This review appeared in Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 33:2 (May 2011): 190-92.
The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope's Novels: New Readings for the Twenty-First Century Margaret Markwick, Deborah Denenholz Morse, and Reginia Gagnier, edds. Farnham Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing Co, 2009. xiv + 259 pp. ISBN 978-0-7546-6389-8 (hb)
This anthology contains fifteen of the forty-odd papers delivered at a Trollope conference held at Exeter College in July 2006. I was there, and gave a paper which, like many of these fifteen, explores Trollope's unconventional perceptions of sexuality and gender roles (“Trollope's Comfort Romances for Men”). In a final two-hour “round-table plenary and discussion” everyone came together to discuss “Why read Trollope, and how justify paying people to teach Trollope in schools and colleges?”, and a candid and engaging conversation ensued about Trollope; its underlying grounds were those which had led to this three-day array of papers drawing upon post-colonial, feminist, biographical, editorial, and phenomenological perspectives. Nonetheless, while these essays are strikingly different in tone and subject matter from Trollope scholarship before the 1980s (“Trollopians Reduces”), and, as Kincaid puts it in his publication notice on the book's cover, present “unpredictable” and unexpected subjects and arguments, most of the essays still present a Trollope who is a mirror of his era, albeit in different terms (2, 8).
Several essays do break new ground. Although in a 2004 lecture give at the New York Trollope Society, Steven Amarnick before described the losses sustained when Trollope extensively reduced his manuscript of The Duke's Children by about a quarter (195-210) in order to persuade Chapman and Hall to publish it, this essay will inform a wider audience that we are still not reading Trollope's concluding rich parliamentary novel. David Skilton argues contemporary reviewers and readers said they found Trollope wanting because he reveals characters as impinged upon and acting out of social pressures rather than through a thoroughly imagined inward life (207-8, 212-13) when what they objected to was “the absence of religious thought” and “secularization of the conscience” (220) characteristic of Trollope's texts. Jenny Bourne Taylor places a number of Trollope's novels in a context of laws, customs, and documents that conferred legitimacy on marriage and children (45-46, 48-50): Trollope's texts enable us to see the basis of the identities, power, and security which his characters rely upon is difficult to demonstrate or wholly imagined, contingent on unknowable circumstances, at best tenuous. Robert M. Polhemus and Margaret Markwick disclose a sexually transgressive Trollope: Polhemus argues the spiritual and emotional incest which develops between younger women and older men who mentor, befriend, protect, marry, and sexually long for these women dramatizes a beneficial fostering of the womens' identity, a pattern Polhemus suggests found in families and career networking still. Markwick contextualizes Trollope's texts with studies of homosexual (61-63) and “oriental” imagery (using the word as a concept in Said's sense) and finds in Trollope non-judgmental sympathy for homosocial bonding, homoeroticism (72-73) as well as (through puns) an awareness of sodomitical relationships (67-69) between males.
The politics of gender roles and/or post-colonial perspectives circumscribe the analyses of six essays. Three confirm He Knew He Was Right and The Way We Live Now are replacing the Barsetshire novels as Trollope's signature books. Kathy Alexis Psomiades and Deborah Denenholz More read He Knew He Was Right metonymically as a story of male sexual tyranny. Psomiades argues this novel shares the outlook found in John Stuart Mill's Subjection of Women and Carole Pateman's Sexual Contract (32, 42) while at the same time we are made to see how male power (violence) and anxiety secures contractual marriage. Morse re-contextualizes an essay she published in Erotics of Instruction: she again strenuously disagrees with Christopher Herbert (“The Duplicities of Victorian Marriage”) and others that He Knew He Was Right centrally questions the viability of marriage unless the partners practice continual hypocrisies, this time framing her analysis of strong heroines and beautifully loving men (94-97) by arguing that Trollope meant us to see that Emily and Louis Trevelyan re-enact the politics of slavery as just then seen in Jamaica (81-84). Nathan Hensley insists on Trollope's “blithely misogynistic criticism” of “foreign investment,” women, exchange (trade) and Jews (148, 150, 155, 159) in The Way We Live Now; like Psomiades, Hensley questions whether liberalism (in the Mill and Trilling sense used throughout this volume) or socialistic feminism provide viable alternative choices for women to pursue today (148, 160). Lauren M. E. Goodlad parallels colonialist Indian politics in the newspapers of the day, the virtuous governess-heroine's behavior, and parliamentary politics in The Eustace Diamonds (103-8) to show that Trollope's novel exposes the hollowness of liberal stances. As in her Allegories of Union in Irish and English Writing, 1790-1870, Mary Jean Corbett discusses Phineas Finn's Anglo-Irish political conflicts from angles that allow her to show Trollope's men enact “womanly” (129), and his women, masculine norms. Although Christopher S. Noble thinks Trollope “champions liberalism” “against the demands of social affectation” (190), he echoes Corbett in his reading of the allure for male readers and characters of Trollope's unconventional and (apparently) powerful masculine widows (177-80).
The techniques of new and old historicism are pervasive in most of the volume's essays, and the connections claimed are not always persuasive (i.e., the colonial parallels above), or the essay is insufficiently grounded in broader knowledge of Trollope's corpus. In time-honored fashion Elsie Michie historicizes Dr Thorne through the circumstances surrounding Miss Dunstable by identifying the character with the wealthy “pill and ointment magnate Sir Thomas Holloway” (162-63). Helen Lucy Blythe frames her findings with explications of Trollope's New Zealander (131-32), John Caldigate (134-35), and Wilkie Collins's Man and Wife (138-39), and then modernizes Trollope's late short story, “Catherine Carmichael” as an exemplification of a Pierre Bourdieu thesis. But Anca Vlasopolos's stark reading of Trollope's editor's tale, “Mary Gresley,” and his tragic-romance novella, Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, strains credulity: she argues the heroine of the first is “a sterile female sacrifice to Victorian religious duty” (224, 227); and the second an all-out “attack” on the laws of inheritance, primogeniture, and “Sir Harry's nation, class, and genetic allegiances” (229-30, 233). Tellingly, Regenia Garner tacitly acknowledges she is partly reading against the grain when she frames the volume's concluding essay with descriptions of leading Tory members of the Trollope Society and of common popular and respected readings of Trollope as an arch-conservative peddling nostalgia (235, 237): her thus-qualified analysis of The Prime Minister as “ripped through, with the story of the excluded and self-destructive Ferdinand Lopez” becomes a compelling exposure of how liberalism functions in criticism and books when accompanied by “its historical companions of resentment and manipulation” (246).
The essayists are unlike earlier criticism in more than their theory-based techniques. They allude frequently to, and Garnier laments, they could not include Amanda Anderson's “Trollope's Modernity” (e.g., 6, 31n, 238-239), in which Anderson finds in Trollope's texts only a partial honoring of his characters' drive to achieve Trilling-like goals of sincerity (honesty) and authenticity (adherence to a sense of selfhood and values apart from their society's norms). The essayists take an adversarial stance towards supposed unexamined adherences to the optimism of leftist-liberal and social feminist thought of an earlier time. Using post-colonialist perspectives, they are able to be sceptical about liberal thought, and thus leave us with Trollope's insistence on prudential realities and desires as inescapable, frequently without pointing to (as Anderson does) significant characters in Trollope who find personally satisfying recourse in liberal choices, which include recalcitrance as a site of resistance. The essayists' own political stances are a hodge-podge: after reading Trollope, they suggest we are strongly challenged (?) (40-41, 160); they punt (248-49), assume Trollope was basically “an advanced liberal conservative” (201), celebrate him as a “benign” and healthy liberal (74, 97, 144), whig (164-65, 175) or melancholy sceptic (58-59); or (Skilton) return to the earlier previous generational attitude (e.g., Bill Overton and Robert Tracey) and “place [Trollope] firmly among mid-Victorian radicals, where, to the surprise of many, he deserves to be” (220). Ironically, the flaws in this volume arise from an insufficient interest in Anthony Trollope.
George Mason University
Lecturer in English
The interested reader will find detailed summaries of these collection of essays book on my blog, "Ellen and Jim have a blog, two:" The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope's Novels (1), The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope's Novels (2)
I've also provided a summary and description of The Trollope conference held at Exeter university, July 17-19, 2006.
ELLEN MOODY is a Lecturer in English at George Mason University. Her publications include Trollope on the 'Net (Hambledon Press and the Trollope Society, 1999) and two essays on Anthony Trollope's fiction; essays and reviews on 18th century women poets and writers; her specializations include Samuel Richardson, epistolary fiction, and Jane Austen. She has also published on George Eliot, film studies, translation art, and cyberspace. Her publications in cyberspace include a translation of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara's poetic corpus and e-text editions of later 18th century French epistolary novels. Some of her translated poems have been published in anthologies of poetry.