Miss Mackenzie and Ontologically "Other" Human Beings; Some Introductory Remarks: Miss M as Trollope in Drag, On P. D. Edwards ("Fiction Shorn of Romance"), Jane Nardin (He Knew She Was Right), Mary Hamer (Miss Mackenzie as a "modern Griselda"); Books as Mirrors: Trollope, Freud and La Fontaine's "L'homme et son image"; N. Miller's The Heroine's Text, Subject to Change: Reading Feminist Writing and The Poetics of Gender; Feminocentric Writing

G. DuMaurier, Wives and Daughters, for The Cornhill Magazie (1864)

To Trollope-l

February 20, 1999

Re: Miss Mackenzie and Ontologically "Other" Human Beings

May 8, 2004

Dear All,

I will be making a calendar for Miss Mackenzie, Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel sometime the middle of this week. I'll do it so as to leave two weeks from the time the calendar for Mr Scarborough's Family ends and the time we begin these three novels whose plot-designs focus around a heroine.

I've been reading Sig's summaries of Mr Scarborough's Family and appreciate his point that Trollope regards gentlemen (and ladies too) as really ontologically diffferent from all the other human beings around them. We see that not only in his novels, but in the non-fiction; it shapes his attitudes just about everywhere. It can come out in this comic dismissal of them, this way of treating them as not to be taken seriously, not having the same burden of humanity as people of his upper class milieu, children somehow in effect. But it has some serious consequences when it comes to thematic and ethical inferences we are supposed to take away from the fiction. For example, how Trollope treats the famine in Castle Richmond. The extermination of the Irish is regarded by him as a good happening, one he attributes complacently enough to his God.

I've been listening to Miss Mackenzie as read by Nadia May and am almost finished with it. There we find another gap, a vast gap opens up, between men and women: the book is really loaded with emotional pain to a startling extent; the heroine is continually punished; a self-abnegating paradigm of sheer masochism is placed before us as a model of admirable behavior for women through the heroine. Oppressive cruelties of family life are insisted upon as something inescapable for women; the heroine is made to endure really ugly mean remarks (hateful other women she's related to) until nearly the end when she finally rebells -- at which point she is harassed by suspicions over her sexual chastity (towards the end of the book) which distrust we are not to see as appalling but accept and as women obey or take heed of and thus live in a kind of perpetual fear.

The book has signficance as it's underlying paradigm is actually common: Nancy Miller defined and expatiated at length about it in her The Heroine's Text (on which see below). What's different is Trollope's bare faced knuckled approach and his driving the heroine down from any pleasure anywhere. Perhaps the one moment of joy she knows is with her niece when she wakes from sleep or sending her off to school.

He does have some of the dismissive sneering kind of comic types from his outlook as above them and this shapes his presentation of evangelical religion. He is ruthless when it comes to making fun of one young man, the preacher's disability: a squinting eye which I've now been told means the pupil in one of your eyes is loose.

I've been thinking about all this as I listen. It will be very interesting to go over this novel in the context of the so-called "sister-books" and I think also to consider Rachel Ray and a group of Trollope's novels and stories named after a heroine or centering closely on one.

The calendar will be forthcoming in the mid-week.


Note to myself: Miss Mackenzie was a mid-career medium length novel; Trollope wrote it between May 2 and August 18, 1864; it was not serialized but simply published as a book in February 1865 by Chapman and Hall, with frontispiece and title page illustration by Walter Crane.

To Trollope-l

May 27, 2004

Re: Miss Mackenzie: Some Introductory Remarks: Miss M as Trollope in Drag

As Geoff says, there are editions with introductory essays (Oxford and the Trollope Society one has them), but there are editions which do not. Miss Mackenzie is not a frequently reprinted book, and you catch a copy where you can.

Where it comes in Trollope's writing life contextualizes it. Trollope wrote it in 1864 and it was published as a book in 1865. This is one of the few novels after Dr Thorne not to have been published in instalments; that's one reason there is no set of illustrations. It's a mid-career book. It also follows directly after The Small House of Allington, Rachel Ray and Can You Forgive Her?. All three have dominant love stories; all three, with the exception of the political matter of Can You Forgive Her? "heroine's texts." In Trollope's period readers might have recognized the phrase domestic fiction. The novel directly after Miss Mackenzie is The Claverings; Rachel Ray, Miss Mackenzie, and The Claverings are all 2 volume novels in which, in P. D. Edwards's words, we find love shorn of sentimental romance. You could make an argument for some of this in Rachel Ray; RR is a bright book in some ways; it lacks the punitive quality of Miss Mackenzie, but RR is also satiric and surrounds the heroine with hard hypocritical people. You might say that one problem poor Miss Mackenzie has is she meets with people who she could wish would cover up their ruthless cold-bloodedness, vulgar snobbery, domineering ways, egoistic selfishness and nasty tongues but don't have the imagination to.

Trollope wrote twice of Miss Mackenzie and both times he said the same thing: he said he had attempted to write a novel

"without any love; but even in this attempt it breaks down before the conclusion. In order that I might be strong in my purpose, I took for my heroine a very unattractive old maid who was overwhelmed by money troubles; but even she was in love before the end of the book, and made a romantic marriage with an old man. Thre 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 odious to me. I beg to say that since I had had no occasion to alter my opinion (1980 Oxford World Classics Autobiography, Ch 10, pp. 188-89).

I'm not alone in taking the first assertion that he tried to make a novel without any love as ironic or tongue-in-cheek. Three of the critics I read tonight thought that too: almost immediately the plot-design starts we are into courtship, and love and marriage attempts made on Miss Mackenzie. Trollope does not present them romantically. That's true. He wrote the above passage over 10 years after he published Miss Mackenzie and is remembering that one of the things he was adversely criticized for was making a 36 year old single woman who is plain, not very much about ordinary in her understanding, and very conventional in numbers of her attitudes a heroine. This is essential to making the love stories unromantic: such a heroine does not get glamorous rich young men falling in love with them at first sight; the passion will not be so strong that they will forget all about money and connections. One of the things I like about the book is the heroine is not a teenager, though a real problem in the psychology of the heroine is that in some ways she does seem not just young from not going out much but genuinely naive and childlike in some of her responses to people which a woman of 36 would not be. Trollope needs to make her that way though or the story would not have happened.

The bazaar is a separate incident. It's during the episode that Trollope produces his rather spiteful caricature of a woman poet as herself spiteful. It comes towards the end of the book and is interwoven almost as an afterthought or interlude. Suddenly Trollope trots out some characters from the Pallisers and elsewhere. That Trollope remembers it suggests it meant more to him than you might think given the space take up in the book and what I'd call its opportunistic feel. It's a set piece

Miss Mackenzie has not been one of Trollope's popular books. It's not as rarely reprinted as Is He Popenjoy? or Mr Scarborough's Family. Lance Tingay lists at least 5 editions in the 20th century. There was a Dutch translation in the 19th. While it's true the reviews (as reprinted in Smalley's AT: The Heritage) complain about about the characters are mostly very "mean, dull, and generally disagreeable," and are alive to the "strangely horrible" way she is continually treated by many of the people she is forced to be intimate with; at the same time, the four unsigned ones I have all praise it as intensely clever, as telling a hard deliberately prosaic story where interest is "sustained" by virtue of her suffering and skill with which Trollope delineates milieus satirically. They complain the characters are overly stupid, overly unpleasant, but nonetheless, one argues that the novel needed to be shortened. "There is too much fullness in the execution" says one; another finds repetition. (I'd say the bazaar scene can be seen as padding even if Trollope was keen to put it in.) Of these four reviews, two are rather long. That suggests something compelling here.

And this is one of the novels James reviewed. I think he does not dislike it; it's rather that he found the novel not to be enjoyable, and his perception over why illuminates its nature and some of Trollope's purpose (as Sadleir's abrupt "very inferior" does not). For James the problem with the novel is that Trollope is not really true to nature: he has exaggerated the grimness of life, produced characters who are really idiots as a norm, and subjected his heroine to a kind of "prison discipline" in order to drive home a lesson which we won't believe unless we believe in the circumstances. James does point out how Trollope continually succeeds in "mortifying the reader," making us "uncomfortable" in his drive to prove life is so "pale" (not black, but pale). Says James,

"it is perhaps well that we should learn how superficial, how spiritless, how literal human feeling may become, but is a novel here our proper lesson book."

Trollope does want to drive home such an idea about human nature in this book.

In my view Miss Mackenzie is Trollope as Nancy Miller calls it wittily "in drag. She is he; he is her. Trollope is teaching himself to give up romance, punishing himself in the way he did when he wrote "The Adventures of Fred Pickering." He wants to drive himself into resignation too. James's way of writing about the novel brings out Trollope's texture and underlying idea using his 19th century metaphoric and ethical language. I turn to autobiography and psychology to grasp what is happening at the core of a novel.

I'll divide this posting here. My second will be about some comments by a few of the recent critics I read tonight.


Re: Miss Mackenzie: Some Introductory Remarks: On P. D. Edwards ("Fiction Shorn of Romance"); Jane Nardin (He Knew She Was Right)

I really meant to avoid P. D. Edwards and go for some of the lesser known critics, to speciality books (like Jane Nardin's He Knew She Was Right), to some of the other basic books I don't usually turn to (Susan Peck McDonald's sensible Twayne commentary). The trouble is I find Edwards is still the most perceptive of these just the way he is often more perceptive than some books which make a much bigger splash, have a better known critic or are presented as handbooks and companions.

So I'll just summarize what Edwards has with a couple of comments on and from MacDonald, Nardin, and Mary Hamer.

Edwards sets Miss Mackenzie in a chapter called "Fiction Shorn of Romance." He treats it alongside Rachel Ray, The Claverings, The Belton Estate (which we read on this list with Rachel Ray). MacDonald makes the same group of 4 except she adds 2 more: The Small House and Can You Forgive Her? and treats them all as variations on romance.

Edwards's comparison with Rachel Ray is fruitful. Miss Mackenzie in comparison has a middleaged baronet of a hero and older heroine. RR has a lovely young girl and ambitious young man, she is romantic and he audacious, daring, clever. Miss M is therefore at its core much less bright; indeed the mood is dispirited, dowdy, anxious. The characters who are upper class live on the shabby edges of gentility and are desperate for money. The two other men going to Miss Mackenzie_ are lower class; one is in trade, vulgar, dumb; the other an (alas) slimy low class (the two go together) evangelical clergyman on the make. Rachel Ray presents us with a settled community; Miss Mackenzie lives the life of a picaro just about; she moves about, gets around, goes into lodgings. She has a precarious foothold on the kindness and obligations of others. Money is her one asset and when she loses it, she's sunk.

The lack of community is part of the point of Miss Mackenzie, her isolation and lack of connectedness with the community except as she is attached to a male. The "safety net" as it's called (hilariously) in the US is very frail in Miss Mackenzie. At the time the novel was called "sordid." I should say I like the novel for this; it does turn into a fairytale towards the end and then for me it becomes pleasanter but superficial and loses its bite and original point. I enjoy the sweet Scots Mackenzie lady who provides Margaret with some qualified happiness and at least peace (she does not harass her, does not bully her, does not attempt to cheat her; inveigles her aging suitor in the right direction), but she is as unreal as the drivingly obnoxious witch-mother, Lady Ball who lives with the baronet and he allows to bully him.

Yes it's a Griselda story in some ways. And towards the end of the book Trollope uses this archetypal word for Margaret, but as Edwards says, there's a problem here. Like the term Cinderella, to use this word trivializes the fiction, distances us from it and is an evasion. Edwards says Trollope does this to comfort us by suggesting what has happened is fantastic, a fable-folktale, but in fact he has worked very hard to show us a good deal of real truths about life and people. Edwards says the effect is to "shield" both the reader and Trollope "from the grimmer implications of the old maid's plight" Trollope has dramatized for us. When Trollope makes fun of "the maniacal tendency" of some "old maids" to marry he is dismissing the warm sexuality he himself gives Miss Mackenzie in a remarkable scene (perhaps the best one in the whole novel) before a mirror. Why should Miss Mackenzie subdue her sexuality? Why should she not have some real romance?

Edwards puts his finger on the same crux of the book that James does only he does it using different language.

Jane Nardin devotes 11 pages to Miss Mackenzie. That's a lot in a small book. If anyone has not read He Knew She Was Right I recommend reading it when you've finished Miss Mackenzie. She called the book a "parable" and reads it as an expose of a life as a "living death of self-suppression under male authority, which society approves of for women in Miss Mackenzie's position." Money is the only power Miss Mackenzie can have, but when unexpectedly she is gifted with some, we see how limited are the uses she can put it to in finding some fulfillment. Nardin takes the reader through Miss Mackenzie's attempt to find a congenial world in Littlebath (as our narrator says a choice which itself leads her to live with restricting restricted dull types). She shows that the novel's characters "all define love in terms of male dominance and female submission." John Ball really falls in love with Miss Mackenzie when she becomes vulnerable and needs him; and he insists on her utter obedience to him, all the while being ready to pounce on her with suspicion and subject her to the cruel caprices of his mother.

Nardin takes up the objection a number of critics make that the novel is not believable, is far-fetched and has "a cast of ludicrously unattractive characters." Her answer is the book is meant to be a parable about the life of a woman of this class, and what Trollope needs to do to bring this out he does.

My problem with Nardin is I am not sure that she is not reading Trollope against the grain. She acknowledges how Trollope's narrator "never acknowledges how distasteful" the heroine's options are. She does not acknowledge how Trollope is for her submitting, for her conventionality, for her obedience and only wants us to admire her when she rebels in a small way against a final injustice, and then we are to admire her because while she rebels she still lives in a prison discipline kind of manner. I would really like to believe this book is an expose but I'm not sure that Trollope is not for the "severe restrictions" Miss Mackenzie endures and will carry on enduring when the novel closes. On the other hand, as Nardin says, he does show us how "even the least rebellious woman nurses secret desire for sex, pleasure, and self-expression" -- as in the mirror scene I referred to above. As I've written earlier tonight, this is also his own case. Now he got to write novels; what will poor Miss Mackenzie have? He forced Miss Mackenzie to tear all her writings up -- a key scene in the novel as we shall see.

Mary Hamer provides a perfunctory essay for the Oxford Companion but she does tell us a couple of things. First the novel was originally titled "The Modern Griselda." One of our single women, Miss Todd, may be Trollope's way of alluding to Francis Power Cobbe (an reformist); Miss Todd also appears in The Bertrams (which also takes place in LittleBath -- a place on the fringes of Bath where people who were tight on their means, and pious respectable, usually older went). Hamer points to the ruthless caricature of the evangelicals in this novel -- and the more pointed but just as hard satire of them in Rachel Ray. Hamer does not appear to care for Miss Mackenzie as she sees it as harshly mocking, particularly people's vulgarity or low class status (Mr Rubb, Maguire). She finds the touch or trajectory in RR to be finer, more sensitive though just as class-bound (Trollope also despises evangelicals because he sees them as lower class). People do often prefer RR. They do because Trollope is so much kinder to his heroine and hero; RR is a fractured idyll, a sort of realistic pastoral, while Miss M is a grim contest of harangues where life is little to be enjoyed and much to be endured.


May 28, 2004
Re: Books as Mirrors: Trollope, Freud and La Fontaine's "L'homme et son image"

On Wednesday I invite the people on my small EighteenthCentury Worlds list to put poems written between 1660-1830 on the list. As tomorrow is Jean De La Fontaine's birth date, as fables were very popular in the 18th century, and as he wrote great ones, I put one by him on that last. As I was reading it, it struck me how it tells why Trollope's books are great: they show us images of ourselves. The mirror is sometimes skewed, sometimes satiric, caricatured, but the way the "lesson" proceeds (he uses words like lessons and teach) is through mirroring. Reviewers of Miss Mackenzie complained it was too black, too pale, but one could say that like other of Trollope's novels which didn't find favor in the reviews of the period and/or didn't sell, the mirror he holds up is not flattering. David Gilbert mentioned Freud disparagingly the other day and suggested it's inappropriate to apply Freudian insights to Trollope. I couldn't disagree more. He would strongly prefer that we take jokes as sheer jokes and not investigate what is being laughed at.

Freud said he found much of his original insights he said in English novelists; he also wrote: ". . . each of us will be well advised, on some suitable occasion, to make a low bow to the deeply moral nature of mankind; it will help us to be generally popular and much will be forgiven us for it." In Mr Scarborough's Family Trollope laughed sardonically; in this medium sized novel we've just finished he's been bleak and heavy with satire, only very occasionally quietly poignant, some of this coming very directly from his personal obsessions and disappointments. His "canal" (see the fable) is a serpentine one:

First Marianne Moore's modern translation (she translated the whole of La Fontaine's book). You need to know that La Rochefoucauld wrote a book entitled Maxims: these are ironic axioms about human nature and society:

Book I, No. 11:

The Man and his Reflection
For Monsieur le Duc de la Rochefoucauld

Thinking himself one with whom none could compare,
A man supposed himself the handsomest of mankind
And found fault with every mirror anywhere,
So that in time he had become morally blind.
To cure him, obliging fate made mirrors a commonplace,
Holding up to him anywhere he chanced to gaze
Those silent counselors to which the Graces incline;
Mirrors in houses, and where merchandise is shown
Mirrors of a sort a dandy would own,
Mirrors dangling int he folds that belts confine.
What could our Narcissus do but stay away,
In the kind of place in which he would be safe all day
From any mirror that might catch him unaware?
Then a stream fed by a spring somewhere,
Ran near the retreat he had found for the day
And once more he resented what would give him away,
Distorting his face and causing him pain.
Yet how turn from such crystal clearness as he saw?
Now that clear stream without a flaw,
Was too attractive to disdain.

You will have seen what I have done here --
Described a fool, but folk are much the same
And alike their prey of their folly, it would appear.
The man is the mind in terror of self-blame;
Others' faults are mirrors he feared to see,
Which would picture to him how his faults must seem
The canal* is a celebrity
Whose Maxims we hold in high esteem.

*Note: *Moore has translated La Fontaine's word, "le canal" literally into "canal." It's confusing for in English we don't use this word much any more in this way. It means the bed of a river, a small stream that nature allows to debouche into larger waters of the world in order to irrigate the earth.

In the original French:

L'homme et son image
Pour M. L. D. D. L. R.

Un homme qui s'aimait sans avoir de rivaux
Passait son esprit pour le beau du monde.
Il accusait toujours les mirroirs d'être faux,
Vivant plus que content dans son erreur profonde.
Afin de de guérir, le sort officieux
Présentait partout à ses yeux
Les Conseillers muets dont se servent nos Dames:
Miroirs dans les logis, miroirs chez ls Marchands,
Miroirs aux poches des galands,
Miroirs aux ceintures des femmes.
Que fait notre Narcisse? Il va se confiner
Aux lieux les plus cachés qu'il peut s'imaginer
N'osant plus des miroirs éprouver l'aventure.
Mais un canal, formé par une source pure,
Se trouve en ces lieux écartés;
Il s'y voit; il se fâche; et ses yeux irrités
Pensent apercevoir une chimère vaine.
Il fait tout ce qu'il peut pour éviter cette eau;
Mais quoi, le canal et si beau
Qu'il ne le quitte qu'avec peine.
On voit bien où je veux venir.
Je parle àtous; et cette erreur extrême
Est un mal que chacun se plaît d'entretenir.
Notre âme, c'est cet Homme amoureux de lui-même;
Tant de Miroirs, ce sont les sottises d'autrui,
Miroirs, de nos défauts les Peintres légitimes;
Et quant au Canal, c'est celui
Que chacun sait, le Livre des Maximes.

Trollope once shocked the Lewes when he told them his disillusioned view of marriage; it recalls one of La Rochefoucauld's Maxims and Englished runs: Qu'il y a des marriages bons, mais point des Delicieux. Sometimes it's quoted as Qu'il y a des marriages commodes, mais point des Delicieux. There are good [or convenient] marriages, there are no delicious ones. For myself I don't know about that :).

A maxim Trollope might have had us apply to Mr Scarborough is: "Few people know how to grow old" (I don't know it in the French).

He did like 18th century literature and one of his older women in The Vicar of Bullhampton reads quite a bit of it.

Of course the way we read a novel mirrors us.

A last point: I'm content to have this idea applied to my reading of the novel. If Mr Gilbert wants to read the novel as jocular and stay on the surface, he is welcome to, but he has no right to silence me or others he calls humorless.

Ellen Moody

May 29, 2004

Re: Nancy K Miller's The Heroine's Text

In the above book Nancy Miller explores six 18th century novels in order to study how the feminine character is portrayed. The idea is to see what is taken to be feminine at this specific cultural moment. Since in 19th century novels, women are rarely put at the center of the book in the manner of 18th century ones, and their sexual behavior is kept marginalized much more, these books give the author a chance to delve in ways she couldn't in the more prudish novels.

An irony in the book is Miller says she is exploring feminocentric writing and seems never to stop to think that all six of her choices are books written by men: Defoe's Moll Flanders, Marivaux's La Vie de Marianne, Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa, Cleveland's Fanny Hill, Rousseau's La Nouvelle Heloise and LaClos's Liaisons Dangereuses (this one does not have an eponymous heroine).

Basically Miller shows that femininity is presented in terms of sexual vulnerability; that the defining act for them is the first one of sexual intercourse (supposed to take place after marriage). We see how differently female characters are treated than male, and how when the female character is at the center of the story conventional ideas about female psychology affect the plot-design and thematic structures of the text.

I'd like to add that Trollope also wrote novels from the female standpoint and in these we see him playing with the heroine's text intensely: we saw this in Is He Popenjoy? and I'm going to try to see how much of this paradigm explicates what is happening in our three heroine's texts this summer.

What one must see is an interaction between the male formulations of romance and the female.

Miller's right to say these novels are not stories of education, for once female innocence goes, the women are shown to behave "instinctively" the same way; all four novels are "coded" as vicissitudes within the text of the feminine condition in general.

In these novels punishment comes in form of intervention on the part of a member of the "wronged" family . We will see this in Miss Mackenzie and Nina Balatka

In the second half of The Heroine's Text Miller turns to the exclusion of transgressive female from and through the social violence of the world; the scenario of illicit love is in each severely punished. The novels covered are Manon, La Nouvelle Heloise, Clarissa and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I would call Miss Mackenzie and Nina euphonic or comedic heroine's texts; Linda is a tragic one: she is excluded from sanity and subjected to intense emotional violence in the intimacy of the house in the form of threats of absolute exclusion, scorn, and pariahdom.

In Miss Mackenzie we find John Ball taking it upoin himself to protect the female from herself. Anton Trendellson will proect Nina. The woman who transgresses is the one everyone is to hate and Linda fears this very much. Females are in a double figure: both conforming to ideal of domesticity (submissive, compliant) and allured by pleasure, adventure; an overdetermined sequence. We are to see her as a childlike natural victim of pleasure principle. Again I add that Trollope sees males as incapable of marrying poorer woman because they can't do without expensive habits.

At the end of Miss Mackenzie and Mina the couple now replaces family and the world to one another. They live to one another, she obedient to him. Miller asks if this is a male as well as female fantasy. We can see that Lady Ball might be a harridan Miss Mackenzie might find very hard to deal with. Miller suggests that it does seem as if marriage is not a plausible solution to conflicts of self and desire versus security and community that underly plots of feminocentric texts.

May 29, 2004

Re: Nancy Miller's Subject to Change: Reading Feminist Writing and The Poetics of Gender

In Miller's Subject to Change and The Poetic of Gender Miller attempts to define what is meant by Écriture féminine: the writer enacts a female sexual point of view in or through the writing. The writer makes visible what is particularly female about your experience in the writing itself. I understand this to mean: in Shakespeare Iago's sentences have a rhythm which re-enacts penetration; it would a someone writing a sentence which re-enacts being penetrated.

Miller argues there is such a thing as a discernible women's literature, but the way to get there is not through demanding of a sentence some marker we can test; the problem of identity and difference can be found in investigating "certain thematic structuration, in the form of content". There are no infallible signs, no failsafe technique by which to determine the gender of an author. She sees the modern movement which declares the death of the author something only a powerful confident male could do.

She suggests that as in men's literature, dream at the heart of women's literature is a dream of power, but the power derives in a concealed way; the heroine becomes invulnerable by circumventing the laws of contingency and circulation; she withdraws. The point is not to be possessed; the Princess de Cleves wants to preserve passion on her own terms; the fulfillment of the wish is realized in the daydream itself which makes reality irrelevant. The ideology of non-accountability has been misunderstood. There is also a driven to demand that which is incompatible with the facts of human existence; the extravagant wish for a story that turns out differently.

On women's memoirs she asks all sorts of interesting questions:

Is there a specificity to a female retrospective? how and where in the narrative will it make itself felt? The unashamed theatricality of subjectivity is characteristic of female writing.

The decision to go public is particularly charged for a woman writer. Women know they are being read as women, known for or through their liaisons with men. To justify an unorthodox life by writing about it is to repeat the unorthodoxy a thousandfold.

She shows at one point that the familiar early statement many women writers made that they were doing it for the money can was a kind of alibi.

She proposes to take two versions of the female self: the one the autobiographical and the other the life in the fiction as a whole . She argues that to perform this expanded reading is to remain a prisoner of canon that bars women.


May 30, 2004

Re: Feminocentric writing

What I will do as we read is apply the following insights (taken from Miller's three books of essays) to Trollope's heroine's texts.

We have books whose name is the heroine's.

  1. Idea is to look at the ideological subscript of literary femininity in the 18th century
  2. To look at what is taken to be the feminine at a specific cultural moment: what is seen as defining act: "il n'y a que le premier pas qui coûte"

We find an ideology which codes femininity in paradigms of sexual vulnerability.

We can see how conventional notions about women and female psychology affect the plot and thematic structuralization of the novel

  1. Paradigm: women controlled by emotion, misled by vanity, well-intentioned, easily led astray, innocent orphan, victim of circumstance, credulity abused by unscrupulous male, seduced and abandoned; as sentimental she falls ill, moral sensitivity seen in her self-castigation.
  2. Will she or won't she is in some sense the thing we wait for all novel long. The assault is harshly violent and invasive in the case of Linda and then it's the old woman who is the most violent. The girl threatened both by a rakish amoral suitor and a lecherous vengeful old man,
  3. We have obvious contrasts of sex and class; also an opposition of sentimental and moral values
  4. It's not a story of education, for once innocence goes, the idea is women behave "instinctively" the same; the story is "coded" as vicissitudes within the text of the feminine condition in general.

Some factors in Miss Mackenzie to keep in mind:

  1. Miss Mackenzie is kept sheltered until she is 35. She is like a 15 year old girl in many ways.
  2. She takes on the role of the female heroine of the 18th century when she becomes penniless. What she would have had to do in a real world is search for employment. Her opportunities are limited, and the search an obstacle course to the preservation of virtue/
  3. There is the dilemma of double bind of fear and desire in most novels leads all the heroines to tears: most novels treat this event euphemistically to the point of silence; in Trollope's novels act uncovered and exploited.

What is virtue, Diderot asks in his "Praise of Richardson," and he answers: "It's a sacrifice of oneself, a preconceived disposition to immolate oneself.

All three heroines turn to their suitors as a strong father boss: the stories are framed as father/daughter engagements. Sexuality still synonymous with criminality.

  1. In Miss Mackenzie, the heroine waits for the male to surrender and instead surrenders herself. Nina lives with continual threat of abandonment.
  2. In Linda we have a transgression of femaleness occurs when daughter runs away with lover (and also writes to him); this is at the heart of those 18th century epistolary novels which ended tragically.
  3. What we have here is a masculine representation of female desire produced ultimately for an audience of male readers. Women a pretext for male self-congratulation. This is clearly so in the suitor chase of Miss Mackenzie.
  4. There is a realistically conceived but continually harassing attempt to break the heronie's spirit at the heart of Miss Mackenzie; there is a romantic and tragic one at the heart of Nina and Linda.

What is meant by Écriture féminine: the woman enacts a female sexual point of view in or through the writing.

  1. You make visible what is particularly female about your experience in the writing itself. In Shakespeare Iago's sentences have a rhythm which re-enacts penetration; it would a woman writing a sentence which re-enacts being penetrated.
  2. Miller argues there is such a thing as a discernible women's literature but the way to get there is not through demanding of a sentence some marker we can test; the problem of identity and difference can be found in investigating "certain thematic structuration, in the form of content". There are no infallible signs, no failsafe technique by which to determine the gender of an author. You can find men writing in this mode.
  3. Women's literature: an ideology of non-accountability because then you escape the dominant culture.

As in men's literature, dream at the heart of women's literature is a dream of power, but the power derives in a concealed way; the heroine becomes invulnerable by circumventing the laws of contingency and circulation; she withdraws (as does Miss Mackenzie); the point is not to be possessed; to preserve passion on her own terms. Trollope too realistic to allow the fulfillment of the wish to be realized in a daydream which makes reality irrelevant -- unless that is brought off by much money and with a strong woman to protect the heroine.

The mark of women's books is to demand something incompatible with the facts of human existence; the extravagant wish for a story that turns out differently, the implausible plot in order to get a wish fulfillments. Female Structures -- which we do not find in Trollope

  1. There is the suggestion that a quest plot for women is one in which the woman seeks self- realization, mastery, knowledge -- not marriage or simply growing up.
  2. At stake in book -- comparing it to Portuguese Letters we find a woman is is repositioning herself, fascinated by her status as object but wants to abolish boundaries. We see a woman who has the illusion of presence but is actually writing out from her loneliness in the absence of the imagined lover.
  3. Trollope has Miss Mackenzie destroy her writing: For women in feminocentric novels writing is a central life-giving activity -- economy or pleasure incomplete without its conversion into activity: it must be read by someone else, an offering

Nonetheless, there are some interesting resemblances to Stael's Corinne and Trollope's Miss Mackenzie:

  1. At the opening of both books the heroines are looking for that they do not already have, but cannot define. Miller suggests it is someone who knows how to read the heroine, someone to authorize her behavior unconditionally: man-as-brother-who-understands.
  2. These women looking for maternal man; man who will take her place as mother so she does not fall out of the story as the object of her child's fantasy. La Princesse de Cleves about a mother who was no mother at all. We have witch women in all three of Trollope's powerful heroine's plots: Lady Ball, Nina's obnoxious treacherous aunt, Linda's utterly controlling life-hating one.
  3. We have a powerful exposure of the male advantage.

The female plot is the story made visible for women in novels where the focus is on them: heroine engages with codes of dominant ideology; she is obliged to insert herself within institutions and prime one is marriage. Novels by women generally question the costs and overdetermination of story, and there is usually an internal dissenting commentary on the plot's ending. Trollope does not.

For contrast consider Colette's The Vagabond

  1. According to Miller, La Vagabond is the story of a woman who will not choose to be part of a couple -- wants to remain alone, on the move, and to return to the solitude of writing.
  2. Can there be a representation of women which does not depend upon the story of love and marriage; what also lies beyond what is seen in the mirror and the passionate flourish of the female script (say the Heroides female archetype).
  3. Colette's heroine wants to refuse this identity: but there does not seem another available (Alice Vavasour's refusal to be coopted reduced to silly aim of supporting some male's political career: how realism can work to mock this hope).

Trollope cannot allow his heroines (rare exception is Priscilla Stanbury in He Knew He Was Right to end up alone preferably. He does not want to show us how to live that way, not as someone who is lacking. Now how to remain that way. The closest he gets to this is "Journey to Panama."

To return to Nancy K. Miller's "I's in Drag:"

  1. She asks herself what does a male gain by writing a letter to a man in which he pretends to be a woman begging him to return: the woman is the fiction that allows the male to express homoerotic or "feminine" emotion.
  2. The trope of female masochism disguises the male Werther behind it.

As Miller does, I want to look at whether gender has a poetics? Feminist criticism has shown that the social construction of sexual difference plays a constitutive role in the production, reception, and history of literature. We can see how Trollope fits in when he writes his qualified feminocentric texts.

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Page Last Updated 25 December 2004