June 20, 2004
Re: Miss Mackenzie, Chs 16-20: On behalf of the Ugly, Plain and apparently Dull in our world
Reading this week's chapters carefully I noticed some themes we've been omitting to discuss, themes which run counter to the criteria by which some of us have been judging the characters.
One of them can be expressed as the idea that the way people tend to dismiss others and themselves as inferior when it comes to emotional depths and understanding based on an ability to articulate emotion eloquently or glamorous handsome looks is not only unjust and unreal, but cruel. Trollope deliberately puts before us the most unglamorous, apparently hidebound and conventional -- dull -- of people, not pretty, not handsome, not rich, not especially perceptive, and certainly not canny in their use of language in order to make us see that they have the same depths and understanding and longings as the rich, beautiful and apparently daring of the world.
It's the narrator who perforce carries this idea and it comes out very strongly in the chapter where Margaret tears her writing up and again in the chapters where first Samuel Rubb and then John Ball attempt to persuade Margaret to love and to marry them through sheer eloquence and physical presence.
The plot-design of the tearing of the verses may exemplify the lesson of the book intended to "mortify" the reader (the verb is Henry James's) into being ground down into low expectations and acceptance of continual daily self-abnegation, conformity and acceptance of all the ruthless egoisms of those about them, but not all the words which the narrator surrounds the act with. Some yes, as in the paragraph which has the key sentence: "As she sat by this bedside [her brother's], night after night, she seemed to feel that she had fallen again into her proper place [a man's nurse], and she looked back with dismay upon the year she had spent at Littlebath almost with dismay", and ends on a resolution to knuckle to these people that biology and chance has surrounded her with, one I think Trollope was writing to get himself to accept an analogous situation in his own life:
"it would be better fro her to be a hard-working, dependent woman, doing some tedious duty day by day, than to live a life of ease which prompted her to longings for things unfitted to her" (Oxford Miss M, ed AOJCockshut, Ch 15, p 191)
But then the narrator goes on at much greater length to say out of Miss Mackenzie's mind:
What business had such a one as she to talk of the sphere's tune and the silvery moon, of bright stars shining and hearts repining? She would not for worlds have allowed anyone to know what a fool she had been -- either Mrs Tom, or John Ball, or Mr Macguire, or Miss Todd. She would have been covered with confusion if her rhymes had fallen into the hands of any one of them.
And yet she loved them as well as a mother loves her only idiot child. They were her expressions of the romance and poetry that had been in her; and thought the expressions doubtless were poor, the romance and poetry of her heart had been high and noble. How wrong the world is in connecting so closely as it does the capacity for feeling and the capacity for expression - in thinking that capaicity for the one implies capacity for the other; in confusing the technical art of the man who sings with the unselfish tenderness of the man who feels! But the world does so connect them; and, consequently, those who express themselves badly are ashamed of their feelings" (p. 192)
The whole idea of the novel is to make us see through the obtuseness of conventional dismissals of people. Trollope deliberately suggests the most inane of language characterized Miss M's effusions ("bright stars shining, hearts repining" is satire), but insists that no matter how inadequate her expression, the depth of emotion is serious, grave, beautiful -- and matters.
He is probably writing partly out of his own memories about how he felt about his own writing before he began to get it into print, have respect and begin to make money. He was himself at first not encouraged to get into print; only later did his mother help him contact a publisher.
He was also not a handsome man and had uncouth manners, was not university educated, and although from the gentlemanly class, not exactly a Jungian animus type. The descriptions of him and his brother as young men coming away from a dance -- a very long walk -- suggest how much he loved dancing and how ugly he was seen to be seen by others. His awareness of this.
The way he presents the suitors in this novel are presented insists on their awkwardness, ugliness, lack of macho aggression. In the case of McGuire I'm afraid much of the presentation is made up of caste arrogant sneers, particularly with respect to encouraging derision at his "squint." Judy Geater once told me that in England a "squint" means the person's pupil moves loosely in their eyeball; why this should be connected to Jewish people (Trollope often describes Jewish people as greasy and having squint eyes) I don't know, but such opportunistic use of a disability is distressing. However, not all of the presentation of McGuire is this way; when he has to make his case the first time against Mrs Stumfold's tyranny and lies (which Trollope loathes even more than he does evangelical preachers), he is presented under the same aegis as Rubb's awkwardness, gaucheness, lack of social grace; so too John Ball's inflexibility, obduracy, inarticulateness and sheer coarse looks which make his face so dull that you can't see into his soul which Trollope repeatedly tells us is filled with tender feeling for Margaret (enough to just about get over 30 years of propaganda against all Mackenzies and his mother's ceaseless hatred of her, probably ultimately as a rival for power); and a nobility of discretion and honesty which controls his daily behavior (so he supports his family, endures his mother and father, will not just steal from Margaret nor turn her lawyer against her). Ball also sexually desires Margaret which we are made to feel as they walk in the dark park together and he kisses her on the lips so intensely (for a Victorian this was a strong act; we get not much more shown us happening between Lily Bart and Adolphus Crosbie, though the scene does not end when the chapter ends -- the same thing happens between Mrs Hurtle and Paul in TWWLN ). In Ball we see the same desire for romance as Margaret and Rubb have, the difference being poor Rubb doesn't know how to indicate it tastefully and through nuance.
The scene of Rubb's offer to Margaret after he has learned she has no money is one filled with a spirit of singular generosity. No one but Margaret comes up to this anywhere in the novel. The scenes with Ball are so painful because he cannot quickly get over 30 years of bitterness. Many of the people on this list often say they admire Trollope for his psychological realism; the silent awkward half- cruel courting of Margaret by John Ball makes deep sense; I see his proposal as a much subtler version of the egoistic proposal Austen's Darcy first presents to Elizabeth Bennet. It's true that Rubb hopes to get the money afterwards -- with that disposition for optimism that might just lose all the money he and Margaret could pool altogether. But he's willing to marry her knowing they may not get it. What Trollope has done is present his proposal with all the awkwardness, inarticulateness and conventional ugliness -- he is no beauty Mr Rubb -- that he presents Miss Mackenzie's verses with ("in his eagerness he became loud, so that she feared his words might be heard out of the room", Ch 19, p 255). Just so we do get the interpretation he means us to pick up, Trollope makes it explicit: "his desire for the lady's money was mingled with much that was courageous, and something also that was generous" (p.251), "She did not doubt that if she took him at his word he would be good to her, and provide her with shelter, food, and raiment, as he had promised her" (p. 256).
This shines out idealistically above what John Ball can get himself at first to come up to, and when he finally does manage to push aside the 30 years of bitterness, he is very awkward at it, and never seems to forget his need to assert his position over the woman he is going to take for "his" wife. Some modern readers (myself included) might think Margaret is paying a high price for getting the male in the higher position, a lifelong daily price of being (to quote Austen's words in Emma in a parallel situation) the one who is chosen rather than the one who chooses. Margaret must wait with bated breathe for the baronet to choose her; in the case of Rubb she would be the one to excite the "gratitude" (which Trollope tells us her love for Ball is mixed up with) rather than the one to have to display it. But Trollope clearly presents someone of a higher class as really ontologically superior in his novels. (Whether he really felt that way in life is hard to tell.)
And yet in the scenes with Ball, what does the narrator do, but insist on the depths of emotion, understanding, indeed beauty of Ball's inward life against the outward appearance of the man and his lack of eloquence, his ordinariness. Note the chapter headings; "showing how the first/second/third lover behaved." It's not important that they asked Margaret, but what their behavior and motives were. McGuire's are all for money, egoistic, exploitative. If a reader holds it against Miss M that she is not chasing after money and allowing money to trump relationships, this is reading against the grain of this book. When Miss M acts courageously it's on behalf of her soul and her bodily integrity, on behalf of an ethic of generosity (which though does not go far enough to include Rubb as a prospective mate).
The three scenes between Margaret and John Ball merit study. Ball continually admits that she is acting the sheer Griselda type (if you want to read that story you can't do better than Chaucer's Clerk's tale to get the full weight of the horrific self-sacrifice and humiliation the role traditionally embodies). He tells her he ought not to advise her. What happens is she clings to him, she holds onto him (his shirt). We might ask why? Trollope tells us she has discerned his discretion and honesty (no small thing as money is clearly minimal safety and tact is what no one has in these raw family groups). She has also discerned in his eyes his love for her and they seem to be genuinely congenial in values -- this extends to her obedience to his every wish. (This is very grating to a modern reader particularly women and only reading against the grain as Nardin does or ignoring such motifs as Markwick does will do away with them.) Interestingly the scene in the lawyer's office and the key proposal scene makes the reader focus on Ball's looks and Ball's inner life rather than Margaret's. Here are some passages to think about:
As he looked with his dull face into the square, no physiognomist would have declared of him at that moment he was suffering from love, or thinking of a woman that was dear to him. But it was so with him, and the physiognomist, had one been there, would have been wrong (Ch 17, p. 215)
In the early days of his youth, before the cares of the world had made him hard, he had married his Rachel without a penny, and his father had laughed at him, and his mother had grieved over him Tough and hard, and careworn as he was now, defiled by the price of stocks, and saturated with the poison of the money market, then there had been in him a touch of romance and a dash of poetry, and he had been happy with his Rachel. Should he try it again? (Ch 18, p. 232)
If she [the most absolute witch-woman of the novel, Lady Ball] could only have known the whole truth; how her son's thoughts were running throughout the day ... not on Margaret with half her fortune, but on Margaret with none! how he was recalling the sweetness of her face ... how he was struggling within himself with an endeavour, a vain endeavour, at a resolutoion that such a marriage as that must be out of the question! (p. 242).
Had Lady Ball knew he struggled to dismiss Margaret from his mind and body's longings, his heart, she would have trampled on him until (to use Trollope's own metaphors) the defiling and poison of society's arrangements and endless obsession with money had destroyed whatever he had in him worthwhile, whatever humanity, and whatever is worth living for.
I was reading Mark Turner's book on Trollope's fictions in the magazines. In one chapter he shows that the typical magazines Trollope's later fiction, and especially the Fortnightly Review appeared in were meant to appeal to men. The topics, the level of knowledge, the point of view outside the novel in the number are clearly intended for men. My view is Trollope's novels are male romances too, romance told from a resolutely masculinistic idealistic (all novels are driven by ideals, especially the pessmistic ones).
A final contextualization for my theme this morning comes from G. H. Lewes. He wrote an important essay on realism in fiction which appeared in the Fortnightly Review and has often been connected to the quiet domesticity and sober realism of Trollope's mid-career books (e.g., The Belton Estate). Lewes insisted that if the novel was to function in the way it could at its best it must present a sombre version of realism; throw out glamor, false romance, present characters burdened by the diurnal dull harshnesses of life. Sutherland among others has argued that Trollope did just that in his mid-career novels. I agree.
And to imitate Trollope, who among us has not been in the position of hiding what we cherished because we feared it would be derided by conventional notions of beauty, glamor, interest? has not been made to feel awful by the images in magazines and such pop places (which assault both men and women nowadays)? Who has not tried to drive him or herself to do the worst not the right thing since we know that's what most people around us will "understand" and (probably) respect?
Re: Miss Mackenzie, Chs 16-20: Devices and Paradigms: Orphans and Those who Will not Serve Mammon
I did reread Chapter 10 before I went onto 11-16 and saw what Catherine meant when she queried Trollope's presentation of Miss Mackenzie's motives for refusing Mr Rubb when he comes to call. We are expected to believe that her motif is she is still "bound" to Mr McGuire. First she has done no such thing and she would remember this if Trollope were consistent. Second, in several others places in the novel Trollope shows us how people attempt to manipulate Miss Mackenzie by saying she promised X and now cannot go back; she is too smart for this kind of verbal game-playing, especially as (in the other cases too) there was no such firm promise.
The legerdemain comes out by noticing the repeat of this paradigm. Trollope has Rubb come to Margaret after a chapter where he places her letters to MacGuire which show her repeating in print what she had said aloud and then adamently telling him she has no money. But he places a scene with Ball just before this. These are put there to distract us so that when Rubb proposes, the same kind of thinking can be presented. Now Margaret is doubly in trouble. We are asked to believe she puts Rubb off because she is "under the guidance of her cousin ... and pledged to do nothing of which he would disapprove" (Ch 19, p. 256). This is a neat way of putting it. Trollope has an idea his reader will remember that Ball's proposal was but a glimmer in his eye and is going on to show us how hard it came.
These sleight-of-hand ways of putting Margaret's "nos" come out of Trollope's real unwillingness to present her as refusing a proposal on the grounds she's got every right to because she doesn't want the man. Repeatedly in his novels there is this idea that every man who can afford to ask a woman to marry him and is near enough in class has the right to ask her, and the idea that she has no right simply to refuse on the grounds of personal sexual distaste or just not preferring him.
For me this is a bad faith use of arrangement. He has given Margaret true and real depths and now pulls back as we will see him do again in order to get to his "happy ending" at the close of the book.
This gets me to paradigms across the novels. We can often see what a novelist is getting out by contextualizing character types, tropes and themes across the book. Since we just finished Mr Scarborough's Family I'm tempted to dwell on the close analogy between Dorothy Grey and Margaret Mackenzie. It's the same type in the same situation and she behaves insofar as her situation allows her with the same emotional reactions. The difference is Dorothy has a father to support her and Margaret doesn't; indeed, as Kathy remarks, he suddenly turns tables and removes all money from her so she has no wherewithal to retreat in just the manner of Mr Scarborough.
I'd like to cross gender more and go back to the first and go back to earlier presentations of the type and inferences about life to which Margaret Mackenzie belongs: Mr Harding is the first; Mary Lady Mason and Lily Bart are two later ones, and Plantagenet Palliser the most prominent. Mr Harding's great act of courage is to walk away from corruption. He will not serve if he has to defile himself; he will only serve on his own terms. It's particularly courageous since most of the people in his world disapprove of his integrity (despise it is the truer word); only the Dean (a Trefoil) understands and loves the man for it. He has a tiny income and must live in a small way. The details of the situations of the other characters I've named -- and one from the very last book, a Mr Whittlestaff -- differ but the decision comes out of the same refusal to be coopted.
There's a great essay on this paradigm in Trollope, one which concentrates on Mary Lady Mason in Orley Farm. It's by Sarah Gilead and she argues that an underlying pattern endlessly repeated in Trollope's books for a hero or heroine is to show us someone who "survives a disorienting, identity-threatening experience or series of experiences which they interpret as cultural rejection." What such characters do is create for
"themselves highly specialised, morally ambiguous roles [which] dramatise feelings of guilt and aggression [and] effect a limited form of self-punishment[. By so doing, they] avoid the extreme of self-destructiveness of suicide or madness ...
When Margaret is brave enough to walk out, walk away (the same act as Mr Harding) and go live in a dark attic going nowhere, doing nothing, waiting for Ball to act, she is dramatizing a hatred and anger turned against herself. Her punishment is limited since she is not starving and does not injure herself literally. By doing this she does avoid an extreme of self-destructiveness or intense anger. Trollope describes the way she responds to the banal cruelties of Lady Ball once Lady Ball learns she is broke (be someone's companion) as a manifestation of barely held hysteria which testifies to the extreme emotional pain she feels by this point in the novel and before the mean Lady Ball:
She said this [she will not go to be a companion, she will not have anything begging said to Ball, she will not stay in that house] without sobbing, but not without that almost hysterical emotion which indicates that tears are being suppressed with pain (Oxford Miss Mackenzie, ed AOJCockshut, Ch 20, p 265).
A little later she rises to a kind of eloquence in her refusal to listen to her aunt and her insistence on her autonomy and dignity at any price:
Her hysterics also, seemed for the time to give way to her strong passionate feeling. 'Aunt,' she said, 'I would sooner take a broom in my hand, and swep a crossing in London, than lead such a life as that! What! make myself the slave of some old woman who would thnk that she had brought the power of tyrannizing over me . . . (p. 265).
If anyone doubts what was the humiliating toady- quality of the companion's life (unless she could subtly herself take over), they need only read Betty Rizzo's Companions without Vows. Of course this is a comment on Lady Ball who I think of as playing a part analogous to women who in other cultures perform vaginal mutiliations on young girls.
The roles chosen in all these books exist outside the contemporary Victorian behavioral code. More they defy our own equally materialistic prestigious ones. Mr Harding gives up a high income and prestigious place; Lady Mason retires into twenty years of stillness, repression, and acts out through assuming the appropriate facial expression, costume, and social habits, the selfless mother and lady; Lily refuses to marry; Mr Whittlestaff will not exploit his position and insist on the young desirable girl's marrying him. Margaret will leave that house and go try to earn her living.
All renounce what their society says is personal fulfillment too, but they do so on their own terms and in an effort to survive psychologically. Victorian society was one of constant change, unsafe, and aggressive, mercenary, and in each novel the central figure moves sharply away from such things. Since Kathy is reading The Last Chronicle I'll bring up Crawley: he is tortured by them to near madness.
Gilead writes of the novels in which the other types I've mentioned occur:
"Like Harding, Lady Mason is a victim of a hard new world dominated by power-hungry 'fathers' against whom only covert, indirect resistance can be made. New commercial men have created a dehumanizing world in which the individual's emotional life, self-image, and inner security are in a constant state of seige by the forces of voracity (Moulder), vengefulness and ruthless ambition (Kantwise, Dockwrath, Moulder, and Joseph Mason), and egotism (Lucius). Unlike Haring, Lady Mason's exposure ot the hard realities of the commercial age came early in life, when, as a very young woman, she had been sold on the marriage market to wealthy Sir Joseph Mason, forty-five years her senior. Twice victimized -- by the marriage itself and again by her husband's refusal to leave Orley Farm to their infant son, Lucius -- Lady Mason took steps to protect herself and her son from their dangerous times. In forging Sir Joseph's codicil, she forged a safe public identity through that instrurtment". Her place could be one which was "quiet, dignified, prosperous. Then after twenty-four years of changeless clam, time both personal and historical" closes in the realities of her son's arrogance and Dockwrath's ambition."
Gilead argues that by the end of the novel Lady Mason has achieved a new "safe psychosocial space". She thinks this new space gives Lady Mason power over her son. This carving out of psychsocial space is the intent of Mr Harding and Lily Dale too.
Where Miss Mackenzie may be regarded as falling down -- or being ever so much harder than these books -- is Trollope refuses to give his heroine this safe psychological space. Her performance is adequate but she is not given the wherewithal to act on it. It would be a grand sombre book were it not that the way the ending is achieved trivializes and also fairytale-izes what happens.
I don't know that I have much more to say about this week's chapters. Other of the paradigms (Lady Ball v Margaret as a Lady Catherine de Bourgh against an Elizabeth Bennet) and themes have been canvassed here. Perhaps I will be able to think of something to say about Mr Slow, but I doubt it. As his name suggests, his role is functional, a cypher in the plot-design which is heavily manipulated at this point to do the improbable: suddenly return to 30 years back and give what's left to the Balls so as to urge on us what I've suggested is urged on us.
Probably well more than enough from me on these chapters,
Cheers to all,
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Last Chronicle of Barset v Miss Mackenzie
Catherine Crean wrote:
If a novelist wrote about a woman working as a janitor and sneaking off to read Henry James, the New York Times Book Review would call such a character "unconvincing." Or better yet: "The introduction of Kathy, the janitor who reads Henry James in her spare time, is an example of the affectation that plagues this author's work."
I believe reviewers said something similar about the janitor in Philip Roth's The Human Stain, though of course her schtick--and schtick it proved to be--was illiteracy. :) (We're Rothophiles at my house, by the way, though we believe Roth's greatest novel is American Pastoral, not The Human Stain)
To return to Trollope, let me say how much I'm loving The Chronicle of Barset--a masterpiece, if I may say so, where every sentence, every detail, is beautifully crafted--a contrast to Miss Mackenzie and Mr. Scarborough's Family, where Trollope's work is uneven. Much as I enjoyed Miss Mackenzie, the plot seemed contrived. Would Miss Mackenzie have chosen to marry at all if she had not lost her money? It seems doubtful. And the dreadful Mr. Maguire had the upper hand among her suitors, as Margaret liked the idea of presiding over her own Stumfoldian circle at Littlebath, so perhaps she would have chosen to take her chances with him, had not the unthinkable happened. She is thrown into John Ball's arms by a heavy-handed plot device (and, ironically, the writings of Maguire, which alerted the upper classes to the romance between herself and John Ball).
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Lisping and Squinting
Before I answer Howard's question regarding my understanding of the meanings of "lisp" and "squint," allow me to give full disclosure. I am writing this post off the top of my head. I did not look up either word in the dictionary.
To me, "lisp" has one meaning: a lisp is the substitution of of the "th" sound for the "s" sound. A "squint" (as I understand and use the word) is harder to describe. It is easier for me to use an example. If I am trying to identify at bird that is perched on a far away branch, and I have not any binoculars handy, I squint by contracting the muscles around my eyes, so that the aperture is narrower. If I am tired at the end of the day, I may squint at the computer monitor. Sometimes people squint when the sun is in their eyes in order to limit the amount of light coming in.
As far as describing eye defects, I use the term "cross-eyed" to mean that one or both eyes are pointed medially - toward the brdige of the nose. I use the term "wall-eyed" to mean the reverse: the eyeball(s) are pointed in opposite directions from one another - toward the walls.
Come to think of it, I have been confused by Trollope's description of Jews' being "squinty- eyed." (Let's stipulate that we are not talking about my objections to Trollope's anti-semitism here, hard as it is for me to refrain.) If Trollope is describing the stereotype of Jews as having big noses, and having closely set eyes, "squint" meaning "cross-eyed" makes more sense, in this context.
Thackeray often refers to small children "lisping" their prayers alongside their mothers. (I'm thinking of Amelia Sedley Osborn and young Georgie.) Trollope and Dickens may also use the word "lisp" in describing children's speech, but I can't think of any examples just now. Again, in this context, using the "w" sound for the "r" sound makes more sense as a definition of "lisp."
Much ado about nothing, perhaps. But I am curious to know if I have been wrong all these years. I still confuse "saturnine" with "sanguine" if you can credit it.
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] The Tearing of the Verses
Ellen's post on Miss Mackenzie, chapters 16 - 20, brings up a key theme in this novel. I found the scene of "the tearing of the verses" upsetting in a way I could not articulate. Ellen puts Miss Mackenzie's destruction of her poems into a larger context. If a person is not beautiful, eloquent, rich etc. others may tend to think less of this person as a human being with an inner life. Ellen says people such as Miss Mackenzie "have the same depths and understanding and longings as the rich, the beautiful and apparently daring of the world."
This is an insight that pervades many of Trollope's novels, Miss Mackenzie, in particular. I forget the words Trollope used in his autobiography when describing himself as a boy, but the words cut me to my heart. Trollope seemed to think of himself as not just as a hobbledoy in dirty mended clothes, but as a cursed thing - almost a monster. The carapace that Trollope developed later in life, even when the world regarded him as a success, shows that some of this self-loathing lingered. I agree, too, with Ellen's parallel between Miss Mackenzie destroying her verses, and Trollope's initial self doubt as a writer and as a person. Trollope was surrounded by a writing family. He must have had times when as a struggling writer he, like Miss Mackenzie "loved (her verses) as well as a mother loves her idiot child. They were her expressions of the romance and poetry poetry that had been in her." I can imagine Frances Trollope passing one of Anthony Trollope's letters across the breakfast table to Tom and saying "And now Tony wants to try his hand at writing!" Perhaps Tom made some remark about Tony doing well to stay with the Postal Service.
I also like the fact that Ellen brought up the Griselda similes. Wasn't the working title of Miss Mackenzie "A Modern Day Griselda"? From what I remember about Griselda's story, Miss Mackenzie has some of the same traits. As a point of interest, I notice that Trollope's use of the word "Griselda" in writing about Miss Mackenzie increases in frequency as we get toward the end of the book.
I'll write more about Ellen's two thought provoking posts tomorrow. But my eyes are tired, and I'm squinting at the computer monitor.
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: The Outer and Inner in People
Continuing on Ellen and Catherine's comments about the outer and inner people. John Ball strikes me as the most romantic of Miss Mackenzie's suitors. Described as dull, etc., he seems to care the most for Miss Mackenzie herself. Although I do think that Mr. Rubb did come to care for Miss Mackenzie herself, I don't believe that Maguire ever cared for her, only her money and availability.
I was very touched when in Chapter 20. Awkward though Ball's proposal was (awkward in the extreme), he thought of Susanna and said that of course she would come also.
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: An "American" View Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just as a general note on Miss Mackenzie and not commenting on any particular chapter summaries.
It is in this part of the book where Miss Mackeznie decides to throw herself and her money onto John Ball's discretion is where I believe the book begins to fail. Up to this point, it has been, in my opinion, quite strong in presenting the inner lives and romantic adventures of the perfectly ordinary. This presentation makes this a much more satisfying romance for we more mature persons than those that involve dashing lords and beautiful ladies of 18 or thereabouts. But, right around the part where Susanna says something to the effect that "Aunt Margaret is so kind she would not disturb a sleeping cat", the pit of my stomach starts to fall. Yes, Margaret is kind and thoughtful up to that point, but she is also extremely human in a comforting way. As awful as Mrs. Mackenzie is, I must agree with her comment that "She is a fool!" Margaret who has been self-directed and rather brave up to this point is now starting the process of becoming a saint of female submissiveness.
I think Americans prefer the Rubb character because we believe he represents what we should do in such a situation - fight for our rights! As Margaret rightly points out, Walter made more of the money than what came to him. Why should John Ball be entitled to the whole? And, although some people have said that Rubb might possibly lose all of Margaret's money, it's never been proven that Rubb was the cause of the business's losses. It seems more that he was trying to pull it back from the brink and, perhaps, the infusion of Margaret's money might have enabled him to move into a better line of work which would have been more renumerative for him. I don't think its a foregone conclusion that he would have lost her money. And I can't imagine that she would have been more unhappy with Rubb, in his house, bearing his children than living under the nasty rule of witch-woman Lady Ball.
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: John Ball as a Good Match
I think that from Miss Mackenzie's point of view John Ball makes a good match. We should not forget that she spent most of her previous adult life taking care of her brother. This is what she knows how to do. She has tried the independent life, and though she has learned to be more aggressive about her own needs, she still looks for a community that she is familiar with. She is strongly class conscious -- will not eat at the same table with one of the lower classes. We are not told how old Ball's children are -- if they were spaced two years apart, on the average, then the actual number she would have to deal with is much smaller than nine. Used to be, I believe, that in the affluent and middle classes in England children, at least the males, were sent off to public school at the age of 11, more or less. So she would only really have a small number to take care of, with the female children and Susannah, not to mention the servants, to help out. Ball gets worried about marrying her on those occasions where her actions may indicate that she might not fit into his milieu. So basically both are looking for a highly structured environment, a comfortable middle class or upper class life where everybody knows his perks and obligations. Miss M is not looking to be a George Eliot. What she knows how to do is to take care of others, and with money and all the help she can look forward to, this would not be a particularly difficult or exhausting job.
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: Jonathan Ball's property; Squints Reply-To: email@example.com
I entirely agree with Rose and David in their assessment of the second half of Miss Mackenzie. While she does not exhibit the strength of character which she promises earlier on in the book, she will not, I think, relapse into John Ball's domestic drudge as forecast by Ellen in a posting a few days ago. I shuddered when Ellen talked about the tenth child that Margaret would be expected to produce, but I then thought of Mrs Clara Mackenzie, and became certain that she would whisper a few ideas into Margaret's ear before the marriage, which might enable her to only have such children as she wished. John Ball does not appear to have been successful in anything other than breeding children, but it is possible that with money he might build a successful life for Margaret and himself.
One point that no-one else appears to have picked up is the untidy way in which Trollope deals with the property which Jonathan Ball left when he died. As far as I can see, Jonathan made a will leaving the property to his two Mackenzie nephews, and then passed the same property by deed of gift over to his other nephew, John Ball, the son of his brother. the baronet. Although the first quarter's income was paid to John Ball, this deed of gift was overlooked when Jonathan died, so that the property passed in accordance with his will. Since some firm of solicitors had paid over the money for the first quarter, it is extraordinary that they had then given up the property to the two Mackenzies. I would suggest that John Ball would have a good cause of action against that firm of solicitors, at least for the sums that he had lost through the Tom Mackenzie misfortunes. We are not told, however, how the papers relating to the deed of gift came into the hands of Slow and Bideawhile, or why nobody had looked at them for twenty years. We know that Trollope would often get advice from his legal friends about such affairs, but in this case he either had no-one available, or felt that it did not matter.
Coming on to squints, I am in complete agreement with Judy Geater about the normal meaning of a squint in the UK. While as a noun it is taken to mean that one eye moves independently of the other, so that the first eye will appear to be looking directly at you, while the other may appear to be looking elsewhere. This is clearly the problem that Mr Maguire suffered from. As a verb, it can also mean to screw up the eyes against a bright light, or to enable something small to be better seen. These are the two basic definitions given in my copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, although I am sure that the full OED will give a much wider variety of usages.
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: Not an "American" View Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
I will again demur at Rose's use of "we." While I find some aspects of Rubb's character very appealing and don't think he is a "con-man" (perhaps Catherine's comment that this is such a strong word should be brought on here), it's not on his materialism or pursuit of money that the appeal lies. I agree the ending is (in effect) pretty awful -- she will have to submit endlessly to the nastiness of her mother-in-law -- I see that a choice of Rubb goes against the grain of the author's narrator, interjections, plot-design, attitudes he means to inculcate and assumes.
I don't know what Sarah Gilead's background is, but her view is one taken up by as many US and other American writers (Canadians) as UK people. I find beauty and meaning and a sharp critique of British and American society then and today (Western European by extension) in the paradigms subtended by Mr Harding, Plantagenet Palliser, Lily Dale, Dorothy Grey, Mr Whittlestaff, in fact too many Trollope heroes and heroines to mention here. Oddly -- or paradoxically -- quite by chance I came across some support for my view in Richard Mullan's book on Trollope (the biography) where he argues persuasively that The Bertrams and The American Senator are similarly strong critique of Victorian society and was recognized at the time as such in various reviews (which he quotes). They lack the Mary Lady Mason type character but have everything else and he remarks how interesting it is that many readers today do not see this critique. I wonder what he would think of Andrew Davies's films? Mullen is (I believe) originally American (he used to live or teach in Georgia) and is now a UK person. I've no idea whose citizen he has on his passport.
Again less than 10% of our list posts ...
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: The outer and Inner in People; Moving Into Faerie Tale Realm; A "Heroine's" Text; Squints as US people understand them?
IN response to Dagny,
The series of scenes between Ball and Margaret are carefully and skilfully done. Trollope invests Ball with an intense seriousness and gives his speeches nuances he doesn't bother give Rubb. McGuire is really caricature.
Conventional as they both are, they are a pair and understand one another (congeniality). It's a right stroke for Trollope to make Ball remember to tell Margaret Susannah will be one of their children financially speaking.
Trollope's theme here is beautiful and shows him at his idealistic best. He's defying the macho male stereotype and the glamor one.
In response to Catherine,
Yes the "Griselda" references increase as Trollope knows he is moving into fairytale -- the appearance of Mrs Mackenzie coincides here. I do think the analogy between Lady Catherine de Bough and Lady Ball and Margaret Mackenzie and Elizabeth Bennet helps to see how Trollope wanted us to see these women. People are willing to see in Elizabeth Bennet a rebel. I never have, but do think that the terms on which Margaret defines the harridan materialist aggrandizer (just as Lady Catherine is and just as rude and cruel) are those Elizabeth Bennet uses.
Another parallel is how Lady Ball does not condescend to talk to Rubb when he's in the room. When Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes to the Bennet house, she doesn't condescend to talk to anyone but Elizabeth.
The parallels are quite close. Not I think Trollope had P&P in mind at all, just that he and Austen come out of the same milieu, and are writing for a similar audience. They are both writing heroine's texts.
In response to Howard M,
It seems to me that the US usage of the term "squint" and the UK one differ. To me squint means what you do with your eyes when the sun shines too strongly in them. You squint. Or it's someone trying to see something small. You are squeezing your eyes or making them slightly shut. Thus I have been surprized at how Trollope often stigmatizes Jewish (and other nationalities, Scots for example) and "lower" people by deriding them for squinting and "greasiness." It was Judy Geater who told me offlist a "squint" meant you had a loose pupil in your eye; you didn't have control over your eye so one was slightly askew. I asked my husband this morning and he said that wasn't his understanding; he wasn't sure what the word "squint" meant in the UK. Anyway it seems cruel mockery if it's at a disability; if it's not, then what is meant?
Re: Stigmatizing and Ridiculing People of a Lower Class
In response to Sig,
I suppose the question is more Trollope's use of such derision to stigmatize and ridicule evangelicals. I read A. O. J. Cockshut's introduction to Miss Mackenzie in the Oxford World Classics paperback the other night. He talks at length about Trollope's obsessive dislike of this sect as it plays out in this novel and a couple of others from around this time (e.g., Rachel Ray). In an excellent book on Trollope's attitude towards pleasure and art (whose author and title has gone from me just now), it has been argued that the heart of Trollope's dislike lies in his perception that the anti-sexual hypocritical attitudes of this particular Christian sect are filled with a fear of life, are anti- life deeply. We'll see this in the harassment to death of Linda Tressel.
However, it is inescapably true that another source is class despising and Trollope's allegiance to what he presents as ontologically superior human beings. This goes back to his childhood. He can aim soundly and surely at the materialistic basis of his culture, at philistinism (as Arnold would call it), at simple plain raw nastiness, selfishness power hunger of individuals. He can and does critique his society which is partly the one we still endure today. But he clearly has blinders and is willing to use crude cruelties in their behalf.
Another obsession he has is against newspapers and the power of the press. He knows how susceptible the public is to the lurid draw of lurid sensationalism and malevolence (sometimes personally rooted) masquerading as moral piety, but he is also simply against the power this kind of medium can get because it thwarts and shapes the power over the large groups of people the upper class had in its control of offices, niches, not to omit the military.
A third which seeps into this book is with the male's control over female sexuality -- thus Ball's distrust and Margaret's finest moment when (very like Emily Trevelyan and again Mary from Is He Popenjoy?) she won't submit to it. I find this fascinating as he is continually also showing us this vulnerable sensitive males.
Miss Mackenzie is a strange book in a number of ways, not least in the continual punishment of the heroine, in Trollope's simultaneous identication with her and Ball, and in the grotesqueries it ends with.
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: Bypassing the Text
This is a belated response to Rose, I would say that quoting Mrs Tom Mackenzie's comments despising Miss Mackenzie as authoritative is not a form of reading against the grain -- which I admit to doing frequently. How else endure some of what is found in his texts? But reading against the grain the reader takes into account the author's point of view. You articulate and discuss it; then you go about to find in the text evidence which shows that the author provides much text (characters, comments, scenes) that undermine and subvert that point of view. Some people argue this debate or dialogue is often deliberate on the part of the author; others see in this unconscious ways of providing depth. I submit that to quote Mrs Tom in this way is to bypass Trollope. You are simply ignoring what's there without admitting it. Reading against the grain is arguing with the text.
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Noble self-sacrifice
Although I am , as you know, reading the "wrong" Trollope at present (The Last Chronicle of Barset), I am struck by a faint similarity in the depiction of women's virtues in The Last Chronicle and Miss Mackenzie.
Grace Crawley has just declined Major Grantly's proposal, fearful of bringing disgrace on his family--her father, a curate, has been accused of stealing 20 pounds. Her mother has advised her to marry the major, saying that returning his love will make up for everything else. Grace says, "That is all very well, mamma--in books; but I do not believe it in reality. Being in love is very nice, and in poetry they make it out to be everything. But I do not think I should make Major Grantly happy if when I became his wife his own father and mother would not see him. I know I should be so wretched, myself, that I could not live."
Isn't Grace practical and at the same time noble? In that, she resembles Miss Mackenzie. Love is a luxury; duty to society is often more important. Grace is younger than Miss Mackenzie, a bit more tremulous, tentative, and passionate, but she's also extremely well-educated and articulate; she has read Greek with her father, waxes philosophical on love, and feels that her place is with her family during this crisis. Likewise, Miss Mackenzie is willing to sacrifice her personal life and love life to support her brother's family after he dies leaving them penniless. Aren't these heroines lovely people?
No wonder some of us have trouble understanding the modern world. We've been raised on Victorian novels!
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss M a far more complex character than Grace Crawley
I think Miss Mackenzie is a more complex, confused character than Grace Crawley (who doesnt change much at all notwithstanding the ruin faced by her family). Miss Mackenzie casts about for a peer group a social life, adventures out, is generous to Rubb & the Tom Mackenzie. Miss Mackenzie can learn and grow though she doesn't dine with her lower caste landlady/lord.
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 2004 08:57:15 -0500 Subject: [trollope-l] _Miss Mackenzie_ Reply-To: email@example.com
In response to Kathy's analogy between Margaret Mackenzie and Grace Crawley, I share Daniel's view that Miss Mackenzie is conceived as a much more complicated character. At no point does Grace anywhere buck anyone for anything for real; she also never goes out on her own; she really does enact the stereotype of female submissiveness so popular in the novels of this period. All she holds out for is a particular man and he embodies all the values of the gentry; she cringes before the book's representative of obtuse caste systems, Grantly (who we remember would not have given Crawley the decent place at the end of the book had he not been severely pressured into it).
One problem with Miss Mackenzie is that although we are told Miss Mackenzie is 35 and to Trollope it would be unthinkable to have a heroine act independently the way she does until the fairy godmother takes her in in any younger women, nonetheless the thoughts attributed to her are those of not simply of a wholly innocent young woman, but the terms in which they are broached are continually airbrushed of any devious contradictory divagating kinds of movements which would bring out complications that are sordid, mean, hard and all the things about life a woman of 35 would know. I'm reminded of one of Calvino's satires mocking the idea that a woman who lives in a family or private house knows nothing of life (" Apart from religious ceremonies, triduums, novenas, gardening, harvesting, vintaging, whippings, incest, fires, hangings,rape and sickness, we have had no experience ...").
Margaret Mackenzie is far more complicated than Grace Crawley, but she is not perceived any more deeply than is needed by the plot-design. She may be central to her book, but consider how she is kept away from us, how all we are told repeatedly is what she says and how she keeps silent or stays away from society. She is reactive not an agent except when driven to make a stand against invasive demands on her or her consciousness (by the men she encounters) or unremitting berating of the type Lady Ball practices. Poor Grace would go to pieces; we'd have to send her to an asylum; Miss Mackenzie has the strength of steel in comparison. But both are conceived in terms of stereotypes appropriate to put before women as exemplary. They function as figures who control the terms in which the woman reader of the period is allowed to see herself in middle class novels.
Date: Fri, 25 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Carving out Psychosocial space for oneself (Was "Noble self-sacrifice ...)
I wanted also to respond again to Kathy. Partly in response to others I was diverted from her actual point. I disagreed on the similarity of Grace to Margaret except as the female stereotype of the period.
However, I think they are used differently -- that's the point. Margaret makes no noble self-sacrifice. Her choice is far more in line with Mr Harding, Lily Dale, Mary Lady Mason, Mr Whittlestaff and a line of heroes and heroines (males and females) in Trollope's novels. We just had two more: Dorothy Grey who doesn't manage this except for her father, and Mr Scarborough who has become twisted with anger. The character who is in parallel with Miss Mackenzie is Lily, only Lily has a kind mother, a cottage, and some income. More close yet is Mary Lady Mason from Orley Farm.
Margaret Mackenzie is simply trying to carve out a space for herself to breathe in, to find pleasure, to be of some use that still leaves her self in tact and not totally exploited by someone else. It's no self sacrifice she is after: it's selfhood, genuine selfhood, and in that sense she does remind me of a number of Austen heroines and many of the heroine's in Nancy Miller's book, Subject to Change. It may to us seem that she gets a very minimal autonomy when she has to be obedient to John Ball and will have to be silent before his mother and live with her too. But she has been manipulated into this bare possibilty by
- Trollope's original plot-design which shows us how difficult it is to find people like yourself in society given how you are placed by chance and time, and how egoistic most of those you meet are.
- And how someone like Miss Mackenzie with no connections and no knowledge of other levels of society retreats to hold onto her respectability out of fear. She spends weeks, nay months, all alone in Littlebath. Trollope tells us that was a bad choice;
- And three his taking all the money from her which drives to back to marriage and ends his plot. Two contrivances at the close of the book, the unreal loss of the money and the fairytale godmother distract attention from the undergrid the book began with which is still in operation at the end.
Miss Mackenzie is one of Trollope's many novels where there is a debate or dialogue going on: he takes into intense account both from his readership and through his characters the materialism, prestige- ridden behaviors, egoistic passions and sets that against his best characters, his heroes and heroines. They carry much of the deeper meaning which is relevant to him. I have been reading his North America and some of his remarks about himself -- how he prefers the mountains, the journey, precisely the outsider status he gets as onlooker to what he sees happening in these salons. He makes beautiful remarks about cosmopolitanism too, this from a letter:
There is much that is higher & better & greater than one's country. One is patriotic only because one is too small & too weak to be cosmopolitan.
His novel plots and characters stand for a kind of desperate way for him to find a mode of existence he couldn't in life and for his critical attitudes as well as longings. In this sense he is the heroine of the heroine's texts, the person who craves psychosocial space. He found it through his books.
In Miss Mackenzie's adventures and fate we see the reason for Mr Scarborough's rage, for Dorothy Grey's behavior.
All all of a piece throughout ... is Mr Trollope. Ellen
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Homesite Picture & Pathetic & Powerless Heroines and Heroes Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
ON our homesite is the second full--page illustration by George Housman Thomas for Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset.
We see Grace in a characteristic attitude for the book: that of the honorable suppliant. Markwick thinks that we have no pictures of a man kneeling to any other man in all the original illustrations to Trollope's books; I can't remember any this morning and have none of my site.
The caption is "I love you as though you were my own." The headmistress is saying she will not totally desert Grace in the sense of becoming any kind of enemy to her father; she will morally support the family. However, Grace does leave the school.
I agree with Kathy that Grace can be appealing character for many readers. I do remember that her father reads Milton and Trollope means us to see a parallel between Samson Agonistes and him. But he is not respected for this reading by the outside world, nor would Grace get any social capital from it that she could maneuver. She is not in character a maneuver.
But there is no power here unless we redefine the term. This reminds me of redefinitions of feminism as about mother- power and wife-power, of reform as reaction. There is no power in Grace if by power we are using the word in its generally accepted meaning. By power what is meant is control over oneself (where one lives, what one does) and over other people. Her reading is admirable, but it's not power. What power she has will eventually come from the man she marries -- and that is contingent as in her case she is not otherwise well connected. You might say she has the apparent admiration of people around her, but that admiration had better not be leaned on if her husband should fail her or die. Indeed she is in danger of losing the one alliance which might give her respect and comfort because of her original rank as a poor clergyman's daughter and now the accusation against her father in court.
Grace is one of the powerless. What she has is beautiful inner qualities. She is without malice, kind, self-sacrificing (if you will). Unlike Miss Mackenzie, the female stereotype of submissiveness and docility and morality is in Grace's case used to develop a pathetic heroine. The pathetic heroine goes back to tragedy in the later 17th century and still held the stage in the 19th. We are to enjoy the pathos, to have a release, to feel better out of this release, on its own grounds. Trollope being a moral exemplary writer does not allow pathetic heroines to be amoral or immoral -- though that's very common.
Where he's daring is he also has pathetic heroes. He defies the sexual stereotypes in characters like John Grey and Johnny Eames.
Miss Mackenzie is not pathetic. She is too proud. She is self-contained. She does not bow down but walks out determined to live on what she's got and maybe take a job. We are asked to believe she is 35 which is a difference; she has no family to speak -- no mother in sight anywhere until we meet our fairygodmother figure.
I find students will write papers where they will reveal that they sympathize with, admire and like pathos in heroes as well as heroines. Nowadays in the public sphere it's quite all right to admire the amoral, the mean, the cold, the cool, those who seek power or justify exploitative aggressive even ugly behaviors, but it seems embarassing for people to stand up for virtues. We could say that Miss Mackenzie would have had some consolation had she had someone like Grace in her book, but Grace would need some stiffening up. Let us imagine her going off to school with Susannah who might just convey to her a harder world.
Each novel has its own world and pathos is not one of the qualities Trollope aims at in Miss Mackenzie -- with the singular quiet exception of John Ball who keeps saying he is miserable and is. I like the original title "The Modern Griselda" since I see it as ambiguous in its application. We have a male Griseld in Miss Mackenzie; enduring the mother, writhing at the newspapers. He's passive because he must be; his form of nobility is parallel to Miss Mackenzie's.
But pathos is a strong element in The Last Chronicle It shades our experience of Rev Josiah Crawley and also Lily Dale. Lily is the parallel to Miss Mackenzie except she's pathetic in the older sense. As I suggested yesterday, Mary Lady Mason is closer: she is not pathetic; she is a self-contained type until truly driven to extremities. And she has to be. Her world is closer in feel to that of Miss Mackenzie.
Ah, apologies for the antique quality of the picture. Some of the reproductions are going to have this color and appearance. They come from very old American editions of Last Chronicle. The original shows us a room which Thomas has worked to be exquisitely detailed, from the elegant wallpapers, to the pictures on the wall, flowers on furnitue, a mantelpiece with fringe, a mirror, pillows scattered about, and the two women's dresses, hair. Hall praises Thomas for having created pictures 'reminiscent of Millais; they are, however, much less idyllic and more alert." We will see how bare is the Crawley house in Thomas's pictures for the later parts of the novel.
Cheers to all,