February 20, 1999
Re: The American Senator: Introduction & The International Theme: British and American Ocean-Crossing
Although The American Senator has not been among the more admired of Trollope's novels, it has always attracted attention. It centers on what in Jamesian studies is called The International Theme. Trollope too has English heroes attracted to American girls because those girls seem franker, more independent spirited and less kept from contact with men than their English and European counterparts. People have written articles comparing Isabel Boncassen in The Duke's Children to Isabel Archer in A Portrait of the Lady; they have also compared the dwindling of Alice Vavasour in Can You Forgive Her? to the dark wall faced by Isabel Archer at the close of her journey. Trollope and his mother had travelled the American continent, and their travel books testify to the fascination one side of a large English-speaking country whose customs and laws are originally rooted in Britain felt for Great Britain and vice versa. As I know some people will read ahead and finish faster than others, I'd like to say that not only does James make an interesting comparison with Trollope (Daisy Miller and An International Episode appeared in the Cornhill around the time of The American Senator), so too do Twain and Howells. Twain is more robust and satiric and the comparison is in the travel books; it's Howells' Indian Summer, a story of Americans who travel to Florence one summer.
A thought: it strikes me the phrase international theme shows the insularity of Trollope's typical readership International should include all nations; in James, Trollope, Howells and even Twain's hands it means the North American continent and Europe, especially England and English people (who are different from Scots and very different from Australians.) Still Trollope is international: books on Australia and New Zealand, on Iceland, on South Africa, stories set in the many places he lived and travelled about the world at least vindicate his perspective somewhat.
John Halperin's introduction to The American Senator in the Oxford classic paperback tells us the book should also be set alongside The Way We Live Now and The Prime Minister as a serious exploration into and indictment of the various political, social, and sexual arrangements the heart of English society. Still we ought to remember Trollope wanted to call it "A Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough" so if we are to extrapolate, it must be that the book works the way Rachel Ray does -- entirely probable. I'd like to mention a bitter hard and (to me) unpleasant book written just before The American Senator: Is He Popenoy?. Popenjoy takes place in a sort of Barsetshire and has a central male who in some ways recalls Dr Thorne with a daughter who recalls Mary Thorne, except all the joy and cheer has been drained way.
The American Senator was Trollope's thirty- sixth novel, written from 4 June to 24 September 1875; serialised two years later in Temple Bar, May 1876 to July 1877; and published as a book in 1877 in no less than 6 different editions: one in England, but two in New York, one in Detroit, and one in Toronto. The wily publisher who named the book he knew what he was about. There was also an edition in Leipzig, and a Danish translation in Copenhagen (En Vinter i Dillsborough). It was issued 3 more times in the next year and one half. Modern editions include:
1) the one I am using, the Oxford paperback edited by John Halperin ISBN 0-19-281739-6. The text is a reprint of the 1931 edition (printed 1951, 1962); the notes and introduction are very good.
2) a Dover. These are inexpensive and often the text is a reprint of one of the first editions.
3 & 4) a Trollope Society and Folio Society edition, the Trollope one introduced by Louis Auchinloss.
5) an Arno Press edition, introduced by Robert H. Taylor.
There is an old 1940 edition by Random house with a preface by A. Edward Newton and an introduction by Henry Drinker. Drinker was a lawyer who wrote about the law and custom in Trollope's fiction and probably both are important to this book. It's not the law that reaches into our lives daily; it just provides the general outer framework of what we can't do. It is custom rules private lives -- insofar as private lives can be ruled by outside generalised pressures.
Our schedule for La Vendée ends officially this coming Saturday, and we usually have a week break before we begin another. So towards the end of the this week look for a schedule that will begin our group read of The American Senator on Sunday March 7th. We'll go just the pace we have been doing (6 chapters a week) because it seems to allow everyone flexibility enough.
R: The American Senator: Elias Gotobed: Naif in a Satire
Rereading what I just wrote, I see my opening sentences could easily be misunderstood. What I meant to say was not that Trollope's novel centers on the international theme, but the critical interest taken in it has. The articles written about the novel center on the international theme in the novel. People writing about the book take Elias Gotobed to be its symbolically central figure. I think he's the most colourful and almost as interesting as Arabella Trefoil. He is a kind of naif figure, at the center of a hard-hitting analytical satire of English society against American norms as Trollope understood these.
Perhaps this is Trollope's form of Candide?
March 22, 1999
Subject: [trollope-l] The American Senator: Perceptions & Personal Life & Political Situation
From: Gene Stratton
When I read Trollope I can't help but think of the background against which he wrote a given story. Trollope started writing The American Senator in 1875 while staying on his son's Australia estate, Mortray. He finished the book while sailing the Pacific en route to San Francisco. It was published in serial form in 1876-7.
Super points out that "One of the hunts near Rose Trollope's home of Rotherham was the Rufford Hunt (Rufford Abbey was a mansion close to Ollerton, in Sherwood Forest), and there is a great deal of hunting in the novel. Again and again the hunt is treated as a metaphor for Arabella's pursuit of Lord Rufford." Note, however, that Sherwood Forest is too far from Cheltenham to be Dillsborough. However, the direction is right to keep the Northampton area as a possibility.
Trollope was an old man of 60 in 1875 (see some of his photographs around this time). In 1876 he gave up his horses, realizing that for him hunting was over. He had only some six years to live.
In 1876 Disraeli was prime minister, and the 15th Lord Derby was his Foreign Secretary who administered overseas missions. I wondered why John Masters was at a Legation in Washington -- didn't the U.S. consider England sufficiently important to rate an embassy? But it must have been the other way around, England did not consider the U.S. important enough. Later we hear of Masters being offered a promotion to Minister at the British Legation in Patagonia. Odd choice for Trollope here. Patagonia was not a fictional place. It was and is real, but it's never been an independent nation, most of it belongs to Argentina with a little being owned by Chile. It would never have had a British Legation.
In 1876 Victoria was 57 years old, queen for 39 years, and a mourning widow in perpetual black for 15 years following the death of Prince Albert from typhoid. Her son and cross to bear (in her opinion), Bertie, was 35 years old, and had probably already had more mistresses than years.
The big political question of 1876 was the Balkans, where the Serbs and others rose up against their Moslem Turk masters. It was at this time that Gladstone gave one of his most memorable speeches:
"Let the turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudits, their Bimbashis and their Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall I hope clear out from the province they have desolated and profaned. This thorough riddance, this most blessed deliverance, is the only reparation we can make to the memory of those heaps on heaps of dead; to the violated purity alike of matron, maiden, and of child ..."
Gladstone took the moral road. Disraeli the pragmatic. Similar to the past U.S. softness with Saddam Hussein so as to keep Iraq as a counterbalance to Iran, the British interest in 1876 was keep a strong Turkey as a balance to Russia, which had eyes on the Suez Canal. The situation was settled at the Congress of Berlin, with Disraeli as the hero. Now there would be everlasting peace in the Balkans. Plus ca change, plus ce la meme chose.
Did any of these matters occupy Trollope's mind as he wrote The American Senator and later novels? They probably did, but we don't see mention of international events by the characters of his books. But then, the characters probably could have cared less, and Trollope had a good sense for the need for "unity" in his works.
A few years earlier, Vanity Fair featured Trollope in one of its famous caricatures of well-known figures, this one by "Spy" (Leslie Ward), its most celebrated artist. Trollope met Ward at a friend's house and took a walk with him. While Trollope admired nature, Ward said that he made other mental notes, and then "came home to what fun I could get out of them." The caricature published on April 5, 1873, was the "fun", but it wasn't funny to Trollope. Trollope was furious, both with Ward and with their mutual friend. Ward wrote (this from Super), "I ... portrayed Trollope's strange thumb, which he held erect whilst smoking, with his cigar between his first and second fingers, his pockets standing out on either side of his trousers, his coat buttoned once and then parting over a small but comfortable corporation [that is, Ward made him look almost pregnant]." Super describes the caricature further, "There were also a fierce and slightly idiotic face, and hair brushed upwards on both sides of a bald head, like feathery wings."
It was a dirty deed. Cartoonists have an option of making a character look good, bad, or indifferent -- see Spy's 11/5/87 majestic portrayal of Gladstone in Vanity Fair. I have a copy of both on my wall. And yet ... And yet, there is something magnificent, too, in that caricature of Trollope, as if the artist who betrayed him was so conscious of his treachery that subconsciously he had to make amends by endowing the picture with a inner glow.
Getting back to The American Senator, Robert Tracy sees one of the major themes in the novel as isolation. The isolation of Dillsborough is reflected in the isolation of Mary Masters in her family's house, Reginald Morton lives in scholarly seclusion. John Morton has gone in for self-exile. Lady Ushant is by herself. The Honorable Mrs. Morton is also in self-imposed exile. Arabella's parents are separated, and she herself is virtually alone in the world. Even the senator, as an American in a country that is strange for him, is isolated. And I can't help but wonder how much isolation Trollope himself might have felt at the time he wrote the book.
On a more cheerful note, I still like the book more and more as I read it. I think it's one of his best, although I know some critics will disagree with me. I especially like the character of Mary Masters -- she reminds me of the woman I love.
Re: The American Senator: The Specific Moment and Personal Context
I agree with Gene that the specific moment in time when a novel is written ought to be taken into consideration, whether from the standpoint of the author's life or the larger issues of the period itself. Gene has laid it beautifully before us. Thank you to Gene.
We can add a third context too: Trollope's writing or imaginative life, and look at which novels Trollope wrote before and after others.
The American Senator is certainly mature and rich and assured. On the other hand, it has generated some very interesting criticism. I think this comes from the device of the "outsider" figure looking in as well as the characterisation of Arabella particularly. There is definitely a parallel between her situatoin and that of Mary Masters. It's a situation Trollope keeps coming back to. The novel he wrote after The American Senator was The Duke's Children -- and there we find one of his portrait of a woman who fails to marry because of her conscience and love for another man -- Lady Mabel Grex.
I hope later during this read to add to Gene's rich summary of criticism of The American Senator. I have found criticism of Trollope generally to be very good. He is not yet favoured by some of the fashionable schools today. Probably due to his reputation for being some kind of neanderthal Tory -- by those who've never read him. Most unfair. On the other hand, he doesn't attact the politicised literary criticism of today much.
As many people often say, Trollope wrote so many novels it's easy for a novel like The American Senator to get "lost" in the shuffle. Imagine another novelist who had written but 6 and this one of them. He'd be famous for it.