The Hero of the Book: Senator Elias Gotobed; Telling Truths (or, That'd be telling); The Title; The Senator on Strikes; Gastric Fever & the Wretchedness of Larry; The Title, the world of Dillsborough once again; & the Senator as Anti-Hero with Larry Twentyman his contrasting mirror

To Trollope-l

May 3, 1999

Re: The American Senator: Ch 51: The Hero of the Book

I am going to suggest the hero of the book -- or its anti-hero -- is Senator Elias Gotobed. That's why Trollope insisted on naming the book The American Senator. While I agree with Frazer that class & status are central elements in determining how the characters in the book behave towards one another and regard themselves, I think it is but one. Other determining factors are: how much money or property someone owns or has control over or access to; whether their particular temperament is of the dominating and aggressive or submissive and conciliating kind; their sex or gender (if the modern sociological term is preferred). The problem is none of this is particular to The American Senator. I would say that in almost if not all Trollope's novels, class & status (or family rank), money, the daily politics of personal relationships shaped as issuing in one person dominating or submitting to another, and sex are central factors in determining how the characters behave and thus thematically central to the book. What makes The American Senator different, what gives it its especial quality and themes inheres in Elias Gotobed.

Chapter 51 brings us his second letter; the first was in Chapter 29. As I read both I thought of a letter by Trollope himself in the Hall volumes where he talks of the small-minded nature of most people. The idea behind placing Gotobed in this book is to show us what happens when people are presented with uncomfortable truths about their world. They will do all they can to deny, erase or (at last resort) ignore them; if you persist they will do what they can can to punish you. An important theme in this book which is part of its special texture is the difficulty everyone in the book has in communicating with other people; more, the reality that people don't much care whether their idea is understood, what they want is to have their will followed. They will say anything to manipulate a situation, and don't care what others say if only they can offset. This is one very real way of looking at all the letters and the struggles between Arabella and Rufford on the one hand, and Mrs Masters against her family group on the other.

The theme of the book is the intransigence of human nature, its denseness, and how difficult it is to make people listen to, much less hear accurately or respond to any general truth, especially if it seems to go against any of their interests, no matter how petty. Now the Senator fails to get this. Our narrator tells us the Senator went about 'with a sad doubt in his own mind whether it could be possible that he should always be right and everybody around him wrong' (Oxford The American Senator, ed. JHalperin, p. 348). Yes it could be, but that doesn't matter. The senator is right about the way the church is exploited, is right about the real lack of power to use the law on behalf of perceived rights on the part of people who are poorer, of lower status, with no land, no connections. He's missing the point. The point is no one cares.

It's also about what makes human communities and how people are utterly shaped and directed by them. How they cannot escape these. Even when they spend most of their time alone. They cannot you see survive -- at least not easily or really happily -- totally alone, wholly without the group.

As the book has progressed, the senator has become less of a larger than life caricature, and more a surrogate for Trollope himself, I would say, especially as novelist and travel-book writer. Trollope often wrote of themes and places in ways that his reviewers and readers disliked. When the narrator tells us the Senator feels bad because he knows he has made people dislike him. He is now regarded by most of those he has come into contact with as 'ill-mannered, ill-conditioned, and absurd' (p. 350). The narrator puts it this way: "He was as much alive as any man to the inward distress of heart which such a conviction brings with it to all sensitive minds" (p. 350). What has happened in the Goarly case is what happens everywhere he looks: "he could get nobody to see, -- or at any rate, could get nobody to acknowledge, -- that the rascality of Goarly had had nothing to do with thequestion as he had taken it up" (p. 353). What isn't acknowledged doesn't exist. Rufford doesn't acknowledge he asked Arabella to marry him, and one cannot fight him with a gun or sword to force him to it or punish him for this common behavior. Mrs Masters will not acknowledge Mary has the right to marry for love; Mary will not acknowledge she will be desperate without a husband. The hunt doesn't acknowledge they had a bad time so they didn't. That hard old woman, the Honorable Mrs Morton (how ironic that title) doesn't acknowledge she can't bear the new heir because she wants some candidate of hers to get the money.

Principle is nothing nowhere. It must be acknowledged (well some of us might) that Trollope will stack the cards in a given direction to make things so much harder for Gotobed so as to make the strain apparent to the least subtle reader. Probably the poor tenant would not have been the sleaze, snitch and low-life that Goarly is; in a given rotten borough, the candidate of the Lord would not have been An Impeccable Honorable Man and the candidate of the people corrupt, dumb, and utterly without principle. Trollope has set these situations up in a forced way and asked us to take them as typical (what he does in the case of Ferdinand Lopez in The Prime Minister). In reality Gotobed would not have had as hard a time finding some personal right inherent in a particular circumstance as well as principle on his side, but Trollope wants us to stare at this opposition, and contemplate it.

I sometimes think that literary critics and scholars are like novelists in sometimes disguising their meaning. Certainly deconstructionists go about to generalise theirs so as to make it more acceptable. There is a wonderful review of Halperin's book on Trollope's politics by George Butte in after showing us how Halperin is concerned to show us how pessimistic and insensitive to the poor Trollope is, Butte wonders aloud

"why Halperin wrote this book. Is its secret plot to expose a Trollope who disliked women, Jews, and the poor, or to admire a Trollope who disliked change?" (Victorian Studies, 21 [1977-78], 520-21).

In his article on The American Senator Edgar F Harden says one problem with the Senator is that if we follow what the response to him is we discover an indictment of human nature. He wonders if Trollope could possibly have meant that. In another place Harden says this novel demonstrates in all its plots 'the pervasiveness of human incompatibility: the enormous, often insuperable difficulty of achieving reconciliation among mortals'. The book is not about tactlessness. It's about what happens when someone gives a stark assessment of a situation plainly to everyone, and I mean everyone involved in it. Go away, they all say. The Senator wishes he could, but he too has his pride.

Ellen Moody

Subject: [trollope-l] Trol: The AS: Telling Truths

From: John Mize

The strangest thing about Senator Gotobed is that he wants to tell the truth and be liked at the same time. He lives in America, and he knows that if one tells Americans the truth about themselves, they will tar and feather you and ride you out of town on a rail. If they are in a bad mood, they will do much worse. Why should he think the English like the truth any better, simply because they are a little less violent?

I really enjoyed Trollope's irony in supposedly defending the English electoral system by mocking the senator's having to learn something which to any Englishman is as natural as breathing. That sounds like a defense, but can anyone objectively evaluate a system when one has lived all ones life under that system? If one is doing well, then the system must be ok. If not, then maybe the system is to blame after all. "That's the way we've always done it" is a very weak argument intellectually, but for many people, it is irrefutable emotionally.

John Mize

In reply to John:

I'm put in mind of Rufford's assurance to Arabella. That'd be telling he says in the postchaise. Of course he wouldn't do that.


: The Title

I agree with Ellen not only about the rightness of the novel's title but the significance of the passage that she cites ('ill-mannered, ill-conditioned, and absurd') in pinning Trollope's personal experience and outlook to the peculiar thrust and flavor of this book.

RJ Keefe

To Trollope-l

May 3, 1999

RE: The American Senator, the Senator on Strikes

Would anyone care to comment on Senator Gotobed's assessment of strikes:

"They [the English working-class] are a long- suffering race, who only now and then feel themselves stirred up to contest a point against their masters on the basis of starvation. 'We won't work but on such and such terms, and if we cannot get them we will lie down and die.' That I take it is the real argument (Oxford The American Senator, ed JHalperin, pp 355-56).

Harsh isn't it. Note that the Senator says the workers go on strike on the basis of starvation. They are driven to it. Then they opt to lay down and die? Not so. They picketted. Still it is true that no worker can be any stronger than the boss's company.

Ellen Moody

: The Senator on strikes

Only three years before Trollope wrote this, in 1874, there was a huge agricultural labourers strike in the 'Eastern districts' which the new ag lab union very sensibly called at harvest time. There was such outrage against them for using this tactic and making their strike as effective as possible. In return the farmers union called a lockout and 2000 unionised labourers were locked out, with only union payments between them and starvation. The weather was on the side of the farmers who with imported labour managed to bring their harvest in. The strike was broken and the labourers went back to work on less than the 10s a week they struck for. The harshness of the language in the papers, especially the Times, was just as bad as that of The American Senator.

Incidentally, the Senator is looking into the extension of the franchise. Some ag labs would get the vote in 1883 quite a long way off.


To Trollope-l

May 3, 1999

RE: The American Senator, Chs 52-56: Gastric Fever & the Wretchedness of Larry

This week Providence or perhaps I should say a deus ex machina throws a wrench into the working of all our stories in the form of gastric fever. The term itself is interesting. I wonder what John Morton has (it seems uncharitable to call him the paragon though he does remain exemplary in his behavior). He is clearly dying: his stomach is killing him, he can't eat, has a high fever, is grown thin. The doctor whose job it was in this period to watch a disease and to continually tell people to hope in is not very hopeful. The reason the term and symptoms as described are interesting is Trollope is rather frank here. When it comes to TB (Marion Fay) we get vague mysterious words and very few actual symptoms. So gastric fever did not come encumbered with the kind of reticence & mythic treatment that surround a mortal disease that many get (as today cancer and AIDS are encumbered). I wonder if today he would be given an operation on his gall bladder and live. We cannot know.

Morton's high rank in the network of this world makes whatever he does of importance. Thus his death draws everyone to his bedside, even Arabella to whom his conduct has been juster than any other man she ever met. We can measure the characters by their response to this man near death. Arabella rises to the situation. She is then not entirely heartless. She also tells Morton the truth about her feelings and behavior. It's interesting that one objection she has had to him all along far more than her mother's to Bragton is she's bored. Precisely because he's decent, upright, and behaves morally she has lost interest in him. This recalls Lady Glen's lack of responsiveness to Plantagenent Palliser, Alice Grey's to John Grey, Emily Wharton's to Arthur Fletcher. Trollope has made Morton into something worse than these: he doesn't think for himself; his paragon behavior is not backed up by any thoughtful integrity (in The Prime Minister the Duke of St Bungay has a wonderful scornful line against moral conduct that is simply stupidity out of cowardice or maybe it's cowardice out of stupidity). Still the irony is clear. Trollope has little sympathy for the desire of Arabella for illicit excitement. Maybe Janice was right: Arabella would not have gotten in the way of any of Lord Rufford's vices. I thought to myself this would make her a bad wife, but then I'm a moral type :).

Mary Masters' visit to Lady Ushant is postponed for the moment because Lady Ushant comes to the man's side -- as does his cousin, Reginald. Lady Ushant is compared to the Honorable Mrs Morton. I am often told how many pleasant people Trollope has in his books; I am always struck by how many hard and unpleasant ones he has, especially women. Mrs Morton is perhaps worse than Lady Augusta -- though when Arabella's mother considers dropping her permanently this woman goes beyond a pale for me. I submit the Honorable Mrs Morton is the worst character in the book. We are told the 'noble cousin' she wants her nephew to leave his property to would not himself ever notice her nor would she have been happy to live with him (p. 393). I guess such characters' punishments is to be themselves and live the lives they choose. The trouble is, Do they know these are punishments? Do they really find happiness in their grasping behavior?

Meanwhile Arabella's case is in abeyance and we get a scene between Lord Rufford and Lord Augustus which shows us people will say anything. Only if you have a handle on them, something they want or need, can you get them to do what you want. It is a strong scene psychologically (pp. 383-90). Lord Rufford hasn't got anything to say. He doesn't have to. It doesn't matter. Thus does this plot link back to the story of Elias Gotobed.

Mrs Masters gets more opportunity to insult people and demean herself in our eyes. She also exploits poor Larry some more. Alas poor Larry. Mrs Masters invites him over. She has no understanding anyone has real feelings except a narrow stratum of her own. If Mrs Morton is the hardest meanest character in the book, perhaps Larry is the most gentle-hearted, the most generous, and the most kind and just.

It is terrible how everyone treats Larry and also how he permits himself to be treated. I agree with Frazer that it is wrenching to watch him wrenched. I will look for the one-liner concerning him that Frazer mentions. The senator tells us he must admit that in England the rich are a more comfortable lot to be with than the poor: they are pleasant and have some pride. The poor, says the senator, cringe; they either whine like slaves, plead for tenderness or pace like some caged animal (pp 355-56). Larry is in the third category. In his _North America_ Trollope praises the American lower classes for behaving with intense self-respect and dignity. Perhaps Trollope thinks Larry ought not to have kissed the whip so eagerly either.

Ellen Moody

Frazer Wright's comment:

From: Frazer Wright

A brief response to the (snipped) posting by Ellen:

It's true that Trollope develops the class strains between Mr and Mrs Masters (he is just about a gentleman and she is no lady)

I have to confess having finished AS last week. I had a holiday in a small cottage we use in the Cotswolds (not too far from Cheltenham!) and could'nt resist the temptation to read on. Rather than give away any pointers as to the often unexpected but delicious, tying up of loose ends still ahead in the calendar, I have to underline Ellen's comments on the Masters. This to me, in fact, is the underlying theme of the book: class and its total hold over English society: marry or masquerade out of your class and you are miserable/abused/ignored. This, to me, is why Larry is so wretched a figure: he is an aspiring gentleman lacking the lineage. Later in the book there is a one-liner concerning Twentyman that sums up much my thoughts. But it is a couple of weeks ahead in the calendar, so I'll say no more yet.

Frazer Wright

To Trollope-l

Re: The American Senator: The Title; the World of Dillsborough once again; & the Senator as Anti-Hero with Larry his contrasting mirror

I confess an egregious error in one of my first postings. Trollope did quarrel with his publisher over the title of this book, but not because the publisher wanted the title, The American Senator. It was Trollope who insisted on the title; Bentley was against it. Later on Trollope conceded the title might better have referred to Dillsborough. Halperin gives full details in the opening paragraph of his preface to the Oxford edition of the novel:

"In his Autobiography (1883) Trollope notes that The American Senator (1876-7) was given its title 'very much in opposition to the publisher'. Bentley feared it was misleading, and in most of his advertisements inserted immediately after the title the discliamer, 'The Scene of which Story is laid in England'. Trollope began the concluding cahpter by remarking that the novel 'might perhaps have been better called 'The Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough' (p. 552). But he had written Bentley on 7 December 1875: 'I find that I cannot change the name, -- which indeed, I feel to be in itself a good name. I am sure that nobody can give a name to a novel but its author' (Oxford American Senator, ed Halperin, p. vii)
So Trollope wanted us to see Elias Gotobed as a central figure in his book -- and those comments he made about the novel in his letter and An Autobiography show he saw The American Senator as partly another satire on contemporary mores. The two novels written just before it were The Way We Live Now and The Prime Minister; the one just after Is He Popenjoy? (a hard bitter novel). This the justice of some of what Sadleir says
"the opening chapters . . . set before the reader in a few pages the whole geographical and social pattern of an English county; for the sake of its hunting episodes, which are the best not only in Trollope, but in the whole of English fiction; and for the sake of Arabella Trefoil, a masterly study of a girl without a heart, who may be compared with Molière's Célimène and even with Beatrix in Esmond"

Trollope shows an awareness in his letter that he had created an extraordinary and memorable character in Arabella Trefoil, but as neither she nor our Senator appear in this week's opening 7 chapters (they are only briefly mentioned), we will not be able to talk about them as yet. Richard Mullen is right to speculate that given the loving detail with which Trollope opens his depiction of Ufford and Rufford Trollope intended to start a third series of novels. Barsetshire had come to an end; the Pallisers were coming to an end; he had not gone on to write an Australian series after Lady Anna and the attempts at Irish novels just didn't appeal to English readers. Also whether Trollope meant it seriously when he said in his Autobiography that Larry Twentyman is the real hero of his book. We could argue that Gotobed is the antihero and Larry is alter ego.

Towards the end of He Knew He Was Right Trollope declares the real heroine of his novel is one Priscilla Stanbury, a wonderful old maid (well not that old, in her early 30s, but definitely single for life). I believe him on Priscilla even if as with Larry he is half-ironical as he puts forward this highly unconventional candidate for hero. Now who would his heroine be?

Ellen Moody

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 11 September 2004