A Different Way of Telling a Story; Prague; Madame Zamenoy and Mean Gossip; The Intermarriage/Nationalism; The Pathologies of Family Life; Rough Arguments and Encounters; Torments and Conflicts; Other Contexts: Realism, The Macdermots and Last Chronicle of Barset, Dreams of Suicide; From the Hindsight of the 20th Century; Intolerance and the Power of the Family/Books?; Jews in Prague; St John Nepomucene

St John Nepomucene, one of 18 statues buttressing Charles Bridge

Date: Sun, 25 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka: Chapter IV: A Different Way of Telling a Story; Prague
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

As Ellen says, we have not had many people posting in the past few weeks. This may be due to holidays, but I hope that we can get some interesting discussions going on Nina Balatka.

We know that Trollope was trying to establish a different style in writing this book, and that he maintained his anonymity in order mot to influence views based on his existing reputation. While he was not entirely successful, giving himself away by typical stylistic usages, he certainly changed his approach to telling a story. He starts in the middle, something which he has elsewhere condemned, and never comes to explain elements of the plot which leave the reader in the dark about the beginning of the story.

How did Nina come to regard Anton Trendellsohn as anything more than a business acquaintance of her father, and when did the distant attitude which he always seems to exude, soften sufficiently for him to start to make love to her?. It is made clear in every chapter of the novel that the dislike of Jews and Christians for each other was endemic in Prague society. Just as Mr Trendellsohn senior regards the union of his son with a gentile woman as unacceptable, so does Madame Zamenoy regard it as even worse. Even Nina's father finds the idea repugnant.

What is clear from the early chapters of the novel is how well Trollope had made use of his visit to Prague. His descriptions of the Hradschin palace and the Charles Bridge would serve for a modern day guide book. While I can remember little of the old Jewish synagogue, which I visited with my parents nearly sixty years ago, Trollope describes it in detail, although he was clearly confused as to what he saw going on.

In Chapter IV we learn that Nina has returned all the money given by Ziska to her father, and is now faced with the problem as to how they are to eat. She thinks of pawning her mother's necklace, which at her death she had promised never to part with, but not having it with her, she passes the pawnbroker's shop, and returns home to be upbraided by both her father and Souchey, for condemning them to starvation. Neither of the two men seem to have given any thought as to what Nina would have to endure if she agreed to Ziska's proposal. However, Souchey turns up some money that he has put by, and Nina is able to defer considering the pawning of the necklace.

She decided to go and see Anton, but when she gets to the Trendellsohn's house, she finds only old Trendellsohn there. Although he is eighty, he still looks after his own affairs, and still hardly appears to trust his son. The old man and Nina discuss the proposed marriage, and it is clear that the he finds it alarming, and he discusses the likely reactions of Nina's relatives. Nina says that she might have a Christian husband, as rich as Anton, but that she loves Anton, and will have no other. The old man kisses her, and tells her that her father may stay in the house in the Kleinseite without rent as long as he lives.

On her way out, Nina sees the old man's grand-daughter, Ruth, who is one of the most attractive characters in the book. She talks and thinks like a fourteen year old girl - clearly fond of Nina, but a little contemptuous of her choice of lover, who she thinks too old and solemn. She is in no way critical of the proposed mixed marriage.

Regards, Howard

Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka - Chapter IV
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Howard wrote:

How did Nina come to regard Anton Trendellsohn as anything more than a business acquaintance of her father

My guess is proximity. I'm wondering what other men, aside from her cousin, did she have an opportunity to get to know.

He also wrote:

and when did the distant attitude which he always seems to exude, soften sufficiently for him to start to make love to her?

Apparently his feelings really snuck up on him. Proximity again? It is mentioned that he never had any thoughts regarding marriage to a woman who was not a Jew--that is, until it was too late and he already loved Nina.

Even Anton's father likes Nina and his granddaugher comes near to worshipping her. They see her for herself without religion entering the picture and enjoy her company.

I wonder if old Trendellsohn would accept Nina as a daughter-in-law were it not for public opinion or if it is just too much against his religion. A combination of both maybe?


Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka Chapter V: Madame Zamenoy and Mean Gossip
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Madame Zamenoy, having spread details of her niece's proposed degradation amongst the whole of her acquaintance, finds that she has not received the amount of support and sympathy to which she thinks that she is entitled.. She accordingly decides to make one of her infrequent visits to her brother-in-law's house. She finds old Balatka in bed and she is met by Nina in the sitting room. Having had Nina's confirmation that 'she has had the audacity to tell her father what she has had told her', Madame Zamenoy goes into Balatka's room. Lotta and Souchey are left alone in the sitting room, and after a conversation which makes it clear that there have been love passages between the two of them, Lotta indicates that there may be a way in which Souchey can help achieve their jointly desired objective of preventing Nina's marriage to Trendellsohn. Her eye falls upon something on Nina's work table, which gives her an idea, although we are not told what it is.

Meanwhile Madame Zamenoy is telling Balatka that his daughter's behaviour is horrible, abominable and damnable. He is made very miserable by this, but asks what he can do. Nina tries to interpose herself between her aunt and her father, and is told that she is a brazen-faced, impudent, bad girl. Madame Zamenoy asks Balatka if he has forbidden the marriage, and becomes generally abusive of both him and Nina. Trollope gives a wonderful depiction of an irrational, prejudiced woman, who is so convinced of her own rightness that all consideration of the views of others is ignored, She refuses Nina's pleas to come out of the bedroom, and forces the old man to retreat into silence. She then turns on Nina, accusing Trendellsohn of being a filthy Jew and a robber. Nina gives as good as she gets, remarking that Christians can cheat as well as Jews, and rob from their own flesh and blood too. This is too much for Madame Zamenoy, who storms out of the room and the house, saying that the Jew would probably jilt Nina anyway, because she is not of his own faith.

This last remark worries Nina, who thinks how little she has heard of Anton's plans for their marriage. She decides to go to visit him next Sunday, when she could expect to find him at home, so that they could discuss his future plans. Meanwhile her father wakes up, and starts to upbraid her for wanting to marry a Jew, and bring disgrace upon him. Although he had not answered her aunt Sophie, he had evidently agreed with her description of the proposed marriage. Balatka says 'It is not good to love a Jew', and this seems to epitomise the unreasoning prejudice of the whole of that Prague society.

It is clear that the antipathy between the two races far outreached the suspicions and apparent dislike that existed when I was growing up in the twentieth century. I have always found that the majority of Christians have accepted the fact that I am Jewish with nothing more than curiosity and interest. While the majority of the older members of my family would regard a marriage outside the faith as wrong ('he's married a shiksa'), they would always accept such a marriage and the resulting offspring without any problems, and it would be difficult to determine which were the 'aliens' from the behaviour of the older generation. Clearly there are other problems today which arise from the Israel/Palestine situation, but with the increasing numbers of Moslems in the United Kingdom today, I imagine that is increasingly likely that such mixed marriages will also take place without undue problems.

Having said the above, it is very probable that Dagny's suggestion that it all came down to proximity is the right answer. Throughout the novel one gets the feeling that it would all come out alright if everyone would leave them alone. But then the whole theme of the novel is about unreasonable prejudice.

Regards, Howard

Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka: Chapter V: Madame Zamenoy and Mean Gossip Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Howard wrote:

Madame Zamenoy, having spread details of her niece's proposed degradation amongst the whole of her acquaintance, finds that she has not received the amount of support and sympathy to which she thinks that she is entitled.

I got a good laugh out of this part when she was lamenting the gossip which she had herself largely caused.


Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka, Ch 4-5: The Intermarriage/Nationalism; The Pathologies of Family Life
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

As I read this week's chapters the thought came to me that perhaps the initiating motive for Trollope chosing anonymity was his desire to tell a story of an intermarriage with a Jewish man. This novel has continually been associated with Trollope's relationship with Lewes, and what is usually pointed out is the proximity of Lewes's article suggesting someone go to Prague and then write about it realistically. There is another element in Lewes's life which may connect to this story: he and Eliot were long concerned about anti-semitism; the pro-Jewish and messianic plot of Daniel Deronda comes out of a number of years of journeying, travels, studies and a close friendship she and Lewes has with some studious Jewish immigrants and English people.

My experience of intermarriage is different from Howard M's. My mother is Jewish and my father was born Catholic -- he became an atheist while growing up. My mother's people never accepted the marriage fully: at first my mother's family simply rejected her: her father sat shivas (I'm not sure how that's spelt) for her; but after I was 3 an aunt brought me over there and there was a reconciliation of sorts. I went to live with these grandparents for about 3 months since my parents lived in an apartment where no children were allowed (in the Bronx). But there never was real acceptance or closeness. This was true on the other side too: my father's people had antisemitic prejudices. I grew up hearing from one group of people how awful the other group of people were whenever we visited either side -- which once my father's younger sister with whom he was close left for Kentucky was not too often.

Nowadays such intense resentments in the US are gone in the areas I live in -- big city, modern suburbs in the north and middle Atlantic eastern states. Prejudice seems to remain strong against racial intermarriage (particularly between African-American and European-American), but either doesn't exist overtly, much at all or has gone underground insofar as religion is concerned. Not that you don't see interracial couples a lot: we do in Alexandria, Va and New York City. You can basically marry where you please in the US, so it's often done in the hotel or place where the reception is held. A Justice of the Peace can be hired to come just about anywhere. Often the couple makes up the words they mean to say beyond a reduced version of ritual speech on the part of the Justice of the Peace.

Howard knows England much better than I do and my memories are 30 years old but I will offer up what I saw in Leeds. It seemed to me that Jews were not quite assimilated then in the way other peoples were. They maintained an identity apart. This kind of thing seems naturally to induce those who are "outside" this apartness to feel those inside are somehow peculiar and I saw in Leeds English Jews treated this way. I've also met English Jews who maintained there was considerable prejudice against them -- though I admit I never saw anything like what I saw in the US where antisemitic prejudice could be overt and nasty, every bit as nasty as the Jews could be towards non-Jews. In my family the word "shiska" [mispelt] was a term which equated non-Jewish girls with "tramps"). For a while we had someone on this list who was English and Jewish and writing a book about anti-semitism in Trollope and other 19th century English novelists.

Jim and I were married in Leeds City registry office on a Monday afternoon around 1:30. It took 3 minutes. That was 34 years ago. It cost us 2 pounds 10 shillings.

Trollope is interested in more than the religious intransigeance of the two sets of relatives. We see that Anton half-dreams she will convert, but Trollope tells us that Trendellson's father is really against Nina since she is poor. The money counts more than religion with him. Similarly the Zamenov's are intensely envious of the wealth of the Trendellsons and resent Nina's marriage because she may be (in effect) marrying up. They want to keep her at the level they're at. One thing left out is differences of customs and dress. It's been shown that people really fixate on these things; they are part of the habitas and symbolize ethnic sets of values against which many people live out their lives.

I suggest that Trollope's almost obsessive preoccupation in these heroine's texts is the pathologies of family life. Since women are so hemmed in and dependent on family (on their social ties), what the realities of family feeling, motives, and behavior is intensely important for women. And what does he show us: cruel twistings of human emotion on behalf of money, place, ambition. To read Trollope this way is to see an unconscious feminism one need not read against the grain at all to pick up.

The maze Nina walks through is her imprisonment made concrete. She's like a rat in a trap, in a labyrinthe she keeps going round and round in. The only way out is drowning -- or marriage. The problem in the latter case is not only that the relatives are against it. Anton Trendellson is a suspicious driving tyrannical male. Another one of these Trollope males demanding instance and utter obedience. We are supposed to believe that Nina is rebellious; we see her act to irritate and to annoy her relatives; she is continually in the dialogues standing up for herself for the sake of standing out and asserting herself against the trap. But it seems she is simply going from one prison to another one, even if the guy will be sweet and kind and devoted (as long as he doesn't suspect her of anything and she obeys of course). On this level Trollope writes more anti-feminism.

I put up the photo of the Charles Bridge. I am struck by how much walking Nina does. She walks and walks, endlessly crossing that bridge, moving into one community and then another. I suggest Trollope does this deliberately. The way in which he is showing intolerance is through how communities remain separated. It's not just a matter of money. They mean to exclude one another. At heart we might think this is the result of fear of the stranger. Evolutionary theory suggests this is a survival technique of small bands of people. But Trollope emphasizes jealousy, envy, competition. It may be that he has not thought out clearly what nationalism really is, where it comes from, and how it transcends intracommunity competition. If so, then what we have is his attempt to present a fable of nationalism. This would fit his connection with Lewes and Eliot: not only Daniel Deronda, but also her Spanish Gypsy are fables for our time about nationalism. Alas, she has the despairing idea that cosmopolitanism is hopeless idealism most human beings cannot get anywhere near understanding but less working feelingfully out of.

For Trollope he bases a hope for the future on individualism and pride which does not take the nationalism he has half-presented through this separation of the communities. It is embodied in Anton's noble speech:

He had heard of Jews in Vienna, in Paris, and in London, who were as true to their religion as any Jew of Prague, but who did not live immured in a Jews' quarter, like lepers separate and alone in some loathed corner of a city otherwise clean. These men went abroad into the world as men, using the wealth with which their industry had been blessed, openly as the Christians used it. And they lived among Christians as one man should live with his fellow-men -- on equal terms giving and taking, honouring and honoured (Nina Balatka, p. 69; see also pp. 133-34).

Nina is a book prophetic of our era of continual slaughters rationalized as "ethnic cleansing."


Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Homesite Picture: Nina: the Charles Bridge, Prague
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Dear All,

Thanks to Dagny we now have on our homesite a stunning photo of the Charles Bridge in Prague.

I don't know when it was taken, but it seems to be an overcast day in winter. The colors are all greys, off-white, shiny blacks (the waters), with browns and a light from the bridge. Appropriate for Nina.

Cheers to all,

Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka: Chapter VI: Rough Arguments & Encounters Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Anton and his father have an argument about Nina. It is repugnant to Trendellsohn pére that his son should consider marrying a gentile, and it becomes clear to Anton that his father is considering ways in which he might disinherit him. There is no partnership agreement between the two, and a way might be found for his grand-daughter to marry and inherit the business.

Anton thinks about his hopes that he might prosper as a Jew in some other city, where the disabilities under which Jews lived in Prague did not exist. He is clear however, that he will not give up Nina. Trollope uses a phrase that sounds as if it must be a quotation, probably from the Bible 'She is to me my cup of water when I am hot...", but I have been unable to trace the source. An internet search only quotes Nina Balatka! Have any list members got any suggestions?

It is clear to Anton that he will be unable to interest his father in change. Anton's ideas of expanding the House of Trendellsohn are anathema to his father, who can see no need for change of any sort. Similarly his ideas of doing away with the Jews' quarter of Prague, so that the whole of Prague could be ennobled and civilised and made beautiful by the wealth of the Jews was completely unacceptable.

When Anton goes to visit Karil Zamenoy at his office, he is treated in the normal off-hand manner by Ziska Zamenoy, who goes into the inner office to talk to his father, leaving Anton standing in the outer office. When Anton is permitted to go into the inner office he finds there both Karil Zamenoy and his wife, who proceed to treat him in an offensive manner. They pretend to know nothing about the deeds of the house where Balatka lives, and start to talk about the way in which Jews get their hands on lots of houses all over the town, which they claim are not bought in fair open market. When Anton says that the price was paid in full, before the houses were put in their hands, and that they had not yet claimed the house in which Balatka lived out of motives of friendship, Madame Zamenoy repeats the word 'friendship' with a sneer. When Anton suggests that motives of love are also involved, Madame Zamenoy becomes abusive, describing his use of the word love as filthy and profane. It is clear that Trollope finds such language unacceptable. Under pressure from Anton, Madame Zamenoy suggests that the deeds to the property are with Nina, and tells Anton to go. After he has gone, she replies to her husband's remonstrances 'Anything is fair against a Jew'. It is clear that this is the basis of her position, and that Trollope has put her in the position of the classic anti-Semite, and she tolerates no disagreement from her husband.

Anton is puzzled by the assertion that Nina has the deeds, and resolves to discuss the matter with her.

Tom's query about the tearing of clothes ties in with Ellen's reference to her mother's relatives 'sitting shiva' when her mother married a non-Jew. When someone dies, the close relatives 'sit shiva' for a period of seven days - 'shiva' is the Hebrew for 'seven'. During this period they sit on low chairs and are visited by friends and relatives who join in prayers. The principal mourners, usually the sons, are supposed to rend their clothes - usually denoted by a modest cut which is fairly easily repaired! The tradition used to be that when a daughter married out of the faith, the family sat shiva for her, but as I said I personally never encountered this extreme response, which my family would have regarded as excessive. I somehow think that this was not done for sons, which will doubtless be considered to be rather sexist nowadays!

The name 'Lux' means only one thing to me - soap flakes used for washing clothes. I was astonished to learn that this product is no longer made by the former manufacturers, which I suppose dates me. Where Trollope got such a name as Lotta Lux I am unable to imagine. Lotte used to be a common continental abbreviation for Charlotte, and I think that Lotta was probably an English version.

Regards, Howard

Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka Chapter VI: Rough Arguments and Encounters
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Thanks, Howard, for a great and detailed summary. I just read this part yesterday, and was astonished by Madame's comments. Thank you for adding to the ritual of tearing of clothes, too. I didn't know it was only used for daughters. Thanks for that info.

As for Lux, I do remember the detergent. It is no surprise it doesn't exist anymore - much of our world, as older Mouseketeers, is beginning to vanish. Didn't Lux help to generate the term "soap opera" because, on radio, they sponsored daily dramas? I think there was a Lux Theater on TV as well. Interesting to know it's derived from Charlotte.


Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka Chapter VI: Torments and Conflicts
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Howard Merkin writes:

'She is to me my cup of water when I am hot...", but I have been unable to trace the source. An internet search only quotes Nina Balatka! Have any list members got any suggestions?

The story of the "beggar named Lazarus..." (16th Chap. of Luke) comes to mind, "...which was laid at his gate full of sores." Lazarus died, "and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." A rich man died, and "... in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame."

It is quite conceivable that, under Nina's influence, Anton would look into the New Testament, and thereby be tormented and conflicted.


Re: Nina and Dr Thorne

I can't say add anything to Richard's thoughts about a possible connection between Anton's words and the Bible. However, they distinctly recall a similar phrase used by Dr Thorne as he dreams about bringing Mary to his house. Everyone will recall that he did not bring his illegitimate niece to live with him until she was about 12 to 13 (I'm not sure of the exact age but it's around puberty or just as the girl becomes a young teenager). He works hard before she comes, fixing his house for her and dreaming of how she will be his princess. She is in his mind not just a daughter, but a kind of substitute for the wife he never had. We all recall how painful it was to him when the girl he was engaged to scorned him in court after the murder of his brother by Roger Scatcherd. (Dr Thorne's brother impregnanted Scatcherd's sister, and Thady MacDermott like, Scatcherd took a weapon to the man and the blow was so hard the man died.)

As I recall Dr Thorne thinks to himself that his Mary will drink from his cup and eat of his bread and so on. It sounds Biblical and it has the same feel of intense relief, refreshment.

Turning back to Anton, we see how a male in this period would think of his wife in the same terms one might a daughter. He is her protector. We also see the "construction" of a woman's function as "relief" from the outside world, the oasis in the desert of meanness, competition, coldness, seflishness.

Alas, we also see that this is a dream. Madame Zamenoy may be one of Trollope's monster women, but it's rare that any of them do not respond to what's going on in the outside world with the same vigor and aggression that the men around them do. I think of all the many women who pressure their sons in the house not to marry this woman (Lady Lufton in Framley Parsonage trying to stop her son's marriage to Lucy Robarts) or to marry the other for money.

Anton has many beautiful dreams. What he does not see is how he himself is a driven tyrant.


Nina: Other Contexts: Realism, The Macdermots and Last Chronicle of Barset, Dreams of Suicide

As we've come to a scene which I wrote about in my book and have covered other themes which my commentary covers, I thought I would put a few paragraphs from my book on our list at this point:

Trollope was moved to write Nina after he spent time in Prague, and had read an article by G. H. Lewes in which Lewes described Prague and challenged novelists to depict such foreign places so as to attempt to 'penetrate to the deeper relation between character and its social environment'. We are led into a half-hallucinatory world, still recognisably Prague, and experience through a tightly-controlled use of time, and strongly contrasting places, dramatic confrontations between Christian and Jew and rich and desperately poor characters. Our Christian heroine, Nina, and her Jewish lover, Anton Trendellsohn, live in a segregated world, which imprisons their minds in its hatreds, avarice, shame and distrust; at the novel's close, in something of the spirit of Adam and Eve in Milton's Paradise Lost, they depart for England, to them an unknown place whose commericialism makes for an equality in the marketplace. No one in Prague will tolerate their relationship in ways that might permit them to be happy together. They must exile themselves. Trollope was right to remember this novel as ending unhappily.31

The depiction of Anton Trendellsohn's character registers a longing of tolerance which goes unanswered. When we enter the 'dreams of high ambition' that flit across Trendellson's mind, and experience his savage anger at Nina when he is made to think she has betrayed him (pp. 100-3), Trollope repeatedly voices an adult understanding of how ideals might actuate a real passionate and intelligent man's mind:

He had heard of Jews in Vienna, in Paris, and in London, who were as true to their religion as any Jew of Prague, but who did not live immured in a Jews' quarter, like lepers separate and alone in some loathed corner of a city otherwise clean. These men went abroad into the world as men, using the wealth with which their industry had been blessed, openly as the Christians used it. And they lived among Christians as one man should live with his fellow-men -- on equal terms giving and taking, honouring and honoured (Nina Balatka, p. 69; see also pp. 133-34).

In a similarly sympathetic portrayal of how Anton's cousin, Rebecca Loth, moves from resentment of Nina to accepting and loving her (pp. 133-38, 155-61), Trollope presents an adult version of Scott's Rebecca in Ivanhoe. Trollope's depiction of Rebecca's generosity towards Nina and his identification with Anton deserve to be better known if only because Trollope has been accused of a virulent anti- semitism by scholars whose books show no knowledge of Nina Balatka.

The novel also repeats the autobiographical patterns in many of his novels which derive from Trollope's memories of his unhappy years. Nina's struggle to support in dignity a helpless and dependent father, who is utterly self-centred and cannot see beyond the moment, even to the point of pawning her mother's necklace which she cannot replace to keep them in food, repeats Thady Macdermot's desperate struggle to placate and support his father, Larry. When the avaricious Madame Zamenoy comes to try to pressure Nina's father, Josef Balatka, into actively stopping Nina from marrying Anton and abuses Josef, Madame Zamenoy's words recall those the attorney, Hyacinth Keegan, hurls at Larry and Thady in The Macdermots of Ballycloran (Nina Balatka, pp. 42-43, 58-62, 64-65, 107-10). When Anton visits the grasping Zamenoy family, he is made to feel inferior to them because they do not ask him to sit down; then, together with the weak husband of the family, he endures the bullying of Mrs Zamenoy (pp. 73, 76, 84- 91); here Trollope is writing a variant on the well-known scene in The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire between Mr Crawley, and Bishop and Mrs Proudie, in which Mrs Proudie's bullying of her husband both shatters him and leads to her isolation and death. Trollope often uses outward gestures to capture inward differences between his characters. Josiah Crawley is offered a seat near the fire by the bishop, and refuses it. The Rev. Crawley is a prouder man while Anton Trendellson has allowed the prejudices of others to make him more susceptible to accepting slight.3 Still Trollope identifies as strongly with Nina and Anton (the initials of whose names are Trollope's own) as he did with Thady Macdermot and Josiah Crawley.

Lawrence Jay Dessner has argued that the suicides and near-suicides in Trollope's novels suggest that in his Autobiography Trollope was telling the simple truth when he wrote that during his unhappy boyhood, and young manhood he often considered finding his way up to the top of a tower and from thence putting 'an end to everything'. The scene on the Charles Bridge where Nina draws back from death, and is brought back to calm and self-possession by the rare generosity, strength and tact of Rebecca (Nina Balatka, pp. 175-88), boldly dramatises many people's hidden imagined and real experiences.

Date: Sat, 31 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka: From the Hindsight of the 20th Century
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

I find this novel a difficult read because of what I call the 'hindsight' factor. By this I mean that I know what happened afterwards to Bohemia, Prague and the Jews.

I was also intrigued by Howard's comment in his reading of Chapter IV that he saw the synagogue when he visited with his parents around 60 years ago. I guess that I must be about the same age because I can remember 1938 when we let the Czechs down shamefully and then in 1939 when Hitler spent a night in Hradschin castle. I think he later declared Prague to be one of the citadels of the Reich.

Are there any Jews left in Prague? I presume Howard visited before 1940.

Geoff Swainson

I'm also of about the same age. And yes there certainly were some Jews in Prague in 1982 when I visited the synagogue. We were invited to the communal Friday night meal, which we unfortunately could not attend.

Suzanne Silk Klein

To Trollope-l

July 31, 2004

Re: Nina Balatka: Intolerance and the Power of the Family/Books?

Nina seems to me another book by Trollope where he unconsciously or not skirts issues. Recently I saw a film, The Notebook which in its elusiveness and sentimental treatment of Alzheimer's disease reminded me of how Trollope treated TB in Marion Fay: both works avoided naming the disease. Yet both intended to treat these subjects.

It's clear Trollope means to treat religious intolerance as an evil; he's also dramatizing ethnic and racial hatreds through the way he patterns landscapes and movements of the characters. The depiction of Anton Trendellson's intense resentment and driving rage to find a place and power and self-respect is the direct result of the way he's been treated: when you are dissed and excluded, you save your self-respect and self-image by excluding, by building a carapace of steel. Anton wants to crack his steeled carapace and wants to love this girl outside it, but he seems only able to do it by making her an exception to the "rule:" to the way he has come to believe (through experience) all Christians will behave to Jews (ruthlessly, maliciously).

Yet it seems to me at any rate what he ends up showing us is the power of families to do harm. His visibilia and the ways of thought he understands are all rooted in essentialist familial patterns not patterns derived from cultural/ethnic/racial outlooks. Money, envy, rage, sexual jealousy, pride -- a gamut of real feelings which are not particular to any culture are presented through words which keep them universal.

Another aspect is how embitterment stops short of a closed wall. Several of the characters (Rebecca, Anton and Nina's fathers) show elements or traits which make us hope they can break through these stereotypes as individuals. That won't enable Anton and Nina to live in Prague as a couple of course. The ending of the novel thus reinforces Geoff's comment.

Can anyone cite a good book on what happened during World War Two in Prague? I know of one example of travel literature cum-autobiography which is popular today which is intelligent, thoughtful, and does evoke and describe Prague (and the castle too): Patricia Hampl's A Romantic Education. A young midwestern woman journeys to Prague where her family came from to try to rediscover her and their past. Although the book deals with communism, it (as the title suggests) skirts hard issues. I'd recommend it simply as a sort of descriptive book. It's beautifully written (lovely limpid effective prose style).

I once showed a film to a couple of classes when we were reading Arnost Lustig's A Prayer for Katerina Horovitzova. Lustig was born in Prague, sent to a concentration camp from which he luckily escaped and found his way to Washington DC. The film is Hungarian and called Package Tour. I've screened Packaged Tour for three classes. It tells of a group of aging Jews and other peoples who relatives went to these terrible camps and were killed or nearly died and managed to survive or to escape. It's not for someone with who wants to skirt issues. Another book by Lustig I'm told is good is A Diary of Perla S. I also recommend Vaclev Havel's Letters to Olga from Prison. I'm not sure that's the title. It's not about religious intolerance, but it does give the reader a sense of Czech culture and intelligently explicates or meditates about some of its values.


Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka, Ch 4-5: The Intermarriage/Nationalism
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Ellen, I have just read your post, after completing Chap V of our Trollpe novel. The quote you cited, about simple humanity, was right on the point. Your struggles with culture, I hope, have been worth the effort. At first I was uncomfortable with the anti-semitism I found at the opening of the novel. But, then, reflecting on my own experiences, I realized how much culture is, as you suggest, like a bridge, built to keep people separate.

I've been married 26 years to my very best friend. We have one son, 25, who has just gone out on his own. So, reflection on the past is tantamount now. I came from a Polish, English and Irish family. My wife is from an Italian family. And, even then, there were cultural "things" that appeared. My parents' first reaction was that of Nina's aunt. They said: "But, she's Italian." My older Polish Aunt Clara asked me why I wasn't marrying a Polish girl. That's how finely- tuned the cultural rules are in families. Very sad, very sad. One wonders how much love was lost to this kind of lunacy.

Of course, as you have written, there's the black and white "thing" that has destroyed American culture and ripped its foundation of democracy. The "thing" lives in England and Ireland, the blind hatred, in-bred, like language. There are so many bridges that should be burned.

Today, though, I think this story is meaningful to the gay community among us. Another "thing" has emerged with the alternative marriages in America, and the laws to ban them, from Middle America, hot on the heels of the ceremony. So, another bridge has been built.

The actual novel itself is touching, and the character of Nina is so striking - a woman who fights strongly for love. How abusive her aunt becomes, to think she can rule people and their lives. How doubtful Anton's father seems, and Souchey, too, who I thought would support Nina, at the beginning. And, of course, money is at the root of all this hatred. Not surprising at all.

It's peculiar and sad how Nina counts lighted windows, and how she touches the plaque of St. John, both like prayers to a God, ironically, shared by both religions. Josef is sad, when he thinks his opinion will not matter, or when he thinks he will be forgotten (at the end of Chap V.)

I have just finished "The Portrait of a Lady." The character in James' novel, Isabel, reminds me of the headstrong Nina, who will stop at nothing once she is decided. I am anxious to read more. I like the name "Lotta Lux." It sounds like "lots o'luck" doesn't it? I am also anxious as to why Nina's key to the desk was misplaced.

Thanks, Ellen, for your wonderful post.


Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina: Chap VI
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

I've read all six chapters due this week during lunch, and I can't seem to stop reading. (I hope my boss doesn't visit my office!)

The writing is clear, appealing and flowing. I was surprised to read this was published anonymously by Trollope, and is not regarded as among his best. I think the dialogue is crafted in a shrewd manner, and reads more like a dramatic play than a novel. Trollope's plotting is always ingenious, and this is no exception.

Madame Zamenoy has planted distrust of Nina in the mind of Anton. I wonder if that's part of "the plan" between her and Lotta Lux (gotta love that name!) Nina told him the documents were in the hands of Zamenoy, yet the firm (and its wife) offer no knowledge of the documents. Anton, at the end of Chap VI, is determined to get the documents, especially since his father disowned him, as the chapter began. Doesn't this type of disinheritance have tearing of the clothing as its symbol?

It's nice to read that Anton feels as much love for Nina as she does for him. I like when she compares him to seeing the sun.

But, the seed seems to be planted for a bit of disunion and trouble. The Jews were certainly mistreated(I'm sure it's more subtle now!) Our Madame Zamenoy has a very big, unmannerly mouth.


Date: Sat, 31 Jul 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] OT: Jews in Prague
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

I am not sure that the subject of the Jews in Prague is properly Off Topic when discussing Nina Balatka. Nevertheless, in reply to the comments of Geoff and Suzanne, I confirm that I was 17 when I visited Prague in 1947 with my parents. This was our first overseas trip after the war, but the impression was that Czechoslovakia as a country had not come too badly out of the war. The communists had not yet taken over, and food and material things seemed to be freely available. It was only when we began to enquire about the Jewish population, which had been some 120,000 before the war, that we realised how terribly they had suffered. There were only about 30,000 left, and the majority of the others had died in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz . There were still Jews praying at the Old-New Synagogue, which we shall see that Trollope visited, and described in Chapter VII of NB.

I can remember very little of the Synagogue. I have browsed the web for details, and nothing that appears is familiar to me. I can just remember a gloomy but magnificent interior, which seemed like every other synagogue that I had seen. I shall post a link to a site next week, when we discuss Chapter VII.

My principal memory of our visit to Czechoslovakia was of the ice-creams in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad). But then we had seen nothing like them for seven or eight years!

Regards, Howard

Date: Sun, 01 Aug 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Homepage Site: Nina: St John Nepomucene
Reply-To: trollope-l@yahoogroups.com

Dear All,

We've had a Czech painting from the National Gallery of Prague of a dressmaker grieving, a photo of the Charles Bridge; now we have a photo of one of the 28 statutes on the buttresses of the Charles Bridge.

Thanks to Dagny who found it. It appears to be the statue of "St John Nepomuk [another spelling] which stands at the center of the bridge, on the northern parapet. the nearby spot where the saint was thrown into the tirver is marked by a marble slab (not a 'plate') bearing a cross and five stars; the stars are said to have hovered over the spot where his body lay under water until it was retrieved. St John was drowned (1383) by order of Wenceslaus IV for refusing to reveal what the Queen had told him in confession. (I take this information from a note at the back of Robert Tracy's edition of Nina for the Oxford World classics paperback.)

Central scenes of Nina happen around these religious statues on the bridge.

To look at the picture brings home to me not only that the past is another country, but Trollope has attempted to portray a different culture from his own, very different. In North America he says he is attracted to Catholicism, but at the same time remarks that typically and in the present case (Quebec Canada) it seems that Catholics don't forge ahead economically the way Protestants do. Without having read Weber and Tawney, he is advocate of the thesis that Protestantism supports and encourages the capitalist work ethic. Of the religion itself he remarks:

"And yet [he thinks it a loss that in competition Catholics lose out economically against Protestants] I love their religion. There is something beautiful and almost divine in their faith and obedience of a true son of the Holy Mother. I sometimes fancy that I would fain be a Roman Catholic, -- if I could; as also I would often wish to be still a child, if that were possible."

In an earlier scenes of the book Trollope includes many details of visibilia in the city which testify to a numinous perception of reality -- or, to use the simple frank language Trollope is unashamed to use, a magical perception of reality that is thus attributed to the population as a whole. We have also had scenes in the synagogue. He knows this is more than a matter of picturesqueness, but a state of mind wihch he above associates with childhood: obedience to authority, belief in mystic stories and acting out ideas which have been attached to these mystic stories.

Since we've been talking about our own connections to this story, I'll mention another of my own. My father's mother was Polish Catholic and he told me more than once of when he was a boy of 8-9 accompanying her to a large Polish Catholic Church in NYC. He said he saw her get down on the ground and crawl up the space between seats to the altar and kiss statues. He said he was (I'm being frank) appalled; I suspect it must also have frightened him. Western European culture is secular, at least its public spaces are, and the criteria for behavior is experiential and emphasizes human dignity and individualism; it does not worship authority at all -- or only authority which seems to have earned power and even this can be taken away if the authority abuses it. When I look at this photo of this statue, I remember this story my father told me and wonder about the atmosphere surrounding it in the 19th century as well as today. I don't myself find it picturesque. It's alien. I find myself thinking that it's not a surprize communism as a belief system (not simply an economic arrangement) couldn't go very deeply into the hearts or minds of the population at large. I also think about nationalisms in Eastern Europe and intolerance and how these link up to religious beliefs.

It's an interesting picture to evoke thought. It might be more romantic had the day been less bright and sunny when the photo was taken.


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