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Anthony Trollope 1815-1882

English novelist, autobiographer, short story writer, playwright, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism from 1981 to 1997 on Anthony Trollope's works. For further discussion of Trollope's life and career see NCLC Volumes 6 and 33.

A prolific and popular writer, Trollope's esteemed reputation among many contemporary...

(The entire section contains 132187 words.)

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Anthony Trollope 1815-1882

English novelist, autobiographer, short story writer, playwright, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism from 1981 to 1997 on Anthony Trollope's works. For further discussion of Trollope's life and career see NCLC Volumes 6 and 33.

A prolific and popular writer, Trollope's esteemed reputation among many contemporary critics diminished somewhat throughout the length of his career. Accused of reworking the same, often narrow, plot in many of his novels, and focusing too heavily on the domestic realism that interested so many female readers, Trollope lost some ground with his male colleagues who sought to differentiate between popular tastes and “high art.” Despite the views of his contemporaries, Trollope's work is now regarded as among the best produced in the nineteenth-century, and his fiction is frequently compared to that of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and George Eliot. Throughout his career, he penned 47 novels, as well as travel books, biographies, and collections of short stories and various sketches. Many late-twentieth-century critics focus their attention on the quality of Trollope's early, Irish novels. Other modern scholars concentrate their studies on Trollope's An Autobiography (1883), his lengthy novel The Way We Live Now (1874–75), Trollope's treatment of women and gender issues in his fiction, and the narrative techniques he employs.

Biographical Information

Born in London to an impoverished family, Trollope was the son of a fellow of New College, Oxford, who had failed as both a lawyer and farmer. Trollope was tormented at Harrow and Winchester, the schools he attended, due to his family's poverty. When their financial difficulties reached the point of crisis, the Trollopes moved to Belgium; it was there that Trollope's father died. Trollope's mother, Frances, was at this point beginning to earn enough to support the family through her career as a writer. In 1834, Trollope began work as junior clerk in London's General Post Office, although his career did not flourish until he transferred to Ireland in 1841. Three years later, he married Rose Heseltine in Ireland, who bore him two sons. Trollope traveled extensively on behalf of the Post Office and did not take up permanent residence in England again until 1859. After resigning from the Post Office in 1867, he campaigned unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1868. Although Trollope’s political career ended with his failed attempt, he continued his interest in politics, incorporating political issues into his novels. In 1882, following a retirement of 15 years, Trollope died of a stroke.

Major Works

Trollope's literary career began with the publication of the Irish novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, in 1847. Yet it was not until 1855, with the appearance of his fourth novel, The Warden, that Trollope established the material and style for which he became known. The Warden was the first in a six-book series known as the Barsetshire chronicles, which examined the everyday lives of recurring characters who inhabited the fictitious county of Barset. Trollope explored the possibilities of the novel-series further in another collection, referred to as the Political novels, or Palliser series, after the character of Plantagenet Palliser, who appeared in all six novels. Among Trollope's other notable works is his novel The Way We Live Now, a detailed and satirical view of late-nineteenth-century society. Only by adhering to a rigorous schedule, Trollope explains in An Autobiography, was he able to complete so many works. Although the factual accuracy of An Autobiography has been disputed, the book nevertheless captures the spirit of Trollope's literary vision, which was focused on presenting people, their lives, and social issues in a realistic manner.

Critical Reception

Trollope's Irish novels were not particularly popular in England and modern critics often refer to them as apprentice works. These critics often explore the ways in which the early novels influenced Trollope's later writings. Others assess the novels as they stand on their own. Conor Johnston evaluates Trollope's political philosophy—specifically, his views on the treatment of the poor—as expressed in The Macdermots of Ballycloran. Johnston finds that Trollope took a conservative-liberal approach to the issue in that the author felt that the situation of the poor should be improved, but not at a pace so quick that the rest of society is disrupted, and not at a rate so slow that the suffering of the poor is unconscionably prolonged. In another essay, Johnston looks at Trollope's portrayal of Irish Catholic and Anglican clergymen, demonstrating that Trollope's distaste for the Church of Ireland did not prevent him from treating its members with sympathy. Similarly, Johnston points out, Trollope's more favorable attitude toward Irish Catholic priests did not prevent him from highlighting their flaws as well. Robert Tracy takes the view that Ireland “made” Trollope, that he learned his craft there. Tracy identifies significant differences—those that go beyond setting and character—between Trollope's Irish and English novels. Writing as intimately about Ireland as Trollope did enabled him to view English society as an outsider, argues Tracy. Likewise, Owen Dudley Edwards contends that Trollope wrote about Ireland as a participant in its affairs. Edwards reviews the characters and themes of Trollope's Irish novels and maintains that even after Trollope returned to England, his work was still based on the “rough designs” of his Irish experience, and that he wrote with Irish insights.

Often ignored by Trollope loyalists, The Way We Live Now has been rejected by even some of Trollope's staunchest supporters who believe that the work is too long, extremely cynical, and offers an unjustly harsh representation of foreigners. A. Abbott Ikeler defends the work against these charges, observing that the work reflects Trollope's response to a particularly decadent era. Ikeler maintains that in many ways, the work is typical of Trollope's style and structure, and that the satire of the work is in fact evenhanded, as Trollope abuses foreigners and natives alike. Also studying the satire in The Way We Live Now, Stephen Wall contends that Trollope is unable to sustain a scathing level of satire throughout the work. The reason, suggests Wall, is that Trollope is heavily involved with characterization in the novel; Trollope's dedication to the particular nature of each individual overrides all other stylistic concerns of the work. Examining the novel from another angle, R. D. McMaster assesses Trollope's treatment of the women in The Way We Live Now. McMaster maintains that despite Trollope's anti-feminist reputation, he depicts the women in the novel with sympathy toward female psychology and an understanding of the social influences on the lives of women.

Other critics join ranks with McMaster in exploring Trollope's ability to provide realistic illustrations of the lives and emotions of women. Robert H. Taylor compares Trollope's delineation of female characters to that of other nineteenth-century authors, including Dickens and Thackeray, and observes that unlike his contemporaries, Trollope does not allow his female characters to indulge in rhetorical flourishes. Trollope's women are spirited and are not portrayed as vacuous, like the female characters of other authors, asserts Taylor, who goes on to praise Trollope's power for observation and his ear for dialogue. Yoko Hatano also notices the spirited and strong-willed nature of Trollope's women, particularly the recurring heroines of the Barsetshire novels. These women, in addition to their spiritedness and strength of will also possess intelligence, firm principles, and a sense of obligation to their social inferiors. Such qualities, Hatano contends, allow them a certain social mobility.

In Trollope's An Autobiography, he reminisces about his early years and recounts the habits and experiences that enabled him to publish so many works. R. H. Super cites portions of the work that are obvious exaggerations, that are misleading or incomplete, and demonstrate Trollope's penchant for boasting. Despite the unreliability of the work, Super suggests that one should have confidence in Trollope's vision, if not his factual accuracy. Peter Allen also examines the sometimes baffling nature of An Autobiography, suggesting that Trollope adopts a persona similar to the identity he projected in social situations in which he felt he was “on display,” and accordingly performed as the boasting, self-assured writer. Allen concludes that An Autobiography leaves the reader with two choices (among others): that Trollope may be seen as a “vulgar materialist,” or, since his novels suggest otherwise, that this vulgar materialism is a pretension, a comic pose.

Many modern critics focus their analyses of Trollope's work on the narrative techniques he employs in his fiction. David R. Eastwood studies the interplay between the “romantic disposition” of many of Trollope's characters, and the realism that he so valued. Eastwood indicates that Trollope encouraged his audience to regard all elements in his stories, including the romantic nature of his characters, in a realistic way. Additionally, Eastwood considers the methods by which Trollope created aesthetic distance in his fiction, commenting on his use of non-participant narrators, and unappealing participant narrators. In his evaluation of Trollope's use of metonymy, Michael Riffaterre states that the function of Trollope's use of descriptive detail is to create “semantic displacement.” Riffaterre explains that Trollope uses metonymies as comic devices, and that this comic and descriptive tool is reflective of Trollope's emphasis on contradiction, a hallmark of his literary style. The repetitive nature of Trollope's plots was a source of irritation to his contemporary critics. L. J. Swingle suggests that this repetitive practice was not the result of Trollope's lack of imaginative power, but that it served his strategy by highlighting variation in the repeating plot. In Swingle's estimation Trollope used this maneuver to stress the instability of human nature.

Principal Works

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The Macdermots of Ballycloran (novel) 1847

The Kellys and the O'Kellys; or, Landlords and Tenants: A Tale of Irish Life (novel) 1848

La Vendée: An Historical Romance (novel) 1850

The Warden (novel) 1855

Barchester Towers (novel) 1857

Doctor Thorne (novel) 1858

The Three Clerks: A Novel (novel) 1858

The Bertrams: A Novel (novel) 1859

The West Indies and the Spanish Main (travel book) 1859

Castle Richmond: A Novel (novel) 1860

Framely Parsonage (novel) 1861

Tales of All Countries (novel) 1861-63

Orley Farm (novel) 1861-62

The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson, by One of the Firm (novel) 1862

North America (travel book) 1862

Rachel Ray (novel) 1862

The Small House at Allington (novel) 1864

Can You Forgive Her? (novel) 1864-65

Hunting Sketches (nonfiction) 1865

Miss Mackenzie (novel) 1865

The Belton Estate (novel) 1866

Travelling Sketches (nonfiction) 1866

Clergymen of the Church of England (nonfiction) 1866

The Claverings (novel) 1867

Nina Balatka: The Story of a Maiden of Prague (novel) 1867

The Last Chronicle of Barset (novel) 1867

Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories (short stories) 1867

Linda Tressel (novel) 1868

He Knew He Was Right (novel) 1868-69

Phineas Finn: The Irish Member (novel) 1869

Did He Steal It? A Comedy in Three Acts (novel) 1869

The Vicar of Bullhampton (novel) 1869-70

An Editor's Tales (short stories) 1870

The Commentaries of Caesar (literary criticism) 1870

Ralph the Heir (novel) 1870-71

Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite (novel) 1871

The Golden Lion of Granpère (novel) 1872

The Eustace Diamonds (novel) 1872

Australia and New Zealand (travel book) 1873

Lady Anna (novel) 1874

Phineas Redux (novel) 1874

Harry Heathcote of Gangoil: A Tale of Australian Bush Life (novel) 1874

The Way We Live Now (novel) 1874-75

The Prime Minister (novel) 1875-76

The American Senator (novel) 1877

Christmas at Thompson Hall (novel) 1877

The Lady of Lannay (novel) 1877

Is He Popenjoy? A Novel (novel) 1878

How the “Mastiffs” Went to Iceland (travel book) 1878

South Africa (travel book) 1878

An Eye for an Eye (novel) 1879

John Caldigate (novel) 1879

Cousin Henry: A Novel (novel) 1879

Thackeray (biography) 1879

The Duke's Children: A Novel (novel) 1880

The Life of Cicero (biography) 1880

Dr. Wortle's School: A Novel (novel) 1880

Ayala's Angel (novel) 1881

Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices, and Other Stories (short stories) 1882

The Fixed Period: A Novel (novel) 1882

Lord Palmerston (novel) 1882

Marion Fay: A Novel (novel) 1882

Kept in the Dark: A Novel (novel) 1832

The Two Heroines of Pumpington (novel) 1882

Not If I Know It (novel) 1883

Mr. Scarborough's Family (novel) 1883

The Landleaguers (novel) 1883

An Autobiography (autobiography) 1883

Alice Dugdale and Other Stories (short stories) 1883

La Mère Bauche and Other Stories (short stories) 1883

The Mistletoe Bough and Other Stories (short stories) 1883

An Old Man's Love (novel) 1884

The Noble Jilt: A Comedy (drama) 1923

London Tradesmen (nonfiction) 1927

Four Lectures (lectures) 1938

The Tireless Traveller: Twenty Letters to the “Liverpool Mercury” 1875 (letters) 1941

Novels and Stories (short stories) 1946

The Parson's Daughter and Other Stories (short stories) 1949

The Spotted Dog and Other Stories (short stories) 1950

Mary Gresley and Other Stories (short stories) 1951

The New Zealander (essay) 1972

R. D. McMaster (essay date 1981)

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SOURCE: “Women in The Way We Live Now,English Studies in Canada, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 68-80.

[In the following essay, McMaster evaluates Trollope's treatment of female characters in The Way We Live Now, revealing a more pro-feminist attitude than Trollope is generally known for.]

Criticism dealing with Trollope's views about women is a hardy perennial despite the fact that his more celebrated statements are unambiguous.1 “The necessity of the supremacy of man is as certain to me as the eternity of the soul,”2 he says. Or of Alice Vavasor in Can You Forgive Her? he says, “her mind had become filled with some undefined idea of the importance to her of her own life. What should a woman do with her life? There had arisen round her a flock of learned ladies asking that question, to whom it seems that the proper answer has never yet occurred. Fall in love, marry the man, have two children, and live happy ever afterwards. I maintain that answer has as much wisdom in it as any other that can be given;—or perhaps more.”3 Women lack “the gift of persistent energy” to do the work of the world, and the sexual division of labour—he in the world, she in the household—is a lesson that comes “direct from nature,—or, in other words, from the wisdom of an all-wise and all-good Creator.”4 And there's an end on't, as one might say. Nevertheless, several critics for various reasons and in various degrees of sympathy have felt the need to assert that these are indeed his views. C. C. Koets in his study of Trollope's female characters, and in terms that could scarcely be used today, coolly adds: “His personal views on marriage and the duty of women in the world are simple and healthy.”5 Without such naive approbation, John Halperin, in his “Trollope and Feminism,” also flatly reasserts Trollope's position, declaring “a lot of solemn specious nonsense has been written about Trollope's supposed sympathy for the economically and vocationally helpless Victorian woman,” and concluding roundly, “He was not a sympathizer.”6 Yet the topic remains interesting because Trollope himself keeps turning it over in his works, and because, as David Aitken observes, “it is the brightest and most interesting of Trollope's heroines … who rebel against the doctrines about women he preaches so emphatically,” even though they are often punished for it. The best of them are “such lively and assertive individuals” that they seem less object lessons than “vividly, willfully, and peculiarly themselves.”7 Sympathy, of course, is a messy business, especially if confused with approval. Gay would not hang Captain MacHeath, though he would hardly approve of him. Flaubert sympathized with Emma Bovary (“Emma Bovary, c'est moi!”) while exposing her endless appetite for the thrilling. And Trollope has the imaginative power to enter into women's problems and attitudes while reserving approval of feminist principles. That complicates his and our responses. In a perfect system sympathy and approval would match, but tension between them makes for absorbing art. Of the woman eager to do what he considered man's work, Trollope said, “I am inclined to admire her while I oppose her.”8The Way We Live Now, sometimes considered Trollope's greatest novel, provides an especially interesting instance of such ambivalence towards women with minds of their own.9 A major theme of the novel is that of authentic selfhood, and while the theme embraces both sexes, the women provide its most intricate elaboration.

Thinking, judging, and speaking for oneself is a key issue in The Way We Live Now because its world is inundated by puffery, sham, toadying, and herd values. Trollope counterpoints the two notions of individual judgment and herd influence, reiterating them throughout the novel, thereby providing not only a major element of thematic organization but a means of assessing character. Roger Carbury, the book's moral centre, asserts the values of personal authenticity and individual judgment: “he never says anything that he doesn't think” (i, 361), and “that growing feeling which induces people to assert to themselves that they are not bound to go outside the general verdict, and that they may shake hands with whomsoever the world shakes hands with, had never reached him” (i, 69).10 Two chapter titles accentuate the “natural aptitude to do what all the world approves” (ii, 44) that permeates the book: “Everybody Goes to Them,” referring to the Melmottes' soirées, and “‘Unanimity is the Very Soul of These Things,’” referring to Melmotte's concern that his humbug railway board should put up a unified front. To such specious unanimity, Roger opposes a sense of community responsibility, expressed in his conduct of the affairs of his estate and in his concern for John Crumb's amatory difficulties with Ruby Ruggles. Ironically, Roger's sense of feudal responsibility and his values of truth and constancy isolate him, as the moat around his manor suggests. I start with him because he exemplifies and recommends the idea of individual integrity that echoes throughout the novel. He insists on it first to Hetta, who, with her mother, has attended one of Melmotte's splendid social gatherings.

“Everybody goes there, Mr. Carbury.”

“Yes,—that is the excuse which everybody makes … I wish you to have some opinion of your own as to what is proper for you.”

(i, 70-71)

This motif then recurs in many settings. Proselytizing Father Barham disparages the Bishop of Elmham for having “no strong opinion of his own” (i, 177). And even though Hamilton K. Fisker, the unscrupulous American financier, has little to recommend him but ebullience, Trollope, in a characteristically tempering qualification, adds, “His mind was not capacious, but such as it was it was his own, and he knew how to use it” (i, 81). As a master of nuance, gradation and qualification, Trollope presents not just an opposition between general opinion and individual integrity but a variety of shades. Expressing one's own opinions ranges from honest self-assertion to arrant wilfulness.

Marie Melmotte, perhaps, provides the clearest example in the book of evolving identity, authenticity, and resistance to the way of the world—an evolution that occurs in the great poseur's very household. She enters the book shyly, thoroughly dominated, in muted, negative tones. “She was not beautiful, she was not clever, and she was not a saint. But then neither was she plain, nor stupid, nor, especially, a sinner” (i, 32). As his portrayal of her shows, Trollope's anti-feminism does not preclude a minute interest in the circumstances and feelings that create feminism. Pursued as a commodity by Lord Nidderdale, Grasslough, and others (“Each had treated the girl as an encumbrance he was to undertake,—at a very great price”), Marie hardens a shade, begins “to have an opinion,” and is “tempted from time to time to contemplate her own happiness and her own condition” (i, 33). She has “an incipient aspiration for the enjoyment of something in the world which should be her own. There was, too, arising within her bosom a struggle to be something in the world, an idea that she, too, could say something, and have thoughts of her own, if only she had some friend near her whom she need not fear” (i, 163-64). Ironically, at this critical stage of her unfolding sense of self, it is Felix Carbury, with “the instincts of a horse, not approaching the higher sympathies of a dog” (i, 17), who sets her dreaming of castles in the air, and encourages her imagination, courage, and strength to blossom. “As days went on she ceased to be a child, and her courage grew within her. She became conscious of an identity of her own” (i, 233). Her father has settled money on her with the intention of keeping it safe for himself, but in her love for Felix she is ready to abscond with it. Along with the sense of self has come “a will of her own” (i, 275). After Felix, on the day of their elopement, has been so utterly feckless as to gamble away the money she has given him, get drunk and stand her up, she speculates that she might after all marry Lord Nidderdale, “though it will be very bad. I shall just be as if I hadn't any self of my own at all” (ii, 111). But that temporary trace of weakness vanishes when Hetta Carbury makes it clear that Felix has not only bungled the elopement but abandoned his suit: over Marie's face comes “a stern hard look, as though she had resolved at the moment to throw away from her all soft womanly things,” and she resolves, “I'll marry Lord Nidderdale. … But I'll lead him such a life afterwards!” (ii, 168-70).

At this point in studying the growth of authentic identity and will power in a woman, Trollope has, perhaps, arrived at too much of a good thing. Marie is no longer “womanly.” She is “hard” instead of “soft.” And she is distanced from sympathy in other ways as well. Her environment has been damaging. She is not only the brutal Melmotte's daughter but his illegitimate and foreign daughter. And yet despite her determination to hold on to the money her father has settled on her, an idea that inspires Sir Felix to new interest in her as “a very enterprising young lady” (i, 274), the reader finds much to admire in her. She shows grit in defying Melmotte even though he beats her. She manifests fidelity to Felix and extraordinary readiness to forgive him even when she understands how impressively worthless he is. She has the socially unconventional energy to pursue him—a girl pursuing a man, and a man who has deserted her at that. And finally, she has the clear judgment to assess him accurately: “I don't see why a girl should not run after a man if they have been engaged together. But I'm ashamed of thinking so much of so mean a person” (ii, 309). One sees in her a personality forged in adversity and achieved: “go where she might, she would now be her own mistress” (ii, 310). That she has got well beyond Trollope's approval in principle is evident in her acquiring “opinions of women's rights” and in her marrying Fisker—“she had not seen enough of English gentlemen to make Fisker distasteful to her” (ii, 453).

Here, then, we have a fine study of a woman, not wholly scrupulous, not presentable in Trollope's eyes as a sufficient argument for feminism, but whose imprisoning social role as a commodity he clearly understands, and whose development under the pressures of that circumstance he articulates with detailed care and human sympathy. Though not a feminist, he sees how Marie is moulded both by exploitation and by learning to resist exploitation and assert her own desires and her own will. Melmotte makes her a legal convenience to hoard away his embezzled wealth, fully counting on her total submission. He uses her as barter in his scheme to supplement wealth with social standing by marrying her to an aristocrat, a matter in which her views are of little concern. Her pretended lover, Sir Felix, finds the courting “weary work” (i, 43), reserving his ardour for her money and for seducing a girl from the country. We are made to sympathize with Marie in her situation and to understand the human likelihood of her response to it. If Trollope were a feminist, he could hardly do that part of his work better. Marie, however, is a fairly straightforward study. With Mrs. Hurtle we come to a much more complex, brilliant—and still ambivalent—achievement.

“Shall a woman be flayed alive because it is unfeminine in her to fight for her own skin?” asks Winifred Hurtle (ii, 8). She thinks for herself vigorously, expresses herself with rhetorical flourish, and acts with determination. Her very name bespeaks energy. Though she says “a woman's weapon is her tongue” (i, 443), she cuts a dash with other weapons as well—she has shot a man in Oregon, is rumoured to have fought a duel with her husband, and professes masculine skill with a horse-whip. Her combative panache is expansive: “‘I'd interfere to save any woman that God ever made,’ said Mrs. Hurtle with energy” (ii, 189). And she acts on her principle, joining forces in an unlikely alliance with Roger Carbury to save Ruby Ruggles from Felix. Like Roger, she deplores the want of individual strength in England. To her American sensibility all Europeans are effete with one or two exceptions: “Savonarola and Galileo were individuals” (i, 394). She particularly deplores the weakness of English women (which Trollope himself admires): “Should she be weaker even than an English girl?” (ii, 3).11 Her being American—“a nasty American woman,” says Hetta—is very much to the point (ii, 375). Trollope makes her an exotic, a wild-cat that has roamed out of its proper frontier environment, “very clever and very beautiful,—but … very dangerous” (i, 243).

While the reader may respond with sympathy to Mrs. Hurtle's energy, grit and determination, Trollope, as in his treatment of Marie Melmotte, discounts them as masculine. It is “unfeminine in her to fight for her own skin” with the verve she displays. And the impression of masculinity is reinforced. Having a clear sense of the disabilities imposed on women by convention, she wishes she were a man so that she might undertake an enterprise on the grand scale, like Melmotte's railway: “I should like to manage the greatest bank in the world, or to be Captain of the biggest fleet, or to make the largest railway” (i, 391). It exasperates her “that men should be so vile, and think themselves masters of the world” (i, 448). She threatens to horse-whip Montague for his infidelity. And when Hetta Carbury comes to seek the truth about Mrs. Hurtle's involvement with Montague, though Mrs. Hurtle realizes she could make mischief with her answers, “it was a woman's fashion, and, as such, did not recommend itself to Mrs. Hurtle's feelings” (ii, 381). But she is not a flat character in any sense of the word. Much as Trollope dwells on her masculine qualities, he also describes caressingly her feminine sexual attractiveness. Voluptuous without the aid of artifice, she is expressive, sensuous, lovely, the simplicity of her dress only accentuating her seductively vivacious flesh and blood.12

In short, Mrs. Hurtle is a study in ambivalence, both cultural and sexual, her cultural conditioning determining her sexual tensions. As an American, how can she help being masculine? “She had endured violence, and had been violent. She had been schemed against, and had schemed. She had fitted herself to the life which had befallen her” (i, 449). Her very “force of character,” however, impells her, poor lady, to sense her cultural disability:

With all the little ridicule she was wont to exercise in speaking of the old country there was ever mixed, as is so often the case in the minds of American men and women, an almost envious admiration of English excellence. To have been allowed to forget the past and to live the life of an English lady would have been heaven to her.

(i, 450)

The “genuine kindness of her woman's nature,” her English propensity, is at odds with her frontier aggressiveness. “She was in truth sick at heart of violence and rough living and unfeminine words,” and if offered an English haven, “she thought she could put away violence and be gentle as a young girl” (i, 449-50). The two letters she writes responding to Paul Montague's rejection of her epitomize her ambivalence, showing her “torn in two directions,” one letter all “feminine softness,” the other all horse-whips and ferocity. Having written both, she is in a moral and emotional dilemma, unsure which to send.

In spite of Trollope's traditional masculine bias, Mrs. Hurtle, with her frustration, her acuity, her verve, her beauty, and ultimately her individual integrity, escapes the safe bounds Trollope erects around her to contain our sympathy. Her relationship to the theme of authentic selfhood is as ambivalent as she is—she asserts individual autonomy, is satirized for the degree of it, but eventually allies herself with Roger Carbury, its champion. In her desire for a larger range of activity, she feels the weight of the cramped social stereotyping Mill attacked in The Subjection of Women. She may well ask, “What is the good of being—feminine, as you call it?” (ii, 8). The voice she gives to frustrated ambition is, of course, partly intended to nettle Paul Montague in his dithering; nevertheless, she is close to being the sort of woman Trollope said he both opposed and admired, and while he would not endorse her viewpoint, he dramatizes her so well that the reader can, perhaps, take a more sympathetic view than he did. Most works have some degree of autonomy, independent of the author's attitudes. Reading the book a century later, having absorbed Mill, and, one hopes, being readier to respond to Marie Melmotte's and Mrs. Hurtle's arguments, the reader may take with a grain of salt Trollope's trick of making certain simply human qualities and ambitions “masculine.” Still, one should not underrate Trollope's interest in the intricacies of sexual psychology.

What makes the question of sexual stereotyping, already complicated in Mrs. Hurtle, all the more interesting is the sexual role reversal Trollope sets up between her and Paul Montague. If Mrs. Hurtle is often “masculine,” Paul is essentially “feminine.” We must suppose that she is as much attracted to his feminine traits as he is to her masculine traits. But the relationship is complex and tense. As she submerges in herself the feminine softness she longs for, so she ridicules the feminine sensitivity of the man she loves: “Oh, with what bated, half-mouthed words you speak,—fit for a girl from a nursery!” (i, 247). And annoyed by his deference to Roger Carbury's opinion, she scolds: “I had heard that in your country girls sometimes hold themselves at the disposal of their friends,—but I did not dream that such could be the case with a man who had gone out in the world to make his fortune” (i, 442). The reversal between them makes for some comic ironies, as when frightened by the aggressiveness of her discussion of “questions of women's difficulties,” his mind running uncomfortably on “the wild-cat's claws, and the possible fate of the gentleman in Oregon,” he artfully turns the conversation to the safe feminine topic of the colours she should wear. She acknowledges his eye for such things, but at once comes the barb: “But I fancy that taste comes with, or at any rate forebodes, an effete civilization” (i, 393-94). Paul's femininity, which Mrs. Hurtle exploits so adroitly, is not simply a creation of her decided talent for abuse, nor a matter of the cultural differences between them. Trollope stresses it: “There are men,” he says, “who, of their natures, do not like women, even though they … be surrounded by things feminine in all the affairs of their lives. Others again have their strongest affinities and sympathies with women. … Paul Montague was of the latter sort” (i, 260). The type is familiar in Trollope. The emotional dilemma of Paul's determination to end the affair balanced by an agonizing inability to break off, his sense of Mrs. Hurtle's physical and intellectual allure along with the oppressive, claustrophobic hold she has on him, is also familiar. Consider Phineas Finn and his involvements. Indeed, Trollope seems aware that the reader, like Montague himself, may grow restive about such indecision, and therefore supplies an apology for Montague's dithering in which feminine softness is the key element:

There are many,—and probably the greater portion of my readers will be among the number,—who will declare to themselves that Paul Montague was a poor creature, in that he felt so great a repugnance to face this woman with the truth … they will be very hard on him on the score of his cowardice,—as, I think, unjustly. In social life we hardly stop to consider how much of that daring spirit which gives mastery comes from hardness of heart rather than from high purpose, or true courage. The man who succumbs to his wife, the mother who succumbs to her daughter, the master who succumbs to his servant, is as often brought to servility by a continual aversion to the giving of pain, by a softness which causes the fretfulness of others to be an agony to himself,—as by any actual fear which the firmness of the imperious one may have produced. … He feared the woman; … but he shrank from subjecting her to the blank misery of utter desertion.

(i, 441-42)

When she finds out about Mrs. Hurtle, Hetta rejects Montague, and he is indignant, not thinking how he would act in her place. In view of the sexual reversals in the book, there is perhaps a double weight of irony in Trollope's observation: “But then,—as all the world knows,—there is a wide difference between young men and young women!” (ii, 248).

In relation to the theme of individual judgment and outspokenness, Montague, though he is the hero of the book's love interest, hardly comes off better than Mrs. Hurtle. Roger—morose and jealous, it is true—thinks ill of Montague's double attachment. Melmotte easily overbears him at board meetings. Dolly Longestaffe, light-minded though he is, shows himself by comparison a model of decision and tenacity. Montague does have some delicate and inhibiting scruples. But the sympathy he inspires is limited. If Mrs. Hurtle is a wild-cat, she is a wild-cat lapping at a milksop.

The most flagrantly unauthentic selves among the women of the novel are Lady Carbury and Georgiana Longestaffe. Georgiana neatly inverts the theme of judging and speaking for oneself, masking her own wilful actions as actions imposed on her by others. She too is a study in ambivalence, pulled in opposite directions by her bent for self-assertion and her concern for public opinion. On the one hand, she knows what she wants, a husband, and she wants very much to capture one before her sister gets married. Moreover, she is ready to suffer considerable mortification in order to be in London where she may find one. To that extent she appears to have a mind of her own. But she pretends that her will is really a sense of duty: “It isn't for pleasure that I want to go up” (i, 198). And though she insists on taking advantage of the hospitality offered by the Melmottes, whom she socially despises, she argues that the indignity is forced on her by her father, who, for the sake of economy, is determined to rent out their house in London. “Who sent her to Melmotte's house? Was it not her own father?” (ii, 139). Her petulant notion blossoms into direct accusation: “It was you, papa, who told me to go to the Melmottes” (ii, 143). And the accusation becomes a determined refrain:

“It was you sent me to Mr. Melmotte.”

“I didn't send you to Mr. Melmotte.”

“It was at your suggestion I went there, papa. And of course I could only see the people he had there. I like nice people as well as anybody.”

“There's no use talking any more about it.”

(ii, 261)

Old Longestaffe stands accused here not only of forcing the Melmottes on Georgiana but, by so doing, of being responsible for her decision to marry Mr. Brehgert, though Longestaffe hates Jews: “It isn't” says Georgiana, “that Mr. Brehgert is the sort of man I should choose” (ii, 261). Though Georgiana is wilful and obstinate in this covert way, however, she is also a prey to appearances. Brehgert has a very fine income, which she likes, and a luxurious house, which she sees as a necessity, and she cares nothing about his religion “except as far as it might be regarded by the world in which she wished to live” (ii, 92). But, for her, that is a big exception. In spite of her obstinacy, she fears her parents, and the only “real opinion of his own” that Longestaffe has had in politics is that against admitting Jews to Parliament, while her mother speaks “with horror even of the approach of a Jew” (ii, 93). Lady Monogram, whose society Georgiana craves, is similarly bigoted, and her “few words about ‘various sets’ and the ‘mixing of things’ had stabbed her [Georgiana] to the very heart,—as had been intended” (ii, 138). Even calling off the match becomes dreadful because of the same anxiety about public opinion: “I think,” says the narrator, “she would have decided on the latter had it not been that so many people had already heard of the match” (ii, 138). “She thought that she could have plucked up courage to face the world as the Jew's wife, but not as the young woman who had wanted to marry the Jew and had failed” (ii, 274). Still, provoked by her sister's impending marriage, Georgiana grimly keeps up her threat to marry Brehgert until the very morning of Sophia's wedding, when “they were all astounded by the news that Georgiana had run away with Mr. Batherbolt,” the poor and supposedly celibate curate (ii, 428). This refuge, however, is also socially determined: “a clergyman is always considered to be decent” (ii, 427).

From the ideal of having one's own opinions and not saying what one doesn't think, Georgiana is far removed, despite her wilfulness and her father's conviction that “upon the whole his daughter liked a row in the house” (i, 199). “The general verdict,” as Roger calls it, the herd view, controls her aspirations and inspires her fears—what if she marries a Jew, what if she is seen to fail in marrying a Jew? Concentrated within the bounds of Georgiana's consciousness, Trollope's overall thematic opposition of self and society emerges in frustration and contradiction, her personal drive crippled by social anxiety. To some extent, like Marie Melmotte's and Mrs. Hurtle's, her moral life is one of alternatives arising from her feminine position and the compulsions she feels about it. Unlike them, she is blinded and stymied by self doubt. While they deliberate and decide, Georgiana petulantly vacillates, lying to herself and to others. A rational course is hardly open to her; therefore, the surprise of her elopement with a curate noted for celibacy is comically, morally, and aesthetically appropriate.

Roger Carbury gives his advice about “having some opinion of your own as to what is proper” in response to Lady Carbury's visit with Hetta to the Melmottes'. Lady Carbury is “false from head to foot” (i, 17), “a female literary charlatan” (i, 6). She opens the novel significantly with three toadying letters to editors who, she hopes, might be persuaded to provide favourable reviews of her amateurish book on “Criminal Queens.” The first letter plays titillatingly on Mr. Broune's amatory susceptibilities: “as you are a friend, be loving”: but closes with a high-minded postscript, “how few women there are who can raise themselves above the quagmire of what we call love, and make themselves anything but playthings for men” (i, 2). The sentiment is droll since she plays poor Broune like a fish, earning his deepest gratitude later by not agreeing to marry him when he has too incautiously taken the bait. (Mrs. Hurtle is equally amusing when, having thoroughly plagued and threatened Paul Montague, she comments, “It is a poor time we women have,—is it not,—in becoming playthings to men?” [ii, 387].) The second letter is to Mr. Booker, brief, noting pointedly that she is reviewing a book of his and offering an exchange of things to be “specially said.” The third letter goes to Mr. Alf, who has a reputation for damning everyone and everything in The Evening Pulpit. In this one, she deplores “would-be poets who contrive by toadying and underground influences to get their volumes placed on every drawing-room table” (i, 9). All this, as the narrator says, is “absolutely and abominably foul” (i, 11). Like Mrs. Hurtle, Lady Carbury knows her sexual power and exploits it. Both of them, though still very attractive, are women of a certain age who have been tempered by adversity. Unlike Mrs. Hurtle, Lady Carbury is a thorough-going hypocrite. Nevertheless, with his penchant for qualification and nuance, Trollope draws attention to her genuine devotion to her children, especially her bottomless and absurd devotion to her rotter of a son, Sir Felix, whom she strives to maintain (as Trollope's mother had) by her literary industry. She works hard, too, at the task of keeping Felix in pursuit of Marie Melmotte's money. Like Georgiana, but moreso, she provides a negative elaboration of the theme of authenticity, and in comparison with her Mrs. Hurtle and Marie Melmotte are models of sense and virtue. And once again Trollope shows a thorough and sympathetic grasp of how social circumstances, though they don't exonerate her, contribute to a woman's outlook, and how she uses the influence of sexual attraction to counter the social disabilities of being a woman.

Roger, with whom Trollope pointedly contrasts Lady Carbury, sums her up as “essentially worldly, believing that good could come out of evil, that falsehood might in certain conditions be better than truth, that shams and pretences might do the work of true service, that a strong house might be built upon the sand” (i, 132). Inasmuch as this judgment could apply equally well to the whole fabric of social falsehood and perversity in the novel's world, Lady Carbury typifies what is wrong with it. The terms of Roger's judgment become a motif, as when Lady Carbury defends Melmotte to Mr. Booker (using Mrs. Hurtle's Spencerian argument as well):

“One cannot measure such men by the ordinary rule.”

“You would do evil to produce good?” asked Mr. Booker.

“I do not call it doing evil. You have to destroy a thousand living creatures every time you drink a glass of water. …”

(i, 279)

Like others in the world she represents, though attuned to manipulation and puffery, Lady Carbury nevertheless sees herself as primarily a realist, accommodated to “the hard truths of the world”: “If there was anything that she could not forgive in life it was romance” (ii, 324). She therefore opposes Hetta's marriage to the relatively poor Montague and insists instead on Roger, who has an estate: “that which pained her most was the unrealistic, romantic view of life which pervaded all Hetta's thoughts. How was any girl to live in this world who could not be taught the folly of such idle dreams?” (ii, 385). (There is a touch of Mr. Gradgrind in Lady Carbury.) Her scheme that Sir Felix should inveigle Marie Melmotte into marriage for her money is in tune with her hatred of romance. Romance embraces honesty as well, so Lady Carbury feels uncomfortable condescension towards “the superhuman virtue of poor dear Roger” (i, 145).

In her views of romance, Lady Carbury is manifesting a tone of mind, and tone of mind, a core of response underlying a character's opinions and actions, inherent but also influenced by circumstance, is a quality Trollope, with his carefully tuned sense of personality, is very good at rendering and using for subtle ironies. Lady Carbury's realism is in fact a cloak for sordid motives. Typically, Trollope pursues the tension of romance and realism through an equally perverse reversal. Georgiana Longestaffe's preference for romance is as absurd as Lady Carbury's hostility, equally at odds with honesty, as in her response to Brehgert's dignified, forbearing and sensible letter about marriage: “She could understand that it was a plain-spoken and truth-telling letter … but she did allow herself to be pained by the total absence of romance” (ii, 273). Marie Melmotte, on the other hand, gradually acquires an unromantic toughness in response to her disillusioning experiences. Though she starts out, inspired by the fantasy of Felix's love, building “castles in the air, which were bright with art and love, rather than with gems and gold” (i, 164), her career in the marriage market and her confrontations with her father harden her by the end: “I don't think I'll marry anybody. What's the use? It's only money. Nobody cares for anything else. Fisker's all very well; but he only wants the money” (ii, 402). Her comment here is not so much one of bitterness as of cool observation. Nevertheless, she does marry Fisker. But, of course, by then, “She had contrived to learn that, in the United States, a married woman has greater power over her own money than in England, and this information acted strongly in Fisker's favour” (ii, 453). Marie's feminist viewpoint about property in marriage may be a danger signal, warning of unwomanly “hardness” of mind, but it is softened by a touch of humour, and in the light of Marie's carefully articulated development in the novel, it shows a good deal of plain common sense. Unlike either Lady Carbury's or Georgiana's views about romance and the world, Marie's have a ring of personal authenticity in which the inner and outer life match.

Roger addresses his remonstrance about having opinions of one's own to Hetta Carbury, but with ironic results. She does think for herself to his disadvantage, determining not to marry him. Treated by Lady Carbury as “of infinitely less importance than her brother” (i, 20), and badgered by her to marry Roger, she quietly digs in her heels and resolves to have Paul Montague, admitting, “I suppose we ought to love the best people best; but I don't …” (ii, 150). She has a clear sense of her mother's and brother's failings, and she herself acts with straightforward honesty. Roger loves her, and as he is the moral centre of the book, she is the moral example by which the other women in the book are measured. Unfortunately this does not make her a very impressive figure in comparison. Though she resists brow-beating on all sides and plainly has a mind of her own, she does not go through the internal struggles that beset the other women. Both Mrs. Hurtle and Marie Melmotte overshadow her as personalities. Though Trollope clearly admires her, his deepest interest is with them, and, with all their dangerous principles and inclinations, they appeal more.

To sum up, then, although Trollope has the reputation of being an anti-feminist, skeptical about women's rights and at odds with Mill, in The Way We Live Now his absorption in women's problems, his treatment of their psychology, and his perception of the formative social influences on their lives, show more sympathy and understanding than the anti-feminist stance might suggest. His bent for qualification and eye for circumstance enable him to portray the complex human motivations of women at odds with his traditional conception of society even while disagreeing with their more theoretical feminist principles. Although he manipulates our sympathy for Mrs. Hurtle and Marie Melmotte by stressing foreignness, mannishness, and hardness, he nevertheless imbues the one with dynamic energy, rhetorical power, and sexual appeal and, in the other, follows the formation of character with minute and sympathetic precision. The impression he creates of them is the more interesting for their connection with the standard of the authentic and outspoken self which he raises in the novel and pursues among the women. Those, like Georgiana and Lady Carbury, who belong more within the traditional feminine framework, are presented satirically, one wilful to a degree, the other a coy toady—no authenticity there. Indeed Lady Carbury receives a language of flat abuse from the narrator only equalled by that applied to her son. Those, like Mrs. Hurtle and Marie Melmotte, whose minds embrace more than Trollope's ideal of social acceptance and domesticity (though as sexual beings they, of course, have marriage concerns) come off very well by comparison and in themselves. Both Marie and Mrs. Hurtle have character, and their feminist outlooks are part of what gives them their authentic individualities. For all their human failings and all Trollope's national and sexual chauvinism, they win our respect.


  1. Some of the more direct commentaries are: C. C. Koets, Female Characters in the Works of Trollope (Gouda: Van Tilburg, 1933); E. L. Skinner, “Mr. Trollope's Young Ladies,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 4 (1949), 197-207; Mary S. Lawson, “Class Structure and Female Character in Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now,Dissertation Abstracts International 36: 5320-21A; C. Blinderman, “The Servility of Dependence: The Dark Lady in Trollope,” in Images of Women in Fiction, ed. Susan Koppelman Carnillon (Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1972), pp. 55-67; Pamela Hansford Johnson, “Trollope's Young Women,” in On the Novel, ed. B. S. Benedikz (London: Dent, 1972), pp. 17-33; David Aitken, “Anthony Trollope on ‘the Genus Girl,’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 28 (1974), 417-34; John Halperin, “Trollope and Feminism,” The South Atlantic Quarterly, 77 (1978), 179-88; Juliet McMaster, “The Men and Women,” in Trollope's Pallister Novels: Theme and Pattern (London: Macmillan, 1978), pp. 155-79.

  2. Trollope, The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. Bradford Booth (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), No. 740.

  3. Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?, World's Classics edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), i, 134.

  4. Trollope, “Higher Education of Women,” in Four Lectures by Anthony Trollope, ed. M. L. Parrish (London: Folcroft Press, 1938), pp. 73-74.

  5. Koets, p. 22.

  6. Halperin, “Trollope and Feminism,” pp. 181 and 188.

  7. Aitken, “Anthony Trollope on the Genus Girl,” pp. 431 and 434.

  8. Trollope, “Higher Education of Women,” p. 73.

  9. Juliet McMaster argues that Trollope's statements on the women's cause “grew to be more sympathetic as his career progressed, so that by the completion of the Palliser series he was no longer a reactionary, although he never became a convert” (p. 166). The Way We Live Now, 1875, comes fairly late in this progression.

  10. Page references are to the World's Classics edition of The Way We Live Now (London: Oxford University Press, 1941).

  11. Blinderman quotes Trollope's admiration in The Landleaguers for “feminine weakness, which of all her gifts is the most valuable to an English woman, till she makes the mistake of bartering it away for women's rights” (p. 66). The comment is in chastisement of Rachel O'Mahoney, another American.

  12. As David Aitken says, “That women in Trollope's world are so strong of sexual purpose and so elementally fierce in defense of their sexual integrity speaks eloquently of the nature and power of feminine passion. It is true that their anti-feminist author consigns women to the doll's house. But he hardly regards them as dolls” (p. 424).

Conor Johnston (essay date 1981)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8781

SOURCE: “The Macdermots of Ballycloran: Trollope as Conservative-Liberal,” Eire Ireland, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer, 1981, pp. 71-92.

[In the following essay, Johnston appraises Trollope's political philosophy, particularly his concern for the problems of the poor, as it is revealed in Trollope's first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran.]

Anthony Trollope revealed his abiding interest in politics not only in his novels but also in his letters and his autobiography.1 In the autobiography, he describes his political philosophy as “advanced Conservative-Liberal,” and explains it in a discussion of the ethical implications of the relative positions in society of the rich and the poor. While he sees the poor as having been placed in their unenviable position through divine ordinance, he also sees it as part of this ordinance that their situation should be improved. He is wary, however, of political liberals who want that situation to improve at a pace so rapid that a fundamental disruption in society might result; he is equally wary of the conservatives who, given their preëminent concern with social stability, want the poor to progress at what Trollope regards as an unconscionably slow rate. Trollope sees himself as sharing the best of the concerns of both liberal and conservative, as embodying the discordia concors of their disparate approaches to the problem of the poor, and thus regards himself as a progressive liberal who supports the alleviation of poverty and ignorance at as fast a rate as is socially safe.2 This discussion examines the relationship between this political philosophy of Trollope's and the art of his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847).

The choice of The Macdermots seems highly appropriate, for the novel is set in a background of agrarian and political strife in the poverty-stricken Ireland of the 1830s, and it was Ireland that “first roused Trollope's interest in politics.”3 Finally, in Ireland, where he lived for most of the period 1841-1859 as an official of the British Post Office, the socially inept young Trollope felt himself to be “no longer an outcast, pleading for entrance to the club of ordinary men; [rather] he had become an ambassador of England, living in disputatious amity with one of the most race-conscious nations in the world.”4The Macdermots, then, is a novel rich in political material and written by a maiden novelist in the first flush of both his interest in politics and his repute as a political pundit. The Macdermots of Ballycloran provides a striking example of the interplay between Trollope's political philosophy and his art as a novelist. This Irish novel is, in effect, a fictional expression of Trollope's conservative liberalism, which generally controls the novel and sometimes outweighs the novelist's concern for his art.5

The Macdermots is located in the West of the Ireland of the 1830s, the poorest part of, in the words of a popular 19th-century ballad, a “most distressful country.” In the West, the large rural population consisted mainly of extremely poor tenant farmers who lived, with their families, on potatoes they grew on small patches of land rented from local landlords, who were often Protestants of Anglo-Irish descent and were generally antipathetic to the native, Roman Catholic peasantry.6 Conditions for the peasants were generally miserable. The rents they paid were extremely high: “In practice, most Irish landlords exacted the utmost the land would bear. …” In addition, “most Irish farmers had no security of tenure, and they had learned by experience that if they improved their holdings, the landlord was quite likely to put up the rent.” Nor did it look to the peasant as if the British government, which had ruled Ireland from London since the 1801 Act of Union, was going to help, for “the only land legislation of the early nineteenth century, three acts passed between 1816 and 1820, extended the landlords' powers still further by simplifying the process of eviction.”7 It is hardly surprising then, that “The Irish peasant saw himself as the victim of injustice in almost all the relations of his life; the landlord and the parson oppressed him; the magistrate refused him justice; his Protestant neighbour simply as a Protestant, had the advantage of him at every turn.”8 Neither is it surprising that the peasant had little respect for the prevailing system, nor that he should take to distilling illegal liquor to console himself. But the most dramatic reaction that he had to the conditions in which he lived was to organize in secret societies and take, at times, violent courses of action against both landlords and police.

The protagonist of The Macdermots is, however, not a peasant but a young Catholic landlord, Thady Macdermot, who attempts to save his financially and morally ailing family. Financially, he faces the problem of paying off the mortgage on rundown Ballycloran House, under threat of imminent foreclosure by the builder and the builder's rapacious lawyer, Hyacinth Keegan. Thady's only source of income is the hard-come-by rent that he receives irregularly from the extremely poor peasant farmers who rent small lots of bad land on Ballycloran Estate. Morally, he faces the problem of saving his credulous and romantically inclined sister Feemy by getting her lover, revenue police captain Myles Ussher, either to marry her or leave her in peace. Ussher also is a thorn in Thady's side in another way, since his main function is to prevent the distillation of “potheen,” a highly popular, illegal Irish whiskey. Thus, he perpetually harasses Thady's tenants, many of whom are enthusiastic distillers of the potent drink. Ussher, then, damages Thady in terms of both the financial and moral well-being of his family. The climax of the plot occurs when Thady, believing that Ussher is dragging Feemy away with him against her will, lashes out with his stick and kills the policeman. Thady, in panic, “goes on his keeping.” After some reflection on the matter he decides to give himself up to the law, as he had not intended to kill Ussher, and had done the deed under highly mitigating circumstances. As he surrenders, he feels some apprehension as to the justice of the prevailing legal system. His apprehension proves to be well founded. He is found guilty of murder and hanged. As his trial nears its end, Feemy, pregnant with Ussher's child, dies of Victoriana. Their senile, alcoholic father, Larry, goes totally insane and, thus, completes the downfall of the Macdermots of Ballycloran.

Several elements in the plot of The Macdermots merit discussion: in terms of the thesis of this essay. Among them are landlordism, tenant poverty, the law in both its enforcement and judicial capacities, the underground tenant organization known as the Ribbonmen, the Irish nationalist movement, and the Roman Catholic church in Ireland. Against a background comprised of these elements the fate of Thady Macdermot and his family is decided.

The stultifying poverty and vicious landlordism that surrounds Thady, himself a small and charitable landlord, is one of the most striking aspects of this novel, and bears ultimately on the fate of Trollope's protagonist. The novel contains many fine descriptions of the effects of poverty, but none so fine as the description of the country village of Mohill, near Ballycloran. In terms of its evocation of human squalor, the following passage recalls Dickens at his best. The village, with little exception, is a collection of

… hovels without chimneys, windows, doors, or signs of humanity, except the children playing in the collected filth in front of them. The very scraughs of which the roofs are comprised are germinating afresh, and sickly green with a new growth, look more like the tops of newly neglected dungheaps, than the only protection for Christian beings from the winds of heaven.9

Trollope draws our attention to a particular hovel and asks, “Can that be the habitation of any of the human race?” (125). He answers the question by describing what is happening inside:

Two or three dim children—their number is lost in the obscurity—are conversing around the dull, dark fire, atop of one another; and on one miserable pallet beyond—a few rotten boards, propped upon equally infirm supports, and covered only with a thin black quilt—is sitting the master of the mansion; his grisly unshorn beard, his lantern jaws and shaggy hair, are such as his home and family would lead one to expect. And now you have counted all that this man possesses. Other furniture has he none, except that low stool on which his wife is sitting. Squatting on the ground—from off the ground like pigs, only much more poorly fed, his children eat the scanty earnings of his continued labour.

And yet for this abode the man pays rent.


A vividly contrasting description of the elegant house on the hill, which belongs to the landlord's agent, follows this harrowing passage. We are then introduced to the landlord himself, the Englishman and member of the London Parliament, Lord Birmingham, who “was rarely in his life in Ireland, never in Mohill” (128). In England, it seems, he is a veritable philanthropist, giving generous aid to hospitals, artists, and Polish refugees. How, asks Trollope, in the deliberately adopted voice of an innocent, could Birmingham be expected to live in two countries at once? So, how could he be expected to take care of these dreadful Irish conditions, busy as he is with his English charities? Yet, asks the novelist, returning to his normal narrative voice,

Shall no one be blamed for the misery which belonged to him, for the squalid sources of the wealth from which Poles were fed, and literary paupers clothed? Was no none answerable for the grim look of that half-starved wretch, whom but now we saw looking down so sadly on the young sufferers to whom he had given life and poverty? That can hardly be. And if we feel the difficulty which, among his numerous philanthropic works, Lord Birmingham must experience in attending to the state of his numerous dependents, it only makes us reflect very often that from him to whom much is given, much will be required.


And Lord Birmingham is not the only landlord on whom Trollope vents his anger, for he describes the Browne family with a similar degree of asperity.

The establishment of Browne Hall consisted of Jonas Browne, the father—an irritable, overbearing magistrate … a greedy landlord, and an unprincipled father—whose two sons had been brought up to consider sport their only business … the estate … was all set at a rack rent. … Jonas had always lived beyond his income. … [He was] careful to see that he got the full twelve hours work from the unfortunate men whom he hired out at fivepence a day, and who out of that had to feed themselves and their families and pay their rent. We will not talk about clothing them. It would be mockery to call the rags with which the labouring poor in that part of the country are partially covered, clothes. …


These three excerpts reveal much about Trollope's conservative liberalism. The liberal Trollope is so outraged at the widely differing fates of landlord and tenant in Ireland that, in the passages quoted above, he certainly does not imply that these differences between rich and poor are God-ordained, as he does in his theoretical discussions of rich and poor in his Autobiography.10 The clear implication of the tone in these passages is that there must be a change, but, like the Duke of St. Bungay, Trollope has “never been a friend of great measures, knowing that when they come fast, one after another, more is broken in the rattle than is repaired by the reform.”11 Trollope had a horror of the type of radical change that the Irish situation seemed to demand.12 And a clear perception of the Irish landlord-tenant problem would have shown most people, who were not willfully blind, that radical change was necessary. Trollope, I believe, had too much integrity to be willfully blind. Rather, in the case of the Irish landlord-tenant problem, both as he dealt with it in The Macdermots and in real life, his liberal outrage is inhibited by his conservative sense of caution, and this prevents him from facing up to the situation in the glaringly uncomfortable light of historical fact. I am not here denying a novelist's right to be less than accurate about historical fact—and politics too, for that matter. But I do not believe that Trollope should be accorded this license, nor do I believe he would accept it very graciously, deeply interested as he was in the history and politics of Ireland,13 and frank as he was about using his novels to express his own political ideas. Further, he locates The Macdermots in a milieu clearly recognizable in terms of the history and politics of Ireland. So, attention should be paid to any blurring of the historical or political facts in The Macdermots.

One of the facts obscured by Trollope is that, in the period of which he is writing, at least 85 percent of the landlords in Ireland were British or of British descent. They were Anglo-Saxon Protestant planters with little or no sympathy for the mostly Gaelic, Roman Catholic natives who rented the land from them,14 land that had been taken from their forebears by conquest. The landlords, many of them absentees like Birmingham, were loyal, not to an Irish government, that government having been abolished by the Act of Union, but to the British government. Irish Protestants in general were in a numerical minority, and maintained their struggle, according to Irish historian J. C. Beckett, “against domination by the Roman Catholic majority … only by standing openly as an ‘English garrison’”15 in 19th-century Ireland. Now these facts, and not merely 19th-century laissez faire attitudes about private property, make a considerable contribution to the type of landlord-tenant tension which Trollope portrays in The Macdermots. Thus, there are serious imperialistic connotations of the landlord-tenant relationships in this novel, connotations to which, I contend, the author fails to pay due attention. To pay them the attention that they merited would be tantamount to admitting that drastic, even violent change was a viable answer to the problem of tenant poverty in Ireland.

So much does Trollope play down any suggestion of imperialism as a factor in the novel, that, despite his pointing to Birmingham as an Englishman, he clearly implies that the landlord-tenant dispute in Ireland was a dispute between Irishmen. For example, take this passage from the opening chapter of The Macdermots. The narrator is looking at the ruins of Ballycloran. “The usual story, thought I, of Connaught [the West of Ireland] gentlemen; an extravagant landlord, reckless tenants, debt, embarrassment, despair and ruin” (3). This impression of the landlords as mostly native Irish is strengthened in the tenth chapter when the reader learns that Keegan, the lawyer, “earned his bread by performing the legal acts to which Irish landlords are so often obliged to have resort in obtaining the rent from their tenants” (146). When one adds to this the fact that, despite the historical statistics quoted above, Trollope makes the main family of the novel Irish Catholic landlords, one can see the degree to which his conservative myopia was at work. Thus, in the matter of the landlord-tenant conflict in this novel, the liberal Trollope's desire for the betterment of the situation of the Irish tenantry is obviously checked by the “drags and holdfasts”16 of his conservatism. Thus, too, it makes sense to say that once Thady has taken the radical step of killing Myles Ussher, the fall of the Macdermots becomes as inevitable as that of the house of Thebes, though in the former case the fall owes less to Fate than to the political opinion of Anthony Trollope.

The opposite point of the compass to the landlords is the tenant underground organization known as the Ribbonmen. The Ribbonmen are not only bitterly opposed to the rackrenting landlords—though not to the Macdermots, who have a tradition of fairness—but also to Myles Ussher and his revenue police, who prosecute them ruthlessly for distilling “potheen.” As in the case of the landlords, a comparison of Trollope's Ribbonmen with the Ribbonmen of history leads to some interesting conclusions. According to Trollope,

Ribbonism about 1830 was again becoming very prevalent in parts of Ireland. … County Leitrim was full of Ribbonmen, and no town so full as Mohill. … Joe [Reynolds, a local cottier and potheen maker] was aware that he was a marked man, and consequently, if not actually a Ribbonman, was very well inclined to that or anything else which might be inimical to jails, policemen, inspectors, gaugers, or any other recognized authority; in fact, he was a reckless man rendered so by inability to pay high rent for miserably bad land, and afterwards becoming doubly so from having recourse to illegal means to ease him of his difficulties.

He and many others in the neighbourhood of Mohill somewhat similarly situated, had joined together, bound themselves by oaths, and determined to become Ribbonmen. Their chief objects however at present were to free themselves from the terrors of Captains Ussher and Greenhough17 and to prevent the landlords ejecting them for non-payment of rent.


Then, in reference to a specific Ribbon meeting, Trollope says:

All these things were fully talked about at Mulready's that night. The indignities offered to humanity by police of every kind; the inequities of all Protestants, the benefits likely to accrue to mankind from an unlimited manufacture of potheen and the injustice of rents were fully discussed.


The historical Ribbonmen were rather different from those portrayed by Trollope. According to American historian Galen Broeker, the Ribbon Society was “a Catholic protection organization” which on occasion “might turn away from its major concerns and pursue economic goals. …”18 British historian Cornewall Lewis, writing in the late 1830s, described the Ribbonmen and other such secret societies as a “vast trades union for the protection of the Irish peasantry.”19 Irish historian R. B. McDowell characterizes the Ribbonmen's efforts as “a crude form of politics by which the will of the community was enforced, and the evils ignored by the legislature redressed.”20 And, to quote Broeker again, one of the purposes of the Ribbonmen in 1821 was “far more sophisticated than that of the average secret society: the exclusion of foreign produce in order to provide ample work for the population and stop emigration.”21 In addition, the new Ribbon societies of 1820 were suspected by the authorities of preparing for “a Catholic revolution.”22

Like any underground organization dedicated to effecting social and political change by violence, if necessary, the Ribbonmen had those in their ranks to whom the crudest forms of violence were acceptable. My point in making the contrast between Trollope's Ribbonmen and those of historical fact, is to show that the novelist depicts only the crudely violent minority of that secret society. Never does he show any awareness of any other type of Ribbonman.23 One wonders whether those depicted by Trollope could even comprehend a social or political ideal. Before I suggest a possible reason for the disparity between historical fact and Trollope's fiction, I should like to point to a curious inconsistency in his own novelistic handling of the secret society's attitudes to certain issues.

In the passage from the novel quoted above, the author uses irony to mock the Ribbonmen's ideas on rent, policemen, and on Protestants in general. Yet, a clear note of sympathy sounds in his description of Joe Reynolds as a man driven to desperation by having to pay high rent for hopeless land and finally driven to illegal means as a way of seeking redress. Nowhere in the novel, incidentally, does Trollope point to any legal means that the peasantry could have adopted in order to obtain justice. One can see why: as J. C. Beckett points out, “in every department of government, central and local, the Protestant landlords, their allies and dependents, remained in control.”24 Further, Trollope has already expressed disgust, in the moving Mohill passage, at the idea that people should pay any rent for such appalling conditions. He has also expressed disapproval of Captain Ussher's ruthlessness, and of the policeman's attitude to the poverty-stricken peasants for whom he had “an overwhelming contempt” (28). Finally, Trollope has made it clear that landlords Birmingham and Browne, and policeman Ussher, are Protestants.

I suggest, then, that the reasons for the inconsistency here, and for Trollope's failure to describe the Ribbonmen as they actually were, are one and the same. We come back once again to the author's political philosophy. The liberal Trollope is angered by poverty and rackrenting, and displeased by the failure of the police to be more compassionate to the poor. Even the conservative side of his nature—he saw his conservatism as “conscientious”—would like to see some amelioration in the dreadful situation of the Irish poor. But his perennial fear that rapid and sweeping change might cause the destruction of fundamental social and political structures asserts itself yet again. Thus, Trollope will at all costs obviate any suggestion that there might be a radical solution to the problems he is describing in The Macdermots. The existence of the Ribbonmen clearly implies the possibility of such a solution: thus, they are attacked at the expense of historical accuracy, and ironically mocked at the expense of novelistic consistency.

Callous landlords, poverty-stricken tenants, and a militant underground organization form part of the background to The Macdermots, of which another important part is the law, in both its enforcement and judicial aspects. According to Trollope,

Everyone knows that Ireland, for her sins, maintains two distinct, regularly organized bodies of police; the duties of the one being to prevent the distillation of potheen or illegal whiskey, those of the other to check the riots caused by its consumption. These forces, for they are in fact military forces, have each their officers, sub-officers, and privates as the army has; their dress, full-dress and half-dress; their arms, field-arms and house-arms; their captains, colonels, and commanders-in-chief, but called by other names, and in fact each body is a regularly disciplined force, only differing from the standing army by being carried on in a more expensive manner.


This passage deserves close analysis. In the first place, the large amount of repetition used to describe the organization of the two police forces gives a clear indication that Trollope thinks there is a lot of silly redundancy in the arrangement. But Trollope strongly implies that the reader, like everyone else, should know that Ireland, peculiar country, merits this situation—“for her sins.” Apparently, the wily natives actually circumvent the activities of the revenue police, and then get beastly drunk; thus, Ireland obviously needs two police forces to keep them in check. Trollope lays complete responsibility for this Gilbertian situation at the feet or, rather, the overexercised elbows of the Irish.

The passage is also remarkable for what it obscures, and for the manner in which it obscures. For the first and, I believe, only time in the novel, Trollope's voice becomes that of a total outsider: the distance of comedy separates him from the Irish. As he looks on, he puts his hand on the reader's shoulder in chummy English fashion, and expresses the need for the two police forces in the throwaway colloquial phrase “for her [Ireland's] sins.” The reader is, thus, tempted to smile indulgently, and not look any deeper into this “native” problem. Obscured in this passage is the historical fact that, as “everyone knows,” the police forces in question were, in effect, British colonial police. While those forces certainly numbered many Irish Catholics in the rank and file, they were generally officered by Dublin Castle appointees who were often Protestant, very hostile to the local Catholic peasantry, and loyal not to Ireland but to the British crown.25 What Trollope further obscures or, at least, ignores is the fact that the maintenance of two such heavily armed and pervasive police forces, in addition to the regular standing British army, could result only in a police state in which the ordinary people were hardly likely to trust the law. Ultimately, the passage obscures the fact that Irish hostility to the police was based on more than alcohol consumption. This overall obscuration conceals the radical potential inherent in the conflict between organized peasants and police. If the interaction between these two groups merely merits gentle satire, as they both indulge in a 19th-century version of the Prohibition merry-go-round, then the bogey man of revolutionary violence can simply be chuckled back into the dark shadows whence he came. And our conservative-liberal author can settle back behind the newspaper at his club and hope for a gradual amelioration of those unfortunate Irish problems.

A more simply expressed revolutionary sentiment existed in the Ireland of the 1830s than that of the Ribbonmen, though the sentiment in itself was not hugely different. It was expressed by the Repealers who believed that none of Ireland's problems could be properly resolved until the Act of Union with Great Britain was repealed. As in the case of the Ribbonmen, the manner in which Trollope portrays the Repeal issue is both a function and expression of his political philosophy. Even if this proposed repeal were to be achieved peacefully—the Repeal movement was peaceful and constitutional in the 1830s—it would involve the type of major, rapid change that was anathema to Trollope's view of the world. So, Trollope gives the Repeal, or nationalist, movement short shrift. If we look at the movement in the perspective of history, we see that it merits somewhat more attention.

What acted as a catalyst for the advocates of Repeal was the recent success of the constitutional effort to have the many laws discriminating against Catholics abolished. The effort had culminated in the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. Yet, Trollope does little more than make a brief reference to this milestone in Irish history, which had been reached as the result of the vast popular movement led by Daniel O'Connell. Nor does he pay more than passing attention to O'Connell himself, despite the fact that the Irish leader was, at the time the action of The Macdermots takes place, not only a highly successful member of Parliament in London, winning “a steady trickle of [further] reforms for Ireland,”26 but also so prominent that “there is probably no other half century of Irish history which is so dominated by the personality of one man.”27 Now, the charismatic O'Connell “had always hoped someday to restore to Ireland her own parliament.”28 Trollope's main tribute to the nationalist cause, however, is to parody it in the person of one of the least attractive characters in The Macdermots, Fr. Cullen, curate to Fr. John McGrath, the parish priest of Mohill. Paradoxically, one possible reason for Trollope's failure to deal more extensively with O'Connell in the novel was that, apart from his tremendous constitutional influence, O'Connell did not like Ribbonmen. He was “alarmed at their strength and hostile to their methods.”29 Thus, Trollope could hardly tar him with the brush of extremism, and might have to listen seriously to his radical viewpoint.

Fr. Cullen, however, proves easier for Trollope to handle. Cullen was “educated at Maynooth … and was perfectly illiterate.” In his characterization of Cullen Trollope is being very selective for his own political purposes. J. C. Beckett observes that while 19th-century Maynooth did produce priests who were accused, with some justification, of having “the bitterest feelings of the partisan and the grossest habits of a peasant,” there is “a good deal of exaggeration”30 in the accusation. In addition, if Cullen were indeed “perfectly illiterate,” he would have had severe difficulty being accepted for ordination in the Catholic church. Trollope also describes Cullen as a “violent politician”:

… the Catholic emancipation had become law; and therefore he no longer had that grievance to complain of; but he still had national grievances, repeating which he zealously declaimed when he could find a hearer. Repeal of the Union was not at that time a common topic morning and night, at the table and even at the altar, as it afterwards became, but there were, even then, some who maintained that Ireland would never be herself, 'til the Union was repealed, and among them was Fr. Cullen.


The reader immediately comes to the following conclusions about Irish nationalists: they are, as politicians, violent; they are obsessive whiners; they are bores. Trollope's reader also comes to feel that the topic of Irish nationalism should be avoided in polite conversation. The only specific issue on which Trollope permits Cullen to speak in the realm of nationalist politics has interest for its banality. The priest complains about the redistribution of parishes, which has led to some traveling inconvenience for him.

And bad manners to the Commissioners and people they sent over, bothering and altering the people! Couldn't we have our own parishes as we like, and fix them ourselves, but they must be sending English people to give us English parishes, altering the meerings just to be doing something?


Of course, Cullen leaves himself wide open to the good-natured, wryly humorous deprecation of his parish priest, Fr. McGrath, who suggests that Cullen would be quite happy to do the extra traveling if he were going to officiate at a lucrative wedding. Thus, the nationalistic aspirations of the Irish are reduced to a level of triviality by the firm but benign establishment.

In this manner, Trollope refuses to take the Irish nationalist movement seriously, even though Daniel O'Connell had, by the time Trollope was writing this novel, already launched the campaign for repeal of the Union, and even though he could “count on the sympathy of the bulk of the people of Ireland.”31 Not for the first time in The Macdermots is the author's weapon gentle mockery. Who, after all, could take Irish nationalism as a serious threat to the United Kingdom when the nationalist spokesman is a Fr. Cullen?

Cullen, then, is for Trollope a conveniently silly symbol of Irish nationalism. It is, on the other hand, noteworthy that, when certain events could be symbolically construed in a manner that might evoke sympathy for the Irish radical cause, the author refrains from setting these events on a symbolic level. For example, to Trollope, the carrying off of Feemy by Ussher constitutes a dastardly act by an ungentlemanly fellow. Correspondingly, while Thady's killing of Ussher is, for Trollope, partly understandable, he sees it as a crime that must be dealt with in the courts. Now, to anyone at all as familiar with Irish history as Trollope was, the carrying off of Feemy, a descendant of the ancient Irish Macdermot family, by the Anglo-Saxon Ussher, would be a potential symbol, at least, of the continual exploitation of Ireland by England. Again, to anyone likewise familiar with Irish history, the blow with which Thady lays Ussher low could be seen as a symbolic attack on that exploitation. Finally, Thady's broken-hearted cry at the end of the novel—“Oh why, Fr. John, could [Ussher] not leave us alone?” (615)—could surely symbolize Ireland's grief that England, for seven hundred years, had not left her alone. It is, however, eminently clear from the manner in which Trollope handles these scenes that they are not meant to be read as symbolic, for such a reading would carry both the tone and significance of The Macdermots outside the parameters of the author's philosophy, which allowed Trollope, while he admitted to British “mistakes” in Ireland, cheerfully to defend—implicitly in The Macdermots, and explicitly in his Autobiography32 and letters to The Examiner33—British good intentions.

I have now described in detail the situation, as Trollope has portrayed it, in which Thady Macdermot must work out his own and his family's fate. Using Thackerayan analogy for a moment, the setting of The Macdermots is defined by the Manager of the performance, who has established strict boundaries within which his Puppets must act. The boundaries are those of the Manager's political ideology, and the Manager will not tolerate any action that might result in a drastic change in the social and political situation which the show presents. I suggest that, despite the degree of sensitivity with which it is portrayed, Thady's fate represents the Manager's reaction when one of his Puppets acts in a politically inappropriate manner.

When we meet Thady at the beginning of The Macdermots, he seems a petit bourgeois landowner far removed from any thought of political radicalism. But he does seem to have a visceral sense that something is drastically wrong with the whole situation in which he and his fellow Irish Catholics live. In chapter three of the novel, Thady says of the poor: “[Ussher] is persecuting them too far,” and: “What with the revenue police, constabulary police, and magistrates' warrants, they won't let them walk to mass quietly next” (43). In chapter five he says, desperately, “[If it weren't for Feemy] I'd strike one blow for the country, and then if I were hung, or shot, or murdered anyway, devil a care” (62). By chapter ten, under the increasing pressures of poverty and the growing abuse of his sister by Ussher, Thady's feelings become even more intense:

In his misery, and half-broken hearted as he was, Thady all but made up his mind to join the Ribbonmen, who, he knew, were meeting with some secret plans for proposed deliverance from their superiors. Better at any rate join them now, thought he, than be driven to do it when he was no better than them—as would soon be the case. And if he was to perish, better first strike a blow at those who had pressed him so low.


Then, in chapter thirteen, at the McGovery wedding, Thady, in his drunkenness, half commits himself to joining the Ribbonmen. Finally, in the twentieth chapter of the novel, driven to desperation by the sight of Ussher, a representative of the civil power, dragging Feemy away apparently against her will, Thady strikes the blow with which he puts himself beyond the Pale. We see here, in classical political terms, the gestation of a radical. Thady, a middle-of-the-road capitalist, has moved closer and closer to the philosophy of a radical revolutionary as a result of the oppressiveness of the prevailing system.

In another Irish novel something similar happens. Liam O'Flaherty's Famine34 occurs during the Irish Potato Famine, about ten to fifteen years after the action of The Macdermots takes place. The protagonist, Martin Kilmartin, is a quiet young farmer, intent on nothing more than earning a living for his wife, baby and himself. The blight strikes the potatoes, Kilmartin and his fellow cottiers are starving, and they cannot pay their rent to the British landlord. As the callousness of the landlord, and the various injustices perpetrated in Ireland by the British become more and more apparent to Kilmartin, he gets progressively angrier. During a peasant demonstration for an extension of their rental period, a violent confrontation develops with the police. The basically peaceful Kilmartin goes to the rescue of one of his neighbors, who is being savagely beaten by a couple of policemen. Kilmartin seriously injures one of the police. Aware that he will get no justice under the British legal system, he goes “on the run.” Sure enough, a warrant is issued for his capture, dead or alive. But, at the end of the novel, Kilmartin, in company with his wife and child, is spirited aboard an America-bound ship by the anti-British revolutionary organization, the Young Irelanders. As the rebel who delivers Kilmartin on board ship leaves him, he adjures the exile-to-be not to forget the old cause in the new land. Given the whole thrust of Famine, there is no reason to believe that Kilmartin will forget.

The contrast between the fate of Kilmartin and that of Thady Macdermot deserves note. For one thing, the underground depicted in The Macdermots is, suitably for Trollope's purposes, anything but the disciplined and efficient force depicted in Famine. Its leader, Dan Kennedy, is, in terms of brutality, greed, and clumsiness, probably the nearest thing to Dickens's Bill Sykes that Trollope ever created. Further, Kennedy and company prove stupidly insensitive to the discomfort their potential new recruit feels at having placed himself outside the law, and they take care of him so badly that he experiences feelings of boredom and hopelessness of the sort O'Flaherty's protagonist never suffers. Finally, as soon as Thady made a move to escape the law, Trollope started a countermovement in the novel on the part of one of the most important elements—the Roman Catholic church—in the person of Fr. John McGrath. Trollope, apparently, will tolerate the gestation, but not the birth, of a radical, and hence the countermovement against Thady.

In fact, one could say that the countermovement has been there from the moment Thady began even to move in a revolutionary direction, and that at least part of the time, this countermovement takes the form of an establishment chorus, comprising McGrath and Trollope. Take, for example, the author's remark about Thady's having dealings with the Ribbonmen at McGovery's wedding: “It was a sign of the great degradation to which Macdermot had submitted in joining these men” (229). On the following day, Fr. McGrath, who is tenant of, friend of, and spiritual director to Thady, joins with the author when he gives it to the young protagonist in the neck. The priest upbraids Thady for having anything to do with “the boys,” whom he calls

… infamous characters … men never or seldom seen at mass … makers of potheen … strongly suspected to be Ribbonmen or Terryalts, or to call themselves by some infernal name or sect by belonging to which they render themselves liable to death or transportation. …


The strength of the countermovement in the plot of The Macdermots appears not only in the choric element, but also in the strength of Fr. McGrath's personality and in the decisive action he takes. Since McGrath personifies Trollope's conservative-liberalism, in this novel, it is no accident that he is such an attractive character. He is, indeed, far more than “that essential figure of Irish romance, the genial warm-hearted soggarth,35 as an English critic, a contemporary of Trollope, calls him. Like his creator, McGrath has a deep, liberal humanitarian concern for the welfare of his parishioners, whom he sees as innocent victims: “Driven from their cabins and small-holdings, their crops and cattle taken from them, they were everywhere around desperate with poverty and the restraints put upon them by government” (91-92). The government in question is, of course, the British government. Despite the fact that this government “suffered from an ignorance of Irish conditions so great that it might, by itself, almost justify the contention that Ireland could never be satisfactorily ruled from Westminster,”36 the propriety or otherwise of British rule in Ireland is not even an issue for McGrath. Like Trollope, the conservative side of his nature is too strong for him to question the actual basis of things; he is, in addition, a priest of the Roman Catholic church, which has a traditional reluctance to buck the status quo. So, and one can imagine the author's nodding his head in approval, the parish priest scarifies the rebellious Ribbonmen, good-humoredly mocks the nationalistic Fr. Cullen, and when Thady makes the remark quoted above, about striking a blow for his country, McGrath kindly expostulates “Oh, nonsense, Thady, about blows for your country and getting hung and murdered” (63).

The decisive action that McGrath takes follows the inquest on Ussher's death. The priest is aware that the magistrate's verdict of murder is a miscarriage of justice. He cannot but have been aware of the overt hostility of the judicial system in Victorian Ireland to anything that smacked of sedition, and that “legislation was directed rather to the suppression of Agrarian crime than to the amelioration of the conditions that produced it.”37 Yet, to suggest to Thady that he do anything but surrender to the authorities and stand trial would be completely outside the priest's, and Trollope's, range of vision. So, with Thady's acquiescence, Fr. McGrath brings him to a magistrate's house, from whence the young landlord is conveyed to jail to await trial. Then McGrath confers with the governor of the jail to make sure that Thady will be comfortable. He visits the prisoner regularly during his six months of confinement before the trial, and is a constant source of strength and support to him and his family during that period. He makes sure that Thady has proper legal representation. He sits right with him throughout the trial. When Thady is found guilty, the horrified priest rushes to Dublin to petition the lord lieutenant for clemency. When the petition is refused, he is a profound source of comfort to Thady in his final days. All of these admirable actions lie strictly within the bounds of a conservative-liberal view of society.

Yet, Trollope's attitude to the courts seems curious. Like Dickens, he could not tolerate the cant, hypocrisy, and frequent lack of concern for justice that often characterized the 19th-century British court system. So, as the assizes at which Thady is to be tried begin, he takes a whole chapter, “The Carrick-on-Shannon Assizes,” to satirize the shortcomings of the legal system. However, two chapters later, Trollope observes that Thady is better off awaiting trial at the assizes than “at Aughnacashel among the lawless associates with whom he had so foolishly looked for safety” (526). Then, when Thady's trial takes place, conducted with dignity and flair, Trollope records brilliant speeches on behalf of both prosecution and defense. The pompous legal clowns of the satiric chapter have either disappeared or have been, in great part, metamorphosed. Trollope is fully prepared to satirize establishment shortcomings under certain circumstances, but those circumstances, however, do not include occasions in which the establishment falls under fundamental attack. He clearly felt that it was under such attack when policemen were killed and when tenant groups could savagely avenge themselves on their enemies—as the Ribbonmen did, for example, when they cut Hyacinth Keegan's foot off. On such occasions, Trollope got frankly scared and moved to a defense of the status quo. Thus, when Thady is sentenced to death, it seems that, although Trollope feels the sentence is a bit harsh, he also feels that such harshness is a price worth paying for the stability of society.

There are then, in The Macdermots, with its agrarian and political conflicts, the makings of a typical revolutionary situation. But, much as Trollope looks to the betterment of the condition of the Irish people, he will not countenance radical change as an answer to any problem. So, the forces that win out in this novel are those of conservative-liberalism, most strongly expressed in the benign voices of Trollope and of Fr. McGrath.

I previously pointed to the manner in which Trollope appears blind to the symbolic potential of some of the scenes in the novel. In this context, one should note the final scene of The Macdermots. Out of respect for Thady, no one comes to watch his execution outside the town jail:

Not one form appeared before the gaol that morning. Not even a passenger crossed over the bridge from half-past seven till after eight, as from there one just might catch a glimpse of the front of the prison. At the end of the bridge stood three or four men guarding the street, and cautioning those who came that they could not pass by; and as their behests were quietly obeyed the police did not interfere with them. Among them were [the Ribbonmen] Joe Reynolds and Corney Dolan, and they did not leave their post till they were aware that the body of him to whom they showed this last respect had been removed.


Once again, we have here, at least in potential, a classic symbol of revolution. Thady had never actually become a Ribbonman, but the Ribbonmen clearly felt that he was on their side, and that he had struck his “one blow for the country.” In countless colonial situations, when rebels bury their dead, one sees the type of tribute that the Ribbonmen pay Thady. In countless such situations, the authorities turn a blind eye to a mild show of force on the part of the mourning revolutionaries. They know it would be unwise to interfere at such an emotionally charged moment. That there are theoretical grounds for interference, there is no doubt, for the scene described is a paramilitary one. Note Trollope's choice of words: “three of four men guarding the street”; “cautioning those who came that they could not pass by”; “their behests were quietly obeyed”; “they did not leave their post.” And, curiously, Trollope himself seems to have temporarily lost his sense of hostility to the Ribbonmen and to be empathizing with them.

Had Trollope ended The Macdermots precisely as the Ribbonmen leave their posts, their funeral tribute completed, he would have closed his novel with a revolutionary symbol. The reader would have felt that the Ribbonmen were withdrawing to continue the struggle, and that somehow Thady's death would be avenged. Such an ending would, however, run entirely counter to the author's political philosophy. The humane Trollope has paid his tribute to Thady in the paramilitary scene, but now the full force of his conservative-liberalism asserts itself. He, indeed, wants to see an amelioration of the conditions that forced Thady and the Ballycloran peasants to live in such misery, but he greatly fears fundamental social disruption. So, he stifles the potential revolutionary symbolism of the dramatic closing scene—and, thus, diminishes the quality of the novel's ending—by adding on, to close the story of The Macdermots of Ballycloran, one apolitical, sentimental, Victorian sentence: “The shops were closed during the whole day; but it was many days before the sad melancholy which attended the execution of Thady Macdermot wore away from the little town of Carrick-on-Shannon” (623).


  1. Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1947). Trollope states that he wishes “any who knew aught” of him to understand his political theories (243). He also admits that he frequently used Plantaganet Palliser and Lady Glencora “for the expression of [his] political and social convictions” (151). Further, he says “as I have not been able to speak from the benches of the House of Commons, or to be efficacious as a lecturer, [Palliser and Glencora] have served me as safety valves by which to deliver my soul” (151). For an epistolary expression of Trollope's political interests, see his seven letters, in which he defends British conduct towards Ireland during and after the Famine, to the London paper The Examiner. These were published between August, 1849, and June, 1850.

  2. An Autobiography, pp. 244-245.

  3. According to Michael Sadlier, Trollope: A Commentary (New York: Farrar, Straus and Co., 1947), p. 143.

  4. Sadlier, pp. 140-141.

  5. The relationship between Trollope's political philosophy and The Macdermots of Ballycloran has not previously been studied in any depth. For example, there is no reference in Anthony Trollope: The Critical Heritage, ed. Donald Smalley (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1969) to such a relationship. Nor is that relationship accorded any importance in John Halperin's Trollope and Politics: A Study of the Pallisers and Others (London: Macmillan Press, 1977). In the most recent work done on The Macdermots, contained in a piece called “The Irish Novels of Anthony Trollope” (Robert Lee Wolff, Introd. The Macdermots of Ballycloran by Anthony Trollope [New York: Garland Publishing, 1979]), Wolff lists the major critical studies of Trollope and points out that “In none of these works is there very much attention directed to Trollope's view of Ireland or his Irish novels” (xxvii). Wolff himself makes no reference to Trollope's political theories. Neither E. M. West's “The Irish Experience in Trollope's Fiction,” DA, 31 (1970, 408A [Cornell]), nor E. W. Wittig's “Trollope's Irish Fiction,” Éire-Ireland 9, 3, (1974), 97-118, sees Trollope's political philosophy as having any significant role in The Macdermots. The nearest we have to a comprehensive study of the connection between Trollope's politics and The Macdermots dates back several years. Wilson B. Gragg in “An Advanced Conservative-Liberal: A Study of the Politics in the Novels of Anthony Trollope” (Diss. Northwestern University, 1948) devotes one of his six chapters to a study of the politics in the Irish novels, but does not pay due attention to the controlling role of the author's political philosophy in The Macdermots, nor to the complexity of that philosophy.

  6. Maureen Wall in “The Age of the Penal Laws (1691-1778),” in The Course of Irish History, ed. T. W. Moody, F. X. Martin (Cork: Mercier Press, 1967), p. 220, points out that “by 1778 scarcely 5٪ of Irish land was left in catholic hands. [In addition], for one reason or another most of the catholic landlords—Viscount Fitzwilliam, Browne of Neale, the Earl of Antrim, Martin of Ballinahinch, French of Monivea, Lord Kingsland, Lord Mountgarret, Lord Dunsany and many others—had gone over to the established church, so that by 1778 catholic proprietors owned but £60,000 a year of the total rental of Ireland, then calculated at £4,000,000.”

  7. For the three comments in this paragraph on landlord-tenant relations, I am indebted, respectively, to J. C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 295; J. H. Whyte, “The Age of Daniel O'Connell,” in The Course of Irish History, p. 249; and Beckett, pp. 293-294.

  8. Beckett, p. 300.

  9. Anthony Trollope, The Macdermots of Ballycloran (New York: John Lane, 1906), pp. 125-127. All further references to this work appear parenthetically in the text.

  10. An Autobiography, pp. 243-245.

  11. Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), II, 306.

  12. On the subject of Victorian and Trollopian fears of rapid change, see Bradford A. Booth, Introd., An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope, pp. vii-viii. According to Booth, “Politically and socially, Trollope was of his time, not before it … Like Ibsen, Trollope believed the world would not be better until men are better. This is the point of view of the Victorian ‘liberal conservative’ as Trollope described himself. An ameliorist skeptical of the efficacy of revolutionary processes, he says through one of his characters 'till we become divine we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for change we sink to something lower.'” In addition note that Halperin (20), points out that Trollope “favored individual progress and advancement—but not at the cost of altering or destroying the social fabric.”

  13. Sadlier, p. 141.

  14. According to Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, associate professor of Irish and Modern History at University College, Galway, in lecture, “The Irish Land Question in the Nineteenth Century,” delivered at Brandeis University, April 4, 1978. In addition, for a discussion of the conduct of the 19th-century Anglo-Irish landlords, see Nicholas Mansergh, Ireland in the Age of Reform and Revolution (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1940), pp. 28-37.

  15. Beckett, p. 287.

  16. An Autobiography, p. 245.

  17. Greenhough was a member of the regular police.

  18. Galen Broeker, Rural Disorder and Police Reform in Ireland (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970), p. 7.

  19. Quoted in Broeker, p. 8.

  20. Quoted in Broeker, p. 10.

  21. Broeker, p. 13.

  22. Broeker, p. 110.

  23. On this issue, see also John E. Pomfret, The Struggle for Land in Ireland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1930), p. 25. Pomfret quotes Poulet Scrope, an English Radical M.P., who, in 1834, made the following comment on the Whiteboy Association, a Ribbonman group: “But for the salutary dread of the Whiteboy Association, ejectment would desolate Ireland, and decimate her population, casting forth thousands of families like noxious weeds rooted out of the soil on which they have hitherto grown, perhaps too luxuriantly, and flung them away to perish in roadside ditches. Yes, the Whiteboy system is the only check on the ejectment system; and weighing one against the other, horror against horror, and crime against crime, is perhaps the lesser of the two.”

  24. Beckett, p. 286.

  25. F. S. L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (Glasgow: Fontana Books, 1973), p. 76. Lyons points out that while “the rank and file [of the police] were recruited from the people among whom they lived … officers were specially commissioned, the inspectorate having considerable social cachet.” In terms of 19th-century Ireland, this means that the officers were generally Anglo-Irish Protestants. The “otherness” of the police officers, insofar as Irish Catholics were concerned, is also pointed to by Stephen Gwynn in “Trollope and Ireland,” The Contemporary Review, 129, 721 (1926), 75. Having discussed the “dualism” in Irish life, by which he means the division between native Irish Catholics and Anglo-Irish Protestants, Gwynn says that the connecting link between the two Irelands of the 19th century was the Protestant police officers.

  26. J. H. Whyte in The Course of Irish History, p. 255.

  27. Whyte, p. 256.

  28. Whyte, p. 258.

  29. Beckett, p. 324.

  30. Beckett, p. 306.

  31. Whyte, p. 256.

  32. An Autobiography, pp. 68-69.

  33. See ftn. 1.

  34. Liam O'Flaherty, Famine. (New York: Literary Guild, 1937).

  35. Algar Thorold, Introd., The Macdermots of Ballycloran, p. vi. Soggarth is a version of the Gaelic—sogart—for “priest.”

  36. Beckett, p. 340.

  37. Beckett, p. 293.

David R. Eastwood (essay date 1981)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5193

SOURCE: “Romantic Elements and Aesthetic Distance in Trollope's Fiction,” Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 4, Fall, 1981, pp. 395-405.

[In the following essay, Eastwood traces the literary sources of the romantic ideals in Trollope's short stories and novels and argues that Trollope encouraged his audience to regard all aspects of his fiction, including romance, in a realistic manner.]

Many of Anthony Trollope's realistic fictional works are built around episodes in the lives of characters who explicitly are, were, or would like to be (or who seem to be, but are really not) romantically predisposed. Whereas his short stories often focus entirely on the romantic qualities of aspirations, sentiments, ideals, fantasies, courtships, and sacrifices, in Trollope's novels these elements are absorbed into a larger social context and are generally subordinated to the scores of other things presented. Therefore, because responses to romantic conventions usually appear more emphatically and more frequently in his short fiction, an examination of Trollope's short stories can sharpen our awareness of how he was responding to, absorbing, and transmuting conventions of the romantic tradition in his longer and reputedly more important works. With the further help of his Autobiography, his letters, and his various pieces of literary criticism, we can reconstruct the theoretical bases of Trollope's realism.1


Let us begin by examining what “romance” meant to Trollope, both how he defined it and what values he felt it possessed and lacked, and what specific romantic literature seems to have influenced his attitudes towards romance in his stories.

It is now generally agreed that the essential differences between romantic and realistic modes of fiction lie less in the subjects presented than in the viewpoints from which they are presented, and, in his essay on Hawthorne, Trollope himself discriminates between the two modes in this way.2 Indeed, one of his ways of describing human minds generally—as well as their contents (ideas, sentiments, attitudes), their processes (tranquil, excited), their capacities (one-sided, many-sided), and their products (such “instruments” as books)—is to classify them, according to their “manner of looking at life,” as relatively “romantic” or “realistic.” The realistic mind, Trollope states, tends to be “many-sided … with every side … equal,” “round, well-poised, and wholesome,” and concerned mainly with the “solid and substantial” or “real” world. The romantic mind he considers to be “less round, more lop-sided,” “tending toward malformation and disease,” “allowed … to revel in one direction,” and concerned mainly with “a world of imagination.” Trollope, of course, includes himself among those with realistic minds but makes it clear that, while the relative qualities of “wholesomeness” and “disease” have connotations of praise and dispraise, they are not the only standards by which one judges. Although realists' minds may be “beautifully round,” he says, “the circles may be larger or smaller.” (Trollope describes his own fiction as “little pictures.”) Conversely, although a romantic mind may be lop-sided, at its best it can be “a powerful, active, continually effective mind,” “abnormally strong” in some respect like a blacksmith's arm, which “gives the world the advantage of [its] strength.” While he considers romantic minds capable of excellent and valuable work, work which frequently has a more immediate and not infrequently a more powerful effect on readers than that of most realistic minds, still Trollope believes that the best round minds (those describing the largest circles) are far more to be admired. Balance and “fair proportions” in minds are desirable in themselves, he believes, but the best realistic minds are admirable for another reason: their “many-sided” largeness presumably gives them the versatility to produce the same effects as romantic minds with equal immediacy and power. Shakespeare is Trollope's prime example of the large, many-sided and fairly proportioned mind.3 It should not surprise us, then, to learn that Trollope, while considering Shakespeare a realist, has frequently alluded to situations, characters, and sentiments in Shakespeare's works when incorporating romantic elements into his own realistic stories.

Trollope usually considers being romantic a relative condition, a matter of degree, and, of the many characters whom he labels “romantic” in his fiction, few manifest their romantic temperaments by more than two or three ideas, sentiments, preferences, or actions apiece. The quality which his romantic characters appear to have in common is a tendency to idealize something or some group of things: either they are by nature “mystical,” “transcendental,” “inspired,” or “enthusiastic” about some subject, or they affect to be so. Not infrequently those who affect to be idealistic are sincere people who are unconsciously playing a role which they have learned from some romantic poem, play, or novel.

While most of Trollope's works do not specify the literary or other sources of the romantic sentiments and ideals of their characters, the allusions a few of his narrators and other characters make to people and literature which they consider romantic can give us a representative selection of what Trollope thought was fostering if not wholly generating such sentiments and ideals. Additionally, these allusions can give us at least a partial basis for inferring the identity of the various sources of romance Trollope was reacting against in passages where he self-consciously deromanticizes an action, character, or setting.

If we scan Trollope's five collections of short fiction and a dozen of his novels, we find allusions to the following literary sources of romantic sentiments: The Aeneid; The Arabian Nights; The Faerie Queene; Love's Labour's Lost (2), Romeo and Juliet; A Midsummer Night's Dream; As You Like It (3), Twelfth Night, Hamlet (5), Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Cymbeline (2), and The Tempest; “a play of Schiller's”; Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (2); Saint-Pierre's Paul and Virginia; Mrs. Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (4); Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Waverley (2), Old Mortality (2), Ivanhoe (2), and Kenilworth (2); Shelley's Queen Mab; Southey's Roderick, the Last of the Goths; Byron's Childe Harold, The Giaour (2), The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair (4), Lara, “The Prisoner of Chillon,” Don Juan (5), and The Two Foscari; Moore's Lalla Rookh (2); Carlyle's Sartor Resartus; “The Ballad of Lord Bateman” (3); Longfellow's “Excelsior”; and Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Additional unspecific allusions are made to the romantic qualities of the works of these authors: Shakespeare, Mrs. Radcliffe, Byron (3), Moore, and Longfellow. Legendary and historical women who are romanticized include Iphigenia, Jael, Judith (2), Lucretia Borgia, the Marquise of Brinvilliers, and Charlotte Corday (2); the men include Leander, Jacob, Samson, Belisarius, Milton (2), and Danton.4

By a wide margin, the authors whose names are most frequently associated with romance in the works surveyed are Shakespeare, Mrs. Radcliffe, Scott, and Byron. Trollope's attitude towards Shakespeare's and Scott's romantic elements, however, seems to be fundamentally different from his attitude towards Mrs. Radcliffe's and Byron's. His narrators may adopt a humorous tone when they mention the romantic characters of Shakespeare and Scott, but they never suggest that these authors or their works are being ridiculed. In contrast, both Mrs. Radcliffe and Byron, as well as their works, are criticized in several instances, either directly or by implication: Mrs. Radcliffe is treated with open scorn in at least two passages, while Byron is viewed with respect and is criticized in a cautious, less direct manner.5

Although Trollope suggests in one of his essays that Scott had an essentially realistic mind like Shakespeare's, but smaller,6 more often he indicates that Scott's mind was realistic only at intervals. Generally, he considers Scott a transitional writer who “mingled” realistic elements with “unreal romance.”7 Trollope seems to have admired Scott primarily as the writer he considered most responsible for the growth of realism in nineteenth-century British fiction. Trollope's quarrel with Mrs. Radcliffe, both in his critical writings and in the scornful narrators' remarks in The Warden and Barchester Towers, is essentially an artistic one: he believes that her works were “intended to be sublime throughout” but fail to realize this goal because the language, characters, settings, and incidents are so “unreal, and unlife-like” that they “become cold, stilted, and unsatisfactory” to most readers.8

Byron appears to be the most frequent source of romantic inspiration for Trollope's characters, but, with his characteristic good sense, Trollope judges the influence of Byron in relation to particular cases: if a character is fairly young, inexperienced, and open-hearted, he is regarded with a sympathetic, indulgent smile; if he is, say, over one and twenty, more worldly, and more selfish, then his interest in Byronic romance is regarded with amused understanding but not indulgent sympathy; if either type of character gets into trouble because of his romantic role-playing, the influence may be regarded more seriously by the narrator, depending on the worth of the people involved, the nature of the trouble, and whether the harm caused will be permanent.9

Generally speaking, Trollope believes that Byron's proper audience is young people, that reading romances like Byron's Childe Harold, Lara, The Giaour, and The Corsair and identifying with their heroes is a perfectly normal part of growing up, and that no harm results so long as one's fantasying or “castle-building” does not control one's relations with other people. Furthermore, Trollope believes that while a person should turn to more realistic literature as he gets older, the memories he will retain of having once felt heroically idealistic can benefit him greatly by taking the edge off his worldliness.10

Trollope's own stories, of course, are intended to be read by adults, and he accordingly tries to encourage his readers to view all the elements of these stories, including romantically inclined characters, realistically. One of his strategies is to deflate settings, characters, and actions to what he considers their real size. Apparently because he believes that many readers are in the habit of assuming that fiction generally is romantic and come to it or avoid it on this basis, Trollope is not content merely to depict things as he sees them. Repeatedly he underscores his realism by explicitly or implicitly contrasting the materials of his stories with the apparently similar materials of romantic works. Indeed, he often seems to have been deliberately selecting materials which would allow him to make such contrasts, rather than simply taking advantage of opportunities he perceived while writing. If, for example, we have imagined the Pyrenees to be predominately the sublime, craggy mountains described in Childe Harold or The Mysteries of Udolpho, Trollope's short story “La Mère Bauche” is disillusioning. If we have thought fictional criminals were strong, steely-eyed, fearless Giaours or Corsairs, his “Aaron Trow” disabuses us of the idea. If we have ever dreamed of being accompanied like Byron's Lara by a female disguised as a man, “A Ride Across Palestine” make us laugh this fantasy away.11 And for those whose visions of the East depend on The Arabian Nights' Entertainments or The Bride of Abydos, Trollope has written “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids”—a tale which does not even grant Egypt the few morsels of romantic glamor that are recorded in the remarkably similar final chapter of Thackeray's Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo. Rather than content himself—and thus trust his readers to content themselves—with subject matter that has never been romanticized, Trollope in story after story seems to delight in meeting his readers' presumed romantic expectations head-on.12


While Trollope's narrators often remind readers explicitly that the characters, settings, and actions of their stories are not grand and heroic, they are taking pains in a less direct manner to prevent readers from identifying too closely with any character's motives, thoughts, feelings, or fortunes. In roughly two-thirds of his short stories and virtually all of his novels such identification is prevented by the use of a narrator who establishes a familiar relationship with his readers but who holds aloof from his characters. Though such a narrator frequently sympathizes with his characters, he never identifies with them, and his relationship with us encourages us to follow his example.

It is clear from his letters, his Autobiography, and his critical writings that Trollope considered a relatively high degree of aesthetic distance to be necessary to literature. As a youth, when he was full of “the true spirit of romance” and considered himself a companionless outcast, he evidently devoured romances greedily and committed many passages from them to memory.13 The result of this habit reads like a classic case of day-dreaming in a psychology textbook:

Thus it came to pass that I was always going about with some castle in the air firmly built within my mind. … I myself was of course my own hero. … For weeks, for months, if I remember rightly, from year to year, I would carry on the same tale. … I was never a learned man, nor even a philosopher. But I was a very clever person, and beautiful women used to be fond of me. And I strove to be kind of heart, and open of hand, noble in thought, despising mean things. …14

Trollope remarks that there can “hardly be a more dangerous mental practice” than living in a fantasy world; “but,” he adds significantly, “I have often doubted whether, had it not been my practice, I should ever have written a novel. … In after years I have done the same,—with this difference, that I have discarded the hero of my early dreams, and have been able to lay my own identity aside.”15 Trollope's development as a story-teller, then, as he saw it himself, involved two distinct phases. In the first, his mode of narration was romantically subjective: acting as a narrator, he identified fully with his imaginary hero's personal traits and fortunes and narrated his story so that his audience would also identify fully with the hero. In the second phase, which he regarded as healthier, he sought to employ a more objective mode of narration in which a narrator neither identifies with his creatures nor encourages his audience to do so.16

In his letters to both Kate Field and Alfred Austin, Trollope consistently advises these younger writers to use their imaginations to objectify their works rather than depend entirely on their personal sympathies.17 In a letter dated 24 May 1868, Trollope advises Kate Field that “it is always dangerous to write from the point of ‘I.’” He adds: “In telling a tale it is, I think, always well to sink the personal pronoun. The old way, ‘Once upon a time,’ with slight modification is the best way of telling a story.”18

It appears, from the number of times Trollope repeated his advice to Kate Field between 1862 and 1870, that she either failed to grasp his principle or else chose to disregard it. It seems likely that she would have read Trollope's own fiction with his advice in mind and would have written his preaching off as being at odds with his practice: he had categorically refused her the use of the “I,” and yet he himself unblushingly wrote tales employing either first-person participant narrators or chatty, familiar, non-participant narrators who repeatedly used the “I.” This apparent inconsistency on Trollepe's part has been noted by at least one modern scholar who dismisses Trollope's censure of Thackeray's “I” as “the pot calling the kettle black.” In addition, many critics, notably Henry James, have objected on principle to the supposed intrusions into his stories of Trollope's non-participant narrators—whom they usually equate with Trollope himself.19

We have, however, already seen that Trollope was conscious enough of this aesthetic principle to advise others to distance their works from themselves and that he felt he himself had “been able to lay [his] own identity aside.” On the basis of these statements alone, we might be justified in giving him credit for having consciously created what Wayne Booth has called an “implied author”—a “second self” who narrates the stories and exists wholly within them. However, a letter Trollope wrote to Alfred Austin in 1870 gives the most conclusive evidence that Trollope considered his narrative “I” a created voice, distinct from his own:

You will justify the repeated allusion to yourself, as a special person in your satyre [sic], by the example of Horace. But in Horace's days literary men were so few in number that one who had made a name for himself was justified in the use of the “I”—by the absurdity of ignoring it; as with us is a Prime Minister, or a chief Justice, or an Archbishop. And Horace was already Horace when he wrote his satyres. And, moreover, he was goodnatured,—almost I may say a trifler,—in his satyres; and the “Videar nimis acer” is less ambitious than are you when you declare that “To conflict called you abdicate your ease.”

Horace, Trollope is saying, is speaking not as Horace the man but as “Horace the poet,” “Horace the public figure,” ex cathedra rather than in propria persona. Horace is not (to use Wayne Booth's words) “plagued with his undigested personal problems,” not writing a “personal attack … with the personal passion destroying the aesthetic value of the poem.” He is creating, says Trollope, a tactful narrator who does not appear prejudiced or egoistic; he appears “goodnatured,” “almost … a trifler,” and is not ambitious about forcing us to take his view of things. Most important, references to the real world are mediated or distanced by the created “I.”20

Clearly Trollope must have considered his own typical narrative “I” to be a kind of creature, similar to Horace's, who existed inside the world of his stories. This attempt at a distinction goes far beyond his advice to Kate Field. Because he considers self-dramatizing identification one of the artistically undesirable effects of the romantic mode of literature, Trollope uses non-participant narrators as distancing devices, as entities interposed deliberately between his characters and his readers. Thus, while Trollope occasionally experimented with participant narrators in his short works, he seems to have felt the need of a reliable narrator (a “leader of the chorus” as he is called in the last chapter of Framley Parsonage) in his longer works to insure against the gross misreadings he knew were invited by the relatively less reliable participant narrator.21

In the fourteen short stories employing participant narrators, Trollope attempts to distance his narrators from the reader by making them unsatisfying for a reader to identify with. While his narrators frequently represent themselves as being or as having formerly been romantically minded, they are not essentially unusual men: they lack the dashing, glamorous, heroic qualities which would encourage a reader to want to exchange his personality for theirs. Further, the fortunes of these narrators are not enviable. Apparently incapable of any great success, they usually build their stories around one of their failures. Their failures are not, however, of such proportions that a reader would consider them grand or tragic; rather, they are generally trivial and frequently comic. In several stories the reader is additionally discouraged from identifying with the narrator because the narrator appears to be nearly as objective and distant from his tale as Trollope's non-participant narrators are from theirs. In “Relics of General Chassé,” “Mrs. General Talboys,” and “Miss Ophelia Gledd,” for example, the roles assumed by the narrators are relatively minor ones, while in “John Bull on the Guadalquivir” and to a large extent in “Mary Gresley,” the protagonist-narrators are evidently able to regard their previous behavior and motives from a mature perspective. Such narrators as these have the high degree of reliability that we are generally willing to credit, for example, to Joseph Conrad's Marlow.

The unreliability of Trollope's other participant narrators is limited. In most cases, they are highly reliable as far as their knowledge about what has occurred is concerned; their unreliability is usually limited to their tendency to interpret or emphasize certain facts so as to place themselves in a favorable light. The narrator of “The O'Conors of Castle Conor” describes how he once, in a futile attempt to conceal his unfashionableness and foolishness from a girl he had fallen in love with at first sight, somewhat cruelly appropriated the shoes of his host's servant and was knowingly impolite to his host's sister, the girl's aunt. The narrator grants that he was motivated by selfishness, vanity, and cowardice and describes how his folly was revealed to everyone at Castle Conor. He does not, however, blame himself for his misfortunes; rather, he sees himself as the victim of bad luck and of others' folly and spite, and when he repeatedly protests that the girl would have married him had the aunt not interfered, we suspect not only that the girl needed little persuading to see through him, but that the aunt, if she did interfere, did the right thing.22 Similarly, the narrator of “Father Giles of Ballymoy” unconsciously reveals his unreliability. Instead of frankly admitting that he alone was at fault despite mitigating circumstances, he asserts that he was far less to blame for his violent behavior than was the priest whom he threw down a dark stairway. The narrator tells us his story thirty years after it happened, and it is plain to us that he has never appreciated how fortunate he was: he has no awareness of the undeserved generous and indulgent treatment accorded him, and he still complains, “And the worst of it was that I had business to do at Ballymoy which required that I should hold up my head and make much of myself.” These narrators and most of Trollope's unreliable narrators, whether they are striving to justify their weaknesses and their hatred of someone who has bested them, as in “Mrs. Brumby,” or boasting of their little achievements, as in “The Panjandrum,” are not notably worse than most people we know. Although they have their vanities, petty jealousies, fears, prejudices, ignorances, and other flaws, they are neither essentially vicious nor wholly insensitive to others, and, rather than despise them, we tend to regard them with tolerant and somewhat amused understanding.23 Such is the effect of Anthony Trollope's kind of realism.


As sources of romantic sentiments in Anthony Trollope's short stories, The Arabian Nights' Entertainments is alluded to in “An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids,” Hamlet in “The Journey to Panama” and “The Spotted Dog,” The Tempest in “Aaron Trow,” The Mysteries of Udolpho and Don Juan (i.e., “Fill high the bowl with Samian wine”) in “Mrs. General Talboys,” The Corsair in “Josephine de Montmorenci,” Old Mortality in “The Spotted Dog,” Waverley in “The House of Heine Brothers, in Munich,” various unspecified “passages from Shakespeare, Byron, and Longfellow” in “The Courtship of Susan Bell,” Milton in “The Adventures of Fred Pickering,” and, in his story “The Panjandrum,” The Sorrows of Young Werther, Sartor Resartus, “a play of Schiller's,” “The Ballard of Lord Bateman,” and Charlotte Corday. Scott's The Antiquary is alluded to in “The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne,” but not as a source of romantic sentiment.

The list of sources is expanded by consulting twelve of Trollope's novels. Relevant allusions to The Aeneid, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra are in Barchester Towers, chap. xxvii; to Cymbeline in Barchester Towers, chap. xxvii, and The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. xxxviii; to Love's Labour's Lost in Barchester Towers, chap. xxxvii, and The Small House at Allington, chap. ii; to A Midsummer Night's Dream in Doctor Thorne, chap. vi; to As You Like It in Doctor Thorne, chap. vi, The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. lxxvii, and The Vicar of Bullhampton, chap. viii; to Twelfth Night in Framley Parsonage, chaps. xxi and xxvi; to The Faerie Queene in The Eustace Diamonds, chap. xxii; to Paul and Virginia in The Small House at Allington, chap. xliv; to Lalla Rookh in Doctor Thorne, chap. iv, and The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. xl; to Roderick, the Last of the Goths in Barchester Towers, chap. xi; to The Lay of the Last Minstrel in Barchester Towers, chap. xxii; to Ivanhoe in Barchester Towers, chap. xxii, and The Eustace Diamonds, chap. xxxv; to Kenilworth in The Three Clerks, chap. xliv, and The Eustace Diamonds, chap. xxxv; to Queen Mab in The Eustace Diamonds, chaps. xxi and xxii; to Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in The Eustace Diamonds, chap. liii; to The Two Foscari in The Three Clerks, chap. xxxviii (apparently quoted from memory: the narrator omits a line and erroneously states that Marina was speaking the lines to her husband); to “The Prisoner of Chillon” in The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. li; to the Juan and Haidée story in Barchester Towers, chap. xxvii, The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. lx, Can You Forgive Her? chap. xxix, and The Eustace Diamonds, chap. lxxix; to “Excelsior” in The Three Clerks passim, and The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. lxx; and to Idylls of the King in The Eustace Diamonds, chaps. xix and lxv. General allusions to Byron occur in The Three Clerks, chap. xxxv, Rachel Ray, chap. iv, and The Small House at Allington, chap. xiv; to Byron and Moore in The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. xxxii; and to Mrs. Radcliffe in Doctor Thorne, chap. xlvi.

Besides occurring in the short stories, allusions to Hamlet are in Barchester Towers, chap. xxvii, Doctor Thorne, chap. xxix, and The Last Chronicle of Barset, chaps. ix and xii; to Waverley in The Vicar of Bullhampton, chap. viii; to Old Mortality in Doctor Thorne, chap. xii, and The Eustace Diamonds, chap. xxxv; to The Sorrows of Young Werther in Barchester Towers, chap xxxiv; to The Mysteries of Udolpho in The Warden, chap. xv, Barchester Towers, chap. xv, and Framley Parsonage, chap. xxvii; to The Corsair in The Three Clerks, chap. xlvi, The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. xl, and The Eustace Diamonds, chaps. v, xxvi, and passim; and to “The Ballad of Lord Bateman” in Doctor Thorne, chap. xxxi, and The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. iv.

Romanticized women include Iphigenia in The Warden, chap. xi; Jael in The Last Chronicle of Barset, chaps. xxiv, xxvi, and passim; Judith in The Small House at Allington, chap. xxix, and The Last Chronicle of Barset, chaps. xxiv and xxvi; Lucretia Borgia in The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. xxvi; and Brinvilliers in The Eustace Diamonds, chap. xxxvi. Charlotte Corday recurs in The Last Chronicle of Barset, chap. xxvi. Concerning men, in The Last Chronicle of Barset, Leander is romanticized in chap. lxxx, Jacob in chaps. xv and lxxx, and Samson and Belisarius (and Milton) in chap. lxii. Danton is romanticized in The Warden, chap. ii.

It should be kept in mind that numerous allusions occur which have no relation to romantic sentiments (e.g., to Henry IV, Part Two, in Barchester Towers, chap. xxv). Interestingly, no relevant allusions seem to exist in The Golden Lion of Granpère, the twelfth novel scanned for this study.


  1. A recent, far too rigid attempt to do so from Trollope's Autobiography is Walter M. Kendrick's The Novel-Machine: The Theory and Fiction of Anthony Trollope (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).

  2. See, for example, M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1957), p. 76; Richard Stang, The Theory of the Novel in England: 1850-1870 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), p. 145; Eugene Current-García and Walton R. Patrick, Realism and Romanticism in Fiction (Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1962), pp. 7 and 19; Trollope, “The Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne,” North American Review, 129 (1879), 203-222.

  3. “The Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne,” pp. 203-205.

  4. See the Appendix to this essay. The parenthetic numerals indicate how many works by Trollope these sources recurred in.

  5. Contrast the remarks on Mrs. Radcliffe in The Warden, chap. xv, and Barchester Towers, chap. xv, with those on Byron in Rachel Ray, chap. iv, and The Small House at Allington, chap. xiv.

  6. “The Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne,” p. 204.

  7. See Trollope's “On English Prose Fiction as a Rational Amusement” (1870), in Four Lectures, ed. Morris L. Parrish (London: Constable, 1938), p. 117, and his Thackeray (New York: Harper, [1879]), p. 186.

  8. See Thackeray, pp. 185 and 187, and Barchester Towers, chap. xv.

  9. E.g., compare the relative amounts of concern aroused for Lucy Toogood, Mrs. Dobbs Broughton, Madalina Desmolines, and John Eames in The Last Chronicle of Barset. A good recent study of the Byron-Trollope connection is Donald D. Stone's “Trollope, Byron, and the Conventionalities,” Harvard English Studies, 6 (1976), 179-203.

  10. See The Small House at Allington, chaps. vi and xiv, “The Panjandrum,” Part I (in An Editor's Tales), and Trollope's Autobiography, ed. Frederick Page (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), p. 43.

  11. As with Byron's Lara, once the woman's sex is revealed to us, we are obliged to reconsider the whole previous relationship of the two main characters and to compare its present reality with its earlier appearance. Such a review of Trollope's story, unlike Lara, yields a series of comically ironic situations which dissipate the glamor of the young woman's disguise and reveal her essentially conventional attitudes. Cf. Stone, p. 186, who briefly notes the similar element in these works by Byron and Trollope.

  12. See my “Trollope and Romanticism,” Victorian Newsletter, No. 52 (1977), 1-5, which provides examples of Trollope's ways of deromanticizing subject matter in his novels. Chaps. iv and v of my “Realistic Responses to Romantic Literary Conventions in Trollope's Short Fiction,” Dissertation University of Kansas, 1971, provide examples from his short stories.

  13. See “On English Prose Fiction as a Rational Amusement,” p. 104, and his Autobiography, pp. 9, 11, 41, 53, and 60.

  14. Autobiography, pp. 42-43; cf. Havelock Ellis on “Erotic Day-Dreaming,” Psychology of Sex: A Manual for Students (New York: New American Library, 1954), pp. 85-87.

  15. Autobiography, p. 43; cf. Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 84, n. 24.

  16. Contrast Kendrick, The Novel-Machine, pp. 9-16 and 106.

  17. See The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. Bradford A. Booth (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), pp. 104, 266-267, and 375.

  18. Letters, pp. 216-217. See Miriam Allott's Novelists on the Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), pp. 286-287, for a discussion which mistakenly relates Trollope's remarks to first-person “memoir” narration.

  19. See Trollope's Thackeray, pp. 197-198, and Bradford Booth's Anthony Trollope: Aspects of His Life and Art (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958), p. 178. For James's remarks, see Trollope: The Critical Heritage, ed. Donald Smalley (London: Routledge, and New York: Barnes and Noble, 1969), pp. 535-536. For a reply to James, see The Rhetoric of Fiction, pp. 205-206.

  20. See The Rhetoric of Fiction, pp. 70-71; Letters, p. 267.

  21. See, for example, Trollope's objections to Thackeray's Barry Lyndon in Thackeray, pp. 69-71; see also The Rhetoric of Fiction, p. 323.

  22. Ironically, Trollope himself is occasionally regarded as an unreliable narrator in his Autobiography. See, for example, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., s.v. “Trollope, Anthony”: “He puts down his own misfortunes [in childhood and youth] … to his father's pecuniary circumstances. … But it is permissible to suspect that this was not quite the truth, and that some peculiarities of temper, of which in after life he had many, contributed to his unpopularity.”

  23. One exception, perhaps, is the narrator of “George Walker at Suez”: he is snobbish, full of petty jealousy, and evidently tries to tyrannize his employees when he is home in Manchester. A story which is atypical in another way is “The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box”: the narrator is as blind to what has really happened as the barber-narrator is in Ring Lardner's “Haircut”; the narrator's wife is clearly a better judge of character than he is, and the reader is encouraged to reinterpret the events of the story from her point of view.

Michael Riffaterre (essay date 1982)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8382

SOURCE: “Trollope's Metonymies,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 37, No. 3, December, 1982, pp. 272-92.

[In the following essay, Riffaterre examines Trollope's use of metonymy, demonstrating that metonymies in Trollope's novels are primarily comic devices used for descriptive purposes. This dual function, Riffaterre states, is typical of the type of contradiction that is one of the hallmarks of Trollope's style.]

After a century of criticism, much remains to be said about Trollope's technique. His approach to traditional or perhaps obsolescent concepts of the novel and his morality have been much studied. But relatively little is known of his writing practice other than what he himself revealed in his Autobiography. Indeed there exists no thorough, detailed analysis of the formal and semantic structures of his narrative and descriptive style. As a step in that direction I propose to examine Trollope's use of the descriptive detail in sketching his characters. The function of the detail is complex. It is not merely to add precision or color to the description. It is not merely to help the reader visualize the object depicted. Nor is it solely to make us marvel at some clever observation and at the author's keen way of noticing something that would have eluded most of us. Granted, the detail does all this. But its true function is to induce a semantic displacement. It refers to and ultimately symbolizes something other than its “natural” referent.1 I shall focus on those details that are used to represent a whole of which they are only a part—in other words on metonymies.

I shall not try to distinguish between metonymy and those figures that rhetorical tradition considers to be related to it, such as synecdoche, antonomasia and metalepsis. Traditional definitions in fact do little more than list different possibilities (pars pro toto, or the reverse; the cause for the effect, or the effect for the cause; the use of a proper name, which would designate a specific member of a class, to refer to any member of that class; etc.) and give them various labels. But in order to explain the phenomenon, a unifying principle is needed: one word is used for another with which, in usage, it already has a relation of contiguity.2 Metonymies are used differently according to genres. In the novel the trend has been to dissolve or disperse the image of a character into surrounding objects or to suggest a state of mind or the significance of a dramatic situation through physical details that invite certain deductions or inferences on the part of the reader.

In the specific case of portraits, the metonymic detail does not summarize the whole person so much as it does an ensemble of psychological or behavioral traits about which society3 and therefore the reader, more often than not, hold definite opinions. The reader will therefore react to those traits in accordance with social custom or his individual wont, and, as a consequence, empathize with the character who now embodies these traits. I shall concern myself with only one class of metonymies—those which cause the reader to infer all sorts of moral judgments about a character from his behavior or some minor feature of physical or sartorial appearance.

My field of inquiry may seem narrow, but Trollope so clearly favors this type of metonymy that its study is likely to identify factors truly typical of his style as a whole. To be sure, such devices are commonplace in Victorian novels. Yet further examination discloses traits that are uniquely Trollopian.

First, his metonymies are essentially comic devices. The apparently disproportionate attention Trollope lavishes on Mr. Rubb's gloves (Miss Mackenzie), or on Tom Tringle's “ornamental gilding” (Ayala's Angel), or on a hairdo never fails to produce a humorous effect. These comic devices, however, do not necessarily cease to be components of realism. Second, Trollope's metonymies generate textual amplifications turning sly humor into broad comedy. Third, this dual function, comic and descriptive, is the nub of a contradiction that is one of the earmarks of Trollope's manner. The descriptive function creates verisimilitude. The comic function tends to cancel it, for it literally points to the author's intrusion, suggesting that the novel does not so much represent reality as make use of it to a specific end. We can hardly avoid seeing the comic as a manipulation. In metonymy, therefore, the mimesis of reality coexists with a display of artifice. I hope to show that although artifice would seem to pose a threat to verisimilitude, the two nevertheless coexist comfortably. Indeed, the comic distortion or reduction remains harmless; it does not detract from the truth of a portrayal, for we come to recognize and accept it for what it is: a game, but not a gratuitous one, in other words, a factor of literariness.4

The humorous or comical effect of metonymy is entirely caused by the trope's ability to lower its object by several degrees on the scale of values assigned that object in its normal, usage-regulated representation. If the portrait of a human being, for instance, substitutes a thing or a physical detail for a moral quality or psychological trait, this displacement is unfailingly perceived as reductionist. This very thing or physical detail may very well function as a symbol of the moral or of the psychological without being reductive so long as the text makes the relationship explicit and places the moral content and its material sign side by side. Again, there will be no caricature if the relationship is customary and so established in usage that convention makes up for the implicitation of the moral content. Metonymy, on the other hand, need not be conventional. If it is not, content implicitation emphasizes the explicit physical detail—the way a throne loses its majesty if it is not named a throne but is described as a gilded chair. In The Small House at Allington Trollope portrays the vanity of a minor railroad functionary thus:

a stern official who seemed to carry the weight of many engines on his brow; one at the very sight of whom smokers would drop their cigars, and porters close their fists against sixpences; a great man with an erect chin, a quick step, and a well-brushed hat powerful with an elaborately upturned brim. This was the platform-superintendent, dominant even over the policemen.5

Even though “powerful” applies literally to the headgear's bold design, we cannot help feeling that the adjective acquires its strength from the hat wearer himself, and that, as a consequence, the hat metonymically stands for the superintendent. He himself is seen a few lines further “keeping on his hat, for he was aware how much of the excellence of his personal dignity was owing to the arrangement of that article.” But in this sentence, of course, since it is explanatory and makes explicit the rationale for wearing such a hat, “that article” has ceased to be a metonym and has become a symbol.

Metonymic reductionism need not apply directly to man. It works just as well when it affects the established values of any kind of symbol. So it is with the following sketch of a man about to jilt his fiancée and pledge his troth to a socially more prominent bride. The cad is lying in a canopied bed as he meditates his deed:

he repented his engagement with Lilian Dale, but he still was resolved that he would fulfil it. He was bound in honour to marry “that little girl,” and he looked sternly up at the drapery over his head, as he assured himself that he was a man of honour. Yes; he would sacrifice himself.

(The Small House at Allington, ch. 18, p. 165; emphasis added)

Supine as he is, he perhaps cannot help but gaze upwards. But this is not reality. The mimesis specifies “sternly,” an adverb that activates the symbolism of his bold eyes: they bespeak unwavering steadfastness and firm purpose. “Upwards,” however, or “uplifted” alone would do to describe a stern gaze. The metonymic substitution of the real and decidedly down-to-earth curtain ironically undercuts the connotations of firmness and announces vacillation and betrayal.

This vis comica of metonymy does not weaken when the metonym blossoms into a metaphor. Rather it increases. Witness the following passage in Rachel Ray, in which a nephew is described as the heir to a tradition begun by his uncle, on the model of a commonplace double metonymy—a chip off the old block. The commonplace is humorous as is; Trollope's rephrasing is even more so, since it substitutes for chip and block the names of wooden objects typical of the uncle's trade. He is a brewer.

Who had taught him to brew beer—bad or good? Had it not been Bungall? And now, because in his old age he would not change these things, and ruin himself in a vain attempt to make some beverage that should look bright to the eye, he was to be turned out of his place by this chip from the Bungall block, this stave out of one of Bungall's vats! “Ruat coelum, fiat justitia,” he said, as he walked forth to his own breakfast. He spoke to himself in other language, indeed, though the Roman's sentiment was his own. “I'll stand on my rights, though I have to go into the poor-house.”6

Substitution particularizes and emphasizes the fact that there is no similarity in reality between a father or uncle and a block, and between a son or nephew and a chip. The whole trope rests on an abstract analogy; the commonplace image does no more than suggest a make-believe similarity; the nephew is to the uncle what the chip is to the block. Without the buffer of the commonplace, the same abstract relationship, now actualized with “stave” and “vat,” will appear even more remote from the human, the reductionist strategy, more artificial, and its effect, decidedly funny. As if this were not enough, another make-believe textual strategy seems to attribute the learned quotation to a tradesman who presumably had little Latin. This new contrast sets “vat” and “stave” in relief, closing the frame, as it were, and emphasizing the playful artificiality.

The second characteristic of Trollope's metonymies is their ability to generate texts. The transformation of a word into a text (that is, a multi-sentence semiotic unit ending on closure)7 can be described as a simultaneous process of conversion and expansion.8 Expansion consists in making explicit one or more semes, or semantic features, of the matrix word in the form of periphrastic sentences. Expansion does not in itself give formal unity to the text. It does no more than record a mental process, equating an undeveloped implicit signification (usually no more than a word) with its explicit development (always a set of sentences). The equivalency, however, would remain unperceived in most cases. It would be lost in the thicket of descriptive details, which might be mistaken for a description or a narrative in its own right. Its complex syntactic structure would not immediately be recognized as a mere variant of the matrix word. The equivalency becomes inescapable through conversion. Conversion creates the equivalency by modifying every constituent of the expansion-generated text with the same factor. The working of conversion is especially evident in the following passage in Miss Mackenzie. The whole paragraph is the complex syntactic equivalent of two family names. As patronyms, these names designate two attorneys, both fairly typical, familiar characters in the nineteenth-century novel. Both names also function as the first actualization of the text's matrix, for both are emblematic of the slow pace of justice—again a familiar theme, but one that lends itself to many representations:

Mr. Slow was a grey-haired old man. … He was a stout, thickset man, very leisurely in all his motions, who walked slowly, talked slowly, read slowly, wrote slowly, and thought slowly; but who, nevertheless, had the reputation of doing a great deal of business, and doing it very well. He had a partner in the business, almost as old as himself, named Bideawhile; and they who knew them both used to speculate which of the two was the most leisurely. It was, however, generally felt, that, though Mr. Slow was the slowest in his speech, Mr. Bideawhile was the longest in getting anything said.9

At first, one might think that a mere repetition of “slow” or its synonyms is comical and that this comical portrayal progresses, like all depictions, from detail to detail. In fact, there is no more real progression than there is any difference between the two partners. Their two portraits are but a variation on the first phrase, which develops the implications of Mr. Slow's name: “very leisurely in all his motions.” The variation consists in repeating procrastination, an essential seme of the word “attorney.” That there is no progression becomes evident when the first attorney, the only one who actually plays a part in the novel, is suddenly divided into two. Aside from the fact that law partners come in pairs (at least), there is not a shadow of a narrative motivation for Mr. Bideawhile's presence, unless one recognizes in this scissiparity a “legal” variant of the stereotype “six of one and half a dozen of the other.” Had Trollope chosen the oxymoron rather than the tautology as his motivating trope, we would have had an attorney Swift and his partner Quick. Be that as it may, both synonymous names and the description of their bearers make the characters metonyms of human justice, or rather of its literary representation that progresses pede claudo. The significance of this double portrait—the irony of Themis's “deliberate speed”—could make a whole novel the equivalent of this vignette: from a transformational viewpoint there is no difference between an expansion from “Slow” into two patronyms and an expansion from the pithy Trollope portrayal into a protracted narrative like Bleak House.

Derivations similar to the one I have just discussed are the factors that guide the reader's interpretation of a novel. They are longer and more complex but are always generated by metonymies. Because they reflect the long fictional narrative in miniaturized form, as it were, they make it easier for the reader to identify the significance and perceive the unity of the novel. They are fragments of the larger text, immersed in it and mirroring the whole. I shall therefore call them subtexts.

A subtext must actualize the same matrix as the whole narrative, or a matrix structurally connected with that of the encircling text. These subtexts operate as units of reading, so to speak, not unlike themes or motifs, except that a theme or motif has a matrix of its own, born elsewhere and existing before that of the larger text, so that theme or motif functions like a quotation, or borrowing, or, rather, like an embedding in the syntax of the narrative. The subtext obtrudes on the reader as a segment that could stand alone and be remembered as a passage representing the whole and representing the author, as an episode may be remembered; only an episode is a link in a chain of events, while a subtext is no such thing, since it can be omitted without unraveling the fabric or obscuring the logic of the narrative. The subtext works like those units of reading or fragments or vectors in a reading sequence that Roland Barthes called lexies,10 except that Barthes's lexies depend upon the individual's choice, upon his ideological grids. The subtext, by contrast, is objectively defined and resists subjective, reader-initiated segmentation. The subtext itself, and its limits—in particular the connection between closure and incipit—are identified when the reader becomes retroactively aware that one textual component is echoing another component, formerly read and now remembered. The component from out of the past, thus recollected or reread with the eye of memory, takes on features not noticed during the first or primary reading, for they are noteworthy only because they are the first step or rung in a repetitive series. For the same logical reason that a rhyme is perceived only when the eye or ear has reached the second rhyming word, a narrative prolepsis11 is perceivable only after the fact. It carries nothing in itself pointing to its proleptic function until the narrative sequence arrives at the consequences of the premises posited in the prolepsis. For the subtext to be noticed, then, there must be homologues within the narrative from which flow recognizable, well-marked derivations constituting the formal and semantic constants any literary text must be able to show. When the reader does finally stumble upon one or more of such homologues, but a homologue whose shape and meaning indicate that the series is coming to an end—for instance, when this latest homologue reverses the order of components in the initial one—then the subtext closes.

Subtexts, however well defined by closure, are hardly ever solid, uninterrupted verbal sequences. They usually overlap other subtexts, or are simply disseminated throughout the novel.

Subtexts derived from metonymies are thus not foreign bodies inserted into the fictional text but playful variants of that text, concentrating the realistic features dispersed throughout the narrative continuity. These features form a network of signs on which the mimesis of a way of life is built. Whenever Mr. Neefit, the breeches-maker, appears in Ralph the Heir, allusions are made to his trade and words quoted from the language of that trade. Soon, entire chapters become saturated by these references to the tailor's art. Nothing could be easier, since the tradesman intends to make a lady of his daughter by forcing the aristocratic protagonist to marry her: Ralph's inordinate fondness for riding habits has made him Mr. Neefit's debtor. Not only the characters' language but their whole life becomes inseparable from breeches-making. This specialized language is no longer limited to the depiction of a milieu; it becomes a code for any representation. Similarly, everything and everybody coming in contact with Sir Thomas, the former Solicitor-General, becomes tinged with his dryness. Like old Casaubon in Middlemarch, he pursues an impossible dream of scholarship in his chambers. A dust code seems to permeate the contexts in which he figures.

We may say that linguistic forms, especially lexical ones, are used as a code when they do not designate their habitual object, the referent they seem to have in common usage, or when their normal reference now plays only a secondary role: this is the case when words suggest an atmosphere rather than represent a specific scene or setting.12 More specifically, a fragment of discourse, or a lexical set, becomes a code when its connotations displace its denotation. When this occurs, the descriptive or narrative discourse appears less motivated in context, more loosely connected with the sequence of events, and less justified by the exigencies of the mimesis. The most obvious instance of such a displacement of meaning is the symbolic or metaphorical use of discourse. But the displacement is just as real when there is a shift from the denotative to the connotative rather than from the literal to the figurative. An apparently descriptive sentence may thus be no more than a grammatical frame, the sole purpose of which is to provide space for a sequence of connotation-laden words. For instance:

They all walked home gloomily to their dinner, and ate their cold mutton and potatoes in sorrow and sadness.

(Rachel Ray, ch. 4, p. 53)

It is clear that the epithet in “cold mutton” is culinary at the level of denotation, but pathetic at the level of connotation. Similarly, “mutton” and “potatoes” denote a menu and connote inglorious mediocrity. Thus, the seemingly descriptive sentence merely prolongs the pejorative paradigm of “gloomily,” “sorrow,” and “sadness.”

Rachel Ray is a novel characterized by a food code. The central conflict between a brewer and his young business partner is naturally enough linked to a controversy over the quality of beer and the respective merits of cider and beer. Before long, the whole novel turns into a mock epic of beer. The election subplot is also couched in a food code, since no electioneering can take place without many banquets and much potation. Likewise, family life revolves around menus, party preparations, and the taming of husbands with clotted cream (ch. 14, p. 175)—clearly a reduction this, since literary strategies of seduction are usually sexual. Everything, including spiritual matters or less worldly concerns, is translated into terms of eating and drinking. Witness this stab at a minister's hypocrisy:

[Mr. Prong's] teapot was still upon the table, together with the debris of a large dish of shrimps, the eating of small shell-fish being an innocent enjoyment to which he was much addicted.

(ch. 9, p. 112)

While the food code gives the whole novel the atmosphere of the earthly living and of robust healthy appetites that one associates with English country life and the denizens of rural counties, the subtexts color the whole tableau with its humorous tinge, and at times, its ironic overtones. One such subtext is a series of “tea” episodes—tea both in the British sense of an afternoon meal with tea, and tea as the accompaniment to a social call. We cannot suppose that the series merely reflects the routine of Devonshire afternoons. While the routine in the reality of everyday existence may remain as inconspicuous a regulator of life as a clock's chime, its literary depiction must be visibly symbolic and connotative. For repetitiveness in a text cannot remain inconspicuous and must represent, as a sign in its own right: as “tea” represents food and custom, its recurrence represents comforting continuity or the rut of boredom. In Rachel Ray it links together the main plot, with its central drama and love interests, and the consequent tribulations of Mrs. Ray, the heroine's mother. It does so in a mildly comical way, for tea taking and tea pouring come to stand for Mrs. Ray herself and her moral outlook. Tea as a pleasurable occasion in her uneventful life metonymically becomes equivalent to her very relative moral weakness (she is sweet-tempered, good-humored, and enjoys life) and to her dilemmas as a devout and timid Christian (“she would have taught herself to believe this world to be a pleasant place, were it not so often preached into her ears that it is a vale of tribulation”; ch. 1, p. 7). Because this equation of a moral outlook and tea cannot fail to amuse, the subtext provides an ironical commentary, a tale bordering on tragedy and a comic counterpoint to the sorrows of the protagonist.

The subtext unfolds at regular intervals from the very beginning of the novel to its last pages. It appears when we are introduced to the small pleasures of Mrs. Ray, a lady in reduced circumstances:

She could gossip over a cup of tea, and enjoy buttered toast and hot cake very thoroughly, if only there was no one near her to whisper into her ear that any such enjoyment was wicked. … When the clergyman in his sermon told her that she should live simply and altogether for heaven … and that nothing belonging to this world could be other than painful … she … would bethink herself how utterly she was a castaway, because of that tea, and cake, and innocent tittle tattle with which the hours of her Saturday evening had been beguiled.

(ch. 1, p. 7)

Her enjoying tea may still appear to be only an example of sin, but the very next page completes the metonymic substitution, by the same stroke of pen that shows a discrepancy between the parson's own conduct and his doctrine:

Twice or thrice a year Mrs. Ray would go to the parsonage, and such evenings would be by no means hours of wailing. Tea and buttered toast on such occasions would be very manifestly in the ascendant.

(ch. 1, p. 8)

Grammar gives “tea” the initiative, as it were, or an independence that makes it a synecdoche of creature comforts and therefore a metonym of worldly pleasures—the token for the class. In later passages, tea will therefore symbolize Mrs. Ray's weakness as she vacillates between encouraging her daughter's love for a worthy young man and yielding to her minister's strictures. Conversely, tea will represent puritanical contrariness:

There was no hot toast, and no clotted cream. … In truth, such delicacies did not suit Mrs. Prime. … She liked the tea to be stringy and bitter, and she liked the bread to be stale. … She was approaching that stage of discipline at which ashes become pleasant eating, and sackcloth is grateful to the skin.

(ch. 5, pp. 65-66)

As metonymy begets more details, the descriptive grammar allows for reversals of the symbolism: all that is needed is for the verbs to be modified with negations and for the adjectives to turn pejorative. The very continuity of this practice emphasizes its artifice and therefore its comical nature. Hence the development of a discreetly farcical sequence, in which Rachel Ray's growing unhappiness at being kept apart from her beloved is expressed through her preparing increasingly austere and spare teas for her mother.

The metonymic subtext is now so well established as a grammatical frame representing Mrs. Ray's mental constitution that the scene in which she learns to appreciate her daughter's worthy suitor appears in a chapter titled “Luke Rowan Takes His Tea Quite like a Steady Young Man.” Significantly, as metonymy evolves towards symbolism and may lose its reductionist tendencies, subsidiary metonyms spring up, maintaining the comic discrepancy between man and thing: the wearing away of Mrs. Ray's reservations about the young man and his progress in her esteem are marked by the jerky motions of the “tea-caddy” in her hands (ch. 11, pp. 142-43).

As the novel comes to a close, so does the subtext. When her daughter goes away to her husband, Mrs. Ray experiences the sadness of a parent left behind, but not directly in terms of loneliness: “those little evening festivities of buttered toast and thick cream were over for her now” (ch. 29, p. 382).

The subtext's recurrence acts as a catalyzer of the metonymy's comic potential. A mere hint of whimsy at the beginning becomes outrageously funny by dint of repetition. Outrageously so since the realistic facet of metonymy tends to become less convincing as reduction becomes more ludicrous. Verisimilitude and farce are hardly compatible. Trollope nonetheless is easily carried away, perhaps less by the lure of comedy (although what we know of him suggests that the man's sense of humor, if not the author's, tended to uproarious slapstick) than by the accelerating momentum of phrases building into periphrases, and of these into hilarious playlets. This accelerating tempo is almost a verbal automatism, deeply ingrained in techniques of composition, namely rhetorical amplificatio, that have been basic school training ever since antiquity and part of our Latin heritage in the humanities. To be sure, at any point Trollope could have checked this momentum, but the fact is that he did not. Far from it, subtexts increase in scope from the rapid notation of a potentially funny detail to comedy to elaborate mock epic. As subtext grows larger and more complex, the reader is less able to hold back. Even if he were to resist the comedy (but he does not), the subtext would still orient his interpretation and its irony would continue to serve as a hermeneutic guideline.

Such a development can be seen in Miss Mackenzie with the “squint” subtext. The most obsessive and most mercenary of the heroine's suitors is a Reverend Maguire, a preacher whose physical charms and spellbinding eloquence she would be unable to resist were it not for his eye:

Mr. Maguire she did notice, and found him to be the possessor of a good figure, of a fine head of jet black hair, of a perfect set of white teeth, of whiskers which were also black and very fine, but streaked here and there with a grey hair,—and of the most terrible squint in his right eye which ever disfigured a face that in all other respects was fitted for an Apollo.

(ch. 4, p. 45).

He is by no means the only fictional character whose inner flaws are comically externalized by an inability to look you in the eye. A certain Miss Pucker's pharisaic mentality, in Rachel Ray, is suggested by a squint to which the novel briefly alludes. In Harry Heathcote of Gangoil suspicions are aroused against a foreman turned arsonist by this concession to the emblematic obviousness of moralistic literature. The motif does little for the narrative—the detail generating no more than reactions of watchfulness and hostility among the other characters. The cross-eyed arsonist is simply a sign of evil, like the one-eyed Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby. In Miss Mackenzie, however, the subtext is fully integrated in the sequence of events and functions as a figurative gloss on the narrative. The eclipses and reappearances of that fearful strabismus add suspense to the seduction scenes. The reader alternately trembles for the heroine and hopes for her salvation depending on whether the Reverend is able to enthrall her when she can see only his good profile or whether she is trapped in a position where she finds it “impossible to avert her eyes from his eye” (ch. 4, p. 46).

It is significant that when Trollope is at his artistic best we should find him working with metonymy. I am well aware of my perils here and how facile this subjective impressionism must seem. I can at least shore up my value judgments by invoking a consensus. Most critics, for instance, would agree that unity in a work of art, manifesting itself both in form and content, is a criterion of esthetic excellence. Such, at any rate, is the view shared by the interpretive community13 in Trollope's time, and it still is a perception of a majority of academic Trollopians. How significant then to find this unity most successfully achieved in those metonymic subtexts that mesh the descriptive and the diegetic portrayal and narration. And to find unity again in the way metonymy turns into symbol, smoothly combining a light, incidental satire of mores and penetrating psychological analysis, for the metonymic derision has become the viewpoint of the characters themselves—it is the way they see themselves and others. Such is the case in the “chignon” subtext, one of the principal props of the narrative in He Knew He Was Right, and a hermeneutic model that dictates the reader's interpretation of the novel's main subplot.

The central plot spins out the tragic tale of a marriage destroyed by a sincere, honest, but prideful wife whose unbending spirit drives her husband literally to madness. The subplot contrasts this with the happily ending story of a wedding won by sincere, honest, but meek Dorothy whose modesty conquers the hearts of both her lover and her wealthy and cantankerous spinster aunt, old Miss Stanbury. The subplot also brings comic relief to the high drama of the plot. Comedy stems from a subplot within the subplot: Dorothy's modesty, freshness, and guileless good nature are contrasted to the cunning affectations of two sisters past their prime, who have learned the hard way “that of all worldly goods a husband is the best” (ch. 50, p. 467), “the two Miss Frenches from Heavitree, who had the reputation of hunting unmarried clergymen in couples” (ch. 15, p. 141). They vie with each other in trying to catch Mr. Gibson, a minor canon of the cathedral, who in turn is trying to catch Dorothy's dowry. When Dorothy turns him down, Camilla French manages to net him. This is where the derivation from a metonymy transforms the stagy farce—the clergyman's shuttlecock to the Miss Frenches' battledores—into high comedy with psychological truth. The purely mechanical accidents of a circular chase give way to the language of symbolism and emotions.

Dorothy's natural freshness and artlessness are symbolized by her “soft hair which [her aunt] loved so well,—because it was a grace given by God and not bought out of a shop” (ch. 73, p. 684). Her opposite's crafty snares have a chignon for their emblem, a postiche purchased by Arabella French in an attempt to repair the injuries of Time and to remain fashionable. Note that the thing is more than just a grotesque detail: it does give its bearer some claim to the reader's sympathy. The anxieties and yearnings it betrays in her are actually moving:

It was natural enough that he shouldn't want her. She knew herself to be a poor, thin, vapid, tawdry creature, with nothing to recommend her to any man except a sort of second-rate, provincial-town fashion which,—infatuated as she was,—she attributed in a great degree to the thing she carried on her head. She knew nothing. She could do nothing. She possessed nothing. She was not angry with him because he so evidently wished to avoid her. But she thought that if she could only be successful she would be good and loving and obedient,—and that it was fair for her at any rate to try.

(ch. 47, p. 446)

The subtext opens with Miss Stanbury bitterly railing at this headdress, for her religion finds such secular adornments iniquitous. Comedy shifts into high gear when Mr. Gibson in his anxiety to escape Arabella focuses on the ghastly thing that was meant to be his bait. As the threat of matrimony comes closer, the chignon takes on epic proportions. As the victim has to face the thought of connubial intimacies, the chignon nightmarishly replaces and embodies the bride. We come as close to lifting the veil on nuptial mysteries as Victorian prudishness would allow:

And as he regarded it in a nearer and dearer light,—as a chignon that might possibly become his own, as a burden which in one sense he might himself be called upon to bear, as a domestic utensil of which he himself might be called upon to inspect, and, perhaps, to aid the shifting on and the shifting off, he did begin to think that that side of the Scylla gulf ought to be avoided if possible.

(ch. 47, p. 440; emphasis added)14

Verbal fireworks now signal the rise of paranoia in the poor clergyman as he feels the trap shutting on him. Significantly, Trollope had just abandoned all stylistic restraints and used the fish and bait metaphor literally, daring to say things such as “landing the scaly darling” caught in the “bucket of matrimony”15 “out of the fresh and free waters of his bachelor stream.” Poor Gibson hallucinates seeing the chignon as a “shapeless excrescence,” as “that distorted monster,” growing “bigger and bigger, more shapeless, monstrous, absurd, and abominable, as he looked at it” (ch. 47, p. 443). Such are the dynamics of this accelerating verbal derivation that the writer's taste and sense of balance seem to desert him, and that the text explodes into fantastic literary allusions: English no longer suffices, Vergil is called into play, and the chignon looms above Gibson as Polyphemus over Ulysses:

he thought that he never in his life had seen anything so unshapely as that huge wen at the back of her head. “Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens!” He could not help quoting the words to himself.

(ch. 47, p. 441)

By now the reader is carried along irresistibly and finds it natural for the metonymy to have become the hallucination of an evil presence: “Poor young woman,—perishing beneath an incubus which a false idea of fashion had imposed on her!” (ch. 47, p. 445).16 That we accept this can be explained by the sheer rhetorical impact of accumulation, but also by our sense that Trollope, in pulling out all the stops, is indulging simultaneously in verbal giddiness and in a very conscious parody of it. Above all, our acceptance is guaranteed by truth in portrayal: the exaggerated style escapes being ridiculous since it no longer seems the writer's sin but rather a reflection of the character's attitudes. Trollope simply records Mr. Gibson's idée fixe. Better still, his panic, the obsessiveness of the metaphors, and their very hysteria are the ultimate but thoroughly logical and justified consequence of verisimilitude much earlier in the novel. These derivations, which have by now invaded the narrative and contaminated all the involved characters, and the very metonymy that triggers them are motivated almost four hundred pages earlier by old Miss Stanbury's principles of Christian living. As she prepares to do her duty by a poor relative and take her under her roof as her adopted daughter, she is afraid Dorothy may have been spoiled by worldly fashions:

[She] was intensely anxious as to the first appearance of her niece. Of course there would be a little morsel of a bonnet. She hated those vile patches,—dirty flat daubs of millinery as she called them; but they had become too general for her to refuse admittance for such a thing within her doors. But a chignon,—a bandbox behind the noddle,—she would not endure.

(ch. 8, p. 74)

Dorothy is unspoiled, but a rule of derivative grammar has been formulated that will also apply to any description of the people Miss Stanbury encounters later on. In this way a subtext shapes up, one that will help to overdetermine the unfolding of the novel.

The esthetic and mimetic anomalies of the metonymic derivation tend to increase geometrically as the derivation extends from phrase to sentence to text. But even so, its efficacy and its acceptability to the reader are insured, guaranteed, so to speak, by the constant presence of a compensatory factor. In the case of the chignon, this factor is a convincing representation of the characters' mental quirks or prejudices. There is, however, a more permanent and more generally applicable guarantee for the derivation's stylistic vagaries, for its ungrammaticality (in the sense that it comes to flout the rules of verisimilitude, of prevailing taste, and occasionally of common sense). This guarantee is the authority of language and of the mythology of commonplaces it embodies, in short, the authority of the sociolect.

The subtext's lexicon is generated by a metonymy, but its syntax is modeled on a stereotype, cliché, or proverb already established in usage—the linguistic equivalent of a symbol of truth. My example is from The Warden. A campaign is being waged by radical newspapers against what they regard as the excessive material wealth of the Church of England. A zealous reformer discovers that the salary paid to the warden of an institution for old pensioners is absorbing altogether too much of the endowment by the founder. These disclosures arouse in the thickheaded old beadsmen a not unnatural desire for a larger share for themselves. Archdeacon Grantly, the warden's son-in-law, will not hear of it: the archetypal worldly cleric, a rich man, son of a bishop, he sees nothing wrong with a Church whose cup runneth over. He comes to the almshouse to address the disgruntled pensioners:

As the archdeacon stood up to make his speech, erect in the middle of that little square, he looked like an ecclesiastical statue placed there as a fitting impersonation of the church militant here on earth; his shovel hat, large, new, and well-pronounced, a churchman's hat in every inch, declared the profession as plainly as does the Quaker's broad brim; his heavy eyebrow, large open eyes, and full mouth and chin expressed the solidity of his order; the broad chest, amply covered with fine cloth, told how well to do was its estate; one hand ensconced within his pocket, evinced the practical hold which our mother church keeps on her temporal possessions; and the other, loose for action, was ready to fight if need be in her defence; and below these the decorous breeches, and neat black gaiters showing so admirably that well-turned leg, betokened the decency, the outward beauty and grace of our church establishment.17

The reader's interpretation is strictly controlled by the incompatibility between the genre that the subtext actualizes and the manner of its actualization. This piece fits into the moral allegory in its narrow sense as personification: a character represents an abstract idea, and the reader knows how to identify the idea from this character's symbolic attributes. If a woman in long skirts holds a sword and a pair of scales, she must be Justice; if she holds a sword and shield, she must be War, and so forth. A written rather than visual allegory is free to extend the range of significant attributes: a representational verb may posit an equation between details describing the character and aspects of the ethical reality it represents, even though there may be no natural analogy to justify the symbolism. Such metalinguistic statements, of course, lead to parody and lend themselves to comic interpretation. On the one hand is a statue allegorizing the Church Militant; on the other, we are told its attributes correspond to the virtues of the Church—but the reader finds the correspondences by and large unacceptable: equating the beauty of breeches and gaiters with the moral beauty of the Church, for instance. A polarization pulling further apart the tenor and the vehicle of comparison makes the satire more pungent. For the vehicle—breeches and gaiters—is emphatically unspiritual; these garments lack the acceptability of a standard clerical metonym like cloth, used earlier in the passage. Whereas the tenor—grace—is more spiritual than mere outward beauty. Thus tension exists between two codes, the allegorical, the statue discourse, and the literal, the clothing discourse, the clergyman depicted metonymically through his professional accoutrements. This forced equivalency, however, does not seem gratuitous, because it is predicated on a verbal double authority: the authority of a cliché or quotation, and the authority of the text from which it is culled—The Book of Common Prayer: “Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here on earth.” What is kept of the prayer's phraseology generates the whole parody. The allegorical code, the statue's belligerent stance, is derived from the words “Church militant.” The clothing code derives from a sly misprision of the words “here on earth” to mean “all-too-earthly.” Again The Book of Common Prayer generates the subtext's closure: the metonymies substituting the outward symbols of self-interest for the signs of spiritual militancy form a sequence concluded by the words “archdeacon militant.”18 No reader can help noticing it as a well-marked clausula, a violent substitute for “church militant.” First, because of the unusual word order. Second, because of a sociolect tradition that views the image somewhat ironically. Third, because replacing “church,” open to spiritual interpretation, with “archdeacon,” associated only with hierarchy and temporal matters, is the same as replacing the spirit that quickens by the letter that deadens.

Nor is this all: yet another commonplace overdetermines the derivation and gives the initial metonymy the weight necessary to authorize the subtext's fanciful imagery. Indeed the entire allegorical sequence is but the expansion of the proverbial phrase “clothes make the man.” The incipit of the subtext is found long before its allegorical climax: the initial metonymy is a vernacular reduction of the archdeacon to his calling, of the calling to the cloth that symbolizes it, and of the cloth to a satirical synecdoche of it—equating the divine with his gaiters: as Cavaliers used to reduce Puritans to Roundheads, so an insurgent beadsman calls him “Calves.” Adds Trollope: “I am sorry to say the archdeacon himself was designated by this scurrilous allusion to his nether person.” Another rebel upbraids his timid confederates: “some men is cowed at the very first sight of a gen'leman's coat and waistcoat” (ch. 4, p. 55), only to doff his own hat to the “black coat and waistcoat of which he had spoken so irreverently” (ch. 5, p. 71) when actually face to face with the archdeacon. Within such a context the whole allegory has to be interpreted the way it is because it functions as if clothes really and literally did make the man, as if the relationship between spirituality and gaiters were indeed akin to that uniting soul and body. That such is the mechanism of satire is proven by the transformation of a sentence about the archdeacon, “he was every inch a churchman,” forty pages earlier, into “a churchman's hat in every inch” (ch. 3, p. 33; ch. 5, p. 72).19

Without giving too much weight to one aspect of Trollope's art, it seems to me that his choice of metonymy as a favorite tool explains neatly how he can be at one and the same time an objective observer, faithfully depicting reality, and a satirical one, artfully distorting it. This is made possible by the two-faceted nature of the trope. On the one hand, metonymy focuses precisely on suggestive details. On the other, its reductive function makes the selfsame details (seen as substitutes rather than taken in their own rights) the words of humorous discourse.

Finally, it appears that the generative power of metonymy is what makes this figure most fundamentally germane to the novel as a genre. Metonymies can be found in texts other than fictional ones. What seems peculiar to the novel is the combination of metonymy and the subtext periphrastically derived from it. The fact that the subtext derivation proceeds from word to word, rather than from word to nonverbal referent, as well as the fact that this derivation is facilitated20 by preexisting linguistic models, may explain how Trollope could write so fast and so unerringly.


  1. On displacements in the literary mimesis, see Yale French Studies, No. 61 (1981), which is the issue on “Towards a Theory of Description,” ed. J. Kittay.

  2. See Michel Le Guern, Sémantique de la métaphore et de la métonymie (Paris: Larousse, 1972); Jerzy Pelc, “Semantic Functions as applied to the analysis of the concept of metaphor,” in Poetics, Poetyka (Warsaw, 1961), pp. 305-40; Gérard Genette, Figures of Literary Discourse (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 106-10, 115-17; N. Ruwet, “Synecdoques et métonymies,” Poétique, 23 (1975), 371-88; Peter Schofer and Donald Rice, “Metaphor, Metonymy, and Synecdoche Revis(it)ed,” Semiotica, 21-1/2 (1977), 121-49.

  3. Society, that is, as represented in the sociolect—language, including its descriptive systems and ideology-induced stereotypes.

  4. As opposed to literature. Literature is a canon and a corpus. Literariness, of course, refers to the universals that must be found represented in any canonical rule of literature.

  5. The Small House at Allington, Everyman's Library (New York: Dutton, 1963), ch. 34, p. 323, emphasis added; subsequent citations in my text are to this edition.

  6. Rachel Ray (1863; rpt. New York: Dover, 1980), ch. 13, p. 171; this is a reprint of the first edition, published by Chapman and Hall. Hereafter citations in my text are to this edition.

  7. A complete definition of the text should of course comprise the opposition significance vs. meaning, and the whole intertextuality network.

  8. On these concepts, see my Semiotics of Poetry (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1978); and La Production du Texte (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1979).

  9. Miss Mackenzie (London: Ward, Lock, n.d.), ch. 17, pp. 214-15; further citations in my text are to this edition. Cf. Roman Jakobson, “Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry,” Lingua, 21 (1968), 597 ff., esp. 601-2.

  10. The word is left in French in the English version of his Elements of Semiology, trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), II, 2.3 (pp. 45-47). The translators gloss it as “large unit of reading.”

  11. On prolepsis, see Gérard Genette, Figures III (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1972), p. 82, and p. 112 (the amorce type).

  12. Trollope's metalanguage occasionally underscores the displacement from denotation to connotation, e.g.: “she had no regret, no uneasiness, no conception that any state of life could be better for her than that state in which an emblematic beefsteak was of vital importance” (He Knew He Was Right [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1948], ch. 96, p. 905; emphasis added. Subsequent citations in my text are to this edition).

  13. Stanley Fish's term, of course. See his Is There A Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980).

  14. The Miss Stanbury satire has been mentioned before (ch. 22, p. 211). The reader will recognize phrases where “she” is the normal pronoun. As one indication of the perfect symmetry of the novel and of Trollope's memory and planning, this revelatory glimpse of what a bridegroom never says aloud echoes phrase for phrase what had come to Dorothy's mind when Mr. Gibson proposed to her and the “feeling of the closeness of a wife to her husband” had occurred to her and conjured up unbearable images (ch. 42, p. 393).

  15. The “bucket of matrimony” appears in ch. 13, p. 120. Another sign of the cumulative power of the subtext derivation is that metaphors are now mixed together.

  16. When Arabella sacrifices her chignon (in vain), she is compared to a ship lowering her flag in sign of surrender (ch. 48, p. 452).

  17. The Warden, Everyman's Library (New York: Dutton, 1953), ch. 5, p. 72; further citations in my text are to this edition.

  18. Intertextual overdetermination is reinforced here by the latent presence of yet another model—the cliché “from head to toes,” translated into ecclesiastical code (from “shovel hat” to “gaiters”).

  19. No doubt, other writers have made abundant use of the clothes metonymy: Dickens everywhere, Balzac, Thackeray (think of Colonel Newcome's great-coat). I suspect it has a deeper meaning for Trollope, perhaps unconscious. On the one hand, other variants evince a surprising intertextual stability, using as they do the same wording practically as in our allegory (e.g., The Golden Lion of Granpère, Everyman's Library [New York: Dutton, 1924], ch. 1, p. 8). On the other hand, certain instances suggest that a powerful repression is at work behind all this, e.g.: “A man can hardly bear himself nobly unless his outer aspect be in some degree noble. It may be very sad, this having to admit that the tailor does in great part make the man; but such I fear is undoubtedly the fact. Could the Chancellor look dignified on the woolsack, if he had had an accident with his wig, or allowed his robes to be torn or soiled? Does not half the piety of a bishop reside in his lawn sleeves, and all his meekness in his ante-virile apron?” (Castle Richmond [New York: Harper, 1860], ch. 27, p. 305; emphasis added). Without presuming to build a psychoanalytic interpretation on such slim evidence, I find it suggestive that Trollope should have chosen to equate or connect Christian meekness and a Latin (and technical) displacement of its (sexual) antithesis. The effect at any rate is to emphasize the reductive function of the metonymy.

  20. In a sense akin to that of Freudian facilitation (Bahnung).

Robert Tracy (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: “‘The Unnatural Ruin’: Trollope and Nineteenth-Century Irish Fiction,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 37, No. 3, December, 1982, pp. 358-82.

[In the following essay, Tracy studies Trollope's Irish novels and argues that his work in Ireland made it possible for Trollope to view English society in an original manner when he began writing about it.]

The sun was setting beautifully behind the trees, and its imperfect light through the foliage gave the unnatural ruin a still more singular appearance, and brought into my mind thoughts of the wrong, oppression, misery and despair, to which some one had been subjected, by what I saw before me.

Trollope, The Macdermots of Ballycloran

Trollope himself, in An Autobiography, was the first to recognize the importance of Ireland in his development as a civil servant and as a writer. “I went to the Colonel [his superior in the Post Office] boldly, and volunteered for Ireland if he would send me,” Trollope tells us, in a passage that marks the turning point in an account that has so far been gloomy and guilt-ridden. “He was glad to be so rid of me, and I went. This happened in August 1841, when I was twenty-six years old. … This was the first good fortune of my life.”1 In Ireland he received his first real administrative responsibilities for the Post Office, and there his abilities were recognized by his superiors, leading to further responsibilities and promotion. In Ireland he began his second profession of writer: his first two novels are Irish in setting and concept, and were followed by an attempt at an Irish guidebook, abandoned after the publisher John Murray kept the manuscript for nine months without reading it, and by some letters for the Examiner (1848-49) about the Irish Famine, abandoned when Trollope found he was not going to be paid for them. He found a wife in Ireland—Rose Heseltine from Yorkshire, vacationing at Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire)—and handsomely suggests that he perhaps “ought to name” their wedding day “as the commencement of my better life, rather than the day on which I first landed in Ireland” (Autobiography, pp. 68, 84, 86-87). In Ireland he discovered the pleasures of fox hunting, which became his favorite occupation and is so often described in his fiction. In a sense, Ireland made Trollope. He is perhaps the only nineteenth-century Englishman—perhaps one of the very few Englishmen in history—to have benefited from an involvement in what Conor Cruise O'Brien likes to call “the Irish predicament.”

Trollope's first two Irish novels, The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847) and The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848), were followed by occasional short stories with Irish settings, such as “The O'Conors of Castle Conor” and “Father Giles of Ballymoy”—really extended anecdotes, with some of the forced facetiousness of Charles Lever's early work, tending to corroborate Trollope's preliminary ideas about Ireland as “a land flowing with fun and whisky, in which irregularity was the rule of life, and where broken heads were looked upon as honourable badges” (Autobiography, p. 62).2 These short stories are notable as Trollope's only treatments of the Irish as primarily figures of fun, perhaps because they are based on ludicrous adventures which he himself experienced. Elsewhere he often presents the Irish as tragic or sullen or savage, but rarely as facetious, avoiding for the most part the popular stereotype of the “stage Irishman.” Trollope also returned to Ireland at intervals for the setting of a novel: Castle Richmond (1860), An Eye for an Eye (1879; written in 1870), and The Landleaguers (1883), his last, unfinished novel. Apart from these specifically Irish novels, Phineas Finn, who gives a name to two novels of the Palliser cycle, and whose adventures are frequently interwoven or paralleled with those of Plantagenet Palliser and Lady Glencora, is a Catholic Irishman and originally the representative in Parliament of an Irish constituency.

Trollope's Irish novels differ from his English novels in far more than setting and characters. The novelist himself seems to undergo a change of personality and of basic attitudes when he settles to an Irish subject. There is a prevalent atmosphere of violence and savagery, which is very different from the atmosphere of the English novels. Violence and savagery do occur in the latter novels, but they are shocking aberrations, out of tune with a general sense of order and civilization. In Trollope's Ireland they are the norm. Resentful tenants in The Macdermots of Ballycloran seize Hyacinth Keegan, their landlord's agent, and cut off his foot with an axe; later, when Magistrate Brown's sons warmly encourage him to fight a duel with a fellow magistrate, they propose Keegan as second: “it'd be great fun to see him stepping the ground, and he only with one foot”3—a kind of black Irish humor that turns up in John and Michael Banim's novel Crohoore of the Bill-Hook (1825), the Recollections (1827) of Sir Jonah Barrington, the popular ballad “The Night Before Larry Was Stretched,” and Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow. Barry Lynch knocks his sister down in The Kellys and the O'Kellys; Mrs. O'Hara—English born, to be sure—pushes the young Earl of Scroope over the Cliffs of Moher in An Eye for an Eye; ten-year-old Florian Jones is shot and killed from ambush in The Landleaguers. The heroines of The Macdermots of Ballycloran and An Eye for an Eye are violated and abandoned by their English lovers, like symbolic Kathleen ni Houlihan or Dark Rosaleen, the popular nineteenth-century emblems of violated and downtrodden Ireland. Thady Macdermot is hung for killing the British policeman who betrayed his sister; Mrs. O'Hara ends in a madhouse. Phineas Finn attracts violence: he fights a duel with Lord Chiltern, is shot at by an outraged husband, and spends time in jail, accused of the murder of Mr. Bonteen, whom he has threatened. The Landleaguers is about violence and murders in the disturbed Ireland of 1882, and about the intractability of the Irish situation as it then existed. In An Eye for an Eye Fred Neville hopes to persuade an Irish priest “to do for him something romantic, something marvellous, perhaps something almost lawless,”4 three terms that accurately describe the Ireland of Trollope's Irish fiction.

The world portrayed in Trollope's Irish fiction is an uneasy world, in which public order and respect for law cannot be taken for granted. The Kellys and the O'Kellys opens with Daniel O'Connell's trial for conspiracy and sedition in 1844, and Trollope's comments indicate some distrust of O'Connell but a much greater disdain for the packed jury and partisan judges who condemned him; where the law itself is biased and lawless, Trollope implies, respect for law can hardly be expected. When O'Connell arrives “in the Lord Mayor's state carriage, accompanied by that high official,” Trollope remarks that “there was a bravado in it, and an apparent contempt, not of the law so much as of the existing authorities of the law.”5 He presents an Ireland that is misgoverned rather than ungovernable.

Trollope was well aware of the barriers of race, religion, and sometimes even language separating the landlords of Ireland—who were, for the most part, Anglo-Irish Protestants—from their tenants, who were almost invariably “meere Irish” and Catholic. He knew how these divisions worked against social cohesion and against social order. He was well aware of the very shaky economic condition of many Irish landlords, the “half-sirs” and squireens who lived far beyond their means, having learned to be irresponsible in a country where all the real decisions were made in London. The Macdermots of Ballycloran have been such landlords; theirs has been “the usual story,” as Trollope tells us, “of Connaught gentlemen; an extravagant landlord, reckless tenants, debt, embarrassment, despair and ruin … the house … a picture of misery, of useless expenditure, unfinished pretence and premature decay.” Even when new, the house at Ballycloran “was ill built, half finished, and paid for by long bills … a fine, showy house” (I, 4-5, 13). Trollope lived in Ireland through the Great Famine of 1845-48 and observed the breakdown of an already weakened society as the catastrophe overwhelmed good and bad landlords alike and exiled, killed, or infuriated their tenants. Ruined Ireland—ruined by the Famine, by reckless landlords, by religious sectarianism, by misgovernment—is the subject of Trollope's Irish fiction. It is an “unnatural ruin.” He likes the Irish people and recognizes their good traits: “good-humoured, clever—the working classes very much more intelligent than those of England oeconomical, and hospitable. … But they are perverse, irrational and but little bound by the love of truth” (Autobiography, p. 65). He believes that successive British governments have meant well by Ireland, and defends the government against charges of neglect and cruelty during the Famine in his letters to the Examiner and in Castle Richmond. But at the same time he recognizes an incompatibility of temperament between Saxon and Celt. “It was certainly the case with Philip Jones that he was most anxious to rob no one,” he tells us, introducing the troubled landlord of The Landleaguers. “He was, perhaps, a little too anxious that no one should rob him.”6 The incompatibility of governors and governed is the cause of Ireland's misgovernment, and Ireland, like the house at Ballycloran, is a ruin. For Trollope, “the castle I built”—he is referring to that childhood habit of telling himself long episodic stories, continued day after day, for long periods, which developed into his gift for maintaining a story—“was among the ruins of that old house” (Autobiography, p. 71).

Trollope's firsthand knowledge of Ireland and of Irish conditions was reinforced by his reading among the nineteenth-century Irish novelists who portrayed the plight of their fellow countrymen and examined the anarchy of Irish life, a life essentially lived without the benefit of any real social contract. These novelists suggested themes, episodes, and characters for his Irish novels and offered valuable hints about method and treatment, lessons which Trollope also put to good use in all his non-Irish fiction, which often transfers characteristically Irish themes and preoccupations—characteristic, that is, of the nineteenth-century Irish novelists Trollope read—to English soil.

T. H. S. Escott, Trollope's earliest biographer, gives us an impressive list of the Irish novelists whose work Trollope knew, some of whom he encountered in Sir William Gregory's library at Coole Park in the 1840s—the same library which was to become the birthplace of the Irish Literary Movement led by Lady Gregory, Yeats, and Synge at the end of the nineteenth century. Trollope had read the first Irish novel, Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent (1800), and her The Absentee (1812) before coming to Ireland; at some point he probably read her other two Irish novels, Ennui (1809) and Ormond (1817). Escott suggests that he also read Mrs. S. C. Hall's The Outlaw (1835) and The Whiteboy (1845); William Carleton's Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (1830), a collection of short stories and sketches, and several of Carleton's novels: Fardorougha the Miser (1839), Valentine M'Clutchy, the Irish Agent (1845), The Tithe Proctor (1849), and The Squanders of Castle Squander (1852); Lady Morgan's “vivacious pages,” without further specification; “the most famous Irish novel of the time,” Gerald Griffin's The Collegians (1829); and, eventually, Charles Kickham's Sally Cavanagh (1869) and Knocknagow (1879). From this list Escott singles out Carleton's novels as “really stimulating” for Trollope and essential to his “literary training for the work of an Irish novelist.”7 He gives no details about Trollope's reading of the others. Apart from John and Michael Banim, who wrote collaboratively, the list includes all the major Irish novelists who had established their reputations before Trollope's arrival in Ireland, and to whose works a curious newcomer like himself would naturally turn for information about his new country.

Escott also mentions Trollope's friendship with Charles Lever, whom he first met at Coole Park. Trollope did not much admire Lever's earlier novels about military life in Ireland, with their elaborate and rather forced accounts of practical jokes and drinking bouts, and their loutish caricatures of Irish peasants, and was equally and perhaps unfairly dismissive of Samuel Lover's Handy Andy (1842) for the same reasons. In fact, Escott suggests that Trollope's more carefully considered Irish characters and his dislike of racial stereotypes in Irish fiction persuaded Lever “in his later stories, to modify his own opinions about the essentially representative features of his Irish types … suggested to him the new variety of Irish character to be met with” in his later fiction, citing especially Lever's Sir Brook Fossbrooke (1866)—the change is evident even earlier, in such novels as The Daltons (1852) and The Martins of Cro'Martin (1856).8

During the first half of the nineteenth century these Irish novelists had built up a considerable body of native fiction, and in doing so had also developed a series of conventions for dealing with the uneasy society around them that they were trying to portray. Maria Edgeworth and Lady Morgan wrote about the ownership of land, with a curious insistence on legitimizing the landlord system as they knew it. Maria Edgeworth believed that the system could be justified by the efficient and hardworking landlord, whose tenants would profit from his direction and be grateful to him. After portraying a dynasty of bad landlords in Castle Rackrent, she offers her subsequent heroes a series of instructions in good management, from which they eventually profit. These are often provided by allowing the hero to meet a good landlord and a bad, or an honest agent and a dishonest agent. She also introduced, in The Absentee, a plot that became a favorite of those who wrote to suggest that the system of land ownership was capable of acting justly through personal rather than legal reform: the visit of a landlord to his estates in disguise, after which he rewards the virtuous and punishes the wicked, resolving moreover to live henceforth at home and manage his lands justly. In these “landlord novels” it was possible to portray the grim lot of the tenants dramatically and even melodramatically, and sometimes to suggest that they had some reason for forming secret societies, committing agrarian outrages, and occasionally assassinating an unjust agent, while introducing at the last the landlord as agent of justice and so justifying the system which effectively denied tenants the right to become freeholders.

Lady Morgan also uses disguised landlords—as do the Banims in The Anglo-Irish of the Nineteenth Century (1828) and Carleton in Valentine M'Clutchy—and unscrupulous agents, but she offers an interesting variant on the basic plot favored by Maria Edgeworth by examining not the Protestant Anglo-Irish landowners but the remnants of the old Gaelic aristocracy, still clinging to fragments of their estates and keeping up some shadowy version of their ancient traditions. In her most popular work, The Wild Irish Girl (1806), an absentee landlord visiting his estates—not disguised, but incognito for most of the story—meets the “Prince” of Inismore, an Irish-speaking native chieftain who lives in a ruined castle beside the sea with chaplain, harper, and a little court of attendants. The Prince lectures the Anglo-Irish landlord at length on Irish history, customs, and the Irish language, lessons reinforced by his daughter, the “Princess” Glorvina, who wears picturesque flowing garments of ancient Irish mode and is first introduced in a half-ruined chapel at sunset, to reappear a little later playing the harp in the moonlight. Lady Morgan's plot resolutions usually involve a marriage between an Anglo-Irish landowner and the dispossessed heir of the original Irish owners of his estates, sometimes literally, sometimes symbolically. Her landlords are legitimized not by good management but by grafting themselves onto an ancient tradition.

Apart from An Eye for an Eye, Trollope's Irish novels are all novels about landlords and tenants, and that very phrase is his subtitle for The Kellys and the O'Kellys. The Macdermots of Ballycloran, with its account of folly, pretension, and mismanagement, is a more detached, more analytical version of Castle Rackrent, told in his own way by the novelist himself after he has learned the details from “the guard of the Boyle coach” (I, 11). Trollope recognized the advantages of putting the tale into the mouth of a local narrator, full of picturesque turns of phrase, like Thady Quirk, the involved narrator of Castle Rackrent, and decided not to adapt that method. The guard, Trollope suggests, tells the story better, but perhaps is too close to events to provide the necessary perspective—a perspective only implicitly provided by Thady Quirk.

But The Macdermots of Ballycloran seems to owe an even greater debt to Lady Morgan. Her Prince of Inismore, an ailing and melancholy recluse in his ruined castle, had a real-life prototype, The MacDermott, who lived in Connaught at the end of the eighteenth century, keeping up the old Irish style and calling himself Prince of Coolavin. Trollope has named his decaying Irish family after Lady Morgan's original, and, like her favorite aristocrats, they are descendants of ancient Irish chieftains, and more recently of “a Connaught Prince … a something Macdermot, true Milesian, pious Catholic, and descendant of king somebody” who had “managed, through all the troubles of his poor country, to keep a comfortable little portion of his ancestors' royalties, to console him for the loss of their sceptre” (I, 12-13). The owner of Ballycloran, poor old Larry Macdermot, querulous, drunken, sick, maudlin, crouching alone over the fire in his ramshackle house, with only his pride of blood to console him, is a revised version of Lady Morgan's reclusive and proud Prince in his ruined castle. The learned and accomplished Glorvina, who plays the harp and reads Irish, Latin, and most modern languages, is revised into the slatternly “Princess” of Ballycloran, Feemy Macdermot, who “walked as if all the blood of the old Irish Princes was in her veins,” but who is presented not in picturesque white robes, at sunset or by moonlight, but in the bleak light of morning, in a torn greasy dress, dirty curlpapers, broken shoes and ragged stockings, her feet on the fender, reading a thumb-worn romantic novel, The Mysterious Assassin (I, 17, 167-69). Feemy's beauty brings no reconciliation of Irish and Anglo-Irish, Protestant and Catholic, no restoration of the “ould stock” to rank and power. Her affair with Captain Ussher of the revenue police—a Protestant from County Antrim, illegitimate son of a landowner—brings about his murder, her own death in childbirth, and the hanging of her brother for Ussher's death. In rewriting Lady Morgan's The Wild Irish Girl, Trollope has removed any happy ending, and has also removed romance. “I have shorn my fiction of all romance,” he was to tell George Eliot in 1863,9 and at the very beginning of his career we can see him deliberately setting out to write an Irish novel and in doing so neatly inverting one of the best-known examples of that genre.

Trollope also introduces Maria Edgeworth's convention of the good and bad landlord, or the good and bad agent, into The Macdermots of Ballycloran by contrasting Jonas Brown with Counsellor Webb, just as Maria Edgeworth contrasts Nicholas Garraghty, a bad agent, with good Mr. Burke in The Absentee, and bad Mr. Hardcastle with the good agent M'Leod in Ennui. Jonas Brown is “an irritable, over-bearing magistrate, a greedy landlord, and an unprincipled father” (II, 201), who believes that “the only means of keeping the poor in their present utterly helpless and dependent state, was to deny them education, and to oppose every scheme for their improvement and welfare. He dreaded every movement which tended to teach them anything” (III, 23). Webb appears as more benevolent, “a kind-hearted landlord—ever anxious to ameliorate the condition of the poor—and by no means greedy after money, though he was neither very opulent nor very economical.” But then Trollope abandons the formal and didactic contrast of an Edgeworth novel to suggest that Webb, despite his benevolence, is far from perfect: he is “far too fond of popularity, and of being the favourite among the peasantry” (III, 24), and often acts simply so as to be in opposition to Brown. Trollope introduces a realistic human element into Maria Edgeworth's more abstract philosophical opponents.

Trollope makes Frank O'Kelly, Lord Ballindine, one of the two heroes of The Kellys and the O'Kellys, both a Morgan and an Edgeworth character, a landlord who is poor, a descendant of the old Irish aristocracy, but also a Protestant. Frank's title had been awarded originally to his great-grandfather in 1800, presumably as a reward for voting for the Union, which merged the British and Irish Parliaments and ended Irish Home Rule—a point of some importance, for the story opens with the trial of those charged with agitating and conspiring to repeal the Union. “The head of the family had for many years back been styled ‘The O'Kelly,’ and had enjoyed much more local influence under that denomination than their descendants had possessed, since they had obtained a more substantial though not a more respected title” (p. 35),10 Trollope tells us, with a nice discrimination about Irish rank and about the long Irish memory. The estate has been frittered away by Frank's grandfather, an absentee, who was also cheated by his agent. Trollope's novel, in effect, begins with a rapid retelling of Maria Edgeworth's The Absentee without its resolution, the landlord's return to settle on his own estate and rule it efficiently. Frank, to be sure, is resolved to remain at home and do his duty. “I hope I'll never live out of Ireland,” he declares to a friend, “… I've sense enough to see that a poor absentee landlord is a great curse to his country; and that's what I hope I never shall be.” Though the friend urges Frank to put this Edgeworthian speech “in a pamphlet” (p. 60), Frank does in fact remain at home, and when we last see him he has reformed his estate with his wife's money, married his sisters into the local gentry, and stands at the head of quite a strong connection. He is also popular with his tenants, who recognize that in race if not in religion he is one of them, a recognition he shares: throughout the novel the affairs of the almost peasant Kellys are involved with those of the noble O'Kellys, and Frank has never denied that the Kellys, and others among his tenants, are connected to him by blood, and that he is their chieftain as well as their landlord. Trollope asserts, as Lady Morgan would have, the qualitative difference between tribal loyalty and that owing to mere rents and deeds.

Trollope opens Castle Richmond by defending his choice of an Irish subject, admitting that the tale is written as his farewell to Ireland after many years residence there, and warning us that he is not going to write another Castle Rackrent, despite the similarity of title. When he introduces Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, his son Herbert, and the rest of the household at Castle Richmond, he remarks that

neither Sir Thomas nor Sir Thomas's house had about them any of those interesting picturesque faults which are so generally attributed to Irish landlords and Irish castles. He was not out of elbows, nor was he an absentee. Castle Richmond had no appearance of having been thrown out of its own windows. It was a good, substantial, modern family residence, built not more than thirty years since.11

Herbert Fitzgerald is as dutiful and serious about managing the estate properly and fairly as any Edgeworth paragon. But despite Trollope's attempt to portray the Fitzgeralds and their estate as prosaic, he also believed that “the Irish character is peculiarly well fitted for romance” (Autobiography, p. 156),12 and the Fitzgeralds find themselves involved in melodramatic events. Sir Thomas is reclusive and ill, brought down by blackmailers who know that he is not legally married to Lady Fitzgerald and that Herbert is therefore illegitimate and cannot inherit the estate. Trollope uses the murky or mysterious early marriage as a plot device in several later novels—Lady Anna (1874), Is He Popenjoy? (1878), and Mr. Scarborough's Family (1883). He uses the device of the illegitimate heir in Ralph the Heir (1871). These novels are all set in England, and even in Castle Richmond the blackmailers are English and Lady Fitzgerald's earlier marriage took place in Dorset. In terms of his personal problems, Sir Thomas “might have been a Leicestershire baronet” (p. 9) instead of an Irish one.

But he is Irish, and this allows Trollope to introduce certain aspects of Irish life and conventions of Irish fiction. The personal problems of the Fitzgeralds occur during the great national tragedy of the Famine, and the domestic scenes are intercut with harrowing scenes of deprivation, starvation, and death. Trollope has been criticized both for his defense of British government policies during the Famine—which were determined by Utilitarian theory, and insisted that food should not be given out gratis but should be paid for or worked for by the recipient, no matter how feeble, or, if given gratis, should be so given only in a workhouse, under conditions deliberately contrived to be harsh and unbearable—and for using the Famine merely as the background to an essentially domestic tale.13

Speaking directly to the reader, Trollope in Castle Richmond does defend government policies, pointing to the comparative prosperity of the Ireland of 1859 to justify his position: Ireland is the better for having lost, by death or exile, an excessive and unproductive population. “I have always felt a certain horror of political economists,” Benjamin Jowett declared, “since I heard one of them say that he feared the famine of 1848 in Ireland would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do much good.”14 But in fact Trollope's whole fictional treatment of the Famine belies this position. The scenes of desolation and starvation he depicts are grim enough to satisfy any Irish patriot. When he shows a group of feeble men trying to repair a road without proper tools, or enters the desolation of a cabin where a starving mother watches her children die, the great public calamity becomes a heightened version of Sir Thomas's feeble efforts to solve his problems or of the shattering of the house and family at Castle Richmond.

Trollope also challenges his own defense of government policies by making his hero very uneasy about them. Herbert Fitzgerald understands and intellectually accepts the arguments against impulsive charity. He agrees that men must work, however painfully and inefficiently, to earn the yellow meal still bitterly remembered in Ireland, which Trollope describes in all its tasteless indigestible inadequacy. But when Herbert, himself in despair over the wreck of his personal life and hopes, enters a cabin to find a woman with the apathetic look of death upon her face, holding a dying baby and with the corpse of another beside her, his human reaction, which Trollope portrays in such a way as to endorse it, is to violate the laws of political economy by giving her money and bending the rules so that she can be admitted to a workhouse. Such conflicts between principles and sympathy, head and heart, are commonplace in literature, but Trollope perhaps owes something to Maria Edgeworth's Ormond, in which she moves away from the creed of landlord's efficiency preached in her earlier novels and allows her hero to be influenced favorably both by a spokesman for efficient management and by “King” Corny of the Black Isle, an old-fashioned Irish chieftain who lives with wasteful hospitality among a crowd of dependents, very like those Trollope describes with sympathy as inhabiting Widow Kelly's kitchen in The Kellys and the O'Kellys.

Although the English blackmailers in Castle Richmond seem to imply that Ireland's troubles are made in England, this theme remains implicit, and Trollope's treatment of them, from their first appearance in the shabby disorder of the Kanturk Hotel, South Main Street, Cork, makes them more like cheerful Irish rogues than calculating villains. Their role is to set in motion another Edgeworth plot, that of Ennui, whose hero, like Herbert Fitzgerald, discovers that he is not the legitimate heir to his estates and refuses to conceal this fact. Maria Edgeworth's Glenthorn, like Herbert, resolves to make a new life for himself by going to England and studying the law; having done so, he is rewarded by marriage with the heiress of his former estates, and obtains them as his own; Herbert, having proved his nobility by taking up a legal career, is rescued when the blackmailers turn out to be telling only part of the truth.

Trollope's account of Herbert after he discovers that he is illegitimate and so has lost his name, rank, and expectations is an account of a man who has suddenly become an outcast and an exile. Trollope's own recollections of his pariahdom as a schoolboy perhaps make him a sympathetic narrator of such an event, but when Herbert says goodbye to the Castle and various places on the estate, to the neighbors and to the neighborhood, forever, as he thinks, Trollope enters fully into the situation of someone about to be exiled from home and homeland. Trollope may be expressing some of his own feelings about leaving Ireland after twenty years, but, more importantly, Herbert's grief stands for the grief of all those nameless exiles who survived the Famine only by leaving Ireland. The austere voice of Trollope the political economist, who speaks of necessary clearances, is drowned in his sympathy for Herbert's grief. And Herbert as exile offers the reader some glimpse of how myriads of Irish men and women must have felt. Exile is also the fate of Castle Richmond's other hero, Owen Fitzgerald, a more spontaneous and romantic character than Herbert. “Men of the county Cork now talk of him as one whom they knew long since,” writes Trollope, in a final paragraph which is almost a lament for the lost Owen: “He who took his house as a stranger is a stranger no longer in the country, and the place that Owen left vacant has been filled. The hounds of Duhallow would not recognize his voice, nor would the steed in the stable follow gently at his heels.”

Owen is handsome, passionate, a superb horseman, in many ways besides name a relative of Trollope's Burgo Fitzgerald, Lady Glencora's first love. Trollope also explores the fortunes of another noble family, the Desmonds, who inhabit a vast extravagant house nearby but cannot keep it up. Historically, the Fitzgeralds were Earls of Desmond; Trollope makes them a Lady Morgan family:

“They [the Desmonds] had been kings once over those wild mountains; and would be still, some said, if everyone had his own. … But those days were now long gone, and tradition told little of them that was true … stories were ever being told of walls built with human blood, and of the devil bearing off upon his shoulder a certain earl who was in any other way quite unbearable.”

(pp. 11, 10)

Lady Morgan's first novel was called St. Clair; or, The Heiress of Desmond (1803), echoed perhaps in Trollope's heroine Clara Desmond. And though he notes in his Autobiography a similarity between Castle Richmond and Henry Esmond in that a mother and daughter have the same lover—his widowed Countess of Desmond is passionately in love with Owen Fitzgerald, who is wooing her daughter, a situation a little like the Henry Esmond-Beatrix-Rachel triangle in Thackeray's novel—this element is also present in The Wild Irish Girl, where the hero and his father both plan to marry Glorvina.

In The Landleaguers Trollope is attempting both a political tract against Parnell, the Land League, and Gladstone's 1881 Land Act, and a novel. His preoccupation with his argument in defense of the landlords perhaps accounts for some indifference to form. At any rate, The Landleaguers seems to owe little to the conventions of Irish fiction as Trollope understood them from his earlier reading and employed them in his own earlier work, except for the basic Edgeworthian convention of justifying the decent landlord and suggesting that the Irish are better off as tenants of such a landlord than as freeholders. But the passions recognized and channeled by Parnell and Michael Davitt are too complex to be treated according to Maria Edgeworth's or Lady Morgan's models, as Trollope himself seems to realize.

Novels about the landlord class, which both portrayed and justified their role, are perhaps the most conspicuous fictional product of nineteenth-century Ireland. They were usually written by novelists who were themselves members of the landlord or “Ascendancy” class. They are often didactic, but they are equally concerned to portray and even celebrate the life of the “Big House,” concentrating on an Ascendancy family, their house, and their estates and dependents; Trollope's statement in Castle Richmond that his story is to feature “this greatest lady, and the greatest man also … with their belongings” (p. 9) accurately defines this aspect of the genre by adding the phrase “with their belongings.” Elizabeth Bowen, herself an Irish landowner and novelist, has offered a slightly more elaborate summary of the “Big House” novel's most conspicuous features: “the hermetic solitude and the autocracy of the great country house, the demonic power of the family myth, fatalism, feudalism and the ‘ascendancy’ outlook.”15 These elements are not really limited to Irish Ascendancy life, nor to Irish novels about that life. Indeed, some of them occur in Trollope's English novels. But, like the effort to define a good landlord, they frequently appear as themes or issues in Trollope's Irish fiction, presumably because he recognized them as conventions of the genre.

Apart from fatalism, these elements can really be compressed into one: the Ascendancy's proud sense of superiority and exclusion which separated them from the Irish subject population around them. The “family myth” stressed that superiority and exclusion; its corollaries were solitude and autocratic feudalism. And beneath it lurked a terrible anxiety about purity of blood, a fear of miscegenation, and above all of sinking down to merge with the Irish masses—attitudes more familiar to us in novels about the British in Asia or Africa but no less operative in Ireland.

Though the Macdermots are not an Ascendancy family, they are socially isolated, unable to join the more prosperous Anglo-Irish landowners around them, fearful of sinking down into the peasant class, and governed by pride in their ancient blood, which, combined with their reduced circumstances, becomes indeed a demonic myth. Lord Ballindine's willingness to admit his kinship with the plebian Kellys, and his successful creation of a social connection for himself, is his chief virtue. “Sophy O'Kelly married a Blake, and Augusta married a Dillon,” Trollope tells us, near the end of The Kellys and the O'Kellys, “… and their husbands are related to all the Blakes and all the Dillons; and as Ballindine himself is the head of all the Kellys, there is a rather strong clan of them. … It would hardly be wise, in that country, to quarrel with a Kelly, a Dillon, or a Blake” (p. 504).16 Ballindine is contrasted with the Earl of Cashel, who has little human sympathy and sits alone in a dusty bookroom in his great mansion, Grey Abbey; not surprisingly, Cashel, who is descended from English invaders and promotes sectarian differences, is deeply intolerant of Ballindine's easygoing ways.

Herbert Fitzgerald cares deeply about the people of his estate and rejects the sectarian Protestantism preached by his aunt Letty and her abiding suspicions of any cooperation or relationship with the local Catholic priest, even during the crisis of the Famine. But the Countess of Desmond is completely isolated in her great cold house and in her pride of rank, so much so that at the end she is left in utter solitude. And in The Landleaguers Philip Jones's difficulties with his tenants stem partly from the isolation he has imposed upon himself since his wife's death. At one time, “he knew every man and woman about the place, and always had a word to say to them.” He had attended carefully to his land. “He had formerly taken a great pleasure in attending the assizes at Galway … but since his wife's death he had not once attended” (I, 5-6). His fate is to be the victim of a boycott, invented by Irish tenants to impose from outside that “hermetic solitude” which the Ascendancy had so often chosen for themselves.

Apart from employing certain themes and conventions from Irish fiction in his Irish novels, Trollope also seems to have made use of them on occasion when writing about England. His celebration of the resident landlord who knows and cares about his tenants is a conspicuous theme in many of his novels: Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, Ralph the Heir, The Way We Live Now, The American Senator, Is He Popenjoy?, and many others. This no doubt reflects Trollope's own social and political convictions, but it is strikingly close to Maria Edgeworth's position, especially in his depiction of the social and moral desolation created when a landlord is an absentee, as in The American Senator and Is He Popenjoy?

The solitude and excluding pride of the Anglo-Irish “Big House,” with its refusal to relate to the life around it and its fears of contamination from that life, are perhaps echoed in some of the Barchester novels, in which the Bishop's Palace figures as a kind of “Big House,” self-isolated from its dependents and at odds with them religiously, socially, and politically. Such a separation often creates the basic situation of a Trollope novel, as when Greshamsbury House isolates itself from Dr. Thorne and Mary in Doctor Thorne, or Framley Court isolates itself from the parsonage. These latter separations come about because the “Big House” fears a kind of miscegenation, an unacceptable marriage for the heir, which will make him unfit for the society of his equals and incapable of carrying out his duties. Unsuitable marriages are a constant threat in Trollope's novels, and while pride of blood and rank is as common in England as among the real and fictional Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, its frequency and intensity suggest Trollope's awareness of the Irish novelists' treatment of the subject, from Castle Rackrent—where Sir Condy has a liaison with Judy Quirk—to its numerous successors. The passion and savagery that darken Mary Thorne's background perhaps hint at this. It is most explicit in the reaction of the Countess of Scroope in An Eye for an Eye to her nephew's plan to marry Kate O'Hara, Irish, Catholic, and poor, and make her Countess in turn. The Countess believes that such a marriage will contaminate the family forever. Anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice are not uncommon in nineteenth-century England, but the fanatic intensity of the Countess's horror is more believable if we think of her as a member of the Ascendancy.

The isolation in which the old Earl and Countess of Scroope live recalls that “hermetic solitude” which Elizabeth Bowen cites, as does the isolation of many other Trollope characters: Robert Kennedy in Phineas Redux, Countess Lovel in Lady Anna, Henry in Cousin Henry, all of them tragic figures. But for the most part, when Trollope uses these Irish motifs or conventions in an English setting, he softens them considerably. Squire Gresham's foolish and extravagant treatment of his estate resembles the behavior of the Rackrents, but lacks their wildness and cruelty. The old Duke of Omnium is frivolous and irresponsible, but his actions do not bring on any disaster. Palliser's pride makes it difficult for him to work with other politicians, and his isolation weakens him as Prime Minister, but the consequences are disappointment rather than destruction; and in many ways Palliser is an Edgeworth hero, with Britain as the estate he would manage rationally and justly. And Trollope's reference to the Pallisers as “these characters with their belongings” (Autobiography, p. 180) echoes his “greatest lady, and the greatest man also … with their belongings” in Castle Richmond, to summarize the “Big House” type of novel and its preoccupation with its hero's estate, houses, family, dependents, animals, and hangers on—subjects stressed in the titles of three of Trollope's Irish novels, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, The Kellys and the O'Kellys, and Castle Richmond, while the title of The Landleaguers emphasizes a threat to estates and possessions.

Escott has named William Carleton as perhaps Trollope's most important model among the Irish novelists. This seems to be an exaggeration. Carleton was of peasant origin and wrote most frequently about the peasants, seldom depicting life in the “Big House.” His portraits of the Irish peasant are fascinating and at times disturbing. He avoids sentimental treatment and shows the anger, the resentment, and the potential for savagery and revenge behind the deferential mask which the Ascendancy writers knew. Trollope's peasants, especially the conspirators of The Macdermots of Ballycloran and The Landleaguers, owe much to those he read about in Carleton's writings, but Trollope's own preference for depicting the gentry inevitably limited the presence of peasant characters.

Trollope did, however, learn a different kind of lesson from Carleton and perhaps from the Banim brothers and Gerald Griffin, who had developed conventions of their own to depict Irish life beyond the walls around the “Big House” and its demesne. These conventions grew out of the vulnerability of the tenant to arbitrary actions or decisions over which he had no control, made elsewhere by those who neither knew him nor cared about him, or were made close at hand by an agent who was able and eager to take unfair advantage of his need for land. They were based on the observed realities of nineteenth-century Irish life, with its constant risks, uncertainties, and underlying anarchy, and caused by the separation between governors and governed and a basic lack of civil rights for the peasant population. Carleton and the Banims wrote to deplore peasant conspiracies and their savage deeds, and at the same time to suggest the basic injustices which allowed such groups to spring up and flourish. In their novels the hero is often a young farmer, a little better educated and more prosperous than his neighbors, who becomes involved with the Ribbonmen, or the Whiteboys, or the Shanavests, or the followers of Captain Rock or Captain Midnight, usually against his own will or judgment. The degree of education or prosperity he has reached, which makes him unwilling to join a local conspiracy, also makes him a desirable recruit. A combination of events—some unjust act on the part of the authorities or some contrivance which makes him seem to be part of the conspiracy—does drive him into joining, or at least into appearing to have joined. The authorities are often portrayed as brutal and activated by sectarian and racial hatred; the conspirators are also brutal and hate their oppressors; the two groups reinforce each other, originate in the inequalities of Irish life, and constantly threaten those who wish only for a peaceful life.

Thady Macdermot is destroyed between two such groups. His murder of Ussher, who has aroused the local Ribbonmen by his unrelenting pursuit of potheen makers, is viewed as politically motivated by the authorities, and the Ribbonmen are happy to endorse this view. Thady as martyr is even more desirable than Thady as recruit. Thady's awareness of how the deed will be viewed makes him flee to the Ribbonmen, an act that makes him appear to be one with them. His private motive for the killing, Ussher's liaison with Feemy, is buried under these political circumstances. In The Landleaguers little Florian Jones is also caught in political events, and his own life is lost in the competition between police and members of the Land League, who are, as Trollope portrays them, part of a violent and murderous conspiracy.

The Irish novelists treat such situations with a kind of fatalism—the only trait Elizabeth Bowen lists as characteristic of Irish fiction that does not seem important in Trollope's treatment of Irish landlords. But Trollope does see Thady Macdermot as doomed by a combination of family myth, social setting, and the political state of the country, just as some of the heroes of Carleton and the Banims are doomed. He symbolically foreshadows this sense of doom at the beginning of The Macdermots of Ballycloran in his description of the decaying house, with its “rotting joists and beams, some fallen, some falling, the rest ready to fall, like the skeleton of a felon left to rot on an open gibbet” (I, 5)—a passage that recalls Carleton's description of Patrick Devaun's corpse, “hung for some months in chains, within about a hundred yards of his own house,” in “Wildgoose Lodge,” a savage tale of Ribbonism, and that also recalls the “rope-walk, which extends along the adjacent slope of Gallows-green” in the first chapter of Griffin's The Collegians.17 The Jones family in The Landleaguers are doomed by long festering resentments that originate in the history of Ireland's tenantry and their treatment by their landlords and successive British governments, as well as by the temperamental incompatibility of Celt and Saxon.

A sense of Ireland as unpredictable, dangerous, and sullenly resentful is common in Trollope's Irish novels, except for Castle Richmond, where misgovernment and temperamental differences are implicit, and An Eye for an Eye. Trollope may well have assimilated these elements of Irish life by observation, but they are frequently presented in the writings of the Irish novelists. In a kind of oblique comment on these novelists and the picture of Irish society they provide, Trollope makes Fred Neville, his protagonist in An Eye for an Eye, their victim. While on duty as a military officer in Ireland, Fred, like Trollope, has read the Irish novelists. Fred is on garrison duty—another reminder of Irish reality, for soldiers did not keep the peace in England by their threatening presence. Lever's soldiers relieve their boredom by high-spirited pranks. Fred relieves his more dangerously by looking for the romantic aspects of Irish life he has read about. He wants to consider the local priest “romantic, semi-barbarous, and perhaps more than semi-lawless in his views of life.” Irish priests “have been made by chroniclers of Irish story to do marvellous things; and Fred Neville thought that this priest … might be persuaded to do for him something romantic, something marvellous, perhaps something almost lawless” (p. 178). Fred destroys Kate O'Hara and himself by turning her into Lady Morgan's Glorvina in her romantic ruined castle beside the sea, “the girl who lived out of the world in solitude on the cliffs of Moher” (p. 97).18

Trollope learned from his reading of the Irish peasant novelists to recognize the peasant's strangeness—his otherness, the difference between his mental processes and behavior and those of an English or anglicized person. To enter the world of his conspirators is to move among dim but powerful resentments and motives, and any peasant is mysterious. When Thady Macdermot takes refuge in a remote mountain cabin at Aughacashel, he must spend a day alone with the old man who lives there:

he … endeavored to think how the old man got through the tedium of his miserable existence: there he sat on the bed, quite imperturbable,—he hadn't spoken ten words since Thady had got up, and seemed quite satisfied in sitting there enjoying the warmth of the fire, and having nothing to do—how Thady envied his quiescence. Then he began reflecting what had been this man's life—had he always been content to sit thus tranquil, and find his comfort in idleness. At last he got almost alarmed at this old man, why didn't he speak to him? why did he sit there so quiet? doing nothing—saying nothing—looking at nothing—and apparently thinking of nothing; it was as sitting with a dead body, or a ghost, as sitting there with that lifeless, but yet breathing creature.

(II, 344-45)

The scene confronts the same kind of mystery that Stephen Dedalus imagines when he evokes “an old man … in a mountain cabin. … I fear him. I fear his redrimmed horny eyes. It is with him I must struggle … till he or I lie dead.”19

Stephen Dedalus's response is a self-imposed exile, and exile is a common ending for the novelists Trollope read, almost as common as the happy resolution of events by the appearance of a just and settled landlord. In John Banim's The Boyne Water (1826), in Samuel Lover's Rory O'More (1837), in Carleton's Willy Reilly and his Dear Colleen Bawn (1855), and in many other novels, a hero chooses exile rather than remain amid the dangers of Irish life. The threat of dispossession and exile is very common in stories of peasant life, a theme Trollope repeats in Castle Richmond with Herbert Fitzgerald's grief-stricken farewell to his estate and Owen Fitzgerald's choice of permanent exile for himself.

Apart from their appearance in Trollope's Irish novels, these themes and motifs also make occasional appearances in his non-Irish fiction, usually in milder and nonpolitical forms. Accidents and other extraordinary turns of event are common, though they are often benevolent and lead to some unexpected inheritance. Some characters seem doomed, often because of their social status or their position as social outlaws: Robert Kennedy in Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux by his Calvinistic background, the Countess in Lady Anna by her social ambition, Lopez in The Prime Minister and Arabella Trefoil in The American Senator by their equivocal social position, Melmotte in The Way We Live Now—who is rumored to be really an Irishman named Melmody—in part by his inability to find a place in society. Finally, Trollope's awareness of the fragmented state of Irish society, based on his experience of that society and his readings in Irish fiction, and his own portraits of social disintegration in Ireland in his own novels may in part account for the eagerness with which he tries to imagine and justify an ideally coherent society in England, based on mutual respect, interest, and obligation. Though Walter Scott's novels also offer a source for this ideal, Trollope's eagerness to develop it in novel after novel may ultimately stem from his personal and fictional experience of a less fortunate society.

There is one other aspect of Trollope's Irish apprenticeship which seems to me important to all of his fiction. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus expresses a very Irish notion, that the English language, which he must employ to be an artist, is for him a foreign language. “The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine,” he thinks, as he talks with an English-born Jesuit: “How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.”20 For Stephen, as for Oscar Wilde, the solution was to become a “lord of language,” to become more adept than the English at the use of their own language, an attitude also emphasized in Shaw's Pygmalion. The outsider is determined to excel, to understand far better than the native speaker how the language works, its limits and internal tensions, its possibilities.

Trollope's use of language is very different from Wilde's or Joyce's, but he came to examine and write about English society as an outsider, with the outsider's eagerness to outstrip the native in understanding his own environment. His outcast childhood and young manhood, so effectively described in An Autobiography, was followed by his time in Ireland, where he was doubly an outsider—a foreigner in Ireland, an exile from England. He set to work to understand and describe this strange new society, to compete with native novelists in depicting it in fiction. In The Macdermots of Ballycloran, The Kellys and the O'Kellys, and Castle Richmond, and to some extent in The Landleaguers, he showed how well he could analyze and describe the social tensions of nineteenth-century Ireland: the Ascendancy landlords, the smaller struggling landowners with their pretensions, the nationalist or conservative priests, the zealous evangelical ministers, the half-sirs and squireens, the hangers on and servants, the mysterious and potentially dangerous peasantry.

Sir William Gregory, Sir Patrick O'Brien, and other intelligent Irish readers recognized the accuracy of Trollope's Irish fiction and agreed that The Macdermots of Ballycloran was “the best Irish story that had appeared for something like half a century”21—that is, since Castle Rackrent. Trollope's social range is wider than that of most nineteenth-century Irish novelists, some of whom become unconvincing when they depict those too separate from them socially: Carleton's gentry are usually as untrue to life as some of Maria Edgeworth's peasants.

When Trollope turned to novels of English life with The Warden, he adapted his methods of social analysis to the new subject and again wrote at least partly as an outsider. Apart from his own childhood sense of separation, parts of The Warden, Barchester Towers, The Three Clerks, Doctor Thorne, and The Bertrams were written in Ireland, and distance imposed a kind of detachment, an outsider's ability to examine this society analytically in ways that someone who was a part of it would rarely feel motivated to try. England too offered a challenge—not a linguistic challenge, as to Wilde and Joyce, but a challenge to understand this society as he had come to understand Irish society, and to depict its structure and motivating forces. Trollope's skill in interesting the reader in the commonplace, that “appreciation of the usual” for which Henry James praised him,22 stems directly from his study of a foreign society by observing and reading, and from circumstances which made him also approach English society as a kind of foreigner, eager to understand it and to excel English writers in depicting it. England becomes more formalized, more articulated when examined and described by a writer who was now more or less half-Irish in his experience and attitudes. For a quasi foreigner, English customs and attitudes become interesting enough to write about in great detail, just as Joyce found the English language endlessly fascinating, and could appreciate the usual of Dublin from Trieste and Zurich. Trollope's sojourn in Ireland made him capable of seeing English society in new ways when he began to write about it, and his study of the Irish novelists, as well as his own assumption of the role of Irish novelist, taught him how to be a student and analyst of English life. Ireland made Trollope an Irish novelist; but it also made him an English novelist.


  1. An Autobiography, ed. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page, World's Classics (1950; rpt. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 58-59; hereafter citations in the text are to this edition.

  2. “The O'Conors of Castle Conor” first appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (May 1860); “Father Giles of Ballymoy” first appeared in the Argosy (May 1866).

  3. The Macdermots of Ballycloran, introd. N. John Hall, in Selected Works of Anthony Trollope, ed. N. John Hall, 3 vols. (New York: Arno Press, 1981), III, 162; subsequent citations in the text are to this edition, which is a reprint of the 1847 edition published by Newby.

  4. An Eye for an Eye (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1879), p. 178; further citations in the text are to this edition.

  5. The Kellys and the O'Kellys, introd. Shane Leslie (New York: Random House, 1937), p. 31; subsequent citations in my text are to this edition.

  6. The Landleaguers, introd. Robert Tracy, in Selected Works of Anthony Trollope, ed. N. John Hall, 3 vols. (New York: Arno Press, 1981), I, 6; further citations in my text are to this edition, which is a reprint of the 1883 Chatto and Windus edition. Jones was “a new comer” when he purchased his estates in 1850; he is presented as Anglo-Irish, though perhaps ultimately of Welsh ancestry.

  7. T. H. S. Escott, Anthony Trollope: His Public Services, Private Friends, and Literary Originals (1913; rpt. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1967), pp. 52-54.

  8. Escott, Anthony Trollope, p. 79.

  9. Trollope to George Eliot, 18 Oct. 1863, The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. Bradford Allen Booth (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1951), p. 138.

  10. Trollope's title recalls Lady Morgan's The O'Briens and the O'Flahertys (1827).

  11. Castle Richmond (New York: Harper, 1860), p. 9; further citations in the text are to this edition.

  12. Trollope is commenting on Castle Richmond, which he terms “a weak production.”

  13. See E. W. Wittig, “Trollope's Irish Fiction,” Éire-Ireland, 9, No. 3 (1974), 97-118.

  14. Quoted in Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger (New York: Signet, 1962), p. 373.

  15. Introd., Uncle Silas, by J. S. Le Fanu (London: Cresset Press, 1947), p. 8.

  16. The Blakes are a well-known Galway family, the Dillons a Roscommon sept: Lord Ballindine presumably is titled from the village of that name in west Roscommon, about twelve miles north of Tuam, and about ten miles west of Dunmore.

  17. See also William Carleton, “Wildgoose Lodge” (1833), in Wildgoose Lodge and Other Stories (Cork: Mercier Press, 1973), p. 20; Gerald Griffin, The Collegians (Dublin: Talbot Press, n.d.), p. 5.

  18. See also my discussion of this novel in Robert Tracy, Trollope's Later Novels (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1978), pp. 129-38.

  19. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Viking Press, 1968), pp. 251-52. Both Trollope's and Joyce's old men are Irish speakers, which adds to their otherness. Trollope presumably knew some Irish, enough at least to ask directions and carry on similar simple transactions, since much of the south and west of Ireland was Irish-speaking when he worked there. His spelling of Irish words in The Macdermots of Ballycloran is sometimes idiosyncratic enough to suggest that he is recording what he heard rather than what he read in the works of Carleton or Banim: for example, faltha for fáilte (welcomes), I, 34; boccocks for bacachs (beggars), I, 291; Shamus na Pe'bria, I, 173, and Shamuth na Pibu'a, I, 309, for Seamus na Píobaí (Seamus of the Pipes). However, the spelling of Irish, and the anglicized spelling of Irish, was in no way standardized in Trollope's day. Trollope would certainly have heard the popular Irish song “Páistín Finn,” literally “The White-headed Boy” or “Blonde Boy” but with the extended notion of “Fair-Haired Boy” in the sense of one particularly favored or liked; perhaps Phineas Finn is so named in reference to his gift of being almost universally liked. According to the 1851 census, Banagher was a linguistic frontier town, a western outpost of English-speaking; immediately to the west, twenty-five to fifty percent of the population were Irish-speaking, and further west Irish speakers were increasingly prevalent. See A View of the Irish Language, ed. Brian Ó Cuív (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1969), map, p. 138. The 1851 census is considered to underestimate considerably the prevalence of Irish speakers; see Seán de Fréine, “The Dominance of the English Language in the 19th Century,” in The English Language in Ireland, ed. Diarmaid Ó Muirithe (Dublin and Cork: Mercier Press, 1977), p. 80.

  20. Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 189.

  21. Escott, Anthony Trollope, p. 61.

  22. “Anthony Trollope” (1883), rpt. in Trollope: The Critical Heritage, ed. Donald Smalley (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Barnes and Noble, 1969), p. 527.

Robert H. Taylor (essay date 1982)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6604

SOURCE: “The Collector and Scholar: Trollope's Girls,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, Vol. 47, No. 2, Winter, 1986, pp. 229-47.

[In the following essay, originally presented as a lecture in 1982, Taylor compares the women in Trollope's novels to the female characters in the works of other male writers.]

The Victorian age saw the novel reach its greatest popularity. Enormous amounts of fiction were produced, and all tastes were catered to: there was the elegant, or Silver Fork school, there was the political novel, the satiric novel, the evangelical novel, the sensation novel—and the list can be as long as you wish to make it. Whatever the underlying theme was, the novel depended for its success on plot and character. Nowadays, of course, these appear to flourish chiefly in the detective story; but in the novel's palmy days its author relied on them to please the reader and reviewer alike.

Plot and characterization were not mutually exclusive; but it frequently happened that an author who had devised a neat plot found that he must shape his characters to fit it, sometimes leaving them rather stiff and wooden. Or conversely, that by devoting attention to the people in his book the plot had grown slack and loose.

Of this latter sort was Anthony Trollope. His best work, indeed, was of this kind. He tells us that though he provided himself with the outline of a story to begin with, the characters often took matters into their own hands, sometimes altering the plot considerably. This in itself indicates the vitality they had had for him, and the care with which he thought them out beforehand.

But other novelists possessed this vivifying ability, notably Dickens, who turned out memorable characters in a never-ending stream. Thackeray's satiric quality was of enormous value to him in just this way. And of course there were many others. But Trollope had, it seems to me, one distinction that sets him apart: he was able to make the jeune fille interesting. This distinction he shared with his feminine colleagues, who as a rule presented their heroines skillfully; but the male novelists usually had trouble with their good girls. The bad ones they could do very well—very well indeed; but the bad ones tended to steal the show. The classic example is Vanity Fair: how insipid Amelia Sedley seems beside Becky Sharp!

Let us look at some samples of the way these girls talk. To begin with we will go back to Scott, who was not a Victorian, but whose popularity continued throughout that age and who set an ideal for many of his successors.

Very well. The heroine of The Antiquary, Isabella, is walking with her father across the sands of a beach when they perceive they have been cut off by the swiftly rising tide. Their peril is real, they are unfamiliar with the countryside, no assistance is in sight. Isabella speaks.

“Must we yield life,” she said, “without a struggle? Is there no path, however dreadful, by which we could climb the crag, or at least attain some height above the tide, where we could remain till morning, or till help comes? They must be aware of our situation, and will raise the country to relieve us.”

What command of eloquence Isabella had! And here is Rose Maylie, from Oliver Twist, rejecting a suitor:

“I owe it to myself, that I, a friendless, portionless girl, with a blight upon my name, should not give your friends reason to suspect that I had sordidly yielded to your first passion, and fastened myself, a clog, on all your hopes and projects. I owe it to you and yours, to prevent you from opposing, in the warmth of your generous nature, this great obstacle to your progress in the world.”

Surely, like the noble lord in Iolanthe Rose Maylie had grammar and spelling for two. And here is another of the same sort—but now we are listening to Thackeray's Laura refusing Pendennis:

“Do not mistake me, Arthur,” she said, “it cannot be. You do not know what you ask, and do not be too angry with me for saying that I think you do not deserve it. What do you offer in exchange to a woman for her love, honor, and obedience? If ever I say these words, dear Pen, I hope to say them in earnest, and by the blessing of God to keep my vow. But you—what tie binds you? You do not care about many things which we poor women hold sacred. I do not like to think or ask how far your incredulity leads you. You offer to marry to please your mother, and own that you have no heart to give away? Oh, Arthur what is it you offer me? What a rash compact would you enter into so lightly? A month ago, and you would have given yourself to another. I pray you do not trifle with your own or others' hearts so recklessly. Go and work; go and mend, dear Arthur, for I see your faults, and dare speak of them now: go and get fame, as you say that you can, and I will pray for my brother, and watch our dearest mother at home.”

These three excerpts, from the three most admired novelists of the 19th century, are enough to show the kind of thing I have referred to.

It must be said in passing that proposals in fiction tend to be rather purple patches, possibly because the novelist feels they mark a point of high romance, and possibly because he has never observed any. Trollope's own proposal scenes are a bit flowery (“Say it shall be so” cries the hero), but nevertheless he tells us:

The absolute words and acts of one such scene did once come to the author's knowledge. The couple were by no means plebian, or below the proper standard of high bearing and high breeding; they were a handsome pair, living among educated people, sufficiently given to mental pursuits, and in every way what a pair of polite lovers ought to be. The all-important conversation passed in this wise. The site of the passionate scene was the seashore, on which they were walking in autumn.

Gentleman “Well, Miss———, the long and short of it is this: here I am; you can take me or leave me.”

Lady——— scratching a gutter on the sand with her parasol, so as to allow a little salt water to run out of one hole into another—“Of course, I know that's all nonsense.”

Gentleman “Nonsense! By Jove, it isn't nonsense at all: come, Jane: here I am; come, at any rate you can say something.”

Lady “Yes, I suppose I can say something.”

Gentleman “Well, which is it to be; take me or leave me?”

Lady—very slowly, and with a voice perhaps hardly articulate, carrying on, at the same time, her engineering works on a wider scale “Well, I don't exactly want to leave you.”

And so the matter was settled with much propriety and satisfaction, and both the lady and the gentleman would have thought, had they ever thought about the matter at all, that this, the sweetest moment of their lives, had been graced by all the poetry by which such moments ought to be hallowed.

We may guess from this what he thought of the stiff and elaborate language used for such episodes by his illustrious colleagues. Trollope rarely let his girls indulge in similar rhetorical flourishes. He also allowed them in general more spirit, which adds considerably to their verisimilitude. They are willing to stand up for themselves, for their friends, and for what they believe to be right. We might begin with our youngest example, Kate Masters, aged fifteen. Kate is passionately devoted to fox hunting, but as she has no horse of her own is dependent on the loan of one from a family friend; thus her hunting is very limited. On this occasion she has been able to borrow a pony, and while they are waiting for the hunt to begin, Lord Rufford, the local bigwig, tries to tease her.

“That's a nice pony of yours, my dear,” said the lord. Kate, who didn't quite like being called “my dear,” but who knew that a lord has privileges, said that it was a very good pony. “Suppose we change,” said his lordship. “Could you ride my horse?” “He's very big,” said Kate. “You'd look like a tom-tit on a haystack,” said his lordship. “And if you got on my pony, you'd look like a haystack on a tom-tit,” said Kate. Then it was felt Kate Masters had had the best of that little encounter.

Now to skip briefly to an elderly example: Mrs. Hurtle, of The Way We Live Now, is approaching thirty-five, by Victorian standards hardly to be called a girl any longer. But she is attractive, and American, and something of a mystery. I shall not quote any of her conversation—merely one casual sentence of description. There was little information to be had about her, Trollope tells us, and adds:

“The thing, however, best known of her was that she had shot a man through the head somewhere in Oregon.”

The casualness of it! You can't ask for anything more spirited than that, even today.

A different—and milder—form of spirit is shown by Lucy Morris in The Eustace Diamonds. Lucy has no money of her own, and is a governess in the home of Lady Fawn. (I am sorry about these long explanations, but the background is necessary.) Lady Fawn has one son, who has succeeded to the title, and a large number of younger daughters. Lucy is engaged to Frank Greystock, who cannot yet afford to marry, but who is in Parliament, where he has had several clashes with Lord Fawn, who is a pompous ass. Lord Fawn has sought refuge in his mother's house, where his wounded dignity will be soothed. And, as the family is sitting together, Lord Fawn says, “Mr. Greystock has been most insolent,” and follows that a minute later with

“… nothing on earth shall ever induce me to speak again to a man who is so little like a gentleman … He has never forgiven me … because he was so ridiculously wrong [in that debate]”

“I am sure that had nothing to do with it,” said Lucy.

“Miss Morris, I shall venture to hold my own opinion,” said Lord Fawn.

“And I shall hold mine” said Lucy.

Then the girls try to soothe her back into her usual mouse-like quietude, but unavailingly.

“How can I hear such things said and not notice them?” demanded Lucy. “Why does Lord Fawn say them when I am by?”

Lord Fawn had now condescended to be full of wrath against his mother's governess. “I suppose I may express my own opinion, Miss Morris, in my mother's house.”

“And I shall express mine,” said Lucy. “Mr. Greystock is a gentleman. If you say that he is not a gentleman, it is not true.”

Upon hearing these terrible words spoken, Lord Fawn rose from his seat and slowly left the room. … Then there was a great commotion at Fawn Court.

She had, in effect, called him a liar.

Lucy, in spite of all that is said to her by Lady Fawn and her daughters, still thinks that if there was an injury, it was done to her, not to the Lord Fawn. She will say only that she had better leave the house for good. It must be remembered that she has no place to go, and no means of support. Finally, she does make an effort to see Lord Fawn; she has been told he will accept an apology.

She walked straight up to Lord Fawn, and met him beneath the trees. He was still black and solemn, and was evidently brooding over his grievance; but he bowed to her, and stood still as she approached him. “My lord,” said she, “I am very sorry for what happened last night.”

“And so was I,—very sorry, Miss Morris.”

“I think you know that I am engaged to marry Mr. Greystock?”

“I cannot allow that that has anything to do with it.”

“When you think that he must be dearer to me than all the world, you will acknowledge that I couldn't hear hard things said of him without speaking.” His face became blacker than ever, but he made no reply. He wanted an abject begging of unconditional pardon from the little girl who loved his enemy. If that were done, he would vouchsafe his forgiveness; but he was too small by nature to grant it on other terms. “Of course,” continued Lucy, “I am bound to treat you with special respect in Lady Fawn's house.” She looked almost beseechingly into his face as she paused for a moment.

“But you treated me with special disrespect,” said Lord Fawn.

“And how did you treat me, Lord Fawn?”

“Miss Morris, I must be allowed, in discussing matters with my mother, to express my own opinions in such language as I may think fit to use. Mr. Greystock's conduct to me was,—was,—was altogether ungentlemanlike.”

“Mr. Greystock is a gentleman.”

“His conduct was most offensive, and most,—most ungentlemanlike. Mr. Greystock disgraced himself.”

“It isn't true!” said Lucy. Lord Fawn gave one start, and walked off to the house as quick as his legs could carry him.

And so Lucy has to give up her home at Fawn Court and find another situation, all for the luxury of defending her fiancé.

This is a small episode, truly, but still, I think, instinct with life. It is with such touches as these that Trollope builds his characters.

Let us now go back to The American Senator and consider Arabella Trefoil. I am not sure that she belongs here; she comes very close to being a bad girl, and we have agreed that they are easier to make interesting than the good ones. However, Trollope lets her marry in the end, though not the wealthy nobleman she strove to catch, and if he so far condoned her faults, we may do it also.

Arabella is the niece of a duke; but her parents are separated, and her father has squandered what fortune he had, and most of her mother's. He lives on an allowance from his brother, the duke, and sees little or nothing of his wife and daughter. Arabella ekes out a precarious existence with her mother, visiting friends and relatives whenever possible. She has had a long and weary time of it, but at last she is engaged to a reputable but not exciting man with an income of £7,000 a year. However, he says he cannot provide the large settlements that her mother's lawyer thinks desirable, and Arabella takes advantage of this lull in the engagement. Finding that she and her mother are invited to a houseparty at the home of Lord Rufford, a peer whose income is £40,000 a year, she decides to risk everything—i.e., to try to capture Lord Rufford without breaking off the match with her fiancé until she can safely afford to do so.

Here is a little conversation between Arabella and her mother the night before they leave Rufford Hall. Lady Augustus has been trying to find out what Arabella has accomplished.

“And now, mamma, I'll tell you what we must do.”

“You must tell me why, also?”

“I can do nothing of the kind. [Lord Rufford] knows the Duke.”

This meant, of course, Arabella's uncle.


“Well enough to go there. There is to be a great shooting at Mistletoe,”—Mistletoe was the Duke's place,—“in January, … and he can go if he likes. He won't go as it is; but if I tell him I'm to be there, I think he will.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Well;—I told him a tarradiddle of course. I made him understand that I could be there if I pleased, and he thinks that I mean to be there if he goes.”

“But I'm sure the Duchess won't have me again.”

“She might let me come.”

“And what am I to do?”

“You could go to Brighton with Miss de Groat;—or what does it matter for a fortnight? You'll get the advantage when it's done. It's as well to have the truth out at once, mamma,—I cannot carry on if I'm always to be stuck close to your apron-strings. There are so many people who won't have you.”

“Arabella, I do think you are the most ungrateful, hard-hearted creature that ever lived.”

“Very well; I don't know what I have to be grateful about, and I need to be hard-hearted. Of course I am hard-hearted. The thing will be to get papa to see his brother.”

“Your papa!”

“Yes;—that's what I mean to try. The Duke of course would like me to marry Lord Rufford. Do you think that if I were at home here [at Rufford Hall] it wouldn't make Mistletoe a very different sort of place for you? The Duke does like papa in a sort of way, and he's civil enough to me when I'm there. He never did like you.”

… “Your father wouldn't lift his little finger for you.”

“I'll try, at any rate. Will you consent to my going there without you if I can manage It?”

“What did Lord Rufford say?” Arabella here made a grimace. “You can tell me something. What are the lawyers to say to Mr. Morton's people?”

“Whatever they like.”

“If they come to arrangements do you mean to marry him?”

“Not for the next two months certainly. I shan't see him again now heaven knows when. He'll write, no doubt,—one of his awfully sensible letters, and I shall take my time about answering him. I can stretch it out for two months. If I'm to do any good with this man it will all be arranged before that time. If the Duke could really be made to believe that Lord Rufford was in earnest he'd have me there. As to her, she always does what he tells her.”

“[Lord Rufford] is going to write to you?”

“I told you that before, mamma. What is the good of asking a lot of questions? You know now what my plan is, and if you won't help me, I must carry it out alone” … Then without a kiss or wishing her mother goodnight she went off to her own room.

Not the usual conversation between mother and daughter as found in Victorian novels, certainly; and there follow the letters between her and Lord Rufford. He wrote, as she predicted, and here is the ending of his first note:

“… I have been out with the hounds two or three times since you went … I rode Jack one day, [Jack is the horse he lent her during her visit] but he didn't carry me as well as he did you. I think he's more of a lady's horse. If I go to Mistletoe I shall have some horses somewhere in the neighborhood and I'll make them take Jack, so that you may have a chance.

“I never know how to sign myself to young ladies. Suppose I say that I am yours,

“Anything you like best,


This gives Arabella her opening, and her reply of which I quote the essentials, is:

“… It is so kind of you to think of me about Jack. I am never very fond of Mistletoe. Don't you be mischievous now and tell the Duchess I said so. But with Jack in the neighbourhood I can stand even her Grace. I think I shall be there about the middle of January but it must depend on all those people mamma is going to. I shall have to make a great fight, for mamma thinks that ten days in the year at Mistletoe is all that duty requires. But I always stick up for my uncle, and mean in this instance to have a little of my own way. What are parental commands in opposition to Jack and all his glories? Besides, mamma does not mean to go herself.

“… Don't go and gamble away your money among a lot of men. Though I dare say you have got so much that it doesn't signify whether you lose some of it or not. I do think it is such a shame that a man like you should have such a quantity, and that a poor girl such as I am shouldn't have enough to pay for her hats and gloves. Why shouldn't I send a string of horses about just when I please? I believe I could make as good a use of them as you do, and then I could lend you Jack. I would be so good-natured. You should have Jack every day you wanted him.

“You must write and tell me what day you will be at Mistletoe. It is you that have tempted me, and I don't mean to be there without you—or I suppose I ought to say, without the horse. But of course you will have understood that. No young lady ever is supposed to desire the presence of any young man. It would be very improper, of course. But a young man's Jack is quite another thing.

“… I have not had much experience signing myself to young gentlemen and am therefore quite in as great a difficulty as you were; but, though I can't swear I am everything that you like best, I will protest that I am pretty nearly what you ought to like,—as far as young ladies go.

“In the meantime I certainly am,

“Yours truly,

“A. T.”

“P. S. Mind you write—about Jack …”

Then a blow falls: she receives this reply from Lord Rufford:

“My dear Miss Trefoil

Here I am still at Surbiton's and we have had such good sport that I'm half inclined to give the Duke the slip. What a pity that you can't come here instead …

“If I don't go to Mistletoe I'll send Jack and a groom if you think the Duke would take them in and let you ride the horse. If so I shall stay here pretty near all January … there is always a sort of sin in not sticking to hunting when it's good …

“Yours always faithfully,


There was a great deal in this letter which was quite terrible to Miss Trefoil … she had managed the matter with her uncle … and the Duke had got the Duchess to assent … two handsome new dresses had been acquired … But what would Mistletoe be to her without Lord Rufford? … She had to think very much of her next letter …”

—with this result:

“Your last letter which I have just got has killed me. You must know that I have altered my plans and done it as immense trouble for the sake of meeting you at Mistletoe. It will be most unkind,—I might say worse,—if you put me off. I don't think you can do it as a gentleman. I'm sure you would not if you knew what I have gone through with mamma and the whole set of them to arrange it. Of course I shan't go if you don't come. Your talk of sending the horse there is adding an insult to the injury. You must have meant to annoy me or you wouldn't have pretended to suppose that it was the horse I wanted to see. I didn't think I could have taken so violent a dislike to poor Jack as I did for a moment. Let me tell you that I think you are bound to go to Mistletoe though the hunting at Melton should be better than ever was known before …

“… Please, please come. It was to be the little cream of the year for me. It wasn't Jack. There! That ought to bring you. And yet, if you come, I will worship Jack. I have not said a word to mamma about altering my plans, nor shall I while there is a hope. But to Mistletoe I will not go, unless you are to be there … Pray come, Yours if you do come—what shall I say? Fill it as you please.

“A. T.”

Lord Rufford, when he received … [this] epistle was quite aware that he had better not go to Mistletoe. He understood the matter nearly as well as Arabella did herself. But there was a feeling with him that up to that stage of the affair he ought to do what he was asked by a young lady, even though there might be danger. Though there was danger there would still be amusement. He therefore wrote as follows:

“Dear Miss Trefoil,

“You shan't be disappointed whether it be Jack or any less useful animal that you wish to see. At any rate, Jack,—and the other animal,—will be at Mistletoe on the 15th. I have written to the Duke by this post. I can only hope you will be grateful …”

Well! She succeeded—so far. Trollope himself said of her:

Will such a one as Arabella Trefoil be damned? Think of her virtues; how she works; how true she is to her vocation; how little there is of self-indulgence or idleness. I think she will go to a kind of third-class heaven in which she will always be getting third-class husbands.

But I did not mean to give so much space to Arabella; she has shouldered aside some girls completely, and left little room for the others. All I can say is that it's just like her; she never cared much for them, anyway.

Let us consider a very different individual, Lady Glencora Palliser. She has inherited a vast fortune, she was vivacious, impetuous, charming. She was deeply in love with a worthless gambler, and only because of enormous pressure from influential relatives did she break it off and marry Mr. Palliser, who has a promising political career ahead of him, but who is otherwise somewhat a dry stick. Indeed, after her marriage she very nearly elopes with her former lover. When that crisis is surmounted, she settles down to married life, but not without a good deal of impatience with her husband's love of conventional behavior, and not without annoying him considerably by what he feels are ill-considered remarks.

Let us begin with a short scene. Almost as soon as they are married, Mr. Palliser introduces a Mrs. Marsham, an old friend of his mother's; he hopes that Glencora will accept her advice and guidance. Glencora naturally hates her on sight, and things do not go smoothly. Thus, on one occasion, Glencora has asked her cousin Alice to dinner; Mr. Palliser has asked a political friend and Mrs. Marsham. After a rather uncomfortable meal, the ladies retire, and Mrs. Marsham who has been snubbing Alice, begins again.

“Is Miss Vavasor going to walk home?” she asked.

“Walk home;—all along Oxford Street! Good gracious! no, why should she walk? The carriage will take her.”

“Or a cab,” said Alice. “I am quite used to go about London in a cab by myself.”

“I don't think they are nice for young ladies after dark,” said Mrs. Marsham. “I was going to offer my servant to walk with her. She is an elderly woman and would not mind it.”

“I'm sure Alice is very much obliged,” said Lady Glencora, “but she will have the carriage.”

“You are very good-natured,” said Mrs. Marsham; “but gentlemen do so dislike having their horses out at night.”

“No gentleman's horses will be out,” said Lady Glencora savagely; “and as for mine, it's what they are there for.” It was not often that Lady Glencora made any allusion to her own property, or allowed anyone near her to suppose that she remembered the fact that her husband's great wealth was, in truth, her wealth. … But now, when she was twitted by her husband's special friend with ill-usage to her husband's horses, … she did find it hard to bear.

“I dare say it's all right,” said Mrs. Marsham.

“It is all right,” said Lady Glencora. “Mr. Palliser has given me my horses for my own use, to do as I like with them; and if he thinks I take them out when they ought to be left at home, he can tell me so. Nobody else has a right to do it.” Lady Glencora, by this time, was almost in a passion, and showed that she was so.

“My dear Lady Glencora,” said Mrs. Marsham. “I did not mean anything of that kind.”

“I am so sorry,” said Alice, “And it is such a pity as I am quite used to going about in cabs.”

“Of course you are,” said Lady Glencora. “Why shouldn't you? I'd go home in a wheelbarrow if I couldn't walk, and had no other conveyance. That's not the question, Mrs. Marsham understands that.”

“Upon my word I don't understand anything,” said that lady.

“I understand this,” said Lady Glencora; “that in all such matters as that, I intend to follow my own pleasure. Come, Alice, let us have some coffee,”—and she rang the bell. “What a fuss we have made about a stupid old carriage!”

She will tolerate no interference; when her husband insists on doing so, even he does not come off quite unscathed.

After all the danger of the elopement was over, Mr. Palliser took her and her cousin Alice on a leisurely trip to the Continent—a jaunt to celebrate their reconciliation, as it were. And it is while they are in Lucerne that—and I quote:

Lady Glenclora … whispered into her husband's ear that she thought it probable—; she wasn't sure;—she didn't know. And then she burst out into tears on his bosom … He was beside himself when he left her, which he did with the primary intention of telegraphing to London for half-a-dozen leading physicians …

Lady Glencora tells the happy news to Alice, and they agree they will have to start home.

“He says so; [said Lady Glencora]—but he seems to think I oughtn't to travel above a mile and a half a day. When I talked of going down the Rhine in one of the steamers, I thought he would have gone into a fit … I know he'll make a goose of himself;—and he'll make geese of us, too; which is worse. …”

For some time after this Lady Glencora's conduct was frequently so indiscreet as to drive her husband almost to frenzy. On the very day after the news had been communicated to him, she proposed a picnic, and made the communication not only in the presence of Alice, but in that of Mr. Grey also! Mr. Palliser, on such an occasion, could not express all that he thought, but he looked it.

“What is the matter now, Plantagenet?” said his wife.

“Nothing,” said he;—nothing. “Never mind.”

“And shall we make up this party to the chapel?”

The chapel in question was Tell's chapel—ever so far up the lake. A journey in a steamer would have been necessary.

“No!” said he, shouting out his refusal at her. “We will not.”

“You needn't be angry about it,” said she …

[Later she says] “Upon my word, Alice, I think this will kill me … I am not to stir out of the house now, unless I go in the carriage or he is with me.”

“It won't last long.”

“I don't know what you call long. As for walking with him, it's out of the question. He goes about a mile an hour … I had no idea that he would be such an old coddle.”

“The coddling will all be given to someone else, very soon.”

“No baby could possibly live through it, if you mean that … But … I shall take that matter into my own hands. … I shan't let him or anybody else do what they please with my baby. I know what I'm about in such matters a great deal better than he does. I've no doubt he's a very clever man in Parliament; but he doesn't seem to me to understand anything else. …”

There was great trouble about the mode of their return.

“Oh, what nonsense,” said Glencora, “let us get into the express train, and go right through to London.” Mr. Palliser looked at her with a countenance full of rebuke and sorrow. He was always so looking at her now. “If you mean, Plantagenet, that we are to be dragged all across the continent in that horrible carriage, and be a thousand days on the road, I for one won't submit to it.” “I wish I had never told him a word about it,” she said afterwards to Alice. “He would never have found it out himself, till this thing was all over.”

She is still the same, some ten years later, when Mr. Palliser has succeeded to his uncle's title and become the Duke of Omnium. The dignity of a duchess sits very lightly on her shoulders. A member of Parliament, Phineas Finn, has been arrested and held on a charge of murder. She is convinced of Mr. Finn's innocence, and feels that he should be cleared and set free without more ado. She says as much to her husband and an old friend of his.

“My dear,” said the elder duke, “I do not think that in my time any innocent man has lost ever his life upon the scaffold.”

“Is that a reason why our friend should be the first instance?” said the duchess.

“He must be tried according to the laws of his country,” said the younger duke.

“Plantagenet, you always speak as if everything were perfect, whereas you know very well that everything is imperfect. If that man is—is hung, I—”

“Glencora,” said her husband, “do not connect yourself with the fate of a stranger from any misdirected enthusiasm.”

“I do not connect myself. If that man is hung, I shall go into mourning for him. You had better look to it.”

And she would have, too. Later she has an interview with the lawyer for the defense.

“He must have the very best men,” said the Duchess.

“He must have good men, certainly.”

“And a great many. Couldn't we get Sir Gregory Grogram?” Mr. Low shook his head. “I know very well that if you get men who are really,—really swells, for that is what it is, Mr. Low,—pay them well enough, and so make it really an important thing, they can browbeat any judge and hood wink any jury. I daresay it is very dreadful to say so, Mr. Low; but nevertheless I believe it, and as this man is certainly innocent it ought to be done. I daresay it's very shocking, but I do think that twenty thousand pounds spent among the lawyers would get him off.”

“I hope we can get him off without expending twenty thousand pounds, Duchess. …”

“I would fill the court with lawyers for him,” continued the Duchess. “I would cross-examine the witnesses off their legs … I would make witnesses speak. I would give a carriage and a pair of horses to everyone of the jurors' wives, if that would do any good. You may shake your head, Mr. Low; but I would …” Mr. Low did his best to explain to the Duchess that the desired object could hardly be effected after the fashion she proposed, and he endeavoured to persuade her that justice was sure to be done in an English court of law. “Then why are people so anxious to get this or that lawyer to bamboozle the witnesses?” said the Duchess …

“The more money you spend,” [she went on] “the more fuss you make. And the longer a trial is … and the greater the interest, the more chance a man has to escape … I'd have Mr. Finn's trial made so long that they never could convict him. I'd tire out all the judges and juries in London. If you get lawyers enough they may speak forever.” Mr. Low endeavoured to explain that this might prejudice the prisoner. “And I'd examine every member of the House of Commons, and all the Cabinet, and all their wives …—and I'd take care that they should know what was coming.”

“And if he were convicted afterwards?”

“I'd buy up the Home Secretary. It's very horrid to say so, of course, Mr. Low; and I dare say there is nothing wrong ever done in Chancery. But I know what Cabinet Ministers are. If they could get a majority by granting a pardon they'd do it quick enough.”

“You are speaking of a liberal government, of course, Duchess.”

“There isn't twopence to choose between them in that respect. Just at this moment I believe Mr. Finn is the most popular member of the House of Commons; and I'd bring all that to bear. You can't but know that if everything of that kind is done it will have an effect. I believe you could make him so popular that the people would pull down the prison rather than have him hung;—so that a jury would not dare to say he was guilty.”

“Would that be justice … ?” asked the just man.

“It would be success, Mr. Low,—which is a great deal the better thing of the two.”

Well, we must leave her there. To members of the Bar she must be somewhat familiar—have they not encountered people like her? And to those of us who are not members of the Bar may be permitted a certain sneaking sympathy with some of her views. And now there is no time for Miss Dunstable, the only Trollopian character who was able to have fun teasing Mrs. Proudie, nor Madam Max Goesler, who proposed to Phineas Finn—and a hundred years ago that took spirit—nor Emily Trevelyan, whose marriage disintegrated. There is, by the way, just the faintest foreshadowing of that at the very beginning of her story. The wedding is about to take place, and Emily's parents are congratulating themselves on that paragon, their new son-in-law.

Only, as [Emily's mother] was the first to find out, he liked to have his own way.

“Well his way is such a good way,” said [her father].

“But Emily likes her way too,” said [her mother].

And so we perceive that Emily was not the meek dove that tradition has assigned to the place of heroine in Victorian fiction. And the voices we have been hearing are not to be found in Dickens or Wilkie Collins, Meredith or Thackeray. Trollope's ear for dialogue was too sharp, his observation too keen, to permit such vacuous stereotypes as those we began with. This is the more to his credit when one remembers that, like so many men of his day, he had no use whatever for any Women's Rights movement. He depicted human beings as he saw them, and rested his case on the result so successfully, I feel, that I will use his words to conclude with. He says of the Pallisers in his Autobiography, after noting some defects in Mr. Palliser's character:

But if he be not a gentleman then am I unable to describe a gentleman. She [—Lady Glencora—] is by no means a perfect lady; but if she be not all over a woman then am I unable to describe a woman.

Owen Dudley Edwards (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 18064

SOURCE: “Anthony Trollope, the Irish Writer,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 38, No. 1, June, 1983, pp. 1-42.

[In the following essay, Edwards offers a detailed survey of Trollope's Irish novels and studies the way in which these works influenced Trollope's later writings.]

Anthony Trollope's connection with Ireland is unique among the British major creative writers of the nineteenth century. For all of the many differences of their responses to Ireland, Trollope has one quality lacking in the rest of them. Britain made them. Every one of them saw Ireland as outsiders. Trollope did not. His view of Ireland from first to last was that of a participant: Ireland made him. Even Michael Sadleir, who saw Trollope as romanticizing his debt to Ireland at the expense of his debt to England, accepted that, although no more than that:

Ireland produced the man; but it was left to England to inspire the novelist. … Ireland, having by friendliness, sport and open air saved Trollope from himself, came near by her insane absorption in her own wrongs and thwarted hopes to choke the very genius that she had vitalised.1

“How neat it sounds! But it won't do,” commented John Cronin over forty years after Sadleir.2 The time interval is important: Sadleir wrote in the mid-1920s when the British had firmly and thankfully closed the door on the Irish nightmare, politically and intellectually. The firmness and thanks were the greater because of the repressed emotions of guilt that dogged British reflections about Ireland, and the act of repression in itself instilled a callousness in the form of dismissal of Ireland: it is at first glance a little cold-blooded to describe as “insane absorption in her own wrongs” the Irish response to the Great Famine of 1845-50 during which a million died and another million emigrated, many to die at sea or on landfall; and Trollope's first two novels, both with Irish themes, were written on the eve and during the height of the Famine, respectively, while his next Irish novel, Castle Richmond, describes the Famine in detail. But Sadleir's self-revelation is in the passage: Ireland seemed to him a self-obsessed society engaged in a largely incomprehensible set of conversations among its component parts alternating with shrill denunciation of the English, a process whence an Englishman felt rejected in all senses. Nevertheless, Anthony Trollope and his times were not Michael Sadleir and his.3

John Cronin, in contrast, speaks for the more realistic climate of today, farther away from Trollope in time yet paradoxically closer to his sense of complexity. Today the Irish nightmare is abroad once more. Neither British guilt nor Irish insanity will suffice as explanations of it. They certainly did not suffice for Trollope. The latest Trollopians are forcing reconsiderations of all Trollope's Irish writing with scant respect for Sadleir's dismissal of it. Great claims are being made for The Macdermots of Ballycloran; at long last The Landleaguers is finding its defenders; the historians at least acknowledge deep obligations to Castle Richmond; new editions of all Trollope's Irish novels are inviting fresh appraisals of their merits. Trollope's Irish writing is winning its place of honor in the canon. Oddly enough, its slightest contributions, the short stories “The O'Conors of Castle Conor County Mayo,” (Harper's, May 1860) and “Father Giles of Ballymoy” (Argosy, May 1866), were the first to gain it, being included in the splendid selection of the short stories made by Herbert Van Thal thirty-three years ago.4

Yet I wish here to go farther. Trollope, almost alone of all British-born writers on Ireland in the nineteenth century, reminds us of the twentieth-century error which assumes Irish and British separation to have been inevitable, an error gratifying to modern separatist nationalists and British conservative apologists alike. In arguing that Ireland could never be integrated into the United Kingdom, each of these groups has a stake, the Irish separatist to gain legitimacy for the highly novel solution from which he benefited, the British conservative to justify the loss of Ireland on the ground that, since it could never be held, no blame attaches for losing it. Nevertheless, in the nineteenth century Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, and it was possible for an Anthony Trollope, going from Britain to Ireland, or for a Phineas Finn, going from Ireland to Britain, to have a single as well as a dual identity. Being parts of a totality, they saw—or rather Trollope saw and made Finn see—a subordinate separation. They could and did experience both an Irish and a British identity, even as nineteenth-century Scottish writers could find a Scottish and an English identity. But Trollope was more than a mere sojourner in Ireland. He met Conor Cruise O'Brien's definition that to be an Irish writer is, in the end, to be possessed, obsessed, and in some way to be mauled by Ireland.5The Landleaguers becomes our great witness here. It is not, as with Tennyson or Stevenson, a bitter attack on what “those people” are doing:6 it is an attack on what “my people” are doing, and the sense that it is “my” values to which they are doing it. The anger is that of George Moore in Parnell and his Island (1887) or Edith Somerville and Martin Ross in Naboth's Vineyard (1891). Even though the warfare carried out by the Irish agrarian rebels on fox hunting seems a very frivolous symbol to our generation as a focal point for that sense of anger, yet the fox hunt existed for all four of them as proof of the humanity, fellowship, courage, and excitement which they proudly saw as Irish. Moore, apparently the least engaged in such things, makes his denunciation of the war against the fox hunt the climax of his narrative. As to Trollope, on one side of the divide of the 1880s, and to Somerville and Ross on the other, we have only to look to their most delightful passages, whether recording the first appearance of Burgo Fitzgerald in Can You Forgive Her? (ch. 17), the mishap of Lord Chiltern in Phineas Finn (ch. 24), or, in the case of Somerville and Ross, the many comedies of misadventure in Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. (1899), to see how much love went into the celebration of the institution. And the Land Leaguers, in the practice exhibited by their blocking hunts as a protest, and in the theory conveyed by their teachings that the day of the hunt would be over when they came finally into their own, foretold the end of an institution and a society which Trollope had adored. Perhaps his clearest personal identification with it is shown in “The O'Conors of Castle Conor.” Unlike Moore, or Somerville and Ross, Trollope never saw himself as the representative of the fox-hunting landlord class, and because of that his anger was even keener than theirs. He has to be seen as an Irish writer, but one with more independence of Irish divisions than writers of Irish birth, until the final great division took place and left him in the usual position of Irish writers: a victim.

Yet his role as a victim was far from limited to Ireland tout court. She made him happy, and made him a writer, and transformed him from an incipient drop-out postal clerk into a shrewd, constructive, reputable, and far-sighted official, from a drifter in London low life to an honored guest in dignified if dilapidated stately homes of Ireland, and from child of disintegrating family into proud husband and father. He sketched that idyllic place of Ireland in his development in his Autobiography in 1876.7 And then he saw all transformed in the land war of 1879-82, and the fairy godmother of his youth become the hostile enchantress of his old age. But it was not Ireland alone but the tragedy of the Anglo-Irish Union which victimized Trollope the writer. He had exercised his rights as a child of the larger island to become thereby a child of the smaller; but few of his fellow Englishmen had made the leap in real terms, and there were not many more to make it in imagination. The Irish, the Scots, and the Welsh aspired to the sweets of English life and to acceptance by the English in equality of status. The zeal with which they pursued the first meant that the second was rendered more distant from them as a result of natural English defensiveness. It can be put in sociological terms (and is far from confined to the British Isles): politico-economic advance by the outsiders at the expense of the metropolitan elite results in the widening of social barriers between elite and outsiders. Trollope's first novels fell prey to this situation. Henry Colburn, in an understandably morose letter on his ill-starred publication The Kellys and the O'Kellys, told its author on 11 November 1848, “It is evident that readers do not like novels on Irish subjects as well as on others,” and hence, that poor prospects for most novels are made poorer still by the use of that location (Autobiography, p. 78). The New Monthly Magazine's review in August 1848, which Colburn probably had in mind when he wrote, had put the point more sharply:

Truth to say … we cannot sympathize at the present moment with the whimsicalities of that strange, wild, imaginative people, herein so characteristically described, when these whims are exhausting themselves in disloyalty and rebellion, and threatening rapine and bloodshed. … The humour of the Emerald Isle has too often that which is sensual and repugnant even in its very joyousness, and among a class with whom poverty, pathos, and passion, are ever alternating with fun, frolic, and folly,—what that is temperate, chaste, and ennobling, can be expected?8

Trollope says he did not see that notice, but he remained convinced of Colburn's argument to the extent that he later stated he made a mistake in the nationality he gave to Phineas Finn. “It was certainly a blunder,” he declared,

to take him from Ireland. … There was nothing to be gained by the peculiarity, and there was an added difficulty in obtaining sympathy and affection for a politician belonging to a nationality whose politics are not respected in England. But in spite of this Phineas succeeded.

(Autobiography, p. 318).

It is possible to interpret the New Monthly Magazine literally and argue that Trollope was exceptionally unfortunate in going before the world in April 1847 and July 1848, respectively, with The Macdermots of Ballycloran and its successor: the latter date confronted Britain with the Young Ireland insurrection of 1848, 29 July being the one moment of armed confrontation when William Smith O'Brien confronted the police at Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary, in the Widow MacCormack's cabbage patch. The episode was ludicrous and in retrospect appears an inevitable failure for the Young Irelanders, a failure made certain by bad leadership, intellectual limitations, uncertainty of intentions, and a countryside demoralized by famine. But at the time it was ominous in the extreme. The crackle of gunfire around the cabbage patch was the nearest the United Kingdom would come to the convulsions which shook thrones all over Europe in 1848, but nobody could be sure it was finale and not prelude. The Chartists, with strong Irish membership and links, had been expected to rise in London in June, and many of them were tried and convicted in the Old Bailey in late August. In fact, the Young Ireland rising was in one sense a precursor: the future Fenian leaders John O'Mahony and James Stephens took part in the rising and thereafter in exile began to set in motion their own, far more serious, revolutionary movement, the Fenians.9The Kellys and the O'Kellys hardly helped itself by a cool, vivid description of the trial of Daniel O'Connell and his followers in 1843 at its commencement, and in the climate of 1848 English readers were not likely to distinguish between the nonviolent leader and his former followers in Young Ireland who had broken from him on the issue of violence. The moment of the appearance of The Macdermots of Ballycloran was less politically inappropriate, but on a psychological level may have been even worse. It was the most dreadful year of the Irish Great Famine. With Charles Lever and Samuel Lover, Ireland had previously won popularity with an English readership as the jesters' nursery,10 and both its present situation and its latest literary image fashioned by Trollope's hand were too full of despair to be borne by a public in search of fiction for relaxation. “The Black '47” was not, as bitter Irish commentators would claim, a conscious British crime against Ireland—indeed Sir Robert Peel's government before it gave way to the laissez-faire Whigs in 1846 did more for famine relief than would have been undertaken by any other government in Europe—but it must have left in many minds the unspoken message of British failure to govern Ireland competently, in mockery of the confidence with which Britain had entered on that task under the Union of 1800.

Yet, like Sadleir's nice phrase on Trollope's debt to England and Ireland, it won't do. Certainly Trollope did not think it did. As the good master workman, he took heed of the lesson, and from The Warden onwards he showed how to give the public a packaging it would accept; as the writer of integrity, he insisted on writing Castle Richmond to give his literary witness to the horror of the Great Famine despite its previous effects, such as they were, in stifling his early reception. Sadleir's hostile reaction to the Irish novels may convey something of the attitudes of the 1840s, however much it led him to misunderstand the books themselves: he called the first two books “pamphlet[s] in fictional guise.”11 On the face of it, the remark is absurd. Pamphlets are designed by their nature to advocate some cause; the only cause advocated in either novel is the author's desire that his readers get a sense of Irish realities. Perhaps Sadleir believed that any realistic treatment of Ireland in fictional form was ipso facto a “pamphlet”; the subject was so undesirable that talking about it seriously was artistic suicide. In this view Sadleir was not wholly representative for his own time. Hugh Walpole's study of Trollope has found few friends; but he does deserve credit for seeing the quality and importance of The Macdermots of Ballycloran and The Kellys and the O'Kellys.12 After Trollope's death Ward, Lock found it advantageous to sell them alongside Charles Lever and William Carleton in cheap editions, and in the new century the audience responding to Somerville and Ross found something to please it in The Kellys and the O'Kellys.13 These would not have been exclusively Irish readers. But the critics from either island remained cold. The British scholars were not attracted to Irish writing by a novelist whom they identified as quintessentially English. Irish critics might have welcomed Trollope's compassion and appreciation for Ireland, but The Landleaguers reminded them that he was not to be recruited as an English witness on the “Irish Side.” His love and his anger were too intertwined to please them, especially in the heady years of the Irish renaissance and revolution. The English uncritical friend of Ireland (such as Tom Broadbent in Shaw's John Bull's Other Island) was welcome as a valuable, if not very highly regarded, crusader against Irish wrongs and British ignorance; the English enemy of Ireland, particularly James Anthony Froude, was also welcome, since he could so readily be quoted against his own side (Irish newspapers and magazines from the Nation to the Irish World quoted Froude, and were echoed by subsequent Irish apologists, when they were not belaboring him). Trollope knew far too much, and was too deeply involved and too independent about it for comfort.

Trollope could not foresee this, but he followed the signs of his own times. Apart from important sojourns in England and in the West Indies, Trollope lived in Ireland throughout the 1840s and 1850s, but aside from his ill-chosen foray into historical fiction with La Vendée, and his commencement of Castle Richmond at the end of the 1850s, it was to England he turned for scenes. He had, in literary terms, been driven out of Ireland. But how absolute was that expulsion? Leaving aside his use of Irish location for An Eye for an Eye, written in the early 1870s, and his formal choice of an Irish political theme in The Landleaguers in the early 1880s, is it right to see a continuum from his Irish writing to his later work, and, if so, where?

If it is, the most obvious line of investigation comes from the first two novels themselves. But of these it is usually agreed that The Macdermots of Ballycloran is largely unlike anything else in Trollope, apart from some links with The Landleaguers. Hugh Walpole saw in Feemy “one of the finest of all Trollope's heroines and [a] true sister to Lily Dale, Clara Amedroz of The Belton Estate, Lucy Robarts, Ayala of Ayala's Angel, and, most human of them all, Trollope's own beloved Lady Glencora.” But he adds that Feemy “had something that none of the later heroines possess, a certain poetry and tragic inevitability that the popular novelist of after years would have found perhaps too darkly coloured for his serial purposes” (p. 27). And on the novel as a whole, Walpole writes:

He was never to be quite so starkly realistic again, never again so immediately and impressively to invite comparison with the great tragedies of English fiction—Wuthering Heights, Adam Bede, The Return of the Native; it does not seem to the reader when he closes this book that The Macdermots looks foolish in such company.

(p. 32)

The Macdermots of Ballycloran proved that Trollope was going to become a great novelist, The Kellys and the O'Kellys proved what kind he was going to become. It is here, not in the first book, that we can see the kind of character types he would polish, mature, subject to cunning variations, and learn to delay in their full revelation or push forward to the ideal moment of discovery as he increasingly mastered the economics of movement within the novel. We may begin, perhaps, with the lighthearted point that in Frank O'Kelly, Lord Ballindine, we encounter the first of that series of “Franks,” all of whom appear to be endowed with affection, unreliability, irresponsibility, and a capacity for finally pulling themselves together in response to the constancy of a good woman: Frank Gresham in Doctor Thorne, Frank Greystock in The Eustace Diamonds, Frank Tregear in The Duke's Children. (Frank Reckenthorpe in “The Two Generals” is an exception, but so slight a short story will hardly stand in the way of the argument.)14 There is, I think, no other name so declaratory of its type, save possibly Lucy. The master workman was far too professional to make them copies of one another, and indeed their interaction with other characters invariably affects the working-out of their natures and destinies. Frank Gresham, I think, should win a protective response from his reader which will hardly be extended to Greystock or Tregear: there is a genuine affection in his disposition which offsets the moral weakness from which he is rescued by Miss Dunstable, whereas the selfishness of Greystock and the obstinacy of Tregear repel. Frank Ballindine anticipates something of this quality in Frank Gresham, and each is driven by a desire to redeem his estates from the improvidence of a forebear. But Ballindine is both more and less: unlike Gresham, he is not beleaguered by relatives like the de Courcys, who excel in inducing sentiments of guilt and snobbery; he is head of the family as opposed to heir, and he is languid rather than impulsive. It is easy to see in Ballindine particular obligations to Charles Surface in Sheridan's School for Scandal (notably in having a cynical gamester friend as adviser of uncertain value) and to Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, two of the many Irish authors in whom Trollope saturated himself during his years of literary apprenticeship.15 Trollope had learned at first hand the implications of paternal improvidence, and thence observed with a peculiarly sympathetic eye its effects on the heirs of Irish landed families. The Encumbered Estates Act of 1849 proved a nemesis for many of them; he mentions such a case in Jack O'Conor in an aside entirely at variance with the light tone that otherwise pervades “The O'Conors of Castle Conor” (“Poor Jack! I fear that the Encumbered Estates Act sent him altogether adrift upon the world”). The first major literary fruit of this observation was in Doctor Thorne.

One important feature of Doctor Thorne arises partly from Ireland and partly from Trollope's ancestry: the superiority of women to men. With the exception of Dr. Thorne himself, all the main male characters are weakened by their vulnerability to various pressures—debt, drink, or status. Apart from the Doctor, it is the women who direct the course of the action. The Kellys and the O'Kellys anticipates this somewhat in the plot about Fanny Wyndham and Lord Ballindine; although her momentary indecision gives the Earl of Cashel his chance to capture her fortune for his family, it is her recovery of resolution which brings the collapse of his plans. But the real women of strength in that novel, Mrs. Kelly and Anty Lynch, are on a lower social level. Anty has hardly any successor in Trollope's later work. That pattern of female sanctity is peculiar to Irish Catholicism, however universal the stoicism that accompanies it (the nearest approach to it, Marie Clavert, in “La Mère Bauche,” significantly is also a figure from peasant Catholic culture, and Trollope's deep experience of a Catholic peasantry was limited to Ireland).16 He did go on to use the situation of a woman of fortune showing herself capable of holding her own against formidable pressures despite neither being in her first youth nor being by origin of socially high standing, two very different examples being Miss Dunstable and Madame Max Goesler. A further link between Anty, Miss Dunstable, and Madame Max is that they use their wealth ultimately for positive good, and while neither Miss Dunstable nor Madame Max could aspire to Anty's sanctity, nor would aspire to the way it is shown, their firmness of purpose has the same nobility of heart. It may seem a long way from Barry Lynch's attempts to coerce his sister by threats of murder to the de Courcys' use of social snobbery to capture Miss Dunstable's fortune, or to the younger Duke of Omnium's bullying of Madame Max (now Mrs. Finn) in The Duke's Children, but something of the same spirit of resistance to each of these attempts is present. (It is also present in Marie Clavert, but there its only means of self-expression is by suicide. Despite her suicide, however, Marie is clearly a Catholic; she pledges her troth to Adolphe Bauche before a statue of the Blessed Virgin.)

Mrs. Kelly is a very different figure. The structure of The Kellys and the O'Kellys results in some of the most important action taking place in very early chapters, and her strongest appearance takes place one-fifth of the way through, when, in chapter 7, she drives Barry Lynch from the shop. In passing, it also shows that Trollope's ear for the speech of an Irish countrywoman dominated by the Gaelic forms and intonations so recently lost is outstanding. In their different locations O'Casey, Synge, and Somerville and Ross might be able to better it, but only debatably and marginally; and in cumulative effect, measurement of argument, categorization of wrongs, and perfection of rhythms, it can hold its own for authenticity anywhere. After her Amazonian performance in chapter 7 Mrs. Kelly necessarily declines in force, but this splendid assertion of her credentials induces the danger of another aspect of her nature being overlooked, as revealed in her gradual souring on the problem of Anty Lynch, her complaints about the difficulties it involves, her lack of sustained altruism, her general delight in strategy and scheming (while loudly denouncing it) for the benefit of her family's interests, and her essential position as a power politician rather than a courageous benefactor. This is excellent reporting on Trollope's part. We might want to concede something in the making of it to the role of the indomitable Frances Trollope, his mother, who assailed the domestic manners of the Americans with greater elegance but equal force, to the way in which Mrs. Kelly says her word on the domestic manners of Barry Lynch. But as an assertion of the role of the Irish Catholic mother, building and scheming for her family and employing in its interests all of her arts in a male-dominant world, it is excellent. Mrs. Kelly's situation is simplified by her widowhood; but many an Irish Catholic household over the previous century had been held together and driven steadily upward by the resolution of a mother either wholly or partly deserted by a husband who found solace in drink, or in temporary or permanent migration. In the establishment of a small shopkeeper, matriarchy would be particularly evident, and the whole question of the mobility in status of the Kellys is intrinsically tied to the talents and powers of the mother.

The line of descent here is to Mrs. Proudie, specifically the Mrs. Proudie of Barchester Towers. Inevitably the (largely) comic figure of “the lady bishop” in that novel supplies the basis for the (largely) tragic role she plays in The Last Chronicle of Barset, but only through that development can Mrs. Kelly be seen as contributing to Mrs. Proudie in the later work. Yet in Barchester Towers there are innumerable, and hilarious, variations of that confrontation with Barry Lynch, whether in the “Unhand it, Sir!” to Bertie Stanhope or in the confrontations with Mr. Slope when they become enemies. The growth of mastery of mood is evident: Mrs. Kelly's attack on Barry Lynch is that of a courageous if comic figure holding at bay a really ugly individual who without her might accomplish stark tragedy. Mrs. Proudie's encounters with Bertie and ultimate war against Mr. Slope are entirely comedy, all the protagonists being “devils,” if you wish (for neither Stanhope nor Slope must win the heroine, though each must threaten a little convincingly so to do), but “devils” who move laughter or mild contempt far more than anger. It is noteworthy that the shadows of tragedy in Barchester Towers all relate to other works. Bishop Grantly's death and Mr. Harding's frustrated hopes for the Wardenship depend for their force on our knowledge from The Warden and of the character, achievements, and wishes of the Archdeacon and Mr. Harding as revealed there (and the important fact that neither the Archdeacon nor Mr. Harding is really seeking more than a new lease of the power they each actually held at the outset of The Warden, something which gives them a tactical advantage in the readers' sympathies; Mr. Harding would have those sympathies anyway, the Archdeacon might not). Eleanor Bold's widowhood, which is merely a tragic grace note, depends on The Warden for its force. Apart from the death of Bishop Grantly, a passage of realism and grandeur rather than tragedy, the strongest moment that is wholly alien from comedy in Barchester Towers is the two-sentence paragraph in chapter 20 in which we receive our only sight in the novel of the still unnamed Josiah Crawley. There could hardly be a better example of Trollope's ability to draw vast quantities of magnificent material from a passing aside in an earlier work than the relationship of that paragraph with Framley Parsonage and The Last Chronicle of Barset, save perhaps the three paragraphs at the close of The Small House at Allington describing the end of Plantagenet Palliser's story, which proved in the event the basis of six further novels about him. It is the same process as that employed in the continued reusage of themes from his Irish novels and days.17

It is not tragedy, but it is not wholly removed from it, however, where the antecedent of Mrs. Kelly for Mrs. Proudie is clearest in Barchester Towers. I do not think that Barchester Towers receives a satisfactory reading unless Mrs. Proudie wins admiration and affection for her championship of Mrs. Quiverful (chs. 25, 26), and the human sentiment she shows there has to be seen, as in Mrs. Kelly's case, as quite distinct from, although allied to, the power politics involved. The structure of Barchester Towers works more in favor of the dramatic than does that of its Irish precursor. Up to this point, Mrs. Proudie has shown herself obnoxious and, as in the Bertie Stanhope incident, ridiculous. The element of surprise, then, comes very forcefully into play when Trollope maneuvers the reader into suddenly wanting to give her a cheer. Mrs. Kelly we know to be a protector already; hence the confrontation with Barry Lynch is predictable in its quality, if devastating in its quantity. At the same time, both women are strongly alike in that their norm is to be dominated by considerations of power politics in a man's world, which they intend to control, come what may. Both are aware that the forces against which they are struggling are socially superior to them, and their use of unexpected weapons against them is one of their greatest strengths. Material self-interest rules them for much of the time, but it is a self-interest inextricably related to their families, never to themselves; hence there is never a question of Mrs. Proudie being on the same level as Mr. Slope, much less the Stanhopes, any more than there is of Mrs. Kelly being on that of Barry Lynch. And their ambitions are limited to the business of their families, Mrs. Kelly's to the Kellys' economic and social interests, Mrs. Proudie's to her husband's spiritual fief. Significantly, The Kellys and the O'Kellys has almost as its last words Mrs. Kelly's recognition of the limits of her sovereignty outside her immediate and traditional sphere of rule. Mrs. Proudie never admits that, and her failure to do so ultimately brings her repudiation by her husband, which immediately precedes her death in The Last Chronicle of Barset (ch. 66). But the last word on Mrs. Kelly reasserts her dominating nature, and the last sight of Mrs. Proudie reveals that she has died standing up.

Barry Lynch suggests another line of development. His difference in religion from his sister and from Mrs. Kelly, and his English public-school education, are used for an effective contrast between his received speech and Mrs. Kelly's and Anty's vernacular. This prefigures such contrasts as the moral superiority of Miss Dunstable against the birth, breeding, and elegance of the de Courcys, and still more the simplicity of the Tudors against the refinement, aristocracy, and utter treachery of the Hon. Undecimus Scott in The Three Clerks. But the real antecedent here is the murderous brutality of brother to sister, and that is worked out with even greater skill in Can You Forgive Her? Here a superior sense of economy comes into its own. Can You Forgive Her?, in its earliest version as the first draft of the play The Noble Jilt, was conceived very shortly after The Kellys and the O'Kellys, and the time of its actual production and its place as the first of the Palliser novels link it naturally to a major sequence of Trollope's works including The Way We Live Now (which contains Palliser locations, relatives, and minor characters without the Pallisers themselves); accordingly, its place as a conduit from the early Irish novels is exceptionally important. George Vavasor appears at first sight even more unattractive than Barry Lynch, certainly physically; but Trollope, by very shrewd play with the reader's emotions, manages to lure both reader and heroine into suspecting he may be more sinned against than sinning, may be his own worst enemy, is at least likely to prove a more interesting husband than John Grey, deserves to get a reasonable chance to redeem himself, and so forth. The advantage of surprise as to the depth of the villain's depravity, thrown away too early in The Kellys and the O'Kellys, is brilliantly timed here. The result is that when in chapter 56 Vavasor strikes down the sister who has throughout been characterized by single-minded devotion to him, breaking her arm, this reader at least feels a physical anger and hatred beyond anything in response to any other Trollope villain. Undy Scott is more intellectually detestable, Sir Hugh Clavering psychologically more despicable, Augustus Scarborough more repulsively cold-blooded, but nothing equals in violence the emotions elicited by Vavasor's savagery to Kate. “Showing how the Wild Beast got himself back from the Mountains” (ch. 57) sums it up: Vavasor has become something noxious and outside humanity.

But Phineas Finn, the next Palliser work, one in which Trollope is formally invoking his Irish background, uses the same material and makes entirely different work of it. Lord Chiltern contains many of the outward appearances of George Vavasor, and the basis for his appeal to the reader is that of Vavasor in the initial instance. On his first appearance Chiltern refuses to go to Regent's Park on the ground that he would be thought “the wildest beast in the whole collection”18—here is warning, indeed! Chiltern, like Vavasor, has a devoted sister, and while he exploits her in far less cruel fashion—indeed, with self-reproach at her generosity—the result of his having his debts paid by her is that she is led to marry Robert Kennedy, with ultimate disaster. To make matters better and better, Chiltern is to oppose his friend Phineas Finn on wildly unreasonable grounds and to fight a duel with him in rivalry for the hand of the woman Phineas, our hero, is pursuing through most of the book. And yet Chiltern, for all of his ferocity, never sacrifices an ounce of any of the considerable affection he accumulates from the reader as he goes along—at least not until Phineas Redux when domesticity has made him into a figure of fun, although even there his fidelity to Phineas over the murder becomes of great moral value at a time when more rational beings are doubtful of Phineas's innocence and thereby appear to him morally inadequate in their support of him. This last point, by the way, is one of the most Irish qualities of Phineas Finn himself: the Irish tradition of mutual faith and solidarity against an alien law regardless of the appearances of hostile evidence is well picked up in Phineas's anger at any of his supporters who suppose him to be guilty. The Irish origins of Chiltern work in very well with his evidence at Phineas's trial. The principle that a man may have an enemy and wish to kill him but that other than the specific reason for their enmity they can be friends and stand by one another in all else is succinctly expressed by what Chiltern tells the Court:

“I have … known Mr. Finn well, and have loved him dearly. I have eaten with him and drank with him, have ridden with him, have lived with him, and have quarrelled with him; and I know him as I do my own right hand. … I am quite sure from my knowledge of the man that he could not commit a murder … and I don't care what the evidence is.”19

It does not sound very English, does it? and yet it accords well with the idea of an adversary coming to the aid of his opponent when the latter's life is threatened, as does the Irish parish priest when the mob menaces the life of Archibald Green, who has knocked him downstairs, in “Father Giles of Ballymoy.”20 Lord Chiltern seems to me very Irish here, and yet also—and this does not negate the point—very like that explosive, quarrelsome, affectionate, impulsive, honest man Anthony Trollope.

To turn back from Kellys to O'Kellys, let us look again at the far-reaching implications of Fanny Wyndham and her lovers. Her guardian, the Earl of Cashel, wishes her to marry his son Lord Kilcullen and not her chosen beloved Lord Ballindine. Lord Kilcullen is in fact horribly burdened with debt, which will swallow up her fortune. The line of descent here strikes right through to Mr. Scarborough's Family, one of the greatest of Trollope's late novels. Trollope certainly seems to have reread his earlier Irish work before starting The Landleaguers, or at least sampled it sufficiently to have it very much in mind, and Mr. Scarborough's Family was completed in 1882, while The Landleaguers probably had been taking shape in Trollope's mind at least as early as 1881.21 The triangle stands. Captain Mountjoy Scarborough, debt-encumbered, financially squalid, spendthrift, gambling-mad, is an enlarged and three-dimensioned Kilcullen, and, like Kilcullen, has a strange code of honor which asserts itself against his own interest. Yet he is spoken for by Florence Mountjoy's mother, as Kilcullen is by Fanny Wyndham's guardian, though Lord Cashel's dishonor in his intrigue is starker than Mrs. Mountjoy's. Henry Annesley is in the position, if unFranked, of Lord Ballindine. The strong point in the parallel is the dark honor Mountjoy Scarborough shares with Kilcullen, followed by a ruin as extreme. Cashel as a father has little in common with old Mr. Scarborough save in that Cashel's dishonest ethics are beautifully counterpointed by Mr. Scarborough's honest anti-ethics.

The triangle itself persists again and again in the Trollope canon. Can You Forgive Her? offers three cases, in all of which the worthy man really is worthy and the wild man actually wild; yet these themselves pose remarkable variations. Alice Vavasor's hesitation between John Grey and George Vavasor, Lady Glencora's between her husband Plantagenet Palliser and Burgo Fitzgerald, and Mrs. Greenow's between Mr. Cheesacre and Captain Bellfield are exactly congruent, it would seem. Alice Vavasor has been condemned by some critics as dull (“Can we forgive Miss Vavasor?” snarled Henry James. “Of course we can, and forget her, too, for that matter”),22 and Mrs. Greenow is allowed by all critics to be irredeemably vulgar and wearying. (In this they are not supported by her creator: “Mrs. Greenow, between Captain Bellfield and Mr. Cheeseacre [sic], is very good fun—as the fun of novels is”; Autobiography, p. 180). Yet their names have to be written in Trollope's song. Alice Vavasor goes back to John Grey, and on the evidence about George Vavasor, how right she was. The title question remains: had George Vavasor been Lord Chiltern, she might have been justified in maintaining her noble jilt; and so, on academic grounds, she stands forgiven. Friends may be wrong or may even be acting to the detriment of a woman by their self-interest, as The Kellys and the O'Kellys shows. It was not so in this case, but it could have been. Lady Glencora throws over the love of her life, Burgo Fitzgerald. She spends the rest of her existence causing chaos, mild and great, in her husband's chosen profession and forever taking up the cause of adventurers: Lizzie Eustace, Phineas Finn, Ferdinand Lopez. Her actions, discovered after her death, are in favor of linking her daughter with the man she loves without respect to its appropriateness to the Palliser family. Her dearest friendship proves to be with an adventuress, Madame Max Goesler, admittedly from gratitude in the initial instance because of Madame Max's rejection of the greatest adventure of all, that of becoming Duchess of Omnium. But her love for Madame Max goes beyond the grave; her love for Alice Vavasor hardly survives Can You Forgive Her? As far as Alice is concerned, the forgetting was not confined to Henry James. And the forgiving is certainly intended to be sought not only for Alice but even more for Glencora.23

Mrs. Greenow is important because she, alone of the three, chooses the rake, and she does so because she controls her own fortune and can control him. It is not intended as a general prescription: it would have served Alice Vavasor very badly with George Vavasor, given his nature, and it would have served Lady Glencora equally badly with Burgo Fitzgerald, given her infatuation. When Lizzie Eustace tried it with the Rev. Mr. Emilius, she came to rue it more deeply than any other action of her appalling and hilarious life. All the same, Lizzie Eustace's obvious consort remains a rake, Lord George de Bruce Carruthers, and the later disappearance of the promise of that union, given at the end of Phineas Redux, is one of the disappointments, although not the greatest, of The Prime Minister.24 (Still, in the latter novel Lizzie does deal more intelligently with another adventurer, Ferdinand Lopez, than had his wife in marrying him or had she in “marrying” Emilius.) Is it only the Mrs. Greenows who can set the wisdom of the world at defiance? In answer, Phineas Finn, in many ways more a counterpart than a sequel to Can You Forgive Her?, argues otherwise. Lady Laura Standish marries a worthy man, Robert Kennedy, in preference to an adventurer, Phineas Finn, and pays for it dearly in the remorseless pages of both Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux. Ironically, Violet Effingham also rejects Phineas Finn, who for all his adventurism is preferable to her guardian over Lord Chiltern, and Violet finds happiness. Madame Max Goesler declines the marriage which would win the admiration, if not the approval, of the world, and rejects the Duke of Omnium for the forlorn hope of Phineas Finn, which it takes a further novel, a murdered Bonteen, and a detective investigation across the length and breadth of Europe to realize (Phineas Finn, chs. 62, 63, and 72).

The counterpart status of Phineas Finn must not blind us to the clever mixing by the master workman. Although Phineas is industrious, sympathetic, honest, and capable, his antecedent is Burgo Fitzgerald, who bears a name as Irish as could be asked. Both men are what the women's liberationists have sensibly taught us to call sex objects. There is nothing to Burgo beyond his beauty and a certain feckless kindliness where his own interests are not involved. Phineas is extremely valuable in the candor and detail of his witness into politics, but he is infinitely less intelligent than any of the three women with whom he falls in love in England—Lady Laura, Violet Effingham, and Madame Max. There is not one of them, before their marriages (or second marriage in Madame Max's case), who would not be more interesting to know than he. Even after marriage, it is not without point that Phineas's second wife retains much more interest for the reader than he does: in The Duke's Children she is the most sympathetic person in the novel, and he is a cipher. And in moral terms, Mary Flood Jones is far beyond the poor wretch who trembles constantly on the brink of deserting her when their troth is plighted, and wantonly ignores her fidelity when it is not. Yet his appeal to the ladies is unending. It is evident in Mrs. Bunce, his landlady; it is evident in Lady Glencora, for her passion in his cause is decidedly more than a product of her friendship with Madame Max. Mrs. Low obviously responds to it to the extent of expressing such animus against him when he embarks on a political career against her husband's advice; she is emotionally involved in a way deeper than is warranted by wifely reprobation of an unsatisfactory pupil of her husband. Lady Cantrip feels something of it, Lady Baldock seems a little swayed by it, and in a strange, warped, gnarled way Miss Aspasia Fitzgibbon seems to feel it too. (That tough Irish spinster is a little gem of a portrait, and is eminently relevant to the situation of the moneyed woman in a society which can only respect a woman when she is in the position of a matriarch, obviously serving the needs of men by her intrigues.) Phineas also seems attractive to men, and again his lack of concrete talents implies that this is something more than the normal business of politics: Robert Kennedy's obsession about him grows in part independently of jealousy over Lady Laura; Quintus Slide, either in ingratiation or in hatred, is far too interested in him for his lowly situation; Mr. Low prolongs his pedagogic function beyond the norm; Mr. Monk is flattered by his discipleship but also encourages it to a degree surprising in such a solitary figure; Lord Chiltern (undoubtedly the great positive brooding sexual presence in Phineas Finn) cannot respond to him other than with the utmost vehemence. The least trustworthy of his friends is that supremely party politician Barrington Erle. But why should Barrington Erle bother with him at all? Yet he does to the extent of being the agent for the recalling of Phineas, in the teeth of all the Ratlers and Bonteens.

Phineas's Irishness, for all of Trollope's remark in the Autobiography that it was unnecessary (p. 318), seems to me to be essential in the whole business. He is preeminently the beautiful savage, straight from the frontier. And Trollope, who had read and pondered his James Fenimore Cooper (“In the old house were the two first volumes of Cooper's novel, called The Prairie. … I wonder how many dozen times I read those two first volumes”; Autobiography, p. 15), recognized that in Ireland he had the exaggerations and the verities of the frontier. Such a frontier meant very different things to Trollope, its student, and to Phineas, its product; Trollope was of course its product too, which explains how well he understood the follies of Phineas. The immigrant trying to find his way has seldom been better captured in his eager blundering:

“And what then?” said Phineas to his friend Fitzgibbon.

“Why, then there will be a choice out of three. There is the Duke, who is the most incompetent man in England; there is Monk, who is the most unfit; and there is Gresham, who is the most unpopular. I can't conceive it possible to find a worse Prime Minister than either of the three;—but the country affords no other.”

(Phineas Finn, I, 85)

“With a majority of nineteen against him!” said Phineas. “Surely Mr. Mildmay is not the only man in the country. There is the Duke, and there is Mr. Gresham,—and there is Mr. Monk.” Phineas had at his tongue's end all the lesson that he had been able to learn at the Reform Club.

“I should hardly think the Duke would venture,” said Mr. Kennedy.

“Nothing venture, nothing have,” said Phineas. “It is all very well to say that the Duke is incompetent, but I do not know that anything very wonderful is required in the way of genius. The Duke has held his own in both Houses successfully, and he is both honest and popular. I quite agree that a Prime Minister at the present day should be commonly honest, and more than commonly popular.”

“So you are all for the Duke, are you?” said Lady Laura, again smiling as she spoke to him.

“Certainly;—if we are deserted by Mr. Mildmay. Don't you think so?”

“I don't find it quite so easy to make up my mind as you do. I am inclined to think that Mr. Mildmay will form a government; and as long as there is that prospect, I need hardly commit myself to an opinion as to his probable successor.” Then the objectionable Mr. Kennedy took his leave.

(Phineas Finn, I, 88)

And with suitable delays a place in the Cabinet is made for Mr. Kennedy, for reasons partly indicated by the contrast between him and Phineas in the above conversation.

The other side of the immigrant factor lies in Phineas's utter devotion to Mr. Monk, once he has come to know him, a devotion decidedly transcending concern about the measure on which first one and then the other resigns. Trollope had studied his Irish politics, and knew the contest in which the search for a chieftain exists. Nearly a decade after Trollope's death the more sophisticated members of Parnell's party would repudiate him, and the less sophisticated would cling to the “uncrowned King” with utter disregard for the O'Shea divorce trial and the subsequent conduct of Parnell for which he was being rejected by their colleagues. The charm of Phineas's idiotic if fleeting championship of the Duke of St. Bungay, in which zeal for conversational effect drives the Irishman far beyond his understanding, is that it already shows that search for a hero. If Mr. Monk had not existed, Phineas would have had to invent him. An early draft of the novel suggests a darker, less worthy, and significantly Irish Monk, which would give a nice antecedent for Phineas among the more gentlemanly votaries of Daniel O'Connell. It would not be hard to find a Phineas or two in the crowd in the courtroom at the commencement of The Kellys and the O'Kellys, though one suspects he would have differed from the brothers Kelly in his ability to charm his way to a chair.25

The Irish motif in the Phineas novels amounts to much more than the use of an Irish background and Irish attitudes for their hero. It is evident in the choice of names: Standish is a noteworthy Irish Christian name, Barrington a famous Irish surname—Trollope simply reverses their status.26 Trollope, with his hostility to Disraeli in mind, produced Ratler and Bonteen as his answer to Tadpole and Taper, though he made them much more fleshed-out creations. “Ratler,” I would suggest, derives from “rat” to imply a little rat, and “Bonteen” from the Irish “bainbhín,” a little pig. There may be a further elaboration of this in the Duke of St. Bungay, a suitable polar opposite to Bonteen: St. Bungay suggests “Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay,” and bacon is the final stage of what starts out as a little pig. You might care to imagine Trollope in the snug of a country pub (but presumably not in the commercial room—see Orley Farm) having the word “bainbhín” explained to him with a countryman's joke about its starting that way and finding its ultimate end in bacon. He produced less recondite jokes himself, resulting in his having to live for much longer than he had foreseen with “Dr. Fillgrave”27 or the Duke of Omnium of Castle Gatherum. Certainly that sort of joke was commonplace, as may be seen from Dickens, Disraeli, and Thackeray; it also reflects the Irish vision of the British aristocracy and gentry as a pantomime put on for its especial benefit. As to Trollope's other uses of Gaelic roots, Phineas may be one. The more traditionally minded Irish had and have a particular enthusiasm for patronymics; the eminent Irish statesman of today, Garret FitzGerald, owes his nomenclature to that. “Phineas Finn” seems an effort in the same direction, from an Englishman's attempt to translate “Finghín Mac Fhinn.” Actually, “Finghín,” in the usual fashion of absurd English translations of Irish names, has customarily been rendered as “Florence,” a male name in Ireland, but, in an Irish word, mattheradamn.

Then the question arises of Phineas's status, and of its acceptability:

He made no attempt to sit at the feet of anybody, and would stand aloof when bigger men than himself were talking, and was content to be less,—as indeed he was less,—than Mr. Bonteen or Mr. Ratler. But at the end of a week he found that, without any effort on his part,—almost in opposition to efforts on his part,—he had fallen into an easy pleasant way with these men which was very delightful to him. He had killed a stag in company with Mr. Palliser, and had stopped beneath a crag to discuss with him a question as to the duty on Irish malt. He had played chess with Mr. Gresham, and had been told that gentleman's opinion on the trial of Mr. Jefferson Davis.

(Phineas Finn, I, 155-56)

(This last is a nice clue in favor of an identification of Mr. Gresham with Gladstone, and it sounds like a pointedly planted one: Gladstone had infuriated the supporters of the American Union during the Civil War by stating that Jefferson Davis looked as if he would succeed in creating a nation. Trollope in writing Phineas Finn corrected his original choice of conversation over the chess game to the topic of the Davis trial.28 As against this there must be set Gresham's lack of interest in history, a critical contrast to Gladstone's rhetorical frame of reference. This either argues for a composite portrait, or else is a curious and interesting judgment by Trollope against the weight of other evidence.)

Later, Phineas reflects: “Phineas, who had his eyes about him, thought that he could perceive that Mr. Palliser did not shoot a deer with Mr. Ratler, and that Mr. Gresham played no chess with Mr. Bonteen” (Phineas Finn, I, 157).29 In part this is clear enough. Mr. Ratler would have appeared too ready to consider the merits of deerstalking as conversation fodder to win future votes on the estimates, and Mr. Bonteen would have weighed the virtue of a bishop's move as showing undue partiality for the Church if disestablishment was likely to come to the fore. Phineas was evidently a gentleman, and they were not. But why was he? He was but a County Clare doctor's son, and his father, while estimable, was no Dr. Thorne; and even so, a British country doctor's son would hardly have been so naturally honored, particularly by Whig society.

The point is evidently meant to turn on Phineas's self-image. To do him justice, its grandeur clearly relates to his family rather than to himself. The same episode, his first visit to Loughlinter, includes his ill-fated proposal to Lady Laura Standish for which he assigns justification:

And there was, too, a look of breeding about him which had come to him, no doubt, from the royal Finns of old, which ever served him in great stead. He was, indeed, only Phineas Finn, and was known by the world to be no more; but he looked as though he might have been anybody,—a royal Finn himself.30

(Phineas Finn, I, 166)

Now it is absurd to assume the Pallisers and Greshams would think in this way. And from what we know of them it is equally impossible to assume they would personally be attracted to Phineas in the way I have ascribed to Slide, Low, Kennedy, Chiltern, Monk, and Barrington Erle. But the manners of a royal Finn, suitably transported into Babylon, carried weight with them. The “royalty” of the Finns may appear in one sense a joke: the Finns are not named among the famous ancient Irish kingly families, even if Phineas thinks they are. But the name does directly imply descent from the hero of ancient Gaelic saga, Fionn Mac Cumhaill, whose son Oisín is correctly styled Oisín Mac Fhinn. In its Scottish variant, that saga was famous in romantic literature through Macpherson's Ossian. And this early scene at Loughlinter, though not its successors, seems to carry with it a little of the atmosphere of the visual romanticism associated with the beneficiary of romantic enthusiasm for the cult of Ossian, Sir Walter Scott, especially by artists (Millais conveys a touch of it in his illustration on Phineas's ill-fated proposal to Lady Laura). Underneath the romantic note, however, is Trollope's evident consciousness of the alibi of Irish Catholics in destitution—that however low they might be, their ancestors had been kings of Ireland. In fact he had penetrated the real social divide in Ireland: caste as opposed to class. It had its effects in his judgment of class in England as well as of status in Ireland.31

The significance of caste in nineteenth-century Irish life can only be appreciated by recalling the anti-Catholic and somewhat milder anti-Dissenter penal legislation of the eighteenth century under which religious labels effected the deepest social cleavage. Even after the piecemeal repeal of the penal laws, which finally vanished for all practical purposes in 1829, the memory of former degradation remained very strong. Church-building priests in the nineteenth century chose their locations so that their new steeples would be higher than those of the Protestant established church, the Church of Ireland, which had previously domineered over them and which had continued to collect tithes, directly and later vicariously, from Catholics and Dissenters until the Disestablishment of 1869. One of the effects of so serious a caste division was that class became subordinate in Ireland to the dictates of caste. Yet simultaneously, mixed marriages between the religions were easier and more common in Trollope's time than in the first half of the twentieth century after the Vatican issued the Ne Temere decree (1908). Up to that point the boys followed the father's religion and the girls, the mother's; after that, all children of such a marriage had to be brought up Catholics. Trollope makes much of such households, partly for ecumenical reasons (in his own way he was very anxious to do his bit to alleviate religious tension in Ireland), partly for artistic fidelity arising from his observations. The latter is evidently of some importance in Phineas Finn. Trollope not only, as he says in his rueful self-criticism, took his hero “from Ireland,” he took him from Irish Catholicism, which made him much less likely to succeed. And he gave him that origin peculiarly detested by defenders of a caste system: he is the child of a woman of upper caste (Protestant) having married a man of lower (Catholic). The converse is accepted as far more natural. Because his mother comes from upper caste, Phineas will nevertheless have a knowledge of upper-caste attitudes and priorities; he is not, nor can he be, a wholly untutored savage sent forth by the electors of Loughshane to a brave new world. But for all his search for acceptance in it, he retains his Catholic identity, whereas Disraeli's Judaism was ancestral and not confessional. Phineas's self-confidence as to his own status partly arises from his adherence to the older religion as well as to the older aristocracy: nineteenth-century Irish Catholics might ape the ways of Dublin Protestant ascendancy or London aristocracy, but they fervently believed themselves the spiritual and moral superiors of both. Phineas Finn would hardly articulate a view such as that, but he would feel it in his bones. Hence his anxiety to rise is balanced by an insistence on holding fast to his own identity, which reaches its height after he has plumbed the lowest depths of despair, in Phineas Redux.32

Phineas's Catholicism as product of a mixed marriage is important for the establishment of his identity but plays no part in the stories. (How many of Trollope's Protestant contemporaries chose an Irish Catholic hero? That dismissive sentence in the Autobiography is in part a very modest statement of his own courage and of his love for Irish votaries of a religion which was not his.) The mixed marriage in The Kellys and the O'Kellys is fundamental to the plot, although here it is much more in keeping with the norm: Simeon Lynch had been a Protestant and his wife a Catholic, with Barry Lynch following his father's religion and Anty her mother's. The importance of the mixed marriage here underlines the fact that Phineas's origins are no casual matter in Trollope's mind when he comes to conceive them. He is also very precise about the realities in The Kellys and the O'Kellys. The Kellys are Catholic; their relatives the O'Kellys, standing decidedly higher in the world, are Protestant. The shrewd author was acknowledging that the apparent indication of extreme Celticism, the “O'” prefix, has an original aristocratic connotation and might be retained by persons who valued the retention of aristocracy above religion.33 The dispossessed Catholics symbolically lose the “O'” (partly because they would not have had the education to insist on its retention when their names were first recorded in English by some official). Trollope was of course fully conscious of prominent Protestant Irish leaders of ancient descent from Gaelic chieftains: in 1880 Parnell's most formidable enemy among the Protestant landlords was the lineal descendant of the ancient kings of Leinster, Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh, MP. (Daniel O'Connell was a scion of an old Catholic family, one of the seven percent of Irish landowners in 1800 who had held to the old religion.) The notion of clan across the chasm of caste still vaguely existed, and was from time to time asserted either by pushing Catholics or by the apologetics of Protestant landlords under attack; but it amounted to very little. The Kellys give themselves a little imaginary status from their relationship with the O'Kellys, the O'Kellys vaguely acknowledge right of access and support. What it amounts to is that the advance of the Catholics into commercial wealth coincident with the decline of Protestant landownership in monetary value results in the Kellys being drawn on by the O'Kellys for necessary loans. The rise of commercial wealth and the decline of the agrarian aristocracy is not a new theme: Trollope owed something to its significance in Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, a work half a century senior to The Kellys and the O'Kellys. But the real parallel between the two works on that score is not one of caste but class. The Rackrents are bought out by the steward's son; Simeon Lynch has built up his fortune at the expense of his employers, the O'Kellys. Trollope certainly documents the role of Catholic commercial self-improvement, but the Catholic middle class, unlike the Protestant, were not so anxious to risk capital in acquiring extensive land. Caste prevented their gaining the social returns from such an investment. That situation changed when many old estates came on the market after the Encumbered Estates Act in 1849, but The Macdermots of Ballycloran and The Kellys and the O'Kellys preceded it in publication, while Castle Richmond and “The O'Conors of Castle Conor” are set largely before it in time.

Trollope's own emphases on caste within the family play a much more fundamental role in The Kellys and the O'Kellys in which the ugly and ultimately almost lethal division between Barry and Anty Lynch is wholly dominated by it. So, too, are Anty's allies in Catholic commerce. Barry by his nature repels allies, and the origins of his fortune, based on Protestant looting from Protestants, also weaken him. Yet his status as Protestant is not an empty thing for him to raise against the Catholic doctor (“I suppose my word's as good as Colligan's, gentlemen? I suppose my character as a Protestant gentleman stands higher than his—a dirty Papist apothecary”; p. 457). The Protestant landlord wavers in a final confrontation with him, the doctor himself is very uneasy, and Barry Lynch is demolished only by the symbolic representative of the established religion itself, the Rev. Joseph Armstrong. There is a line, although not a perfect one, between his relations with Dr. Colligan and Mr. Armstrong; Colligan, in fury when he realizes Barry is inciting him to murder Anty, leaps the barrier of caste and half-throttles him, but the coup de grace is given by the clergyman (chs. 27, 34, 35). This brings us forward to the terrible moment in Is He Popenjoy? when the Dean of Brotherton hurls the Marquis into the fireplace, after his vile remark on the Dean's daughter (ch. 41). In Is He Popenjoy? the violence is all the stronger, both in its impact on the Marquis and in that on the reader, because two men of the same order of society (and one whereof the Dean values his membership to the disservice of his cloth) are thus embattled. In The Kellys and the O'Kellys the doctor is of a lesser caste, but thereby needs to ingratiate himself with the caste above him; and he similarly does potential violence to his interests and to the career by which he has built himself up, in doing actual violence to Barry. But it is the clergyman's moral overthrow of Barry which most strongly prefigures the Dean's conduct. The whole episode is a very fine reshaping of Irish material for an English context; in addition, the Marquis of Brotherton may owe something to the evil landlords whom Trollope regarded as disgracing their status, however much he opposed interference with the land system. On a lighter level, Trollope takes the Irish phenomenon of the absentee landlord to hilarious lengths by translating it into clerical garb for the Hon. and Rev. Dr. Vesey Stanhope in Barchester Towers; it is not a simple case of transition, given the memory of absentee Church of Ireland Bishops who flourished so prominently in the eighteenth century.34 There is a very formal invocation of Irish antecedents at the beginning of Is He Popenjoy?, what with the Germains having their honeymoon beside the River Blackwater; it would seem that Trollope deliberately turned back to his Irish sources when he decided to turn them to dark and almost misanthropic uses in a strange and sinister Barsetshire as opposed to the shire that is home to the comedy of Barchester Towers and the heroic dimensions of The Last Chronicle of Barset. There is a very ugly reworking of the old Barcastrian themes in Is He Popenjoy?: Mr. Harding's utter indifference to being the grandfather of the Marchioness of Hartletop is now countered by the Dean of Brotherton's obsession about becoming the grandfather of the future Marquis of Brotherton. The amusement in the Italianate Stanhopes and the mysterious child called the last of the Neros becomes the horror of the Italianate Marquis and his supposed child, the uncertain Popenjoy. The revelation in the third volume that Brotherton is in Barsetshire seems an additionally cruel profanation. And to call up the forces of darkness, mockery, pessimism, and human imperfection Trollope looks back to Ireland's tragedies which he had transmuted to Barchester comedy in the first instance.35

One of the effects of Irish caste division was that of blunting class distinction in normal modes of address, even of those of differing castes. Where fixed rules such as caste existed, class might seem less important. The results of this on Trollope's English novels is complex. It may lead him to allow the de Courcys in Doctor Thorne to be overpromiscuous in seeking matrimonial alliance with the son of the tailor and the daughter of the Oil of Lebanon; but Sir Roger Scatcherd's isolation may be prompted by cases of Irish Catholics making money and finding themselves cut off from those of their own caste by social status and from those of their own status by caste. It is not, I think, a flaw but a peculiarity that Moffat and Miss Dunstable should be so much courted by the aristocracy while Scatcherd is ostracized. If the Irish germ of the story has meaning, such a situation might make sense were Moffat and Miss Dunstable Protestant and Scatcherd Catholic: caste would account for the difference in the treatment they receive from the elite. In any case, the Roger Scatcherd passages, among the most powerful in the novel, appear very Irish, including such things as the resort to alcohol, the devotion beyond all wisdom to the unworthy son, and above all the election meeting. We should bear in mind that this is long before the personal experiences of English elections on which Trollope would draw for Ralph the Heir. Scatcherd before the crowds has the easy rapport of a Catholic leader of the O'Connell type, although without O'Connell's aristocratic origins. The quick use of heckling and turning it to his own interest is very characteristic of that kind of rising Irish Catholic popular politician. And is it really possible to think of the crowd responses as English at all?36

“Hurrah! Hur-r-r-rah! more power to you—we all know who you are, Roger. You're the boy! When did you get drunk last?”

(p. 229)

“No more you don't, Roger: a little drop's very good, ain't it, Roger? Keeps the cold from the stomach, eh, Roger?”

(p. 231)

“Hurrah! more power. That's true, too, Roger; may you never be without a drop to wet your whistle.”

(p. 231)

And the whole nature of O'Connellite attack on Protestant landlord electoral power comes out with the vehemence of Scatcherd's peroration:

“Now the question is, do you want to send the son of a London tailor up to parliament to represent you?”

“No, we don't; nor yet we won't neither.”

“I rather think not. You've had him once, and what has he done for you? Has he said much for you in the House of Commons? Why, he's so dumb a dog that he can't bark even for a bone. I'm told it's quite painful to hear him fumbling and mumbling and trying to get up a speech there over at the White Horse. He doesn't belong to the city; he hasn't done anything for the city; and he hasn't the power to do anything for the city. Then, why on earth does he come here? I'll tell you. The Earl de Courcy brings him. He's going to marry the Earl de Courcy's niece; for they say he's very rich—this tailor's son—only they do say also that he doesn't much like to spend his money. He's going to marry Lord de Courcy's niece, and Lord de Courcy wishes that his nephew should be in Parliament. There, that's the claim which Mr. Moffat has here on the people of Barchester. He's Lord de Courcy's nominee, and those who feel themselves bound hand and foot, heart and soul, to Lord de Courcy, had better vote for him. Such men have my leave. If there are enough of such at Barchester to send him to Parliament, the city in which I was born must be very much altered since I was a young man.”

(p. 232)

The periods in this are emphatically Irish. The Irish language itself often involves the principle of an emphatic being asserted by repetition rather than by superlative. The fondness for internal rhyme for purposes of ridicule is well served. The litany, to which Irish Catholics were well accustomed from pious devotions, is recruited in the sentence where all clauses end with “the city,” and Irish Catholic politicians well knew how to employ the device. Finally the identification of the Earl with oppression and his opponents as pledged to liberty had become a characteristic of Irish politics during the thirty years that preceded the writing of Doctor Thorne, as the power of the landlord was slowly broken and that of the priest advanced. It is not at all an inappropriate transposition: Feargus O'Connor took the methods and demagoguery of the O'Connell movement into English radicalism. But the whole speech of the passage and the liveliness are Irish. An English rural audience is supposed to have been much less enthusiastic about high-flown oratory. The election petition may also be founded on an Irish story, either involving an actual unseating or simply a threat of petition feared or rumored. The close relationship of voting to business transactions certainly recalls Irish political management at home and beyond the seas.37 The final charming irony is that the name Scatcherd is certainly English; but de Courcy is one of the oldest Norman-Irish aristocratic names.

I fear I am leaving that supposedly quintessential English county, Barsetshire, with a Celtic hairy heel. After all, Doctor Thorne was the fruit of Trollope's Irish years (albeit during its actual writing he was on a journey to Egypt). And Scatcherd and the crowd are not the only telltale signs. In the same novel, the Duke of Omnium's method of entertainment seems to have more in common with a caste-conscious Irish aristocrat than with any obvious English exemplar. The whole episode really is peculiar from an English standpoint, and the fact that nobody but Frank Gresham objects to being utterly ignored by the host seems to argue an absence of spirit somewhat incompatible with all we have learned of the rights and manners of freeborn Englishmen. But if a Protestant magnate, from whom nothing better is to be expected in this world or the next, offers a multitude of claret and a paucity of conversation, why should Irish Catholics climbing the professional and commercial ladder object? In status terms it offered a little payment down with some expectation of more to be obtained. Otherwise the drink rather than the Duke is the object of the exercise (Doctor Thorne, ch. 19). In like manner Framley Parsonage, begun before Trollope left Ireland and concluded in 1860 when he had taken up residence in England, also exhibits touches of the Irish landlord, very notably in the person, conduct, and ethics of Mr. Sowerby of Chaldicotes, who would undoubtedly have found congenial company and not too distant relatives in Castle Rackrent.

The one notable invasion of caste division in Ireland lay in the realm of evangelicalism. Now in one sense Trollope himself clearly disliked the caste division. He became fond of Irish Catholics and Protestants. “Father Giles of Ballymoy” and a multitude of other references to priests should be taken as a very serious personal statement. He records his disgust at early exposure to caste hostility:

Soon after I reached Banagher in 1841, I dined one evening with a Roman Catholic. I was informed next day by a Protestant gentleman who had been very hospitable to me that I must choose my party. I could not sit both at Protestant and Catholic tables.

(Autobiography, pp. 72-73)

The Kellys and the O'Kellys goes very much out of its way to assert his hatred of Protestant bigotry in the O'Joscelyn episode brought in after Mr. Armstrong has discovered that all is now set fair for the nuptials of Ballindine and Fanny Wyndham. It plays no part in the story at all. It is agreeable to notice that Mr. Armstrong, good Protestant that he is, is disgusted by the O'Joscelyns' hatred and paranoiac fears of insurrection; but it adds nothing to his own work in the story, from which immediately afterwards he fades without even a farewell in the Conclusion. Trollope simply had to say it. It too had a remarkable child, much more satisfactorily in context, in The Way We Live Now, and it does so in a perfect converse. Trollope, the friend of Catholic priests, found himself also disgusted by bigotry in their ranks. He wrote to Mary Holmes on 6 July 1874:

The parish priest I knew myself, & loved, & opened my house to him, and fed him when he was fearfully, horribly, hungry, from sheer want,—and he was a gentleman at all points; but I could not go on with him, not because he was intent on converting me, for which I did not care; but because he would say nasty things of my religion which could only be answered by nasty things as to his, which I could not say to any guest, or to any sincere Christian. But yet he was a man who will certainly go to heaven, if a mortal may presume to say so much of any man.

(Letters, p. 321)

In the context of The Way We Live Now the realization of this figure through the character of Father Barham is a fine means of showing yet another example of the crass greed of the age. Trollope had been impressed by the Irish Catholic priests' choice of life among the poor rather than with the fleshpots which characterized so many (though, remembering Mr. Armstrong, far from all) of the Church of Ireland clergy. He is kindly to the Grantlys, if not to their daughter, but his greatest admiration is reserved for the impoverished Crawleys. (The moment when Dr. Grantly really wins the reader's love is when, in his interview with Grace Crawley in The Last Chronicle of Barset, he touches at the close the Crawley level of nobility of character [ch. 57].) Thinking, then, of Catholic priests as friends to be respected, Father Barham becomes yet another betrayal. He seeks no financial reward, as do almost all the other characters of The Way We Live Now; but his spiritual greed, counting the souls he can snatch into his basket, is as unworthy of the true sanctity of his profession and religion as is the greed of the Grendalls for money, of Lady Carbury for literary adulation, of Felix Carbury for dissipation, and of Melmotte for power (chs. 16, 55, 56).

The Protestant evangelicals in Ireland were an anticipation of Barham much as O'Joscelyn is, and the joke on all of them in being tied up together serves them right. They were in a sense making war on caste, as O'Joscelyn certainly is not. They were ready to convert as many Irish Catholics as they could, and, in places like Achill Island, did. That their effort would be to smash the all-important domination of society by caste bothered them very little, though it repelled the resident, socially significant leaders of the Church of Ireland. Many a Grantly recoiled with horror from many a Slope in such a context; it was not only the quarrel between ritual and zealotry, it was the sense of social disruption which was felt likely to follow the zealots. By liberating Barchester Towers from Irish antecedents, Trollope maintained the controversy in the realm of pure comedy, but the violence of the Archdeacon's reaction has even more relevance to such an Irish origin. Were the evangelicals to triumph, the elite status of the Church of Ireland would be at an end. It might hold more power, even more money, but it would lose all the advantages of exclusiveness. Trollope had his own personal reasons for disliking evangelicals, as Arthur Pollard has shown,38 and he had no sympathy with an operation rooted in hatred however much its converts might personally benefit from their apostasy. Because Trollope was so conscious of the English hostility to Irish themes, this sort of Irish antecedent is difficult to pinpoint and, still more, to weigh against directly English origins. In any case, many of the Bible Society clergy who descended on the remoter parts of Ireland were English, even if some of them went to the length of learning Irish. The Rev. Jeremiah Maguire, in Miss Mackenzie, may be a kind remembrance of one of the Irish-born variety, possibly intended to suggest a convert from Catholicism. Mr. Slope, of course, has a formal Irish antecedent in his supposed descent from Sterne's Slop: “slop” and “slob” are pleasing terms of abuse in rural Ireland, and the contemptuous diminutive “slopeen” is noted by Somerville and Ross.39

In a larger context, Trollope's turning to religion as a theme after his acceptance of Colburn's analysis seems suggestive enough. The thing was omnipresent in Ireland. On the other hand, it would not be sensible to see the Barchester controversies as conditioned by Irish disputes between Protestant and Catholic clergy. Such intersectarian clerical disputes as there were took highly formal terms, however vituperative. (Eleanor Bold's distaste for controversies among the clergy in chapters 21 and 30 of Barchester Towers could relate to the author's dislike of Catholic-Protestant bickering in Ireland.) Observations of Protestant in-fighting were probably not limited to the evangelicals and the elite. The poverty of Mr. Armstrong is an anticipation of that of Mr. Crawley, and it should be remembered that just as Mr. Armstrong's mission depends on the gift of £20, Mr. Crawley's tragedy in The Last Chronicle of Barset turns on precisely the same sum. At least Trollope seems to have noted the divergence between the wealthy pillars of Irish Protestant clerical society and certain poverty-stricken remote clergy, and while he may have noted no clash, the divergence left a seed which could sprout into the grand confrontation of the Proudies and Mr. Crawley, and the mutual suspicions of Mr. Crawley and Dr. Grantly. Mr. Quiverful presents an earlier version of the same phenomenon, this time gaining more sympathy from the Bishop's Palace, limited though it is. It is the poverty of the Quiverfuls which fixes Mrs. Proudie's support for them, and it is Mrs. Quiverful who speaks Mrs. Proudie's most generous obituary (ch. 67).

And the antecedents of Trollope's interest in politics also are Irish. It is not alone the Scatcherd election but, in more general terms, that he offers an Irish perception. The opening chapter of Phineas Redux, for instance, is so classically Irish in its concentration on jobs for the boys that Barrington Erle's mind turns most appropriately and automatically to Phineas Finn. The Irish concept of politics, brought into being by Daniel O'Connell, turned on the sense of politics as a means for socioeconomic advantage, rather than the inherited English idea of a responsible elite acting in theory for altruistic reasons, in practice for large special interests. To the Irish Catholics the use of the boss as broker, of party as means for advancement and reward, became the hallmark of Irish immigrant advance in the United States and the Empire. Individual crusades such as O'Connell's Repeal movement in the early 1840s might interrupt the normal process, but it quickly resumed. O'Connell himself had brilliantly set it on foot in the 1830s. It was no mere vulgar matter of material grabbing at that stage: the appointment of critical figures in key situations saved Catholic communities from bigoted Orange magistrates, curbed the ruthlessness of rack-renting landlords, and gave men of talents chances denied them by their caste. It was largely a matter of jobbery, for high or low motives, in the mid-nineteenth century, and even after the Parnell movement raised Irish political eyes to greater heights, the early twentieth century brought jobbery into the ascendant once more. Certainly the British were no slouches where jobbery was concerned, but the matter-of-fact way in which Trollope discusses the primacy of jobbery savors of Irish frankness on the point instead of English delicacy. More brutal still is the passage in The Prime Minister in which Glencora, Duchess of Omnium, produces as almost her first reaction to the choice of her husband as premier a request (to his intense horror) for the post of Mistress of the Robes; it offers a paradigm of the practical Irish against the elitist English formal view of politics. Glencora herself is not Irish (she is supposedly Scots, though showing very little sign of it) but the whole manner of her conversation, notably in ironic jokes about her husband, has a strong ring of the clever Irish society lady far outstripping her husband in wit, conversation, and enthusiasm. Despite all of the Irish political crusades, it is arguable that the Irish thought of men, whereas the English liked to believe they thought of measures (the Scots and Welsh are less easily classified). It certainly is the distinction between the politics of Glencora and of her husband, and in this context her cultivation of adventurers is also appropriate to an Irish approach. Even her name seems founded on Brian Boru's Kincora.40

It is fitting, therefore, that Trollope's first approach to the political scene in his English novels should have been on an Irish question, and that like so much of his finest work it should have been partly caricature. Political caricature was a very Irish approach to English politics: the whole modern science of it had been established by John Doyle (“HB”). Trollope, in prose as graphic as Doyle's cartoons, captured many famous scenes, and in Trollope can be found the Irish enthusiasm for satire by means of slight disguise, pantomime whereby the great grow small yet may receive affection, and above all fascination with what seemed a weird game imposed on them from outside and yet a delight to master and exploit. The classic instance is perhaps the portrait of Disraeli as Daubeny (accent presumably on the second syllable in deference to the first name of the original), especially in the caricature in Phineas Redux where his maneuvering on the Second Reform Bill is made the disestablishment of the Church of England, an only slightly more grotesque ideological somersault. The kind of literary imagery John Doyle loved to bring to political caricature is splendidly realized in the prose of Doctor Thorne when the horsewhipping of Mr. Moffat is introduced in words deliberately purloined from Milton's Lycidas, and the political status of Mr. Moffat is mockingly stressed throughout; the assignment to the police of the role of the water nymphs in the original is pure “HB.”41 It is a precursor of devices Joyce brought to a fine art in the next century.

But the first example of political caricature in Trollope related to the independent Irish party of 1850-52 when what Charles Gavan Duffy called “The League of the North and South” sought to unite Protestant and Catholic in favor of Tenant Right, and which was badly, possibly mortally, wounded by the no-Popery agitation when Pius IX restored the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales. Gavan Duffy's version was an optimistic view of the matter in any case, but Irish Protestants certainly lost some enthusiasm for associates who became known as “The Pope's Brass Band” as they tried to act as a Catholic voice in the midst of Protestant vituperation. Trollope himself was contemptuous of Lord John Russell's use of the no-Popery issue, and wrote to his mother on 7 May 1851 from Limerick: “Touching the ‘Papal Agression,’ my opinion is that nothing at all should have been done. I would have let the whole thing sink by its own weight” (Letters, p. 12). But by the time he wrote The Warden, in late 1852 and 1853, the political effects of no-Popery on the Irish Protestant-Catholic alliance were evident, and he had come to interpret Russell's move as a clever and cynical ruse:

Sir Abraham Haphazard was deeply engaged in preparing a bill for the mortification of papists, to be called the “Convent Custody Bill,” the purport of which was to enable any Protestant clergyman over fifty years of age to search any nun whom he suspected of being in possession of treasonable papers or jesuitical symbols; and as there were to be a hundred and thirty-seven clauses in the bill, each clause containing a separate thorn for the side of the papist, and as it was known the bill would be fought inch by inch, by fifty maddened Irishmen, the due construction and adequate dovetailing of it did consume much of Sir Abraham's time. The bill had all its desired effect. Of course it never passed into law; but it so completely divided the ranks of the Irish members, who had bound themselves together to force on the ministry a bill for compelling all men to drink Irish whisky, and all women to wear Irish poplins, that for the remainder of the session the Great Poplin and Whisky League was utterly harmless.42

It is hardly surprising that, in Trollope's view, the Irish were to become conspicuous in the future for men rather than measures, and that in place of the Great Poplin and Whiskey League there would be job seekers ranging from the Phineas Finns who tried to learn their trade and serve their passage to the Laurence Fitzgibbons who substituted political epigram for political education and deemed it outrageous that the acceptance of any job involved the performance of a stroke of work.

The Warden has been formally viewed as the commencement of Trollope's mature work and the end of his Irish (and supposedly adolescent) phase as a novelist. Yet in form it is perhaps the most Irish of all Trollope's works. There is a sense of the artist at play in it, in part pantomime, in part very light, gentle, and miniature Swift and Sterne. Archdeacon Grantly's sons are brought on stage to reveal themselves as pocket imitations of the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Exeter, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (chs. 8, 12).43 The figure of a leader-writer in the Times is called into flesh and blood from behind his own print with such success that the fiction was taken as a particular portrait, although Trollope was only deducing a person from his literary source. The novel is virtually stopped in its own tracks to show how Carlyle and Dickens would have written it and what a mess each would have made of it. The Irish literary wars still running in Trollope's day had everything to do with the contestants' views of their own superiority to their more successful contemporaries (chs. 14, 15). Trollope had tapped a strain in Irish attitudes to literature, one blending apprenticeship and mockery, that this great thing called English literature in which they intended to participate and triumph could only be understood as in part a great game. Their work would not be placing brick upon existing brick but joyfully pulling the bricks apart and rebuilding them in appreciative satire of the English edifice. It puts him directly in an Irish tradition which flows from Swift and Steele to Joyce and Flann O'Brien. Trollope retained this element of play thereafter, although he normally controlled it more carefully, and it greatly irritated his English critics.44 He liked to talk to his reader about the business of playing with the bricks and amuse himself by arguing with his critics on his alleged solecisms.45 He would give mock apologies for the business of scene setting, which were fairly open invitations to admire the skill of the painting he had just executed on his backdrop (see, for example, the close of chapter 4 of The Eustace Diamonds). The pantomime element became more muted, although he restored the element of literary satire in The Three Clerks in a form much employed in Irish satire, where the play suddenly becomes possessed of a grimness of purpose: the comparison of Bill Sikes and Undy Scott, showing how his villain had natural advantages in society and Dickens's never had a chance, is a passionate essay in social protest, none the worse because he insists his own social criticism is founded on greater realism and compassion than that of Dickens.46 His greatest satire, The Way We Live Now, begins its ferocious work by doing dreadful execution on the venality of fashionable critics (ch. 1), an explicit declaration of war on the public arbiters of taste who had pronounced so long and so judicially on his works; it is as bitter as anything in the novel, yet it is pantomime, the audience being warmed up by judicious and hard blows against the presenter's obvious real-life bêtes noires. The master stroke is analogous to the fourth Tempter in Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral; granted that Lady Carbury's Criminal Queens is a wretched book, the critic who demolishes it is savaged even more brutally than its venal supporters for having done the right thing for the wrong reason (ch. 11). Yet here Trollope shows how he had learned to blend his pantomime directly into his story: the critics' manifest lack of integrity is made to be the overture to the theme of abandonment of integrity throughout the book as a whole.

Henry Nash Smith in Virgin Land (1950) produced a brilliant demonstration that the myth of the American West was largely created in the East for consumption in the East. Trollope's situation is rather the reverse of this. He went to the frontier, for in a linguistic, religious, political, social, and economic sense Ireland was one. He learned his literary trade on the frontier. He discovered that frontier-made goods were not good selling material in the metropolis. Hence he began to build his literary achievement in forms acceptable to England and apparently English. But the tools and perceptions were Irish in the initial instance, and much of the workmanship after his return to England was still based on the rough designs he had initially executed on Irish soil, with Irish themes, about Irish characters, and with Irish insights. He had even made his small but impressive contribution to creation in the Anglo-Irish frontier form of speech. Ultimately, he won sufficient strength to bring in a frontier figure as a means by which his own observations from outside could be sharpened even more. As a character Phineas Finn may not have pleased the critics;47 as an observer he was invaluable in the presentation of the business of politics, above all in the shallows only an outsider could really see and diagnose, and do so with unfailing interest. Phineas's early lessons come from the perspective of another outsider: Lady Laura Standish, within the power elite by birth and associations, but outside the power by sex. But here that second observer becomes herself observed, and the frustrations and self-destruction induced by her ambitions become a critical part of the story. Trollope, seeing the strength and power of a Mrs. Kelly operating in her own milieu, where at the end she feels most secure, chronicled the tragedies of women who seemed to have larger worlds at their feet, seemed capable of controlling them, and finally failed—Mrs. Proudie, Lady Laura, Glencora Palliser. The debate on whether or not Trollope is adequately feminist seems to miss the point of what he was doing, which is to say, recounting the potentialities and limitations of women behind the open scenes of public life. The acceptance of limitation by women such as Violet Effingham, Madame Max Goesler, even Mrs. Greenow, is not so much Trollope insisting that women should restrict themselves to marriage (quite a few of his female characters who so restrict themselves find their own tragedies) as a statement of what the situation actually was.

The paradox remains that he observed England and described it, but while in part his description was true, in part it was an imposition on England of Irish experiences and people, in part a deployment of qualities common to both islands. Nor is it possible fully to separate the reality he saw and the myth he created. Time offers some clues: early Barsetshire is more Irish than later Barsetshire. Old models, specifically in The Kellys and the O'Kellys, offer more, although they prove to have startlingly long shadows. But he returned to his Irish wellsprings not only for Phineas Finn but for Castle Richmond, An Eye for an Eye, and The Landleaguers, roughly at ten-year intervals; and these are stories I have not the space to consider here, raising as they do very different problems. Phineas Finn, the Irish Member demanded its sequel; so too must “Anthony Trollope, the Irish Writer.”


  1. Trollope: A Commentary (London: Constable, 1927), p. 136.

  2. “Trollope and the Matter of Ireland,” in Anthony Trollope, ed. Tony Bareham (London: Vision Press, 1980), pp. 24-25.

  3. R. C. Terry, Anthony Trollope: The Artist in Hiding (London: Macmillan; Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977), p. 175-200, surveys the rather higher critical standing of the Irish novels before Sadleir's work and notes that his earlier estimates were also more favorable (p. 176). Sadleir has important material on Trollope's life in Ireland, and James Pope Hennessy, Anthony Trollope (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971), has some new insights, but apart from Trollope's autobiography and letters I have benefited most on the question from R. H. Super, Trollope in the Post Office (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1981), pp. 16-45.

  4. Trollope, The Spotted Dog, and Other Stories, ed. Herbert Van Thal (London: Pan Books, 1950). “The O'Conors of Castle Conor, County Mayo” also appears in Tales of All Countries, first series (1861; rpt. with introd. by Donald D. Stone, New York: Arno Press, 1981); and “Father Giles of Ballymoy” appears in Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories (1867; rpt. with introd. by R. C. Terry, New York: Arno Press, 1981). See also Donald D. Stone, “Trollope as a Short Story Writer,” NCF, 31 (1976), 26-47.

  5. “Irishness,” in Writers and Politics (London: Chatto and Windus, 1965), pp. 97-100.

  6. Owen Dudley Edwards, “Tennyson and Ireland,” New Edinburgh Review, Nos. 38-39 (Summer-Autumn 1977), pp. 43-54; this issue of the Review is on “History and Humanism: Essays in Honour of V. G. Kiernan,” ed. Owen Dudley Edwards. The notable attack is in Tennyson, “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After.”

  7. An Autobiography, ed. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page, World's Classics (1950; rpt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 60-79; subsequent citations in my text are to this edition.

  8. Review of The Kellys and the O'Kellys, rpt. in Trollope: The Critical Heritage, ed. Donald Smalley (London: Routledge; New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1969), p. 555. Smalley's conduct in relegating the first two Irish novels to the end of his collection testifies to the influence of Sadleir's judgment.

  9. I have not supplied detailed references to Irish history: F. S. L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971) is a masterly and very comprehensive account, the opening chapters forming an excellent introduction to Ireland in the time of Trollope's residence. My remarks on Young Ireland derive partly from Desmond Ryan, The Fenian Chief (Dublin and Sydney: Gill, 1967).

  10. Charles Lever (1806-1872) was most famous for the novels Harry Lorrequer (1837) and Charles O'Malley (1840); Samuel Lover (1797-1868) for Handy Andy (1842). On Lever, see An Autobiography, pp. 251-52.

  11. Trollope: A Commentary, p. 139. R. C. Terry is so understandably bewildered by the judgment that he assigns the description to Castle Richmond and The Landleaguers (Anthony Trollope: The Artist in Hiding, p. 175). This would make more sense although it is still somewhat unjustifiable.

  12. Anthony Trollope, English Men of Letters (London and New York: Macmillan, 1928), pp. 25-38; further citations in my text are to this edition. Given Walpole's pioneer work on the two novels, it seems odd in Terry to list him as one of those concentrating on “the major works” (Anthony Trollope: The Artist in Hiding, p. 59).

  13. Trollope titles constituted the first 29 of 877 books in Ward, Lock and Company's “The Select Library of Fiction,” The Macdermots being number 2 and The Kellys and the O'Kellys number 4 (from advertisements bound in with Is He Popenjoy?; though undated, they must certainly have been published after Trollope's death. Ward, Lock also published the 29 books in both cloth and half-bound in their “Library Editions”). See also N. John Hall, introd., The Trollope Critics, ed. N. John Hall (Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble Books, 1981), pp. x-xiii, which finds three more titles in the Ward, Lock list, notes New Pocket Library reprints by John Lane of Trollope's first two novels, in 1905 and 1906, and a Lupton reprint of The Macdermots, probably in 1894. Both Ward, Lock and John Lane also reprinted Castle Richmond and Ward, Lock An Eye for an Eye.

  14. “The Two Generals” appears in Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories. It was first published in Good Words, December 1863, and was set in the American Civil War.

  15. Sadleir, Trollope: A Commentary, p. 137, lists John Banim, Gerald Griffin, Lady Morgan, Charles Robert Maturin, Mrs. S. C. Hall, Maria Edgeworth, William Carleton, and Charles Lever. See Robert Tracy, “‘The Unnatural Ruin’: Trollope and Nineteenth-Century Irish Fiction,” NCF, 37 (1982), 358-82. For critical discussion of some of these novelists, see also Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists: 1800-1850 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1959). Flanagan is the foremost authority on Irish novelists in the early nineteenth century.

  16. La Mère Bauche” appears in Tales of All Countries, first series, and is perhaps Trollope's finest short story, though “The Spotted Dog,” in An Editor's Tales (London: Strahan, 1870), and, on a happier level, “Malachi's Cove,” in Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, run it close.

  17. Mrs. Proudie is jocularly described as the “female devil” of the novel in Barchester Towers (ch. 26). The Small House at Allington closes with Plantagenet Palliser's marriage to Lady Glencora (ch. 55).

  18. Phineas Finn: The Irish Member, introd. Shane Leslie (1937; rpt. 2 vols. in 1, London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1969), I, 126; hereafter citations in my text are to this edition.

  19. Phineas Redux, introd. R. W. Chapman (1937; rpt. 2 vols. in 1, London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), II, 253.

  20. Archibald Green is taken to be Trollope himself (Sadleir, Trollope: A Commentary, pp. 176-77). In An Autobiography, p. 63, Trollope writes: “Some adventures I had;—two of which I told … under the names of ‘The O'Conors of Castle Conor,’ and ‘Father Giles of Ballymoy.’ I will not swear to every detail in these stories, but the main purport of each is true.”

  21. Hennessy, Anthony Trollope, p. 386, quotes from the letter of Trollope to his son Henry, 19 February 1882, in which mention is made of a proposed journey to Ireland for research for what would prove to be The Landleaguers; see The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. Bradford Allen Booth (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1951), pp. 474-75. At least two months seem reasonable as a time for the idea to develop that far.

  22. Review of Can You Forgive Her? in the Nation, 28 Sept. 1865; rpt. in Trollope: The Critical Heritage, p. 249.

  23. In An Autobiography, p. 180, Trollope writes, “The character of the girl [Alice] is carried through with considerable strength, but is not attractive.”

  24. Lizzie Eustace's reappearance in The Prime Minister involves no indication of future marriage with Carruthers. Trollope often did violence to the fates meted out to his characters in the conclusion of one novel when he reintroduced them in another. Quintus Slide is finished at The People's Banner in the conclusion of Phineas Redux but is firmly in the saddle there in The Prime Minister.

  25. John Sutherland, ed., Phineas Finn, Penguin ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), pp. 728-29, n. 17, comments of “Monk who is the most unfit” (ch. 7), “Trollope originally wrote ‘most dishonest.’” He adds: “The novelist seems to have changed his notion of Monk somewhat; in chapter 9 the term ‘violent’ was dropped from the description ‘Mr. Monk was a violent radical,’ and in chapter 22 a comment in MS about Monk's Irishness was removed. As he finally emerges Mr. Monk is, of course, a scrupulously honest, English and moderate radical.” Too much should not be read into the first emendation: the author of the statement is Laurence Fitzgibbon, who is hardly intended for a suitable arbiter of honesty, but the note in general reminds us that in the germination of Monk faint shades of Daniel O'Connell and perhaps Feargus O'Connor should be added to the impression of Cobden commonly associated with it. In a note annotating the first chapter, Sutherland comments, “The heavy stress in these early pages on the undeserved wealth of the Protestant clergy in Ireland, Fenianism, Phineas's Catholicism and even his excessively Irish name suggest to me that Trollope may originally have intended more of a social-problem novel than Phineas Finn in fact turns out to be” (p. 726, n. 4). I welcome the observation, but doubt the deduction: it is, I believe, Phineas's deep Irishness which is being stressed for reasons I assign in my text, and that Trollope did not greatly alter his intentions.

  26. Standish is a particularly favored Christian name in the O'Grady family: Standish O'Grady, first Viscount Guillamore (1766-1840), and his homonymous son, the second Viscount (1792-1848), were famous as Lord Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer (1805-1831) and hero at Waterloo, respectively; the father's position as Protestant placeman bearing an ancient and illustrious Gaelic name is analogous to the O'Kelly situation. Sir Jonah Barrington (1760-1834), as judge of the admiralty, was famous for his dismissal for corruption in 1830 and his uninhibited if unreliable historical writing. In the Irish House of Commons, abolished in the Union of 1800, he was the last MP for Banagher, where Trollope later had his first Irish residence.

  27. “Dr. Fillgrave” was modified in The Last Chronicle of Barset to “Dr. Filgrave.” Trollope was wayward even with the spelling of his leading characters: the Grantlys become Grantleys in Doctor Thorne (ch. 47). In The Last Chronicle of Barset, however, I suspect the change to be deliberate: Trollope's tragic material is too sensitive to be belabored by his joke, and the doctor has to play his part in connection with the death of Mrs. Proudie, and with the more tender if less tragic passages on that of Mr. Harding.

  28. Sutherland notes from the MS: “Trollope originally had ‘soldiering in India’ and later replaced it with the more topical issue, ‘the trial of Mr. Jefferson Davis’” (Sutherland, ed., Phineas Finn, p. 730, n. 30). He does not mention Gladstone.

  29. J. L. Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish Nation (London: Longmans, Green, 1938), pp. 354-55, finds an analogy between Chamberlain's standing in the eyes of the old Whigs and that of Bonteen, as is stressed by R. F. Foster, “Political Novels and Nineteenth-Century History,” in Contexts and Connections, Winchester Research Papers in the Humanities, 10 (Winchester: King Alfred's College, 1981), p. 36, n. 36, an essay of the utmost value on Trollope. Foster's Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981) is a fascinating revelation of how Trollopian British politics became in the wake of the Palliser novels; attention may be particularly drawn to the use of epigraphs from Trollope and their relation to the text in chapters 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, and 11.

  30. Sutherland, ed., Phineas Finn, p. 732, n. 36, notes “the extravagantly romantic cast of the hero's mind” a little later when Phineas, after his return from London, quotes The Fair Maid of Perth at Lady Laura and receives a kindly squelching (ch. 20).

  31. See N. John Hall, Trollope and His Illustrators (New York: St. Martin's; London: Macmillan, 1980), pp. 77, 80, and plate 45, who notes Phineas's “Scottish garb” (not, fortunately, to the extent of kilts).

  32. Ironically, for both my text and for Trollope's dislike of Disraeli, there is an interesting parallel in Disraeli's reply to Daniel O'Connell in 1835: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon” (John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 13th ed. rev. [Boston: Little, Brown, 1955], p. 511 b).

  33. In The Kellys and the O'Kellys, World's Classics (1929; rpt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978), there is a strong implication that the Protestantism of the O'Kellys arose from motives of self-interest, and the acid statement that “the government, in consideration of past services, in the year 1800, converted ‘the O'Kelly’ into Viscount Ballindine” (p. 18) simply means that Frank's great-grandfather won his peerage as the price of his vote for the extinction of the Irish Parliament in the Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Nobody among Trollope's contemporary Irish readers would have required elaboration on the point, and presumably he felt, perhaps wrongly, that English readers would be equally well informed.

  34. An antiquary captures the point neatly: “The Bishop of Kilmore … unlike a good many of the Irish Bishops of his day, had visited his see” (“The Ash-Tree,” in The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James [London: Arnold; New York: Longmans, Green, 1931], p. 69).

  35. Is He Popenjoy? reveals the rural settings are “down in Barsetshire” (ch. 50), and the close of The Last Chronicle of Barset is thereby belied.

  36. Doctor Thorne, introd. David Skilton, World's Classics (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980), pp. 219-36; further citations in the text are to this edition.

  37. I witnessed vote-buying in an Irish public-house by a member of the Irish Dáil in 1958.

  38. “Trollope and the Evangelicals,” NCF, 37 (1982), 329-39.

  39. In fairness to Trollope, he couples the jibe at Slope's name with a piece of self-mockery: “in early years he added an ‘e’ to his name, for the sake of euphony, as other great men have done before him” (Barchester Towers, ed. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page, introd. James R. Kincaid, World's Classics [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980], p. 25). See also E. Œ. Somerville and Martin Ross, “The Boat's Share,” in The Irish R. M. and His Experiences (London: Faber and Gwyer, 1928), p. 328.

  40. See Foster, “Political Novels and Nineteenth-Century History,” in Contexts and Connections, pp. 13-14.

  41. The relevant passages commence: “Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep / Closed o'er the head of your loved Lycidas?” (lines 50-51), and in Doctor Thorne: “Where were ye, men, when that savage whip fell about the ears of the poor ex-legislator? In Scotland Yard …” (p. 286). The rescue of Paris by Aphrodite from his combat with Menelaus in the Iliad is also invoked.

  42. The Warden, World's Classics (1918; rpt. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1942), pp. 87-88. The theme receives further elaboration in chapter 16.

  43. Nevertheless, for all the fidelity of the caricature of Henry Phillpotts of Exeter, the boy makes a highly credible father of the man, Major Henry Grantly, who woos and wins Grace Crawley in The Last Chronicle of Barset.

  44. Review of Doctor Thorne in the Saturday Review, 12 June 1858, rpt. in Trollope: The Critical Heritage, pp. 75-78, is a good reaction in point (see p. 77).

  45. To the fury of the Saturday Review, chapter 45 of Doctor Thorne fences with the critics on legal problems (see the above note).

  46. See chapter 44 of The Three Clerks in which Sikes is constantly spelled “Sykes.”

  47. Review of Phineas Finn, in Spectator, 20 Mar. 1869, rpt. in Trollope: The Critical Heritage, pp. 309-13; see esp. pp. 310-11.

This essay was originally delivered at the Trollope Centenary Conference, University College London, June 1982.

A. Abbott Ikeler (essay date 1986)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7751

SOURCE: “That Peculiar Book: Critics, Common Readers and The Way We Live Now,College Language Association Journal, Vol. 30, No. 2, December, 1986, pp. 219-40.

[In the following essay, Ikeler defends Trollope's The Way We Live Now against charges that the work is too long, too cynical, and offers a negative and unfair depiction of foreigners.]

Defending The Way We Live Now before a group of genial Trollopians is generally taken as a sign of bad manners.1 One of them invariably retorts, “You know, that's one book of his I never really liked.” The company nods its assent, and all wait through a deprecatory silence until another anecdote of Bertie Stanhope or Lily Dale repairs the breach. It is a failure of tact as grave, I suspect, as praise of Wuthering Heights would have been in the circle of Mrs. Oliphant's friends. Both novels are apparently guilty of the same offense: an unsettling savagery of tone. In the case of The Way We Live Now, the claim is often brought that the book contains an ungenerous satire of foreigners, especially Americans and continental Jews, and that Trollope is here indulging a xenophobic tic he elsewhere restrains. Moreover, the lack of a parochial setting or a dominant political intrigue makes the novel difficult to wed to either of the chief cycles in the Trollope canon. Consequently, it has never sold as well as the Barset or Palliser books. Form-conscious enthusiasts complain that The Way We Live Now is too long even for the era of the triple-decker; well-read enthusiasts find the swindler, Melmotte, a bald imitation of Dickens's Merdle. Both sorts take issue with a narrative voice they find “sour” or cynical: Trollope appears obsessed by the moral chaos of the present—stressed in the “Now” of the title—and mounts an apology for Toryism and for a moribund leisure class driven out by “new” money. The Way We Live Now is thus marked and discarded by Trollope loyalists as an aberrant product of the novelist's old age: atypical, unkind, and humorless.

Twentieth-century critics, on the other hand, have been consistent in their praise of the book.2 Sometimes they have been extravagant, as in the case of Walter Allen calling it “one of the remarkable novels of the language … brilliant and prophetic … the only other novel in English of the century that, as a study of the role of money in society, can stand with Our Mutual Friend.3 Allen points to Melmotte as a “superb character,” sidestepping altogether the question of derivation, and sees the novel as the capstone of Trollope's later development. Indeed, most present-day critics stress the novelist's admiration for Thackeray and what Praz labels “his anti-heroic point of view,” thus arguing that the complex skepticism of The Way We Live Now is the culmination of a progress traceable in earlier works, chiefly Orley Farm and The Last Chronicle of Barset.4

Clearly these endorsements, right-minded as they may be, fail to consider the book's stubborn unpopularity or the sometimes legitimate reasons for it. I propose a direct look at several of the issues, formal and substantive, that trouble early critics and common readers, in an effort to close the gap between their estimate of the novel and more recent valuations. In many cases the perceived offenses or departures—uncharacteristic structure and plot, xenophobia, derivative characterization, humorless antipathy, Toryism—are specious rather than real. What I believe we have in fact is Trollope's usual response to experience excited and focused—quite wonderfully at times—by an era of peculiar decadence.

Discomfort with the anomalous breath of the narrative is indeed justified: of his dozen or so most-read novels, certainly the cast and theater of action is here the least familiar, the least comfortably circumscribed. Parliamentary and ecclesiastical complications play round the story's edge—there is still a worldly Bishop, a proselytizing priest, a corrupt Lord, and even two scenes within the House of Commons—but they remain vignettes and do not dominate Trollope's interest. His reach here is naturally less parochial, for his intention is to show how “we,” that is, all of us (not just the political or the churchy set) live. Included are editors, businessmen, clubmen, squires, lady novelists, Americans, continental Jews, and even the emperor of China. This new inclusiveness is no pinched, sour vision, no sign of a novelist who has lost his talent for animating a cohesive fictional world, but rather the articulation of Trollope's literary ideal—“a picture of common life”—expanded beyond a single professional class.

But if the narrative territory of The Way We Live Now is larger and more crowded than in the Barsetshire novels, the plotting remains as simple and improvised as ever. The structure of the book is typical of “mainstream” Trollope: Here, as there, we are offered the obligatory marriage intrigue and the optional power struggle. There, plot mechanics are reducible to a few prosaic questions: Must Harding resign his sinecure? Who will marry Eleanor Bold? Will the low-church upstarts control the diocese? Will Grace get Major Grantly? Did Rev. Crawley steal the check? Will Lady Mason be found guilty? Here the tension is just as formulaic and easily reducible to two questions: When will Melmotte be caught out? And who will marry whom? The sheer number of engagement possibilities in The Way We Live Now—there are at least eight pairs by my count—lends an appearance of density to the plot, but all progression and suspense are, as usual, built around the issues of money and marriage. Trollope does not in this novel, as he so often did in earlier works, subvert the romantic reader's curiosity: the “fates” of Marie, Georgiana, and Mrs. Hurtle are withheld until the final number. Nevertheless he shows no inclination to surprise or dazzle with technical ingenuity: he continues to be preoccupied chiefly with character, and tells his tale in the usual unaffected, informal, linear way. The fiendish compression and symmetry of Emily Brontë, or of late Dickens, is absent here. Plot strands are taken up when it occurs to Trollope; sometimes they are juxtaposed or rotated when it suits him—Marie, Ruby, and Hetta hear confessions of love from Felix and Roger in quick succession—but as often as not he neglects formal tidiness in order to explore some immediate narrative or psychological interest. There is little sense of counterpoint or double entendre as in the parallel points of view in Bleak House or the twin plots of Vanity Fair; with the exception of a simple analogy between the Beargarden gamblers and the city speculators, plot clusters in The Way We Live Now seldom “function” in any new critical sense. Questions of architectonics are irrelevant if not absurd. For the most part, Trollope tells his story episodically, one point at a time, concentrating his satire or his moral in big scenes—balls, dinners, board meetings, sessions of Parliament, and receptions—just as he had, for example, in Barchester Towers. Between such opportune collisions of unlikes he relaxes into discursive prose, often rehashing dilemmas of conscience and circumstances. The review of Marie's history near the end of the novel presents the sort of gratuitous slackness which Dickens, despite serial publication, never blundered into. It is unfortunately typical of Trollope's dilatory story-lines:

She had fallen in love with Sir Felix Carbury, and had assured herself over and over again that she worshipped the very ground on which he stood. … After her father's first attempts to marry her to this and that suitor because of her wealth,—attempts which she had hardly opposed amidst the consternation and glitter of the world to which she was suddenly introduced,—she had learned from novels that it would be right that she should be in love, and she had chosen Sir Felix as her idol. The reader knows what had been the end of that episode in her life. … Then she had as it were relapsed into the hands of Lord Nidderdale,—one of her early suitors,—and had felt that as love was not to prevail, and as it would be well that she should marry someone, he might probably be as good as any other, and certainly better than many others. She had almost learned to like Lord Nidderdale and to believe that he liked her, when the tragedy came. Lord Nidderdale had been very good-natured,—but he had deserted her at last, etc., etc.5

The same careless iteration dilutes the chronicle of Roger's progress and, to a lesser extent, that of Paul Montague. Like most of Trollope's longer novels, The Way We Live Now would be better made if it were a hundred pages shorter. Surely what Johnson said of Richardson's prose is applicable to this prolix Victorian: Anyone who reads him for the plot would hang himself. This is as true of the late novels as it is of The Warden; the authorial perspective in The Way We Live Now may be harder, more skeptical, but its organization is far from the radical departure Trollope's regular readers suppose.

More serious than objections to structure and plot is the charge that the novel includes a full-scale attack on foreigners. Bertrand Russell finds the satire, especially of such figures as Cohenlupe the scheming Jew, to be mean-spirited: a mark of the author's commonness of mind. One might point, as well, with some justice to the simplistic portrait of Americans. When they are not brandishing bull-whips or card-sharking, Trollope implies they are conspiring to defraud their investors or bludgeon their husbands. Immigrants from the east are treated with as much opprobrium: London swarms with various shady continentals, from the Melmottes who bilk the city merchants to Herr Vossner who bilks the Beargarden and slips away to the moral no-man's-land of central Europe. Certainly The Way We Live Now gathers the least homogeneous cast of characters in Trollope's fiction, a polyglot of opportunists, upstarts and parvenus, both imported and home-grown. Of course he is chronicling a fact of London life in the latter years of the last century: the city which had drawn English farmers and Irish workers during the “hungry forties” had now become, after the economic rebound of the 1850s, a crossroads of international finance. Dickens suggests the influx nine years earlier when Mr. Podsnap's party includes an obsequious foreign gentleman, but there the exchange only exposes the implacable insularity of the English moneyed classes. In The Way We Live Now, dining with aliens has become more than a footnote to the spirit of the day: that spirit is itself largely controlled by foreigners. They manipulate and determine the fates of Englishmen rather than the reverse. The novel's panorama does indeed present a first impression of the British Isles under siege, raided mercilessly from continental badlands and outlaw republics like the United States. Is Trollope then guilty of speakers' corner chauvinism? After all, the book does promote the final solution of repatriation and exile: Marie, Fisker, Mrs. Hurtle, and Croll are packed on a boat to America and Felix is banished to Hamburg. Even the uncomplicated goodness of Roger Carbury reinforces this inference since it is juxtaposed to the shrewd duplicity of the aliens: he is the beleaguered champion of British fairplay, they the new barbarians.

Yet it is just here, in the contention that Trollope sentimentalizes his portrait of the English upper-classes, that one is likely to miss the evenhandedness of the satire. Vested interests in Britain are not at war with imported degeneracy; they in fact do all they can to abet it. Lord Alfred Grendall has become Melmotte's sponsor, his creature:

Lord Alfred was certainly very useful to him. Lord Alfred had whispered into his ear that by certain conduct and by certain uses of his money, he himself might be made a baronet. “But if they should say I'm not an Englishman?” suggested Melmotte. Lord Alfred had explained that it was not necessary that he should have been born in England, or even asked. Let him first get into Parliament, and then spend a little money on the proper side,—by which Lord Alfred meant the Conservative side,—and be munificent in his entertainments, and the baronetcy would be almost a matter of course.

(I, 233)

“In these present days,” Trollope is quick to note, a swindler's backers are, as often as not, Tory. Miles Grendall, though a peer's son, is as sharp in his Beargarden dealings as Melmotte is in the city; Lord Nidderdale is goaded into the only active campaign in his effete career by the lure of the speculator's daughter; Georgiana Longstaffe moves in with the Melmottes for the London season, thus propping the new order at the expense of her dignity and virtue. She excuses herself to her sister:

“… I've got to get myself settled somehow, and that can't be done down here. But you are not going to disgrace yourself.”

“There's not disgrace in it, Georgey.”

“Yes, there is. I believe the man to be a swindler and a thief; and I believe her to be anything low that you can think of. As to their pretensions to be gentlefolk, it is monstrous. The footmen and the housemaids would be much better.”

“Then don't go, Georgey.”

“I must go. It's the only chance that is left. If I were to remain down here everybody would say that I was on the shelf. You are going to marry Whitstable, and you'll do very well. … As for me I shall give over caring about gentlemen now. The first man that comes to me with four or five thousand a year, I'll take him though he'd come out of Newgate or Bedlam. And I shall always say it has been papa's doing.”

And so Georgiana Longestaffe went up to London and stayed with the Melmottes.

(I, 203-04)

Even Georgiana's father panders to her host's imposture. Roger Carbury and Dolly Longestaffe aside, the majority of establishment figures has sold out; they range from Felix's pattern of shiftless indulgence—his chief pastime is the exploitation of good-natured women: Ruby, Marie, his sister, his mother—to Lord Nidderdale's Twemlow-like naivete:

That men should gamble, get drunk, run into debt, make love to other men's wives, was to him a matter of everyday life. Nothing of that kind shocked him at all. But he was not as yet quite old enough to believe in swindling. It had been impossible to convince him that Miles Grendall had cheated at cards, and the idea that Mr. Melmotte had forged was as improbable and shocking to him as that an officer should run away in battle. Common soldiers, he thought, might do that sort of thing.

(II, 111)

Most of the breed are in fact nearer Georgiana's cupidity than Lord Nidderdale's blinking, stuttering bewilderment. There is nothing genteel in their corruption: they see Melmotte's monstrous dishonesty for what it is, but take their profits anyway, settling “upon his carcass as so many birds of prey.” Each scrambles for shares in the Vera Cruz railway and a place in Melmotte's inner council. One by one they lend their names, prestige, presence, and cash to a building project altogether remote from the interests of the British public. Roger marks the ravages of this speculative fever even in traditional counties like Suffolk. There, as well as in London, “men reconcile themselves to swindling,” and “dishonesty is … no longer odious to them.” The conservative establishment is thoroughly compromised—nearly drained of heroism, even of manners; its representatives have become grubby little pragmatists beside whom the pedantic zeal of liberal reformers like John Bold would be welcome. But this is not to say that Trollope takes up political sides. Though he claims to have been a Whig supporter most of his life, he is careful in the novel not to exclude either party from blame. Melmotte may be a Tory, but the current collapse of integrity is a bipartisan undertaking:

[T]he leading Liberals of the leading borough in England as they called themselves, would perhaps have cared little about Melmotte's antecedents had it not become their duty to fight him as a Conservative. Had the great man found at the last moment that his own British politics had been liberal in their nature, these very enemies would have been on his committee. It was their business to secure the seat.

(I, 413)

The Whig morality is obviously a happy accident of self-interest. Moreover, Trollope insists from the outset that the English way of life, not of politics, is the heart of the trouble. In these latter, unscrupulous days the British doctrine of doing as one likes provides a climate more congenial to villainy than any in Europe. Melmotte, after all, has been run out of Paris and Vienna, but has “at length found that British freedom would alone allow him to enjoy, without persecution, the fruits of his industry” (I, 31). Even church fathers sanction this “Scoundrel Protection Society” of the seventies: the Roman Catholic Father Barham and the Anglican Bishop share none of Roger's indignation. All in all, the crash of fortunes that accompanies Melmotte's fall is comic rather than tragic, for the embarrassed, morally impoverished upper classes have cooperated vigorously in their own deception. To be sure the immigrant forger is never permitted the status of a Robin Hood,6 but the greed of the aristocrats and of Melmotte remains generally indistinguishable, and one is satisfied to see a plague descend on both their houses.

But though Trollope's tolerance of continental carpet-baggers is at least as great as his patience with homebred mountebanks, it is true enough that he saves his most savage obloquy for Americans. Like Swift before him, who claimed the idea for “A Modest Proposal” came from a colonist who ate babies regularly, Trollope sees the United States as a breeding ground of unimaginable horrors. There is, it seems, one place where dishonesty has more operating room than in Britain. In the words of Hamilton Fisker, who wants to ship the master-criminal to California, “By George! there's no limit to what he might do with us. We're a bigger people than any of you and have more room. We go after bigger things, and don't stand shilly-shally on the brink as you do” (I, 75). After five voyages to America, Trollope was perhaps justified in saying his dislike of the place was a prejudice confirmed by experience; in any case it is an experience through which he twice forces Paul Montague to pass. Like the young Martin Chuzzlewit, who returns from the “Eden” of the United States penniless, fever-ridden and nearly talked to death by reporters and unctuous females, Trollope's innocent Englishman comes back from San Francisco, first without his money, and a second time with his honor (and even his life) jeopardized by an alliance with Mrs. Hurtle. Everything that comes out of or passes through America is immediately suspect. To borrow Newman's phrase, Trollope has systematically “poisoned the wells”; the swindler's imaginary railway is to be built across the southwestern United States; Mrs. Hurtle, Fisker and Ramsbottom are blighted products of pioneer culture; even Marie Melmotte has apparently been born in New York (though her mother asserts it was Paris). Sometimes, of course, American extravagance tempts Trollope into rude farce. Fisker boasts to Marie, “Miss Melmotte, you do not know the glorious west. Your past experiences have been drawn from this effete and stone-cold country in which passion is no longer allowed to sway. On those golden shores which the Pacific washes man is still true,—and woman is still tender” (II, 454).

Mrs. Hurtle is the most interesting and complicated of these caricatures. Her name suggests her headlong nature; her square-jawed good looks suggest similarities to James' New Englanders; and her words and actions suggest a quick, sensitive intelligence brutalized by its environment. In his description of her outward appearance Trollope is eminently fair. In a newfangled age, fresh from a brash new land, she presents the paradox of old-fashioned beauty:

She was very lovely, with a kind of beauty we seldom see now. In these days men regard the form and outward lines of a woman's face and figure more than either the colour or the expression, and women fit themselves to men's eyes. … Colours indeed are added, but not the colours which we used to love. The taste for flesh and blood has for the day given place to an appetite for horsehair and pearl powder. But Mrs. Hurtle was not a beauty after the present fashion. She was very dark,—a dark brunette,—with large round blue eyes that could indeed be soft, but could also be very severe. Her silken hair, almost black, hung in a thousand curls all round her head and neck. Her cheeks and lips and neck were full, and the blood would come and go. … Her mouth was large, and she rarely showed her teeth. … Her bust was full and beautifully shaped; but she invariably dressed as though she were oblivious, or at any rate neglectful, of her own charms. … She was in truth over thirty,—perhaps almost as near thirty-five as thirty. But she was one of those whom years hardly seem to touch.

(I, 240-41)

But Trollope's concession to her physical charms does not deflect the thrust of his opprobrium, for the portrait is all along consonant with his mother's view in 1831: “I certainly believe the women of America to be the handsomest in the world, but as surely do I believe that they are the least attractive.”7 More importantly, her beauty serves another purpose, and one which has nothing to do with her redemption. On the contrary, her provocative appearance—black hair, full lips, large mouth, rounded figure—is primarily a test of Paul Montague's moral reserves. She must in fact be drawn as a temptation sufficient to lead a man of taste and conscience astray. Again there is nothing anomalous in her beauty: it is largely the charm of the traditional Duessa, the dark lady of the classical Bildungsroman. She is to Paul what Bella Mount is to Richard Feverel—a concentration of sexual energy and a moral trap:

Paul like[d] the companionship of Mrs. Hurtle because her attire, though simple, was becoming; because of the brightness of her eyes, and the happy sharpness of her words, and the dangerous smile which played upon her lips. He liked the warmth of her close vicinity, and the softness of her arm, and the perfume from her hair. … As he took his leave, she stood close against him, and put her cheek up for him to kiss. There are moments in which a man finds it utterly impossible to be prudent … let the danger have been what it may. Of course he took her in his arms, and kissed her lips as well as her cheeks.

(I, 435, 398)

She is rigidly true to type: nonvirginal, older, forward, stigmatized by her experiences, yet striking enough to extort a promise of marriage from a sensible fellow. Her foil, of course, is Hetta, the right sort of girl for a decent chap like Paul. She fits the Grace Crawley-Lily Dale mold—a heroine unscarred by worldliness, passive, and prudent.

Mrs. Hurtle serves, however, not only as a moral wrong direction in Paul's career, but as a repository for all sorts of caricatured American habits. She keeps a gun in her bedroom with which she threatens her bolting lover; in a letter she confesses the extraordinary urge to bullwhip Paul for his perfidy (it must be the only instance in British literature); and though with proper cause, she has apparently murdered a man in Oregon, and perhaps dispatched her own husband. Even her speech has an explosive, strident, bullying character which makes her offensive where she ought to be pathetic:

“Oh God! what have I done that it should be my lot to meet man after man false and cruel as this! You tell me to my face that I am to bear it! Who is the jade that has done it? Has she money?—or rank? Or is it that you are afraid to have by your side a woman who can speak for herself … ? Perhaps you think that I am—old. … Speak, man,—is it that you want a younger wife?”

(II, 379)

Her very reflections are abrasive, as in the following rationalization of the loss of Paul:

She and this young Englishman were not fit to be mated. He was to her thinking a tame, sleek household animal, whereas she knew herself to be wild,—fitter for the woods than for polished cities. It had been one of the faults of her life that she had allowed herself to be bound by tenderness of feeling to this soft over-civilised man.

(II, 379)

Moreover, Trollope has made her out to be obsessed with size and power, saying, according to the European's cliché, “I hate little piddling things. I should like to manage the greatest bank in the world, or to be captain of the biggest fleet, or to make the largest railway” (I, 391). Shifting ground, she denigrates English seaside resorts, calling the Thames estuary at Southend “a little yellow river.” Paul counters that there is sea enough there for anyone: “If you can't see across it, and if there are waves, and wind enough to knock you down, and shipwrecks every other day, I don't see why a hundred miles isn't as good as a thousand” (I, 396). At such moments the dialogue is indeed contrived and Mrs. Hurtle, like Hamilton Fisker, becomes the butt of Trollope's complacent patriotism. But his estimate of her is not always cheap and foreshortened. Paul recognizes that beneath her rough manner and the stern, hard colors of her clothes (she wears blacks and whites and reds, but never pastels), she has been victimized by men, misshapen by the absence of love. He hesitates to answer her aggression in kind, simply because he sees the wounded woman behind the shrill bravado:

The man who succumbs to his wife … is as often brought to servility by a continual aversion to the giving of pain, by a softness which causes the fretfulness of others to be an agony to himself,—as by any actual fear. … [S]uch fears did not prevail upon him to be silent; but he shrank from subjecting her to the blank misery of utter desertion.

(I, 442)

Trollope himself finally gets back to his own stereotype of pistols, bullwhips, and bombast and takes the measure of her human desolation:

She had endured violence, and had been violent. She had been schemed against, and had schemed. She had fitted herself to the life which had befallen her. But in regard to money, she had been honest and she had been loving of heart. … She was in truth sick at heart of violence and rough living and unfeminine words. But if she could only escape the wrongs … then, she thought she could put away violence and be gentle as a young girl.

(I, 449-50)

Of course his sympathy for her is marred by patronizing assumptions about “provincials”—“to live the life of an English lady would have been heaven to her”—but his final estimate, partly in the words of Mrs. Pipkin, is generous to the point of sentimentality:

“They do tell bad things about them Americans,” she said to a friend in the street, “and I don't pretend to know. But for a lodger, I only wish Providence would send me another just like the one I have lost. She had that good nature about her. [S]he liked to see the bairns eating pudding just as if they was her own.”

I think Mrs. Pipkin was right, and that Mrs. Hurtle, with all her faults, was a good-natured woman.

(II, 447-48)

There remains to be sure the charge that, in The Way We Live Now, Trollope shows a nasty strain of antisemitism. One may point with justice to the portrait of Cohenlupe; to egregious asides on Lady Julia Goldsheiner's husband, Miss Berrenhoffer, and “Jews that had been,” like Mrs. Melmotte: “She was fat and fair,—unlike in colour to our traditional Jewesses; but she had the Jewish nose and the Jewish contraction of the eyes”;8 and to the general sentiment that Georgiana would compromise her family's dignity if she were to marry Mr. Brehgert. He is after all described as a Jewish businessman possessed of fat, greasy good looks, rather like a “master-butcher.” Yet more closely viewed, it is Brehgert who has too fine a sense of honor to be bought. In a brief letter of refusal to Georgiana, he puts the Christian mercenary in her place: “It is evident to me from your letter that you would not wish to be my wife unless I can supply you with a house in town as well as with one in the country” (II, 277). Thus Trollope makes good the caricature of Cohenlupe within the same novel; surely a quicker restoration of moral balance than Dickens accomplished in answering Fagin with Riah. But in fact Trollope is not satisfied simply to square things: in order to plead for racial tolerance he permits Brehgert to challenge his own major thesis that the present age is civilization in decline:

“But no doubt your father objects to me specially because I am a Jew. If I were an atheist he might, perhaps, say nothing on the subject of religion. On this matter as well as on others it seems to me that your father has hardly kept pace with the movements of the age. Fifty years ago, whatever claim a Jew might have to be as well considered as a Christian, he certainly was not so considered. Society was closed against him, except under special circumstances, and so were all the privileges of high position. But that has been altered.”

(II, 270-71)

Finally, if there is any residue of doubt that Trollope's disparagement falls with equal weight on outsiders and on natives, we need only look at Melmotte's elaborate dinner party. The allotment of tickets offers a quantitative gauge of the decade's fashions—there is as much imported nobility as domestic, as many ambassadors as cabinet ministers, more journalists than poets, an obligatory African explorer and a single abused novelist. But inherent, too, is the usurious relationship between the aristocracy and the socially ambitious financier: they permit him the pretense of acceptance, of glory by grand association; in exchange, he foots the whole outrageous bill and gives up the right to choose the guests in his own home. On both sides, the arrangement is an equal mixture of bribery and vanity, and the likes of Julia Monogram are certainly as contemptible as those of Augustus Melmotte. But more significantly, in the middle of this English banquet—this complicated celebration of Mammon among the fallen peers—arrives the uncommunicating visitor from the Orient. At first the Emperor of China is made a subject of light comedy:

As the Emperor talked Manchoo only, and as there was no one present who could even interpret Manchoo into English,—the imperial interpreter condescending only to interpret Manchoo into ordinary Chinese which had to be reinterpreted,—it was not within his Imperial Majesty's power to have much conversation with his neighbors.

(II, 83)

But Trollope soon catches the symbolic potential of an Easterner, a mandarin representative from a world of fixed values sitting silently amidst a culture in chaotic flux. He surveys, after all, a society from which the assurances of caste, usage and ritual have been banished: yesterday's butcher is here tomorrow's baronet; the honored host at six o'clock becomes the shunned forger at nine. The Emperor ruminates through it all “solemn … awful and composed,” and when Trollope exclaims, “How one would wish to see the mind of the Emperor as it worked on that occasion!”9 his deference to the outsider is unmistakable.

That celebrated reception brings us to another caveat, and to one of the two plot centers in the novel: Augustus Melmotte. It has been frequently remarked that Trollope borrowed his speculator-villain from Dickens's picture of Mr. Merdle some twenty years before. Their circumstances are indeed unnervingly close. Both are self-made men and the source of their wealth and influence is sudden, untraceable. Both are large, silent presences who impress their satellites with taciturnity rather than eloquence: Merdle folds his arms and declares he is “not a calling man”; Melmotte has “a wonderful look of power about his mouth and chin.” Both have offices in the city, a sort of new court at which the mighty of England obsequiously attend. Both give frequent parties at great cost and without the slightest pleasure or control: Merdle eats his eighteen-pence dinner alone while staring at the windows of his mansion as if they were “nine wastes of space”; Melmotte, at his first ball, is prevented by the titled assembly from meeting his own chief guest, the prince; at his second party he stares “bewildered and dismayed” at the “banquo seats” of those who are working his ruin. Both show guilty consciences before their servants and assistants: Merdle quails under his butler's “confining” eye; Melmotte fears his confidential clerk and listens “anxiously to the tone of the man's voice, trying to catch from it some indication of the mind within. Did Croll know of the rumours, and if so, what did he think of them?” (II, 114). Both offer a lure of easy money too strong even for upright men to resist: Paul Montague and Arthur Clennam, though they mistrust the speculative fever, nonetheless sink their hard-won cash into the new schemes. Finally, both Merdle and Melmotte overextend themselves like balloons filled with too much gas: they are caught forging and only escape the ignominy of public justice by timely suicides. In each case the chorus of fashionable rumor which has built their importance fittingly and sanctimoniously rejoices at their exploded lives.

These parallels are circumstantially incriminating, yet because Merdle and Melmotte are handled so differently by their authors, each remains an original. Dickens's financial wizard is chiefly a symbol of money's insubstantiality: He seldom speaks or reflects, his hand is impossible to shake, and he never makes eye contact (preferring to look at carpets and under chairs). He is a mirage created by universal greed, a colossus the people have willed into being. Melmotte, on the other hand, is quite real. While maintaining him in Dickens's sense as an archetype of present avarice, Trollope deepens and rounds the portrait in two ways: first we see how the swindler's confidence game and his exposure work, and secondly we are made party to his thoughts. Whereas Dickens neglects Merdle's business practices altogether (we never know with certainty what his front organization is), Trollope follows his villain to Abchurch Lane and records the board-room jockeying. In this novel, as in Orley Farm, The Last Chronicle of Barset, and Eustace Diamonds, he carefully provides the practical details he considers necessary to paint a picture of common dishonesty. The Vera Cruz Railway, it seems, is what in the modern idiom is called a “Ponzi scheme,” that is, one in which its mastermind stays ahead of detection by paying off early investors with cash supplied by later investors. Again, when Merdle gets his comeuppance, Dickens is mysterious, abstract, serenely arbitrary: we know nothing of the imminent crash until Merdle is found stabbed in the baths, and even then we never learn how or by whom he had been cornered. Trollope, on the other hand, takes us backstage before the fall and makes a drama of the discovery of forged documents. Melmotte wonders if the drawer was locked and, if not, who might have had a key. In the days before shredding machines, he destroys evidence more primitively:

Mr. Melmotte on entering the room bolted the door, and then, sitting at his own table, took certain papers out of the drawers,—a bundle of letters and another of small documents. From these, with very little examination, he took three or four,—two or three perhaps from each. These he tore into very small fragments and burned the bits,—holding them over a gas-burner and letting the ashes fall into a large china plate. Then he blew the ashes into the yard through the open window. This he did to all these documents but one. This one he put bit by bit into his mouth, chewing the paper into a pulp till he swallowed it.

(II, 119)

Moreover, Trollope personifies Melmotte's pursuers in Dolly and Squercum, and dramatizes his last hours. The end of his life is a confluence of success and failure: he does indeed entertain royalty, but since he is troubled throughout by absent rather than present guests, his triumph is Pyrrhic: “He was now striving to trust to his arrogance and declaring that nothing should cow him. And then again he was so cowed that he was ready to creep to anyone for assistance” (II, 85). On the following day he wins election to Parliament at the same time that the engines of justice, in the persons of the lawyers Slow and Bideawhile, are backing him to the brink. Lastly he spoils his entrance to the House of Commons by his ignorance of Parliamentary tradition, his guilt, and his loss of nerve:

As soon as Melmotte was on his legs, and, looking round, found that everybody was silent with the intent of listening to him, a good deal of his courage oozed out of his fingers' ends. The House, which, to his thinking, had by no means been august while Mr. Brown had been toddling though his speech, now became awful. … He had forgotten even the very point on which he had intended to crush Mr. Brown.

But the courage of the man was too high to allow him to be altogether quelled at once. The hum was prolonged; and though he was red in the face, perspiring, and utterly confused, he determined to make a dash at the matter with the first words which would occur to him. “Mr. Brown is all wrong,” he said. He had not even taken off his hat as he rose. Mr. Brown turned slowly round and looked up at him. Some one, whom he could not exactly hear, touching him from behind, suggested that he should take off his hat. There was a cry of order, which of course he did not understand. “Yes, you are,” said Melmotte, nodding his head, and frowning angrily at poor Mr. Brown. …

“You should take your hat off,” said the good-natured gentleman behind.

(II, 180-81)

Upstarts may flout the system for a time, but Trollope is as certain in this novel as in earlier ones that those forms and usages will take their eventual revenge. Melmotte wins exactly the tokens of acceptance and power he has sought—the party comes off, the Parliamentary seat is gained, and Lord Nidderdale accepts his daughter—but they are accomplished at the very moment his doom has been sealed.

Again, Trollope does with Melmotte what Dickens seldom does with Merdle: He takes us not only behind the scenes, but behind the eyes of his master swindler. In Little Dorrit, the scoundrel and his retinue of Bar, Bishop, Treasury and Physician are lashed brilliantly; Dickens dissects their small hypocrisies with partisan energy. But that is just it: because he doesn't like them, because they do not really interest him, he lumps them under anonymous job titles. Merdle himself has only an external reality. He is last seen from a window by his daughter-in-law, seeming to dance through her tears of vexation, a figure obscure to others because he is so boring. In fact he is about to slit his throat. Trollope, on the other hand, though he may privately share Roger's opinion that the man is a “hollow vulgar fraud,” grants Melmotte a genuine center of self. Especially in the critical last days of his career, when Melmotte is more and more isolated by rumours of his crimes, we are made a party to his rationalizations:

It was wonderful that he should come to such a fate as this;—that he, the boy out of the gutter, should entertain at his own house, in London, a Chinese Emperor and English and German Royalty,—and that he should do so almost with a rope round his neck. Even if this were to be the end of it all, men would at any rate remember him.

(II, 113)

And again, with the enormous waste and small return behind him and the prospect of ignominy before him, Melmotte finds even the solace of such ironies empty:

[H]e stood for a few moments looking up at the bright stars. If he could be there, in one of those unknown distant worlds, with all his present intellect and none of his present burdens, he would, he thought, do better than he had done here on earth. If he could even now put himself down nameless, fameless, and without possessions in some distant corner of the world. … But he was Augustus Melmotte, and he must bear his burdens, whatever they were, to the end. He could reach no place so distant but that he would be known and traced.

(II, 115-16)

It may well be objected that such probes of Melmotte's psyche are brief and disappointing: we “get inside” him only to discover his banality. But even pedestrian efforts at verisimilitude have their reward. Melmotte has indeed the commonest sort of criminal mind, but that is mind enough to make his fate matter. One is glad to see him escape the indignities of Squercum and make his own quietus. Merdle's suicide, on the other hand, remains little more than a gothic footnote.

There is one other commentary in The Way We Live Now which appears uncharacteristic of Trollope. The speculative fever has not, after all, been contained within Melmotte's City offices; it has ravaged exclusive, “safe” establishments as well. The Beargarden, Trollope's archetype of the London Club in the seventies, is no longer a sanctuary for gentlemen. The “ceremony of innocence” has been drowned even here in the aristocrat's last preserve. It is not simply that the world at large has disturbed some idle, good-natured equipoise: club life has in fact become a microcosm of Melmotte's empire. The chief business of both spheres is gambling, that is, money without work. Felix gives up the dissipation of one for the paper profits of the other; Hamilton Fisker fleeces the Beargarden regulars at high-stakes poker while Melmotte deals them bogus shares; Miles Grendall's tactics of cheating and evasion at the card table imitate the Railway chairman's behavior before his board of directors. In amplifying his satire through such parallels and doubling, Trollope may have had in mind the analogical method of Dickens's late novels. Still, the Beargarden has its own peculiar ironies which distinguish it from Abchurch Lane and make it more endearing. Though the club is a scene of continual profligacy, its members pride themselves on the parsimony of a single employee, no lunches, and few dinners. And the pace of the speculative rot is civil and slow here. The talk is better, the habitués more apathetic than criminal, the gaming rooms themselves as much a haven from the chaotic present as an analogue for its rapacity. Trollope clearly prefers Dolly's sarcastic patter and Nidderdale's unconscious humor to the stridency of the marketplace. In much the same way he favors English decadence over American, or, in an earlier novel, the amorality of the Stanhopes over the earnest scheming of the Proudies. In each case it is largely a matter of tone.

Finally, despite the era's preoccupation with gain which breaks family ties and pits parents and children and husbands and wives against each other, Trollope keeps his belief in marriage as the inevitable and enviable destiny of his characters. Though everyone from Ruby Ruggles to Georgiana has looked on matrimony as a chance to collect unearned capital, each is chastened and subdued to a modest match. No one “blooms forth as a baronet's bride”: Georgiana accepts her Mr. Batherbolt, Ruby her Crumb, Marie her Fisker, and even Lady Carbury her Mr. Broune. Those who do not are unfitted either by age or by turpitude. Moreover, in the case of at least one wedded pair, Trollope seems to me to have retreated from predictable charm to a rather hoary conventionalism. In giving Lady Carbury to the editor of “The Morning Breakfast Table,” he implies that even an independent-minded woman is better off with a protective male. Broune alone is able to emancipate her from her profligate son and her pointless novel-writing. Lady Carbury, happily submitting to his control, asks herself, “Could it be that now at last real peace should be within her reach, and that tranquillity which comes from an anchor holding to a firm bottom?” (II, 464). Trollope refuses to tell us whether her acquisition of a “firm bottom” will enable her to realize her hopes, but she is certainly more content than Mrs. Hurtle, the husbandless American whose past resembles her own.10 Evidently Trollope still approves many of the prejudices of polite society, for Mrs. Broune's Tuesday evenings are better attended than Lady Carbury's had been.


  1. In their enthusiasm and prejudices, “Trollopians” are as distinct a breed from professional critics as members of the Browning Society or Dickensians.

  2. Michael Sadleir, Trollope: A Commentary (Boston: Houghton 1927); Bradford Booth, Anthony Trollope (Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1941); and Pope-Hennessey, Anthony Trollope (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1971) consider it among the four or five best novels in the canon.

  3. Walter Allen, The English Novel (New York: Dutton, 1954), pp. 238-39.

  4. Mario Praz, “Anthony Trollope,” in The Victorian Novel: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Ian Watt (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971), p. 370, and Bradford Booth, “Trollope's Orley Farm: Artistry Manqué,” in From Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad, ed. R. C. Rathburn and M. Steinmann (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1958), p. 159.

  5. The Way We Live Now (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1968), II, 451-52. All further quotations from the novel are drawn from this edition.

  6. Cf. II, 128.

  7. Recorded in Domestic Manners of the Americans (New York: Dodd, 1927), p. 227.

  8. I, 31.

  9. II, 87.

  10. It is occasionally argued that Lady Carbury was drawn after Frances Trollope, but I suspect that she is modeled on that hoard of housewife-novelists of the fifties and sixties who regularly burdened publishers with the likes of Criminal Queens. In any case Lady Carbury writes but one novel: Trollope's mother wrote thirty-five. He did not consider her, any more than himself, a literary lightweight.

Stephen Wall (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6794

SOURCE: “Trollope, Satire, and The Way We Live Now,Essays in Criticism, Vol. 37, No. 1, January, 1987, pp. 43-61.

[In the following essay, Wall studies the plot and characterization of Trollope's The Way We Live Now, contending that Trollope's concern for his characters prevented him from sustaining biting satire.]

The Way We Live Now (1875) may seem to owe its prodigious length to the author's desire to provide comprehensive evidence for the thesis clearly signalled by the title. Trollope's Autobiography retrospectively defines the novel's subject as ‘the commercial profligacy of the age’, which is most obviously embodied in the figure of Augustus Melmotte, the forger financier, whose brief ascendency is taken as symptomatic of the general deterioration. Modern commentary—greatly reassured by the prospect of a Trollope novel which seems ostensibly and incontrovertibly to address itself to large social and moral issues—has tended to assume that the book actually delivers the promised critique. Robin Gilmour rightly suspects that ‘The Way We Live Now has been so widely admired and written about … because it seems to lend itself readily to the kind of moral and thematic analysis with which modern criticism is most at home’.1 The assumption that in any case Trollope's fiction generally functions as a searching analysis of his society has become almost automatic; he is now commonly credited not just with that photographic realism which his contemporaries admired, but with that understanding of society's central causes and hidden meaning which Balzac sought.

One of the consequences of such an approach is that pressure on the individual character is greatly increased. He comes to matter more for what he represents or illustrates than for himself since he is made the vehicle for the author's view of the world. Once characters are thus seen as creatures of rhetoric, the necessary instruments of a larger enquiry into Victorian civilisation, say, or the decline of the old values, or the nature of the gentleman, or the triumph of the commercial ethic, they are inevitably nudged away from idiosyncrasy towards allegory. Trollope's own uneasiness about satire, however, shows how foreign such subordination of the characters' interests to the author's was to his own creative instincts. A reasoned letter to Alfred Austin (2 May 1870) doubts the efficacy and truth of satiric writings ‘written as such’; satire, he complains, runs ever into exaggeration, leaving the conviction that not justice but revenge, is desired. The same worries surface in the Autobiography, both in relation to The Warden, Trollope's first success, as well as to The Way We Live Now: ‘The vices implied are coloured so as to make an effect rather than to represent truth … the very desire which moves the satirist to do his work energetically makes him dishonest’ (Chapter XX). It is therefore not surprising that even when Trollope sets out with such a clear sense of social and literary purpose as he does in this case, the force of the authorial argument should weaken and blur as fidelity to the inconvenient and complex autonomy that the characters insist on assuming becomes Trollope's principal—as it was his habitual—concern.

Reproducing in his Trollope; A Commentary the advance lay-out for the novel (which is simply an annotated list of characters), Michael Sadleir notes that Melmotte is not there envisaged as its central figure. ‘The chief character’ is to be Lady Carbury, a still attractive widow who is trying to offset the depredations caused by her worthless son Felix through hack-work masquerading as literature. The excellently written first chapter, which reproduces her letters begging various editors to puff her forthcoming book Criminal Queens, certainly shows that she lacks that integrity in literary dealings which Trollope prized so highly, and indeed exemplified himself. Although there are some sharp points made about the standards of periodicals later on (Trollope was no doubt able to draw on his experience of editing the St Paul's Magazine between 1867 and 1870), the full-scale study of corruption in literary life which our introduction to Lady Carbury seems to promise never in fact arrives; The Way We Live Now is not a precursor of Gissing's New Grub Street. During most of Trollope's novel, Lady Carbury is studied as a doting mother whose foolish indulgence of the callously selfish Felix is accompanied by her continuous irritation with the obstinacy of her daughter Henrietta, who refuses to marry her cousin Roger Carbury, a Suffolk squire and head of the family. Lady Carbury's experience of life has taught her that girls ought not to be too fussy. Her main hope is that Felix will succeed in marrying Melmotte's daughter Marie, and thus be able to call on funds magnificent beyond even his powers of depletion. The idea that access to Melmotte's cash will solve their problems is one that a considerable number of the novel's characters have in common, but most of them have nothing to do with literature—in fact, some of the aristocratic drones at the Beargarden Club most in need of subvention seem hardly able to read and write.

Lady Carbury's other worry is the attentions of Mr. Broune. As editor of the Morning Breakfast Table, he is of course literary. His partiality for Lady Carbury makes him compromise his professional ethics to some extent, but he knows well enough that she has no real talent. Nevertheless, Mr Broune not only proposes, but continues as an increasingly close friend after he has been rejected. The development of their middle-aged romance is possible because Lady Carbury refuses to think of it as such; her trust in his constant support depends on her feeling thankful that all that sort of thing is out of the way. This paradoxically leads to an intimacy that at the end of the novel she cannot evade. Mr Broune's second proposal is made in an unflustered tone quite unlike his first, and Lady Carbury finds herself ‘kneeling at his feet, with her face buried on his knees’ (Ch. XCIX). It is an unexpectedly touching moment because Trollope sees the scene not in genre terms but as involving inappropriate individuals: ‘Considering their ages perhaps we must say that their attitude was awkward. They would certainly have thought so themselves had they imagined that any one could have seen them’. However, as he explains, ‘It is not that Age is ashamed of feeling passion and acknowledging it,—but that the display of it is without the graces of which Youth is proud, and which Age regrets’. Such an understanding presentation hardly suggests satire, and when we are again told something of Lady Carbury's literary production, there is a further modification of the initial severity. Immediately after finishing her dubious Criminal Queens, she turns to fiction because it seems more likely to sell. But although The Wheel of Fortune, the resulting title, is obviously rubbish, her discipline in writing it is praiseworthy; she shows the kind of application that Trollope himself regularly practised: ‘From day to day, with all her cares heavy upon her, she had sat at her work, with a firm resolve that so many lines should be always forthcoming, let the difficulty of making them be what they might’ (Ch. LXXXIX). She takes a Trollopian pleasure in having completed her work ‘exactly in the time fixed’. Even more curiously, Trollope lends Lady Carbury an experience which as he later revealed in the Autobiography (Ch. VI) had been his own. In the novel her publisher's advice is ‘“whatever you do, Lady Carbury, don't be historical. Your historical novel, Lady Carbury, isn't worth a—”’; Trollope himself was told ‘“Whatever you do, don't be historical; your historical novel is not worth a damn”’. There was more point in such a tip in the late 1850s, when the long buoyant market in pseudo-Scott was fading, than in the world of the early 1870s, which The Way We Live Now ostensibly satirises. Trollope's transfer of this little incident is typical of his lack of superior self-regard, and his readiness to allow Lady Carbury authorial perseverance if not literary merit indicates how constitutionally unable he was to sustain the kind of astringency which comes naturally to the true satirist. The acquaintance with Lady Carbury that writing the novel has deepened has nurtured a fellow-feeling which inhibits censure. The sustained hostility of a Wyndham Lewis was something of which Trollope was too innately generous to be capable.

This magnanimous handicap substantially affects his treatment of Melmotte, seen by everybody as the essential sign that things are not now as once they were. Melmotte emerges from a continental background which seems inadequately accounted for. Although some think that his sudden arrival and mushroom prosperity in the City justifies putting the worst constructions on his previous career, he quickly establishes a commanding commercial position. Trollope's main point is that it is ‘society’ that takes Melmotte up. Lord Alfred Grendall and his son Miles, for instance, willingly submit to being patronised by and readily run errands for the great financier for the sake of what they hope to get out of him. Mr Longestaffe, who takes immense if fatuous pride in his lineage and gentility, is nevertheless sufficiently hard up to sell to the vulgar Melmotte one of the ancestral houses and to act as a dummy director on the board of Melmotte's greatest enterprise. This is the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway, a project originally brought over from San Francisco by a sharp American called Hamilton K. Fisker. It is quite understood though not openly admitted that the Company does not exist actually to build the railway but is rather a speculative affair designed to float shares and talk them up into dizzy profitability.2 Most of the aristocratic characters in The Way We Live Now are only too eager to associate themselves with such an unprincipled venture. By the middle of the novel, Melmotte has become the acclaimed exemplar of commercial enterprise, rumoured to be the key figure in a series of vast enterprises all over the globe,—a man who has risen, of course, ‘above any feeling of personal profit’ (Ch. XLIV). He is chosen as the Conservative candidate in the forthcoming Westminster by-election, and selected as an outstanding example of British mercantile greatness to entertain the visiting Emperor of China at a banquet of spectacular expense. This period of Melmotte's life represents a kind of Balzacian apogee from which he can only decline. It is the period when Melmotte is most useful to Trollope as far as satirical purpose is concerned, since it shows in so diagrammatic a way that collusion between money and rank which is such an indictment of the way we live now. But the point at which Melmotte's empire begins to crumble is also the point at which Trollope begins to pay him a more detailed and less theoretical kind of attention; the character becomes progressively less of a portent and more of a person.

It has been ‘part of the charm of all dealings’ with Melmotte that ‘no ready money seemed ever to be necessary for anything’ (Ch. XLV). He has perfected the art of implying that ‘everything necessary had been done, when he had said that it was done’. The shaky foundations of Melmotte's aggrandisement are put under increasing stress as his projects pile up, and he becomes more and more vulnerable to a loss of confidence. It is a pleasant irony—though perhaps one of rather unnerving implication—that the Melmotte bubble is pricked by someone who, in business matters, would never claim to be more than a child. Dolly Longestaffe is the most engaging of the Beargarden Club set (it is not surprising that Trollope brought him back in The Duke's Children), and although—as he would be the first to admit—his intelligence is limited, he is bright enough to know the difference between promises and cash in hand. As critics have noted, the gambling at the Beargarden, carried on largely by means of worthless IOUs, is to be seen as analogous to speculative dealings in the real market of the City, but while Dolly may accept paper from friends out of good-nature and a wish not to spoil the game, he only agrees to sell Melmote his share in the family property for real money. As he artlessly puts it, ‘“A cheque upon his bank which I can pay in to mine is about the best thing going”’ (Ch. XLV). Dolly's inopportune simplicity finds Melmotte unable to put his hands on the required amount, and the collapse of confidence begins, helped along by resentment at his increasing arrogance and by the rumour that he has attempted to tide things over by forgery.

It is when Melmotte thus has his back to the wall that Trollope's interest quickens—an interest that is far more psychological than commercial. We are never given an exact account of Melmotte's business affairs in the kind of detail that Balzac readily supplies when accounting for the rise of figures like Birotteau or Nucingen. Round sums are casually introduced but not totted up. What is clearly shown is the kind of hubris which clouds Melmotte's judgment and precipitates his downfall, as he himself comes to realise. At one point, Trollope notes, Melmotte ‘came almost to believe in himself’ (Ch. LVI). However, in the unprecedently full account of Melmotte's thoughts during and after the great banquet, Trollope's increased command of the twists and turns of the financier's mind is presented as a new dimension of self-knowledge: ‘Perhaps never in his life had he studied his own character and his own conduct more accurately, or made sterner resolves, than he did as he stood there smiling, bowing and acting without impropriety the part of host to an Emperor’ (Ch. LXII). He determines to brave things out, and Trollope adds, ‘I think he took some pride in his own confidence as to his own courage, as he stood there turning it all over in his mind’. Trollope's interjection of ‘I think’ is not only often used as an indication that a person's motives are more interestingly and justifiably mixed than might be conventionally supposed, but also tends to imply the achievement of that familiarity with a character's interior life which it is the over-riding purpose of Trollope's art to promote. Here, it is an indication that satire is giving way to a kind of sympathy. As a result, we begin to see the Melmotte that no-one else sees. In the next chapter he is shown privately destroying some obviously incriminating documents, and we are given an hour-by-hour report of Melmotte's activities on the day of the election, which he wins by a slim majority. Ignorant as he is, Melmotte is as elated and awed as other successful parliamentary candidates in Trollope's fiction at ‘the magnitude of the achievement’. After an evening's drinking in solitary triumph, he goes up to bed ‘with careful and almost solemn steps’ (Ch. LXIV). Although his party are by now embarrassed by their newest recruit, Melmotte happens to meet its leader as he arrives at the House, and is chivalrously accompanied by him. His first impressions of the Commons are not dissimilar from those of such other new members as Phineas Finn, and, like Phineas, he is humiliated by his lack of ready words when he rashly attempts to make a premature first speech.

The more interior presentation of Melmotte does not involve any softening of the character's harsher features. His physical violence against his daughter Marie when she refuses to let him draw on the money he had put away in her name against the rainy day which has now arrived, is not glossed over (though not closely described), and we also witness the forging of further signatures. Nevertheless, the last phase of Melmotte's career is described with that concentration and neutral objectivity so characteristic of Trollope's art when he is most engaged in his material.

As ruin looks more and more imminent, Melmotte's self-communings are given at increasing length. Chapter LXXXI shows him mulling over his chances of survival and gives a full report of his self-condemnation. Melmotte's judgment of himself has ‘a certain manliness’ because it is unsparing and objective, but it never crosses his mind that he should ‘repent of the fraud in which his whole life had been passed’. His dishonesty is so axiomatic that it has a perverse kind of integrity which Trollope refrains from overtly condemning; indeed, most of the passage in question remains strictly within Melmotte's point of view.

Melmotte's last day begins with the defection of his loyal clerk and the knowledge that a City colleague, Mr Brehgert, will not help him out because he has rumbled Melmotte's forgeries. He resolves that although ‘he was about to have a crushing fall … the world should say that he had fallen like a man’ (Ch. LXXXII), and therefore goes down to the House nevertheless. His entry causes a sudden silence in the chamber, and for the rest of the evening he has briefly to endure a sense of isolation almost as intense, in its way, as that felt by such alienated characters as Mr Crawley in The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) and Louis Trevelyan in He Knew He was Right (1869). Melmotte may be a crook, but he has the Trollopian sensitivity to social ostracism all the same. His self-consciousness is carefully registered through details of his dress and appearance—his hat ‘a little more cocked than usual’, his coat-lapels ‘thrown back a little wider’, his step always slow and now ‘almost majestic’—which seem the result of an ever closer authorial scrutiny. No-one will sit next to him; the waiters are reluctant to serve him at dinner, when he drinks heavily; the Speaker himself tries to ignore the new M.P.'s attempts to catch his eye, but has finally to let him speak:

Melmotte standing erect, turning his head round from one side of the House to another, as though determined that all should see his audacity, propping himself with his knees against the seat before him, remained for half a minute perfectly silent. He was drunk,—but better able than most drunken men to steady himself, and showing in his face none of those outward signs of intoxication by which drunkenness is generally made apparent. But he had forgotten in his audacity that words are needed for the making of a speech, and now he had not a word at his command. He stumbled forward, recovered himself, then looked once more round the House with a glance of anger, and after that toppled headlong over the shoulders of Mr. Beauchamp Beauclerk, who was sitting in front of him.

… The scene, as it occurred, was one very likely to be remembered when the performer should have been carried away into enforced obscurity. There was much commotion in the House. Mr. Beauclerk, a man of natural good nature, though at the moment put to considerable personal inconvenience, hastened, when he recovered his own equilibrium, to assist the drunken man. But Melmotte had by no means lost the power of helping himself. He quickly recovered his legs, and then reseating himself, put his hat on, and endeavoured to look as though nothing special had occurred … He remained in his seat for perhaps ten minutes, and then, not with a very steady step, but still with capacity sufficient for his own guidance, he made his way down to the doors. His exit was watched in silence, and the moment was an anxious one for the Speaker, the clerks, and all who were near him. Had he fallen some one,—or rather some two or three,—must have picked him up and carried him out. But he did not fall either there or in the lobbies, or on his way down to Palace Yard. Many were looking at him, but none touched him. When he had got through the gates, leaning against the wall he hallooed for his brougham, and the servant who was waiting for him soon took him home to Bruton Street.


It is hard to say why this almost farcical episode is so oddly impressive. It might be argued that Melmotte's actual fall is simply an emblem of his metaphorical one, that his rejection by the House at this point is symbolic of the Establishment's refusal, in the end, to tolerate the corruption he represents. Such a reading, however, would indicate that society is not deteriorating as badly as Trollope seems to be implying earlier on. In fact Trollope explicitly dissociates himself from Carlylean pessimism in the Autobiography, and indeed his views coincide with those expressed by the Bishop of Elmham in chapter LV in the novel itself. His settled conviction that on the whole things were getting better, that the age was indeed one of improvement even though certain kinds of public dishonesty were disgracefully flagrant, meant that—as polemic—The Way We Live Now was always likely to run out of steam. Here the truth is surely that Trollope has preferred his intuitive understanding of the character to the logic of his argument. The close physical observation of Melmotte's movements in the paragraphs quoted—such little touches as the way he leans against the wall while waiting for the brougham—do not suggest the kind of attention that has more than half an eye on allegorical significance. The actual death of Melmotte is reported at the end of the chapter in a laconic, almost police-court manner which not only indicates Trollope's habitual refusal to sensationalise, but also reveals no wish to gloss the event through some kind of generalising comment. Trollope's restraint allows Melmotte to retrieve in death the dignity he has compromised earlier by tumbling over Mr Beauclerk. As in the analogous suicide of Lopez in The Prime Minister (1876), Trollope refrains from offering to interpret the character's last thoughts; instead—and with generous novelistic tact—we are left to make the appropriate inferences from his actions. One has only to look back to Trollope's handling of Sir Henry Harcourt's suicide in the earlier The Bertrams (1859) to register the gain in delicacy and suggestiveness. There is a kind of respect for the character in allowing him his privacy at such a time. Moreover, Trollope maintains a posthumous loyalty to Melmotte by a suddenly vigorous protest against the inquest's vindictive refusal to consider a verdict of suicide while temporarily insane: ‘it may be imagined, I think, that during that night he may have become as mad as any other wretch, have been driven as far beyond his powers of endurance as any other poor creature who ever at any time felt himself constrained to go’ (Ch. LXXXVIII). Melmotte is entitled to the same imaginative compassion as anyone else.

The strong sense that we finally have of Melmotte as an individual—and as therefore something more interesting than a mere symptom of a social malaise—is established partly by his finding himself in a fictional environment that despite Trollope's intention (as recalled in the Autobiography) ‘to take the whip of the satirist into my hand’ (Ch. XX) is not unlike the novelist's normal world. This is not just because Melmotte's Parliamentary experience and his suicide are situations that can be paralleled in that world—as can be the attempt to stave off disaster by terrorising women-folk into handing over money properly theirs (compare Harcourt's and Lopez's bullying of their wives with Melmotte's violence towards his daughter). It is also due to the fact that many features of the world of The Way We Live Now are also to be found in novels written without any proclaimed thesis. Trollope is quite ready to think of its personnel as moving in that imaginative continuum on which the Palliser series draws: some characters appear briefly in later books (Lady Carbury and Mr Broune, Dolly Longestaffe); others are mentioned who are already known (Sir Orlando Drought, Mr Bideawhile of Slow and Bideawhile, and Glencora's uncle the Marquis of Auld Reekie whose son Lord Nidderdale is Melmotte's favoured suitor for Marie).

The other main areas of plot interest in The Way We Live Now are plausibly co-ordinated with the Melmotte affair, but on a basis of loose contingency rather than thematic corroboration. For instance, Melmotte's most vocal critic is Roger Carbury, often taken to be an authorial mouthpiece; it is Roger who most strenuously insists that the rise of the great swindler is a sign of the deplorable decadence of the times. When Lady Carbury explains her scheme to solve the problem of Felix by marrying him to Marie Melmotte, Roger's reaction is trenchant:

‘You will never get me to say that I think the family will be benefited by a marriage with the daughter of Mr. Melmotte. I look upon him as dirt in the gutter … Men say openly that he is an adventurer and a swindler. No one pretends to think that he is a gentleman. There is a consciousness among all who speak of him that he amasses his money not by honest trade, but by unknown tricks,—as does a card-sharper. He is one whom we would not admit into our kitchens, much less to our tables, on the score of his own merits. But because he has learned the art of making money, we not only put up with him, but settle upon his carcase as so many birds of prey.’

(Ch. XV)

Much space in The Way We Live Now is also given over the dilemma of Paul Montague, whose vacillations are as classically Trollopian as Roger Carbury's pathological constancy. Paul has tried to make his way in America, and his partnership with Fisker leads to his involvement with the great Mexican railway speculation. Although he accepts his share of the profits, he becomes increasingly uneasy about Melmotte's manner of treating directors as rubber-stamps and makes himself awkward at board meetings. A similar mixture of weakness and principle is evident in his emotional life, which is given proportionately more attention than his business affairs (the ‘glimmerings’ of Radicalism mentioned in Trollope's advance notes come to nothing). While in the States Paul has had what clearly amounts to an affair with Mrs. Winifred Hurtle. It was only when that was safely behind him, as he thought, that he addressed himself to Hetta Carbury. Mrs. Hurtle, however, is too strong-minded a woman to give up the man she genuinely loves without a struggle, and pursues him to London where her presence cannot but be embarrassing. The mature Mrs. Hurtle is quite different from the bright but compliant American girls who marry English aristocrats in He Knew He Was Right and The Duke's Children (1880); she is rather a less respectable alternative to Mrs. Peacocke in Dr Wortle's School (1881). She is associated with the West rather than the East, and is even rumoured to have shot a man in Oregon—the latent violence of the frontier with which she is associated is part of her powerful erotic appeal. As with Mrs. Peacocke, there is some uncertainty about her marital status; she claims to be divorced according to the laws of the state of Kansas, but it is not clear whether what is good enough for Kansas is acceptable elsewhere nor is it certain whether Mr Hurtle is alive or dead. Unlike Mrs. Peacocke, Winifred Hurtle is not a lady; she admits that she is ‘wild’ where Paul is ‘sleek’ and ‘tame’, and one can easily see why Paul found her both irresistible in the short term and impossible in the long. The difficulty is that she is not ‘a woman whom a man might ill-treat or scorn with impunity’ (Ch. XXVI), and Paul is partly afraid of her. He is less than firm with Winifred, however, principally because he shrinks ‘from subjecting her to the blank misery of utter desertion’. Trollope's intervention in order to exonerate Paul from the charge of cowardice is expressed in terms rich in implication for that moral imagination on which his own art relies:

In social life we hardly stop to consider how much of that daring spirit which gives mastery comes from hardness of heart rather than from high purpose, or true courage. The man who succumbs to his wife, the mother who succumbs to her daughter, the master who succumbs to his servant, is as often brought to servility by a continual aversion to the giving of pain, by a softness which causes the fretfulness of others to be an agony to himself,—as by any actual fear which the firmness of the imperious one may have produced. There is an inner softness, a thinness of the mind's skin, an incapability of seeing or even thinking of the troubles of others with equanimity, which produces a feeling akin to fear; but which is compatible not only with courage, but with absolute firmness of purpose, when the demand for firmness arises so strongly as to assert itself.


As so often, Trollope is concerned to point out that what is conventionally thought of as inconsistent is not really so, that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits are not mutually exclusive but co-exist in the same nature. His subtle sense of the intermixture of qualities which ought in theory to be distinct is one of the main reasons why he seems to have so much more flexibility and openness in his response to human reality than his contemporaries.

Like other sensitive Trollopian men caught between two women—like, most notably, Phineas Finn—Paul Montague finds it painful to cause others pain, and his vacillation is the result; it also to some degree makes matters worse. Had he been firmer in casting Mrs. Hurtle off, she might have suffered less. However, Paul's manifest kindness does at length prevail over her desire for revenge, and arouses her residual good nature in three moving scenes of resignation (Chapters LI, XCI, XCVII). In the last of these, her reaction after the parting is described thus:

She stood still, without moving a limb, as she listened to his step down the stairs and to the opening and the closing of the door. Then hiding herself at the window with the scanty drapery of the curtain she watched him as he went along the street. When he had turned the corner she came back to the centre of the room, stood for a moment with her arms stretched out towards the walls, and then fell prone upon the floor. She had spoken the very truth when she said that she had loved him with all her heart.

A criticism looking for the emblematic might rather desperately align Mrs. Hurtle's collapse with Melmotte's fall in the House (noting that she is an enthusiastic admirer of his), but what matters to Trollope's dramatic imagination is the sudden exacerbation of wordless pain and its surprising expression (conveyed by a sequence of actions similar to those which follow an earlier separation in chapter XLVII). The fact is that the emotional predicament of a highly inassimilable outsider like Mrs. Hurtle is not relevant to a satire on the venality of English society, and the more interesting she becomes in her own right, the more the novel's grip on its announced theme weakens.

The situation of Georgiana Longestaffe, however, is more germane and must be what Trollope refers to in the Autobiography when he writes of the novel's castigation of ‘other vices’ such as ‘the intrigues of girls who want to get married’ (Ch. XX). Georgiana's manoeuvres are expressed in unequivocal market terms:

At nineteen and twenty and twenty-one she had thought that all the world was before her. With her commanding figure, regular long features, and bright complexion, she had regarded herself as one of the beauties of the day, and had considered herself entitled to demand wealth and a coronet. At twenty-two, twenty-three, and twenty-four any young peer, or peer's eldest son, with a house in town and in the country, might have sufficed. Twenty-five and six had been the years for baronets and squires; and even a leading fashionable lawyer or two had been marked by her as sufficient since that time. But now she was aware that hitherto she had always fixed her price a little too high.

(Ch. LX)

At 29, Georgiana is no longer in a strong position, and her attempts to find a man prepared to put up with her disagreeable temper as well as meet her minimum residential conditions grow more and more agitated. When the family withdraws from London in order to retrench, she is ready to stay with the despicably vulgar Melmottes so as to have a base from which to carry on her campaign. She is even prepared to accept the proposal of a middle-aged Jewish widower from the City who already has children. Her family are appalled by the very idea of an alliance with someone like Mr Brehgert, and their reactions to him are hardly to their credit. When introduced half-way through the novel, Mr Brehgert is presented in terms of his type as conventionally rendered; he is fat and greasy, his hair is dyed (as for that matter is Mr Longestaffe's), his eyes are too close together, and at first his speech has the stereotyped mannerisms of Jewish money-lenders found elsewhere in Trollope. These soon wear off, and the character gains in dignity at each appearance, perhaps as a result of a growing appreciation by Trollope of his possibilities (he is not listed at all in the advance layout). His good humour and even temper show to advantage as Georgiana wriggles to negotiate the best contract she can. After her father tells Mr Brehgert in offensive terms of his disapproval, the banker sends her a letter which leaves it to her to stand by or recede from their engagement. As the novelist says, it is ‘a plain-spoken and truth-telling letter’ of ‘single-minded genuine honesty’ (Ch. LXXIX), and as such thrown away on Georgiana. In it Brehgert explains that because of the losses he has sustained through his dealings with Melmotte he cannot now afford to maintain a house in town as well as his present home out at Fulham, as originally agreed. Georgiana thinks that in view of ‘her own value as a Christian lady of high birth and position giving herself to a commercial Jew’ she is in a position to insist, but as usual she tries for more than the market will bear. Brehgert withdraws from the engagement, on the ground—expressed with a delicate but deadly irony—that ‘“of course I have no right to ask you to share with me the discomfort of a single home”’. When, later on, Mr Longestaffe needs Mr Brehgert's professional assistance, he is made speechless by the Jew's assertion that throughout the Georgiana affair he has behaved ‘“like a gentleman”’ (Ch. LXXXVIII) and an honest man, but any unbiased reader must agree. Mr Brehgart's integrity not only shows up the Longestaffes's shabbiness, but also offsets the crimes of the other city Jews, Melmotte and his associate Cohenlupe; his upright conduct is a rebuke both to aristocratic rapacity and to the facile idea that the way we live now can be put down to semitic penetration. Brehgert argues that in thinking of Society as closed against Jews Mr Longestaffe ‘has hardly kept pace with the movements of the age’ (Ch. LXXIX), and although Roger Carbury might think such movements retrogressive, it would be hard to maintain on this evidence that Trollope does so. As so often in Trollope's work, things tend to balance out; on the one hand, Melmotte—on the other, Brehgert. Such states of equipoise (the term applied by the historian W. L. Burn to Trollope's age as a whole) are inherently inimical to satire. Similarly, although Georgiana herself is in the end perfunctorily allowed to find whatever happiness she can by eloping with a local curate, Trollope shows elsewhere that he can be intensely sympathetic to the plight of girls who work the marriage market year after year without success. His defence in a letter (17 February 1877) of Arabella Trefoil, the determined husband-hunter in The American Senator, is playful in tone, but implies a serious creative commitment, as his scrupulous presentation of her in the novel itself shows: ‘I have been, and still am very much afraid of Arabella Trefoil … Think of her virtues; how she works, how true she is to her vocation, how little there is of self indulgence, or of idleness. I think that she will go to a kind of third class heaven in which she will always be getting third class husbands’. Miss Trefoil, however, struck The Times reviewer as ‘playing a more unblushing game than is even compatible with “the way we live now”’.

The ulterior purposes of The Way We Live Now seem to lead Trollope to deal with some familiar Trollopian material less subtly than usual. Sir Felix Carbury functions as the incarnation of that selfishness which the theory of the novel postulates as the endemic contemporary condition. The only thing for which he can summon up any energy is immediate gratification: ‘he did not know how to get through a day in which no excitement was provided for him. He never read. Thinking was altogether beyond him. And he had never done a day's work in his life’. Beyond eating, drinking, lying in bed, and playing cards, there was only amusing himself with women, and ‘the lower the culture of the women, the better the amusement’ (Ch. LXVII). He is quite unable to put a future benefit before an immediate pleasure. The planned elopement with Marie Melmotte, which would have been profitable in that she has money in her own right, is aborted because Felix cannot tear himself away from the card table. Even his attempt to seduce Ruby Ruggles, which ends in his being beaten up by John Crumb, is relatively languid. He thus compares unfavourably in fictive interest with other disreputable young men elsewhere in Trollope. Although as ‘beautiful’ as the Burgo Fitzgerald of Can You Forgive Her? (1864) in appearance, he is never felt to have the genuine glamour and grace which offsets Burgo's fecklessness; although addicted to gambling like Captain Scarborough in Mr Scarborough's Family (1883), he has none of those traces of good feeling which make Scarborough refuse to think ill of his dead mother; he is not even aimless in the weak but plausible manner of Ralph the Heir (1871). The roughness of the justice he receives from Crumb is appropriate to the relatively crude terms of the portrayal. In his case, as with the off-stage and off-hand disposal of Georgiana Longestaffe, an arbitrary end to his career seems to be the result of the pressure Trollope has felt under to justify his thesis: Felix is last reported in penitential exile in Eastern Prussia under the unlikely guardianship of a clergyman. The diminished expectations finally visited on both characters is ethically retributory rather than artistically logical.

At its best, however, The Way We Live Now is a striking and significant demonstration of Trollope's inability—even when consciously and conspicuously addressing himself to the problems of his age—to prevent his concern for the particularity of individuals from prevailing over all other considerations. The effective source of authorial energy in this novel, as in all his work, is not the impulse to make public statements but the private desire to know his characters—those characters which the Autobiography insists the novelist must live with ‘in the full reality of established intimacy’. As Henry James put it, in the essay which still remains the truest short account of what he does not hesitate to call Trollope's genius: ‘We care what happens to people only in proportion as we know what people are. Trollope's great apprehension of the real, which was what made him so interesting, came to him through his desire to satisfy us on this point—to tell us what certain people were and what they did in consequence of being so’.3


  1. ‘A Lesser Thackeray? Trollope and the Victorian Novel’, in Tony Bareham (ed.), Anthony Trollope (1980).

    For some representative discussions see the sections on The Way We Live Now in the following:

    James R. Kincaid, The Novels of Anthony Trollope (Oxford, 1977); Robert Tracy, Trollope's Later Novels (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1978); P. D. Edwards, Anthony Trollope: His Art and Scope (Hassocks, 1978); Geoffrey Harvey, The Art of Anthony Trollope (1980).

    For the moral complexities involved in the novelist's and the reader's relationship with some of the main characters, see Douglas Hewitt, The Approach to Fiction: Good and Bad Readings of Novels (1972).

  2. On the contemporary financial background, see Norman Russell, The Novelist and Mammon (Oxford, 1986), reviewed below, pp. 72-79.

  3. Henry James's essay on Trollope was included in Partial Portraits (1888), and is conveniently reprinted in Donald Smalley (ed.), Trollope: The Critical Heritage (1969).

Conor Johnston (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7204

SOURCE: “Parsons, Priests, and Politics: Anthony Trollope's Irish Clergy,” Eire Ireland, Vol. 25, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 80-97.

[In the following essay, Johnston assesses Trollope's portrayal of members of the clergy in his Irish novels, and maintains that Trollope's views regarding both Irish Catholic and Irish Anglican clergymen are more complex than critics typically assume.]

Couple the name Anthony Trollope with the word “clergy,” and the coupling will likely produce a series of images of that galaxy of colorful Anglican clerics in rural Barsetshire. Trollope, however, created another colorful collection of clerics, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, in his novels of Victorian Ireland, where he lived, as a British Post Office official, from 1841 to 1859. Trollope's portrayals of these Irish clergy appear in the novels The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847), The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848), Castle Richmond (1860), An Eye for an Eye (1879), and the unfinished The Landleaguers (1883).

That noteworthy clerical characters figure in each of these five Irish novels testifies not merely to Trollope's abiding interest in clerical matters, but also to his awareness of the major role played by the clergy in the life of nineteenth-century Ireland. That awareness is underscored in a discourse in The Macdermots on the education of the Irish Roman Catholic clergy and in his essay, “The Irish Beneficed Clergyman,” published in The Pall Mall Gazette in 1866,1 which discusses the position of the Irish Anglican clergy, members of the minority, but Established, Church of Ireland.

‘Anathema Maranatha!2 get thee from me, thou child of Satan—go out into utter darkness, thou worker of iniquity—into everlasting lakes of fiery brimstone, thou doer of the devil's work—thou false prophet—thou ravenous wolf!’

Such, Trollope narrates, in The Kellys and The O'Kellys, “was the language of Rev. O'Joscelyn's soul at the sight of a [Roman Catholic] priest,” and such

would have been the language of his tongue, had not, as he thought, evil legislators given a licence to falsehood in his unhappy country, and rendered it impossible for a true Churchman openly to declare the whole truth.

(KO'K 3: 233)3

O'Joscelyn is a Church of Ireland clergyman whose anti-Catholicism is such that he

pitied the ignorance of the heathen, the credulity of the Mohamedan, the desolateness of the Jew, even the infidelity of the Atheist, but he execrated, abhorred, abominated, the Church of Rome.

(KO'K 3: 232-33)

Father John McGrath of The Macdermots of Ballycloran, is a priest of the church abominated by O'Joscelyn. To Trollope, Father John is “that good man” (MB 1: 165)4 whose “unceasing charity … made the great beauty of [his] character” (MB 2: 66). Years after The Macdermots first appeared, Trollope remarked, “in the character of Father John … I have drawn as thoroughly good and fine a man as I know how to depict.”5 Critical response to the characterization of Father John seems to bear Trollope out, and is well represented by Robert Lee Wolff's comment:

There is not a touch of condescension in this admiring portrait of a Catholic priest by a novelist who would in future make his chief reputation as a delineator of Anglican clergymen. Fully aware of the mighty prejudice in England of the late 1840's against Catholics, against Irishmen, and against priests, [Trollope] made the most sympathetic character in his first novel a man who was all three.6

Trollope's characterization of Rev. O'Joscelyn and Father John essentially reflect the received opinion on Trollope's view of the Irish clergy. For example, and by way of elaboration on Wolff's comment, Ruth ap Roberts, in her introduction to Clergymen of the Church of England, points to the novelist's “… remarkably sympathetic and respectful pictures of [Irish] Catholic priests, from the early The Macdermots of Ballycloran in 1847 … to the late An Eye for an Eye in 1879” (CCE 17), and John G. Hynes refers to “the customary respect Trollope reserved for Roman Catholic priests.”7 On the other hand, the evangelical nature of the nineteenth-century Church of Ireland produced a viscerally negative response in Trollope. His upbringing, as his first biographer T. H. S. Escott pointed out, was “altogether anti-evangelical,”8 and he developed in Wolff's words a “strong distaste” (xx) for Protestants of that bent. So strong was this distaste that, as Arthur Pollard points out, Trollope's “… Evangelical personages are often severe, intolerant, and censorious,”9 and the Irish ones, at least, possessed what the novelist himself bluntly refers to, in Castle Richmond, as “peculiar idiosyncrasies” (CR 3: 117).10

The received opinion concerning Trollope's views of the Irish clergy ignores, however, some interesting complexities involved in Trollope's attitude. True, Father John and Rev. O'Joscelyn are types, respectively, of his Irish Catholic and Protestant clergymen. But Trollope did not allow his distaste for evangelicism, nor his pleasure in poking fun at it, render him unsympathetic to the very real difficulties faced by the clergymen of the nineteenth-century Church of Ireland. Nor did the fact that he “always had a soft spot for the Catholic faith”11 lead him to an indiscriminate affection for Irish Catholic priests. The dispensing of Trollope's affection was not unrelated to the particular priest's political tendencies. If those tendencies did not essentially mesh with Trollope's, the priest was likely to be portrayed with such little affection as to render somewhat dubious Trollope's well-known claim that “… I have never drawn [a Roman Catholic priest] as bad, or hypocritical, or unfaithful.”12

Let us now take a more extended look at Trollope and the Church of Ireland clergy. This excerpt from the witty opening paragraph of the essay “The Irish Beneficed Clergyman” would remind one of the fictitious O'Joscelyn:

The normal Irishman is a jolly fellow; but the normal Irish Protestant clergyman is a severe, sombre man, one who speaks of life in sad, subdued tones,—unless when he is minatory in the pulpit. … He is preaching every moment of his life, preaching in his gait, preaching in every tone of his voice, preaching in every act that he does, preaching in every turn of his eyes. Find him asleep and you will find him preaching with a long-protracted, indignant, low-church Protestant snore, very eloquent as to the scarlet woman.

(CCE 105-6)

But Trollope is quick to point out that the reasons for this unattractive behavior are “not far to seek,” and he goes on to explain them in terms of “anomalies” in the clergyman's situation. The anomalies are several. There is the Established status of the Church of Ireland in a country with a large, inimical Roman Catholic majority. Disestablishment, which Trollope strongly favored, took place in 1869, and it is curious to note that the two Irish novels that come after that date contain no Church of Ireland clergymen of importance. There is the frustrating paradox that the Church of Ireland pastor sees in Roman Catholicism “only the small points of divergence from his own [creed], and [Catholicism] is, therefore, worse to him than the creed of Musselman or of Jew” (CCE 107). Further, he is expected by his superiors to exhibit a “fiery Protestant zeal” (CCE 112) if he expects advancement. Yet, because he has a small congregation, his English coreligionists criticize him as underworked and overpaid (CCE 117). Well might Trollope ask, “how can we wonder at [the Irish clergyman's] idiosyncrasies?” (CCE 111).

In the Irish novels, we find a lively evocation of those idiosyncrasies. On a par with the bigoted O'Joscelyn is the Rev. Aeneas Townsend of Castle Richmond, which deals with the Famine of 1845-49. Trollope dryly introduces Rev. Townsend as so “averse … to the intercessions of saints, that he always regarded as a wolf in sheep's clothing a certain English clergyman who had written to him a letter dated from the feast of St. Michael and All Angels” (CR 1: 186). And Trollope further mocks the nonsense inherent in bigotry as he shows Townsend pondering his wife's contention that the local Catholic priest, Father McCarthy “was pitch, pitch itself in its blackest turpitude … [a priest] of the altar of Baal” (CR 1: 190-01). On the same level, when Townsend reluctantly agrees to serve with the priest on a famine-relief committee, he “almost felt he was yielding to instigations from the evil one” (CR 1: 191).

Such extreme intolerance of Catholicism inevitably led to attempts to proselytize, or, in Trollope's ironic image, attempts to “lead troops of the Roman Catholics of Ireland in triumph to the top of the Tarpeian rock of conversion” (CCE 107). But if Trollope was ironic about proselytism itself, he was quite caustic about one of the conversion methods frequently used by some Church of Ireland clergy—the method that became known as “souping.” This involved the enticing of starving Catholics to Protestantism by feeding them soup or other food. Rev. Townsend self-righteously believes that “If he could find hungry Papists and convert them into well-fed Protestants, he must be doing a double good” (CR 1: 188). He compounds the self-righteousness by drawing his inspiration from the biblical story of the loaves and fishes. Trollope is equally cutting about The Landleaguers' Rev. Joseph Armstrong, “who held it to be an established fact that a Roman Catholic must necessarily go to the devil,” and therefore fed hungry Papists scraps of meat on Fridays, “thinking that the poor wretches who had flown in the face of their priest by eating the unhallowed morsels, would then have made a first step towards Protestantism” (L 1: 215).13

In his portrayal of the Church of Ireland clergy, Trollope also shows an amused sense of the paranoia that frequently attends bigotry. Rev. O'Joscelyn of The Kellys and the O'Kellys is taken with a large pinch of salt, even by his Protestant dinner companions, as he describes a lively but peaceful local Catholic night-time demonstration, related to the 1844 sedition trial of Daniel O'Connell, in terms of a potential pogrom of his family and himself. “‘Wait till I tell you,’” he endlessly intones, as he luridly draws out every detail of the demonstration, from “‘the horrid yells of the wild creatures’”—his Catholic neighbors—to their “‘huge masses of blazing turf’” (KO'K 3: 243). His companions respond with crushingly calm questions: “‘But did they commit any personal outrages, Mr. O'Joscelyn?’”; “‘Did they burn anything except the turf, Mr. O'Joscelyn?’”; “‘Did they come … near the house?’”; “‘You didn't suffer much, then, except the anxiety, Mr. O'Joscelyn?’” (KO'K 3: 242-45). But perhaps the paranoia of the colonial clergyman is caught at its most amusing earlier in this scene, when O'Joscelyn, despite being worried that Queen Victoria's advisors “do not dare to protect the Protestant faith,” graciously concedes that Victoria herself “is a sincere Protestant” (KO'K 3: 238-39).14

The scene involving O'Joscelyn, who, as Trollope puts it, “had been an Orangeman, and was a most ultra and even furious Protestant” (KO'K 3: 232) is, indeed, entertaining. But, as Owen Dudley Edwards points out, the scene “plays no part in the story at all.” While it does show the more liberal clergyman George Armstrong in an appealing light, “disgusted by [O'Joscelyn's] hatred and paranoiac fears of insurrection,” the whole episode “adds nothing to Armstrong's own work in the story, from which immediately afterwards he fades without even a farewell in the Conclusion.” Edwards's well-taken point here is that Trollope included this scene, not for plot purposes, but because of his strong “hatred of Protestant bigotry.”15

That Protestant bigotry led not just to paranoiac fears in the clergy, but also, naturally, in their flock, and Trollope demonstrates a humorous awareness of how that flock must have added to their clergy's sense of paranoia. In Castle Richmond, for example, Rev. Townsend, having, despite his wife's counsel, served on the famine-relief committee with the “diabolical” Father McCarthy, unwisely remarked to Mrs. Townsend, “‘[The priest] is not so bad as I once thought him’.” Ever wary of slippage in the ranks, she responds in horror, “‘I hope you are not going over too, Aeneas?’” (CR 2: 298). In Castle Richmond, Mrs. Townsend and Miss Letty Fitzgerald echo what Trollope caught so nicely in Rev. O'Joscelyn: that peculiar coupling of paranoia with the colonists' belief that their own dedication to the cause—in this case, a sectarian one—is purer than that of their coreligionists in the mother country. They agree that, if Letty's nephew Herbert is to be ordained, it should not be in Puseyite England, but “in good, wholesome, Protestant Ireland, where a Church of England clergyman was a clergyman of the Church of England, and not a priest, slipping about in the mud half-way between England and Rome” (CR 3: 47).

Among Trollope's Church of Ireland clerics, one proves something of an exception to the rule on the issue of bigotry—George Armstrong of The Kellys and The O'Kellys. Rector of a remote Country Mayo parish, he gets on famously with his overwhelmingly Catholic neighbors. “Overwhelmingly” may, however, be the operative word here. If Irish Protestants were a minority in the country at large—for example, in the County Kildare of Rev. O'Joscelyn and the County Cork of Rev. Townsend—they were truly a tiny minority in Rev. Armstrong's rural west. Trollope evokes Armstrong's situation thus:

How could a Protestant rector be a good parish clergyman with but an old lady and her daughters, for the exercise of his clerical talents? [Armstrong] lauded the zeal of St. Paul for proselytism but, as he himself once observed, even St. Paul had never had to deal with the obstinacy of an Irish Roman Catholic.

(KO'K 2: 158)

As a result of his situation, Armstrong has become “a loose, slovenly man, somewhat too fond of his tumbler of punch” (KO'K 2: 159). He appears, in fact, to be the other side of the coin from his bigoted clerical brothers, his Protestant zeal dampened by the “idleness which [his] want of work engendered, and the habits which his [consequent] poverty induced” (KO'K 2: 158). He is at heart a kind man, as indeed are O'Joscelyn and Townsend, but it is also clear that he has thrown in the evangelical towel.

Equally clearly, Trollope has a certain sympathy for the Irish evangelical clergy, despite his constitutional distaste for evangelism. In the “Irish Beneficed Clergyman” essay, for example, he can begin a sentence, “Of all men, the Irish beneficed clergyman is the most illiberal, the most bigoted, the most unforgiving …” and yet and the sentence, “the most sincere, and the most enthusiastic” (CCE 115). And the essay's conclusion is decidedly sympathetic:

The anomalies of the Church of England in Ireland are terribly distressing, and call aloud for reform. But to none can they be so distressing as to the beneficed clergyman in Ireland; and in the behalf of no other class is that reform so vitally needed.

(CCE 118)

As Ruth ap Roberts notes, “the reformer's voice breaks through the gently satirical surface.”16 The sympathetic side of Trollope's approach to his fictional Irish evangelicals is also clear. George Armstrong's congregation may be insignificant, and he may be loose and slovenly, but he is accorded a courageous and pivotal role in bringing the two plots in The Kellys and the O'Kellys to a happy conclusion.17 Rev. Townsend, in Castle Richmond, serves on the famine-relief committee partly through public pressure, but also through “the innate kindness of his own heart” (CR 1: 191). And, even though Rev. O'Joscelyn is presented in a somewhat ludicrous light, he was, “Apart from his fanatical enthusiasm, … a good man, of pure life, and simple habits. …” (KO'K 3: 234). It is further noteworthy that Arthur Pollard's comment “To all his antipathetic Evangelicals Trollope attributes an ill-favored appearance and a base ambition”18 is barely applicable to Trollope's Irish fiction. True, Rev. Townsend should “brush his hair, and occasionally put on a clean surplice” (CR 1: 160), and Rev. Armstrong of The Landleaguers is “thin” (L 1: 215). But there is nothing wrong with Rev. O'Joscelyn's appearance, and, more important, to none of these three “antipathetic” evangelicals does Trollope attribute a “base ambition.”

Trollope's attitude to the Irish Roman Catholic clergy, as he reveals it in his fiction, is markedly less ambivalent than his attitude to their Church of Ireland counterparts. He is clearly sympathetic towards one type of Catholic priest and quite hostile towards another. In the Irish novels, there are four priests towards whom Trollope is sympathetic—Father John of The Macdermots of Ballycloran, Father McCarthy of Castle Richmond, Father Marty of An Eye for an Eye, and Father Giles of The Landleaguers. All four have strong common bonds. Fathers McCarthy and Giles are minor figures, however, so this discussion shall concentrate largely on the more fully developed characters of Fathers John and Marty. The bonds which unite the latter pair elaborately illustrate all that Trollope liked in an Irish Catholic priest.

Both priests are “composed of the same amalgam of forthright honesty and tolerant charity. …”19 They are also French-educated, elderly, established, and powerful, having attained the rank of parish priest. Trollope, incidentally, shows a fine awareness of the high degree of social as well as religious influence that the rural parish priest possessed. The education of Fathers John and Marty would have taken place in pre-Revolutionary France, at which time there were no seminaries permitted in Ireland. The seminary at Maynooth opened only in 1795. That their families could subsidize a continental education for them suggests that both priests came from comparative affluence. Thus, they would have some degree of interest in preserving the status quo, and this is indicated by their easy relations with the local British military establishment. They would, by background and attitude, be “gentlemen” in Trollope's eyes, but gentlemen of a particularly appealing kind, for both priests deal with crises in their parishes, crises that have clear political implications, within the bounds of a political philosophy that was dear to Trollope, that of conservative-liberalism.

The crises faced by Father John in The Macdermots of Ballycloran are profound. On a general level, he must deal with the grinding poverty of his parishioners, many of them victims of a rack-renting, absentee British landlord; others, who traffic in illegal spirits, victims of the overly zealous Revenue Police.20 On a particular level, he is concerned with the troubled family of the novel's title, poor Irish Catholic landlords whose loyal tenants can rarely afford the modest rent. To add to Father John's worries, the naive Macdermot daughter, Feemy, has fallen in love with Myles Ussher, the calculating and unpopular Revenue Police captain, who, as Sarah Gilead puts it, “oppresses the starving in the name of the law, and preys economically and sexually on those too weak to fight back.”21 The priest himself, in general, “rather liked” (MB 1: 143) Captain Ussher, a Protestant loyal to England, since the policeman, unlike Father John's parishioners, had a modicum of formal education.

Although he might not have been able to define the term, it is plainly as a conservative-liberal that Father John deals with his parochial problems. And the importance to Trollope of that modus operandi, and its relationship to his fiction, is well documented in An Autobiography.22 Essentially, conservative-liberalism looks for an improvement in the lot of the socio-politically disadvantaged, an improvement so gradual, however, that there will be no disruption of the socio-political infrastructure. Like one of his favorite Palliser characters, the Duke of St. Bungay, Trollope was “never … a friend of great measures, knowing that when they come fast, one after the other, more is broken in the rattle than is repaired in the reform.”23 Father John acts as if he were at one with the duke on this matter. He sees his parishioners as his family (MB 3: 147), and regards them as victims

driven from their cabins and little holdings, their crops and cattle taken from them … everywhere around desperate with their poverty and discontented equally with their own landlords, and the restraints put upon them by Government.

(MB 1: 148-49)

He will, however, countenance no “great measures” to improve the situation. When some parishioners join radical agrarian secret societies, he comes down heavily on them. It would be irrelevant to Father John that these societies' efforts could be viewed, in historian R. B. McDowell's words, as “a crude form of politics by which the will of the community was enforced, and evils ignored by the legislature redressed.”24 To the priest, these secret society radicals are “‘infamous characters—men never or seldom seen at mass—makers of potheen … call[ing] themselves by some infernal name, and sect, by belonging to which they have all become liable to death or transportation’” (MB 2: 132-33).

When Father John is not angry with the proponents of radical ideas, he tends in fatherly fashion to dismiss such ideas as immature. For example, when Thady Macdermot, the novel's young protagonist, in a partially grasped perception that the source of his family's misery is in some way related to Ireland's colonial status, declares to the priest, “‘An it warn't for Feemy, then, Father John. … I'd strike one blow for the counthry and then, if I war hung or shot, or murthered anyway, devil a care’,” he is met with the soothingly stern response, “‘Oh, nonsense, Thady, about blows for your country, and getting hung and murthered, you're very fond of being hung in theory, but wait till you've tried it in practice, my boy’” (MB 1: 101-2).

Thady, in fact, does strike a blow for his country, but his unplanned blow adds to his own miseries and to Father John's burden. Mistakenly thinking that Ussher is physically removing Feemy from Ballycloran against her will, he strikes and unintentionally kills the policeman. Father John does his utmost to assist Thady, but strictly within the bounds of a conservative-liberal view of the world. Though he must have been aware of the harsh nature of the law in dealing with agrarian crime,25 he “adopts the guise of catalytic agent in persuading Thady MacDermott to give himself up and confess to killing Ussher. …”26 When, to Father John's horror, Thady is condemned to death, the priest again acts conventionally, if generously. He organizes a clemency petition to the lord lieutenant in Dublin, and, when this fails, ministers unstintingly to Thady until the young man's execution. He ministers similarly to Feemy, pregnant with Ussher's child, until she dies shortly before Thady, and then to Larry Macdermot, the demented pater familias.

Trollope's portrayal of Father John, while it may be “remarkably sympathetic,” is so to a considerable extent because the priest practices what Trollope preaches politically. In addition, and as part of that political practice, Father John, despite his resentment of the restraints put upon his parishioners by government, never raises the issue of Britain's right to hold Ireland as a colony. Father John's avoidance of this issue would certainly meet with the approval of the young British Post Office official who, according to Michael Sadlier, saw himself as an unofficial ambassador, explaining Britain's Irish policy to the Irish, and living “in disputatious amity with one of the most race-conscious nations in the world.”27

Apart from similarities already noted, Father Marty, of An Eye for an Eye, like Father John, has no interest in any radical change in Ireland's colonial situation: “Father Marty was no great politician, and desired no rebellion against England. Even in the days of O'Connell and repeal, he had been but lukewarm” (EE 1: 112).28 He is warm in his affection, however, for the British military establishment, in this case represented by the novel's protagonist, Army Lieutenant Fred Neville, later earl of Scroope in Dorchester. As the novel opens, Neville is stationed near Father Marty's parish in remote West Clare. So easy is Father Marty with Lieutenant Neville that he can make light with him of an issue most of his Irish contemporaries would not take lightly—Britain's treatment of Ireland over the centuries. Fr. Marty trivializes this issue as, while on his way to deal with a dairyman who has been watering the parish milk, he jokingly tasks his English friend with responsibility for the problem: “‘Nothing kills me, Mr. Neville, but when I hear of all them English vices being brought over to this poor, suffering, innocent counthry’” (EE 1: 128). On one occasion, he appears to have a serious thought about Anglo-Irish relations, as Fr. Marty muses “So little had been given to the Irish in these days, that they were bound to take what they could get” (EE 1: 112). What the Irish could get, however, is limited in Fr. Marty's mind to “justice for Ireland in the guise of wealthy English husbands for pretty Irish girls” (EE 1: 112).

The priest's hopes for justice focus specifically on the romance that develops between his lovely young parishioner, Kate McNamara, and Lieutenant Neville, to whom he has introduced her. Unfortunately for everybody concerned, the romance develops into a tragedy in some ways reminiscent of that in The Macdermots of Ballycloran: a Protestant British officer impregnates Catholic Irish girl, and once again, murder, misery, and madness are the order of the day. Neville will not go through a regular marriage with Kate, as he comes to feel that an Irish Catholic of inferior social standing should not become countess of Scroope. Kate's mother, in fury, pushes Neville off the Cliffs of Moher to his death. The mother is found guilty of murder, but insane, and confined for the rest of her life. Kate's baby is stillborn, and she emigrates at the end of the novel.

As this tragedy gradually unfolds around him, Father Marty acts as Father John would have. In fact, an authorial comment in An Eye for an Eye, “On the unhappy priest devolved the duty of doing whatever must be done” (EE 2: 199), could apply to the situation of either parish priest. As soon as Father Marty sadly suspects that Fred Neville might not play fair with Kate, he responds to the crisis bravely, kindly, and decisively, using everything from persuasion to threats on Neville. But it is important to note that this second most complete portrait by Trollope of an Irish parish priest is also the portrait of a conservative-liberal. For, despite the fact that he confronts the British officer with a courageous wrath, it never occurs to Father Marty to make any connection between Neville's personal exploitation of Kate and the more general colonial exploitation which made it possible. That exploitative element is reflected in Neville's thinking that, while he was in Ireland, “none of the ordinary, conventional usages of society were needed” (EE 2: 34). It would be alien to the priest's way of thinking to view the Neville-Kate relationship as Robert Lee Wolff suggests it might be viewed, “an allegory of England the aggressor and Ireland the helpless victim.”29 It would be alien to Trollope's way of thinking, as would a similar correspondence pointed out by Robert Tracy be antipathetic to Trollope, Father Marty, and Father John taken together: “The heroines of The Macdermots of Ballycloran and An Eye for An Eye are violated and abandoned by their English lovers, like symbolic Kathleen Ni Houlihan or Dark Rosaleen, the popular nineteenth-century emblems of violated and downtrodden Ireland.”30

In fact, among those who would see matters in that allegorical fashion are the clergy whom Trollope portrays in quite a hostile fashion—the nationalist Catholic priests. They believed that the fundamental cause of Ireland's problems was its status as a British colony. Like Fathers John and Marty, with their French education, modest social graces, and parochial rank, the nationalist priests have common bonds too. They are Maynooth-educated, uncouth, and never rise above the rank of curate. A further common bond, for two of the three most noteworthy of these curates, is that they have the “ill-favored appearance” which Arthur Pollard ascribes to Trollope's “antipathetic Evangelicals.” Trollope's dislike of the nationalist clergy is evident in his portrayal of Father Cullen, curate to Father John of The Macdermots:

He was educated at Maynooth … was perfectly illiterate, but chiefly showed his dissimilarity to the parish priest by his dirt and untidiness. He was a violent politician; the Catholic Emancipation had passed, and he therefore had no longer that grievance to complain of, but he still had national grievances, respecting which he zealously declaimed, when he could find a hearer. Repeal of the Union was not [in the 1830s] the common topic … but there were, even then, some who maintained that Ireland would never be herself, till the Union was repealed, and among these was Fr. Cullen … [He was] in language most violent and ungrammatical—in appearance most uncouth—in argument most unfair.

(MB 1: 71-72)

This is our introduction to Father Cullen. It is at a simple dinner at Father John's that we see the curate in action. Cullen interacts with Thady Macdermot, Captain Ussher, and Father John himself, in a manner that clearly shows Trollope's contempt for both the curate and his opinions. Thady, having arrived early, is sleeping before Father John's fire awaiting the priest's return. He is unpleasantly surprised to awaken to “the lank and yellow features, much worn dress, and dirty moist hand of Father Cullen” (MB 1: 142). Preoccupied with his own problems, Thady's consequent inattentiveness to Cullen's protests about England's treatment of Ireland hardly lends a sense of importance to those protests. Father John's cheery arrival interrupts what Trollope dryly calls the “further expression of Father Cullen's favorite political opinions” (MB 1: 147).

During the dinner, Cullen's complaints turn to a protest about the local doctor. Fr. Cullen's chronic whining, of course, casts doubts on the legitimacy of his political complaints, as does the good-natured Father John's description of him as a “fine martyr” (MB 1: 151). When Captain Ussher drops in briefly, he is treated to a simplistic religious homily by Cullen, who, as he finished “turned round his large obtruding eyes for approval” (MB 1: 159), an approval he fails to get from his fellow Catholics. After Ussher has left, the manner in which Father John, anxious to talk with Thady, gets rid of Cullen shows Trollope neatly putting the curate and his opinions in their proper place. Having ensured that the curate wants no more after-dinner punch, Father John paternally dismisses him with a “‘Then just go home, there's a good fellow’” (MB 1: 162).

There is some historical validity to Trollope's portrait of the unappealing Cullen. The opening of Maynooth meant that men from much poorer backgrounds than Fathers John and Marty could aspire to the priesthood, and their politics were frequently those of the dispossessed. (It is rarely pleasant to listen to the complaints of the dispossessed.) On the other hand, a prominent twentieth-century Irish Protestant historian, J. C. Beckett, observes that while nineteenth-century Maynooth did produce priests who were accused, with some justification, of having “the bitterest feelings of the partisan and the grossest habits of a peasant,” there is “a good deal of exaggeration” in the accusation.31 One should add here that Cullen cannot have been, in Trollope's words, “perfectly illiterate.” Illiteracy is, and was in Trollope's time, a bar to ordination in the Roman Catholic Church.

Trollope, however, does not take Beckett's perspective in viewing Maynooth's graduates. Not unlike Cullen is Father Creagh, curate to Father McCarthy, parish priest in Castle Richmond. Trollope presents Creagh as a sycophantic jingoist, “red-haired, slightly marked with the smallpox, and [having] a low forehead and cunning eyes” (CR 2: 76). We see Curate Creagh in action on the famine-relief committee on which Father McCarthy, the reluctant Reverend Townsend, and the local Anglo-Irish gentry served. Having first ingratiated himself with the gentry, he “altogether laid aside his bland smile, now that the time had come, as he thought, to speak up for the people” (CR 2: 77). Feeling that the public works projects connected with famine-relief are unfair, he bombastically proclaims

“They may bear [public works] in England, but they won't here … the Government, as you [gentry] call it, can't make men work. It can't force eight millions of the finest pisantry on God's earth—.”

At this juncture, Creagh is “cruelly and ruthlessly stopped by his own parish priest” (CR 2: 77), who reminds him that they are getting off the track. Creagh, then, is the second of Trollope's nationalist curates, who is clearly an irritant to, and must be put in his place by, a more reasonable parish priest. Father McCarthy is, incidentally, the least sharply evoked of Trollope's parish priests from a political standpoint, but it is clear from the priest's treatment of Creagh and from his cooperative attitude on the famine-relief committee that he believes, like Fathers John and Marty, in working within the system.

The elderly Trollope came to see the parish priest-curate dichotomy as a pattern in Irish life, as he explains in his final Irish novel, The Landleaguers (1883). This novel portrays the period 1879-82, when the Irish National Land League agitated for what became known as the “3 Fs”—fair rent, fixity of tenure, and freedom of sale—and ultimately for peasant proprietorship of the land, most of which belonged to Anglo-Irish landlords. Simultaneously, the Irish Party in the London Parliament, led by Parnell, strove, with great promise of success, for Irish Home Rule.

In a discourse early in The Landleaguers, Trollope sums up his forty-year perception of the Irish Catholic clergy: “There used to be two distinct sorts of priests; of whom the elder, who had probably been abroad, was the better educated; whereas the younger, who was home-nurtured, had less to say for himself on general topics” (L 1: 43). Trollope suggests that the Home Rule and Land League issues have politicized and polarized the Irish priesthood to a greater degree than in the past, and he lays the blame at the curates' feet. While “There is still the old difference between the elder and the younger priests” (L 1: 43-44), the curates seem to be even more radical than they were about forty years ago, in the times of Curates Cullen and Creagh:

The parish priest is willing that the landlord shall receive his rents, is not at least anxious that he shall be dispossessed of his land. But the curate has ideas of peasant proprietorship; is very hot for Home Rule, is less obedient to the authority of the bishops than he was of yore, and thinks more of the political, and less of the religious state of his country.

(L 1: 44)

Attempting to hold the line in The Landleaguers against the curates' radical thinking is Father Giles. Although Giles plays only a minor role in the novel, Trollope gives us a description of him sharp enough to let us see that he conforms to the pattern of the novelist's Irish parish priests. Father Giles is

… the parish pastor of Headford, in which position he had been for nearly forty years. He was a man seventy years of age, in full possession of all his faculties, very zealous in the well-being of his people, prone to teach them that if they would say their prayers, and do as they were bid by their betters, they would … go to heaven. But they would also have enough to eat in this world. …

(L 1: 45)

Note the strong conservative-liberal quality of Father Giles. While he is “zealous in the well-being of his people,” he still wants them to do what they are told “by their betters.” Clearly, Father Giles is a kind man, and we tend to sympathize with him when we learn that he is “troubled with the [radical] political desires of his curate, Father Brosnan,” whose conduct has brought the parish priest “in his old age into infinite trouble” (L 1: 45).

Curate Brosnan's political desires are troublesome to Trollope, as well as to Father Giles. Brosnan enthusiastically supports both the Home Rule and Land League movements, both of which were anathema to the novelist. In a digression in The Landleaguers, Trollope states bluntly that it is “necessary … for England's safety,—that Ireland should belong to her” (L 3: 148), and he accuses the Land League of attempting to “alter the laws for governing the world” (L 3: 153-54). It is not surprising, then, that Trollope's portrayal of Brosnan is something of a caricature.32 For example, when one of Brosnan's flock is refused a rent abatement, “Wrath boiled within [the curate's] bosom” (L 1: 47). He does not become normally angry, but rather “hot with righteous indignation” (L 1: 48). Brosnan seems, in fact, to have as much trouble with his temperature as with his temper:

At every victory won by the British Parliament his heart again boiled with indignation. At every triumphant [pro-Irish] note that came over the water from America … he boiled, on the other hand, with joy.

(L 1: 48-49)

Even when Brosnan is not “boiling,” he remains a fanatic: “He had gleams in his mind of a Republic. He thought of a Saxon as an evil being.” This pair of balanced sentences suggests, of course, that anyone sufficiently extreme to want a republic must correspondingly view the Saxon as evil. The narrative continues:

The Lord Lieutenant was a British vanity and English pomp, but the Chief Secretary was a minister of the evil one himself. … [Brosnan] was a man thoroughly disloyal, and at the same time thoroughly ignorant, altogether in the dark as to the truth of things, a man who whatever might be his fitness for the duties of the priesthood, to which he had been educated, had no capability of perceiving political facts, and no honesty in teaching them.

(L 1: 49)

Small wonder that, at the conclusion of this vignette of the nationalist curate, we learn that the reasonable Father Giles “looked upon Father Brosnan as an ignorant impertinent puppy …” (L 1: 50), for that is how Trollope looked upon him too.

Trollope portrays three distinct types of cleric: the evangelical Church of Ireland rector, George Armstrong of The Kellys and the O'Kellys being an appealing variant; the conservative-liberal Catholic parish priest; and the nationalist Catholic curate. Despite his fundamental dislike of evangelicism, and despite the glee with which he satirized the Irish evangelicals, Trollope did not lack sympathy for them in their uneasy colonial situation. He was certainly more sympathetic to them than he was to Barsetshire Low Church clerics like Mr. Slope. This may have been due, at least in part, to Trollope's colonial experience in Ireland. Much as he enjoyed and valued his Irish years, as he tells us in chapter four of An Autobiography, the English Post Office official never forgot where his primary loyalty lay.33 Thus, he could probably empathize with the divided loyalties of the Church of Ireland clergy, Irish-born men who took their religious and political cues from England.

Trollope's political convictions played a sharply defined role in his portrayal of the Irish Catholic clergy. He had no time for those who wished to deprive England of its Irish colony and, in addition, overturn what Trollope saw as the proper hierarchic relationship between landlord and tenant. Although Trollope wanted improvements in the lot of the Irish peasantry, as set out in chapter nine of The Macdermots of Ballycloran, he did not want such improvements at the cost of major socio-political change. Thus, he parodied and often excoriated the young curates who wanted such change. Indeed, to return to the Trollopian claim noted at the outset of this essay, it is difficult not to see Cullen, Creagh, and Brosnan as priests somewhere in the range of “bad, or hypocritical, or unfaithful.”

On the other hand, Trollope delighted in the established, kindly, often foreign educated, parish priests who worked for their flocks without bucking the status quo. The importance to him of this type of priest is underscored in The Macdermots of Ballycloran's discourse on the education of the Irish clergy where, despite the controversial nature of the issue, Trollope strongly favored the support of Maynooth College with British Protestant taxpayers' money. His rationale was that a well-endowed Maynooth would raise its standards, producing fewer Curate Cullens and more Father Johns—that is, more men of a conservative-liberal bent who would reject radical change. As Trollope puts it, in a phrase so comfortable as almost to conceal its political implications, he wanted Irish Catholic priests who would “enter in their duties with abated prejudices and enlightened feelings” (MB 3: 84-85).


  1. Anthony Trollope, “The Irish Beneficed Clergyman” (1866) in Clergymen of the Church of England, ed. Ruth ap Roberts (1870; rept. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1974), pp. 1-42, hereafter cited parenthetically thus: (CCE).

  2. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Maranatha” is “An Aramaic phrase occurring in I Cor. XVI, 22; often erroneously regarded as composing with the word that precedes it in the text a formula of imprecation, anathema maranatha. Hence (as an abbreviation of this formula) used subst. for: A terrible curse.”

  3. Anthony Trollope, The Kellys and The O'Kellys, 3 vols. (1848; rept. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1979), hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (KO'K 3: 233).

  4. Anthony Trollope, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, 3 vols. (1847; rept. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1979), hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (MB 1: 15).

  5. Letter to Mary Holmes in The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. N. John Hall (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983), p. 645.

  6. Robert Lee Wolff, “Introduction,” The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1979), p. xiii.

  7. John G. Hynes, “An Eye for an Eye, Anthony Trollope's Irish Masterpiece,” The Journal of Irish Literature (May, 1987), 56.

  8. T. H. S. Escott, Anthony Trollope: His Work, Associates, and Originals (New York: John Lane Co., 1913), p. 223.

  9. Arthur Pollard, “Trollope and the Evangelicals,” Nineteenth Century Fiction (December, 1982), 336.

  10. Anthony Trollope, Castle Richmond, 3 vols. (1860; rept. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1979), hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (CR 3: 117).

  11. C. P. Snow, Trollope, His Life and Art (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1975), p. 112.

  12. The Letters of Anthony Trollope, pp. 545-46.

  13. Anthony Trollope, The Landleaguers, 3 vols. (1883; rept. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1979) hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (L 1: 215).

  14. Trollope would be amused, or perhaps depressed, to see that the attitude of the Rev. O'Joscelyn toward Queen Victoria and her advisors is precisely paralleled in the Northern Ireland of the 1980s by the attitude of the Rev. Ian Paisley to Queen Elizabeth II and her advisors.

  15. Owen Dudley Edwards, “Anthony Trollope, The Irish Writer,” Nineteenth Century Fiction (December, 1982), 33-34.

  16. Ruth ap Roberts, “Introduction,” Clergymen of the Church of England, p. 34.

  17. In the main plot he acts as a love emissary for the protagonist, Lord Ballindine, in a very delicate situation. In the subplot, he bravely assists in putting an end to the dangerous activities of the villain, Barry Lynch.

  18. Pollard, 334.

  19. Hynes, 58.

  20. The Revenue Police were a fully armed militia whose main job was to stop the manufacturing of illegal liquor.

  21. Sara Gilead, “Trollope's Ground of Meaning: The Macdermots of Ballycloran,The Victorian Newsletter (Spring, 1986), 23.

  22. Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography (1883; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1947) pp. 151, 243-46.

  23. Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister, p. 136.

  24. Quoted in Galen Broeker, Rural Disorder and Police Reform in Ireland 1812-1836 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970), p. 10.

  25. The illegal agrarian secret societies of the 1830s were much feared by the Dublin and London establishments, and the courts were correspondingly harsh. Thady's own lawyer refers to Ireland as being in “a deplorable state … entirely [owing to] secret societies …” (MB 3: 144-45). The judge at Thady's trial refers to “the irreparable injury such illegal societies … must do in the country …” (MB 3: 396-97).

  26. Hynes, 58.

  27. Michael Sadleir, Anthony Trollope, A Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1945), pp. 140-41.

  28. Anthony Trollope, An Eye for an Eye, 2 vols. (1879; rept. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1979), hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (EE 1: 112).

  29. Robert Lee Wolff, p. xxi.

  30. Robert Tracy, “‘The Unnatural Ruin’: Trollope and Nineteenth-Century Irish Fiction,” Nineteenth Century Fiction (December, 1982), 360.

  31. J. C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland, 1603-1923 (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 306.

  32. He appears to be a caricature especially when one considers the brilliance of the actual spokesmen for the Land League and Home Rule—Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell.

  33. As Hynes puts it, “… a man's sense of national pride and solidarity is never greater than when in an alien country.” John G. Hynes, “Anthony Trollope and the ‘Irish Question’: 1844-1882,” Études Irlandaises (December, 1983), 220.

L. J. Swingle (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 16305

SOURCE: “Trollope and Stories: ‘Of Course, That's Only My Story’,” in Romanticism and Anthony Trollope: A Study in the Continuities of Nineteenth-Century Literary Thought, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990, pp. 215-49.

[In the following essay, Swingle investigates the contention that Trollope reformulates the same plot in many of his novels. Swingle maintains that the variations accented by these repetitions are significant in that they reveal lessons and themes Trollope hoped to highlight, such as the instability of human nature.]


Trollope's proclivity for plot repetition probably accounts in part for why he is rarely considered a writer of the absolutely first order. Trollope tells variations of the same story over and over again. Dedicated Trollopians like to try ignoring this seeming artistic tic, often by proposing that plot is not what matters in reading Trollope.1 But the repetition tends to trouble other readers, raising questions for them about the extent of the author's artistic ambition or, perhaps, his imaginative ability.

Trollope's repetitions began provoking comment very early in his career. In 1865 the young Henry James, reviewing Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? for the Nation, noted disdainfully that Trollope's new novel did not look new:

This new novel of Mr. Trollope's has nothing new to teach us either about Mr. Trollope himself as a novelist, about English society as a theme for the novelist, or, failing information on these points, about the complex human heart. Take any one of his former tales, change the names of half the characters, leave the others standing, and transpose the incidents, and you will have Can You Forgive Her?2

Some of James's lack of charity may trace to the fact that, playing young Apollo to Trollope's aging Hyperion, he wanted to clear ground for his own stirring ambitions as a writer of fiction. But the essence of his complaint, that one Trollope novel looks very like another, is not merely a figment of a newcomer's plot to pick a quarrel with an established, popular contemporary.3 James is only giving a cutting edge to what was becoming a familiar reviewers' theme. Three years earlier, for example, in an unsigned review of Trollope's Orley Farm for the Spectator, another reader had also addressed (though more gracefully) Trollope's repetitiveness:

We gather the impression that [Trollope's] mind creates new varieties out of the faces and characters that flash by him in society almost as easily as a shaken kaleidoscope creates new patterns out of the same bits of coloured glass, and yet always within the same general limits of form, colour, and depth.4

This earlier reviewer is considerably less antagonistic than James toward Trollope's art. A kaleidoscope, after all, can be entertaining; and the reviewer generously registers his appreciation of those “new varieties” of face and character that Trollope has created in Orley Farm.

However, like James, this 1862 reviewer is ultimately, if in a minor key, unsympathetic. Seeking to account for why Trollope always seems to work within the “same general limits of form, colour, and depth,” the reviewer decides Trollope simply did not have sufficient creative power to transcend limits and break new imaginative ground. Trollope, he posits, “never loses himself” in the fires of creative effort. Instead, as is implied by his characteristic narrative device of beginning sentences with “And then,” Trollope seems intent upon “separating event from event, gesture from gesture, thought from thought, with the manner of a distinct witness who wishes to give the most perspicuous evidence, not of an artist the glow of whose conception has for the moment struck fire from his own mind.” But a true “artist,” for this reviewer, is not merely a scrupulous witness like Trollope, always keeping himself “at arm's length” from his stories. The reviewer's true artist is a fiery, glowing creator enthusiastically or perhaps tormentedly caught up in the life of his art and following it into new and uncharted realms of experience. Trollope falls short of this passionate artistic ideal. The evidence of Trollope's novels suggests there “is nothing, apparently, of the agony of meditative travail about his mind.”5

For this 1862 reviewer, Trollope's art is simply too safe and easy. Thus, as the reviewer notes in his kaleidoscope image, Trollope's mind creates its new varieties of face and character “almost as easily as a shaken kaleidoscope creates new patterns.” This can create amazing or at least startling effects; but in a final judgment the reviewer sees it more as a mechanical trick than an artistic act. Trollope's novels may create “new varieties” in their design; but it is plainly evident that he is playing over and over again with the same bits of glass. Henry James, in the Can You Forgive Her? review three years later, is of course still less indulgent toward such childish playing with colored glass. As James sarcastically remarks, Trollope's novelistic art seems to consist of taking any former tale, changing some characters' names, leaving others intact, and transposing a few incidents.

This picture of Trollope's art is, clearly, a distorted one. New things do rise up to startle us, now and then, in Trollope's books. But there is, nonetheless, some substance to the reviewers' sense of Trollope's storytelling practice, especially if we think in terms of the entire body of his fiction. These early reviewers, who had available to their scrutiny less than a third of the novels Trollope would produce before his death in 1882, were not bad forecasters. In how many novels throughout Trollope's writing career do we find, for example, versions of the Felix Graham situation in Orley Farm, wherein the young man, already committed to another woman, falls in love with Madeline Staveley, and first she and then her parents must determine whether to encourage his suit? The patterns woven into this situation constantly repeat themselves, with one variation or another, in novel after novel. And this situation is only one of the bases of recurring patterns that Trollope employs in novel after novel. Trollope's art gives, as his early reviewer so aptly puts it, the almost unavoidable impression that their author was forever making up stories, kaleidoscopically, out of the same little bits of colored glass.6

But we should think carefully about what Trollope's adoption of this repetitive practice might mean. To hold that Trollope's manner of telling stories is a function of lack of energy or imaginative power rather than of strategic maneuvering is a very shaky proposition. Trollope was clearly a self-conscious storyteller, very aware of issues that arise from the telling of stories. We should think, for example, about a scene in Phineas Redux, where Trollope shows us the Old Bailey barrister Mr. Chaffanbrass in legal conference, as he works to organize arguments for the defense in Phineas Finn's murder trial. At one point in the conference Mr. Chaffanbrass, appearing to drift from his subject, begins telling a story about how he was once tricked when buying a horse for his daughter. He had purchased the horse without warranty, relying on the seller's word as a “gentleman” that it was sound. Finding, however, that the animal was not in fact worth its feed, Mr. Chaffanbrass sought redress through an attorney. But the attorney, unable to help, could only remind him, “Didn't you ever hear of Caveat emptor, Mr. Chaffanbrass?” Mr. Chaffanbrass is forced to accept the fact that he has been taken: “So the—gentleman—got my money, and I added something to my stock of experience” (PR, 60).

Why does Trollope have Mr. Chaffanbrass relate this story? Trollope's design emerges in the next words he gives to Mr. Chaffenbrass:

“Of course that's only my story, and it may be that the gentleman could tell it another way. But I say that if my story be right the doctrine of Caveat emptor does not encourage trade. I don't know how we got to all this from Mr. Finn. I'm to see him tomorrow.”

(PR, 60)

Mr. Chaffanbrass does not know “how we got to all this from Mr. Finn”—but Trollope knows very well. The story alerts us to a question about the substantiality of stories. We are reminded that a story has a particular teller and that it is told, therefore, from some particular perspective: “Of course that's only my story.” Other perspectives are possible; and other perspectives might well give us a differing story: “it may be that the gentleman could tell it another way.” The vexed question, then, concerns our ability to determine what story is the real story—“But I say that if my story be right. …” The relevance of this concern to the plot of Phineas Redux in particular has to do with the problem of making valid judgments about the stories witnesses tell in a legal proceeding. But Trollope is also, more fundamentally, directing our attention toward his own activity as a teller of tales, making us reflect upon his novel as a story which some other gentleman (or himself at another moment) could repeat, perhaps, but telling it in “another way.”


Trollope's art of repetition is a response to, and so is best comprehended in the context of, questions concerning the value of stories that Victorian literary thought inherits from the Romantic period.

As discussed in the previous chapter, the powerful strain of eighteenth-century skepticism toward stories is absorbed into Romantic thought with varying consequences. Among some Romantic writers in some moods, it contributes to the conviction that the mind's power, our best hope for human freedom, can become also a prison for us: our minds, particularly in youth, absorb stories and build up doubtful, often destructive foundations of delusive thought that prove almost inescapable. But this threat of mental imprisonment through storytelling also produces in Romantic thought a significant reaction: intense preoccupation with possible methods of evasion and escape, wherein stories become tools employed variously in the attempt to free or properly inform the mind. Perhaps, as in some speculations of Keats and (more subtly) of Byron, stories might open a door to the possibility of living within art or an endless fiction—in which event, perhaps, the threat of entrapment within false conceptions would be miraculously transfigured into the promise of escape from nagging doubt and tyrannous truths. But a still more powerful Romantic reaction, articulated most influentially in the poetic meditations of Wordsworth, turns skepticism toward stories upside down, translating it into an epistemological adventure. If stories cannot be trusted to reveal truths about the nature of things around us, they can nonetheless convey human truths by functioning as a mirror to reveal us to ourselves. For the Wordsworthian orientation of thought, stories can give us access to primary laws of our human nature.

This view presupposes, of course, that what is sought exists—that there in fact is some unifying essence establishing a common ground that we can term our nature. Among nineteenth-century writers who possess, like Wordsworth, strong confidence in the essential universality and stability of human nature, a reverence like Wordsworth's for stories and storytelling tends to override skepticism. However, among writers who doubt whether natural law is sufficiently strong to restrict the range of human possibility, ensuring that the behavior of individuals will remain representative of the behavior of some significant human group (the Child, the Father, and so forth), a Wordsworthian reverence is not readily gained or maintained. For minds that suspect natural law is subject to instances of disruption, leaps produced by the action of mutation or of miracle, the question of a story's possible truth-value remains a stubbornly problematic issue.

Among novelists of the Romantic period it is probably Walter Scott who inclines most strongly in Wordsworth's direction. He introduces his first novel Waverley with a chapter urging the reader to think of human history as a series of “chapters” in “the great book of Nature,” which book is “the same through a thousand editions” (Waverley, chap. 1). Human life is united, Scott insists, by the operation of “passions common to men in all stages of society, and which have alike agitated the human heart, whether it throbbed under the steel corslet of the fifteenth century, the brocaded coat of the eighteenth, or the blue frock and white dimity waistcoat of the present day” (chap. 1). Here with Scott, as with Wordsworth, this sense of fundamental unity means that apparent randomness or sportiveness in human life must itself be ordered, governed by an underlying system of laws—Scott speaks of the “deep-ruling impulse” that operates within historical variations of behavior (Waverley, chap. 1). If we look closely into human life, therefore, we can discern the operation of principles of orderly evolution in what might seem mere change and principles of species variation in what might seem mere difference.

For Scott, as for Wordsworth, stories are source of knowledge for the contemplative inquirer into these principles. Scott's “Tales of My Landlord” play intricate games with storytelling; but they invite, nevertheless, a response to the human propensity to tell stories that is very different from skepticism (or even the sort of delight in pure storytelling that attracts the young Keats). In the opening pages of Old Mortality, for example, Scott presents to us Jedediah Cleishbotham, “Schoolmaster and Parish-Clerk of Gandercleugh,” a collector of “Tales, Illustrative of Ancient Scottish Manners” (Dedication), who gives us in turn the manuscript of one of his teachers, Peter Pattieson—which manuscript invites us to become interested in old stories about the dead: “But upon other two stones which lie beside, may still be read in rude prose, and ruder rhyme, the history of those who sleep beneath them” (chap. 1). Unfolding such histories, for all the fun Scott has with the fictions of their transmission, is designed to evoke awed response from the reader that evolves into a passion for scientific investigation.

Wordsworth's passion tends to direct itself toward analysis of those laws that govern differentiation between states of an individual's life—Childhood, Fatherhood, Old Age. Scott's passion is largely directed toward analyzing the principles that govern differences between cultures and between historical periods in a given culture. Waverley, Scott proposes modestly in the preface to that novel's third edition, is presented to its reader as a “slight sketch of ancient Scottish manners.” Within this realm of ancient Scottish manners—a realm of Scotland's (not England's or France's) past, and a past “Sixty Years Since” (not two hundred or eight hundred years since)—we encounter an analysis of subclassifications that turns out to be anything but slight. Rose Bradwardine sings Waverley a song, “St. Swithin's Chair,” and then, responding to Waverley's eager attentiveness, says, “Must I tell my story as well as sing my song?—Well—Once upon a time there lived an old woman …” (chap. 13). Later in the novel Flora Mac-Ivor sings Waverley another song, beginning “There is mist on the mountain, and night on the vale” (chap. 22). Scott wants us to think about such songs and stories as evidence illuminating the cultures from which they come (or from which he wants to suppose they come). Rose's song is particularly Rose's (“my song”). But as with Wordsworth, “my” in Scott is really a manifestation of some “our”—some species of human nature of which Rose is a part. For Scott Rose's song is a product of her Lowland culture, illuminating that culture's somewhat antiquarian preoccupation with the romance of old legends. Further, the tale Rose relates following her song is also marked with a cultural label: it is a “story that was said to have happened in the south of Scotland,” Scott informs us in an accompanying note (chap. 13). Paralleling these evidences of the Lowlands, Flora's song offers evidence, Scott would have us recognize, of the fundamentally different culture and mentality of northern Scotland; it is an example, as his chapter's title informs us, of “Highland Minstrelsy” (chap. 22).

For Scott, as for Wordsworth, stories emanate from the depths of our natures and thus can be trusted to cast light on what we are as members of one or another species of human nature. Stories are not, as with the skeptics, dangerous powers that fix themselves upon our minds and so mold us into one sort of being or another (as, for example, with William Godwin's Falkland in Caleb Williams, whose reading of romances of chivalry turns him into a sort of chivalric maniac). It is significant that Scott's Waverley only at first glance looks like a kind of Falkland (or, behind him, Quixote). Scott is really moving in a different direction. Waverley's appetite for adventure in the Scottish Highlands is tied to the undisciplined nature of his early reading: “With a desire of amusement, therefore, which better discipline might soon have converted into a thirst for knowledge, young Waverley drove through a sea of books, like a vessel without a pilot or a rudder” (Waverley, chap. 3). But Waverley's readings in romance create, not a romantic foundation to his being, but only an infatuation that passes over Waverley without touching his deep self. When Waverley in Highland uniform finds himself confronting an English army, he is suddenly stunned to recognize his essential identity: “‘Good God!’ he muttered, ‘am I then a traitor to my country, a renegade to my standard, and a foe … to my native England!’” (Waverley, chap. 46). Waverley, Scott wants us to see, is an essentially domestic, law-abiding Englishman, whatever stories he may encounter. Romantic story and Flora's “Celtic muse” (chap. 22) may distract him from himself for a time; but his deep self remains what it has always been.

As noted in chapter 6, Charles Dickens, the Victorian who inherits Scott's mantle of extraordinary popular success among the novel-reading public, also tends to view human beings as having essentially fixed natures. And Dickens, accordingly, like Wordsworth and Scott before him, exhibits great affection and even reverence for the art of storytelling. In Dickens an encounter with old stories, fairy tales, folk drama is not viewed with suspicion, as if it rendered us susceptible to an attack of intellectual deception that has been passed down blindly from generation to generation. To the contrary, a tale's perpetuation down through the ages points for Dickens, as for Wordsworth and Scott, to the existence of human yearnings, values, and patterns of behavior that are common to humanity generally, welling up from some deep ground of human existence that is unaffected by variation between individuals.

As we noted in the previous chapter, when Little Nell sets off with her grandfather in The Old Curiosity Shop, Dickens refers to the pair as “pilgrims”: “The two pilgrims, often pressing each other's hands, or exchanging a smile or cheerful look, pursued their way in silence” (chap. 15). Then, a few paragraphs later in the same chapter, Little Nell looks at the landscape around her and is reminded of Bunyan's novel: “There had been an old copy of the Pilgrim's Progress, with strange plates, upon a shelf at home, over which she had often pored whole evenings, wondering whether it was true in every word, and where those distant countries with the curious names might be” (chap. 15). Contra some popular modern critical theorizing, Dickens is not wrestling anxiously here with an oppressive artistry of a father-precursor. Rather he is instilling in his reader the sense that old stories contain fundamental patterns of human experience—or, perhaps more accurately, ways in which human consciousness conceptualizes or makes sense of experience—and that underneath the apparent uniqueness of modern thought and modern life situations these patterns continue to be operative.

Pilgrim's Progress may not be “true in every word,” as Little Nell wonders; but it embodies essential truths about human life. In chapter 16 of The Old Curiosity Shop, Dickens introduces yet another teasingly emblematic scene to reinforce this way of thinking. Little Nell and her grandfather come upon a pair of itinerant showmen, sitting (appropriately) in a graveyard as they repair the puppets of their Punch-and-Judy show: “In part scattered upon the ground at the feet of the two men, and in part jumbled together in a long flat box, were the other persons of the Drama. The hero's wife and one child, hobby-horse, the doctor, the foreign gentleman …” (chap. 16). Art meets art in this scene, as Dickens's novelistic characters Little Nell and her grandfather peer curiously into the shop of a yet more primitive art-world, where the characters of Punch and “the other persons of the Drama” are being prepared to reenact yet once more their severely circumscribed tale of life. The somewhat eerie power of this Dickensian scene, anticipating favored dreams of Borges and Pirandello, lies in how it tempts us to begin pondering identifications, first, between the persons of the Drama in Punch and those in Dickens's story, and, second, between those persons both of Punch and of Dickens and the essential forms of our own life experience.

With such nice Wordsworthian touches, Dickens invites us to recognize in the stories of our child-like fathers, not primitive illusions or deceptions, but mysterious profundities that can illuminate ourselves. As Wordsworth writing Michael, for example, would have us discern in that shepherd's story—“unenriched with strange events” (19), as he coyly suggests—the reenactment of a wealth of ancient biblical stories (among which are Abraham and Isaac, the Prodigal Son, and the tale of our Lord so loving the world that he gave his only begotton son), so Dickens asks us in Dombey and Son to recognize in the budding romance between young Walter Gay and Florence Dombey the interwoven patterns of a series of old stories:

Walter picked up the shoe, and put it on the little foot as the Prince in the story might have fitted Cinderella's slipper on. He hung the rabbit-skin over his left arm; gave the right to Florence: and felt, not to say like Richard Whittington—that is a tame comparison—but like Saint George of England, with the dragon lying dead before him.

(chap. 6)

But while Dickens thus carries on into the Victorian period an epistemological enthusiasm in regard to stories that traces back to the Romantic art of Wordsworth and Scott, other Victorian writers preserve the doubting sensibility of the more persistently skeptical side of Romantic tradition. Thus with Robert Browning, who is, like Trollope, more the aficionado of leaping than of natural law (see chapter 5), we find ourselves being maneuvered into thinking about stories in a way that contrasts sharply with Dickens. When in Dombey and Son Walter Gay feels like Saint George of England giving service to Florence's endangered Lady, Dickens would have us entertain the idea that Walter and Florence are in fact types of that hero and heroine of old story. But when Browning's enthusiastic Poet of Book I of The Ring and the Book employs the same image in reference to Caponsacchi and Pompilia—“As, in a glory of armor like Saint George, / Out again sprang the young good beauteous priest / Bearing away the lady in his arms” (I, 579-81)—he is not offering revelation, but only introducing us to the threshold of a vexed question he wants to raise about what tale, if any, accurately characterizes the relationship between those two people.

While in Book I of The Ring and the Book Browning gives us the voice of the Poet identifying Caponsacchi and Pompilia as Saint George and the Lady, in Book II he quickly shows us Half-Rome advocating a series of alternative story identifications. Perhaps the pair are, instead, Lucifer and Eve: “The gallant, Caponsacchi, Lucifer / I' the garden where Pompilia, Eve-like, lured / Her Adam Guido to his fault and fall” (II, 166-68). Or perhaps Caponsacchi is the fox—“the smell o' the fox / The musk o' the gallant” (II, 816-17)—tempted to “risk his brush” for the “chick,” Pompilia (II, 831). Or, yet another possibility, Pompilia and Caponsacchi are Helen and Paris: “Pompilia, soon looked Helen to the life, / Recumbent upstairs in her pink and white, / So, in the inn-yard, bold as ’t were Troy-town, / There strutted Paris” (II, 995-98).

Browning's design in the series of twelve monologues that make up the ring of his epic poem is to show that each speaker in the poem is making sense of the events of the tragedy, invoking old stories as models to help them mold those events, plastic-like, into one form of understanding or another. The lawyer Hyacinthus, preparing his defense of Guido in Book VIII, for example, invokes as the “antetype / Of Guido at Rome” the model of “Sampson in the Sacred Text,” and urges that we “observe the Nazarite! / Blinded he was …” (VIII, 632-35). Then, changing the model and heightening the emotional stakes, he offers us as another antetype for Guido the case of “Our Lord Himself” (VIII, 652). In the process of thus arguing his case for Guido, he exclaims dramatically, “Are these things writ for no example, Sirs?” (VIII, 650). Hyacinthus's crudely enthusiastic arguments compel us to perceive stories as tools that people wield to make their audience think in one way or another.

Some of Browning's speakers in The Ring and the Book, like Hyacinthus, are clearly using stories in this consciously manipulative fashion. Guido himself, finally acknowledging his rapaciousness in his second monologue, argues that, yes, he is the wolf to Pompilia's lamb—but a wolf only behaves in accord with its nature, even as does the lamb. So condemning the wolf must be mere prejudice: “Because I smack my tongue too loud for once, / Drop baaing, here's the village up in arms! / Have at the wolf's throat, you who hate the breed” (XI, 825-27). This defense of himself as the wolf-child of nature so delights Guido that he exclaims, “How that staunch image serves at every turn!” (XI, 1176)—calling attention to his own rhetorical gymnastics. Pompilia, on the other hand, presumably does not aim to delude her auditors when she presents herself as the lamb: “Well, I no more saw sense in what she said / Than a lamb does in people clipping wool; / Only lay down and let myself be clipped” (VII, 382-84). But the transparent manipulativeness of speakers like Hyacinthus and Guido suggests that Pompilia may be merely a naive storyteller, unconsciously deluding herself as well as others with her tale of the lamb. Everybody in Browning's poem, we are forced to suspect, is weaving stories out of stories and making one or another staunch image serve them at every turn.

Most important, Browning is intent upon our recognizing that this is as much the case with the Poet of Books I and XII as it is with the other speakers in The Ring and the Book. Browning makes his Poet call attention to himself as a wielder of imagery: “Now, as the ingot, ere the ring was forged, / Lay gold, (beseech you, hold that figure fast!) / So in this book lay absolute truth” (I, 138-40). The Poet is just as enthusiastic and inclined to parade his rhetorical prowess as is Hyacinthus or Guido—which maneuver is designed by Browning to make us see that his Poet, ventriloquist behind all the storytellers of his poem, is also telling, not the truth, necessarily, but only another story about the truth. Browning's Poet insists, to be sure, that he has gleaned truth from the Old Yellow Book: “From the book, yes; thence bit by bit I dug / The lingot truth, that memorable day, / Assayed and knew my piecemeal gain was gold” (I, 452-54). But Browning is playing a trick upon our assumptions here at his poem's commencement. He anticipates our naive supposition that this “lingot truth” is the real, universal and objective truth of our epistemological dreams. But when he goes on to let his Poet proudly claim,

Why, all the while—how could it otherwise?—
The life in me abolished the death of things,
Deep calling unto deep: as then and there
Acted itself over again once more
The tragic piece. I saw with my own eyes
In Florence as I trod the terrace, breathed
The beauty and the fearfulness of night,
How it had run,

(I, 513-20; italics mine)

he is hinting behind all this play of sublime poetic rhetoric that the Poet, like everybody, sees life only “with my own eyes.” However “deep” our inquiry into the life of things, even if we have poetic eyes, the most we will see, finally, is some single perspective on life's events that appeals to us. We will weave, then, a story out of that perspective—employing carefully selected references to stories that others have told us (Saint George, the Lamb, Paris and Helen) in the attempt to anchor our tale in venerable patterns of Truth.

Browning appears to have thought of The Ring and the Book as his anti-Wordsworthian Wordsworthian poem.7 Thus he begins The Ring and the Book by casting a Wordsworthian spell upon us. A Wordsworthian journey of poetic discovery into the primary laws of our nature frequently begins by directing attention to some apparently inconsequential situation or object from which will emerge a tale revelatory of our human nature. In Michael, for example, the story of the shepherd is tied to a pile of unhewn stones. Playing upon this Wordsworthian pattern in The Ring and the Book, Browning gives us an old yellow book that he has come upon in an Italian marketplace:

Do you see this square old yellow Book, I toss
I' the air, and catch again, and twirl about
By the crumpled vellum covers,—pure crude fact
Secreted from man's life when hearts beat hard,
And brains, high-blooded, ticked two centuries since?

(I, 32-36)

But that Browning is actually beginning to play, not a version of Wordsworth's theme, but rather his own music here in Book I of The Ring and the Book is suggested by the slightly unsettling, almost comic way he pictures himself excitedly tossing the “square old yellow Book” up and down. Wordsworth does not toss Michael's pile of rocks about. A precious, holy object, a covenant, is hardly to be touched, let alone tossed. Browning's poet, furthermore, is tossing something much more delicate than Wordsworth's stones. The yellow book, two centuries old, is a fragile covenant; its vellum covers are “crumpled.” Browning is creating a half-comic, ironic caricature of himself as the visionary Wordsworthian Poet, who, revelling in innocent enthusiasm, unconsciously threatens to destroy the holy relic while trying to illuminate its deep secrets. The poetic tale Browning's Poet is about to construct out of the old yellow book may throw a “ring” around the “pure crude fact” that has so excited his imagination; but the essence of the book itself, the real story, is about to fall apart into a series of fragments, different and opposing stories, as the book is tossed gleefully into the air.

The reason the book must fall apart in Browning, rather than hold firm as with a Wordsworthian literary experience, traces back to Browning's acknowledgment of the possibility of leaping. Once we credit that possibility—conceding the conceivability of a Caponsacchi experiencing transformation from a “courtly spiritual Cupid, squire of dames” (I, 1017) into Saint George, savior of dames—then all foundations dissolve and all conceptions themselves become leaps. In Wordsworth, the tale of a Father is a Father's Tale; that of a Child is a Child's. But if transformations, miracles that break the law, can occur, then who is to know what species of tale is emerging from a Caponsacchi or what tale might confidently be claimed to picture accurately his essential being?


Informing us by way of his barrister Mr. Chaffanbrass that “Of course, that's only my story, and it may be that the gentleman could tell it another way” (PR, 60), Trollope is working within the same conceptual terrain Browning cultivates in The Ring and the Book. It is not merely coincidental that the storytelling Mr. Chaffanbrass in Trollope's novel should be a member of the legal profession, while Browning's poem focuses on the complexities of a legal proceeding. For nineteenth-century minds drawn toward issues concerning the significance and implications of the fact that stories can be told in multiple ways, the intricacies of legal thought and procedures offer an appealingly dramatic field for examination. Trollope, almost obsessively preoccupied with the kind of thinking that legal minds exhibit, is especially intrigued with the idea that lawyers are “peculiarly conversant with the fact that every question has two sides, and that as much may often be said on one side as on the other” (ED, 4). Mr. Chaffanbrass, cautioning his auditors to remember that his story might have been told differently by another person, is, in Trollope's view, displaying the essence of what it means to think like a man of law.8

Numbers of critics have focused attention upon Trollope's fondness for structuring a novel somewhat in the manner of a Renaissance play, setting up within the work multiple plots that turn out to offer, as James Kincaid observes, “different answers to the same question.”9 It is also important to see that this strategy extends for Trollope beyond the boundaries of the individual novel. The repetitions among Trollope's novels that we have been discussing are the product of Trollope's strategy of playing entire novels off against each other. He weaves variations on the same plot in novel after novel—continually rearranging, as his early reviewer put it, the same bits of colored glass in a series of novels as if he were playing with a kaleidoscope. Thereby he builds up a world of thought wherein, as with Browning's series of monologues in The Ring and the Book, we experience the explosion of some given basic story line into a spectrum of very different stories, depending upon the way each is told.

What matters in Trollope's novels, then, are not so much the repetitions that have disturbed many of his critics, but rather the variations highlighted by those repetitions. The important thing is not that Orley Farm and The Small House at Allington—to take but a single case of repetition in point—share the story of a broken engagement, wherein a young man disengages himself from one woman, to whom he has already made firm commitments, because he has met another woman who holds greater attractions for him. The important thing, instead, is how the former novel tells that story in a way that seems determined to involve us primarily in the young man's perspective, inviting us to share with him the pleasure of new love, while the latter novel tempts us to see the story more from the perspective of the woman jilted by the young man. In Orley Farm, one might say, Trollope acts predominantly as the lawyer for the defense of the inconstant lover. He makes Felix Graham look like a cousin to Browning's Caponsacchi in the character of Saint George discovering his true commitment. But then, two years later in The Small House at Allington, when Trollope gives us the case of another inconstant lover, he acts predominantly as the lawyer for the prosecution. This lawyer is stirring the jury-reader's sympathy for the story of the abandoned lady; and thus Adolphus Crosbie, less lucky than the earlier Felix Graham, is made to look like a Caponsacchi in the character of Paris or Lucifer.10

Two rather different types of critical construction can be placed upon a writer who exhibits this sort of artistic behavior. We might think of such shifts of perspective as attesting primarily to the restless, questing quality of the writer's creative imagination. Alternately, we might think of it as indicating, not so much the writer's quest to satisfy his own curiosity, but rather his interest in producing unsettling effects in the minds of his readers.

Christopher Herbert has developed finely the first of these ways of thinking about Trollope in Comic Pleasure. Arguing that Trollope's art is characterized neither by paucity of creative imagination nor by mere careless repetition, Herbert proposes that Trollope employed in his novels a technique that he calls “schematic repetitiveness.” In Herbert's view, Trollope's activity of writing novels must have been for him something akin to operating an “imaginative laboratory,” wherein the author “runs through” some plot “over and over in successive stories, subtly varying each time the personal characters and social circumstances of the protagonists.” Herbert's vision of Trollope is a portrait of the novelist as tireless experimenter, engaged in a quest to work out for himself every possible “angle of thought” according to which a given story might be told.11

Herbert's premise, as his image of the novelist in his “imaginative laboratory” implies, is that Trollope was akin to a scientific investigator, seeking by way of the experimental method to arrive at substantial knowledge. So, for example, at one point in his discussion he suggests that Trollope's varied repetitions should be understood as “a systematic presenting of certain values in one modal context after another, as though to test by this device the stability and permanence of those values.” For this line of thought developed by Herbert, Trollope looks somewhat like my own portrait of Wordsworth—the writer as Newton or Sir Humphry Davy, dedicated to an analytic program that will yield truths about the nature of things. Herbert's Trollope is like a man peering into a microscope, immersed in an “inexhaustibly patient inspection of the subtleties of moral fiber and of the limits of comic tolerance.”12

Herbert's conception of Trollope at work offers the considerable benefit of rescuing Trollope from the charge of being a careless or intellectually shallow writer. But I am not sure it is compatible with evidences we can gather about how Trollope's mind actually seems to have functioned when he was writing novels. Trollope's own sense of his art appears to have been strongly oriented toward public performance. He consistently conceives of himself as a storyteller—a person writing for an audience and exerting particular pressures on that audience's thought by the manner in which he exercises his art.13 One might posit, I suppose, that Trollope's audience was, first of all or most significantly, himself. But even in that hypothetical case the image of a scientist working in the isolation of his laboratory, engaged in microscopically patient inspection of the moral fibers of which his stories are composed, shifts the focus of attention away from what seems to have preoccupied Trollope—the concern for what stories do to their audiences.

A most obvious indication of Trollope's preoccupation with the importance of audience to his storytelling is the way he constantly employs his narrative voice to address the reader—asking questions, as in the title of the first of the Palliser novels, Can You Forgive Her?, or, still more frequently, inviting or entreating the reader to think in some particular way: “Listen to me, ladies, and I beseech you to acquit her” (BT, 28). Behind this narrative voice stands an author who knows that stories can have a powerful influence on the thinking of the people who listen to them.

Trollope devotes considerable attention in his Autobiography to the issue of how much “good or harm must be done by novels.” He argues that the “amusement of the time can hardly be the only result of any book that is read, and certainly not so with a novel, which appeals especially to the imagination, and solicits the sympathy of the young.” A novel “appeals”; a novel “solicits … sympathy.” Because of this powerful influence that a novel tends to exert upon its audience, a “vast proportion of the teaching of the day,—greater probably than many of us have acknowledged to ourselves,—comes from these books, which are in the hands of all readers.” To Trollope's mind, significant conclusions follow from this: “thinking of all this, as a novelist must surely do,—as I certainly have done through my whole career,—it becomes to him a matter of deep concern how he shall handle those characters by whose words and doings he hopes to interest his readers.”14 The “deep concern” Trollope has for the process of writing novels seems to be channelled, these observations by the novelist himself suggest, in the direction of the effects that novels have upon their audience.

Clearly, we need to proceed with some caution here, when we begin considering the kind of effects Trollope was interested in producing. Trollope, acutely sensitive to the arts of presentation, is presenting himself in An Autobiography in a manner that may accord less with complete candor than with the picture of himself that his sense of decorum or his practical ambitions or even perhaps his whimsy are leading him to create for his public. In the main, Trollope's selfportrait in An Autobiography presents a very close approximation of the stereotype of the socially responsible Victorian Moralist, earnestly concerned to “teach lessons of virtue and at the same time make himself a delight to his readers.”15 But nuances in Trollope's remarks add some dimension to this portrait and bring us a little closer to the artist behind his creation of himself for his public.

The most intriguing thing Trollope says about the novelist in relation to his audience is that “he must teach whether he wish to teach or no.16 What sort of mentality is reflected in a comment like this? It is a mind that, exhibiting close affinities with the skeptical tradition, thinks of stories, not simply in terms of opportunity but in terms of dangerous possibilities. Stories tend to reach out to our minds and take dominion there—shades of Wallace Stevens's Jar—making us think in certain ways, whatever the storyteller's intent. Trollope, the storyteller, is keenly aware that stories are potentially poisonous things.

This awareness finds reflection in the novels in many ways. Trollope is very conscious, for example, of how newspapers mold public opinion through the transmission of highly colored stories about persons or events. Consider the parts played by the “Jupiter” in The Warden, Barchester Towers, and The Bertrams, by the “Broughton Gazette” in Dr. Wortle's School, by the “Christian Examiner” in Miss Mackenzie, and by the “People's Banner” in Phineas Finn, Phineas Redux, and The Prime Minister. One thinks, further, of Trollope's politicians and con-men, telling stories to the public (and to each other) in the service of promoting their elections, their causes, or their fortunes. One thinks, for that matter, of Trollope's visions of the public itself—crowds of humanity eagerly milling around the newsworthy event of the moment to exchange gossip and rumor. In Phineas Redux, after Phineas has been charged with murder, Trollope dwells on how “the trial was, as a matter of course, the talk of the town. Poor Lord Fawn shut himself up, and was seen by no one;—but his conduct and evidence were discussed everywhere. At the clubs it was thought that …” (PR, 63). In The Way We Live Now the wondrous pleasure dome of Mr. Melmotte's financial empire is built by gossip about its grand success; and it only starts dissolving once contrary stories about its failure begin to circulate among the public. Orley Farm includes a chapter, significantly titled “The State of Public Opinion,” wherein Trollope devotes considerable attention to the swirls of gossip and rumor that hover about Lady Mason's trial: “The day of the trial was now quickly coming on, and the London world, especially the world of lawyers, was beginning to talk much on the subject. Men about the Inns of Court speculated as to the verdict, offering to each other very confident opinions …” (II, 21).

Trollope's loving articulation of the dynamics by which lawyers seek to impress their conflicting stories about truth upon juries—how, for example, Mr. Furnival pleads Lady Mason's case to the jury in Orley Farm so dramatically that “before he had done he had almost brought himself … to believe Lady Mason to be that victim of persecution as which he did not hesitate to represent her to the jury” (OF, II, 32)—is only the most blatant manifestation of the dominant preoccupation of Trollope's novels with the dangerous power of stories to seduce people's minds into believing doubtful propositions about truth and value. Trollope appears to have sensed that our lives are dominated by stories—stories that we hear from others, and even stories that we constantly tell ourselves as we go about our daily business. At one point in An Autobiography he remarks that “In our lives we are always weaving novels.”17 And this sensitivity appears to have impressed upon his mind an uneasy fascination with questions about the extent to which human beings ever manage, as his contemporary Arnold would phrase it, to see life steadily, and see it whole.

A principal subject that Trollope as teacher is concerned to teach in his novels, accordingly, is how stories impose themselves upon our minds. This means, I think, that Trollope is not so much the teacher of morality, or even of moral flexibility, that numbers of readers have seen in him. He is much more the teacher of where our notions of morality come from and of the implications that follow from this lesson. He makes us think about how a given story plants a particular set of moral notions in our minds; and he asks us to ponder how these notions would be challenged if we heard the story told, instead, from the opposing point of view.

Trollope tells us the story, for example, of Phineas Finn, a man called by one character “this adventurer,” by another an “Irish adventurer” (PF, 51, 63). He shows Phineas himself planning his strategy for advancing his fortunes in terms of a rhetoric of gaming that might seem to imply that he is more manipulative than straightforward: “Phineas resolved that he must at any rate play out his game … and in playing it he must, if possible, drop something of that Mentor and Telemachus style of conversation” (PF, 14).18 The Earl of Brentford finds that “there was something,—something almost approaching to duplicity” in Phineas's behavior (PF, 59). And yet Trollope's story of Phineas Finn in the two Phineas novels is told in such a way as to persuade us, finally, to judge Phineas a sympathetic and even somewhat admirable figure. This is, however, only a story—or, if you will, it is only one way of telling this story.

The opening pages of Phineas Finn introduce us to Phineas's doubts about whether, instead of advancing his fortunes by trying to enter upon a Parliamentary career, he might end up “a castaway.” At that early point in his story Trollope slyly writes that Phineas “had heard of penniless men who had got into Parliament, and to whom had come such a fate. He was able to name to himself a man or two whose barks, carrying more sail than they could bear, had gone to pieces among early breakers in this way” (PF, 1). The significant joke here is that a reader of Trollope's novels can also name such a man—George Vavasor of an earlier novel in the Palliser series, Can You Forgive Her? George Vavasor, a gameplayer whose Parliamentary career ends in ruin, is presented in that earlier story by Trollope largely as a despicable character. Can You Forgive Her? is a story that aims at persuading the jury-reader to forgive a woman who might be perceived as a despicably self-centered jilt—and it is about not forgiving the gambling Member of Parliament. Other Trollope novels, in their turn, give us stories about not forgiving the jilt—Adolphis Crosbie, for example, in The Small House at Allington.

Trollope, employing conspicuous repetitions in his novels to tell a given story in different ways, is almost aggressively concerned, in his gracefully oblique way, to help his reader see what he is doing. He is fond of embedding in his novels passages designed to alert us. A splendidly low-comic scene in Orley Farm, for example, has Mr. Moulder telling the affectingly naive John Kennedy about what the opposing lawyers are going to do to Kennedy when they get him in the witness box. “You'll have to tell your story in their way,” he warns Kennedy; “that is, in two different ways. There'll be one fellow'll make you tell it his way first, and another fellow'll make you tell it again his way afterwards” (OF, II, 21). This passage reverberates of course beyond the plot. Telling a story in the manner of the lawyers, “their way,” is also Trollope's way: “two different ways.”

Further, Trollope is fond of creating dramatic situations in his novels that depict the competition of storytellers for control over their audience's minds. Characters in Trollope's novels think about the value of telling their version of a story first; and they worry about being late and discovering that their audience's mind has already been predisposed to belief or disbelief by someone else's story. In Miss Mackenzie Trollope's heroine feels “that it would have been well for her that she should have told her own story before that horrid man had come to the Cedars. The story would now first be told to him by her aunt, and she knew well the tone in which it would be told” (MM, 22). In Kept in the Dark Lady Grant insists to her brother, “You have first to believe the story as I tell it you, and get out of your head altogether the story as you have conceived it” (KITD, 21). All such passages are addressed in their variously ironic ways at us as well as at the plots of the stories in which they appear. Trollope pressures us to think about our own experience as we read his stories: how our own minds are being affected by the particular perspective from which a given story has been told; how our propensity to believe one story is affected by our encounter with another, like story that has been told from a competing perspective.19

Lady Grant of Kept in the Dark, intent upon making her brother “believe the story as I tell it you,” urges him to “get out of your head altogether” any competing version of the story. Her aim thereby is to create in her brother's mind a “fixed belief in her purity and truth” (KITD, 21). Trollope's novels, however, aim in almost the opposite direction. Trollope seeks to make us get into our heads more than a single version of a story; and he develops in our heads, accordingly, considerable uneasiness about the possibility of arriving confidently at the sort of “fixed belief” that Lady Grant seeks to produce in her brother.


Trollope's art of repetition asks us to revise the famous Coleridgean notion about the willing suspension of disbelief. Reading Trollope we are taught, instead, to cultivate a suspension of our propensity to believe what a given story is offering us. We learn to beware of letting the apparent lessons of any particular story form our conceptions of life for us. We learn to ask what other way the story might be told.

But Trollope also has a more elusive and fundamental target in view. He is clearly aware that the mind, once rendered alert, readily entertains suspicions about stories. In the relatively thoughtless and habitual course of daily life, our notions of truth and value are often strongly influenced by the stories we happen to encounter—gossip and rumor, for example, can have devastating effects. However, in contexts of confusion or doubt, when suspicions are raised, we are generally put on our guard pretty easily; and then we accede readily to the proposition that a story might be, as we commonly say, “only” a story. Trollope is interested in how the mind behaves after, having been roused to thought in this manner, it enters the skeptical territory where a story is only a story.

Trollope's novels repeatedly take us into this territory. Trollope develops situations in which an individual or a community has to come to terms with a stranger or with a person who has been long absent, and about whom questions arise. Sometimes this stranger appears in the role of lover, as in Rachel Ray, where Luke Rowan's words to Rachel “had wrapped her in his influence, and filled her full of the magnetism of his own being” (RR, 3). Of Luke's lovemaking, the Trollopian narrator exclaims, “Words of romance!” Then, immediately underscoring the less positive connotations of romantic tales by noting, “Words direct from the Evil One, Mrs. Prime would have called them!” (RR, 3), Trollope delivers us quickly into a drama of people forced to think about the doubtful trustworthiness of the stories the stranger tells. Sometimes the Trollopian stranger is a new neighbor, tenant, heir, or prospective heir, whose appearance creates doubt or disturbance because of the flurries of stories about his intentions or character. So, for example, Reginald Morton in The American Senator: “It was currently reported of him in the town that he had never sat on a horse or fired off a gun. … There was already a report in the town that he was engaged in some stupendous literary work, and the men and women generally looked upon him as a disagreeable marvel of learning” (AS, I, 5). Or one thinks of Henry Jones in Cousin Henry, who had been sent away from Oxford “for some offence not altogether trivial,” but who later “had been taken into an office in London, and had become,—so it was said of him,—a steady young man of business” (CH, 1).

The recurring issue generated by such situations concerns the reality that lies behind the stories that surround the stranger: what is this person's real nature? So, for example, when Mary Bonner enters the community of Ralph the Heir and creates a stir, she is presented as beautiful, but a little unsettling: “Her beauty was of that kind,—like the beauty of a picture,—which must strike even if it fails to charm. And Mary had a way of exciting attention with strangers, even by her silence” (RTH, 7). The question, then, quickly arises: “Oh,—if she should turn out to be sly!” (RTH, 12). Or again, in another characteristic situation, Sir Harry of Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite finds that his daughter appears to be falling in love with her cousin George; and he must decide whether to encourage or try to frustrate that match. But all Sir Harry knows of his nephew are disturbing rumors: “Tidings had been sent to Sir Harry. … He had before heard of recklessness, of debt, of dissipation, of bad companions. Now he heard of worse than these” (SHHOH, 2). Sir Harry, however, aware that stories may be only stories, suspends judgment: “Sir Harry was a man who wanted ample evidence before he allowed his judgment to actuate his conduct, and in this case the evidence was far from ample” (SHHOH, 2). So Sir Harry sets about gathering evidence.

What interests Trollope in these situations is the basic premise: the mind's conviction that there must be, somewhere behind all the stories, the real story, as it were—a solid ground of truth that would provide certainty and stability, if one could only reach it through the careful gathering and sifting of evidences. Trollope, to be sure, acknowledges that it is often possible in life to reach such solid ground in situations where the question concerns particular past events—whether something really did or did not happen. So, for example, in Orley Farm, even though the judicial procedure designed to sift the evidence of the Orley Farm case fails to get at the truth, the true facts finally come out: Lady Mason really did forge the codicil to her husband's will. But can people similarly find out what a human being is really like? One reason, we should note, that Lady Mason's trial in Orley Farm ends in her acquittal is that few people can believe Lady Mason capable of committing such a crime.

Most people, excepting significantly the more experienced lawyers who roam the world of Orley Farm, think they know Lady Mason sufficiently well to be aware of what she might (and might not) be capable of doing. But Lady Mason is one of Trollope's conspicuous leapers. She is a person who, when the pressure becomes sufficiently strong in a situation of choice, leaps in an unaccustomed direction. In the crucial moment of her life, Lady Mason became “Rebekah,” as the title of chapter 20, Volume II suggests: “What Rebekah Did for Her Son.”

The most fundamental lesson of Trollope's novels—within which form, Trollope believes, the storyteller must teach, whether he will or no—is that the lessons we tend to pick up from novels are often highly untrustworthy. Among these doubtful lessons one of the most basic is the notion that there are fixed laws to human nature and that a human being must have a “real” character, a solid essence or foundation that can be depended upon to function as a ground of consistent behavior. Trollope would have us see that this is only the stuff of stories, a notion we pick up or absorb unconsciously from the tales we are told or that we tell ourselves.

Trollope's novels are filled, accordingly, with warning signs. They confront us repeatedly with dramatic representations of people mistakenly believing that one thing or another will happen or has happened because such a thing must happen, given a particular person's character or, more generally, the laws of human nature. So, for example, the mistakes about Lady Mason in Orley Farm. So too the mistaken convictions in Lady Anna: people are convinced that Anna will in the end revoke her promise to the tailor's son and, instead, marry Lord Lovel: “they who saw her and knew the story, were still sure that the lord must at last win the day. There was not one who believed that such a girl could be true to such a troth as she had made. … Human nature demanded that it should be so” (LA, 37; italics mine). Lady Anna, however, remains true to Daniel Thwaite.

Trollope also recurringly develops situations in his novels that tease us into making mistakes. He likes to play with slight touches that make us, clever readers that we think we are, believe that we are perceiving some person's true character more accurately than do the story's other characters. In The Belton Estate, for example, we anticipate very early that a love relationship is in the offing between Clara Amedroz and her cousin Will Belton, who has inherited the Belton estate. When Clara meets Will, he impresses her immensely. He talks, for example, of his sister, “swearing that she was as good as gold, and at last wiping away the tears from his eyes as he described her maladies”; and Clara “began to wish that she had called him Will from the beginning, because she liked him so much. He was just the man to have for a cousin” (BE, 3). Will's tears and Clara's quick sympathy may make us uneasy, especially if we have read widely in Trollope's world, where so many seemingly agreeable men turn out to behave badly to the women who fall quickly for them. So, when a few sentences further on, we are faced with the statement that Clara “saw his character clearly, and told herself that she understood it perfectly. He was a jewel of a cousin” (BE, 3), we are likely to begin suspecting strongly that there is trouble ahead for Clara. Further, and most important, if we are, as we probably suppose of ourselves, very good readers, we will have picked up what looks like a small—and hence in reading novels most significant—clue to Will Belton even before this scene wherein Clara becomes so convinced she rightly grasps Will's jewel-like character. When Will is first described to us, we are told by the Trollopian narrator that he was “a big man, over six feet high, broad in the shoulders, large limbed, with bright quick grey eyes, a large mouth, teeth almost too perfect and a well-formed nose” (BE, 3; italics mine). If this is any kind of novel at all, that touch about the “almost too perfect” teeth is a giveaway, is it not? Will Belton is almost too perfect. Clara has been taken in by his story. But we have caught the clue to his real story, his true character. Will Belton has teeth; and Clara, if she gets too close, is likely to get bitten.

But Trollope sets all this up so nicely for us only in order to let us see that we are being trapped by the usual conventions of stories. In this story by Trollope Clara marries Will and the couple live happily ever after. The fact that a person's teeth are almost too perfect is not an index to some presumed deep true character that will let us anticipate accurately that person's behavior.

Another of Trollope's favored practices is to let his narrator tell us straightforwardly what is true about some of the people that inhabit his novels. So, for example, in The Golden Lion of Granpére we are told of Marie Bromar's seemingly dubious behavior toward George Voss that “In truth she had not sinned against him. In truth she had not sinned at all … She had not been anxious for wealth, or ease, or position” (GLOG, 12). In The Prime Minister Ferdinand Lopez makes his entrance into the novel as one of Trollope's mysterious strangers: “He had been on the Stock Exchange, and still in some manner, not clearly understood by his friends, did business in the City … But nobody, not even his own bankers or his own lawyer,—not even the old woman who looked after his linen,—ever really knew the state of his affairs” (PM, 1). But the narrative voice of that novel subsequently tells us truths about Lopez: “Ferdinand Lopez was not an honest man or a good man. He was a self-seeking, intriguing adventurer, who did not know honesty from dishonesty when he saw them together” (PM, 24). But because this revelatory convention in Trollope exists side by side with those disturbances of novel convention that we have been discussing previously, it serves to accentuate for us the artificiality of the practice, distancing us from it and reminding us that it is only in a story, not in life, wherein we have the comfort of a narrative voice telling us solid truths about what human beings are really like.


The principal reason why it is not easy to know what people are really like is that the very concept of people having some real, fixed nature is problematic. Stories, as Trollope would have us perceive them, conventionally inculcate in our minds such suspect notions about human reality. As children, for example, we breathe in with our daily air and bread little memorable tunes—“Good King Wenceslas went out …”—that encourage us to suppose there are good kings, and hence also bad kings, presumably, roaming about the landscape of our lives. Most of us subsequently come to recognize that stories can tell mistruths. But Trollope seems to have believed (and perhaps rightly so?) that, like trusting children, we are wont to cling to the conviction that somewhere underneath those now doubtful stories must lie the primal story, as, for example, the solidly grounded truth of King Wenceslas's good nature. And the stories we normally encounter as adults tend to reinforce this deeply held conviction. Ferdinand Lopez “was not an honest man or a good man,” Trollope tells us in manipulative imitation of the ways of the storytelling guild. But Trollope is intent upon making us sense the artifice of such storytelling revelation.

For Trollope people are, so far as the human mind can know, unstable quantities. They may change radically in response to the pressures of life. This is not to say that all people change under pressure. That would simply substitute for the notion of fixed nature a contrary story about the fixed changeability of human life. Rather, Trollope's novels repeatedly present us with situations wherein, when pressure is applied, some people change, while others remain as they were. The force, then, of his strategy of varied repetitions is to make us sense the mystery and uncertainty of human life. We really cannot know which people are going to bend or leap strangely under pressure and which people are not. We cannot assume to know, therefore, judging from stories we may have heard or built up for ourselves about a given person's nature, what things that person may have done (or not done) in the past. Nor, more disturbing, can we suppose we know how that person will behave in the future.

A key recurring question in Trollope's novels is how some character will “bear” pressure. So, for example, in Dr. Wortle's School we quickly learn (in Part I, chap. 3, significantly titled “The Mystery”) about the true status of the Peacockes' marriage. Trollope would have us be interested, not in such melodramatic mystery, but rather in how Dr. Wortle and the Peacockes will respond to the pressures that the situation is going to exert upon them: “How the Doctor bore it this story is intended to tell,—and how also Mr. and Mrs. Peacocke bore it, when the sin and falsehood were made known to all the world around them” (DWS, I, 3). For Trollope, life's mystery lies in how people behave when confronted with highly charged situations that confront them with choices. What sort of leap will a person under pressure make?

The novels pursue this Trollopian vision of mystery in many different contexts. In Cousin Henry the question is whether public suspicion that Henry has destroyed or hidden a will in order to gain possession of his uncle's estate will pressure Henry to begin legal action for libel against his accusers. Henry declares “to himself that, let the newspaper say what it would, he would not of his own motion throw himself among the lion's teeth.” But then Henry's only defender in the community, an old tenant on the estate, insists that he must “go like a man into the witness-box.” This prodding proves “hard to bear.” Then Trollope loads upon Henry still more pressure: “But there came worse than that,—a power more difficult to resist” (CH, 14). In Marion Fay the mystery is whether Lady Frances will resist opposition to her determination to marry George Roden: “There is something so sad in the condition of a girl who is known to be in love and has to undergo the process of being made ashamed of it by her friends, that one wonders that any young woman can bear it. Most young women cannot bear it” (MF, 4).

Trollope's novels are full of characters firmly resolved to “bear it.” Like Mr. Neefit of Ralph the Heir, who “Means to Stick to It” (as the title of that novel's chapter 36 memorably puts it), such characters have laid out for themselves a course of action, or they have committed themselves to some promise or some attitude of mind; and they will “stick to it,” whatever may happen. This sometimes means that they must bear things they had once supposed unbearable. Lady Mary Palliser in The Duke's Children, for example, says she “cannot bear” to give her father pain; but when her father resolutely opposes her own resolution to marry Frank Tregear, she begins to believe that she can, after all, bear her father's pain: “this is a matter in which I mean to have my own way” (24).

What will happen, though, when the pressure becomes increasingly hard to bear? In the case of Dr. Wortle, for example, as the clamor to remove the suspect Peacockes from his school grows more strident, the good Doctor “became conscious … that he had in some degree jeopardised the well-being of the school. He began to whisper to himself that persons in such a position as that filled by this Mr. Peacocke and his wife should not be subject to peculiar remarks from ill-natured tongues” (DWS, II, 5). In The Way We Live Now Farmer Ruggles swears that his wayward daughter Ruby must leave his home forever: “She'll go out o' this into the streets;—that's what she wull. I won't keep her here, no longer;—nasty, ungrateful, lying slut.” But then, after Ruby has gone, “by degrees there came upon him a feeling half of compassion and half of fear”; and Farmer Ruggles begins to search for the daughter he had so firmly cast out (WWLN, 33, 34). In Phineas Finn Lady Laura commits herself to denying her attraction toward Phineas and to marrying, instead, Mr. Kennedy. But Trollope then dwells with great care on the process by which her commitment slowly erodes: “She had declared to herself over and over again that she had never been in love with Phineas Finn”; “Then she had thrust the thing aside, and had clearly understood,—she thought that she had clearly understood,—that life for her must be a matter of business”; “she could, she thought, do her duty as Mr. Kennedy's wife”; “She would teach herself to love him”; “Nay,—she had taught her self to love him” (PF, 22).

These patterns that are so conspicuously and repeatedly woven into the fabric of Trollope's stories have the dramatic effect of rendering us acutely sensitive, as we are in the process of reading a given story, to the fundamental changes that a character can undergo when pressure is applied to him or her. When we come upon a character in one of Trollope's novels taking a stand, making a commitment, exhibiting forcefully some seemingly fixed conviction, we find ourselves in a situation of uneasy expectation: is this character going to remain the same or undergo transformation, and, if the latter, what shape will the transformation take?

Thus, as we read Marion Fay, for example, and come upon Lady Frances reaffirming her vow of love to George Roden with the exclamation, “Nothing, nothing, nothing can change me!” (MF, 35), the ghosts, as it were, of a wealth of other Trollope stories about fixed beliefs—some held to, some broken—attend our reading, cultivating an uneasy concern about the direction this story is going to take, and instilling in us the recognition that we really cannot anticipate where a given story will take us. Will Lady Frances turn out to be like, say, Hester Bolton in John Caldigate, who refuses to be parted from John despite immense pressure? Or might she begin by degrees to doubt, for one reason or another—like some version of Caroline Waddington of The Bertrams, perhaps, whose love for George is disrupted eventually by his lack of an adequate income? Might she take the path of Mary Lowther of The Vicar of Bullhampton who, beginning to have thoughts that she may become “a millstone” around Walter Marrable's neck, starts contemplating the possibility that she must break her vow to him: “Could it be that it was her duty, for his sake, to tell him that the whole thing should come to an end?” (VOB, 30).

Whether “the whole thing” will or will not “come to an end” is the vital question that Trollope's art of kaleidoscopically varying repetitions in his novels keeps alive in our minds. The vows of fidelity, truth, and eternal firmness sworn by characters in Trollope's novels echo in our minds, reverberating in relation to each other. Sometimes the context is social or political. In The Macdermots of Ballycloran Thady swears an oath that binds him to a group of Irish conspirators—“Didn't you take the oath, Mr. Thady?” Pat Brady reminds him, when pressure starts to build (MOB, II, 3). In Phineas Finn Phineas binds himself to Mr. Monk's position on the Irish tenant-right issue: “It was impossible that he should be silent when his friend and leader was pouring out his eloquence. Of course he spoke, and of course he pledged himself” (PF, 66). Most frequently, though, Trollope distills such large issues down to the dynamics of male-female relations. So also in Phineas Finn Violet Effingham, vowing to Lord Chiltern that “I will love you always,” sounds like a good parliamentary member swearing allegiance to the party leader: “Do you not know that in these new troubles you are undertaking you will have to bid me in everything, and that I shall be bound to do your bidding?” (PF, 52). In Castle Richmond Owen Fitzgerald tells Clara, “I am happy now, whatever may occur; whatever others may say; for I know that you will be true to me. And remember this—whatever others may say, I also will be true to you” (CR, I, 3). In Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite the oath-taking pair are Emily Hotspur and her cousin George: “My choice has been made,” she tells him; “I have to trust to you for everything”—and he replies, “You shall never trust in vain” (SHHOH, 8). In Nina Balatka Anton swears, “I will be true to you, Nina, if you will be true to me,” and she replies, “I will be true to you—true as the sun” (NB, 1). In Miss Mackenzie these roles of Nina and Anton are played by Margaret Mackenzie and her cousin John: “‘I shall be firm,’ she said, ‘if you are.’ ‘I shall be firm,’ was the reply'” (MM, 20). In The Golden Lion of Granpére George Voss reminds Marie that “Your vow was for ever and ever” (GLOG, 12).

Set off against these vows are the echoes of another, challenging chord—doubts, hesitations, the birth of competing possibilities that make the firmness of a vow begin to look like entrapment to the character who has made it. In The Eustace Diamonds Frank Greystock wins Lucy Morris's love, swearing to her, “I love you so well, Lucy, that I never can love another” (ED, 12). But subtle danger signs appear in the very intensity of his insistence: “‘Always,—always. As regards this,’—and he struck himself on the breast,—‘no man was ever more constant’” (ED, 12); and then signs less subtle begin to emerge: “He had offered to marry her, and he must do so at once, or almost at once …” (ED, 18). In Phineas Finn Phineas wavers: “Dear, dearest Mary. As for giving her up, as for treachery to one so trusting, so sweet, so well beloved, that was out of the question. But nevertheless the truth came home to him more clearly day by day, that he of all men was the last who ought to have given himself up to such a passion” (PF, 69). This chapter wherein Phineas sees, as he wants to think, “the truth” of what he “ought” to have done is nicely titled “The Temptress.” Or, switching from a male to a female paradigm, Trollope gives us Lady Anna, who, having vowed to marry Daniel Thwaite, finds Lord Lovel making love to her. She will—will she not?—stay committed to Daniel:

he was not only her lover, but her master also. This was the rule by which she would certainly hold. She would be true to Daniel Thwaite. And yet she looked for the lord's coming, as one looks for the rising of the sun of an early morning,—watching for that which shall make the day beautiful.

(LA, 14)

Subjected to the characteristic Trollopian pressure, Anna is being maneuvered toward a moment of choice: “Should she be false to all her vows, and try whether happiness might not be gained in that way? The manner of doing it passed through her mind in that moment” (LA, 16). The chapter dramatizing this “moment” wherein Anna is poised on the brink of revoking her vows is titled, dramatically, “For Ever.”20

As this particular story of Lady Anna turns out, the moment is not seized: Anna stays with her tailor rather than leaping into the arms of the lord. Having teased us with uncertainty about which way Anna will turn (and having accented that uncertainty by tempting us to contemplate conventional associations between the establishment of vows and acceptance of the “lord”), Trollope steps back from the brink and invites us to bask in pleasant thoughts about how lovers' vows can triumph over all obstacles and last forever. But these pleasant thoughts reverberate uneasily in the presence of other stories that Trollope tells, wherein the dramatization of people vowing eternal love wavers on the edge of parody. So, for example, Trollope's treatment of the lovemaking between Amelia Roper and John Eames in The Small House at Allington. After drawing out of John the statement that he loves her, Amelia throws herself into his arms and seeks to elicit the vow eternal: “‘You'll be true to me?’ said Amelia, during the moment of that embrace—‘true to me for ever?’” John's response is a telling one: “‘Oh yes, that's a matter of course,’ said John Eames” (SHAA, 5). It is, Trollope reminds us, simply “a matter of course” for people “during the moment” of their embrace to swear vows that bind them “for ever.” It is also a matter of course for storytellers to construct tales that make us believe such vows of the moment endure forever. But other kinds of tales might be told. As the Trollopian narrator wryly suggests in Marion Fay, “There are heroines who live through it all and are true to the end”—but then too “There are many pseudo-heroines who intend to do so, but break down” (MF, 4).

Even when he indulges in a given story our desire to believe that people can be true to their vows forever, Trollope signals that this is only one way the story might be told. As the story of Lady Frances and George Roden in Marion Fay, for example, draws toward its conclusion, and it becomes increasingly clear that this will be one of Trollope's tales in which the lovers remain true and all turns out well for them, Trollope reminds us that we are not reading real life itself, but only a certain kind of story. In a chapter slyly titled “All the World Knows It,” Trollope makes one of the novel's minor characters exclaim, upon hearing of Roden's change of fortunes, “It's like some of those stories when a man goes to bed as a beggar and gets up as a prince.” Then, quickly reinforcing this ironic, self-referential touch, Trollope makes another character write Lady Frances a letter which begins: “I am indeed delighted to be able to congratulate you on the wonderful and most romantic story which has just been made known to us” (MF, 46).


It is significant that Trollope chooses to focus attention on human beings making vows, pledging to be true, swearing to remain firm. This places Trollope's quest to wean his reader of enthrallment by stories in the context of an almost obsessive nineteenth-century literary question about whether human nature, embedded in a world of time-dominated, metamorphosing nonhuman nature, is capable of maintaining permanent commitments. Among Trollope's contemporaries, for example, one thinks of Tennyson's In Memoriam, wherein the poet seeks to show that the lessons in fidelity that he and his beloved Hallam learned as children in books—“At one dear knee we proferr'd vows, / One lesson from one book we learn'd” (sec. 79)—are more than beguiling tales for children. Though time passes and life moves on, the poet will not let the memory of Hallam go: “Strange friend, past, present, and to be: / Loved deeplier, darklier understood; / Behold, I dream a dream of good, / And mingle all the world with thee” (sec. 129). However, Tennyson also gives us The Idylls of the King, which commences with a spring season of confident vows—“And glorying in their vows and him, his knights / Stood round him, and rejoicing in his joy” (“The Coming of Arthur,” 458-59)—only to close with a winter of broken commitments—“and knights / Once thine, whom thou hast loved, but grosser grown / Than heathen, spitting at their vows and thee” (“The Passing of Arthur,” 60-62). Sir Bedivere, to be sure, has remained true (or nearly so—recall his reluctance to fulfill Arthur's demand that he return Excalibur to the lake); but the Idylls seems pessimistic on the whole, dedicated to exploring the possibility that spirit cannot, after all, control the mutations of the flesh, and that Arthur was “swearing men to vows impossible, / To make them like himself” (“Lancelot and Elaine,” 130). Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach seems devoted to the inculcation of a like pessimism, when it sets the wistful plea, “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” (29-30), reverberating against a long catalogue that reminds us of the alien nature of the outer world—“neither joy, nor love, nor light, / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (33-34)—climaxing in a vision of ignorant armies clashing by night that recalls the “last, dim, weird battle of the west” of Tennyson's Idylls (“The Passing of Arthur,” 94). Arnold, it is true, promotes his own version of Tennyson's Arthurian ideal in his vision of the Scholar-Gipsy, “Still nursing the unconquerable hope” (The Scholar-Gipsy, 211). But Arnold's Scholar-Gipsy, like King Arthur and the Hallam of In Memoriam, remains a guardian of the hope “unconquerable” only by being removed into a world of dreams or visions beyond the time-dominated limits of human life.

These Victorian dreams of unconquerable hope, of remaining true to one another, and of pledging vows that cannot be shaken have roots in like preoccupations of Romantic literary art. Byron's Manfred, Prometheus-like, claims that he “can bear—/ However wretchedly, ’tis still to bear—/ In life what others could not brook to dream” (Manfred, II, i, 76-78). Shelley's Prometheus of Prometheus Unbound, though “Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain, / Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured,” is similarly a paradigm of ability to bear unremitting pressure without breaking down: “No change, no pause, no hope!—Yet I endure” (I, 20-21, 24). But in Romantic storytelling these paradigms seem intended to be more substantial than the stuff that later Victorian dreams are made on. Arnold, for example, clearly is not his Scholar-Gypsy; but Byron, he would have us imagine, is Manfred. And Shelley, if he cannot be Prometheus, would be at the least a version of the saint-like Asia dedicated to tending the Promethean fire: “I vowed that I would dedicate my powers / To thee and thine—have I not kept the vow?” (Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, 61-62).

Shelley's Hymn, in turn, looks back to Wordsworth and the devotions of Tintern Abbey. The Wordsworthian voice of Tintern Abbey finds itself disturbed by “many recognitions dim and faint, / And somewhat of a sad perplexity” (59-60), as its eagerly awaited return to a favored spot results in the discovery that neither the outer world nor the inner self has remained quite the same. Nature's garden has gone native: what the mind had remembered as hedgerows are now “hardly hedge-rows,” but rather “little lines / Of sportive wood run wild” (15-16). And, correspondingly but in uncomfortably reverse direction, something within the human frame that once ran wild has become uneasily tame: “Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first / I came among these hills; when like a roe / I bounded” (66-68). However, at the self's deep core, so Wordsworth invites us to imagine in Tintern Abbey, there remains a commitment that has not and will not change. The time of youthful joy in nature may be gone—“And all its aching joys are now no more, / And all its dizzy raptures” (84-85)—but, nevertheless, Wordsworth's poetic self-representation remains “still / A lover of the meadows and the woods, / And mountains; and of all that we behold / From this green earth” (102-5). The “lover” remains true to his love.

Underlying this dedication of the Wordsworthian lover in the famous poem Tintern Abbey is the vow-making spirit of The Prelude, which the Victorian reader would encounter in 1850, after Wordsworth's death: “Ah! need I say, dear Friend! that to the brim / My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows / Were then made for me; bond unknown to me / Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly, / A dedicated Spirit” (1850 Prelude, IV, 333-37). This dedicated Spirit, bound, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, to his vows, is a pervasive presence in Wordsworthian story. Some people, to be sure, may fail—like Michael's son Luke in Michael. But Michael himself remains true: “a covenant / ’T will be between us; but, whatever fate / Befall thee, I shall love thee to the last, / And bear thy memory with me to the grave” (Michael, 414-17). Margaret of the ruined cottage tale in Book I of The Excursion remains bound unto death to her departed husband: “and evermore her eye / Was busy in the distance, shaping things / That made her heart beat quick” (880-82). Emily of The White Doe of Rylstone, “doomed to be / The last leaf on a blasted tree” (566-67), is a “consecrated Maid” (591), dedicated to continued life by her brother's charge to her—“her duty is to stand and wait” (1069; italics Wordsworth's)—while the rest of the Norton clan go to their deaths. All such figures in Wordsworth's poetry are variations on the model of the dedicated Spirit—as is, of course, the Leech-gatherer of Resolution and Independence, devoted to the gathering of leeches, whether there be leeches in the world to gather or not: “they have dwindled long by slow decay; / Yet still I persevere, and find them where I may” (125-26).

There is an obvious line of continuity stretching between the Romantic Wordsworth who creates such pictures of perseverance and the Victorian Trollope who invites us to consider that, while “There are heroines who live through it all and are true to the end,” yet too “There are many pseudo-heroines who intend to do so, but break down” (MF, 4). Wordsworth, having created the character of Emily Norton in The White Doe of Rylstone, remarks tellingly in a letter that she is “a woman, who is intended to be honoured and loved for what she endures, and the manner in which she endures it.”21 One is reminded of Trollope, informing his reader in Dr. Wortle's School that “How the Doctor bore it this story is intended to tell,—and how also Mr. and Mrs. Peacocke bore it, when the sin and falsehood were made known to all the world around them” (DWS, I, 3).

The conspicuous difference, however, lies in what each writer would have us think a story can reveal. The Wordsworthian story aims at revealing by way of Emily a deep truth about human nature. Emily is, as Wordsworth's capitalizations urge us to believe, an emblematic figure who somehow reaches out to encompass all maids, and, further, the dedicated spirit embedded deeply in all human beings: “For She it was—this Maid …” (The White Doe, Canto 2, 10). Many other nineteenth-century writers, both Romantic and Victorian, share Wordsworth's idea that human nature has some deep and solid core that can be revealed to us by the discerning teller of tales. Henry James, I think, is one of these—which helps to explain why he did not understand Trollope very well. Trollope, doubtful of such ideas about stable laws of human nature and inclined, rather, to suspect that people leap in unpredictable ways under pressure, thinks the discerning teller of tales ought to help us discern that tales offer suspect revelations. In Dr. Wortle's School, therefore, Trollope gives us only “this story” about people bearing up splendidly under pressure. There are, however, other ways of telling the story—and, employing his art of repetition, Trollope shows us these other ways in other novels.


  1. See, for example, George Levine, The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterley (Chicago, 1981): “Technically, despite thematic coherence and parallel plotting, Trollope is profoundly uninteresting” (p. 185).

  2. Quoted in Donald Smalley, Trollope: The Critical Heritage (London, 1969), p. 249; the review appeared in the Nation, 28 Sept. 1865, 409-10. Compare this scathing review with James's more charitable view of Trollope's art in an appreciation published in the New York Century Magazine in 1883, a year after Trollope's death. There James proposes that Trollope's “great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual” (Smalley, Trollope, p. 527).

  3. For an illuminating discussion of artistic affinities between Trollope and James, see Henry N. Rogers III, “Trollope and James: The ‘Germ’ Within,” SEL 27 (1987): 647-62.

  4. Quoted in Smalley, Trollope, p. 146; Smalley believes the reviewer to be Richard Holt Hutton. The review appeared in the Spectator, 11 Oct. 1862, 1136-38.

  5. 1862 Spectator review, in Smalley, Trollope, pp. 146-47.

  6. Consider an anonymous reviewer's complaint about The Belton Estate in an 1866 notice in the London Review: “It is time … that Mr. Trollope should forbear from leading us through the same familiar scenes. We have followed him with docility, and not without much gratitude; but we begin at last to long for fresh fields and new pastures. A lady who cannot make up her mind whether to refuse a man or no …” (Smalley, Trollope, p. 265).

  7. The most blatant evidence of this is the way Browning plays with Wordsworth's famous claim in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads that the Poet is “a man speaking to men.” In Book XII of The Ring and the Book, Browning makes his Poet exclaim that in “Art,” contrary to this Wordsworthian notion, “man nowise speaks to men, / Only to mankind” (XII, 854-55).

  8. The most recent large-scale study of how the law figures in Trollope's thinking is R. D. McMaster, Trollope and the Law (London, 1986).

  9. James R. Kincaid, The Novels of Anthony Trollope (Oxford, 1977), p. 31.

  10. I do not mean to argue here that Trollope creates utterly unambiguous portraits in the course of presenting a case for or against one of his characters. His usual practice, rather, is to shade a portrait in some way that will remind the discerning jury-reader that there is a manipulation underway, and that the story might be told from a different perspective. So, for example, while The Small House at Allington offers us predominantly the prosecution's case against Adolphus Crosbie, it also gives us delicate hints of what the case for the defense might emphasize, were we privy to it. Thus we find Trollope writing about how Lily Dale employs “conscious little tricks of love” in her relations with Crosbie and how Crosbie did not relish being presented to the Allington society as “a victim caught for the sacrifice” (SHAA, 9). Such hints encourage the reader to think about the possibility of perceiving Crosbie's engagement to Lily in a manner less totally oriented to Lily's point of view. So Patricia Meyer Spacks, for example, in The Adolescent Idea: Myths of Youth and the Adult Imagination (New York, 1981), remarks that “one feels a certain sympathy with Crosbie” (p. 223).

  11. Christopher Herbert, Trollope and Comic Pleasure (Chicago, 1987), pp. 114, 89.

  12. Herbert, Comic Pleasure, pp. 87, 114.

  13. So, for example, Walter Kendrick in The Novel-Machine: The Theory and Fiction of Anthony Trollope (Baltimore, 1980): “The realist novel, for Trollope, is never a static structure to be contemplated or reflected upon. It is always dynamic, a process rather than an object” (p. 4).

  14. Trollope, Auto, pp. 200-201.

  15. Trollope, Auto, p. 202.

  16. Trollope, Auto, pp. 201-2; italics mine.

  17. Trollope, Auto, p. 141.

  18. Characters in Trollope who think or speak in terms of “games” are usually presented as being up to no good except their own. To take only one of a myriad cases in point, Lady Aylmer, the haughty and manipulative mistress of Aylmer Park in The Belton Estate, characteristically thinks in terms of game-playing: “The position was one of great difficulty, but the interests at stake were so immense that something must be risked. … Lady Aylmer admitted to herself that the game would be difficult,—difficult and very troublesome; but yet it might be played, and perhaps won” (BE, 19). This pejorative association is, one might note, a Victorian convention. Dickens's smilingly Machiavellian Mr. Carker the Manager in Dombey and Son, for example, is a person who “plays at all games … and plays them well” (chap. 26).

  19. As Robert M. Polhemus recognizes in “Cousin Henry: Trollope's Note from Underground,” NCF 20 (1966): 385-89, that relatively unknown Trollope novel offers a particularly clear illustration of Trollope's fascination with the manipulation of differing perspectives. Polhemus suggests that we should see in Cousin Henry Trollope's concern to present “a subjective and unflattering picture of organized society from the perspective of a social out-cast” (p. 385).

  20. Compare my discussion here with that of Robert M. Polhemus in Comic Faith: The Great Tradition from Austen to Joyce (Chicago, 1980): “For Trollope, change in personal and social life—the inevitable flux of circumstances and disruptions large and small—demands constant processes of reformation, i.e., perpetual readjustments of personality and behavior and continual efforts at reestablishing authority and equilibrium in the fluidity of being” (p. 167). That Polhemus and I differ so conspicuously on this issue traces, I would say, to Trollope's characteristic fascination with the articulation of opposing perspectives. In such situations of vow-taking as I have been discussing, he likes to make us think that being firm, keeping one's word, and so forth, is a desirable human trait. But then he also likes to give us characters like Louis Trevelyan of He Knew He Was Right, whose great firmness of mind is made to appear a destructive, maddening fixation.

  21. Letter to S. T. Coleridge, 19 Apr. 1808, in The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Middle Years, 1806-1820, ed. Ernest De Selincourt; 2d ed. rev. by Mary Moorman and Alan G. Hill, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1969-70), I, 222; italics Wordsworth's.

List of Abbreviations and Editions Used

Abbreviations and editions of Trollope's writings: Citations in the text and notes to Trollope's writings are to chapter number, prefaced when relevant by book or volume number.

AA: Ayala's Angel. Ed. Julian Thompson-Furnival. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986.

AD: Alice Dugdale. Racine, Wisc.: Caledonia Press, 1980.

AS: The American Senator. New York: Dover, 1979.

Auto: An Autobiography. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1941.

B: The Bertrams. New York: Dover, 1986.

BE: The Belton Estate. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1923.

BT: Barchester Towers. Ed. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980.

C: The Claverings. New York: Dover, 1977.

CH: Cousin Henry. Ed. Julian Thompson. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987.

CR: Castle Richmond. 3 vols. New York: Garland, 1979.

CYFH: Can You Forgive Her? Oxford, U.K.: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973.

DC: The Duke's Children. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973.

DT: Doctor Thorne. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980.

DWS: Dr. Wortle's School. Ed. John Halperin. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984.

ED: The Eustace Diamonds. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973.

FP: Framley Parsonage. 1926. Reprint. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978.

GLOG: The Golden Lion of Granpére. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1946.

HHOG: Harry Heathcote of Gangoil: A Tale of Australian Bush Life. New York: Dover, 1987.

HKHWR: He Knew He Was Right. 1948. Reprint. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1951.

IHP: Is He Popenjoy? London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1946.

JC: John Caldigate. 1946. Reprint. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1952.

KATO: The Kellys and the O'Kellys. 3 vols. New York: Garland, 1979.

KITD: Kept in the Dark. New York: Dover, 1978.

L: The Landleaguers. 3 vols. New York: Garland, 1979.

LA: Lady Anna. New York: Dover, 1984.

LCOB: The Last Chronicle of Barset. Ed. Stephen Gill. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980.

MF: Marion Fay. Ed. R. H. Super. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1982.

MM: Miss Mackenzie. New York: Dover, 1986.

MOB: The Macdermots of Ballycloran. 3 vols. New York: Garland, 1979.

MSF: Mr. Scarborough's Family. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973.

NA: North America. 2 vols. New York: St. Martins Press, 1986.

NB: Nina Balatka. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1946.

OF: Orley Farm. New York: Dover, 1981.

OML: An Old Man's Love. 1936. Reprint. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1951.

PF: Phineas Finn. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973.

PM: The Prime Minister. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973.

PR: Phineas Redux. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973.

RR: Rachel Ray. New York: Dover, 1980.

RTH: Ralph the Heir. New York: Dover, 1978.

SHAA: The Small House at Allington. Ed. James R. Kincaid. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1980.

SHHOH: Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite. New York: Dover, 1985.

TC: The Three Clerks. New York: Dover, 1981.

THOP: The Two Heroines of Plumplington. London: Andre Deutsch, 1953.

VOB: The Vicar of Bullhampton. New York: Dover, 1979.

W: The Warden. 1918. Reprint. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1928.

WFFRHP: Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices. Racine, Wisc.: Caledonia Press, 1978.

WWLN: The Way We Live Now. Ed. John Sutherland. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1982.

Abbreviations of names of journals cited in the notes follow the convention established in the “Master List of Periodicals” in the MLA International Bibliography. Other abbreviations used in the notes are as follows:

Blake, P&P The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Rev. ed., ed. David Erdman. New York, 1982.

Coleridge, Biog Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria. Ed. J. Shawcross. 2 vols. London, 1907.

Coleridge, SC Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shakespearean Criticism. 2d ed., ed. Thomas Middleton Raysor. 2 vols. London, 1960.

Keats, Letters The Letters of John Keats. Ed. Hyder Edward Rollins. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1958.

Shelley, P&P Shelley's Poetry and Prose. Ed. Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers. New York, 1977.

Wordsworth, Letters: EY The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years. Ed. Ernest De Selincourt; 2d ed. rev. by Chester L. Shaver. Oxford, 1962.

Wordsworth, Prose The Prose Works of William Wordsworth. Ed. W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser. 3 vols. Oxford, 1974.

Wordsworth, PW The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. 2d ed., ed. Ernest De Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. 5 vols. Oxford, 1952-63.

Editions used for other writers frequently cited in the text:

Arnold, Matthew. The Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold. Ed. C. B. Tinker and H. F. Lowry, 1950. Reprint. London, 1961.

Austen, Jane. The Novels of Jane Austen. 3d ed., ed. R. W. Chapman. 5 vols. Oxford, 1933.

Browning, Robert. The Poetical Works of Robert Browning. Oxford Standard Authors. London, 1940.

———. The Ring and the Book. Norton Library. New York, 1961.

Byron, George Gordon, Lord. The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. Jerome J. McGann. 5 vols. to date. Oxford, 1980-.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge. 2 vols. London, 1912.

Crabbe, George. The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. Norma Dalrymple-Champneys and Arthur Pollard. 3 vols. Oxford, 1988.

Eliot, George. The Writings of George Eliot. 25 vols. New York, 1970.

Keats. John. The Poems of John Keats. Ed. Jack Stillinger. Cambridge, Mass., 1978.

Scott, Walter. The Waverley Novels. Ed. Andrew Lang. 24 vols. London, 1898-99.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. M. K. Joseph. London, 1969.

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. Poems and Plays. Oxford Standard Authors. London, 1965.

Wordsworth, William. The Prelude, 1799, 1805, 1850. Ed. Jonathan Wordsworth et. al. New York, 1979.

R. H. Super (essay date 1993)

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SOURCE: “Truth and Fiction in Trollope's Autobiography,Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 48, No. 1, June, 1993, pp. 74-88.

[In the following essay, Super reviews the exaggerations and inaccuracies in Trollope's An Autobiography, and contends that despite the faulty facts in the work, Trollope's vision remains pure.]

It is a delicate and difficult matter to assess Trollope's judgment of Dickens, or Dickens's judgment of Trollope, at the personal level (Trollope is very explicit about his view of Dickens as a novelist).1 Their careers ran parallel in so many respects, and yet they disagreed so often on personal matters. Trollope loved the Garrick Club, Dickens quarrelled with it; Trollope was a devoted supporter of the Royal Literary Fund, and Dickens, with the same charitable intent, set up a rival organization. Yet Trollope was one of the financial supporters of the London dinner given for Dickens on the eve of his journey to America (2 November 1867), and when a few months later Trollope arrived in New York harbor just as Dickens's ship was about to lift anchor and sail for London, Trollope leaped on a tender that took him out to bid Dickens a friendly farewell. “It was most heartily done,” said the latter (Chronicler, pp. 149, 247). A warm response from Dickens to Trollope's solicitation for financial support for the widow of Robert Bell concluded: “I had heard with much satisfaction that poor Mrs. Bell had found a friend in you, for I knew she could have no stauncher or truer friend” (Chronicler, pp. 224-25).2 But Trollope was never a contributor to Dickens's magazine All the Year Round, though when the younger Charles Dickens succeeded to the proprietorship on his father's death he published there three Trollope novels, Is He Popenjoy?, The Duke's Children, and Mr. Scarborough's Family, in the span of seven years.

When the first volume of John Forster's biography appeared less than two years after Dickens's death, almost the first thing that caught Trollope's eye was the “autobiographical fragment” in the second chapter, with its notable account of young Dickens's misery as a lad working in Warren's Blacking warehouse (Chronicler, pp. 313-14). The employment lasted no more than four or five months but the autobiographical fragment makes it seem like an eternity. Trollope read Forster's book at the beginning of 1872, and late in October 1875 began his own Autobiography.3 While it is obvious that more than one lad may have an unhappy childhood, it is hard to believe that Trollope's decision to stress his own miseries at school was not colored by his reading of Dickens's story. There are, at any rate, some clear exaggerations. “It was just possible to obtain five scourgings in one day [and] … I obtained them all,” Anthony tells us of his schooling at Winchester (Autobiography, p. 18), but his brother Tom assures us that these floggings were mere tokens. An Autobiography tells us that Anthony never won a single prize at Harrow, yet a letter from his mother to a friend in 1831 says, “[Anthony] has just got a prize [at Harrow]” (Chronicler, p. 440, n. 50), and a schoolfellow quotes the headmaster's comment to himself on an English essay competition, “You did well … but, you see, Trollope writes better English than you do at present.”4 Trollope plays down desperately his instruction in Latin, yet he achieved a considerable proficiency in the language and as a mature writer published books on the works of Caesar and Cicero. When he was in need of employment soon after he finished his schooling, young Trollope was engaged as a classics instructor in Brussels by the proprietor of a school there who had known him as a pupil at Harrow (Chronicler, p. 23). And he elsewhere described education at Harrow as “a thoroughly English education of the first class.”5 A decade before he wrote An Autobiography he remarked of Winchester and Harrow, “Whilst there we made our friendships. There we learned to be honest, true, and brave.”6 The surnames of at least eight characters in Trollope's novels were names of fellow-students at Harrow; two others were from Winchester.

Some other reminiscences of his early years are also misleading or incomplete. Trollope presents as a “crushing blow” that his father's rich old uncle, “whose heir he was to have been, married and had a family” (Autobiography, p. 3), but when he wrote this he well knew that the old uncle in fact had outlived the father, who would not, therefore, have inherited from him. And he disparages as futile his father's work on an “Encyclopædia Ecclesiastica” in a way that quite belittles what a magnificent work of scholarship the project was (Autobiography, pp. 13-14).

When, two decades later and well embarked on a novelist's career, Trollope published The Warden, he was “often asked in what period of my early life I had lived so long in a cathedral city as to have become intimate with the ways of a Close. I never lived in any cathedral city,—except London, never knew anything of any Close, and at that time had enjoyed no peculiar intimacy with any clergyman” (Autobiography, pp. 92-93). Yet both his grandfathers were clergymen, and as a schoolboy for four years at Winchester he worshipped in the cathedral or college chapel three or four times a day. Moreover, he had known from infancy a Winchester prebendary, Dr. George Nott. And of course his frequent walks along the River Itchen had taken him again and again to St. Cross Hospital, the prototype of Hiram's Hospital in The Warden.7

In telling how he came upon the idea for The Warden, Trollope made a blunder as to dates that a modern editor has inadvertently restored from the manuscript. He conceived the idea, he wrote, at Salisbury, and twelve months later on 29 July 1852, he began the novel at Tenbury. But his diaries show that he was in Salisbury in May 1852, and in Tenbury on 29 July 1853, each a year later than his recollection. Trollope himself was puzzled as he read over his manuscript, and remarked, “On looking at the title-page, I find [The Warden] was not published till 1855” (Autobiography, p. 97). When his son Henry published the Autobiography he spotted the error and corrected the former dates to 1852 and 1853, but the Oxford editor in 1950 reinstated the erroneous text of Trollope's handwriting and the blunder persists in current editions, including the Oxford World's Classics (Autobiography, pp. 95-96).

An error of Trollope's that is frequently repeated by modern scholars is his statement that when he allowed the still incomplete Framley Parsonage to begin publication in The Cornhill, “it had already been a principle with me in my art, that no part of a novel should be published till the entire story was completed. … I can say, however, that I have never broken it since” (Autobiography, pp. 138, 140). And Henry M. Trollope, in his “Preface” to An Autobiography, remarked that never again, until the final novel, The Landleaguers, “did my father publish even the first number of any novel before he had fully completed the whole tale” (p. xxv). The fact is, as Trollope casually remarks, that never before Framley Parsonage had he published a novel serially or in parts, and therefore he would have had no occasion to publish anything before the whole was done. But thereafter his writing calendars show that he allowed Orley Farm, The Small House at Allington, Can You Forgive Her? and The Belton Estate to begin publication while they were still incomplete. The last-named had the same justification he had had for Framley Parsonage: a new journal, The Fortnightly Review, was to be started on a predetermined date much too soon for him to complete the work, but the opening chapters of the novel had to be included in the first number of the new Review. Almost at the moment he laid down his pen at the end of The Belton Estate he learned that Mrs. Gaskell, whose Wives and Daughters was currently appearing in the Cornhill, had died. “Had [she] finished her story for you?” he asked the publisher, George Smith. And the answer was “No.” This brought the matter home to Trollope.8 From that point only did he keep his resolution, until his final novel, The Landleaguers, which urgent demands by the publisher of a magazine again required before the manuscript was completed, and which his death interrupted when it was four-fifths done. The resolution had been reinforced when Dickens died (9 June 1870) while The Mystery of Edwin Drood was coming out in parts but only half finished (three out of a projected twelve parts had been published, and only three more had been written). As a shareholder in the firm of Chapman and Hall, Dickens's publishers, Trollope had a financial interest in the book. But he should not have made the mistake of saying that Thackeray died leaving unfinished a novel “of which portions had been already published” (Autobiography, pp. 138-39), since no part of Denis Duval had been published when Thackeray died, and Trollope participated in the decision to bring out the incomplete manuscript in the Cornhill after Thackeray's death.9 It might be added that his description of his negotiations with Smith over Framley Parsonage was slightly inaccurate—in his first interview on their proposed agreement, he said that Smith had urged him to do something on the church, “as though it were my peculiar subject,” and that he began the novel on his return from London to Ireland. But in fact he began it on the crossing from Ireland to London before he had discussed the matter with Smith; the choice of Barchester as setting was his own.10

Another of Trollope's boasts that is often repeated is the statement that he was awakened every morning at 5:30 by a servant who gave him his coffee, and that he then wrote for three solid hours before breakfast, without fail: “It had … become my custom … to write with my watch before me, and to require from myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. … The 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went” (Autobiography, pp. 271-72). “Every word was counted,” he used to boast (p. 346). On the face of it this was sheer brag and nonsense—he had better things to do than count the three hundred thousand words of a novel. And none of the manuscripts I have examined shows any evidence whatsoever of word counting. Trollope had a far easier way of keeping track of the length of his novels: he invariably wrote on paper of the same size, eight inches by ten inches, and since his margins were fairly regular and his handwriting was consistent each page had approximately the same number of words, just as the modern American typist's double-spaced, fixed-margin pages do on standard leaves. Furthermore, his carefully kept writing records show that he rather frequently did a good deal less than a full stint every day. It is perhaps some mitigation of Trollope's boastfulness that he was writing An Autobiography immediately after he had completed his longest novel, The Way We Live Now, three weeks sooner than he planned. And the advice of so prolific a novelist to all other authors that they should keep to a rigorous schedule is wholesome and useful: I myself had just read the Autobiography when I wrote my life of Walter Savage Landor many years ago, and I remained at my desk without cocktails or dinner until the day's stint of pages had been typed. Indeed, Trollope's real aim in describing his regularity was not autobiographical but didactic—“I make the claim, not with a view to my own glory, but for the benefit of those who may read these pages when young. … Nulla dies sine lineâ. Let that be their motto” (Autobiography, pp. 364-65).

The Autobiography gives a rather bitter account of a penalty Trollope paid for his punctuality. In January 1863 he had agreed with E. S. Dallas to supply The Vicar of Bullhampton for the magazine Once a Week, edited by Dallas and published by Bradbury and Evans, but the publishers had also purchased rights to a translation of Victor Hugo's L'Homme Qui Rit for publication serially beginning six months before The Vicar. And alas, Hugo did not have his novel ready. Bradbury and Evans, not wishing to have two novels running simultaneously in one journal, asked Trollope to allow his work to be published in The Gentleman's Magazine, which the publishers also owned, a magazine with a decidedly mid-eighteenth-century flavor. Trollope indignantly refused. And so Hugo was made to yield, and his novel was published in The Gentleman's beginning in May, while Trollope's was advertised to be commenced in Once a Week at the end of June. But Once a Week had not been a success; the publishers sold it to a new proprietor who sacked Dallas and, by cutting the price from ninepence to twopence a week, could not begin to pay the price Trollope had agreed on. Bradbury and Evans now determined to publish The Vicar in monthly parts, and reduced Trollope's payment by £300, apparently on the false pretext that it was shorter than they had bargained for. Trollope's account of these arrangements presents an aggressively hard-nosed, uncompromising stubbornness on his part that strongly suggests he had forgotten some key elements in the story (such as the sale of Once a Week, which he does not mention). In any event, he got his revenge in his own magazine, St. Pauls, by publishing a devastating sixteen-page review of the Hugo novel written by his friend Juliet Lady Pollock.11 Trollope's account of his indignation at Charles Reade's adaptation of his novel Ralph the Heir into a play called Shilly-Shally in 1872, without so much as asking Trollope's permission, also omits a crucial point in the episode.12 Reade thought to do the right thing by naming as authors of the play “Anthony Trollope and Charles Reade,” though current copyright laws did not require such acknowledgment, or even the novelist's permission. But the review in the Daily Telegraph charged the play “with coarseness, indelicacy, with containing ‘many things … that must make a modest woman blush’” (Chronicler, pp. 309-10); though the reviewer exculpated Trollope (as distinguished from Reade), there was still an overtone of unpleasant accusation. Six years later the Copyright Commission, of which Trollope was a member, recommended that the right to dramatize a novel be reserved to the author of the novel, as otherwise “the author might be injured not only pecuniarily but in reputation ‘if an erroneous impression is given of the book’” (Chronicler, p. 375).

The reader of An Autobiography must not forget that Trollope was first of all a novelist, a teller of tales. He makes a good deal of his “delicious feuds” with his superior in the Post Office, Sir Rowland Hill, the inventor of the penny post; “I was always an anti-Hillite,” he says (p. 283). And so Hill's daughter, Eleanor C. Smyth, was no doubt not entirely complimentary when she described the Autobiography as “one of the greatest, and certainly not the least amusing of [Trollope's] many works of fiction.”13 But there is an element of truth in her comment.

One may therefore suspect the factual accuracy of some of Trollope's more dramatic accounts. That Colonel Maberly, who became Secretary to the Post Office in 1836, a year after Trollope's appointment to a junior clerkship in the Secretary's office, had “so low an opinion” of Trollope (Autobiography, p. 44) is not altogether borne out, though Bradford A. Booth claims to have seen in 1947 in the Post Office records a memorandum in Maberly's hand opposite Trollope's name, “A very bad clerk.”14 (I myself did not find such a memorandum in the records thirty-two years later.) Nevertheless the records do show that in 1838 he was given a week's suspension from pay for failing to dispatch promptly “some important letters about postal arrangements to the railway companies,” and a warning that he faced dismissal if he did not greatly alter his attention to his duties. “I have observed with much regret an habitual carelessness on the part of this Officer, in the performance of his duties,” wrote the assistant secretary. Five months later he was again disciplined for negligence and threatened with the loss of the seniority that would have entitled him to the next promotion, and here we have a statement from Maberly himself: “I regret to be compelled to make such a proposition but Mr. Trollope is without excuse, as he has good abilities & as this neglect, which has undoubtedly brought the Dept. into discredit (for some of the Cases are most gross) is entirely produced by the want of proper attention to his duty.”15

In February 1841 the records show that “an Irish £3 bank note was found improperly enclosed in a newspaper in the post, and was given to Trollope to deal with. When, in due course, the money was unclaimed it became the property of the Revenue, but it was then discovered that Trollope had not used the proper procedure for recording the note and it had disappeared. He was at first required ‘to make good the loss occasioned by his carelessness & neglect of regulations,’” but Trollope defended himself by setting forth “what he had conceived to have been the correct procedure in such a case; he was wrong, said his superiors, but he was not made to pay up” (Post Office, p. 5). Can this have been the seed of a dramatic tale he tells in the Autobiography? There is still—or was a few years ago before the Post Office Records building was disposed of—a portable writing desk that could be placed on any flat surface, and that is said to have been Trollope's. This was the sort of article that figures in his theatrical account of a confrontation between himself and Maberly. A letter containing bank-notes suddenly disappeared, he tells us. “‘The letter has been taken,’ said the Colonel, turning to me angrily, ‘and, by G—! there has been nobody in the room but you and I.’ As he spoke, he thundered his fist down upon the table.” The young clerk was not to be outdone: “‘Then, … by G—! you have taken it,’” he roared back, and thundered his fist down too, but on the portable writing desk, from which a pot of ink shot up, “covering the Colonel's face and shirt-front” (Autobiography, pp. 46-47). The farce that ensued was brought to a close when the Colonel's secretary came in, letter and bank-note in hand.

Whatever the truth of Trollope's assertion that Maberly had “so low an opinion” of him, or even that when he was transferred to Ireland, Maberly sent to the Secretary of the Irish Post Office a warning that Trollope was thoroughly unreliable, Trollope refers to him in An Autobiography as “my old friend” (p. 133). And when in 1852 a new Superintendent of Mail Coaches in London was to be appointed, Trollope applied for the post and referred the Postmaster General to Maberly “as to my fitness for the situation” (Letters, [The Letters of Anthony Trollope] I, 32-33). Trollope did not get the appointment, not, one may suppose, because Maberly distrusted him but because Maberly already foresaw that within less than two years the Mail Coach Office would be abolished altogether. It might be added that Maberly outlived Trollope long enough to have read An Autobiography.

The story of the ink-pot may or may not have been true. But another one, even better known, certainly was not true—the story of how he determined to kill Mrs. Proudie in The Last Chronicle of Barset. Trollope tells us that he was writing away in the drawing room of the Athenaeum Club when he overheard a conversation between two clergymen who were reading some of his works in magazines and complained how dull it was to read about the same characters over and over. The chief offender, in their view, was Mrs. Proudie. Trollope got to his feet, walked to them, identified himself, and announced, “As to Mrs. Proudie, … I will go home and kill her before the week is over” (Autobiography, p. 275). And so he did, to their great embarrassment.

Mrs. Proudie had appeared in magazines only in Framley Parsonage (which was concluded in April 1861) and in The Small House at Allington, where her single appearance (in chapter 55) was a brief mention published in March 1864. The Last Chronicle came out in weekly parts, not in a magazine, and Mrs. Proudie's death was described in chapter 68, published on 25 May 1867. But it had been clearly foreshadowed in chapters 47 (published 30 March) and 54 (20 April). Her demise in the novel was dramatic enough, but there was no way in which it could have been the author's impulsive response to a chance clerical criticism. Conceivably, if the incident at the club actually took place, Trollope, knowing that her death was already in the hands of the printer, set out to embarrass his fellow club members, but that does not seem to have been the thrust of the story as he tells it. Trollope retold this tale several times after he had committed it to paper in An Autobiography, making such corrections as letting the clergymen hold weekly parts of the novel rather than magazines.16

“On the 15th of September 1841, I landed in Dublin, without an acquaintance in the country,” An Autobiography tells us of the young Trollope's move to the Irish Post Office (p. 62). Yet only ten years earlier he was daily sitting next to “William Gregory of Coole Park, near Gort in Galway,” in the sixth form at Harrow, and their friendship lasted until the end of Trollope's life (Chronicler, pp. 12-13). Again and again he is writing An Autobiography as a novelist whose stories, as he says of his own novels, “are coloured so as to make effect rather than to represent truth.” There is of course one other possible explanation for his occasional factual lapses—failing memory. Even as he was concluding his writing of the book, he claimed that though he was happy while he was reading, he had never possessed the power to remember what he read, and there is no doubt that as one grows older one tends to refashion unconsciously the events of one's life.17

The fondness for creating a good tale leads Trollope to refashion one of the early reviews of his novels. The London Times' brief review of The Kellys and the O'Kellys he sums up as a parallel between the novel and a leg of mutton—good substantial food, but a little coarse. “That was the review” (Autobiography, pp. 77-78). He himself was rather fond of the parallel between a novel and a leg of mutton, but in fact the review paragraph was not nearly so devastating as he recorded it: “There is a native humour and a bold reality in the delineation of the characters” that makes the book “substantial,” combined with a “predilection for the ruder manifestations of Irish life, taken rough as they come,” which makes it “coarse.”18

One very painful and puzzling episode is told quite late in An Autobiography. The Merivale family, related by marriage to the Drurys who were masters at Harrow School, at the school Anthony attended in Sunbury, and at the school in which he taught in Brussels, were friends of long standing; it was in the company of the son nearest his age, John Merivale, that he discovered the ruined Irish mansion that stirred him to write his first novel, and Trollope named his first son Henry Merivale Trollope. An older brother, Charles Merivale, wrote the five-volume History of the Romans, which produced the favorable reviews in 1851 and 1856 that were Trollope's first contributions to a magazine.19 He remained on good terms with both Charles (later Dean of Ely) and John. And Charles regarded the early review as “the best review of the work which has appeared.” In his book on The Commentaries of Caesar Trollope praised Merivale highly, yet Trollope tells us that Merivale acknowledged the gift of that book with a letter thanking him for his “comic Cæsar” (Autobiography, p. 339). Trollope was understandably hurt, but I myself find it inconceivable that Merivale should thus have belittled a fine piece of scholarship by an old friend. It seems to me very possible that Merivale thanked him for his “Comies Caesar,” and that Trollope misread the abbreviation. But since the Autobiography was not published until after Trollope's death, Merivale may not at the time have learned of the misreading. In any case, Trollope again praised Merivale highly ten years later in his Life of Cicero.20

One of Trollope's more famous illustrators, Marcus Stone, challenged a boast in An Autobiography that Trollope had so lived with his characters that of every one of them “I may say that I know the tone of the voice, and the colour of the hair, every flame of the eye, and the very clothes they wear” (Autobiography, p. 233). Stone had illustrated Our Mutual Friend, and found Dickens always helpful in advising the illustrator, but when he asked Trollope of the two young ladies he had to draw for He Knew He Was Right—“Is Julia dark and Clara fair? How am I to distinguish one from the other?”—Trollope replied “I do not know; do what you like.” And so Stone followed his first intuition only to discover, later in the novel, that in fact Clara had dark hair.21

If the evidence of documents pertaining to statements in An Autobiography makes one realize that the latter sometimes cannot be relied on, one must also be careful to bear in mind precisely when An Autobiography was written. Trollope tells us that his older brother, Tom, at his request provided a sketch of the plot he used for Dr. Thorne (1858); this, he said, “was the only occasion in which I have had recourse to other source than my own brains for the thread of a story” (Autobiography, p. 115). The reader may then call to mind the debt of the plot of The Fixed Period to Massinger's play The Old Law and certain significant resemblances between Mr. Scarborough's Family and Ben Jonson's Volpone—but both these novels were written some years after An Autobiography.

Nor does my argument ask us to discard An Autobiography; it remains one of Trollope's most significant books. As he remarked, speaking of his travel writings, “There are two kinds of confidence which a reader may have in his author,—which two kinds the reader who wishes to use his reading well should carefully discriminate. There is a confidence in facts and a confidence in vision. The one man tells you accurately what has been. The other suggests to you what may, or perhaps what must have been, or what ought to have been. The former requires simple faith. The latter calls upon you to judge for yourself, and form your own conclusions” (Autobiography, p. 129). Trollope inclines to prefer the latter, and the reader of An Autobiography must count on finding, occasionally, vision rather than, invariably, facts.

The book gives a lively view of the literary life of London in the mid nineteenth century. Trollope knew everyone; as a club man he was constantly in conversation with other writers as well as political figures, and his discussion of them—especially the writers—is amiable, observant, and frank. We get to know them almost as well as we know Phineas Finn or Lizzie Eustace. His affection for Thackeray and for George Eliot and George Henry Lewes adds a dimension to our interest in the works of these writers.

And the discussions of novel writing add a great deal to our understanding of the art. They are the voice of experience, practical and honest. We learn what it is to compose a novel for publication in parts, and by inference we learn what our ancestors experienced when they read a novel in installments. If at the end of a chapter now we impatiently wish to see what comes next, we have only to turn a page; the first readers of many of these works had to wait until next month's number of the magazine arrived in the post.

It is repeatedly asserted that Trollope's reputation as an artist, and consequently his popularity, suffered from his practical view of writing—his comparison of the novelist producing books to a shoemaker making shoes. I myself have never seen clear evidence of such a fall in his popularity; those who make the claim ask us to accept it on faith, to take it as a given.22 Certainly it was not amiss in him to have called attention to the fact that artistic creation is indeed arduous, not an instantaneous flash of inspiration. Some craftsmen in any profession are more skillful than others and accomplish their ends more quickly, but speed does not in itself produce or diminish artistic integrity. Trollope affirms that, although his novels do indeed vary in quality, the failures cannot be linked to overproduction or haste, and he is right.23 Moreover, there is no universal agreement about which of his novels are better and which are worse. It is of course easier, when one picks out a book, to look for the one that has a familiar name and has been praised by scholars and critics, but the accepted order of merit can be subject to change. I myself have recently devoted some time to making available a few of the later novels that are frequently dismissed offhand by scholars and critics, and have discovered that my own affection for Marion Fay, first published serially in the year of Trollope's death, is reflected by current readers who have written to me enthusiastically. But some literal-minded readers, who take everything in sober seriousness, fail to see the fun Trollope buries in it and still tend to disparage it.

For close to a century An Autobiography was generally regarded as telling us all, or nearly all, we needed to know about Trollope. Suddenly there has been an outburst of biographical writing that seeks to be as independent of it as possible—four huge biographies in a five-year span. But I venture to say that all four of these biographers warmly admire their hero's own account, and that they would regret any tendency to put it aside.


  1. See Trollope, An Autobiography, ed. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page (London: Geoffrey Cumberlege, Oxford Univ. Press, 1950), pp. 247-50, 252; and R. H. Super, The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1988), pp. 281-83 (further references to these two works are included in the text). The pagination of the 1980 Oxford World's Classics edition of An Autobiography is the same as that of the 1950 edition.

  2. See also N. John Hall, Trollope: A Biography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 262-63, 316.

  3. See Chronicler, pp. 350-51; and Autobiography, p. xxii. Critics have recently shown a lively interest in autobiography as a form of literary art, for example in the article by Robert Tracy, “Stranger than Truth: Fictional Autobiography and Autobiographical Fiction,” Dickens Studies Annual, 15 (1986), 275-89. The concern of the present essay, however, is not artistry or technique, but what Wayne Shumaker in his pioneering work nearly forty years ago referred to as “an express or implied promise of truthfulness” in autobiography (English Autobiography: Its Emergence, Materials, and Form [Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1954], p. 174). On the other hand, a skeptic like Paul John Eakin asserts (without special reference to Trollope) that “autobiographical truth is not a fixed but an evolving content in an intricate process of self-discovery and self-creation, and, further, that the self that is the center of all autobiographical narrative is necessarily a fictive structure” (Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985], p. 3). An earlier study of Trollope's questionable autobiographical statements in the light of the evidence of his surviving correspondence is John Sutherland's “Trollope, Publishers and the Truth,” Prose Studies, 10 (1987), 239-49.

  4. See also Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, 2 vols. (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1887), I, 113-14, 116; and Percy M. Thornton, Harrow School and Its Surroundings (London: W. H. Allen, 1885), p. 250n.

  5. Trollope, Lord Palmerston (1882; rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1981), p. 9.

  6. Trollope, “Public Schools,” Fortnightly Review, 2 (1865), 479.

  7. See Thomas Trollope, What I Remember, I, 137, 15-16.

  8. The Letters of Anthony Trollope, ed. N. John Hall, 2 vols. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1983), I, 317.

  9. Cornhill Magazine, 9 (1864), 136.

  10. See Autobiography, pp. 141-42; and Chronicler, pp. 108, 455 n. 49.

  11. See Autobiography, pp. 326-28; and Chronicler, pp. 256-57.

  12. See Autobiography, pp. 253-56, 311-14.

  13. Sir Rowland Hill: The Story of a Great Reform (London: T.F. Unwin, 1907), p. 278.

  14. Booth, “Introduction” to the Rinehart Edition of Barchester Towers (New York: Rinehart, 1949), p. viii.

  15. Super, Trollope in the Post Office (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1981), pp. 3-4.

  16. See Chronicler, pp. 210-11, 397.

  17. See Autobiography, p. 366; and Chronicler, p. 352.

  18. London Times, 7 September 1848, p. 6, col. 2.

  19. See Dublin University Magazine, 37 (1851), 611-24; and 48 (1856), 30-47.

  20. See Chronicler, pp. 59, 278-79, 364.

  21. Stone's address to the Boz Club was published in the Boz Club Papers, 1906, p. 24, and reprinted in Dickens: Interviews and Recollections, ed. Philip Collins, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1981), II, 188. The characters were named at random by Stone; they were not so named in the novel. In fact, it is not perfectly clear which illustrations Stone was alluding to—perhaps the vignette at the beginning of chapter 2, but perhaps the more striking plate, “The Rivals,” showing Nora Rowley and Caroline Spalding in the frontispiece to chapter 75.

  22. To be sure, the one-paragraph review by Edmund S. Purcell of Trollope's posthumous novel, The Landleaguers, does make explicit and scornful allusion to Trollope's discussion of his writing methods in An Autobiography: the novel is one more of Trollope's pieces of “conscientious task work at so much a page and so many pages a day. … [We] are willing to forget utterly what little we remember of his multifarious writings” (The Academy, 24 [1883], 328). Purcell was an Irishman, a frequent contributor to the Dublin Review.

  23. See Autobiography, pp. 121-22.

Andrew Maunder (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5554

SOURCE: “Anthony Trollope and the Visual Language of the Nineteenth-Century Theatre,” Etudes Anglaises, Vol. 46, No. 3, July-September, 1993, pp. 289-300.

[In the following essay, Maunder explores the way in which Trollope appropriates techniques used by nineteenth-century theater actors in creating the characters in his fiction.]

The novel and the drama, were, contended Wilkie Collins in his “Preface” to Basil (1852) the “twin sisters in the family of fiction.” Yet while comments on the presence of theatrical elements in the works of Hardy, Balzac, Reade, James and particularly Dickens, have become a critical commonplace (critics generally agree that they all consciously applied some of the current theatrical techniques to their own novels), Trollope is rarely mentioned in discussions of the relationship between the two genres beyond the fact of his passion for Jacobean and Restoration drama. “Mr Trollope,” wrote The Times (23rd May 1859), “carries his aversion from anything melodramatic to an extreme.” (Smalley 103) Like Charlotte Brontë, he was seen to take “Truth and Nature” as his guides, and thus “restrained imagination, eschewed romance, repressed excitement; over bright colouring too …” (Wise and Symington 152)

Certainly many “realistic” novelists did react towards what they regarded as overt theatricality with antagonism. George Eliot writing in the Westminster Review claimed of Charles Reade that the “habit of writing for the stage misleads him into seeking after those sort of exaggerated contrasts and effects which are accepted as a sort of rapid symbolism by a theatrical audience but are utterly out of place in fiction” (October 1856: 574). At the same time it is clear that just as many did turn to the theatre as a source of both subject matter and technique drawing upon what Ian Gregor has called “a whole rhetoric of effect” (Gregor 10)—one which was visual as well as aural. Even in the works of that apparently realistic novelist, Anthony Trollope, who depicted a world of polite restrained society, aspects of the art of the nineteenth century actor were adopted as part of the novelist's techniques of characterization.

John Stokes has noted that “to act” in the nineteenth century involved participation in a bravura display of human emotion physically expressed through a continued repetition of movements and gestures (Stokes 5). In 1744, Garrick, in his Essay Upon Acting, defined the art as “an entertainment of the stage, which by calling in the aid and assistance of articulation, corporeal motions and ocular expression, imitates, assumes, or puts on the various mental and bodily emotions arising from the various humours, virtues and vices, incident to human nature” (Cole and Chinoy 133). A century later Trollope's work is full of characters who recognise, like Lizzie Eustace, the advantages to be gained from trying “a little bit of acting” (ED 288) and their creator cleverly exploits stock theatrical devices as an effective means of characterization. “‘I would press you harder still to gain the glory I covert,’” the slimy Mr Emilius tells Lizzie. “And he made a motion with his arms as though he had already got her tight within his grasp” (ED 368). In the hands of charlatans such as Lizzie Eustace, Sophie Gordeloup, Felix Lopez and Mr Lupex, such gestures look overtly histrionic and stagey, yet these very larmoyant qualities, which many Victorian theatre-goers were beginning to dislike, are here adopted by Trollope as an obvious way of expressing personalities whose basis is humbug theatricality. Trollope's work is full of mockery for those (comic) characters who adopt what they feel to be the correct poses in order to disguise a lack of real depth of feeling. Trollope's description of Dolly Longestaffe's proposal to Isabel Boncassen shows the suitor “throwing himself into an attitude that was intended to express devoted affection. … Then he clapped his hands together, and turned his head away from her towards the little temple. ‘I wonder whether she knows what love is,’ he said, as though he were addressing himself to Mrs Arthur De Bever” (DC 254). Here the theatricality of descriptive gesture becomes the very expression of his Dundreary-like character. Dolly is the silly-ass-type of young nobleman; to look ridiculous is part of his eccentric (empty) comedy personality.

This relationship between the techniques used by the nineteenth-century actor and the comparable attempts at striving for effect made by the novelist of domestic realism and his characters, is not as mismatched as it sounds. Both draw on the same store of accumulated practice and knowledge as set down in the many handbooks and hundreds of memoirs of the period:

Mr Lupex was seated on a chair in the middle of the room, and was leaning with his head over the back of it. So despondent was he in his attitude that his head would have fallen off and rolled on the floor, had it followed the course which its owner seemed to intend that it should take. His hands hung down also along the back legs of the chair, till his fingers almost touched the ground, and altogether his appearance was pendent, drooping and woebegone. … Mr Lupex did not stir when first addressed by John Eames, but a certain convulsive movement was to be seen on the back of his head, indicating that this new arrival in the drawing-room had produced a fresh occasion of agony.

(SHA 449-50)

Mr Lupex follows this display of what was known in theatrical circles as “despair” by jumping up to accuse Cradell of being the cause of Mrs Lupex's unexplained disappearance. He “went” (the narrator tells us), “through a motion with his hands and arms which seemed to signify that if that unfortunate young man were in the company he would pull him to pieces and double him up, and pack him close, and then despatch his remains off, through infinite space, to the Prince of Darkness.” Apparently struck again by the thought of his wife's duplicity, he decides to relapse into the previous position of despair into the chair. “Finding it on the ground he had to pick it up. He did pick it up, and once more flung away his head over the back of it, and stretched his finger nails almost down to the carpet” (SHA 450).

One of the reasons why these characters appear so ridiculous (although their acting is not without effect on the spectators) is their operating on a higher emotional plane than the situation demands. Although the importance of making, as Henry Morley noted, “every gesture an embodiment of thought” (347) was still recognised, it was nevertheless important in an age of many different and emerging styles to fit into the type of acting demanded by the text or situation. Gesture was still an effective and necessary tool but what was more important, according to G. H. Lewes, whose On Actors and the Art of Acting (1872) is dedicated to Trollope, was when and how these gestures were employed:

it is obvious that a coat and waistcoat realism demands a manner, delivery and gesture wholly unlike the poetic realism of tragedy and comedy. … Attitudes, draperies, gestures, tones, and elocution which would be incongruous in a drama approaching more nearly to the evolutions of ordinary experience, become in the ideal drama, artistic modes of expression.

(115; 172)

One of the common faults of ordinary actors, Lewes argued, was their tendency to mix up acting styles with, as we often see in Trollope's work, unintentionally farcical results. This unfortunate juxtaposition occurs in Marion Fay—a novel which is essentially a comedy of manners but containing several characters who seem to have strayed into the novel (if their gestures are anything to go by) from the realms of high tragedy. When Lady Frances announces her intention of marrying George Roden, the post office clerk, her step-mother's reaction is suitably excessive:

When the accidental calling of the name was first heard and the following avowal made, the Marchioness declared her immediate feelings by a look. It was so that Arthur may have looked when he first heard that his queen was sinful,—so that Caesar must have felt when even Brutus struck him. For though Lady Frances had been known to be blind to her great destinies still this,—at any rate was not suspected. “You cannot mean it!” the Marchioness had at last said.

“I certainly mean it, mamma.” Then the Marchioness, with one hand guarding her raiment and with the other raised high above her shoulder, in an agony of supplication to those deities who arrange the fates of ducal houses, passed slowly out of the room.

(MF 19-20)

While the Marchioness makes the correct technical gesture for an appeal to heaven, her actions are more suited to what Lewes called the optique du théâtre of the “ideal” drama than the “familiarity of daily intercourse.” (Lewes 115) “It was evident,” the narrator of Is He Popenjoy? tells his readers, “that two scenes had been going on in the same house at the same moment. Through the door the Baroness came first, waving her hands above her head. Behind her was Aunt Ju, advancing with imploring gesture. And behind Aunt Ju might be seen Lady Selina Protest standing in mute dignity.” (IHP 267)

From these examples it might seem that Trollope reserves the striking of attitudes so beloved by the actors of melodrama as a subject for humour and that his adoption of current performance styles extends no further. Yet by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was scientifically respectable, as well as an aesthetic convention, to identify the internal mental state with its external physical expression. Actors, audience and critic depended upon an acknowledged relationship between general human behaviour and its physical expression on stage. As Paul Schlicke notes, the humour of Mr Crummles's leave-taking in Nicholas Nickleby derives from Dickens's joke that grandiloquent stage direction accurately conveys real emotion, a joke which is improved by our clear awareness that the posturing is not false, only extravagantly inflated. “[T]he underlying assumption of such prescriptions is that stereotyped expressions create an objective manifestation of human emotion. The acting was considered natural because it was an imitation of agreed exterior signs of feeling” (Schlicke 77).

Gestic expression is an important part of the communicative art of the Trollopian character, as well as of the nineteenth century actor. George Taylor has pointed out, both “actors and audience wanted to know exactly what was happening in psychological terms; they had no time for hidden motives or suppressed emotion” (43). Certain lines would demand a specific demonstrative gesture. Just as in act three of Tom Robertson's Caste when Polly tells the Marquise to leave her house, her words, “There is the door—go!” (169) cry out for a suitable physical accompaniment—so in the Trollopian novel, moments of emotional stress naturally require visual and physical expression, comic and serious. “Where is the man who can endure such a fall,” he writes of Crosbie, “without showing it in his face, in his voice, in his step, and in every motion of every limb.” (SHA 443)

Although a popular twentieth-century conception of the nineteenth-century actor is that of a figure whose rant was accompanied by crude semaphoric arm movements—what James called “hopeless staginess and mannerism” (James 106)—Victorian audiences and critics were particularly responsive to what were seen as “suggestive” movements: movements which could raise ideas in the minds of the audience. Next to the face it was the arms and hands which had the greatest expressive potential. A typical example is the representation of (feminine) helplessness, despair and also joy, expressed by the clasping of both hands in front of the body. Lewes tells a story about a girl Voltaire was coaching. She gesticulated so much and so uncontrollably, that he had to resort to making her recite with her hands tied to her side. She started off quietly but soon, carried away with the lines she was reciting, she flung out her arms forcibly enough to snap the threads. Aghast she apologized. Voltaire however, was delighted with her. The irrepressible gesture had been a good one, as irrepressible gestures usually are. This anecdote provided for Lewes proof of his claim that “it is the man and not the brain that thinks; it is the organism as a whole, and not one organ that feels and acts” (Cole and Chinoy 319). He implied that the movement of the body was impulsive rather than forced, that gesture was a natural reaction to the stimulus of the moment. When an individual experienced or encountered a particular emotion or sensation, his or her body would express itself in a certain recognisable way. This was, as Trollope was also to show, the natural response of the heroine to an exciting piece of news. Even when encumbered by a parasol and the rest of the paraphernalia of the Victorian lady. Clarissa Underwood, cannot stop herself from making “a gesture as though she would stop and clasp her hands together …” if she could (RH 56).

With this type of instinctive gesture, the degree to which it is to be taken seriously by the reader depends upon what we know about the character in question. When sincere characters like Lucy Morris or Marion Fay use it, theirs is the natural expression of girlish enthusiasm. Other characters, however, knowing what the gesture is intended to imply, exploit it for their own ends. Amelia Roper is a typical example: “‘Oh, John, is it to be thus, after love such as ours?’ And she clasped her hands together, and stood before him” (SHA 318). The precedent for this physical response is obvious, as can be seen in many theatrical paintings. Juliet, for example, was generally painted with her hands clasped modestly, looking wistfully at some distant object. Henry Briggs' Juliet and the Nurse (1827) is a notable example. In The Eustace Diamonds we see Lizzie, in an attempt to project herself as the helpless, girlish heroine of popular perception, exploiting the imploring aspect of the gesture to its fullest. “She was,” notes the narrator, “almost invincible.” As she leans towards Frank Greystock, “her eyes were full of tears, and her lips were apart as though still eager with the energy of expression, and her hands were clasped together” (ED 176).

In an age famous for its melodramas it is no surprise that one of the most popular theatrical postures which survived from the previous century, and retained its place in portraiture and photography, was that of placing the arms “akimbo.” For Trollope, use of this flamboyant gesture usually denotes the swaggering braggart. Lopez, the narrator notes, “put his arms akimbo, resting his hands on his hips, and altogether declined the proffered civility, ‘You had better walk on,’ he said, and then stood scowling on the spot till the other should pass by” (PM 315). When women adopt the posture, the effect is even more ludicrously unnatural. While there is something admirable in the way in which Amelia Roper stands up to the repulsive Mrs Lupex, such an attitude would be out of place if she were the serious, rather than the comic low life, heroine of the novel. There is something un-lady-like about such a posture and not surprisingly, in Barchester Towers it is the aggressive Mrs Proudie who feels the need to adopt it in order to cajole her husband into giving way:

“You don't mean to tell me,” said Mrs Proudie, “that you are going to make yourself ridiculous by lending your name to such a preposterous attempt as this? Mr Slope Dean of Barchester indeed!” And she tossed her head, and put her arms a-kimbo, with an air of confident defiance that made her husband quite sure that Mr Slope never would be Dean of Barchester. In truth, Mrs Proudie was all but invincible; had she married Petruchio, it may be doubted whether that arch-wife tamer would have been able to keep her legs out of those garments which are presumed by men to be peculiarly unfitted for feminine use.

(BT 70)

Trollope seems to view Mrs Proudie's posturings in the same light as the author of The Thespian Preceptor of 1810 who argues that the popular posture known as “arms akimbo” is not the attitude of “grandeur” but instead “the certain sign of vulgarity and inflated imbecility …” (137).

As far as the nineteenth-century actor and audience were concerned, hands raised above the waist signified force and intensity. “‘Unanimity is everything in the direction of such an undertaking as this’” Melmotte tells the sceptical Paul Montague, “‘With unanimity we can do—everything.’ Mr Melmotte in the ecstasy of his enthusiasm lifted up both his hands over his head. ‘Without unanimity we can do—nothing.’ And the two hands fell” (WLN 379). The regular use of the arms above the waist generally indicates great determination and force of character. It is no surprise in The Last Chronicle of Barset to find Mrs Proudie using her arms like a policeman on point duty. Again there is a precedent for this in paintings of theatrical subjects. This is after all the usual stance for Lady Macbeth as portrayed in Maclise's The Banquet Scene (1840). Trollope seems to follow the theatrical painters in his characterization. When not basing their depictions of Shakespeare's villainess on the performances of Mrs Siddons or Mrs Pritchard, artists tended to follow the usual reading of the character as being an overtly masculine female heavy whose gestures were appropriately authoritative.

In contrast, hands which fell below the waist were an obvious indication as to an individual's passivity, despair or listlessness. “The acting is full of charming detail,” wrote Henry James of a Parisian production of Molière's Mariage Forcé in 1872. He particularly admired the “way in which in a subsequent scene the young girl, listening at evening in the park to the passionate whisperings of the hero, drops her arms half awkwardly along her sides in fascinated self surrender,” claiming that this was “a touch quite foreign to English invention” (James 5-6). Yet this “eloquent” use of “intonation in gesture” on the part of Mademoiselle Reichemberg is not only the same as that displayed by Nora Rowley in Stone's illustration “‘But you must give it up,’ said Sir Marmaduke” but is also identical to that used by Mrs Hurtle in the final parting scene between her and Paul Montague “‘I ought to have known that it could not have been so’” she tells him, “‘I know I was wrong, and now the punishment has come upon me. Well;—I suppose you had better say good-bye to me. What is the good of putting it off?’ Then she rose from her chair and stood before him with her arms hanging listlessly by her side” (WLN 445).

At a basic level any act accomplished with the hands and arms such as tearing off and throwing a trinket, which the male “heavy,” George Vavasor, does in Can You Forgive Her?, would be gesturally indicated. It would be recognised (obviously) as an act of will relating in some way to the given situation. Michael Booth has pointed out that it often seems to be the case that the nineteenth century actor “cannot refer to another person on the stage without pointing at him” (190). In Trollope's The Way We Live Now, Mrs Hurtle's response when Paul Montague finally announces that he will not marry her, is to stretch out her right arm (towards him?) “as though again to grasp something” (WLN 447). The pictorialism of the theatre meant that such graceful statuesque gestures and poses were very popular. This heightened effect is presumably what Madalina Demolines is aiming for:

“I won't deny that Clara van Siever has a certain beauty of her own. To me she is certainly the most unattractive woman that I ever came near. She is simply repulsive!” Hereupon Miss Demolines held up her hand as though she were banishing Miss van Siever for ever from her sight, and shuddered slightly.

(LCB 262)

While many of Trollope's characters adopt the theatrical mannerisms popular in their youth, “‘Unwell!’ said Lady Demolines. And John was stricken at the moment with a conviction that her ladyship must have past the early part of her life upon the stage. ‘You would trifle with me, sir. Beware that you do not trifle her,—with Madalina. …’” (LCB 854) the nineteenth-century theatre also saw the emergence of the so called “French school”—exponents of which replaced the physical pyrotechnics of the “heavy” actor with delicate by-play, elegance and piquancy. The 1860s and 1870s were the years in which Robertson's success was at its height, a success which prompted the appearance of an increasing number of middle class actors whose forte was the personification of elegant urbanity. By the 1870s extravagant emotionalism displayed on stage, was in the view of Joseph Knight, The Athenaeum critic, “undignified, excessive and almost unmanly” (29th April 1876: 609). Although by the 1860s Le Brun's list of twenty-four passions was still consulted, a number of playwrights increasingly based their textual directions for facial expression on the principles of moderation and understatement. In Robertson's Caste, for example, the expressions of his characters are natural and accompany the general daily moods and feelings of his audience. The physical emotions of polite middle and upper class society were being expressed by actors like Squire Bancroft, who, according to The Saturday Review, possessed “an unusual capacity for indicating rather than expressing passionate emotion” (19th January 1878). As William Archer was to note in 1893, “suggestion” was in many respects superior to “direct presentation” (Archer 246).

Many observers then, felt that it was more effective to hint at what was happening beneath the surface, particularly when the subjects were English ladies and gentlemen. “Already we see a great reduction of gesture and mere ranting on our modern stage, and actors convey their meaning by quieter and subtler methods” wrote the playwright Henry Arthur Jones (548). Again this theatrical trend towards what was regarded as “naturalism,” as personified in the 1860s by the great French actor Charles Fechter, is reflected in the “realistic” world of Trollope's novels.

Because it was important to display, as the Athenaeum noted “feeling without going outside the boundaries of social custom” (9th October 1875), the emotions of male characters in Trollope (who are invariably gentlemen) are guided by a demand for polite reserve. Because naturalness is somehow crude, gestic expression is rarely instinctive. The characters of 1870s Trollopian London, like those depicted by Wilde, Pinero and Jones twenty years later, have taught to control themselves—as Trollope's description of Plantagenet Palliser's attempts to make Lady Dumbello his “intimate” friend demonstrate:

He did come to her, and stood over her, looking unutterable things. His unutterable things, however were so looked that they did not absolutely demand notice from the lady. He did not sigh like a furnace, not open his eyes upon her as though there were two suns in the firmament above her head, nor did he beat his breast or tear his hair. Mr Palliser had been brought up in a school which delights in tranquillity, and never allows its pupils to commit themselves either to the sublime or to the ridiculous. He did look an unutterable thing or two; but he did it with so decorous an eye, that the lady who was measuring it all with great accuracy, could not, as yet, declare that Mr Palliser had “forgotten himself.”

(SHA 611)

Although Palliser, like many of Trollope's Englishmen, is naturally inexpressive, it is also the case that his behaviour is governed by the society in which he moves—the same society which Trollope is attempting to depict accurately. As Mrs Allonby remarks in A Woman of no Importance (1893): “the secret of life is never to have an emotion that its unbecoming” (Wilde 351). Certainly much of the biting edge of both Wilde's and Trollope's work derives from the disparity of the polite behaviour displayed by his characters and the reality of feeling which lies beneath it. As in plays like Henry Arthur Jones' The Case of the Rebellious Susan (1894), characters are perpetually anxious to retain their elegant poise. Trollope often demonstrates the artificiality of this world by introducing in the midst of it, a character (usually his heroine) whose unspoiled behaviour contrasts favourably with the air of polite restraint around her. When Glencora makes her first appearance in the fashionable world of Can You Forgive Her? she is, like Wilde's Hester Worsley, “painfully natural.” (Wilde 328) The same is true of Mary Germain in Is He Popenjoy? who encounters a world where remaining dignified is all important. The women of Trollope's world are trained to restrain their emotions behind social masks, knowing, as Trollope's Arabella Trefoil does, “how much depended on her personal bearing” (AS 334).

Although self control is important, many of Trollope's characters react instinctively to good or bad news. This is particularly true for women and a noticeable feature of Trollope's serious use of theatrical gesture is his tendency to restrict its sincere use to women rather than men. In Trollope's world, hysterical men are ridiculous because they generally have the opportunity to do something about their predicament; the same is not true of women, who are invariably restricted by the social mores of the time. Arabella Trefoil, Julia Ongar and Laura Kennedy are all characters who at some time let their masks slip.

The most striking of these tragic women is the passionate Mrs Hurtle. The American widow is another recognisable type from the theatre of the late Victorian period. As categorised by Shaw in the Preface to Man and Superman, she is “a woman [who] has, on some past occasion been brought into conflict with the law which regulates the relations of the sexes. A man by falling in love with her, or marrying her, is brought into conflict with the social convention which discountenances the woman” (150). Mrs Hurtle is Trollope's version of the adventuress who attempts to transcend her past and achieve respectability. The use of expansive gesture is a way of indicating a woman who in some way threatens the dominant sexual or moral ideology of the time. Certainly many equated what was seen as an unladylike bearing with self exhibitionism. Lizzie Eustace, “much given to action, and to the expression of her thoughts by the motion of her limbs” (ED 16-17), is presumably (like her foreign counterparts) much too much inclined towards what she thinks are expressive gestures, to be attractive. Lizzie Eustace and her moral opposite, Lucy Robarts, seem to represent respectively, the disparate ideologies of English and continental femininity; the reserved, spiritual and languid versus the energetic and sexually dynamic. Similarly, in The Way We Live Now, Trollope presents us with different female characters all representing varying levels of feminine passivity/activity. Mrs Hurtle, like Pinero's Paula Tanqueray or Julia Ongar in the earlier The Claverings, is the representative repentant courtesan figure who challenges, through expansive gestures and a blatant sexuality, the chaste, pure and insipid image of the English girl. Free speaking, she throws off the usual image of cloying femininity to reveal the passionate, physically demonstrative woman beneath. “‘Why should you kneel there?” Mrs Hurtle asks Paul, “‘You do not love me. A man should kneel to a woman for love, not for pardon.’ But though she spoke thus,” Trollope tells us, “she put her hand upon his forehead, and pushed back his hair, and looked into his face. ‘I wonder whether that other woman loves you. I do not want an answer, Paul. I suppose you had better go.’ She took his hand and pressed it to her breast” (WLN 9). Trollope, presenting Mrs. Hurtle as a nineteenth-century Medea (WLN 261), shows her as a beautiful, dark, and tragic looking woman, who, although she schools herself into restraint until she becomes “soft and womanly,” expresses her emotions openly in long speeches, using her “rich and glorious voice” to harangue the man who has discarded her. She is another “witch of a woman” (WLN 389), “a wild cat” (WLN 370) for whom a “pistol or a horsewhip, a violent seizing by the neck … would have made the fitting revenge.” Yet as a lone woman, attempting to re-establish herself in a society obsessed by public opinion, hers is effectively a losing battle:

When he was gone she went to the doors and listened awhile. Then she closed it, and turning the lock, stood with her back against the door and with her hands clasped. After a few moments she ran forward, and falling on her knees, buried her face in her hands upon the table. Then she gave way to a flood of tears, and at last lay rolling on the floor.

(WLN 449)

Trollope, as we see, gives her explicit stage directions. Her rolling is presumably a representation of mental torture made physical. Despite the admiration she invokes in the minds of the narrator and his readers, she is to the nineteenth century reader a woman of dubious sexual morality. Thus although Mrs. Hurtle's writhings may seem faintly ludicrous to the modern reader, they are as “Trollope, a man of his time, realizes, the appropriate period movements for a woman of her theatrical type and situation. Mrs. Hurtle's movements are, after all those of the fictional repentant fallen woman who, in the nineteenth century, spent much of her time crouching on the floor, hands outstretched in an attitude of total despair.

Although Trollope modestly and famously describes himself as being no “favourite with the tragic muse” (BT 31) a reading of his work shows that he, no less than any other writer, was fully aware of the public taste for strong scenes which presented his characters responding to external and internal pressures. For this reason Trollope recognised, as many of his contemporaries did, the importance of making use of what G. H. Lewes termed the artistic “language” of performance in order to make his scenes dramatically effective:

The actor has to select. He must be typical. His expressions must be those which, while they belong to the recognised symbols of our common nature, have also the peculiar impress of the character represented. … It is the actor's art to express in well known symbols what an individual man may be supposed to feel, and we, the spectators recognising these expressions, are thrown into a state of sympathy. Unless the actor follows nature sufficiently to select symbols that are recognised as natural, he fails to touch us; but as to any minute fidelity in copying the actual manner of murderers, misers, avengers, broken hearted fathers, &c., we really have had so little experience of such characters, that we cannot estimate the fidelity; hence the actor is forced to be as typical as the poet is.


Although the prevailing mood of 1875 was that “people in general in plays should conform to those habits of behaviour and speech which society has found indispensable to its own existence” (Athenaeum 23rd January 1875, 133), it was also recognised that “a perfect copy of any man's expressions would be utterly ineffective on the stage” (Lewes 124). While it might seem strange to see an author whose work is apparently firmly embedded in the foundations of fictional reality, regularly drawing upon the theatrical techniques, the use of such techniques was not necessarily incompatible with fictional reality. The use of expressive gesture may have been traditionally the property of the actor but for novel readers also, the gestic statement was psychologically plausible as well as being immediately recognisable and it was not therefore, out of place in even the most realistic novels of polite society.


Archer, William. The Theatrical World for 1893. London, 1894.

Booth, Michael. English Melodrama. London: Jenkins, 1965.

Cole, T. and H. Chinoy, eds. Actors on Acting. New York: Crown, 1954.

Gregor, Ian, ed. Reading the Victorian Novel: Detail into Form. London: Vision, 1980.

James, Henry. The Scenic Art: Notes on Acting and the Drama. Ed. Allan Wade. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1948.

Jones, H. A. “Dr Pearson on the Modern Drama.” Nineteenth Century 34 (1893): 548-49.

Lewes, George Henry. On Actors and the Art of Acting. London, 1872.

Morley, Henry. The Journal of a London Playgoer. London, 1866.

Pemberton, T. Edgar. The Life and Writings of Tom Robertson. London, 1893.

Robertson, Tom. Plays by Tom Robertson Ed. William Tydeman. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982.

Schlicke, Paul. Dickens and Popular Entertainment. London: Allen, 1985.

Shaw, George Bernard. “Preface to Man and Superman.” The Complete Prefaces of Bernard Shaw. London: Hamlyn, 1965.

Smalley, Donald, ed. Anthony Trollope: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1969.

Stokes, John, ed. Bernhardt, Terry, Duse: The Actress in Her Time. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Taylor, George. Players and Performances in the Victorian Theatre. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1989.

Thespian Preceptor; or, A Full Display of the Scenic Art (The.) London, 1811;1828.

Trollope, Anthony. The American Senator. Ed. John Halperin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986. [AS]

———. Autobiography. Eds. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980. [A]

———. Barchester Towers. Ed. James R. Kincaid. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980. [BT]

———. The Duke's Children. Ed. Hermoine Lee. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983. [DC]

———. The Eustace Diamonds. Ed. W. J. McCormack. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982. [ED]

———. Is He Popenjoy? Ed. John Sutherland. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986. [IHP]

———. The Last Chronicle of Barset. Ed. Stephen Gill. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980. [LCB]

———. Marion Fay. Ed. R. H. Super. Michigan: U of Michigan P, 1984. [MF]

———. The Prime Minister. Ed. Jenifer Uglow. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983. [PM]

———. Ralph the Heir. Ed. John Sutherland. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. [RH]

———. The Small House at Allington. Ed. James R. Kincaid. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980. [SHA]

———. The Way We Live Now. Ed. John Sutherland. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982. [WLN]

Wilde, Oscar, A Woman of no Importance in Wilde: Complete Plays. London: Methuen. 1988.

Wise, Thomas, and John Symington, eds. The Brontës: Their Lives, Friendships and Correspondence. Oxford: Blackwell, 1980.

Nicola Thompson (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: “‘Something Both More and Less Than Manliness’: Gender and the Literary Reception of Anthony Trollope,” Victorian Literature and Culture, Vol. 22, 1994, pp. 151-71.

[In the following essay, Thompson investigates the way in which Victorian conceptions of gender influenced the way Trollope's work was reviewed by his contemporaries.]

“We state our opinion of it [Barchester Towers] as decidedly the cleverest novel of the season, and one of the most masculine delineations of modern life … that we have seen for many a day”—Westminster Review 1857

“My husband, who can seldom get a novel to hold him, has been held by all three [The Warden, Barchester Towers, and The Three Clerks], and by this [The Three Clerks] the strongest. … What a thoroughly man's book it is! I much admire it.”—Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1859, qtd. in Smalley 64

“We may say, on the whole, that Thackeray was written for men and women, and Trollope for women.”—The Literary World, 1884

“But this prolific author, often dismissed in his own time as a writer for Mudie's and jeunes filles, gradually accepted as a creator of adult books for adult minds … seems still in process of being discovered.”—Lionel Stevenson 1964

Gender is not something that contemporary twentieth-century critics tend to take into account or consider important when they write about Trollope's literary reputation.1 And Victorian critical reaction to Anthony Trollope does not at first glance seem structured around preoccupations with gender. A closer examination of commentary on Barchester Towers and on Trollope's later works reveals, however, that Victorian critics do employ gendered thinking to assess Trollope's works, and that their overall evaluation of his literary strengths and weaknesses does carry important gender associations and connotations. As the opening quotations indicate, Trollope has in turn, and sometimes even simultaneously, been seen as an intensely masculine writer directing himself toward a male audience, and as a popular writer focusing on young women's love affairs and emotional confusions, writing to a predominantly female circulating library audience. Unlike Charles Reade or Emily Brontë, for example, who respectively conform to or deviate from conventional expectations about gendered writing, Trollope is variously thought to do both. In order to investigate this apparent paradox, this article will examine the role of gender in several aspects of critical discussion about Trollope, including the relation between his social persona and his writing, the subject matter of his novels, his depiction of male and female characters, his popularity, his prolific production of novels, and the nature of his imagination and inspiration. This article will argue that gender considerations influence the seriousness with which Victorian critics take Trollope and that the often pejorative connotations of femininity can also be applied to men in Victorian literary criticism.

There is evidence to suggest that from the 1860s to the end of the nineteenth century the criteria used by Victorian reviewers to judge novels became increasingly polarized according to gender, with “masculine” qualities in writing more strongly valorized, and “feminine” qualities denigrated accordingly. Gaye Tuchman, in Edging Women Out, sees this unwritten poetics of gender as evidence of men's desire to wrest control of the economics of the literary marketplace from women. She argues that it was women's success in the genre of novel-writing in the 1840s and 1850s that gave men the provocation and desire to “edge women out”: “partly as a reaction to women's prominence as novelists, partly as a reaction against the … library-subscribers who crowned the ‘queens of the circulating library,’ and partly because of the clear economic opportunities that the novel offered writers, men began to define the high-culture novel as a male preserve” (47). Tuchman's argument is supported by, among other things, the archives of the publishing house of Macmillan. Women submitted more novels than men in the 1850s and 1860s and were more likely than men to have novels accepted; by the end of the century men were more likely (and women less likely) to have novels accepted, even though men still submitted fewer novels (7-8). Tuchman's argument views the quest for literary success by authors in the second-half of the nineteenth century as a fight for power between men and women. My study of the decline of Trollope's reputation in this same time period suggests that aesthetic criteria were determined not just by sex but also by gender: as a man, Trollope suffers from being associated with “feminine” literary qualities, and thus the situation is more complicated than a straightforward battle between the sexes.

A survey of literary criticism of Trollope's novels from Barchester Towers onwards reveals that Trollope was held in highest critical esteem from the late 1850s through the mid 1860s; during this period he was seen as a possible successor to the literary throne of Dickens and Thackeray, but increasingly, as the 'sixties progressed, Trollope's literary reputation as a serious artist began to decline. Skilton summarizes the tone of critical commentary on Trollope in the 'seventies as one of condescension: “He was no longer thought of as a next-to-great novelist. … He clearly retained a fairly large public, but mainly as an author of circulating library fiction” (32). Related to this loss of critical prestige, in my opinion, is the growing tension that emerges in the same period (1860s to 1870s) between admiration for the “masculine” style and persona critics associate with the author of Barchester Towers and disparagement for the increasingly feminized associations made with his writings.2 As with many other Victorian novelists, masculine associations seem to have some correlation with perceptions of literary merit.

Barchester Towers was the novel that first catapulted Trollope into the literary arena. This novel was only the second in what was to be a lengthy Barchester series, and the intense productivity of Trollope from 1856 until his death in 1884 (he wrote 47 novels in all) demands that any investigation of patterns in Trollope's reception also consider critical commentary on his later work.

Barchester Towers was published in 1857, and was, as Trollope states proudly in his Autobiography, “one of the novels which novel readers were called upon to read” (79). It was, in fact, Trollope's fifth novel; the first three had been unequivocally unsuccessful, and the fourth, The Warden, had received some, if fairly limited, critical attention.3 (Probably one of the reasons why The Warden did not attract wider attention was the fact that it was not a three-decker.) The appearance of Barchester Towers, however, proved to be the turning point in Trollope's writing career, both in critical attention and general popularity. As R. H. Super documents, 750 copies of Barchester Towers were published in 1857, of which 200 were bought by Mudie's, and these were followed by a one-volume edition in 1858 (80).4

Barchester Towers was reviewed in the following journals: the Westminster Review, the National Review, the Times, the Saturday Review, the Eclectic Review, the Examiner, the Leader, the Spectator, and the Athenaeum. Reviewers were unanimous in singling out Trollope's novel as one of the season's most distinguished offerings. The Examiner gives it “unquestionable rank among the few really well-written tales that every season furnishes” (308), while the Leader “cannot but describe it as uncommonly graphic and clever” (497). The National Review describes Barchester Towers as “undeniably one of the cleverest and best-written novels which have been published of late years” (425), and the usually recalcitrant Saturday Review devotes an entire article to it, calling it “a very clever book,” and admiring “its power and finish” (503). The Leader praises “the astonishing energy with which the author writes, the sharpness and concision of his style” (497).

Barchester Towers was thus taken seriously by reviewers, seen as intelligent, powerful, “clever,” and “well-written,” and in a class apart from ordinary novels. The Westminster Review provides the most explicitly gendered assessment, and highlights the implicit gender connotations of terms used in other reviews. In its opinion, Barchester Towers is “decidedly the cleverest novel of the season, and one of the most masculine delineations of modern life … that we have seen for many a day” (326). The Westminster Review praises Trollope for having written a “novel that men can enjoy” and for his “caustic and vigorous” qualities (327); it concludes by comparing Barchester Towers to Mrs. Oliphant's The Athelings, which is “in construction and execution altogether feminine” (327); it is perhaps unnecessary to add that Mrs. Oliphant's novel suffers from the comparison. The 1857 reviews of Barchester Towers are thus reminiscent of the strongly gendered assessments of Reade's It Is Never Too Late to Mend, praised for its “vigour” which was thought to be located in the book's content and style, seen as atypical of conventional novels, contrasted, by the Spectator, with “the sentimental woes and drawingroom distresses which form the staple of so much of our circulating library fiction” (877), and juxtaposed, to its credit, with inferior works by women writers.

Critics focus on, and seem to enjoy, what Jane Nardin terms the conservative comedy of Barchester Towers: “Barchester Towers' comedy of errors begins when a woman tries to think for herself” (33). Nardin argues that “the narrator's tone is … consistently misogynistic … and there is a lot of rib-digging, anti-feminist humor” (39). Trollope's novelistic persona in this work is clearly that of an orthodox middle-class Victorian gentleman as far as sex roles are concerned, as the resolution of the romance between Eleanor and Arabin indicates:

And now it remained to them each to enjoy the assurance of the other's love. And how great that luxury is. … And to a woman's heart how doubly delightful!

When the ivy has found its tower, when the delicate creeper has found its strong wall, we know how the parasite plants grow and prosper. They were not created to stretch forth their branches alone, and endure without protection the summer's sun and the winter's storm. Alone they but spread themselves upon the ground, and cower unseen in the dingy shade. But when they have found their firm supporters, how wonderful is their beauty. …


Many critics single out the characters of Mrs. Proudie and Madeline Vesey-Neroni for attention, the characters who are the source of so much of the novel's humour, along with the despicable clergyman Mr. Slope. The Westminster Review, for example, is intrigued by the battle for power between the Bishop and Mrs. Proudie, and is paternally anxious for Eleanor's dangerous independence to end in matrimony: “We are anxious for the widow, and long to have her havened out of her perilous widowhood in fast wedlock; man's great ambition to become a Bishop, and woman's wonderful art in ruling one, cannot fail to interest us exceedingly” (327). The Times also singles out for attention the conflict between the sexes, clearly identifying with the Bishop:

Perhaps the scenes between the Bishop and Mrs. Proudie are a little overdrawn, but, although highly coloured, they are not the less amusing delineations of human misery, as experienced by a man who permits himself not only to be henpecked in his private relations, but also to be in his public capacity under female domination. The poor bishop is not only assailed by his wife in the privacy of his dressing-room, he cannot receive a visitor without her permission.


Critics seem attracted by the treatment of relations between the sexes and by the conservative nature of the humour.

In her book on Victorian novelists, Mrs. Oliphant refers to both Trollope and Reade as “robust and manly figures,” writers who “will always stand together in the front of the second rank of Victorian novelists” (471-72). Leaving aside for the moment the vexed question of Trollope's rank among novelists, one of the more interesting aspects of criticism on Trollope is the way it tends to blur the boundaries between Trollope the man and Trollope the writer. Critics viewed Trollope's persona as extremely masculine, and as perfectly congruent with ideas about appropriate masculinity.5 They frequently compared Trollope's lifestyle, attitudes, persona, or beliefs with the details of his work. This delicate line between Trollope's public image and writing usually functioned to his advantage, giving him credibility and allowing reviewers to identify and sympathize with the writer as “one of us,” an educated and somewhat conservative mid-century gentleman.

Time, for example, writes admiringly of the similarities between Trollope's own conversation and the dialogue in his novels, and between his style as a hunter and his style as a writer:

As it is with the dialogue of Mr. Trollope's literary heroes and heroines, so is it with the conversation of Mr. Trollope himself. In each there is the same definiteness and direction; the same Anglo-Saxon simplicity. … As a writer … Mr. Trollope is precisely what he is, or used to be, as a rider across country. He sees the exact place at which he wants to arrive. He makes for it; and he determines to reach it as directly as possible. There may be obstacles, but he surmounts them.


David Cecil's remarks on Trollope, written in 1934, still echo Victorian discussion of the author. Like so many Victorian critics, he praises Trollope for being a “sensible man of the world”: “Like the other mid-Victorian gentlemen he enjoyed hunting and whist and a good glass of wine, admired gentle, unaffected, modest women, industrious, unaffected, manly men” (228).

Critics praised Trollope for his knowledge and experience of the world, and such compliments are always explicitly or implicitly based on gender. Time, for example, admires his “manly imagination” and admires the way Trollope “exemplifies and enforces” his ideas “with whatever suggests itself as suitable in the treasure-house of diversified knowledge and experience which he has assimilated” (632). The North British Review is impressed by Trollope as an experienced “man of the world”: “His books are the result of the experience of life, not of the studious contemplation of it. … While we read them we are made to share … the experience of a man who in going through his own daily business, has been brought in contact with an immense variety of people; who has looked at so much of the world as it came in his way to consider, with a great deal of keenness, kindness, and humour” (370).

While such experience of the world is theoretically open to both sexes, being a “man of the world” in Victorian society usually involves being male. Trollope is thought to reap literary advantages from his own experience as a Victorian gentleman. The North British Review, for example, believes that Trollope's combination of knowledge of the world with his subtlety allows him to outshine all female writers:

Mr. Trollope, with the delicate perception which he possesses, seizes upon the distinctive features which underlie so much apparent uniformity, and creates, or rather portrays, a character which is not the less amusing because it is perfectly commonplace. Some female writers have possessed this peculiar subtlety in still greater perfection, but then it is accompanied in Mr. Trollope with a masculine maturity and a knowledge of the world to which there is no kind of parallel in Miss Austen nor in any of her English sisters.


The ease with which critics are able to identify and sympathize with Trollope reveals how his masculine persona enhances his literary credibility. The Saturday Review is disarmed by the similarities between Trollope's own profile and that of its own readers and reviewers: “he always writes like a gentleman, and like an educated, observant, and kindly man” (1859, 368). The North British Review writes that Trollope “thoroughly understands, because he shares the thoughts and feelings of the majority of educated Englishmen” (370).

Occasionally, the intensity of Trollope's masculine image or persona creates a feeling of disjunction between the man and his work, as McMaster comments: “At social gatherings he was a bluff and blustering presence, and people were often astonished at the contrast between the delicacy of his novels and the aggressive assertiveness of their author: ‘The books, full of gentleness, grace and refinement; the writer of them bluff, loud, stormy, and contentious,’ wrote his friend W. P. Frith” (qtd. in McMaster 304).

When critics comment specifically on Trollope's writing, their impression of Trollope the man casts a constant shadow over their observations. As David Skilton remarks, “in general he is socially approved by the critics, even the fastidious Saturday naming him as ‘one of the few popular writers of the day who always write as a gentleman and a man of sense and principle should write’” (8). Writing “as a gentleman and a man of sense” is seen by most critics as one of Trollope's main talents, if not his central one. Henry James admires Trollope's “masculine” thought, stance, and judgment: “He writes, he feels, he judges like a man, talking plainly and frankly about many things, and is by no means destitute of a certain saving grace of coarseness” (99). James thus equates Trollope's straightforward lack of prudishness with masculinity.6

The clarity and plainness of Trollope's style are also complimented as a masculine trait. Geoffrey Tillotson, writing recently, states that Trollope's style is characterized by “a preference for monosyllables. It likes plain words” (56). It seems to be exactly this aspect of Trollope's style that strikes critics as masculine. Time, in 1879, expresses its enjoyment of the “definiteness and direction; the same Anglo-Saxon simplicity” (627) of Trollope's style. Paul Elmer More praises Trollope's “clear, manly, straightforward style” (91).

The North British Review admires Trollope's plots, and believes that they conjure up the delights of boyhood confrontations: in an 1864 article it calls them “simply a new version of the old fighting stories of our boyhood transferred to a far more delicate atmosphere; and we watch the struggle between Mrs. Proudie and Archdeacon Grantly with very much the same kind of anxiety as that with which we used to regard the engagements of the Deerslayer with the bloody Mingoes” (378).

The posthumous appearance of Trollope's An Autobiography was greeted by Richard Holt Hutton in the Spectator within an explicitly gendered framework:

The absolute frankness of An Autobiography is most characteristic of Mr. Trollope; and so is its unequalled—manliness we were going to say;—but we mean something both more and less than manliness, covering more than the daring of manliness and something less than the quietness or equanimity which we are accustomed to include in that term, so we may call it, its unequalled masculineness.”


And David Cecil's reassessment of Trollope admires the “masculine friendliness” of Trollope's “tone of voice,” the “genial, leisurely masculinity” of Trollope's “vital and vigorous” humour, and the strength of his satire, which is not weakened “by diluting it in sentimental rosewater” (244-57).

Critics often attributed their enjoyment of Trollope, then, to his “masculine” qualities, and in many respects identification and discussion of Trollope's strengths revolved around male gendered connotations. The volatile nature of Trollope's reception, however, is more complicated and strange than the preceding discussion might imply. Despite critical perceptions of Trollope the man and Trollope the writer as intensely masculine, many critics, paradoxically, also felt that Trollope's writing had many feminine qualities. This perception grew stronger as the 1860s progressed. Occasionally such critics praised Trollope for the versatility and imagination that allowed him to exhibit supposedly feminine writing characteristics; more frequently, just as perceptions of masculine qualities in Barchester Towers raised his critical reputation, feminine associations with his later work, are, as I will show, partly responsible for critical attacks on Trollope, ranging from a refusal to take him seriously as a leading and important writer, to an affectionate dismissal as entertaining but slight.

Critics occasionally praised Trollope's juxtaposition of “masculine” and “feminine” qualities, as in the following 1882 remark by the Saturday Review:

He was in the best sense of the word a masculine man and writer, and yet he knew more of the feminine mind and nature than any author of his generation. … Among many signal merits of Mr. Trollope's genius was this—that he could handle at will and with equal success the masculine and the feminine nature and bent.


And the North British Review, in the 1864 article quoted above, argues that Trollope's ability to combine the “delicate perception” and “subtlety” of feminine writers with masculine strengths puts him in a unique category, one clearly above the reach of women writers.

More usually, however, Trollope's “feminine” qualities caused him to be taken less seriously. As the preceding remarks from the Saturday Review and the North British Review indicate, Trollope's apparent knowledge of the women and insight into their characters was widely remarked upon and seen as a feminine trait. The Saturday Review, praising his “extraordinary insight” into the “working of the feminine … mind” (755), recounts a story to this effect: during a dinner conversation, someone posed the following question to Trollope, “‘Mr. Trollope, how do you know what we women say to each other when we get alone in our rooms?’” (755). The Edinburgh Review seems perplexed at the apparent paradox in Trollope's ability to identify with young women in the creation of his numerous heroines: “Here we have a middle-aged or elderly gentleman worming himself into the hearts and confidences of young ladies, and identifying himself with the innermost workings of their minds; and a very remarkable phenomenon it is” (qtd. in Helling 81). Henry James, adopting a rather sinister predatorial image, also comments on Trollope's fondness for depicting young English women: “Trollope settled down steadily to the English girl; he took possession of her, and turned her inside out” (qtd. in Helling 82).

But this ambivalent admiration for the attention Trollope devoted to his heroines and the insight he seemed to have into their thoughts and feelings was also frequently the occasion for critical dismissals, as in the following 1869 comment from the Fortnightly Review: “[W]e admit Mr. Trollope's power in describing young ladies in love and in doubt. He knows English girls by heart … as the prose laureate of English girls of the better class, why should not Mr. Trollope record something else beside flirtations that end well?” (198)

Unlike Charles Reade, for example, who chose “epic” plots based on theme and action rather than character analysis, Trollope was more attracted to romance-based plots and character. Burns describes Reade as “consciously abjuring the techniques of Trollope and the domestic novelists (whose works he dismissed as ‘chronicles of small beer’) in an effort to create epic characters equal to what he conceived to be his epic theme” (159). It is quite clear that for Reade, Trollope's “chronicles of small beer” cannot possibly measure up to his “epic themes.” Trollope himself was quite candid about the importance of the romantic plot to his fiction. In his lecture on novels, “On English Prose Fiction As A Rational Amusement,” Trollope states boldly that novels “not only contain love stories, but they are written for the sake of the love stories” (Parrish 109). As Park Honan stated recently, “Trollope's women remind us that he had immense sentimental energy” (323).

Unfortunately for Trollope, being regarded as a “chronicler of young ladies' thoughts” was not conducive to being taken seriously as a novelist. The Fortnightly Review's praise of Trollope's Last Chronicle of Barset reads like a response to such attacks on Trollope's work: “[In his] Last Chronicle of Barset [Mr. Trollope] has given us glimpses of a certain tragic and poetic power that place him far above any chronicler of young ladies' thoughts” (190). The implication clearly is that the thoughts of women, young women especially, are by definition frivolous and silly rather than interesting or serious.

One of the ways in which critics classified and evaluated Trollope was by defining his readership. Discussion about the sex of Trollope's readership led inevitably to evaluative statements about his merit as a writer. Barchester Towers was greeted by the Wesminster Review as “a novel that men can enjoy” (1857, 327), and Elizabeth Barrett Browning praised The Three Clerks as “a thoroughly man's book,” describing how her husband who normally did not like novels was “held” by Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, and The Three Clerks (qtd. in Smalley 64). As Trollope became increasingly popular, however, critics began to categorize his audience as both male and female, and, in some cases, as predominantly female. The Times, for example, in an 1859 article, argues that Trollope is suitable both for “patrons of Mudies” and for “thoughtful men”: “To those who are in the habit of reading novels it is unnecessary to say that Mr. Trollope is one of the most amusing of authors; and to those who in general prefer blue-books, statistics, and telegrams, but now and then indulge in the enormity of romance, we may report … that he is a ‘safe man’” (109). In a retrospective assessment of Trollope's readership, Michael Sadleir echoes this judgment, calling Trollope “at the same time … a novelist for the jeune fille and a most knowledgeable realist” (373).

Trollope himself, writing about the author's relationship to his readers, describes novel readers in primarily female terms, describing how they receive instruction in the ways of the world from the novelist:

The novelist creeps in closer than the schoolmaster. … He is the chosen guide, the tutor whom the young pupil chooses for herself. She retires with him, suspecting no lesson, safe against rebuke, throwing herself head and heart into the narration … and there she is taught—how she shall learn to love; how she shall receive the lover when he comes. …

(qtd. in Helling 109)7

Presumably we can take these remarks as indicative of Trollope's sense of his implied and actual reader. Regardless of Trollope's own assessment of his readership, Trollope's popularity as a writer, and thus his status as a circulating library novelist, seems to be partly responsible for his reputation as a writer for young women.

The Saturday Review, for example, writes disparagingly of the popularity of Framley Parsonage's serialization in Cornhill Magazine: “[T]he author of Framley Parsonage is a writer who is born to make the fortune of circulating libraries. At the beginning of every month the new number of his book has ranked almost as one of the delicacies of the season; and no London belle dared to pretend to consider herself literary who did not know the very latest intelligence about the state of Lucy Robarts' heart and of Griselda Grantley's flounces” (1861, 452).8 It is perhaps only a small step from this kind of gendered assessment of readership to the pronouncement of the Literary World in 1884 that while Thackeray is a writer for men, Trollope is a writer for women. Trollope's view of life is, according to this periodical, “nearer what we may call the female view,” and thus, “we may say, on the whole, that Thackeray is written for men and women, and Trollope for women” (275). The Literary World goes on to praise Thackeray as “rooted in what is permanent on our nature” whereas Trollope's pictures are destined for only transient popularity.

Trollope's mass popularity and consequent association with circulating libraries constitute (along with his focus on romantic plots and interest in female characters) grounds for many Victorian critics to dismiss him as a serious writer, although it was common for such critics still to express their enjoyment of Trollope. In 1859 the Times places Trollope firmly in the category of circulating library writer by virtue of his popularity: “If Mudie were asked who is the greatest of living men, he would without one moment's hesitation say Mr. Anthony Trollope. … Trollope is, in fact, the most fertile, the most popular, the most successful author—that is to say, of the circulating library sort” (12; my emphasis). For the Times, however, Trollope's association with the circulating library raises its prestige rather than lowering Trollope's: “These novels are healthy and manly, and so long as Mr. Anthony Trollope is the prince of the circulating library our readers may rest assured that it is a very useful, very pleasant, and very honourable institution” (12). Trollope's continued association with Mudie's, however, eventually led to some critical dismissal. Being “the prince of the circulating library” was a somewhat dubious privilege.

Trollope was also criticized for being unimaginative or for having a mechanical kind of imagination that reproduces rather than creates. Trollope did receive praise for his ability to replicate Victorian society and life, but many Victorian critics saw this as essentially artless. The Saturday Review, for example, in 1861, states that “Mr. Trollope himself nowhere pretends to do more than to write down what he sees going on around him. He paints from the outside” (452). Trollope's reputation for superficiality of imagination, and a prolificacy of production that seemed incompatible with “true” genius or even artistry, had a derogatory influence on Trollope's literary reputation. Both accusations had certain feminine connotations or associations, as I will argue.

The North British Review (in 1864) and the Fortnightly Review (in 1869) reiterate the complaint of the Saturday Review about the apparent absence of imagination in Trollope's brand of realism. The North British Review suggests that Trollope disqualifies himself from the ranks of imaginative artists through his emphasis on realism: “he represents ordinary characters, and paints real life as it is, only omitting the poetry. The highest object of imaginative literature he neither attains nor aims at” (401). The Fortnightly Review argues that “commonplace” life is incompatible with high literary art: “The genteel public of the day may demand portraits of themselves … but no amount of skill can make common-place men and common-place incidents and common-place feelings fit subjects of high or true literary art” (196).9

These remarks all stem from similar assumptions about the components and attributes of great art: high art should not rely too much on everyday life, but should transcend these particulars by suggesting universals or by dealing only with the heroic or extraordinary. Perhaps inevitably in the divisions and hierarchies of Victorian culture, rigidly schematized according to gender, such critiques and adjectives assume gender associations; the critical objections to Trollope cited above correspond closely to the kind of critical attacks levelled at women's writing. “Masculine” was identified with high-culture, male readers, originality, power and truth, whereas “feminine” was associated with popular culture, female readers, and stereotypically female qualities such as lack of originality, weakness of intellect, and feebleness of ideas. Trollope's literary reputation, from the early 1860s onwards, suffered from being feminized, from being burdened with the kind of critiques that were more usually bestowed upon popular women writers.

In 1867 and 1868, Trollope conducted a literary experiment producing two novels, Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, that he published anonymously. The London Review responded thus to Linda Tressel on May 30, 1868: “We are not aware that Nina Balatka was ever said to be the writing of a woman … but the appearance of Linda Tressel almost settles the point. The heroic fortitude, the simple frankness, and maidenly honor of Nina Balatka were the attributes of a creation which might have arisen in the mind of a male artist; but Linda Tressel seems to us altogether a woman's woman” (qtd. in Smalley 20). This interesting observation sheds some light on what was perceived as intrinsically yet paradoxically feminine in the character portrayals in Trollope's other novels.

The world of Trollope's novels was a very recognizable one for his readers, focusing as it did primarily on genteel middle-class Victorian relationships in society. And while domestic realism was clearly not the exclusive preserve of women writers, it was, as Showalter reminds us, seen as their most appropriate domain: “By the 1840s women writers had adopted a variety of popular genres, and were specializing in novels of fashionable life, education, religion, and community, which Vineta Colby subsumes under the heading ‘domestic realism’” (20). Tuchman argues that women writers were associated “with the least-admired aspects of novels: the details of personal, emotional, and everyday life” (“When the Prevalent” 154).

Women writers were thought to specialize in domestic realism because it required less imaginative and intellectual effort or strength, allowing them to passively regurgitate the details of life they saw around them. Lack of imagination was seen as one of the chief limitations of women writers for many Victorian critics. R. H. Hutton, in an 1858 essay for the North British Review, argues this position: “It may seem a harsh and arbitrary dictum that our lady novelists do not usually succeed in the field of imagination. … Yet we are fully convinced that this is the main deficiency of feminine genius. It can observe, it can recombine, it can delineate, but it cannot trust itself further; it cannot leave the world of characteristic traits and expressive manner” (qtd. in Helsinger 52-53). G. H. Lewes, in his essay “The Lady Novelists,” also argues that women's writing is characterized by a close adherence to domestic experience rather than inspired by intellect or imagination: “The domestic experience which forms the bulk of women's knowledge finds an appropriate form in novels” (Westminster Review 133). One writer in 1858 held that women writers gravitated towards unimaginative portraits of everyday life due to their intellectual short-comings:

In many ways, the natural limitations of feminine power are admirably adapted to the standard of fiction held up as the true model of a feminine novelist in the last century. It was then thought sufficient to present finished sketches of character, just as it appeared under the ordinary restraints of society; while the deeper passions and spiritual impulses, which are the springs of all the higher dramas of real life, were, at most, only allowed so far to suffuse the narrative as to tinge it with the excitement necessary for a novel.

(North British Review 472-73)

It is apparent that the kind of criticisms directed towards Trollope's supposed lack of imagination and focus on domestic realism were also characteristic criticisms aimed at women's writing. In my judgment, Trollope is taken less seriously as an artist because of his apparently “feminized” attributes as a writer in these respects. As Tuchman argues, “by 1870 men of letters were using the term high culture to set off novels they admired from those they deemed run-of-the-mill” (3). Tuchman analyzes the readers' reports for the publishing house of Macmillan, run by Morley, and believes that the readers viewed “high-culture” in terms of gender.

As Morley and his successors tried to distinguish and define the high-culture novel through their in-house reviews, they insistently identified men with high culture and women with mass or popular culture, although they did not use these twentieth-century terms. They identified men with ideas capable of having an impact upon the mind—with activity and the production orientation associated with high culture. Women were identified with mass audiences, passive entertainment, and … popular culture.


Trollope, then, is condemned by many Victorian critics for choosing to focus on “common-place incidents and common-place feelings,” for ignoring the “highest object of imaginative literature,” for being uncomfortably close in popularity and subject-matter to female “circulating-library” novelists, although his skill and wide experience of life make him, for many critics, superior to such “second-rate” writers. An important testimony to these kinds of associations is the Saturday Review's conflation of feminized content, commercial popularity, imaginative weakness, and artistic inferiority in the following 1863 critique of Rachel Ray: “There is a brisk market for descriptions of the inner life of young women, and Mr. Trollope is the chief agent in supplying the market. … Mr. Trollope … has taught himself to turn out a brick that does almost without straw, and is a very good saleable brick of its kind” (qtd. in Skilton 54).

Trollope's precarious position as a serious Victorian writer was also endangered by his productivity. His ability to write so many books, one after the other, was seen as suspicious, tantamout to a rejection of high aesthetic seriousness and to an adoption of a money-motivated and formulaic approach. From 1857 to 1869, twenty reviews of different Trollope works appeared in the Athenaeum, twenty-four in the Saturday Review, and twenty-four in the Spectator (Skilton 12). Of course other Victorian writers such as Dickens, Mrs. Oliphant, or Charlotte Yonge were also prolific, but Trollope is unusual, unique even, not only for the sheer quantity of novels he wrote, but for his own outspoken and gleeful pride in his production. As he put it in his Autobiography:

And so I end the record of my literary performances,—which I think are more in amount that the works of any other living English author. If any English authors not living have written more … I do not know who they are. I find that … I have published much more than twice as much as Carlyle. I have also published considerably more than Voltaire, even including his letters. … I am still living and may add to the pile. … It will not, I am sure, be thought that, in making my boast as to quantity, I have endeavoured to lay claim to any literary excellence. … But I do lay claim to whatever merit should be accorded to me for persevering diligence in my profession.


Although men, such as G. P. R. James and G. W. M. Reynolds, as well as women wrote prolifically and for commercial reasons, women in general were thought to be more susceptible to rapid and unskilled writing, a prejudice that goes back to the eighteenth-century idea of “scribbling women.” Greg in his essay “False Morality of Lady Novelists” states that “there are vast numbers of lady novelists, for much the same reason that there are vast numbers of sempstresses”: “Every educated lady can handle a pen tant bien que mal: all such, therefore, take to writing—and to novel-writing—as the kind which requires least special qualification and the least severe study, and also as the only kind which will sell” (qtd. in Ewbank 11). Lewes protests in an 1865 essay against the “presumptuous facility” of “indolent novelists,” and implies that women novelists are especially guilty (Nadel 361). Dallas felt that “women have a talent for personal discourse and familiar narrative, which, when properly controlled, is a great gift, although too frequently it degenerates into a social nuisance” (qtd. in Showalter 82). Showalter argues that women's writing was seen as effortless, an extension of their natural role and instinct: “Such an approach [i.e., that of Dallas] was particularly attractive because it implied that women's writing was as artless and effortless as birdsong, and therefore not in competition with the more rational male eloquence” (82).

Trollope was vulnerable to similar accusations because of his enormous productivity. Many critics felt that the sheer volume and rapidity of his literary production meant that the works had to be produced “naturally,” without undue intellectual exertion. His notorious statements about writing in his Autobiography only served to accentuate existing distrust and disregard for his status as a literary figure.10 Trollope was perhaps more vocal about the quantity of his work and the financial rewards that followed than any other Victorian figure; Payn writes that “[h]e took almost a savage pleasure in demolishing the theory of ‘inspiration,’ which has caused the world to deny his ‘genius’” (167). Trollope was thus dangerously vulnerable to the kinds of critical attacks and associations normally connected with the productivity and literary status of women writers. McMaster attributes negative and ambivalent responses to Trollope to the rate of his literary production: “Trollope's enormous productivity has had much to do with a patronizing dismissal of his work by some critics and a rather apologetic attitude adopted even by his admirers” (317).

Victorian critics were preoccupied with classifying Trollope as a major or second-rate writer. Despite their initial enthusiasm for Barchester Towers and its immediate successors in the late 1850s and early 1860s, and despite their own enjoyment of Trollope's work, many had reservations about Trollope's status as a leading novelist who would rank with Dickens or Thackeray. Skilton attributes part of the critical ambivalence to a degree of insecurity about what the “rules” were for excellence in the relatively new genre of novel: “We see the reviewers confronted by the problem of whether or not to regard him as a great novelist, and of how to establish in the first place what constitutes greatness in a genre in which they are still not at home, critically speaking” (xiii). (Dickens and Thackeray were often taken as the two “masters” against whom other contenders were measured (resurrecting the Richardson/Fielding opposition of the previous century), and of course such a preconception or standard tended to somewhat unfairly influence critical vision and judgment, making it harder to see a novelist in terms of his or her unique strengths.)

The Times obituary of Trollope had no reservation about placing him in the second-rank of novelists, along with Austen and Gaskell who wrote “realistic studies of English domestic life” (qtd. in MacDonald 113). The Saturday Review, however, perhaps remembering their previous partiality to Trollope, rose to Trollope's defense, objecting vehemently to critics who associated him with second-ranked authors like Austen: “it is only ‘the stupid critic’ that has placed Jane Austen and Trollope ‘together in the second rank’” (qtd. in Fielding 434).11

Olmsted and Welch suggest that critical ambivalence towards Trollope really began in the 1860s, and argue that the most interesting aspect of Trollope's critical reputation has been the general reader's refusal to be influenced by the often negative remarks of the critics: “Trollope's readers have for the most part been going it alone since the 1860s when writers for the Athenaeum and the Saturday Review first began to express their irritation at Trollope's ‘superstitious adherence to facts’ and at what Henry James called ‘the inveteracy with which he just eludes being really serious’” (xi).

It is not coincidental that both of the obituaries mentioned above juxtapose Trollope with Jane Austen. It was, in fact, a critical commonplace to compare Trollope with Austen. As Smalley states, “both stopped short of the depth of vision or the high seriousness that were essential to art of a more elevated sort. Both were, however, wonderfully amusing” (14). Smalley's summary conveys the sense that domestic realism was seen as somehow incompatible with high-serious art, as well as the way in which Trollope's popularity was actually detrimental to his stature as an artist. Smalley goes on to imply a similar point when he states that Victorian critics regarded Trollope as “a popular novelist delightful to read” rather than as a “genius” (26).

Implicit in the idea that Trollope was “popular” and that he was “delightful to read” is the reservation that he was too accessible to the ordinary novel-reader to be taken very seriously. Stephen's dismissal of Trollope in 1901 is particularly telling in this respect: “We can see plainly enough what we must renounce in order to enjoy Trollope. We must cease to bother ourselves about art. … We must not desire brilliant epigrams suggesting familiarity with aesthetic doctrines or theories of the universe. A brilliant modern novelist is not only clever, but writes for clever readers” (180). Sadleir, in 1927, makes an equally revealing observation with retrospective insight: “The initial obstacle to a sober-minded definition of Trollope's novels is that they provide a sensual rather than an intellectual experience” (366). Again, I would argue that perceptions like these have implicit gender associations—clever, educated, and intellectual were adjectives more commonly associated with male writers and readers in Victorian culture, and even though Stephen and Sadleir's comments are from the early twentieth-century, they sum up the nebulous qualities of Trollope's work and image that complicated the assessment and ranking of Trollope by Victorian critics from the 1860s until his death in 1884.

Frederic Harrison's comparison of Trollope with Austen in 1895 explicitly feminizes Trollope:

Now Trollope reproduces for us that simplicity, unity, and ease of Jane Austen, whose facile grace flows on like the sprightly talk of a charming woman, mistress of herself and sure of her hearers. This uniform ease, of course, goes with the absence of all the greatest qualities of style; absence of any passion, poetry, mystery, or subtley. He never rises, it is true, to the level of the great masters of language. But, for the ordinary incidents of life amongst well-bred and well-to-do men and women of the world, the form of Trollope's tales is almost as well adapted as the form of Jane Austen.


These remarks demonstrate the association of artlessness so many nineteenth-century critics had with women's writing, the identification of domestic subject-matter as somehow incompatible with the “great masters,” and the way Trollope's reputation suffers from being associated with “the sprightly talk” and “facile grace” of a “charming woman.” Brophy, writing as late as 1968, reiterates the Trollope/Austen comparison, feminizing Trollope even more strongly than Harrison: “Indeed Trollope is that nice, maundering spinster lady with a poke bonnet and a taste for cottagey gardens whom superficial readers thought they had got hold of when they had in fact got hold of the morally sabre-toothed Jane Austen” (64).

Trollope's so-called “masculine” characteristics were largely responsible for the critical approval he did receive, for Barchester Towers for example, and the “feminine” characteristics of his writing (his subject-matter, his interest in and insight into female characters, his imagination or lack thereof, his productivity, his popularity, his readership) are partly responsible for his critical dismissal. In the mid and latter part of his career, Trollope was often associated with the less prestigious feminine qualities and connotations; as I have shown, critical ambivalence began creeping in during the mid 1860s, and was fairly solidly in place from, and after, 1870.

The timing of Trollope's critical fall from grace coincides, then, with the rise of a critical poetics that increasingly desired to distinguish “high art” from “popular art,” often along gender lines. Tuchman argues that “[b]y 1870 men of letters were using the term high culture to set off novels they admired from those they deemed run-of-the-mill” (3). And in 1880 the Athenaeum laments that “Mr. Trollope is not an artist according to the modern school of high art” (qtd. in Skilton 33). As we have seen, the criteria defining “high art” rigorously exclude the feminized qualities so commonly applied to Trollope from the late 1860s onwards, and these gender connotations play a major, even a central role, in Trollope being “edged out.”

The volatility of Trollope's reputation has never been satisfactorily accounted for, though critics like Skilton, Smalley, Olmsted, and Welch provide comprehensive surveys of its bizarre twists and turns. Ruth ApRoberts attributes this critical failure to “come to grips with his work” to the inappropriate application of “old theories” of art, such as modernist premises and “new critical” frameworks: “Of all English novelists Trollope seems to be the perfect example of the kind least served by our old theories; and for this very reason, to come to grips with his work may help us towards a new and more workable theory” (11). Contemporary twentieth-century critics overlook the issue of gender in the decline of Trollope's reputation, probably assuming that Trollope's sex guarantees him safety from any sexual double standard that might exist. Ironically though, my argument does not contradict but supplements or complicates conventional accounts of Trollope's fall from “high art,” since the very reasons most commonly used to account for this decline—Trollope's productivity and lack of superior imagination, changing literary tastes—themselves have gender connotations which have been ignored in discussions of Trollope. While it would be overstating the case to claim that associations with gender constitute the sole cause of the decline in Trollope's reputation, a “new more workable theory” that would help us understand Trollope should, I think, take into account the previously invisible and overlooked relation of nineteenth-century gender associations with ideas of literary value and high art, as applied to Trollope's novels. Being a “Queen” of the Victorian circulating library was problematic for any writer when popular and high art began to diverge, but particularly problematic if the author happened to be male.


  1. Nardin's He Knew She Was Right is the only explicitly feminist work I am aware of in this field, and it is devoted to textual study rather than to reception considerations.

  2. This article argues that gender associations contributed to the deterioration of Trollope's critical reputation. Contemporary twentieth-century critics do not address the issue of gender in this respect; they attribute Trollope's loss of literary prestige to changing literary tastes, to the incompatibility of his productivity with the idea of romantic genius, and to the sense that his subject-matter and his treatment of it were not indicative of superior imagination or profundity, but the gendered connotations of these aesthetic criteria are not discussed. See Macdonald's Anthony Trollope, Smalley's “Introduction” in Anthony Trollope: The Critical Heritage, and Olmsted and Welch's Introduction in The Reputation of Trollope for surveys of the decline of Trollope's reputation. For a general discussion of changes in aesthetic and literary critical ideals from the mid to the late nineteenth century, Stang's The Theory of the Novel in England is a helpful source; Skilton's Anthony Trollope and his Contemporaries discusses how Victorian literary critical conventions about imagination, subject-matter, and character depiction affected Trollope's reception and reputation.

  3. Trollope's first four novels were as follows: The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847), The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848), La Vandee (1850), and The Warden (1855).

  4. In 1858, Mudie advertised fifty books, but bought most copies of the following four novels: Charles Kingsley's Two Years Ago (1200 copies); Charles Reade's It Is Never Too Late To Mend (1000 copies); Charlotte Yonge's Dynevor Terrace (1000 copies); and 900 copies of Charlotte Yonge's Heartsease (Haight 2: 467). Compared to such numbers, Mudie's order for 200 copies of Barchester Towers may seem like paltry stuff, but when we remember that the four books above were Mudie's top orders for a year, and that Barchester Towers was really the first novel of Trollope's that attracted wide critical notice, 200 seems like a respectable number.

  5. Such comments are extremely common in Trollope reviews: a few examples are Dallas's article in the Times, May 23, 1859, the June 1864 article in North British Review, and the Saturday Review article of 1882. The Times calls Trollope's writing style “healthy and manly,” and “cordially sympathizes” with his “manly aversion to melodramatic art” (12). The North British Review finds that “the whole tone and habit of mind implied in these [Trollope's] novels is that of a man of activity and business, rather than of a man of letters” (370). The Saturday Review says that he was “a masculine man and writer” (755).

  6. Trollope's disagreements with his publisher over the supposed vulgarity of Barchester Towers's language (“fat stomach” was changed to “deep chest,” and “foul breathing” was eliminated by Longman's objection) are well known, and are documented with much mischief and wit in the Autobiography. In an 1856 letter, Trollope responded thus to Longman's accusations of “indecency” in Barchester Towers “[N]othing would be more painful to me than to be considered an indecent writer. … I do not think that I can in utter ignorance have committed a volume of indecencies” (The Letters of Anthony Trollope 2: 47). In an 1860 letter to George Smith, Trollope declared ruefully that he would “never forget a terrible and killing correspondence which I had with W. Longman because I would make a clergyman kiss a lady whom he proposed to marry—He, the clergyman I mean; not he W. Longman” (Letters 1: 117).

  7. This passage proceeds to mention male readers, but devotes more primacy and space to their female counterparts.

  8. The sustained and ambivalent attention dedicated to Trollope by the Saturday Review is one of the most interesting aspects of Trollope's reception history. Trollope identified the Saturday Review in his Autobiography as one of the three most important British periodicals for contemporary literary criticism; the other two were The Times and the Spectator. The particular stance, approach, and readership of the Saturday Review self-consciously represented University-educated men, and in fact the Saturday Review often interpreted its position as a call to arms to defend elite literary culture against popular invasions. As a result, the tone and content of Saturday Review literary criticism is often more predictable and constant than that of other Victorian periodicals. The extent to which the individual perspective of the reviewer or critic became submerged by the journal's persona is evident in a remark by Leslie Stephen, who, going through the Saturday Review files years later, is unable to identify his own work: “I had unconsciously adopted the tone of my colleagues, and, like some inferior organisms, taken the colouring of my ‘environment’” (qtd. in Smalley 21). The Saturday Review found itself in an uncomfortable predicament over Trollope, however: it identified with Trollope as a fellow middle-to-upper-class educated Victorian man, but objected to Trollope's heretical lapse into behaviour and characteristics which did not accord with its high-culture position, and which, as I argue, had become feminized. Consequently the many Saturday Review articles on Trollope show some sign of emotional intensity and conflict, and sometimes contradict each other, as is evident from the excerpts quoted in this chapter, particularly if Trollope's obituary is compared to the journal's earlier commentary on Trollope.

  9. The second chapter of Skilton's Anthony Trollope and His Contemporaries “Critical Concerns of the Sixties: Tragedy and Imagination” situates criticism of Trollope's supposed lack of imagination in the context of the 1860s: “The better and more favourable of Trollope's contemporary critics … found various ways of accounting for why he fell short of artistic greatness. All their explanations amount in effect to the diagnosis that he lacked ‘imagination’, that his subjects were mundane, his treatment of them plain, and that in short he was an ‘observer’ or ‘photographer’ rather than an inventive artist” (45).

  10. A. L. Rowse's essay, “Trollope's Autobiography” in Trollope Centenary Essays (ed. John Halperin) provides more background on how Trollope's Autobiography affected his reputation.

  11. As Fielding explains in “Trollope and the Saturday Review,” the Saturday Review “liked Trollope because, as they say, he wrote in ‘the style of a gentleman’” (431). Fielding goes on to state that “the Saturday Review did enjoy Trollope in spite of their apparently hostile criticism, which was sometimes actually hostile” (432). Skilton sees the Saturday Review as leaning more towards the critical side of ambivalence, primarily because of Trollope's popularity: “Conscious of their social and intellectual superiority, the university men on the Saturday felt a deep scorn for any popular phenomenon, in literature, religion, dress or politics” (53). Skilton summarizes the Saturday's attack on the 1866 The Belton Estates thus: “Trollope, says the reviewer, is like an artist who year after year submits to the Royal Academy a painting of a donkey between two bundles of hay. He has published no fewer than three novels in the past twelve months, all concerning someone who is hesitating between two loves, and the only difference between them is that the ‘expression of the donkey's eye may vary a little’” (55-56).

Works Cited

Anonymous reviews and articles are alphabetized by title of the periodical.

ApRoberts, Ruth. The Moral Trollope. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 1971.

Rev. of Barchester Towers. Athenaeum 1544 (30 May 1857): 689-90.

Brophy, Brigid, Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne. “The Warden.” In Fifty Years of English and American Literature We Could Do Without. London: Stein and Day, 1968.

Burns, Wayne. Charles Reade: A Study in Victorian Authorship. New York: Bookman, 1961.

Cecil, David. Victorian Novelists: Essays in Revaluation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1935.

Rev. of Barchester Towers. Eclectic Review July 1857: 54-59.

Ewbank, Inga-Stina. Their Proper Sphere: A Study of the Brontë Sisters As Early-Victorian Female Novelists. London: Arnold, 1966.

Rev. of Barchester Towers. Examiner 16 May 1857: 308.

Fielding, K. J. “Trollope and the Saturday Review.Nineteenth-Century Fiction 37, 3 (Dec. 1982): 430-42.

“Mr. Anthony Trollope's Novel.” Fortnightly Review 5, xxvi (1 Feb. 1869): 188-98.

Haight, Gordon, ed. The George Eliot Letters. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale UP, 1954.

Halperin, John, ed. Trollope Centenary Essays. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.

Harrison, Frederic. “Anthony Trollope's Place in Literature.” In Studies In Early Victorian Literature. London: Arnold, 1895.

Helling, Rafael. A Century of Trollope Criticism. 1956. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1967.

Helsinger, Elizabeth K., Robin Lauterbach Sheets, and William Veeder, eds. The Woman Question: Society and Literature in Britain and America, 1837-1883. Vol. 3. Literary Issues. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983.

Honan, Park. “Trollope After A Century.” Contemporary Review. Dec. 1982: 318-23.

Hutton, Richard Holt. “Anthony Trollope's Autobiography.Spectator 56, 2887 (27 Oct. 1883): 1377-79.

Irwin, Mary Leslie. Anthony Trollope: A Bibliography. New York: Wilson, 1926.

James, Henry. “Anthony Trollope.” In Partial Portraits. London: Macmillan, 1886, 97-133.

Rev. of Barchester Towers. Leader 23 May 1857: 497.

“About Novels.” Literary World 15 (23 Aug. 1884): 275.

Macdonald, Susan Peck. Anthony Trollope. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

McMaster, Juliet. “Anthony Trollope.” In Nadel, Ira, and William Fredeman, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 21. Victorian Novelists Before 1885. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Co., 1983.

More, Paul Elmer. “My Debt To Trollope.” In The Demon of the Absolute. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1928.

Nadel, Ira, William Fredeman, and John Stasny, eds. The Victorian Muse: Selected Criticism and Parody of The Period. New York: Garland, 1986.

Nardin, Jane. “Conservative Comedy and the Women of Barchester Towers.Studies in the Novel 18, 4 (Winter 1986): 381-94.

———. He Knew She Was Right: The Independent Woman in the Novels of Anthony Trollope. Carbondale: U of Illinois P, 1989.

“Mr. Trollope's Novels.” National Review 7 (Oct. 1858): 416-35.

“Novels by the Authoress of ‘John Halifax.’” North British Review 29 (1858): 466-81.

“Mr. Trollope's Novels.” North British Review 40 (June 1864): 369-401.

Oliphant, Margaret. The Victorian Age of English Literature. Philadelphia: David Mckay, 1892.

Omsted, John Charles, and Jeffrey Egan Welch. The Reputation of Trollope: An Annotated Bibliography, 1925-1975. New York: Garland, 1978.

Parrish, Morris L., ed. “On English Prose Fiction As A Rational Amusement.” In Four Lectures. Constable Ltd. 1938. Rpt. Norwood Editions, 1977, 94-124.

Payn, James. Some Literary Recollections. New York: Harper, 1884.

Reade, Charles. It Is Never Too Late To Mend. 1856. Boston: Grolier, 1943.

Sadleir, Michael. Trollope: A Commentary. 1927. Rpt. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1947.

Rev. of Barchester Towers. Saturday Review 3 (30 May 1857): 503-04.

Rev. of The Bertrams. Saturday Review 7 (26 March 1859): 368-69.

“Framley Parsonage.” Saturday Review 9 (4 May 1861): 451-52.

“Mr. Anthony Trollope.” Saturday Review 54 (9 Dec. 1882): 755-56.

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists From Brontë to Lessing. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977.

Skilton, David. Anthony Trollope and his Contemporaries: A Study in the Theory and Conventions of mid-Victorian Fiction. London: Longman, 1972.

Smalley, Donald. Trollope: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

“Reade's It Is Never Too Late To Mend.Spectator 29 (16 Aug. 1856): 877-78.

Rev. of Barchester Towers. Spectator 30 (16 May 1857): 525-26.

Stang, Richard. The Theory of the Novel in England, 1850-1870. New York: Columbia UP, 1959.

Stephen, Leslie. “Anthony Trollope.” In Studies of a Biographer, Vol. 4. London: Putnam's Sons, 1907, 156-60.

Stevenson, Lionel. Victorian Fiction: A Guide to Research. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1964.

Super, R. H. The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1988.

Sutherland, John. The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction. London: Longman, 1988.

Tillotson, Geoffrey, and Kathleen Tillotson. Mid-Victorian Studies. London: Athlone, 1965.

“A Novelist of the Day.” Time: A Monthly Magazine 1, 1879: 626-32.

[E. S Dallas] “Mr. Anthony Trollope.” Times 23 May 1859: 12.

“New Novels.” Times 13 Aug. 1857: 5.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. 1883. Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1987.

———. Barchester Towers. 1857. Ed. Michael Sadleir and Frederick Page. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.

———. The Letters of Anthony Trollope. 2 volumes. Ed. N. John Hall. Stanford, California: Stanford UP, 1983.

———. The Warden. Ed. N. John Hall. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.

Tuchman, Gaye, and Nina E. Fortin. Edging Women Out: Victorian Novelists, Publishers, and Social Change. New Haven: Yale UP, 1989.

———. “When The Prevalent Don't Prevail. Male Hegemony and the Victorian Novel.” Conflict and Consensus. Ed. Walter W. Powell and Richard Robbins. New York: The Free Press, 1984. 139-58.

[G. H. Lewes] “The Lady Novelists.” Westminster Review, n.s. ii (1852), 129-41.

“Contemporary Literature: Belles Lettres.” Westminster Review 68 (Oct. 1857): 326-27.

Peter Allen (essay date 1996)

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SOURCE: “Trollope to His Readers: The Unreliable Narrator of An Autobiography,” in Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 1-18.

[In the following essay, Allen examines Trollope's An Autobiography as an extension of Trollope's social persona, viewing the work as a type of communication addressed to a particular audience.]

Trollope's An Autobiography, written in the mid-1870s and published posthumously in 1883, is a curious work, especially when considered in terms of its audience. On the surface it is a well-known author's account of his career, chiefly written for admirers of his fiction. More closely examined, it seems designed to baffle these readers as much as to inform them. It wilfully courts their misunderstanding, seemingly as a protest against a simplistic interpretation of Trollope and his books.

Trollope's sense of his audience is evident from the main autobiographical tradition that he chooses to follow. The book begins as a Bildungsgeschichte, that form so common from the late eighteenth century onwards in which writers explore the formative stages of their lives. But after the first few chapters An Autobiography lapses into an older and looser form of autobiography, usefully described by M. M. Bakhtin as that of writing “on one's own writings”:

What we get is a catalog of a man's works, an exposition of their themes, a record of their successes with the public, autobiographical commentary on them (Cicero, Galen and others). It is the sequence of one's own works that provides solid support for perceiving the passage of time in one's own life. … And furthermore, consciousness of self in this context is not revealed to some general “someone,” but rather to a specific circle of readers, the readers of one's works.


Thus the drama of Trollope's early development proves to be a brief introduction to a detailed account of his whole career to date, culminating in a list of all the books he has published and the income from them, down to the last penny. An interest in Trollope's writings would seem to be the first requirement for readers of this book. The effect of the work as a whole depends so heavily on our knowledge of his literary reputation that one may doubt that An Autobiography would be in print today if a number of Trollope's novels were not still widely read.1

Yet as a comment on his literary reputation An Autobiography is very strange, for it seems designed as much to disrupt as to confirm the sense of Trollope's literary personality and accomplishments that his readers are likely to have formed from their knowledge of his work. In this respect An Autobiography strongly resembles Trollope's characteristic behavior when faced with people anxious to meet him because of his literary reputation. As several biographers and critics have shown, the persona he adopts in An Autobiography is a literary version of the social persona he adopted when he felt he was on show (Skilton 128; Terry, Anthony Trollope 58). In many cases, indeed, An Autobiography merely repeats stories and pronouncements about himself as a writer with which Trollope had been pleased to befuddle his admirers for years. One way of approaching this text, then, is to consider it as a direct extension of his social behavior on such occasions.

Trollope's autobiographic technique has been made the subject of much excellent critical analysis, and his wilful frustration of his readers' expectations has often been noted.2 This analysis has been especially successful in suggesting the psychological underpinnings of the work, and in exploring it as a rhetorical system created to satisfy Trollope's need for self-expression. When we shift the focus of inquiry by specifically relating the text to his social behavior and by reading both as forms of communication addressed to a specific audience, An Autobiography becomes even more puzzling and complex. The advantage of this approach is the sense it gives us of Trollope's self-awareness as an artist—his intellectual understanding and frustration in the face of misinterpretation, his protest against simplistic readings of his fiction, and his deepening of his readers' misunderstanding in a way that paradoxically invites them to look again, to read more carefully.

In chapter 3 of An Autobiography Trollope says that as a boy and young man he constantly indulged in elaborate daydreams:

… other boys would not play with me. I was therefore alone, and had to form my plays within myself. … Thus it came to pass that I was always going about with some castle in the air firmly built within my mind. … For weeks, for months, if I remember rightly, from year to year, I would carry on the same tale, binding myself down to certain laws, to certain proportions, and proprieties, and unities. Nothing improbable was ever introduced,—nor even anything which, from outward circumstances, would seem to be violently improbable. I myself was of course my own hero. … There can, I imagine, hardly be a more dangerous mental practice; but I have often doubted whether, had it not been my practice, I should ever have written a novel. I learned in this way to maintain an interest in a fictitious story, to dwell on a work created by my own imagination, and to live in a world altogether outside the world of my own material life. In after years I have done the same,—with this difference, that I have discarded the hero of my early dreams, and have been able to lay my own identity aside.


As Kendrick remarks, if this claim of writing novels by laying identity aside is true, “whatever storyteller the reader of a Trollope novel may feel close to … cannot be Trollope himself” (59). If we have derived an idea of Trollope from our reading of his novels, it is probably mistaken. An Autobiography, on the other hand, is not a novel and could scarcely have been written by laying his identity aside. It does not (he says) tell the whole truth about him, for no one could do that, and he does not mean to speak of his private or inner life, but the text contains nothing that is untrue (1-2, 365). The logical conclusion must be that An Autobiography is meant to correct our false notions about Trollope, and since our false notions were derived from his novels, to teach us to read them again, more carefully.

One problem with this conclusion is that most readers of Trollope are more likely to believe in the implied author of his novels than in the narrator of An Autobiography. The Trollope whom we can imagine by reading his novels is someone we would want to believe in, someone whose existence would fully justify our own admiration of his work. Not all his novels are alike, but the best-known ones seem remarkably consistent, at least on first reading. They suggest that Trollope is an urbane, well-educated, and exceptionally well-informed man of the world. At ease in genteel society, he is a reliable guide to its practices and values. He admits to his share of human foibles but surveys social life with such humor, sympathy, and understanding as to seem on another plane than the comically obsessed characters he so often depicts. Since he is not only the narrator of his novels but the creator of everything we read, he must share in the exceptional intellectual qualities he sometimes depicts. In Ruth Roberts' words,

Trollope must be at least as capable of subtle rhetoric as his dazzling lawyer Mr. Chaffanbrass, or the wily Prime Minister Mr. Daubeney; he must have at least the terrible acquaintance with the human demonic that oppresses Josiah Crawley; he must have at least the wit of Glencora Palliser.


Nonetheless, he affects no cultural superiority to his readers, for he assumes we understand his point of view, and he speaks to us in the lucid, easy, familiar style of a well-educated man engaged in intelligent conversation with people he respects. And since he holds our attention through one novel after another, he must not only possess these estimable personal qualities but be a gifted and altogether admirable storyteller and creative artist.

The Trollope who speaks to us in An Autobiography is sufficiently like the implied author of the novels to be recognizable, but sufficiently unlike him to be very disconcerting. This Trollope, like some of the comic figures in his novels, seems given to improbable and exaggerated statements—for example, that the more money you make the more useful you are to society (106). He seems a one-sided figure, obsessed with the issue of his own social advancement, and delighted to describe the mechanical stratagems he has employed to obtain it. He is very particular about his gentlemanly status and its importance, and yet portrays himself as a sort of literary tradesman on the make.

Not only has his character changed, but his style seems to have deteriorated. An Autobiography is much more unevenly written than his novels and shows much less care in composition.3 His first sentence is oddly phrased:

In writing these pages, which, for the want of a better name, I shall be fain to call the autobiography of so insignificant a person as myself, it will not be so much my intention to speak of the little details of my private life, as of what I, and perhaps others round me, have done in literature; of my failures and successes such as they have been, and their causes; and of the opening which a literary career affords to men and women for the earning of their bread.

The first subordinate clause of this sentence suggests that he is so insignificant a person as scarcely to merit an autobiography, while the remainder of the sentence asserts that his work as a writer has been sufficiently significant to afford a helpful example to those interested in pursuing such a career. Most readers will understand that the clause is merely a modest clearing of the throat and that the remainder of the sentence is the part to believe. But if they try to give this clause any more precise meaning, they may have difficulty. Does “the want of a better name” refer to the inappropriateness of the term “autobiography” to describe what he is writing? This may be what he means, since he later speaks of “this so-called autobiography” (365), but he might have said it much more simply: “these pages, which, for the want of a better name, I shall be fain to call my autobiography.”4 The particular construction he uses suggests that by “name” he may mean “title,” as if he were “fain to call” his book The Autobiography of So Insignificant a Person as Myself.

The sequence of ideas that immediately follows this odd beginning is loose and self-deprecating: his primary purpose is not to discuss his private life; he is a garrulous old man and will be tempted to discuss it; he has to do so in any case. The whole paragraph seems to need rewriting. The remainder of the work is marked by a curious alternation between such passages of casual and obviously unrevised writing and passages of great power and eloquence. Compare, for example, the blunt, unstudied phrasing in which he summarizes the value of The Vicar of Bullhampton (“It is not very bad, and it certainly is not very good”) and the impassioned rhetoric of the next paragraph, in which he attacks the sexual double standard of his time (especially the 120-word sentence beginning “The gaudy dirt”) (333-34). The order of his topics seems equally improvised and unpredictable. Here and there he notices how digressively he is writing and apologizes, only to resume his rambling a few pages later (Carr 52). Worst of all, having captured our attention in his first chapters with the compelling story of his early miseries, he abandons all pretence of coherent narrative and subsides into what sometimes seems the merest anecdotage. In short, to readers of his novels the narrator of An Autobiography may well seem highly unsatisfactory.

According to the long-standing myth, Trollope's unflattering self-portrait in An Autobiography was so effective that it seriously damaged his standing with the Victorian public and critics. In fact, the book was well received at the time of its publication and sales of his fiction did not fall off sharply thereafter.5 In other words, most readers did not take the narrator of An Autobiography at face value, nor have they since. But this presents a further problem for the argument set out above. If the Trollope of An Autobiography can't be taken seriously, what are we to make of his claim to have escaped his identity when writing his novels but to have told the truth, however partial, about himself in this work? Unreliable first-person narrators are of course never simply unreliable, since they must be relied on to convey meaning in words and to provide us with the information from which we deduce the degree and kind of their untrustworthiness. Where then is Trollope's narrator to be trusted, and where is he not?

As I have said, when Trollope was faced with the challenge of meeting his readers socially he typically behaved in a manner calculated to disrupt his audience's expectations, with the result that he generally was thought quite “unlike his novels,” to use the curious phrase by which people often referred to the fictional Trollope they had themselves invented while reading his fiction.6 Of the many examples of this behavior, my favorite is the story of Trollope's visit to Strathtyrum, John Blackwood's home in Scotland, in 1868. Strathtyrum is near St. Andrews, a center for what was then the peculiarly Scottish obsession, or cult, known as golf. With his usual boisterous delight in making a public spectacle of himself, Trollope converted the sacred game into slapstick, “pretending to faint when he made a bad shot, his immense weight causing a sort of earthquake on the sandy ground.” Blackwood's young daughter Mary, whose later account I quote, found him hilarious, as she did his behavior at dinner:

Mr Trollope's big voice drowned everyone else, as he chaffed my father down the length of the dinner-table. He had jested over golf, what would he not do next?

What he did next was to make fun of Blackwood's political idol, Disraeli:

“You know, Blackwood, you think exactly about Dizzy as I do; you know that you would be very glad to hear he had been had up for—for shoplifting.” Tableau! all holding up their hands, and Mr Trollope delighted with the sensation he had produced.

(Porter 198)

Blackwood and his family were much amused by this teasing, but another observer at the time was not. A. K. H. Boyd, a local clergyman and himself a writer of occasional pieces, was thrilled by the chance to meet a favorite author but was quickly disabused:

The charming Last Chronicle of Barset, surely as sunshiny a picture of English country life as ever was written, was then delighting us all. While preparing for dinner, I had stuck up the work where I could read it: and I glanced at several of the most beautiful passages, and at one or two of the most powerful. Filled with the enthusiasm of one who had very rarely met a popular author, I entered Strathtyrum that day. The sight of the great novelist was a blow. He was singularly unkempt, and his clothes were wrinkled and unmade. His manner was a further blow. We listened for the melodious accents which were due from those lips: but they did not come. Indeed, he was the only man I had heard swear in decent society for uncounted years. The swearing, which was repeated, was the most disagreeable of all: the actual asseverating, by the Holiest Name, of some trumpery statement. How could that man have written the well-remembered sentences which had charmed one through these years? Then, by way of making himself pleasant in a gathering of Scotsmen, he proceeded … to vilipend our beloved Sir Walter.

Boyd was irritated to hear Scott's novels described as too dull for anyone to publish them today. And he was later appalled by Trollope's loud voice and buffoonery on the links, although he reported with some pleasure that these antics had met their just reward, for in one of his mock faints after a bad stroke Trollope landed on a golf ball he had in his pocket and leaped up “with a yell of agony, quite unfeigned.” Years later, Boyd came across “a page of Trollope's on which Scott was praised highly.” “It is sometimes very difficult to know what is a man's real and abiding opinion,” he concluded in some puzzlement, still not having gathered that Trollope had been having him on (Boyd 1: 100-101).

“I rather liked Trollope,” concluded James Russell Lowell after meeting him for the first time and witnessing a notable example of his outrageously offensive dinner-table manner (Scudder 2: 84). “It was impossible to help liking such a man at first sight,” claimed Julian Hawthorne, after describing Trollope's endless bluster (143). The case of the Rev. Mr. Boyd shows that Hawthorne has claimed too much, but many people did like him, and one might well ask why. I can only think that they understood that if the author of such thoughtful and perceptive novels chose to act the part of Bertie Wooster's eccentric Uncle Tony, this role was a joke on himself, a pose so at odds with his real nature that we must believe it to be a comically assumed mask. Understanding that they were invited to share in the humor of this self-portrait as an insensitive lout, they guessed at the sensitive personality protected by this elaborate self-deprecation, and liked him for it.7 Trollope is “great fun,” John Blackwood wrote after Trollope's visit, and the two were nearly in tears on having to part (Porter 198).

Trollope's behavior seems both like a compulsion and a deliberate attempt to split his audience into those who understand and those who do not. Boyd, although he was an intelligent man in many ways, splendidly exemplifies the simplistic thinking of the latter group. This clergyman finds The Last Chronicle, with its harrowing account of the Rev. Mr. Crawley, “sunshiny” and “delightful.” In Boyd's view, novelists should dress well and talk like a book. A novelist who is famous for his depiction of clergyman will of course show a deep respect for the cloth. Sir Walter Scott is a great novelist—that is, one without faults—and a novelist should treat not only clergymen and Scott but golf with due reverence. There is nothing ludicrous about hitting a little ball along the ground with a long-shafted club, nothing to make a grown man want to shout aloud and throw himself on the ground. At every point Trollope's behavior seems precisely calculated to offend such conventional thinking, in effect to force Boyd to defend his beliefs thoughtfully or to reconsider them. (Since Trollope was not known for coarse language, for instance, one suspects that the oaths Boyd objects to were laid on especially for his benefit.) Unable to rise to the challenge, Boyd was both offended and perplexed. John Blackwood, on the other hand, seems to have been pleased by Trollope's dining-table chaff, probably because his Tory values did not prevent him from acknowledging that bluff open honesty was not Disraeli's long suit. “Can you understand?” Trollope seems to be asking, and those who did were not insulted by the question.

Like his social persona, the narrator of An Autobiography presents a test to our understanding. The interpretive challenge we face may be usefully exemplified by examining the interrelation of the several different narrative traditions on which he draws. As James Kincaid points out, Trollope raises the issue of genre on his first page and never resolves it. Are we to expect an autobiography or merely “something like a mildly personalized how-to-do-it manual” (343)? The work's unusual structure and variability of tone and method make it especially difficult to categorize. Noting that Trollope often portrays his earlier self as a comically obsessed or misled figure, Kincaid associates An Autobiography with David Copperfield as examples of “mercantile comedy,” a middle-class comic fable of struggle towards social success in which the hero becomes relatively colorless and uninteresting once the final stage of prosperous stability has been won.8 He has, however, to admit that the hero of An Autobiography reaches this stage at a drastically early point and that the work's only narrative consistency is Trollope's use of anecdotes (347-48).

Kincaid's analysis also points to other generic possibilities. At the opening of David Copperfield, David strangely asks whether he will prove to be the hero of his own life, thus raising the question of whether the novel is to be “a heroic or romantic tale or even a focused first-person narrative” (343-44). Kincaid does not pursue the idea of a romantic tale further, but many readers of An Autobiography and David Copperfield might argue that what Kincaid calls mercantile comedy may also be seen as middle-class male romance, a version of the Dick Whittington fable, in which the hero magically preserves his identity in an underworld of social adversity, until he ascends to the kingdom of prosperity that was always his true inheritance. At many points in An Autobiography a comic perspective seems notably lacking, and the narrator appears as simply the hero of his own self-help story. In short, his chief solution to the problem of whether he is to be the hero of his own story is to avoid any consistent or clearcut portrayal of himself.

Trollope's version of the self-help fable is specifically a masculine success story centering on the near-loss and triumphant regaining of socially secure gentility.9 The initial causes of this dramatic pattern are his father's uneasy combination of “poverty and gentle standing” and his own lack of “juvenile manhood” (2). As his father gradually loses his grasp on reality, the family's social standing is imperilled, and only the mother's heroic efforts prevent disaster. Sent out into the world to make his way, the young Trollope at first enacts a comically observed version of the idle apprentice's story, but is magically transformed into the industrious apprentice and hence becomes the master of his craft and the self-assured gentlemanly professional that he was always meant to be. Since the narrator's right to “gentle standing” is fundamental to his self-portrait and his status as the hero of the story, the interpretive challenge we face is especially an issue of class.

How can the narrator's preoccupation with social advancement and money be reconciled with the gentility he claims? Although Robert Tracy has argued that Trollope's fiction presents “a consistent moral theory,” he finds the materialism of An Autobiography “a little at odds” with the view of the gentleman presented in the novels (ix, 75). Tracy's overview of the novels reflects suggestively on Trollope's self-portrait in An Autobiography:

“A real gentleman …,” Lady Mabel Grex declares, “should never think of money at all.” The usual corollary of this for Trollope is the exclusion of the self-made man from the ranks of gentlemen. … A man or woman too determinedly seeking money or social recognition becomes discordant; like morbid jealousy, guilt, an unwholesome addiction to romance, or any of the other excluding states of mind that Trollope explores in his novels, this obsession militates against social harmony.


The narrator of An Autobiography asserts (and never allows us to doubt) that he is a gentleman by birth, so that he is not so much a self-made man as one who regains his rightful social place. And yet his insistence on the virtues of plodding industry, his frequent comparison of the writer to a shoemaker or other tradesman, his smugly self-congratulatory tone and assertive self-praise, his gloating account of the pounds, shillings and pence accumulated by his hard work—none of this is easily assimilated into the Trollopian view of the gentleman.10

But we can also read this posturing as an elaborate joke on himself, a pose so at odds with his real or gentlemanly nature as to be only a comically assumed mask. Embarrassed by having to talk about his need to make money, he signals the ludicrousness of his position by an absurd self-parody. A gentleman must eat, and if his family has not provided for him, he must, ludicrously enough, take on the character of the self-made man. If we are perceptive readers, Trollope seems to say, we will know the difference between this assumed character and the real thing.

The narrator's gentility seems not only curiously at odds with the values of the self-help tradition, but also with those of the two autobiographical traditions mentioned above: the Bildungsgeschichte and writing “on one's own writings.” For the self-consciously gentlemanly narrator, the difficulty of both these forms is of course that they involve an assertion of public importance that may not sit easily with the gentleman's unassuming image. Bakhtin mentions Cicero as a writer of the latter form, perhaps because of the highly self-referential quality of his writings in general and such specific passages as De divinatione 2:1. But was Cicero a gentleman in so writing? What might seem to us the very strange question of Cicero's relation to the “modern gentleman” preoccupied Trollope in his Life of Cicero, which was written soon after An Autobiography and was from first to last a defence of Cicero's gentlemanly character against his detractors. Trollope admits that Cicero's self-praise “is hardly in accordance with our idea of the manner in which a man should speak of himself” and that his abuse of others is “a mode of expression … altogether denied to those among us who hope to be regarded as gentlemen.” Such language, however, was justified as “men and gentlemen were then.” Cicero was the nearest thing to a real “English Christian gentleman” of any Roman of the time (1: 234; 2: 44; 1: 151-52; 2: 114).

How can a gentleman speak of himself and the works he has written, if he has not the excuse of being an ancient Roman? The problem becomes more complex when, in accordance with the demands of the Bildungsgeschichte, he has occasion to speak of his upbringing, his family, and the nurturing of his creative gifts. As Edwards (xi-xii) and many others have noted, a work of immediate concern to Trollope was Dickens' autobiographical fragment, which appeared in the first volume of John Forster's Life of Charles Dickens in 1872. After reading this, Trollope wrote an indignant letter to George Eliot and G. H. Lewes, denying that Dickens could ever be the hero of his own story or of Forster's. He saw both Dickens and Forster as powerful but vulgar men with no true sense of the heroic. Dickens “had taught himself to be his own God,” and Forster knew no better than to publish the evidence of Dickens' disgraceful conduct in vilifying his parents' treatment of him (Letters 2: 557-58).

The issue seems to have been not merely Dickens' defamation of his parents, but his strongly asserted sense of his own significance. In the autobiographical fragment Dickens does not object to children working in blacking warehouses but to his parents' failure to recognize him as the extraordinarily gifted and sensitive child that he was. That Bob Fagin and Poll Green should be child laborers does not seem to offend him, but “famous and caressed and happy” as he now is, he will never forgive his parents for failing to recognize what he could become (Forster 26). How they were to do so Dickens does not say: his faith in the transcendent value of his own genius is so intense that he cannot imagine he might have appeared ordinary to others, and Forster fully shares that faith. Trollope had always held himself distinct from Dickens' set. From his point of view, this public insistence on Dickens' godlike powers was yet more evidence of the lack of gentlemanly refinement that he deplored in both men.11

Trollope follows his first account of John Forster in An Autobiography (83-84) by remarking, “The idea that I was the unfortunate owner of unappreciated genius never troubled me” (85). “I have never fancied myself to be a man of genius,” he later adds (120). Boz may think himself inimitable, but not Trollope. For literary success like his, the only qualities needed are “industry, perseverance, certain necessary aptitudes, and fair average talents” (107).

A modestly talented reader capable of industry and perseverance might still be bewildered, however, by the extreme vagueness of the phrase “certain necessary aptitudes.” In response to Trollope's notorious comparison of novel-writing and shoemaking, most readers would feel more confident about learning to make a good shoe than a novel as good as one of Trollope's (Miller 89). In his biography of his literary mentor Thackeray, published a few years after finishing An Autobiography, Trollope credits Thackeray with extraordinary powers of “fancy,” by which he appears to mean literary inventiveness, “a gift which the owner of it cannot measure, and the power of which, when he is using it, he cannot himself understand” (24).12 His gentlemanly code does not however allow Trollope to praise his own powers of invention or to acknowledge that they are unlikely to be merely the product of hard work and determination to succeed.

The result, as several critics have pointed out, is a curious split between his principal treatment of novel-writing as mere routine, and his occasional references to something much less mundane and much more mysterious, the conception of character. Since he cannot acknowledge his own powers of invention directly, we must guess at what lies behind the vague, evasive, or implausible language that he uses to allude to the topic. Thus his ability to create an entirely lifelike archdeacon when he had never known one is not a matter of artistic inspiration but “the simple result of an effort of my moral consciousness,” whatever that may be (93). Moral consciousness appears to be a quality a gentleman can impute to himself, but a remarkable degree of artistic invention is not.

Thus An Autobiography gives us, among other choices, that of regarding Trollope as a vulgar materialist or concluding that since he must be the sensitive, thoughtful, wise, and gentlemanly man implied by his novels, his affectation of vulgar materialism is a comic pose. If we choose the latter interpretation, we must also understand that, because he is a gentleman, there are some things he cannot say at all, so that we must supply what is obviously missing from his account.13 But although we must discount some of what he says as humorous exaggeration or wilful misrepresentation, and must fill the gaps where something cannot be said, we cannot assume that some of what he says is not simply the truth as far as he knows it. A notable example, in my view, is his assertion that he lays his own identity aside when he writes a novel.

Trollope's deprecation of his youthful daydreaming is of course conventional, but his description of it is not. Although he deplores his indulgence in fantasy, he provides a specific psychological reason for it: it was a form of play and a substitute for the play with others that he had been denied. It also took a specific form and one not usually attributed to adolescents: it was bound by distinct narrative principles, and especially those of fictional realism. In other words, he was mentally practising a specific form of fiction (and here he seems not to realise that this was unusual, as if everyone grew up imposing strict literary form on their fantasies). The novels that resulted from this practice are like his daydreams in being highly formalized fantasies wholly distinct from his own social experience, but seemingly no less probable. The novels may appear to reflect this experience, and Trollope is delighted when a reader like Nathaniel Hawthorne takes them to do so (J. Hawthorne 144). But in fact the novels do not and must not, as he explains more fully in Thackeray:

And yet in very truth the realistic must not be true,—but just so far removed from truth as to suit the erroneous idea of truth which the reader may be supposed to entertain. For were a novelist to narrate a conversation between two persons of fair but not high education, and to use the ill-arranged words and fragments of speech which are really common in such conversations, he would seem to have sunk to the ludicrous, and to be attributing to the interlocutors a mode of language much beneath them. Though in fact true, it would seem to be far from natural.


Just as a novel is a fantasy that seems truer to social experience than any transcription of that experience, so the implied author is the fictional identity required by such a fantasy. One achieves that identity by setting aside one's own. To expect the real or everyday Trollope to talk and behave like this artfully constructed fictional figure would be unrealistic. For one thing, he can't reread and revise his language as he produces it, or have his wife go over it for awkward repetitions, as he did with his fiction. But such is our “erroneous idea of truth,” that the ill-arranged and unedited version of truth that he offers us in An Autobiography seems less convincing than the assumed identity his novels allow us to imagine. Trollope may protest against our simplistic misreading by deliberately disrupting our expectations. But if, like the Rev. Mr. Boyd, we refuse to take the point, there is really nothing more he can do.

Viewed primarily as a form of self-expression (or even, more narrowly, as an elaborate form of psychological defense), An Autobiography is a highly complex but not especially surprising work. Viewed as a revelation of self to the circle of his readers, it seems an extraordinary mixture of self-knowledge and wilful blindness, indirection and frank statement, profound professional understanding and something like despair of being understood. This article only begins to suggest the different levels at which it can be read and the variety of interpretive strategies that one must adopt to do so. The value of this approach is the spectacle it affords of a highly conscious artist struggling with the intractable task of explaining his own creativity and craft to his audience. Look again, he seems to say. Read again. It's not as simple as you think.


  1. Compare An Autobiography with Edmund Gosse's Father and Son (1907), which also looks back at a well-known writer's formative years in a supposedly genteel nineteenth-century family. Gosse's account of his early captivity in an isolated hellworld created by his father's religious obsession may well owe something to Trollope's similar account of life at his father's ruined farmhouse, and both are clearly indebted to the Victorian novel. In other respects, however, the two works are quite dissimilar. Father and Son was published anonymously in its author's lifetime, and because it carefully avoids identifying the narrator's later work, does not depend at all for its effect on the reader's prior knowledge of Gosse's writing or reputation. Of course Gosse was anxious to claim the book as his own once he was assured that it was successful and that he was not going to be widely accused of unfilial behavior, but the addition of his name to the title page in the fourth impression (1908) did not alter the work's narrative strategy (Thwaite 434). Its readers can deduce from Father and Son's style and width of cultural reference that the narrator has survived his deprived boyhood to become a witty, cosmopolitan, and highly literate man, but they need have no idea that writing was his livelihood nor that he wrote anything else in particular. This has been a piece of luck for Father and Son, since almost no one reads the rest of Gosse's considerable output any more, so that his eminence as a writer, which he once feared that Father and Son might compromise, now rests (so far as it exists at all) on this work alone. For further comment on Gosse's autobiographical technique, see my “Sir Edmund Gosse.”

  2. Among the best analyses are Cushman (an excellent study of Trollope's autobiographical technique); Skilton 126-48 (argues convincingly against seeing An Autobiography as merely psychologically interesting or critically naive); Carr (the best treatment to date of Trollope's self-mockery as a test of the reader's understanding); Kendrick (the most extensive and ambitious treatment of Trollope's rhetoric in the work as a whole, although Kendrick's analysis is weakened by his failure to distinguish self-mockery from other types of self-representation and by his assumption that Trollope uses language—e.g., the word “plot”—consistently); Kincaid (usefully analyses Trollope's use of fictional technique); and Gilead (the most subtle and convincing analysis of the psychological logic behind the work's apparently casual form). Other especially valuable and interesting treatments include Shumaker 168-83 (a detailed evaluation of the work's structure); Helsinger 45-50 (Trollope's critical sophistication and ambiguous self-presentation); Edwards (an excellent introduction); Hall, “Seeing” (publication and early reception); and Miller (a provocative rereading). For comments on Trollope's factuality, see Super, “Truth,” and Chronicler 96, 352-53; Sutherland; T. A. Trollope 2: 331-37; Mullen 458-60; and Moncrieff.

  3. Thus An Autobiography is less like his novels than like his letters, in which he will typically present an apparently improvised and unrevised version of himself, one that may and does shift as the letter proceeds and Trollope realizes that something he has said may be misread or is overstated. As Mullen notes, his letters are not nearly as carefully written as those written by the characters in the novels (168).

  4. Compare Trollope's wording with the unambiguous opening of his brother T. A. Trollope's memoir, which contains many indirect as well as direct references to An Autobiography: “I have no intention of writing an autobiography” (1: 1).

  5. Skilton 126-27; Terry, Anthony Trollope 56-58; and Hall, Trollope 411-12 and 555, n. 26, for Michael Sadleir's contribution to this myth.

  6. Hall, Trollope 507-10 provides an especially good account of such reactions to Trollope. See also Mullen 395-96, 413, 443-45; and Glendinning 401-02. For a useful brief summary of Trollope's social behavior, see Hall, “Trollope the Person.” The accounts by contemporary observers that I quote from Porter, Boyd, Scudder, and J. Hawthorne can readily be found in Terry, Recollections.

  7. As Hall points out (Trollope 400), Julian Hawthorne is an especially notable example of such a contemporary observer. See Hawthorne 140-43 on the deceptiveness of Trollope's social manner and the sensitivity it revealed to those who could understand it.

  8. For other comments on Trollope's use of comic self-representation, see especially Carr 22-26, 43-48; and Cushman 20-21.

  9. I have developed this point further in “Masculinity and Novel-Writing.”

  10. For Trollope's use of the rhetoric of the self-made man, see especially 168-69 and 290.

  11. Trollope's objection to Dickens and Forster was linguistic as well as social; see An Autobiography 249 on Dickens' style, and Thackeray 43-44, where he translates a characteristically inflated sentence of Forster's into the “easy” and “lucid” style he attributes to Thackeray (184-201) and wrote himself: Forster “says, speaking of a proposition which had been made to Dickens from the town of Bradford; ‘At first this was entertained, but was abandoned, with some reluctance, upon the argument that to become publicly a reader must alter, without improving, his position publicly as a writer, and that it was a change to be justified only when the higher calling should have failed of the old success.’ The meaning of this was that the money to be made would be sweet, but that the descent to a profession which was considered to be lower than that of literature itself would carry with it something that was bitter.”

  12. See also A. Trollope, “A Walk” 599-600, on the creative imagination as a “tricksy Ariel” that everyone has, that few use to much purpose, and that cannot be coerced or controlled by any but the greatest thinkers. The “inner life” he spends with his imagined characters (An Autobiography 319) is a private world like that of his marriage and family life; he acknowledges its importance, declines to explain it, but implies that the reader will nonetheless understand.

  13. See Hall, Trollope 411: “His strategy in the book was to say deeply personal things while denying saying them (Trollope would have given the rhetorical device its Latin name, praeteritio, derived from his beloved Cicero.) The very denials are revealing, and Trollope knew they were.”

Works Cited

Allen, Peter. “Masculinity and Novel-Writing in Trollope's An Autobiography.Prose Studies 16 (1993): 62-84.

———. “Sir Edmund Gosse and his Modern Readers: The Continued Appeal of Father and Son.ELH 55 (1988): 487-503.

Roberts, Ruth. Trollope, Artist and Moralist. London: Chatto and Windus, 1971.

Bakhtin, M. M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Tr. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.

Boyd, A. K. H. Twenty-Five Years of St. Andrews: September 1865 to September 1890. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1892.

Carr, Jean Ferguson. “Autobiographical Narration in Dickens and Trollope.” Diss. U of Michigan, 1979.

Cushman, Keith. “So Insignificant a Person as Myself: Trollope and An Autobiography,Prose Studies 1800-1900 2 (1978): 5-24.

Edwards, P. D. Introduction. A. Trollope, An Autobiography.

Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. 1872-74. Ed. J. W. T. Ley. London: Cecil Palmer, 1928.

Gilead, Sarah. “Trollope's Autobiography: The Strategies of Self-Production.” Modern Language Quarterly 47 (1986): 272-90.

Glendinning, Victoria. Trollope. London: Hutchinson, 1992.

Hall, N. John. “Seeing Trollope's An Autobiography Through the Press: The Correspondence of William Blackwood and Henry Merivale Trollope.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 47.2 (Winter 1986): 189-223.

———. Trollope: A Biography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1991.

———. “Trollope the Person.” Trollope: Centenary Essays. Ed. John Halperin. London: Macmillan, 1982. 146-81.

Hawthorne, Julian. Confessions and Criticisms. Boston: Ticknor, 1887.

Helsinger, Howard. “Credence and Credibility: The Concern for Honesty in Victorian Autobiography.” Approaches to Victorian Autobiography. Ed. George P. Landow. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1979.

Kendrick, Walter M. The Novel-Machine: The Theory and Fiction of Anthony Trollope. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980.

Kincaid, James R. “Trollope's Fictional Autobiography.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 37 (1982): 340-49.

Miller, J. Hillis. “Self Reading Self: Trollope.” The Ethics of Reading: Kant, de Man, Eliot, Trollope, James, and Benjamin. New York: Columbia UP, 1987. 81-99.

Moncrieff, Scott. “‘It's the Life’: Trollope's Fictional Autobiography.” Cahiers Victoriens et Edouardiens 37 (1993): 95-105.

Mullen, Richard. Anthony Trollope: A Victorian in his World. London: Duckworth, 1990.

Porter, Mrs. Gerald [Mary Blackwood]. Annals of a Publishing House: John Blackwood. Vol. 3 of William Blackwood and his Sons: Their Magazine and Friends. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1898.

Scudder, H. E. James Russell Lowell: A Biography. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1901.

Shumaker, Wayne. English Autobiography: Its Emergence, Materials, and Form. Berkeley: U of California P, 1954.

Skilton, David. Anthony Trollope and his Contemporaries: A Study in the Theory and Conventions of Mid-Victorian Fiction. London: Longman, 1972.

Super, R. H. The Chronicler of Barsetshire: A Life of Anthony Trollope. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1988.

———. “Truth and Fiction in Trollope's Autobiography.Nineteenth-Century Literature 48 (1993): 74-88.

Sutherland, John. “Trollope, Publishers and the Truth.” Prose Studies 10 (1987): 239-49.

Terry, R. C. Anthony Trollope: The Artist in Hiding. London: Macmillan, 1977.

———, ed. Trollope: Interviews and Recollections. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987.

Thwaite, Ann. Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape 1849-1928. London: Secker and Warburg, 1984.

Tracy, Robert. Trollope's Later Novels. Berkeley: U of California P, 1978.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. 1883. Ed. M. Sadleir and F. Page. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980.

———. The Letters of Anthony Trollope. Ed. N. John Hall. 2 vols. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1983.

———. The Life of Cicero. 2 vols. 1880. New York: Harper, 1881.

———. Thackeray. 1879. London: Macmillan, 1902.

———. “A Walk in a Wood.” Good Words (Sept. 1879): 595-600.

Trollope, Thomas Adolphus. What I Remember. 2 vols. London: Bentley, 1887.

Further Reading

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Birns, Nicholas. “The Empire Turned Upside Down: The Colonial Fictions of Anthony Trollope.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 27, No. 3 (July 1996): 7-23.

Examines Trollope's colonial novels and maintains that these works explore the effects of the globalization process on English language and literature.

Brown, Sally. “‘This So-Called Autobiography’: Anthony Trollope, 1812-82.” British Library Journal 8, No. 2 (Autumn 1982): 168-73.

Offers an overview of An Autobiography, commenting on the reception of the work and its effect on Trollope's reputation.

Cohen, William A. “Trollope's Trollop.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 28, No. 3 (Spring 1995): 285-56.

Studies the way sexuality is signified and encoded in Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds, suggesting that Trollope uses the diamonds referred to in the title to make explicit the alleged differences between male and female property.

Craig, Randall. “Rhetoric and Courtship in Can You Forgive Her?ELH 62, No. 1 (Spring 1995): 217-35.

Investigates Trollope's usage of tropes in Can You Forgive Her? and the way in which the act of speaking performs the social functions of naming and promising.

Faulkner, Karen. “Anthony Trollope's Apprenticeship.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 38, No. 2 (July 1983): 161-88.

Assesses the derivative nature of Trollope's early writings, contending that in his first novels, he imitated the material, points of view, style, and idiosyncratic techniques of the writers who preceded him.

Fisichelli, Glynn-Ellen. “The Language of Law and Love: Anthony Trollope's Orley Farm.ELH 61, No. 3 (Fall 1994): 635-53.

Studies Trollope's use of rhetoric as a commonplace tool of deception and confession in Orley Farm.

Gilead, Sarah. “Trollope's Ground of Meaning: The Macdermots of Ballycloran.The Victorian Newsletter 69 (Spring 1986): 23-26.

Examines the unity of The Macdermots of Ballycloran, arguing that its mood, theme, plot, characterization, and style all support a bleak and monolithic view of human experience.

———. “Trollope's Autobiography: The Strategies of Self-Production.” Modern Language Quarterly 47, No. 3 (September 1986): 272-90.

Suggests that an unexpectedly elegant logic lurks behind what appears to be the informal narrative structure of An Autobiography, and considers the nature of the tension between the surprising quality of that logic and its elegance.

Hapke, Laura. “The Lady as Criminal: Contradiction and Resolution in Trollope's Orley Farm.The Victorian Newsletter 66 (Fall) 1984: 18-21.

Evaluates the terms by which Trollope defines, defends, and acquits Lady Mason of her crimes in Orley Farm in order to understand the power of Victorian gender ideology and its effect on Trollope's well-respected ability to realistically portray the experience of women.

Heineman, Helen. “Anthony Trollope: The Compleat Traveller.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 13, No. 1 (January 1982): 33-50.

Considers the thesis that the most representative voice of Trollope may be read not in his fiction or An Autobiography but in his lesser-known travel writings.

Herbert, Christopher. “He Knew He Was Right, Mrs. Lynn Linton, and the Duplicities of Victorian Marriage.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 25, No. 3 (Fall 1983): 448-69.

Maintains that the literary devices in He Knew He Was Right are used to justify and support the principle of male dominance, an ideology that on the surface these devices appear to confront.

Kucich, John. “Transgression in Trollope: Dishonesty and the Antibourgeois Elite.” ELH 56, No. 3 (Fall 1989): 593-618.

Studies the way in which Trollope projects forbidden energies beyond the middle class, characterizes these energies as the moral shortcomings of those who oppose bourgeois culture, and then readopts these anti-bourgeois energies for the protagonists of his novels.

Nardin, Jane. “The Social Critic in Anthony Trollope's Novels.” SEL 30, No. 4 (Autumn 1990): 679-96.

Asserts that Trollope's novels do not attempt to present solutions to England's social problems, as many critics believed they should. Rather, Nardin maintains that the novels explore the manner in which such problems should be approached.

———. “Anthony Trollope and Common Morality.” Trollope and Victorian Moral Philosophy, pp. 1-16. Athens, Oh.: Ohio University Press, 1996.

Argues that Trollope's novels defend England's moral traditions against the criticisms of his contemporaries, who suggested that English common morality was a collage of somewhat irrational prejudices inherited from the past.

Vernon, Patricia A. “The Poor Fictionist's Conscience: Point of View in the Palliser Novels.” Victorian Newsletter 71 (Spring 1987): 16-20.

Studies the role of the narrator in the Palliser novels, demonstrating that the narrator fills two roles: that of the controlling artist and that of the human chronicler.

Wolfreys, Julian. “Reading Trollope: Whose Englishness Is It Anyway?” Being English: Narratives, Idioms, and Performances of National Identity from Coleridge to Trollope, 243p. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Explores the issue of “Englishness” and the problematic way it is mapped in Trollope's Palliser novels. Wolfreys focuses on the issues of identity crises in the novels and the political discourses that informed the experience of the bourgeoisie in England in the 1870s.

Additional coverage of Trollope’s life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography 1832-1890; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most Studied Authors and Novelists; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 21, 57, 159; Something About the Author, Vol. 22; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 28; and World Literature Criticism.

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