Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The most compelling theme to arise from Macaulay’s rendering of The Towers of Trebizond is that of the continued relevance of and need to deal with the concepts of good and evil. Laurie makes the point that until the early twentieth century people debated the nature of good and evil: People talked about it, wrote about it, and conversed freely. Proper conduct in life was a major human concern, confined not only to the church. Victoria agnostics debated the issues interminably; As Laurie says, “The Victoria agnostics wrote to one another about it continually, it was one of their favourite topics, for the weaker they got on religion the stronger they got on morals, which used to be the case more then than now.”

Laurie’s adulterous love is continually on her mind, not only because she is a lapsed, but still very concerned, Anglican, but also because she is a human being engaged in an activity hurtful to other people. She drifts in a fog unsure how to define “sin” and getting more and more confused, since if one sin is acceptable, why not others. If adultery is permissible, why not stealing, since adultery is a form of thievery?

As the rational person she believes herself to be, Laurie knows that one church cannot hold the whole truth. Nor can anyone within a church believe steadfastly in all the doctrines and dogma, many of which contradict one another. In spite of the romantic aura Laurie has cast about the church, she does not reembrace her religion in her moment of intense crisis. She does, though, continue to believe in Trebizond, keeper of the world’s dreams, composed of shining towers and domes, luminous, magical, and mystical, whose towers do not fall but are held forever in some enchanted spell.

Aunt Dot points out what Laurie once was and forecasts for Laurie hope for the future: “’I think, my dear,’ she said, ’the Church used once to be an opiate to you, like that Trebizond enchanter’s potion; a kind of euphoric drug. You dramatized it and yourself, you felt carried along in something aesthetically exciting and beautiful and romantic; you were a dilettante, escapist Anglican.’”