From a group conversation on The Last Chronicle of Barset, Chapters 56 - 61:The Importance of Paper:Anonymous and Other Kinds of Letters

To Trollope-l

September 5, 2000

Re: The Last Chronicle, Chs 56-61: The Importance of Paper (I)

As we all know for some 513 pages (at least in my Houghton Mifflin edition of The Last Chronicle) poor Rev Mr Crawley just cannot remember what he did with a piece of paper. It seems this piece of paper got into his wallet and he gave it to someone else. This person took it to a bank and was told he couldn't get money or (if he had an account in this particular bank), the equivalent in the form of a number put in a ledger which gives him the right to hand about paper of his own.

Paper. It is important in our society and Trollope's. I have not been going into the letters in this novel very much in my weekly posts as I did have a section on the novel in my "Partly Told in Letters" (the lecture I gave to the Trollope Society) where I went into multi-way correspondence between Bishop Proudie and Dr Temple, which is next week going to form a central part of the instalments when the Rev Crawley gets into the act. Crawley writes magnificent letters,as monumental and penetrating and sharp and to the point as the clearest of minds. In fact we might say there's something improbable about his ability to write an impressive eloquent letter and his inability to remember what he does with pieces of paper in his wallet. But of course Crawley doesn't care about money. He has not lived his life to make money, to pile it up, and buy things. He lives in a world of the spirit -- and that is one place from which magnficent letters which mirror the heart can flow. If anyone wants to see what I wrote about Crawley's letters, my lecture is at:

I bring his letters up twice in phase two, but take my example from a letter of Julius Mackenzie which is used in the same way as Crawley's but is unhappily not well known.

This week's instalment, though, has another kind of letter that I didn't go into in detail in my "Partly Told In Letters" (because I had to select and omit), but which is important in Trollope. The anonymous letter which cleverly, insidiously defames someone. In my "Partly Told in Letters" I referred to four other novels and have a footnote on a fifth where they are also used in the way we find in The Last Chronicle: The Macdermots of Ballycloran, Phineas Redux, Popenjoy, Marion Fay, and Landleaguers. What this spread shows is is that anonymous and unsigned letters occur from the first novel to the last in Trollope. These are not the only five stories in which anonymous letters show up, but as with The Last Chronicle, when they do, they make a crucial change in the narrative, a turning point, provide some rational for a character to do something or feel something irretrievable. And in all six of these and all the others I could find the way it is done is nasty. Anonymous and unsigned letters are always ugly in Trollope.

People have asked me what I think Trollope might have thought of writing on the Net. I don't think it's important what decision we speculate on, but rather our reasons for speculating. I speculate Trollope would have been drawn to the Net because he loved to write, was a man who lived in a world of words, loved to read, was aggressive; but at the same time he would have been deeply distrustful, aware of how a written word is a document and can be used against you, how people interpret what they read according to their own self-involved passions, and he would especially have been wary of the ability of people to be anonymous on the Web, to use pseudonyms, false names. Trollope conducts a one-man campaign to get people to sign their names to what they wrote in public so as to make them accountable. His essays on anonymity are worth reading as acute comments on writing in social situations which are public.

Trollope makes it plain that Lily was herself half-looking for some reason to reject John Eames. He makes it plain that she is one of the world's walking wounded. The two scenes where she encounters Crosbie in public show just how deep the pain has gone. Yet her own sexual nature, a real fund of quiet common sense which we see in her witticisms, and time were doing their work; so too John's success in society. So too the disillusioning reality of Crosbie himself. She was beginning to move towards him.

Why then is this letter such poison? I solicit comments. What do others think?

I presented part of my take last week, which I see as reinforced by the narrator's comments this week in language like "she let it drop from her, as though the receiving and opening, and reading it had been a stain to her" (Houghton Mifflin Last Chronicle, ed AMizener, Ch 59, p. 483). A little later Lily says "no gentleman should become intimately acquainted with a woman who could write such a letter as that" (p. 484). Emily has said, well you know men go with such women, and that's the way it is. We may think to ourselves that had it been Bernard, she would not have been so complacent :). It is the sex; Lily is slightly sickened by Johnny's taste; by his going to M.D. and then coming to her and then back to M.D., she is involved in this scabrous sex. As I tried to argue last week Trollope has obliquely through Johnny Eames presented the reality of the bourgeois well-brought up male who can't get sex easily before marriage unless he goes to such women, and whose wife may well have been trained to remain somewhat cold towards him, who may not have known any other man before him, while he is trained to put her on a pedestal and distrust 'wanton' behavior. All of which could in sensitive shy individuals put quite an obstacle before them in achieving sexual fulfillment.

I hope I don't get anyone too excited if I take on some of these terms and say John does have sort of low tastes. Note how Lily suddenly remembers Amelia Roper. We are told that episode pained and offended her too. Note how Trollope is careful to say "She had believed that John Eames had in that case behaved cruelly to a young woman, and had thought that her offence had come simply from that feeling" (p. 484). To put it that way is to hint her offence did not come simply from pity for Amelia. If we listen to her words, we hear sexual distaste rippling through: "there is something very disagreeable in the whole thing". Now Emily is inclined to take the brutal strong line: this is a world where aggressors win out; slide over it, and grab: "why should you not stand in her way". People like Crawley are the world's losers because they are squeamish. Lily is just the sort of person who will not lower herself to take anyway she can: "I will stand in nobody's way". Pride or integrity or distaste for competition, refusing to battle? This does remind me of Mr Harding too. And like Mr Harding, Lily goes on to say, what she is supposed to battle for suddenly seems less than worth it.

There is something else. Lily has been jilted before. And in the way she talks about M.D. she might just be talking about Lady Alexandria de Courcy: "'Interfere with me ... nobody has the power to interfere with me; nobody has the power to do so" (p. 485). That's an interesting way to put it. But of course everyone has had the power to interfere. The De Courcys interfered; her uncle, the Squire, interfered; she was interfered with everywhere she turned, and she was powerless to hold onto to Crosbie. Trollope's intuitive understanding of her motives comes out in this use of language.

He reinforces the weight of this slip of paper in the particular circumstances of a girl now depressed, a girl who has been jilted by a man to whom she gave herself, now beginning to be ready to give herself to another in the more commonplace general language of his narrator towards the end of the chapter:

"Poor Johnny. He had stood in much better favour before the lady had presented her compliments to Miss L. D. It was that odious letter and the thoughts which it had forced upon Lily's mind, which were now most inimical to his interests. Whether Lily loved him or not, she did not love him well enough to be jealous of him. Had any such letter reached her respecting Crosbie in the happy days of her young love, she would have simply laughed at it. It would have been nothing to her. But now she was sore and unhappy, and any trifle was powerful enough to irritate her" (p. 492).

When Lily's mind was strong, before the blow, she would have laughed off such a letter. She would have seen the essential powerlessness of an M.D. She also is not jealous of Johnny; that is, she doesn't care enough to fear a rival. She doesn't want him that way, meaning sexually. Trollope has several novels where he studies sexual jealousy: it is always bound up with the desire to possess, and fear of losing the other person, anxiety over losing face lest you lose the other person in front of others. Alas, Lily feels nothing of this for Johnny; had she felt it, she might actually have had the animal response of standing in M.D.'s way. Instead all it does it add another knife to move around in a wound that has not yet formed a scab. We may identify this way: you go to work, have a hard day, are not promoted, people give you a hard time, you come home and discover some thing happening which further hurts you in some small way. You blow up because your spirits are weakened before you got to it.

I have gone on too long probably because this instalment with the scenes of Lily meeting Crosbie and her reaction to the letter are a kind of culmination of a two book long development which has many different strands, all of them of social, sexual, psychological and moral interest today still. In those places where we differ from Trollope's generation this and last week's chapters in London are of interest. For example, the idea that Crosbie should somehow have vanished himself, that he never should have spoken to Lily. I assume many people today would not respond to his behavior as insulting Lily. People today might even be sympathetic to his desire to remarry, and marry Lily. Is there anyone on this list brave enough to say this? Why should he not? Except of course then he would not respect Lily ever, given how much she has shown she needed him; he would be too dominant, and as Trollope has shown from the beginning, he is not a generous male.

I'll stop here and put the rest of this posting in a Part Two ....

Re: The Anonymous Letter Sent to Lily

Ellen wrote last week about letters and asked of the anonymous letter :

"Why then is this letter such poison? I solicit comments. What do others think?"

I've only just caught up on these chapters but my thoughts are that its the way that her private difficulties are so very public which causes Lily extra pain and digs her further in the mire (to use a Trollope phrase). The anonymous letter appears to know a lot about her and she is made aware that a particularly spiteful person whom she does not know, has this private information about her. That is painful. The scene where she meets Crosbie for the second time reinforce this public airing of private shame. Everyone sees and everyone knows. In the carriage on the way home, she is lectured about her private life in a way, as Lily comments, that only her mother has a right to do, no-one else should know or feel able to speak. They wouldn't speak to her and tread on her agonised toes in this way, if the knowledge about her was not public. It is this element in the letter which gives it its power.


Re: On Behalf of Dr Tempest

Lets hear it for Dr Tempest, the only character in the book so far who could make Mr Crawley take any sustenance!

I love his letter to Crawley and the movement in it from official to persuasive. Clearly this is bringing out the latent civil servant in me, but I've very much enjoyed the Dr Tempest scenes. They make a nice foil with Mr Toogood as they both operate with the same motive though in thoroughly different ways.


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