Epistolarity in Dr Thorne: An Inset Epistolary Novel: De Courcy Precepts and De Courcy Practice: Lady Amelia De Courcy and Miss Augusta Gresham

From Re: Dr Thorne, Chs 36-39: Told In Strong Scenes, Meditations and Letters

This week's chapters brings us a series of effective chapters . . .

Then the wonderful chapter (38), 'De Courcy Precepts and De Courcy Practice', which are apparently two very different things . The ruthless Lady Amelia De Courcy intimidates her gullible cousin, Miss Augusta Gresham, out of a man who Lady Amelia knows is "good husband material", and then takes him for herself. The distance between what is said and what is done provides the commentary on what is said. That is in the two letters which with no irony whatsoever put before the justifications for caste arrogance which are alas probably still with us, though couched in other language. Now we talk of how important ambition and competition are to climb up; then they talked of how important it was not to let anyone climb up through you on the ladder; it would be to equalise and of course bring yourself down. Augusta seems not to have much capacity for love -- though she has more than Lady Amelia. These values mean more to her self-image, and that self-image more than any human contact with a man. The trick here is Trollope allows neither woman to bring up how despised an old maid was in the period, how vulnerable, and therefore always amongst the lowest on her branch, no matter where her branch on the tree may be. It is a tour de force and brings together before our eyes explicitly some of the stances of the books towards class about which Trollope is himself contradictory and ambivalent.

He seems to have enjoyed writing such chapters. He likes to impersonate through letters. It gives him a kick to feel this power. We get very close up to the characters. He also enjoy putting before the readers the worst kinds of characters, and saying, see, here's the world is made of. It is a kind of aggression aimed at the reader. I think this aspect of Trollope's art is not mentioned enough -- if at all in the criticism and scholarship.

Trollope has juxtaposed the chapter on the world's precepts about blood and an individual's practice (money trumps all, and for Lady Mary, add marriage). Frank is confronted with Mary's lack of status; he doesn't himself argue that it is a matter of indifference to him. The squire says we have to care what the world think for we can't escape it. But for Frank, unlike the gull Augusta, there is something more important: himself, his inner private life, his nature for real and that of Mary.

Cheers to all, Ellen Moody

To Trollope-l

December 2, 1999

Re: Dr Thorne: An Epistolary Chapter

First, in Chapter 38 Trollope means us to feel Augusta has been gulled out of a man she could have been happy with by a cold hypcrite. There is pity for Augusta. Just after Augusta's hopeful letter, he tells us Augusta had 'prayed very hard for her husband, but she had prayed to a bosom that on this subject was hard as flint'. We are then told that Lady Amelia would not permit Augusta to marry because she is 34 and an old maid herself (Penguin Dr Thorne, introd. RRendell, Ch 38, p. 443). Then a letter follows filled with precepts about class and rank and blood, one which drips with arrogant condescension towards Augusta which suggests Augusta will be degraded. This is demonstrably utterly false: Trollope has the narrator jump forward to show us Lady Amelia's practice -- she cagily marrries the man herself because a married woman will always have more power and respect than an old maid with no dowry. That she doesn't invite Augusta to the wedding suggests she knows just how treacherous her conduct towards Augusta has been. The whole set up of the letters, one begging, as sweet with hope as someone like Augusta could be, the next mean and hypocritical, and the third dismayed, and hurt is rhetorically on the side of Augusta and nature. Augusta wants to follow her instinct towards love, marriage, children, kindness and friendship. The set up is against false overvaluation of class, rank, and blood.

So the letter chapter becomes an instance or embodiment of the conscious conflicts of the book: natural emotions v class and rank and blood; the reality that money is what counts, money the thing that weighs in the characters' decisions.

There is a certain animus against Augusta. After all, she has made Lady Amelia her God. We are told that she can accept losing Gazebee because although if any man would have been acceptable to her, Gazebee was it, Augusta is not that much in love with him. She is in love with him insofar as she is capable of loving anyone more than her image of herself. She likes him because he maintains his distance, is cool, respectful. We can see that he is calculating and wants to marry her for her rank, and takes Lady Amelia as a good substitute. There is no real passion or individual depths in this man: he sells himself (his house, his income) for the high ranking wife. And he is just what Augusta could have been happy with. Had Augusta had some agon, real passion, been less of a gull on behalf of rank and blood, Trollope would have made us very sorry for her. But then she would not have listened to Lady Amelia, not have written Lady Amelia for advice in the first place. Her fate is the result of her character, not something imposed; her character is what her society has evolved out of the very thin materials that make up her mind and body. I suppose the irony is that she's bloodless and has lost her one chance at mild happiness (what she is capable of) on behalf of blood. The next chapter in which Frank is so dismayed over his lack of ability to marry Mary is called 'What the world says about blood'. This chapter shows us what the world really does. Smart people ignore it when it is to their interest. Augusta is a fool.

Another irony comes from the reality that Augusta's mild happiness would have been the pretty things in the pretty house with pretty meals. She observes that Lady Amelia refuses to spend the money that Gazebee honestly makes to have these things, and thinks what a nice place and life the two people could have had 'had not Lady Amelia Gazebee been so very economica' (p. 452). Trollope leaves us to draw some conclusions here, and each reader may infer differently. I see Lady Amelia as utterly selfish and grasping; she won't spend for that would be to give of herself to others or society. Her happiness was apparently simply in marrying and owning the house, having the label wife. Perhaps also she was intensely relieved to get away from De Courcy castle which despite its wonderful high ceremony and rank was a miserable place filled with callow driven people who continually think of money. In The Small House at Allington we see just how brutal and grasping Earl de Courcy is when Adolphus Crosbie marries the Lady Alexandrina.

This is a remarkable chapter, and nowhere more remarkable than in the language in the letters by which Trollope impersonates these two complicated presences and shows us them coming at loggerheads to one another through spilling what souls and lies they have in them on paper. I like the comment at its opening: Trollope says epistolary narrative 'is very expressive ... & enables the author to tell his story, or some portion of his sotry, with more natural trust than any other' (p. 438). We trust it because we hear the characters, feel them, get up close. It is a slow way because it moves by the pendulum of the heart's movements. Perhaps Trollope wants us to remember these two letters when we read Mary's to Frank (Ch 42, pp. 494-96) in this week's chapters.

An interesting analogy for epistolary narrative is the drama. To read letters in a novel which they are dialoguing with one another is to feel you are on some stage with two voices. Each letter becomes like a speech in a play. The epistolary way is highly dramatic, only the drama is inward.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Subject: Re: [trollope-l] Dr Thorne Amelia and Augusta

From: "Angela Richardson"

I wonder how people feel about the section of letters between Amelia and Augusta about Mr Gazebee. Amelia's first letter is very human and revealing and puts you on her side, but at the end of the chapter Trollope lets her be defeated when Augusta pairs off with him.

Are we meant to feel that Gazebee is not worth having even though Amelia clearly is fond of him? In other scenes he is a useful man and worth having on your side.

Angela, foolishly rather sorry for Amelia

From: Dagny

Angela, I believe you got the two names Amelia and Augusta switched.

I felt very sorry for Augusta. She seemed to really like Mr. Gazebee. I was furious when he ended up with Amelia. The only reason he wasn't with Augusta was because of Amelia's letter to Augusta putting him down and thereby making Augusta feel he wasn't good enough for her. Ha, and then he ended up with a de Courcy. I couldn't help wondering in my heart if Amelia wrote to Augusta in the vein she used to put Augusta off of Gazebee because she, Amelia, wanted him for herself. Very wicked and spiteful, if so.


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