June 27, 2004
Re: Sympathy for Vituperative Spiteful Women in Trollope (and Miss Mackenzie, Chs 21-25)
As a result of reading Anna Banti's Artemisia I've been thinking about what is the problem with the depiction of vituperative spiteful women in Trollope. Lady Ball is not in fact unusual. We have a variant on her in Emily Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right. Those who have read the book will remember how she despises her husband and is presented as loathing herself for being his wife because he is so weak. This is probably reality: real woman and men feel this way in front of weaker people, especially if these weaker people have the niche or position in city that places them above the by character stronger woman.
That's precisely the situation of Lady Ball. Her son to her eyes is despicable, worth only her scorn: he married a nobody and nothing who was sweet (Rachel) and he's about to do it again. She rages and writhes.
What's left out is that she rages and writhes and has become hateful in her behavior not because she is a woman of this type, but because she has had no fulfillment of her own. Nowhere does Trollope show her from within; nowhere does he acknowledge she has the right to want to have power and influence and luxury well outside her sphere where her talents would have play. When she says the ugly things she does to those right near her, she is preying on the animal closest to her because she can't reach where she wants. Do we get her inner thoughts of how she is miserable say with that husband of hers; how she is deeply ashamed of her son; does she strike back at him where it's at? No. The complaints are confined to scourging Margaret so she becomes a stereotype of the Mrs Norris (Mansfield Park) variety.
She is given no chance to live in the way her nature wants. Emily Trevelyan was similarly imprisoned and all she had thrust at her as her role in life was to obey Louis. Nothing else. Oh yes and have more of his babies.
This connects to Mrs Proudie and Mrs Stumfold, the real monsters of this book and all the books. The only place I can find in the depictions of Mrs Proudie where some acknowledgement of how she came to be the way she was is in her husband's mind after she dies and along with considerable relief (and joy) at her death, he feels remorse and Trollope there acknowledges how such twisted behavior as hers came out of her not having the role of power, having to live vicariously through someone who did have it but would have "thrown" it away, and tried continually to.
This is not a pleasant spectacle but it is people, men and women. Lady Ball too cannot escape from a humiliating imprisonment, no more than Margaret, only the nature of her imprisonment is not done any justice to, not acknowledged so she emerges as the enemy instead of just another character in the novel who is asked to suffer and be still.
The really fine thing about this book is how anti-romantic it is. Until of course the end and then the fairytale is performed with considerable irony and includes the freak grotesque show of the charity ball and the mean (in all sense of the word as Trollope would understand this) torturing of Ball by McGuire in the newspapers.
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie: John Ball's Sexual Anxiety (He's no cold fish, rather a much-threatened male)
In response to Adele, I suggest that John Ball is not a cold fish. He is a hero very much in line with numerous Trollope heroes, beginning with Thady Macdermot, the type is most clearly seen in Louis Trevelyan and George Western) and less clearly but certainly in anguished fullness in Harry Gilmore in The Vicar of Bullhampton. Ball is emotionally entangled with with Margaret from the view point of a continually threatened masculinity. All three of these men harass their women and almost destroy themselves when they discover the woman has or is having a relationship with another man they are not told every last iota of. Thady is driven to murder a man who has shamed him through impregnating the sister; Gilmore has a near nervous breakdown over Mary Lowther's refusal to take him and continual longing for Captain Marrable.
It's sexual anxiety which Trollope does not condemn but partly sympathizes with. We are to see that Ball actually from his society's point of view has the right to demand utter "purity" from the woman he wants to marry. It's not so much that otherwise she is "soiled goods," as in his case (not Louis's, not George Western'), Ball knows Margaret is not unchaste or loose. It's that he will lose face against other men. And he does immediately as Trollope takes McGuire and uses him to publicize the situation.
Ball is just the opposite of a cold fish: he is too much a writhing mass of emotions. He feels the same vulnerable tenderness to Margaret as he did for his Rachel. But his Rachel apparently never had a life of her own. He doesn't go mad in the way of Louis, nor kick Margaret out in the way of George, nor have a nervous breakdown or kill anyone. He does at moments want to destroy McGuire, but these are passing crazed thoughts our narrator tells us.
We see Margaret's greatest moment in the book when unlike George Western's wife she refuses to knuckle under to Lady Ball's equal use of this "past" and walks out. What deflects our admiration is Trollope never comes out and says that she has the right to do this. She also never makes the grounds of her walking away explicit; now Emily Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right and Mary Lowther in The Vicar of Bullhampton do. That's what partly makes them the fully achieved great texts they partly are.
With this vein in Trollope's fiction, we come near to the modern problem of the stalking male, the male who wants revenge on a woman because she has rejected him (divorced, broken up). Gilmore does indeed stalk Mary Lowther. Again Ball's performance is the more usual, the quiet repeated turning up until he gets his way, mostly because he has the money and the fairy godmother maneuvres everyone into a marriage.
I suggest it is reading against the grain to argue that Trollope means to expose the male demand as wrong. He doesn't. But he does expose it and teaches us about sex relationships in our own time (one without clear borders and a very confused one) too.
Cheers to all,
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Chaps. 21-25
I must admit I find this book more and more unpleasant as it moves toward its conclusion. The Littlebath sections seemed to me much more lively and persuasive. At this point Trollope seems intent on winding down his plot without worrying about the logic of behavior.
Chap. 21 Mr. Maguire goes to London on Business
Prompted by his need to press Margaret to marry him, and unaware that she has lost her money, Mr. Maguire went up to London to see her, but she was still at The Cedars, so off he went to visit her there. He picked the worst possible day, arriving the day after John Ball had proposed marriage. Unfortunately for Margaret, he first talked with Lady Ball and announced to her that he and Margaret were engaged. When Margaret is called into the room, she acknowledges that he has asked her to marry him, but denies they were engaged. And she tells him firmly that she has no money— something he is doesn't quite believe.
Chap. 22 Still at the Cedars
Margaret thinks it natural that John Ball will be angry at her because Mr. Maguire had asked her to marry him, although it's hard to see why he is justified in this. Surely he has no right to expect that she has never considered another offer of marriage. Trollope certainly makes John Ball a difficult hero to like, especially in his reaction to his mother's story about Maguire. One day John asks Margaret to marry him, and the next day he is close to condemning her for even considering another marriage. "He had not condemned her altogether, neither had he acquitted her". Worst of all, he behaves with a total lack of emotion. A very cold fish is John Ball. Instead of being angry, which would be the natural reaction, Margaret bursts into tears. It's hard not to think she'd be better off without him. At least she still has the spirit to insist that she will leave The Cedars because she cannot endure the way Lady Ball treats her.
Chap. 23 Lodgings of Mrs. Buggins
Margaret returns to London and takes lodgings with a former servant of the family, the very friendly Hannah Protheroe, soon to be Hannah Buggins. Hannah's marriage is noteworthy because is meant that she was out of the house when Mr. Maguire next came to call. Margaret can't imagine why Maguire is still pursuing her, even though she has no money, but he is desperate. When Margaret refuses to see him, he sends up a note claiming that she is being robbed of what is rightfully hers.
Margaret still hopes John Ball will come to see her, but instead Mr. Rubb shows up. He behaves better than any of the other suitors and asks her to marry him with full knowledge of her financial position. He seems such a decent, optimistic person that it's hard for me to see why Margaret doesn't choose him instead of the lugubrious John Ball. I suppose the yellow gloves ruined his chances forever, but that's such an arbitrary reason for rejecting him that it's hard to sympathize with Margaret. I found this whole section of the book disturbing because Margaret seems less and less like the spirited young woman we started out with. Instead of being open and searching for happiness, she has turned into a timid creature longing for approval from the gloomiest man around.
When John finally does turn up, after an unconscionable delay, he complains about her not staying at the Cedars as he had told her to do. He appears totally unaware of the uncomfortable position she is in and spends his time complaining that he is suffering from being accused of robbing her. On top of that he shows not the slightest sign of affection for her.
Chap. 24 The Lion and the Lamb
Three months pass while Margaret remains in limbo and Mr. Maguire flutters around trying to cause mischief. He writes to John Ball telling him (falsely) that after becoming engaged to Margaret he had given up the curacy at Littlebath by his own choice. Then he goes on to accuse the Balls of taking Margaret's money away from her. He then goes on to write an article for a religious journal telling the story. Both Margaret and John Ball find this humiliating and embarrassing. Mr. Slow comes to the rescue to suggest that her case should be brought to a legal tribunal. It's not clear to me exactly how this would work. I guess it would demonstrate the justice of Ball's claim to the money. Trollope doesn't make any of this very clear, but Mr. Slow seems to be treating Margaret better than anyone else does.
Chap. 25 Lady Ball in Arundel Street
Still more time goes by. Margaret left the Cedars in October and it is now Christmas. She chooses not to have Christmas dinner with the Bugginses and seems for some reason to think she would de- class herself by eating dinner with Mr. Buggins. Margaret's snobbery certainly leads her to a lot of unhappiness. She is becoming afraid of having any pleasure at all.
The worst blow comes when Lady Ball calls on her and asks her to renounce John Ball. Margaret refuses, but she does at least realize that the only reason for asking her to renounce him would be because he has not quite renounced her yet. Still another two months go by and nothing happens. As Trollope says, Margaret is indeed a modern Griselda.
The book seems to me to be growing weaker and weaker. Trollope is stretching out a rather improbable story, and turning his once-lively heroine into just another suffering woman. I wonder what contemporary readers thought of Margaret and her choices.
Looking forward to the final plot twists,
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Mackenzie vs. sweet young things
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.
Ellen, I agree that Miss Mackenzie is a proud woman. But because the writing in the novel is occasinally choppy and the plot machinations become so apparent in the second half, many of the characters are reduced almost to caricatures. Trollope seems to have taken more pains with the development of his characters in the Barsetshire novels; certainly there are fewer caricatures in The Last Chronicle of Barset. In both Lily Dale and Grace Crawley, we see independent young women who are accomplished and proud. But they ae younger than Miss Mackenzie, and somehow Trollope seems fonder of them, drawing them with a more loving hand. Perhaps there was a youth culture even back in Victorian times; perhaps Trollope found young women more romantic or less threatening. I don't know. But I don't actually see Grace as a Victorian stereotype. She's quiet, but very strong-willed, able to hold her own in a conversation with Archdeacon Grantly, for instance, and everyone in the novel is impressed with her education. She is a woman of letters. Because LCOB is more complex, I feel that I know Grace and Lily better than I know Margaret Mackenzie. I think you're right, that Lily is more like Margaret in some ways than Grace is, but I was thinking of Margaret after she loses her money, when her situation in needing to make her own way in the world is similar to Grace's. I WANT to like the novel Miss Mackenzie, because I'm certainly more interested in older heroines than I am in these sweet young things, but I feel The Last Chronicle of Barset is a superior book. Actually, I do like Miss Mackenzie. I just don't feel it's one of Trollope's best books.
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] The Last Chronicle and women's occupation in Trollope
In response to Kathy,
I agree that Trollope took a lot of time and effort over The Last Chronicle. Like many of his earlier books, he develops nuances at length. After all, this is the first time he is inventing some of these paradigms. He also sensed that this series was an important tool in his reputation and recognition. He says in his autobiography that the character of Crawley is a presence or character he is especially proud of: the man emerges from the place and his mind is complex. He looks upon the series' creation of the place Barsetshire with pride. He has similar feelings about the Palliser books where he talks with pride of his creation of Plantagenet and Lady Glen, of Lady Laura Kennedy, and of the world of politics where he could express his political views.
Again I'd say though that the phrase woman of letters is used for women who publish, who have careers. Grace could have become a teacher or governess; Lily never speaks of such an option. We are to imagine her mother and uncle will provide, and in most of these 19th century novels (rightly probably) the position of governess is treated as servitude in humiliation as well as drudgery (teaching children who may not have any inclination for it; you are not the parent but a servant in the house and they know it, even if you are an upper servant). Lady Carbury is the only woman I can think of in Trollope's corpus where we have a professional woman writer and he treats her as a desperate careerist, driven to write by a violent husband who didn't provide and unscrupulous in what she produces and how she obtains good reviews.
By woman of letters is also meant someone for whom writing and books is a central serious occupation of their existences, an occupation which trumps others. Grace's serous occupation is always going to be mother, wife, person who sews and manages the house, who provides meals. The same would have been true of Lily. Reading and writing are inner resources but never more than (in effect) hobbies as they are to be dropped at the sight of the husband, child, relative. Sewing a shirt is much more important, serving the man and child all. Books are not seen as truly useful occupations for women. Trollope does have a story in his editor's tales about a Mary Gresley who dreams of publishing a novel, but she is thwarted rather cruelly by a narrow minded clergyman husband: she is driven to destroy her manuscript. Trollope feels for her but she herself does not stick to her writing as a vocation. In another story in this set we have a woman writer whose writing is more than half-mocked as pompous and dull drivel her brother doesn't have the heart to tell her the truth about. She is one of a group of writers trying to start a magazine which never gets off the ground. We are to laugh at her thinking writing is a vocation.
If you can define Grace as strong (an incipient feminist) and a woman of letters, you can redefine whatever words you want to mean anything. A man of letters is someone who makes living through letters. Grace makes a living by obeying men.
Trollope does show women networking for their family which means for themselves too, and women who want to triumph vicariously this way. But he usually punishes them if they want this more than being a mother or wife or helpmate in the family. They get various kinds of comeuppances.
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] The Divine Miss M
I had hoped to participate more with Miss M than I have been able to. I know I have a copy, so I didn't bother to look for it until close to reading time. Though I tore my library apart, I could not find it. So I ordered a copy that of course arrived by turtle, fortunately the day before I left on my annual visit Southwest to the Aging Parents.
And then it took almost as long catching up on all the wonderful, enjoyable posts!
I doubt that I have a response much different from anyone else's. I thought the first volume of Miss Mackenzie(Chapters 1-15) was absolutely delightful. It seemed to me to that the narrator has a very sustained ironic, satirical voice, and the flow from one sequence to the next is seemless. Volume Two does not seem to have met with much approval on this list, and I have to agree; it is a letdown. Margaret Mackenzie is by no means a doormat, but her perfection is cloying. Trollope does not provide a clue as to how Miss M arrived at such perfection either. She has no one to study and, as I believe Ellen pointed out, she doesn't read books and there's nothing to let us know that she has previously run through all of Austen. At least Elizabeth and Jane Bennett had each other. (One could, I suppose, chew awhile on the nature v. nurture question with respect to Miss M's perfect behavior.)
Especially considering that the novel being read concurrently on this list is by James, I'm surprised no one (unless I missed it) has mentioned Catherine Sloper in comparison to Miss M. (Dare I admit that I have never read Washington Square while I have seen two movies, one several times?) Nevertheless, I feel fairly certain that Catherine grows from mouse into a more mature and self-reliant creature. Margaret matures from the childlike sheltered innocent and blooms into self-confidence. James may be more cruel to Catherine than Trollope is to Miss M in at least one respect -- she is not the ugly duckling who becomes the swan that Margaret M more or less becomes, able to kiss the face looking back at her in the mirror. Nor does James give us the happy fairytale ending to make us feel good. But Miss M has earned her happiness, I think, and I don't begrudge it to her.
Alas, I must say goodnight.
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] The Divine Miss M
Thank you Howard. I've been searching for the perfect term for Miss Mackenzie's goodness in Book 2 and cloying is exactly right. I don't know if we've gotten up to it yet, but I wanted to talk about the bazaar scene as it is probably the most famous in the book. I sometimes think that Trollope extended the book this far just to have a chance to write this scene. It's obviously an event that Trollope had to suffer through and some point and I can just picture Trollope, notebook in hand, noting down all the details and getting ready to skewer. The whole bazaar scene is, quite frankly, bizarre. It seems to have little to do with the book and has a dropped in quality as if Trollope had made the sketch at some point and was looking for a story into which to stitch it. In this case, I think I have to agree with some of the postings about Trollope's attitudes toward women. He is really quite vicious here, characterizing the charity workers as harpies and almost vulture like. There is a sort of weirdness to the scene beyond the bazaar. Margaret, whom up to this time has been a reasonably sensible woman of 35, is now being aged backwards to young ladyhood. Mrs. Mackenzie dresses her up in muslin and insists on presenting the dress to her on the pretence that young ladies are always provided with such things by their kindly relatives. Margaret is also acting younger and younger. The book gets rather strange at this point.
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] John Ball again
I enjoyed Ellen's insightful post about John Ball, and certainly got a clearer idea of why he reacted the way he did to Margaret. But I still have an issue with Margaret's reaction to his behavior. After he learns the false story about her being engaged to Mr. Maguire, she expects him to accept the truth of her explanation and to forgive her. All through the chapters when she is in London, she expects him to come to her, and he consistently comes later than she had hoped. When he does come, he shows no affection toward her and talks about money, as he has talked throughout. She accepts this and never complains, even to herself. Instead, she looks for ways to accommodate herself to him. She stands up to Lady Ball, but accepts John Ball's actions without any protest or criticism, although she criticizes her other suitors when they don't behave the way she thinks they should.
Also, I think a curious thing about their relationship is that sex seems to be less important than money. Money is the major link between them, and their major source of conversation. In his first mention of marriage, John proposes very diffidently and acknowledges that he is proposing because she has money—he talks about duty but doesn't expect love. When the situation is reversed and John has the money, he admits that he loves Margaret, but still is very concerned with explaining that he is justified in taking the money and resenting that he didn't have it sooner. Even John's anger with Maguire is based as much on his fear of being seen as a swindler as it is about Margaret's previous "engagement". It seems as though Trollope portrays money as the real source of power in the book— having it frees Margaret to act for herself, and not having it makes her subservient to John and to public opinion. Does this reflect Trollope's thinking?
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] The Negro Orphans Bazaar
I have to confess that I enjoyed this chapter in Miss Mackenzie. Ok, it does not have much to do with the story - although it serves to show the potential Margaret has to shine given half a chance and puts a jerk into the dreary John Ball - but it does instil a bit of humour into a section of the book that is becoming almost as dreary as John Ball. I look upon it as something like a scherzo introduced by the great composers, Beethoven in particular, into an otherwise much weightier work.
I am concerned that Trollope's approach is described as "vicious" when his satire is too urbane to be described as vicious. I worry that with the severe analysis we may be tempted to make of characters' psychology, we impede our enjoyment of a novel concerning people as they are in a social environment as it was, and impair our willingness to see situations as funny even when we cannot condone features of that environment.
I have all my life treasured Trollope for his wit, his lightness of touch, his penetrating "one liners" - too much Freudian dissection, I fear, can spoil this. It may be a question of indivdual approach to humour, "de gustibus..." and all that, but I find the likening of those one-liners between Trollope and P. G. Wodehouse complimentary to both. The latter has been described in these postings as "silly" - yes his plots can be very silly as can many of his stock characters, but that does not disguise the fact that his innate erudition and sense of fun gives birth to a humorous style - and it is style not plots or characters that I am talking about - beyond compare in the English tongue. No author has made me laugh outright as much as him, especially in the "Blandings" series of novels; the next highest count with me is Anthony Trollope; enough said!
June 30, 2004
Re: Miss Mackenzie: Thwarted Woman of Letters (Joke Alert)
This is written in response to Howard G, Rose, Adele, and Kathy.
I liked Howard's comparison of Catherine Sloper to Margaret Mackenzie. It's illuminating. James's Catherine Sloper is yet another of these stereotypes for submission, the docile heroine who suffers and whom we are asked to admire for tiny rebellions or small assertions of selfhood. For me, James's Washington Square has a situation which allows the reader to get beyond this pattern. He really presents the father as hateful, as intensely jealous and destructive of the daughter and so moves into an open criticism of family patterns in the 19th century, prisons when there is no humanity, and as we know, when you give someone power they use it, and often against others to triumph.
Washington Square really makes an apt comparison to Trollope's Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite. Halperin says there is no proof that James knew the earlier novella, but the situations are so close, with the important exception that we are to believe the father operated out of love -- so that Trollope's novel ends in the tragic mode while James's in the stasis Miss Mackenzie would have had Trollope not moved into fairy tale.
On another tack, it appears that people can't accept Margaret's rebellion against the system as rebellion because she sits in a room and does nothing. I suggest she doesn't act because Trollope simply will not let her imagine any other option than marriage; it's (in his novels) marriage or a kind of stasis that I've been equating with the stasis one finds in his males: a retreat to find peace and self-respect in really controlling your space and refusing to be coopted into corrupt ethics. On the literal level for the men it means walking away from a job for which the ethical price is too high: at the close of The Warden Mr Harding does this; at the close of Phineas Finn he does; he almost repeats this in Phineas Redux, but partly because he marries a fortune (Madame Max) he goes back into public life where he no longer has to rent himself to others as they please. For women it means saying no to marriage.
There was a good discussion on Victoria the other day where someone remarked that conduct books of the period had about as much relationship to real life for Victorian women as modern magazines for women today. Several people cited all sorts of sources showing that women beneath the middling gentry in great numbers and even in the middling gentry worked; they had real occupations and interests outside the home. Trollope simply refuses to dramatize this; he is not alone; Gaskell is the same; Dickens, indeed just about all the schoolroom curricula and classic novelists from mid-century. He will not give his women any other option but wife, mother (and we've got a frustrated one in Miss Mackenzie underneath whose apparent coldness and ferocity we are never permitted to look) and sister. (The more I think about Lady Ball, the more I see that her writhing is a bad rap for women; yes she does enact the oppression and inflictions of society on other women the way the women in African tribes do who vaginally mutilate the young; she's a Mrs Norris. But Trollope never allows us to see how she got that way or really goes into her feelings in any sympathetic way. She's just eveyone's enemy, the ugly mouth, when in fact she too is suffering and what is asked is she shut up.
Trollope is frank about his motives for these marriage or nothing plots in North America where the basis of his argument against women working outside the home and voting is it takes power from men. His argument is based on unreality: the good husband who makes lots of money and kindly father and mother provide the happiest lives for girls. The problem is this is unreal, the reality is very ambiguous people who are not strong against the system. But he says he is talking of "the rights of men." He only talks of economics and social life but he does hint about sex in some talk about male chivalry needing support: decoding he's also saying men need to have rights over women they can depend on outside for their ego and pride (it's an exchange between men), and if women are not grateful for what they've got, the men will not support them (in fact they often didn't) and there's the danger of violence.
So yes literally speaking the pattern he presents in Miss Mackenzie for the heroine dramatizes submission of women to men. Where we can credit Trollope is he takes the situation to its core and we see the bleak struggle. For this reason I prefer the plot-design of Miss Mackenzie to a story like Grace's. I can see Kathy's point about not demanding careerism or professional networking/money of Grace before we call her a woman of literature. In reality women have for centuries not begun to make money on careers like literature or science the way men do, and have not been professional in the same way. Their limited control over their space and money and their position in families (particularly the way motherhood is practiced in middle class society) stops them. I would feel a lot more comfortable calling Grace a woman of letters had Trollope presented her interest in reading and books as serious; he doesn't. She will give up all for endless babies and serving her husband. She is also such a sycophant, so grateful to Archdeacon Grantly. His half-lubricious delight in her is disquieting since Trollope seems to invite us to take it at face value. Trollope himself is getting some sexual satisfaction at imagining himself this old man with the sweet girl making up to him.
Really Miss Mackenzie gets farther in writing and in trying for a life on her own. There is no writing from Grace; no visible production so to speak -- as we have in Miss Mackenzie. The only woman in all Trollope where we see this is Mary Gresley, and it is the lone story where the woman's impulse towards literature as a primary occupation is really treated with sympathy and centrally. Still, he writes a story where she destroys her manuscript. The sympathy is in really feeling bad that she destroyed it instead of as in Miss Mackenzie presenting the destruction as a lesson Margaret needed to learn - even though he speaks up for the inadequacy of what she wrote he does make fun of it.
Do people really buy into the materialistic values of our society so unqualifiedly? Here is where I can admire Grace Crawley.
Re: Miss Mackenzie: The Grotesqueries of the Bazaar.
My argument is Trollope himself acknowledged he was not urbane, but violent, and his "violence" derives from his hostility to women having power and displaying themselves in public space.
First, in his Autobiography Trollope acknowledged the scene was over-the-top when he wrote this seethingly nasty scene:
There is in this story an attack upon charitable bazaars, made with a violence which will, I think, convince any reader that such attempts at raising money were at the time very odioius to me. I beg to say that I have had no occasion to alter my opinion (An Autobiography, Ch 10).
He still could not bear women should display themselves as powerful and make money in this way.
As a woman I too find the scene at the bazaar distasteful. As I wrote earlier I found his presentation of the woman poet as nothing but spite particularly gratuitous -- and spiteful. But I suggest that we have more here than Trollope's driving to put women back in their houses and keep them out of public space by mocking their efforts and presenting these as hypocritical and useless.
I would ask David Gilbert what he finds funny? I will explain the source of my distaste and challenge him to tell from the text the source of what he enjoys.
Toward the second half of the 19th century middle class women had really begun to break out of the domestic vise they had been pushed into by the opening of the 19th century. Women were strongly and effectively active in all sorts of social causes, including (important this) their own to own property, to have rights of divorce, child custody and so on. They often identified with the underdog and were active in the abolitionist movement -- which was a success. So women wanted to support negroes.
Notice what Trollope makes most fun of: the costumes, the upper class dress, how overdressed the women are, their hairpieces and their jockeying for position, and especially the emphasis on their upper class rank. Which woman goes first? Who gets to stand where? What he is doing is highlighting female display of visibilia which gives them rank and stature and thus some (limited) power in their family arrangements and over those who their family is above.
What used to happen in the public arena for aristocrats is the way they showed their power was to make a grand show. Aristocrats, men and women, maintained their status through the manipulation of the differences they could create between themselves and the "lower orders." This difference could only appear in ceremony and mostly through clothes and expensive objects which worked to exclude and stigmatize the middling and lower sorts -- carriages, fancy drawing rooms, a calling card (which we recall Crawley had not got and only partly because he won't spend the money).
In women such dress is naturally sexual. What are they selling in the society but their sex? Trollope is utterly disgusted by this showing off because he is on the side of keeping women out of public space. While we must credit him for giving women sexual appetites, he never for a moment allows those he presents with dignity and respect to have sexual appetites which show openly beyond the man they are to marry. The women in this bazaar are flaunting their bodies to everyone. This is a basic threat to the masculine order Trollope is so concerned to uphold. If he has taken the feminine position in the shy (notice Margaret's modesty), so he is John Ball who cannot the least sexual anxiety over any imagined imputations over his prowess.
He is also playing to class resentment. Trollope knows that most of his readership will be middling sorts. He can get laughs without troubling himself too much. The scene can really be compared with the dinner scene at the opening of the book. Grandairs was an easy target too because Trollope can assume his audience will not identify with the overweening butler and not themselves order things "a la Russe." They will resent those who do order things that way as getting "above" themselves -- all the while comfortably denying they want such a thing. Trollope has another easy target in the pathetic behaviors of these women.
For it is pathetic. What power have they got to do anything but sell junk to other people? This is a jumble sale. A cookie sale. No wonder they make very little. It reminds me of the sales of gift wrapping paper in elementary schools in the US to raise money. Often the cost of the paper cuts badly into the profits. But if you say to these people just ask the parents for money, they say no one will give. People are vain and want a show; they want some object. The women at this bazaar are responding to the same element in human nature which makes them dress up to give themselves some power and stature in public space.
So where does the grotesquerie come from: he's anatomizing female aristocratic bodies as awful in their bad taste outfits. They are in bad taste because they are calling attention to their rank, power and sexual attractiveness.
Only our sweet submissive dove Miss Mackenzie is anxious to go home.
Would readers on our list have been anxious to go home? Maybe.
I fully admit I probably would. I dislike most social functions which so depend on hierarchical arrangements as to provoke from people status seeking and envious behaviors. The worst in people can come out here.
So I'd go home too -- but then I'm keen on carving out peaceful psychosocial space for myself to write and to read and to work and be with the few people I can connect to. So I can see how someone could respond to the satire. Here is a source of humor. Is this what David finds funny? Or would he enjoy himself at such a function? I know that we can laugh at what in life we would find an ordeal. We can also enjoy in art what in life we would dislike.
I have somewhere to go outside my house in public where I try to do something I think valuable: I teach young adults to read and to write a couple of times a week. I have no audience, no visibilia. The women in Trollope's novels are not given that choice -- although many women in his period were. The teaching occupation was growing as schools were spreading.
My argument is that the real roots of this scene, what it attacks are: 1) rank; 2) women having any access to public space; and 3) the power which comes to women through sexualized visibilia. John Ball is not a jerk and he is not dreary; what he is is someone without sexualized feathers. Trollope is at least consistent. He dislikes macho-male glamor as much as he dislikes "flaunting females."