Anthony Trollope's "Josephine de Montmorenci"

?Written after 1867 (October) when he became editor of St Paul's
Published 1869 (December), St Paul's
Published in a book 1870 (June), An Editor's Tales, Strahan

March 17, 1998

To Trollope-L

Re: Miss Polly aka Maryanne Puffle, or The Story of a Pseudonym

There are two ways to approach this story. The first is as a "story a clef." Sutherland and R. H. Super agree that many of the details of the life of Polly with her sister- and brother-in-law are too close to the life of George Lewes and his Polly (Lewes called Maryanne Evans aka George Eliot Polly) combined with some actual details about the kinds of works she wrote and that of other female novelists to ignore them.

To review the argument in the notes: Sutherland writes one of Trollope's recent biographers, RHSuper, thinks the character of Josephine de Montmorenci was partly based on George Eliot aka Maryann Evans, Mrs Lewes, & Mrs Cross. Sutherland suggests that only the real familiar name and use of a pseudonym, as well as certain details about Miss Puffle's sister's husband recall George Eliot and George Henry Lewes (Mr Puffle smokes cigars constantly, as did Lewes who bought them from, among others, Trollope, and Lewes wrote an article on tobacco smoking for Trollope's St Pauls).

How many clues does one need? Marian Evans also allowed Lewes to do all her negotiation, and it is notorious that everyone thought her very ugly -- and she suffered very badly as a result. Perhaps she didn't go out in company all that because she was "living in sin" with Lewes, much preferred to stay home and study and read, was not that comfortable with other women -- and had had bad experiences over her looks. There is much evidence for all these reasons in her fiction and in her life as retold in various biographies.

Polly is also an amalgam. The quasi-sensational, quasi-metaphysical novel caricatured (Not So Black as He's Painted), that Polly Puffle has a badly crippled back and can hardly sit up, and the curious mixture of boldness and teasing shyness with which Polly approaches the editor of the story (patently Trollope himself as one Mr Brown) is also said in these notes to recall both Caroline Archer Clive (nee Meysey-Wigley), lamed in childhood by infantile paralysis, who also used a pseudonym, "V" and wrote a book about a man who murders his wife and children and lives to marry another (with justifications very like those of Not so Black). Josephine also has elements in her story from that of one Baroness Marie Pauline Rose Blaze de Bury (nee Stuart, but illegitimate) whose novel, All for Greed Trollope did publish (said by Sutherland to be "fully as dire as Not so Black). The story may well retell the Baroness's first approaches to her editor, which consist of a series of letters in which she conspicuously signs herself "Josephine de Montmorency," and the story continually hovers round this French name which the editor immediately sees is false and calls "unfortunate."

Looked at as a roman or "story a clef" I suggest Trollope is criticizing Polly for puffing her name, for disguising it in the sham French romance lady's name. The story is named "Josephine de Montmorenci" and the editor has to become a kind of Sherlock Holmes to track this lady down to the right cultural and social and economic milieu, that of the English middle class. In short the action of the piece depends upon this use of a false name and Trollope seems to imply a disapproval of the pretense which he sees as a ploy to give Polly the distinguishing cachet of nobility; it is also something she hides behind, as she does behind her sister-in-law who does all her active business for her (but then she is crippled).

The story also ends on a dialogue in which the two women at long last confess some of the ways in which they misled the editor, and perhaps the dialogue as it is contemporary will shed some light on at least one well-known author's attitude towards pseudonyms in his capacity as editor. Trollope seems to feel that the pseudonym is understandable as a selling device for the public, but that between editor and novelist there ought to be more confidence, more truth:

'I suppose we had better tell him all,' said Josephine.

'Oh, yes, tell everything. I am sure he won't be angry; he is so good-natured,' said Mrs Puffle.

Mr Brown looked first at one, and then at the other, feeling himself to be rather uncomfortable. What was there that remained to be told? He was good-natured, but he did not llike being told of that virtue. 'The name you have heard is not my name,' said the lady who had written the novel.

'Oh, indeed! I have heard Mrs Puffle call you,--Polly.'

'My name is,--Maryanne.'

'It is a very good name,' said Mr Brown,--'so good that I cannot quite understand why you should go out of your way to assume another.'

'It is Maryanne,--Puffle.'

'Oh;--Puffle!' said Mr Brown.

'And a very good name, too,' said Mrs Puffle.

'I haven't a word to say against it,' said Mr Brown. 'I wish I could say quite as much to that other name,--Josephine de Montmorenci.'

"But Maryanne Puffle would be quite unendurable on a title-age,' said the owner of the unfortunate appellation.

'I don't see it,' said Mr Brown doggedly.

'Ever so many have done the same,' said Mrs Puffle. 'There's Boz.'

'Calling yourself Boz isn't like calling yourself Josephone de Montmorenci,' said the editor, who could forgive the loss of beauty, but not the assumed grandeur of the name.

'And Currer Bell, and Jacob Omnium [Matthew Higgins], and Barry Cornwall [Brian Waller Procter],' said poor Polly Puffle, pleading hard for her falsehood.

'And Michael Angelo Titmarsh! That was quite the same sort of thing,' said Mrs Puffle.

Our editor tried to explain to them that the sin of which he now complained did not consist in the intention,--foolish as that had been,--of putting such a name as Josephine de Montmorenci on the title-page, but in having corresponded with him,--with him who had been so willing to be a friend,--under a false name. 'I really think you ought to have told me sooner,' he said.

The story concludes three brief paragraphs later.

What are we to make of this? That George Eliot as a name may be regarded in the same light as Judy Garland, Cary Grant, & other pseudonyms as a sop to a foolish public (and pseudonyms are still very much in vogue in popular fiction; VC Andrews, for example, dead for some time, still produces novels under this name, but they are popular successes because the name is known, a brand name as it were); that in private life George Eliot was Maryanne, as Boz was Dickens, Titmarsh Thackeray &c. Trollope himself was always Anthony Trollope. I think his mother was always Mrs Fanny Trollope. No phony pretense here.

The story does not dwell on the Miss or Mrs conundrum--one reason women used a pseudonym was to hide their real identity, and they could and did "hide" behind the husband's name. Who knows that Mrs Henry Wood's first name was Ellen. (A very good name if I do say so myself.) Or that Mrs Humphry Ward was a Mary? It also does not dwell on the need to pretend to be a man or the degradation still attached to writing for money. Thus Charlotte Bronte became Currer Bell. What it does dwell on is the class and glamour of the pseudonym. It is hypocritical romance lady names Trollope objects to. But underneath this we might see him regarding a man's name as falsely prestigious too.

If your name is Polly, call yourself that. Sign Betty if that's you, not Elisabetta.

Comments anyone?

Ellen Moody

Re: Short Story: Josephine de Montmorenci: Another Female Author

Here's another way to read this story: it's about a female author who faces a series of obstacles to getting her work published, not worst of which is that she is literally crippled. I don't like to find symbols in Trollope, but sometimes he does use a literal reality as a symbol (as in General Chassée's "relics," and the mysteriously disappearing "box" which so obsesses just about everyone in the story called "The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box"). Josephine de Montmorenci's crippled state may figure forth some inward crippling she has experienced in her life. If those who are reading this are willing to go this far with me, are you willing to say if we read this story as paired with "Mary Gresley" then Mary Gresley may also be seen as crippled.

Since we don't meet Josephine until late in the story and since many of the details of the story concern the editor's difficulty in getting in touch with Josephine and communicating with her, the story would not seem to be that concerned with the inward psychology of the author. Rather it's a subsidiary theme. For example, our editor tells us his remarks about his slush pile of manuscripts are "equally" about the "works of one sex" as "the other" (Sutherland p 121). Four-fifths of them are unpublishable because very few would buy and even less read them. On the other hand, the author is a woman, and as the author imagines the ferocious objections he may encounter when he suggests changes in the manuscript, it's clear the emotional creature imagined is a woman.

It's true there is much more about Mrs Brown personally than about Polly. Mrs Brown is your prosaic woman of the world who is comfortable in our world. Polly actually first appears on the last pages of the story. On the other hand it is Polly who writes the grasping suddenly startlingly self-confident letters. It is Polly who is able through letters to assert herself where she is not able to assert herself in person. I wonder how much this is characteristic of a woman rather than a man? Fellow female adjuncts have told me that they find it easy to send off reams of letters of application and resumes, but to come in and talk is not easy. The personality that is depicted in the letters is someone who is somewhat bitter and resentment. She is tired of the usual lies. She will not be used. She will not run after the editor. She will not allow herself to be put in the inferior position of waiting outside the door. I love her: "I hate you and your compliments." By-the-bye according the two biographers whose books about George Eliot I read this past spring George Eliot would occasionally write very brutal letters to people suddenly spurting out years of anger that had been kept in. It is interesting that as opposed to Mary who really went to men to hear their opinion, Polly only goes to have some "authority" she thinks the editor will respect. Herself she thinks "Old X. is a fool and knows nothing about it."

Polly does demand and tell the truth in her letters. She is "poor as Job... please to say how much I shall be paid for it." When she actually sends her novel she calls it a "treasure," asks for it "back, and tells how little money she has quite literally and what her bills are. This part made me remember Jane Austen's letter to her publisher asking for NA back which she at least signed "MAD" (she gave herself a name which had those initials for a punning word.)

So -- a third kind of reading -- it's an epistolary story, with the peculiar indirect inward characteristics and ironies of epistolary narratives. I would argue it is, like Mary Gresley, about the problems a woman author has. Also about her predilections. As Mary tells a common-place romance version of her own life, so Josephine tells a torrid romance drawn from her feminine dream world which is in some ways a sheltered one. What, for example, can Polly know of sex but the twaddle (p 122) her story is made up of and which she probably read in Byronic romance (the name Medora is from The Corsair).


To Trollope-L

March 19, 1998

Re: Polly on the Net

I find it much easier to write to someone than to talk to them. I can also say things in writing I would not say face-to-face. Proust says we have two selves: a private one who comes out in dreams and in our books; a public one who lives in the drawing room and fits in. He is talking about the imagination of the artist, but I think the parallel holds for me simply in the difference between talking to an imagined presence(s) and to a real one in front of you. Another more limited or directly revelant aspect of this to lists is something someone on C18-L said to me off-list tonight. He wrote: "There is an interesting thing going on here [on C18-l]. Just as some people use the net to enter virtual sex chat rooms where they let rip fantasies which they wouldn't dare expose in public I think many contributors to the C18 list let rip intellectual ideas which they would be too intimidated to voice in a normal academic environment." In other words, the reason that on C18-L we sometimes get threads which are far more interesting than articles in scholarly journals is the epistolary and distanced nature of the communication.

The distinction is not necessarily female at all. One of the reasons I have always liked Darwin is he could write reams and reams of letters, books, diaries, journals, and did. But he was shy in public, reclusive. So too Samuel Richardson. On the other hand, given the centuries-long habituation of women to the home, to private life, it seems to me this tendency might be fostered more in women than men.

Ellen Moody

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 (GMT)
From: (Marcella McCarthy)
Subject: Polly on the Net: A Vast Epistolary Novel

I agree about writing being less inhibiting than speech. I think there is a whole complex of matters involved here. One is the pleasure of being able to always have time to find the witty answer, check sources etc. (and yes! without the pressure to get things perfect), but another--and I think this may apply especially to women--is that in a letter or e-mail one can be properly anonymous.

What I mean is that all the little details of accent, appearance etc. are ironed out. You can talk without people marvelling at your distracting beauty or your weird stammer. I think this is especially pertinent in England, where most people seem amazingly quick to pigeonhole others in terms of race, education and class (to name but three parameters) by reference to their voice and appearance. It's not unrelated to the idea of internet romance--surely some of these people may be at best surprised if they meet up with their fantasy correspondents.

All this gives a freedom AT picks up on. No wonder his mysterious correspondent turns out to be not only a woman, but crippled. What stronger metaphor for powerlessness speaking with the voice of power? I think, apropos of this, of Elizabeth Barrett--now there was someone who turned illness into a means of escape. Her invalid status allowed correspondence of a freedom quite unparallelled, with all sorts of people. Imagine how her father would have felt if RB had announced during a morning-visit to an uncrippled Miss Barrett the sentiments he announces in his love-letters, or she had responded in kind. It wasn't that long, after all, since Marianne corresponding with Crosbie in S&S was a sure sign they must be secretly engaged.

For me the other pleasure of e-mail is that one can carry on a conversation at intervals, with pause for thought. Or just listen in without being a visible presence (lurkers should perhaps be called eavesdroppers?). Imagine if we were to try and have this sort of discussion in person(s). It would be imposssible without organising some huge conference, and even that wouldn't be the same. It is all very civilised--everyone gets their say, you don't ever miss an interesting remark, you can riposte (re-post?) to several people at once.

With regard to Trollope and poor Polly, her pseudonym is not unlike some I've seen on the net elsewhere. The charm of pretending you're more glamorous than you are! But of course she *is* also that person. A novelist like AT describes people's appearance before he tells you of what they say and do (especially the dimples) because he knows how closely we relate appearance and character. Isn't Polly in some sense a warning about this?

By the way, Polly is a pet-name for Mary, so perhaps she is a "split" of Mary Gresley. And the final missionary death in that story--I read it as a wry example of what happens when idealism is let loose on the real world. It has real consequences....

Sorry for such a long post--another charm of the net, there's no-one to interrupt.

Marcella MacCarthy

Re: Polly on the Net: A Vast Epistolary Novel

When Kishor wrote, "Finally, Marcella, please don't feel the need to apologise for the length of your posts. They are far too short for me!" I want to chime in, me too.

I would add that we are not really anonymous on lists by saying that only those who use fake or pseudonymous names are really anonymous. That this is done we all know; all too often it is not simply a matter of protecting one's privacy or pride; I have now seen these pseudonyms used as a way of flaming other people or stirring up trouble with impunity. What is true is that such a person does not come onto the Net to make any friends.

While it is not true on this list, or Austen-l or Litalk or other places where we have a number of college and school-teachers, we have a large number of people who are not involved in any academic or professional activities rooted in literary study, on those lists I am on which are preponderantly academic or strongly dominated by professors in universities, people are very alert to the smallest signs of one's status. I have been surprised to learn how many people pay attention to which "edu" the poster is posting from. If you are posting, from Harvard, your "stock" of respect goes up. At the close of many postings on Renais-l, Ficino, C18-l, and Victoria, people sign not only their names, but their titles, institutional affiliations, and the like. Patrick Leary, the listowner of Victoria, urges posters to tell such information in his "introduction to Victoria" blurb. Renais-l and Ficino keep biographies on hand (entirely voluntary, but there). On these lists people posting from "" are just not quite as automatically "respected" as those posting from "edu," and a couple of people on Austen-l have told me they could post from a "com" address, but use their "edu" address because they feel better about the status of the address. It is true that most "edu's," "orgs," "mils" and other institutions prevent those who post from their computers from using fake identities.

On the other hand, not only in England but here in the US people are judged by appearance, clothes, accents, manners, and we are in this realm at least freed from the kinds of prejudice people attach to these things. Maybe this is one aspect of creative freedom in solitude. Maybe this is why that private self comes out.

Finally, on Polly as a cripple (or disabled as we would more politely put it today) in the light of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's use of her "sickness," it is not uncommon for people to use illness as a backhanded weapon or shield. Paradoxically or ironically, Elizabeth Barrett was able to live a full life as a literary woman because she sat on that couch; she could have a lover because her father assumed a woman on a couch couldn't. On the other hand, had she been poor, this would not have happened. Her wealth and connections were also part of this weaponry of hers. They brought her her education. Polly Puffle hadn't that. The story is heavily influenced by Trollope's memories of George Eliot and George Lewes, two self-educated people who made it by their pens.

Ellen Moody

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