her life to its pursuit–all in the name of her daughter, but this devotion becomes questionable as the novel wears on and we see that Josephine loves her daughter in as much as Anna can fulfill all the latent longing for titles and social position–even though these things have proven to be useless, empty ambitions. Josephine nurses her grudges against those who refused to help her when she was abandoned by her husband, and while that’s certainly understandable, she also, in a manner which shows her true nature, turns her back on the Thwaites. It’s one thing to remember your enemies, but it’s another thing to forget your friends

While there’s romance here, one of the underlying theme is legal vs. moral justice. Josephine seeks legal justice against her husband and yet when she finally gains that, she’s not too interested in moral justice–she ascribes her own desire for money and position to Daniel Thwaite when he seeks to marry Anna, but he’s challenged by the new Earl. Who will win Anna’s hand?

Lady Anna drags on past its due date, and events could have been wound up much sooner, but even so this is a Trollope novel, and he always has some wonderful observations to make about human nature. Here’s Daniel a radical who longs for the eradication of nobility;

Measuring himself by his own standard, regarding that man to be most manly who could be most useful in the world, he did think himself to be infinitely superior to the Earl. He was the working bee, whereas the Earl was the drone. And he was one who used to the best of his abilities the mental faculties which had been given to him; whereas the Earl,–so he believed,–was himself hardly conscious of having had mental faculties bestowed upon him. The Earl was, to his thinking, as were all Earls, an excrescence upon society, which had been produced by the evil habits and tendencies of mankind; a thing to be got rid of before any near approach could be made to that social perfection of which he fully believed.   

In Lady Anna, Trollope creates some subversive situations in his observations of class distinctions. Daniel believes that nobility is an antiquated fetish of the society in which he lives, and we see, through Trollope’s characters, that Daniel is right. Josephine is twisted by her dreams of regaining the long-elusive title, and through her daughter, she plots, along with the two opposing legal teams, to reestablish the status quo of titled society.


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Cousin Henry

Cousin Henry (1879), a short novel which runs to just 280 pages in my edition, came late in Trollope’s career. Weak on characterisation, but strong on its depiction of guilt, it’s not the best place to start for anyone treading into Trollope territory for the first time.  Trollope’s sub-plots are absent and instead this is a very simple story in which Trollope examines the question of inheritance.

The elderly, childless Indefer Jones owns an estate, Llanfeare, in Wales. When the book opens, he’s close to death, and he’s spent the last few years of his life vacillating back and forth regarding the disposition of his estate. For many years now, his young niece, Isabel Broderick, has lived at Llanfeare. Isabel is the product of Indefer’s now deceased sister and an attorney who has since remarried and has several children by his second wife. Mr. Broderick’s new wife, Isabel’s stepmother, considers Isabel a burden and a threat to the family’s limited resources. During visits back home to her father, Isabel has been courted by the local curate, Mr. Owens–a man who has but 200 pounds a year to live on. Uncle Indefer cannot decide whether to leave his estate to Isabel or to a male relative, a young clerk, the Cousin Henry of the title, who lives in London.

cousin henryA dilemma arises. Indefer, when he’s in the mood to leave his estate to his devoted niece, Isabel, forbids her to marry Mr. Owens, “the grandson of an innkeeper,” so when he keeps changing his mind, Isabel, who still expects to be left a sizeable legacy from the estate if it goes to Cousin Henry, believes she will be free to marry Mr. Owens. Indefer agonizes about the decision:

Mr. Indefer Jones, who was now between seventy and eighty years old, was a gentleman who through his whole life had been disturbed by reflections, fears, and hopes as to the family property on which he had been born, on which he had always lived, in possession of which he would certainly die, and as to the future disposition of which it was his lot in life to be altogether responsible. It had been entailed upon him before his birth in his grandfather’s time, when his father was about to be married. But the entail had not been carried on. There had been no time in which this Indefer Jones had been about to be married, and the former old man having been given to extravagance, and been generally in want of money, had felt it more comfortable to be without an entail. His son had occasionally been induced to join with him in raising money. Thus not only since he had himself owned the estate, but before his father’s death, there had been forced upon him reflections as to the destination of Llanfeare.

Indefer, at one point had a younger brother named Henry, who “disgraced the family.” He ran off with a married woman and spent too much time at “race courses and billiard-rooms.” While Indefer strongly disapproved of his brother’s lifestyle, he acted as a benefactor for his wastrel brother’s son, the Cousin Henry of the title. Indefer even paid for his nephew to attend Oxford, but he was sent from there in disgrace. The young man is seen to be “sly” and “given to lying,” and is considered a great disappointment. Shortly after the book opens Cousin Henry is summoned to Llanfeare and this releases Isabel to visit her family. Indefer still agonizing about the disposition of the estate, thinks that Isabel ‘deserves’ it  but believes that the estate should go to a “Jones.” The perfect solution, as far as he is concerned, would be if Isabel agreed to marry her cousin, but she refuses to do so.

Uncle Indefer dies, and the last will, drawn up by the very sagacious lawyer, Mr. Apgood indicates that Cousin Henry is the heir. Isabel is supposed to inherit 4000 pounds, but there’s no 4,000 pounds to give. This leaves Isabel penniless and Cousin Henry the new owner of a large estate. But is there another will? Did Uncle Indefer, famous for his will changes, dictate another will prior to his death? Two local farmers swear this is so and that Isabel is the rightful owner. Where, then, is the last will?

One of the problems with the story is that Cousin Henry is seen by everyone in the novel as weak and despicable.  All the servants at Llanfeare and the locals think that Isabel, a young woman  they know well, should have inherited the estate, and the fact that Cousin Henry is the heir is seen as grossly unfair. For his part, Cousin Henry thinks he’s rather hard done by, and he has a point. His uncle summoned him from London–it wasn’t as though Henry weaseled his way into the house on false pretenses. If anyone needs to share some blame here, it’s Indefer Jones for not being able to make up his friggin’ mind. Cousin Henry, quite frankly, has my sympathy. The estate has been dangled in front of his nose for years. Yes, he’s a vacuous young man, but he was promised the house repeatedly, and now Master of Llanfeare he’s treated badly by the servants, who, in some sort of mini-rebellion, all give notice and depart–with the exception of the housekeeper who serves him very poor meals.

Isabel is not an appealing heroine. She says she thinks that the house should go to Cousin Henry, but then when the chips are down, it’s clear that she’s bitter about it (not that I blame her). She rather hypocritically considers that she’s too much of a “lady” to appear to care about the inheritance, and so she refuses to join in the hue and cry when the house is searched for the missing will. And then there’s her relationship with Mr. Owens–a very flat character who doesn’t leave much of an impression. Isabel proudly refuses to take that 4,000 pounds in payments from her cousin. So even though she didn’t become the heiress of Llanfeare, she still can’t marry Mr. Owen as he’s too poor to support a family. Isabel’s stepmother wants to shake some sense into Isabel and I did too.

The best part of the book is Trollope’s understanding of Cousin Henry’s thought processes : he has the justification, the opportunity, and the need to seize the moment, but he isn’t a bad man, and so he believes that passivity still leaves some room for the moral high ground. I loved the descriptions of Henry’s inner moral arguments as he goes back and forth, trying to decide if he should do the ‘right thing,’ and then arguing with himself about what that ‘right thing’ might be.

 While the main characters are weakly drawn, there’s a peculiar aspect to this book–I wondered if Trollope considered making it longer at some point. A court case for legal action against the local newspaper which has published numerous anti-Cousin Henry articles is in the works and the formidable Mr. Cheekey (otherwise known as Supercilious Jack) is mentioned and discussed in tones of fear and awe by several of the characters. It is arranged that during the trial Henry will be brought “under Mr Cheekey’s thumbscrews” in order for the truth to be discovered. The legendary Mr. Cheekey, however, never appears and we are left only with his awesome reputation for wringing the truth from his victims in court. Mr. Cheekey, a character who is only talked about in Cousin Henry remains firmly established in the mind of this reader. Seems like a bit of a waste of a wonderful character.

Trollope seems to be playing with the roles here of the good vs the bad characters. Traditionally Isabel would be considered the heroine, but she’s hard to like, and poor Cousin Henry would be the villain, yet here Trollope clearly intends Henry to be a sympathetic character– in fact he even addresses this victimization of Henry towards the end of the novel. Perhaps that’s why Trollope treats these two with generosity–opting for the positive outcome. Trollope also considered the question of inheritance in the excellent novel: The Belton Estate.


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Is He Popenjoy? by Anthony Trollope

The delightfully understated Is He Popenjoy? isn’t my favourite Trollope novel, but it’s excellent. As with so many of these multi-plot Trollope novels there’s a great deal going on. The book’s main thread is concerned with the question of establishing legitimacy, and also wrapped into the plot are a couple of love affairs and a few peculiar, battling feminists. The story centres on sweet Mary Lovelace, the only daughter of the Dean of Brotherton who marries Sir George Germain, the second son of the family. George’s older brother the ‘head’ of the family, the Marquis of Brotherton, called simply Brotherton by his many siblings (1 brother and 4 sisters) lives in Italy, and there seems little chance that he’ll return since he detests England and detests his family. George, on the other hand, has a strong sense of family obligation, so when he falls in love with his penniless cousin Adelaide, his brief rebellion causes no small amount of distress to his many sisters–especially the steely-spined Lady Sarah. But Adelaide has no intention of leading a life of financial restriction, so she refuses George and marries, instead, the much older, malleable, and wealthy Mr. Houghton. Poor George is broken-hearted but eventually recovers enough to see the sense of proposing to the Dean’s only daughter who will have an instant dowry of 30,000 pounds and will also inherit her father’s none-too-shabby estate. The match is made with the Dean delighted that a man of his humble origins may live to see his daughter become the Marchioness of Brotherton, and 18-year-old Mary obeying her father, buries her notions of romance and hopes that the day will come when she loves her husband.

is he popenjoySo the die is cast….or so it seems. The Dean, whose money comes with the taint of trade, assumes that the current Marquis, a confirmed bachelor, will die without issue. The Dean, therefore, looks forward to seeing his daughter eventually becoming a marchioness and his hypothetical grandson, a Marquis. Who, then, could have predicted that the contentious Marquis of Brotherton would enter the picture with a wife and child?

Shortly after George marries, Brotherton sends him a letter announcing his upcoming marriage to an Italian widow, so then imagine everyone’s astonishment when Brotherton returns a few months later, throws his family out of the house and moves in a wife who speaks no English and a child who is possibly 2 years of age. Questions begin to emerge regarding the legitimacy of the child, and at the forefront of those who are skeptical is the Dean of Brotherton who sees the little Popenjoy, as the heir to the title is called, as a usurper, a “so-called Popenjoy,” and about to rob his daughter of the chance of being the Marchioness of Brotherton. While Mary has no ambition to be a marchioness, the Dean’s aggressive battle mode against the Marquis places George in an awkward position. George wishes to avoid scandal and he has strong family loyalty combined with snobbery directed against the Dean’s origins. George would be quite happy if the Dean disappeared out of his life, but he feels obligated to the Dean because of his money and also because he is his father-in-law.

There’s an unpleasantness about the whole Popenjoy episode, and the Dean, who is shown to be a good, solid fellow, and an exceptional father, exhibits an unhealthy ambition when it comes to the legitimacy and health of poor “rackety” Popenjoy. This ambition is a fissure in the Dean’s character, and while the Dean, an intelligent, kind man and an exceptional father, is one of the two moral centres of the novel (he shares the position with the indomitable Lady Sarah), he’s still one of Trollope’s flawed figures. The Dean’s father “kept livery stables in Bath,” so the Dean, who married wealth, has seen a phenomenal rise in fortune, and he wants that to continue for his daughter and his future grandson. His desire to see his daughter with a title appears to be unpleasantly outside of his normally reasonable character, and while his questions regarding the actual timing of the birth of Popenjoy are legitimate, his desire for the child’s death is tasteless and unkind.

There’s an underlying problem in the match between Mary Lovelace and Lord George–he’s basically marrying her for her money which will prop up the family fortune, and she marries into the Germain family because her father desires the match. This ‘arrangement’ as delicate, subtle, and unspoken as it is, acts initially as an impediment to the young married couple’s happiness. It’s certainly what society deems a ‘suitable match,’ but it’s not based on love, and it’s also soiled with snobbery. Lord George is painfully aware that he’s obligated to keep the Dean in his life even though he feels that his father-in-law “isn’t quite  …,” and thinks that while the Dean “ looked like a gentleman, [but]  still there was a smell of the stable.” George also finds Mary’s wealthy great-Aunt Tallowax disconcertingly vulgar; she’s another relative he’d like to ignore, but Mary is set to inherit her fortune too. There’s a wonderful scene in the chapter Miss Tallowax is Shown the House in which the Dean and Aunt Tallowax are invited to lunch which includes some scrawny mutton chops and a much more meagre table than Miss Tallowax expected. After lunch, she is given a tour of Manor Cross–a magnificent old house in dire need of renovation:

Then they entered the state dining-room or hall, and Miss Tallowax was informed that the room had not been used for any purpose whatever for very many years. “And such a beautiful room!” said Mis Tallowax, with much regret.

“The fact is, I believe, that the chimney smokes horribly, ” said Sir George.

“I never remember a fire here,’ said Lady Sarah. “In very cold weather we have a portable stove brought in, just to preserve the furniture. This is called the old ball-room.”

“Dear me!” ejaculated Miss Tallowax, looking round at the faded yellow hangings.

“We did have a ball here once,” said Lady Amelia, “when Brotherton came of age. I can just remember it.”

“Has it ever been used since?’ asked Mary.

“Never,” said Lady Sarah. “Sometimes when it’s rainy we walk up and down for exercise. It is a fine old house, but I often wish it were smaller. I don’t think people want rooms of this sort now as much as they used to do. Perhaps a time may come when my brother will make Manor Cross gay again, but it is not very gay now. I think that is all, Miss Tallowax.”

“It’s very fine–very fine, indeed,” said Miss Tallowax shivering. Then they all trooped back into the morning-room which they used for their daily life.

Trollope explores, quite successfully, how George Germain is driven by family loyalty. He is repeatedly insulted by his brother the Marquis and takes more than any human being should be expected to swallow, but then when the Marquis goes too far, even George can no longer accept his brother’s behaviour. Trollope dabbles with the idea that the Marquis is insane, and underlying this is the idea that Mary Lovelace, from humble stock, will produce a stronger heir than the “so-called” sickly Popenjoy. Particularly enjoyable are the delightfully understated currents under all the polite behaviour: George doesn’t want to examine too closely exactly why he keeps Aunt Tallowax and the Dean in his life because to admit that Mary will inherit their money is to admit that he’s motivated by financial concerns–the very subject he finds vulgar and common. The Germains, who think themselves ‘above’ earning money through trade also think they are better people than the Dean and Aunt Tallowax.  The Dean’s eagerness to prove that the son of the Marquis is illegitimate is, of course, self-serving, but the Germains are mostly offended because the Dean insists on talking about the subject and seeking legal advice, and this is bad manners as far as they are concerned.

Since this is Trollope there are several subplots including a strange one involving battling feminists–Baroness Banmann and the American Olivia Q. Peabody–both presented as particularly unattractive females. Trollope’s feminists are a rather motley bunch who hang out at the “Rights of Women Institute. Established for the Relief of the Disabilities of Females,’ caricatures really, and one almost wonders why they are written into the novel as they play a rather small role which includes a trace of Mary’s rebellious streak. It’s too simple to say that Trollope is making fun of these feminists–although he certainly has a good time with them. The novel subtly addresses the issue of women’s rights through the battling feminists, but the subject is also addressed through George’s treatment of his wife and how we see Mary stuck between obeying her father and obeying her husband. It would be easy to dismiss this  feminist subplot with its peculiar females as evidence of Trollope’s misogyny, but the episode serves to show independent thought from Mary–something her husband doesn’t think he should tolerate. So while the battle between the feminists is seen as a comic episode, the real battle occurs between husband and wife as Mary asserts her right to be treated as a thinking human being and not as a decorative appendage. And then there’s the issue of money: Mary receives 1500 pounds a year income from her dowry. George has the sum total of 4,000 pounds (we’re also told 5,000 pounds)  “and no means of earning a shilling.” With this vast imbalance, George is acutely aware that the family’s fortunes rest on money that he is ashamed of, so that perhaps explains why he overdoes it when it comes to how he treats his wife under the umbrella issue of ‘improvement’:

But Lord George made out a course of reading for her–so much for the two hours after breakfast, so much for the hour before dressing–so much for the evening; and also a table of results to be acquired in three months–in six months–and so much by the close of the first year; and even laid down the sum total of achievements to be produced by a dozen years of such work.

Mary isn’t seen by the Germains as an individual in her own right or even as a wealthy heiress. She is required to sit and sew petticoats for the poor with her dreary sisters in-law for two hours every day. Mary does the mathematics in her head and offers to pay I pound 19 shillings if she can avoid the petticoat drudgery for the next year, and this incurs the wrath of Lady Sarah. Initially, the Germain family try to shape her character, but over time, Mary develops her own opinions and rebels….

Possibly the most delightful aspect of this book is the way that Trollope shows the growing maturity of several of his characters. Mary is a sweet, young girl who learns to gracefully say NO to people, and Lady Sarah, who began the book as a dragon becomes much more human as she acknowledges her own shortcomings and her tendency to judge people by her own tastes and choices. I wish we could have seen more of the dissipated Marquis and his strange Italian wife and  poor sickly little Popenjoy, but their appearances are all too brief. There’s also a delightful subplot involving matchmaker Mrs Montacute Jones who believes  “there are some men who never get on their legs till they’re married,” and while perennial bachelors Jack de Baron and Lord Giblet try their best to avoid matrimony, Mrs Montacute Jones has other plans.


Filed under Fiction, Trollope, Anthony

John Caldigate by Anthony Trollope

“Most of us would have to blush if the worst of our actions were brought out before us in a court of law.”

Time for another Trollope, and I selected one of the author’s Overseas Novels. John Caldigate is noteworthy for two reasons: part of the novel takes place in Australia and another large section concerns a criminal case involving postal stamps. Indeed the unsung hero of the story is Bagwax, a humble yet obsessive and conscientious postal office clerk. There’s a lot of Trollope in this novel–after all, he was a post office clerk who rose, eventually, within the post office ranks, and Trollope and his wife traveled to Australia, the first time in 1871 to visit their son Frederic who had become a sheep farmer in New South Wales.

The novel concerns a young man, John Caldigate, the only son and heir of a country squire who is set to inherit his father’s Cambridgeshire estate, Folking and an income of 3,000 pounds a year.  Unfortunately, while at Cambridge, John developed some bad habits and fell foul of money lenders. When the novel begins, John ‘cashes’ out his inheritance, pays off his debts and intends to sail to Australia to make his fortune in the gold mines. John’s father, so disappointed in his son, has mortgaged the estate and given his son his inheritance in advance. With a breach between them, John’s father contemplates making his nephew his heir instead.

john caldigateVery early on, the novel establishes that when it comes to women, John has a problem. Before he sails to Australia with his best friend, Dick Shand, the son of the local doctor, John has managed to somehow become engaged to one girl and left another with the impression that some sort of ‘understanding’ exists between them. But these two girls have no idea that John has also set eyes on Hester Bolton, the daughter of the local banker, and carries her image in his head when he sails for New South Wales. Ok, that makes three women, but then on board the ship, aptly named The Goldfinder, both Dick and John are attracted to a somewhat mysterious young woman who calls herself, Mrs. Euphemia Smith. Mr. Smith is conspicuously absent and it’s rumoured that he was “a ne’er-do well” who “drank himself to death within a year of the marriage.” Mrs. Smith dresses very poorly, and yet would seem to be a lady:

The woman was so constantly alone! And then, though she was ill-dressed, untidy, almost unkempt on occasions, still, through it all, there was something attractive about her. There was a brightness in her eye, and a courage about her mouth, which had made him think that, in spite of her appearance, she would be worth his attention–just for the voyage.

Dick and John, eager to begin their lives as Australian miners, are second class passengers on the ship, and yet when they mingle with the others, they fail to blend. They’ve outfitted themselves in what they think are the clothes that miners wear, and consequently they look more as though they are in costume  than anything else. With many months spent on board ship sailing to Australia, John’s relationship with Euphemia grows–in spite of the fact that passengers, Dick Shand and even the captain warn him that he is making a fool of himself.

They were about a week from their port when the captain,–Captain Munday,–was induced to take the matters into his own hands. It is hardly too much to say that he was pressed to do so by the united efforts of the first-class passengers. It was dreadful to think that this unfortunate young man should go on shore merely to become the prey of such a woman as that.

John sees the general disapproval of his relationship with Euphemia Smith as snobbery, and that is certainly part of it, but there are depths to Mrs. Smith that are unfathomable, and young John Caldigate, an innocent with a number of scrapes to his credit, cannot see the warning signs. Part of Euphemia’s attraction is that she is worldly and therefore much more interesting when compared to the other young women John has known. At one point Euphemia Smith makes the following speech:

If you had made a false step, got into debt and ran away, or mistaken another man’s wife for your own, or disappeared altogether under a cloud for a while, you could retrieve your honour, and, sinking at twenty-five or thirty, could come up from out of the waters at thirty-five as capable of enjoyment and almost as fresh as ever. But a woman does not bear submersion. She is draggled ever afterwards. She must hide everything by a life of lies, or she will get no admittance anywhere. The man is rather the better liked because he has sown his wild oats broadly.

As in Can You Forgive Her? and The Claverings, Trollope examines the issue of choosing a marital partner–a crucial matter in Victorian England. What’s so interesting in this novel is that John is a young man whose prospects change. At first he’s the only son set to inherit a respectable estate and income. Then he abandons his home, sells out his inheritance, and sets out for Australia to make his fortune. When he returns, he returns as a success. His past is his past. But is that entirely true?

Trollope relishes enriching the plot with scenes of rigid religious intolerance seen mainly through the single-minded Mrs. Bolton, a very taxing woman, and the self-satisfied, slimy clergyman of Plum-cum-Pippin, Mr. Smirkie–a man who lives up to his name. As the novel develops, Trollope also gets on his soap box and delivers a couple of lectures about the efficiency of the much-under-valued civil servant which is accompanied by the general benevolence of government seen through a subset of characters at the London post-office: Mr. Curlydown and the indefatigable Mr. Bagwax.  It’s through these characters that Trollope slips in a criticism of Dickens: a “popular novelist” who “endeavored to impress” the ‘”public” “that the normal government clerk is quite indifferent to his work.” John Caldigate doesn’t rank as one of my favourite Trollope novels. It waxes on too long at the end, but it was enjoyable and a change of pace for this author. The novel’s deeply intriguing undercurrent, and one that isn’t addressed directly in the novel is the question: Does what occurs in the wilds of distant Australia have any bearing on English law? After all: “it was a wild kind of life up there.”


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The Claverings by Anthony Trollope

It was time for another Anthony Trollope, and while I can’t explain why I decided to read The Claverings, this selection, as it turns out, is a good companion novel for the recently read Can You Forgive Her? While Can You Forgive Her? concerns a woman who vacillates back and forth between two suitors, The Claverings is the tale of a young man who can’t choose between two women.

The novel begins by landing us into the action as the very beautiful Julia Brabazon drops, finally, forever and rather cruelly, the love of her youth, Harry Clavering in favour of an advantageous match with the very wealthy and much older, “debauched” Lord Ongar, a repulsive man who wears an “elaborately dressed jet black wig.” Harry accuses Julia of being a “jilt,” and while she doesn’t deny that, she attempts to mollify Harry’s accusations with arguments of practicality. Trollope gives us some wonderful numbers to play with here (I’ve been obsessed with the cost of living in the 19th century since reading George Gissing’s novel, New Grub Street). We learn that Julia has 200 pounds a year to live on but owes 600. Lord Ongar lives on “perhaps” 60,000 a year. Harry Clavering’s father, Reverend Clavering earns 800 pounds a year, but that income is “nearly doubled” by his wife’s fortune.  On that income and with a curate to do most of his work, Reverend Clavering hinges on Country Gentleman status. In fact, he used to be a “hunting parson” until Bishop Proudie “lectured” him about the appropriateness of the activity. Now Reverend Clavering reads poetry and novels to the exclusion of everything else. 

Harry doesn’t want a career in the church despite his father’s encouragement and obvious easy lifestyle. Instead he plans to make his own way in the world and after Julia dumps him, Harry goes to Stratton to become an apprentice civil engineer living at the home of the Burtons. There he falls in love with the last daughter of the house (all the other daughters have also married previous apprentices), Miss Florence Burton. Now Florence isn’t as majestically beautiful as Julia, but she is the better person. Harry has the niggling feeling that somehow he’s been hooked by the Burton family into falling in love with their daughter. Of course, part of this feeling can be explained by the fact that Harry has simply followed in the footsteps of all the previous apprentices who lived at the Burton home. This repeated pattern of behaviour suggests that Harry isn’t particularly unique, and then again, the Burtons are a step down in the social stratosphere.

Harry, eager to wed, presses for an early marriage, and Florence opposes him on this issue. She argues that they should wait until Harry’s career is well established as she thinks that Harry would not cope well with poverty. The issue of money again rears its head–Florence will have a 100 pounds a year from her father, and Harry will earn 150 pounds annually in his new profession. He thinks this is plenty to live on, but Florence disagrees. The subject of sex also lurks under the surface of this pressure, and the disagreement over the issue of whether they should wait to marry quickly or delay the wedding day leads to the first rift between the engaged couple. Also around this time, the now widowed Julia Ongar returns to England under a cloud of scandal….

Harry Clavering, engaged to Florence Burton, finds himself championing Lady Julia Ongar, and he becomes a frequent visitor to her London home. Confused and bewitched, he no longer understands his own heart. Harry isn’t much of a hero as he’s young, plastic and weak.

Since the title of the novel is The Claverings, naturally the plot concerns other family members apart from Harry. Harry has two sisters, Mary and Fanny. While Mary marries Reverend Fielding, an appropriate match, in a minor aside Fanny is courted with persistence by the very serious and impoverished curate Mr. Saul–a man who earns a mere 70 pounds a year. Of course all these doings focus on the parsonage, but there’s another branch of the family at the ‘great house’ — Now to look at the family tree: Reverend Henry Clavering is the uncle of  Sir Hugh Clavering of Clavering Park. Baronet Sir Hugh is married to Hermione née Brabazon, the older sister of Julia Brabazon, and we learn that they live on 7,000-8,000 a year. In spite of the close relationship between the families at the parsonage and at Clavering Park, there’s no love lost between the two sets of relations. Henry Clavering considers it his duty to remain on good terms with those who live at Clavering Park but he really can’t stand Sir Hugh. One scene in the novel includes an uncomfortable evening at Clavering with a very unpleasant Sir Hugh who acts rudely and does not bother to hide his boredom.

In this novel, Trollope addresses the restrictions placed on the decisions women face. Underneath all the talk of love and marriage lurks the idea of the lack of choices for women. Early in the novel, Julia tells Harry:

If you could only know how infinitely I should prefer your lot to mine! Oh, Harry, I envy you! I do envy you! You have got the ball at your feet, and the world before you, and can win everything for yourself.


You can choose, as I say; but I have had no choice,- no choice but to be married well, or to go out like a snuff of a candle. I don’t like the snuff of a candle, and therefore, I am going to be married well.  

While men may choose their careers, for women, their careers are marriage, and Trollope boldly addresses this reality. He tells us that Julia, who chooses to become a Countess was “mercenary” but adds, with generosity:

Were not all men and women mercenary upon whom devolved the necessity of earning their bread?

Of course we see where these ambitious marriages lead. Julia’s sister Hermione loves her husband, mean-spirited Hugh Clavering rather as an abused dog loves its human. Hermione is so desperate for love and attention that she opens herself up to scorn and derision from her heartless, mean-spirited spouse. Julia lives to regret her marriage and realises that she sold herself for worldly gain and made a very bad bargain in the process.

Bad characters always seem to be a great deal more fun to read about than good characters, and that is certainly true in The Claverings. Sir Hugh is a curious character–not a monster by any means, but there are important emotional components missing. He treats his wife appallingly, but then he’s not much better with anyone else in his circle. He barely tolerates his brother, Archie, loathes his uncle, and seems to dislike society on principle.

The Claverings is called One of the “three faultless” Trollope novels, but I’m not sure why that is. While I enjoyed the novel immensely (it is, after all, Trollope), I was never entirely convinced of Julia’s feelings for Harry Clavering. However, that niggling argument aside, some of the novel’s second tier characters are unforgettable. When Julia returns from Florence, she brings along the sneaky, opportunistic “Franco-Pole” Sophie Gordeloup, who may or may not be a Russian spy. Madame Gordeloup’s brother, Count Pateroff, one of Lord Ongar’s friends, is in hot pursuit of Julia as he regards her as his prize. Count Pateroff and his peculiar sister seem to be beings from another planet, and they are treated as such by the other characters in the novel who are at a loss to know quite how to deal with this pair. At one point Julia tells Harry to seek out the Count, and in spite of knowing the Count’s address, Harry can’t track his quarry down for weeks. When they finally meet for dinner, the topic of conversation (the digestion and the refusal to discuss the consumption of horsemeat in a “besieged city,“) is steered firmly by the worldly, savvy Count much to Harry’s frustration.

While the Count sees the widowed Julia as his rightful property, that sort of fortune floating around gets attention, and Sir Hugh Clavering, who has no time for his sister-in-law Julia since scandal attached to her name, decides that she’s the perfect match for his brother, Archie. Archie consults his friend Captain Boodle on the matter of exactly how to lay siege to the beautiful wealthy widow, and the scenes between Archie and Boodle are hilarious. Boodle, incidentally is mentioned in a minor aside in the Vicar of Bullhampton. While Boodle’s extremely funny strategy for laying siege to the wealthy widow includes the advice to treat her like a horse, this section of the novel really takes off when Sophie Gordeloup becomes involved in the intrigue. Throughout the novel, Sophie behaves appallingly, and yet no one seems to know quite how to stop her. She’s rude, pushy, grasping, and duplicitous–in essence, she’s in a class of her own. Archie thinks she’s insane while Captain Boodle can’t help but admire her.

Sophie certainly makes short work of all the men who sniff around the widow. Here she is in a scene at Julia Ongar’s home after getting rid of Captain Archie Clavering:

“He was come for one admirer,” said Sophie, as soon as the door was closed.

“An admirer of whom?”

“Not of me; oh no; I was not in danger at all.”

“Of me? Captain Clavering! Sophie, you get your head full of the strangest nonsense.”

“Ah; very well. You see. What will you give me if I am right? Will you bet? Why had he got on his new gloves, and had his head all smelling with stuff from de hairdresser? Does he come always perfumed like that? Does he wear shiny little boots to walk about in de morning, and make an eye always? Perhaps yes.”

“I never saw his boots or his eyes.”

“But I see them. I see many things. He come to have Ongere Park for his own. I tell you, yes. Ten thousand will come to have Ongere Park. Why not? To have Ongere Park and all de money a man will make himself smell a great deal.”

“You think much more about all that than is necessary.”

“Do I , my dear? Very well. There are three already. There is Edouard [Count Pateroff], and there is this Clavering who goes with his nose in the air, and who thinks himself a clever fellow because he learned his lesson at school and did not get himself whipped. He will be whipped yet some day,-perhaps.”

It’s through this scene that we see that the secret to the limited success of the Count and his sister Sophie Gordeloup, two people who expect to make their fortunes in England is to be found in the fact that they bend the boundaries of polite behaviour. Julia is clearly sending a message to Sophie that she considers it impolite to discuss the subject, but Sophie simply doesn’t care.

Anyway, another wonderful Trollope novel. A word on my copy. I read the Dover issue with original illustrations and a foreword by Normal Donaldson. The Claverings was originally published in serial form in 16 parts in The Cornhill Magazine 1866-1867.


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Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

“He talked non-stop about my beauty, as all men do. If a woman were hump-backed, and had only one eye, they wouldn’t be ashamed to tell her she was a Venus.”

I have a backlog of reviews–something I’m never that happy about–but this does grant room for choice, and I decided to make a Trollope review my first post of the year. Can You Forgive Her?, the first of six Palliser novels, stands at 830 pages in my Penguin Classics edition (a different edition from the one pictured below). I read just a few pages at night, and what a delightful read this is. It’s not often you go to sleep chuckling at the foibles of human nature, and this is one of those novels I was sad to see end.

Can You Forgive Her? was originally published in monthly parts, so in typical Victorian multi-plot fashion, this is a huge rambling tale with a vast cast of characters and various sub-plots set against a glittering society of 19th century England. This is a complex world and Trollope hints that the world of marriage and the world of politics have a great deal in common.  To some readers, that description alone is enough to reject the book, but for this reader, Can You Forgive Her? was a leisurely excursion into the trials and tribulations of three women–specifically on the issue of marriage. These are the days in which wealthy women, when married, were stuck with the behaviour of their husbands. Marriage was a serious, permanent choice, and women were under tremendous pressure to make ‘suitable’ alliances. This issue is at the core of Trollope’s novel, and through the labyrinth plot, we see the struggles of three women as they make–or live with–the choices they make. These women live in an age of not exactly ‘arranged’ marriages, but let us say it’s the age of ‘organised’ marriage–and this is, as Trollope shows us, rather a fine line.

The novel’s main heroine is 24-year-old Alice Vavasour, and she’s the one–as the title suggests–is in need of forgiveness. It’s true that Alice makes some horrible mistakes in the course of the story, and the underlying explanation of her actions isn’t entirely successful, but more of that later.  When the story begins, Alice, the only child of a London bureaucrat is engaged to be married to John Grey–a handsome, good-natured gentleman of substance. Grey adores Alice, but for her part Alice has reservations. She keeps delaying the wedding day and while her relatives approve of Mr. Grey–who’s literally a paragon, there’s an edge of discontent nagging away inside Alice. She knows that she loves Mr. Grey but can’t quite see herself  living as Mrs. Grey bundled off to his country estate near Cambridge. Trollope tells us that part of Alice’s problem is that she would like to be married to a ‘great man,’–perhaps someone in politics, and this isn’t Mr. Grey’s bag.

Another problem Alice must deal with is that she’s been engaged before to her cousin, the wastrel George Vavasour, the brother of her best friend, Kate. We don’t know quite what went wrong but we can speculate that it was something scandalous enough for her to brook family criticism when she broke this first engagement. According to the elderly Lady Macleod, “the fact was, Alice, that George Vavasour’s mode of life was such that an engagement with him would have been absolute madness.”

When the book begins, we can believe that George’s largest fault lies in the fact he has no money, but as the plot plays out, George’s more unsavoury characteristics are revealed, and in any other continent or class we’d call him an adventurer, but in the upper echelons of British society, George’s true nature is largely concealed, and this is due in so small part to the fact that he actively compartmentalises his true nature.

But back to the plot. The book begins with Alice engaged to Mr. Grey and beginning various delaying tactics to postpone the wedding. One of those tactics is to take a European holiday with Kate and George, and several of Alice’s relatives are alarmed by this action due to Alice’s prior history with George. Alice’s travels seal her decision to jilt Mr. Grey, and Alice calls off her engagement to Mr. Grey claiming that she finds him too perfect, and then she becomes re-engaged to George. A mess ensues with Alice not really being able to make her mind up while her relatives, with the exception of Kate, becoming extremely frustrated with her ever-changing choice of fiancés.

Ok so that’s more-or-less the plot, but obviously there’s a lot more to the book than that. Two other plots run parallel to Alice’s dilemma, and the characters involved serve to enervate her argument against marrying Mr. Grey. While Alice shies away from marriage to Mr. Grey (even though she says she loves him), she argues that she wants a public life. At one point in the novel, she goes to stay with Lady Glencora Palliser at Matching Priory, and while this should be an opportunity for Alice to enjoy politically important company, instead she is intimidated by the heavily-nuanced society in which she feels uncomfortable.

Lady Glencora, one of the greatest heiresses in the country, once loved her cousin, the impoverished Burgo Fitzgerald, and she was steered away from Burgo and into the arms of the eminently respectable, but overly staid Plantagenet Palliser–a promising young politician and the heir of the Duke of Omnium. Alice goes to visit Lady Glencora, and there’s some history here as Alice refused to participate in secret assignations between Glencora and Burgo before her marriage to Palliser. Lady Glencora invites Alice to visit her, and while the primary idea is that Lady Glencora will set Alice straight by example, instead Glencora confesses that she is still madly in love with Burgo and bored and unhappy with Palliser. Alice becomes a bystander to Glencora’s unhappiness:

If he [Palliser] was dull as a statesman he was more dull in private life, and it may be imagined that such a woman as his wife would find some difficulty in making his society the source of her happiness. Their marriage, in a point of view regarding business, had been a complete success, –and a success, too, when on the other side, that of Lady Glencora, there had been terrible dangers of shipwreck, and when on his side also there had been some little fears of a mishap. As regards her it has been told how near she went to throwing herself, with all her vast wealth, into the arms of a young man, whom no father, no guardian could have regarded as a well-chosen husband for any girl; –one who as yet had shown no good qualities, who had been a spendthrift, unprincipled, and debauched. Alas, she had loved him! It is possible that her love and her wealth might have turned him from evil to good. But who would have ventured to risk her, –and I will not say her and her vast inheritance, –on such a chance? That evil, however, had been prevented, and those about her had managed to marry her to a young man, very steady by nature, with worldly prospects as brilliant as her own, and with a station than which the world offers nothing higher.

But while disaster seems to have been averted by Glencora’s marriage to Palliser, this is not a formula for Glencora’s happiness. She’s bored and extremely unhappy. Her situation isn’t helped by the fact that she’s monitored by two of Palliser’s toadies, and she’s under constant surveillance by the sanctimonious Mrs Marsham, and the loathsome Mr. Bott. Trollope shows us that the upper echelons of British society protects its assets but with little provision for personal happiness.

The third subplot concerns Alice and Kate’s widowed Aunt Greenow (Arabella Vavasour)– a woman whose state of wealthy widowhood allows her more freedom than any other female in the novel. As an old maid, she was a burden to her relatives who dismissed her as an “old flirt,” when suddenly and unexpectedly she landed a wealthy, elderly husband in ill health. After Arabella became Mrs. Greenow, her currency increased measurably within the family. Now she’s a widow, and unfettered by matrimony and fueled with money, Aunt Greenow is out to enjoy life, and she does so with gusto–taking Kate along for the ride. It’s through this character that Trollope’s humour shines. At Yarmouth, Aunt Greenow is pursued by no less than two suitors–the impecunious Captain Bellfield and Mr Cheesacre–a gentleman farmer of Oileymead who’s known as Cheesy. Both Bellfield and Cheesy desperately court Aunt Greenow while she plays fast and loose, claiming mourning (and an ever-shifting time period since the death of her dear Mr. Greenow) as an excuse against making a commitment. Bellfield and Cheesacre–rivals in adversity–are driven to extreme lengths in their amorous siege of the stubborn widow. They are rather like dogs fighting for possession of a bone, and at one point, Cheesacre decides to invite Bellfield to the country thinking this will allow unfettered access to the widow Greenow:

Driven to despair, he at last resolved to ask Bellfield to come to Oileymead for a month. That drilling at Norwich, or the part of it which was supposed to be profitable, was wearing itself out. Funds were low with the Captain, –as he did not scruple to tell his friend Cheesacre, and he accepted the invitation. “I’ll mount you with the harriers, old fellow,” Cheesacre had said, “and give you a little shooting. Only I won’t have you go out when I’m not with you.” Bellfield agreed. Each of them understood the nature of the bargain; though Bellfield, I think, had somewhat the clearer understanding in the matter. He would not be so near the widow as he had been at Norwich, but he would not be less near than his kind host. And his host would no doubt watch him closely;– but then he also could watch his host. There was a railway station not two miles from Oileymead and the journey thence into Norwich was one of half an hour. Mr Cheesacre would doubtless be very jealous of such journeys, but with all his jealousy he could not prevent them. And then, in regard to this arrangement, Mr Cheesacre paid the piper, whereas Captain Bellfield paid nothing. Would it not be sweet to him if he could carry off his friend’s prize from under the very eaves of his friend’s house?

So Trollope shows us penniless men: Burgo Fitzgerald, George Vavasour, and Captain Bellfield and unleashes them on the women who have the means to provide for the lifestyles they crave. But even while I put these three men in the same bag, they are different and perhaps they don’t deserve to be lumped together. Burgo and Bellfield are good-natured men; Burgo has been brought up into life of privilege without the means to sustain this abundance, and poor Captain Bellfield lives off the meagre pocket money given to him by his sister. Of course there’s a great irony here as the women with money (with the exception of Arabella Greenow) are subjected to tremendous social pressure to conform–look at the tremendous wealth of Glencora, for example, who still couldn’t do as she pleased. Lest I give the wrong impression, I should add that some of the women in the tale come off as badly as the men–Lady Monk leaps to mind. She’s a woman who “had succeeded in marrying her daughter to the greatest fool in the peerage.” And what of Alice–I’d argue that Alice’s root problem is fear of sex and not all those other excuses she dreams up.


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