Re: Nina Balatka, Chs 7-9: The Nobility of Rebecca Loth; Nina as another
As Chapter 7 begins, we have another piece of information to keep in our minds beyond the clashing scene between Anton Trendellson and the Zamenovs: something has been done to the papers which give Anton the right to the property the Balatkas live in. While Nina and everyone else was out of a room in the Balatka house, Lotta Luxe did some malicious treacherous act which we have been told is intended to make Anton distrust and then hate Nina, and to make her resent and then fear and be alienated from him.
Madame Zamenoy has justified this by that great theory of the ends justifying the means, and her rationale is religious exclusion or (as we have been putting it here) intolerance. Intermarriage is anathema to her. She is also intensely resentful of Nina (and everyone else it would appear) and would rather see Nina alone and broke than married at all. It seems her son's sexual jealousy runs nearly along the same lines. Ziska we are told is willing simply to buy Anton off; he thinks he can. Our narrator says:
Madame Zamenoy's scheme was deeper than this. She did not believe that the Jew was to be bought off at so cheap a price; but she did believe that it might be possible to create such a feeling in his mind as would make him abandon Nina out of th workings of his own heart (Oxford Nina, ed RTracy, Ch 7, p. 78)
Chapter 7 then gives us the powerful scene between Ziska and Anton in Anton's house where Ziska tries and fails to put his plan into effect. Trollope first emphasizes Ziska's walking across the city from his part (or the space his cultural group lives in) and the Jewish ghetto (Ch 7, pp. 79-82).
As Ziska comes unannounced, Trollope has the opportunity to introduce another important character: Rebecca Loth. Her role, the themes she is attached to and her appearance are probably partly modelled on Scott's Rebecca (from Ivanhoe), whom Trollope praises as a remarkable memorable character in his Autobiography. Trollope's Rebecca is, however (unlike Scott's) resentful of outsiders, is against intermarriage on principle and for her own sake: it's hinted she had expected that Anton would marry her. Trollope makes his heroines of opposing types: Nina has grey eyes, brown hair, is soft in appearance and supple (her docility in temperament when it comes to a male lover is embodied in her body type and the way she holds her body). Rebecca is dark, dark-blue eyes, jet black hair, and apparently regal, hard and disdainful of assisting or obeying or comforting others; Rebecca courts admiration; her clothing is gypsy-like, attracting attention (Ch 7, pp. 82-83).
Nina is a Prague-version of Lucy Robarts (Framley Parsonage), the quiet dove submissive unobtrusive maiden Trollope often seems to place at the center of his stories. He will name her Lucy, for such another is Lucy Morris (The Eustace Diamonds).
Anton is not home, but at the synogague; Ziska is willing to go there, intrude himself, and bring Anton out (Ch 7, pp. 83-85). We get a detailed description of this synagogue from Ziska's point of view; it's thus that of an outsider, cool and prosaic, Trollope's own.
The scene itself makes me think of Eva Sedgewick's book on one aspect of our societies which is often reflected in novels: women as objects to be fought over between men. In most of his novels Trollope does have a focus which brings the plot under this perspective: e.g., Phineas Finn and Lord Chiltern duelling over Violet Effingham (Phineas Finn), brothers fighting lovers, fathers struggling to control who their daughter will marry and clashing directly with the lover (e.g., Melmotte in TWWLN). In each case the theme, the way the trope is used is different. Here Trollope is interested in Anton's exacerbated and sensitive pride: he is the man who has been despised and excluded. Trollope is also interested in the cruelty of people over money as status: Anton predicates part of his right to Nina on his kindness to her. Everyone else despised and excluded her. We see one source of the lovers' attraction to one another; it's not an uncommon one:
"Have you taken her part? Have you comforted her when she was in sorrow? Have you wiped her tears when she wept? Have you taken from her the stings of poverty, and striven to make the world to her a pleasant garden. She has no mother of her own. Has yours been a mother to her? Why is it that Nina Balatka has cared to receive the sympathy of a Jew? (Ch 7, p. 88).
She has not "scorned" him because she has known what it is to be scorned (Ch 7, p. 88). That Ziska thinks he can buy Anton off is a deep insult to Anton. Many in the world might be inclined to accept such payment, but beyond Anton's own idealistic noble nature, he has been alienated from this ugly materialistic capitalist world. He will be willing to use it to wrest respect and place from others once he can leave this ghetto, but he will never descend to its standards and criteria.
I do love this novel. Trollope has given Anton the eloquence of the intelligent excluded. (One could compare James's treatment of Hyacinth another highly intelligent excluded young man.) Trollope does the same for a young tailor in Lady Anna (another novel I like very much). Not that Anton's eloquence is the point. Just yesterday I saw a scene common in US life where an African-American young man lost his temper when he was being coerced into following a rule he felt was imposed on him because he is African-American. He was actually wrong: the rule is for all. But he lives a life on the edge as he is probably often confronted with prejudice and exclusion. Anton's situation and the results in his deepest self in itself and as it emerges in society is Trollope's point.
Ziska can hardly enter into Anton's mind and can hardly comprehend what he is facing. Instinctively he moves to the low way: he moves to plant doubts in Anton's mind. Never mind that there is a contradiction here which Anton picks up immediately: how can Ziska offer to give up documents which he now says Nina has? But the seed has been planted. Anton does appeal to the better nature of this man:
"I am a man; and I ask you, as another man, whether it be true that Nina Balatka has that paper in her possession -- "(Ch 7, p. 89)
Here we see Anton's own blindness to the minds of others. Most people are blind to the minds of others that differ from their own. Some might call him naive as Ziska's is the more common mind. Ziska's response is to hit hard at the treachery he is creating: "'I think she has it'" (Ch 7, p. 90).
Another beauty of this scene which shows Anton's higher nature is how at the end Anton apologizes for any harshness he has uttered against Ziska (Ch 7, p. 91). We who know what Ziska has stooped to may find this poignant. Trollope is here using the dramatic irony of tragedy which we find in Shakespeare and which Trollope doesn't generally use so starkly. It's romantic. We know the truth as we watch the characters and we see how the noble character is being torn down by the vultures. I think of Othello before Iago.
I have never been puzzled over why Trollope said this was a much superior novel to The Eustace Diamonds. The latter has its dark ironies and utter scepticism, but it is about more surface layers of upper class life. This one is about the fundamental and the critique is unerring.
Date: Sun, 1 Aug 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Nina Balatka Chapter VII: The Old-New Synagogue in Prague (Still There)
The following link will take you to a picture and article about the Prague Old-New Synagogue, which is almost certainly the synagogue visited by Ziska Zamenoy in Chapter VII of NB. It has clearly undergone some redecoration since Trollope (and I) visited it. I can remember a small building, but my recollection of it was that it was dark, and probably fairly dirty, outside as well as in. The Old-New Synagogue
For those who can't reach the site, here is the text:
The Old-New Synagogue in Prague has suffered through many catastrophes in its history to become the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe. The synagogue is also known by the names Staronova and more commonly Altneuschul. This name reflects the influence of the German language in Prague which, until 1860, was the country’s official language. It also reflects that fact that the synagogue is the growth of the old synagogue “Altschul”. It is the Czechoslovakian residents of Prague that call it Staronova. The synagogue is located just off Parizska Street in the Old Jewish quarter near the Jewish cemetery. This street was once the main road of the Old Jewish Ghetto, however, now it is home to fashionable shops as well as the Old-New Synagogue making it a popular tourist attraction.
There are varying beliefs as to how old the synagogue actually is. One reference states it is the oldest synagogue in Europe perhaps dating from the 11th century although the present building is probably of the 14th century”. Another reference state that the synagogue was built sometime in the 11th century and was restored by Samuel Mizrahi in 1142 or 1171. It is believed by some that the synagogue was built in the middle of the 13th century. The fact that the builders of the synagogue followed no certain style makes it hard to determine the age.
During the siege of the Prague castle in 1142, the oldest synagogue in Prague was burned down and the Jews moved to the right bank of the river Moldau and founded the “Altschul” there. This area would later be known as the Jewish quarter. Some historians believe that the Altneuschul was completed in 1270 and is an outgrowth of the “Altschul”.
One legend says the synagogue was built by emigrants who came from Jerusalem after the Temple was destroyed in the year 70. The legend says that the Jerusalem Jews brought stones from the temple and used them for the foundation of the Old-New Synagogue. By doing this, they believed they were laying upon themselves and the community the condition that when the Messiah came, the building would be torn down and the foundation stones taken back to Zion. According to this legend, the synagogue name was Al-tenai Schul which when translated means “on the condition that synagogue”.
The current name Altneuschul synagogue when translated means old new synagogue or temple. “Alt” means old, “ neu” is new, and “schul” is temple or synagogue. There are different theories as to when the synagogue was given the name of Altneuschul. Some believed that this name was given to the synagogue after if was renovated. Other believe that the name was given after the synagogue was attacked between 1141 and 1171 and renovated by Samuel Mizrahi.
There are nine steps that lead from the street into a dark vestibule. Once you are in the vestibule, there are doors that open into a square nave. The inside is described as being dark and gloomy. It has black walls and small windows. Two rows of pillars run from east to west and hinder the view of the Ark. There is no space reserved for women in the synagogue. This area is for men only. The women have access to an outer room. The construction of the roof, the gable, and the party wall date back to the middle ages. It is said that the blood of Jews who were persecuted in 1389 remain on the walls and this contributes to the gloom of the synagogue.
Inside the synagogue is a flag that is interwoven with gold, with a six pointed star and a Swedish hat on it. This flag was given to the Prague Jews as a gift by Ferdinand II because they helped defend the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War. This design with a Swedish cap in the center of the shield of David became the official emblem of the Prague Jewish Community. According to one source when you walk into the synagogue and see the vaults, prayer desks and tapestries, you are walking through history. The rabbis would not agree to a later renovation of the synagogue because the blood of the martyred Jews was still on the walls.
Manfred R. Lehman describes the Old-New Synagogue as “one of the fascinating Jewish monuments that has survived every misfortune in history. It follows Gothic style and seems to hold the spirit of generations”. In relating his travels, Mark Leeper describes the Old-New Synagogue as being much smaller than he had thought it would be. He stated that it was only a one room building. He described a statue of Moses that was on the side of the synagogue as depicting Moses as an old man, bent and tired.
The Old-New Synagogue is described by Perry Rank as a “humble building with modest furnishings with an acronym on the wall that spells out the Hebrew phrase “Know before whom you stand”. He stated that the presence of God could be felt in the room. Although most sources describe the gloom of the synagogue, one tells of the rare cross shaped vault, rostrum, and almenor that are surrounded by Gothic grating and richly decorated chandeliers.
The Old-New Synagogue has withstood many catastrophes. In 1689, the Jewish quarter was burned down by the French and over 300 Jewish houses and 11 synagogues were destroyed. For three days in November 1744, the ghetto was attacked and plundered. The synagogue was the only building that was not destroyed . In 1754, this area was once again attacked. During this attack flames did reach the northern side of the building, but Jews risked their lives and put out the fire. In 1852 this synagogue was the only building spared when the ghetto of Prague was abolished and united with four other “cities” as the fifth district of Prague. Because the Jewish quarter was considered unclean the city government decided to destroy the old quarter and they left only a few historic sites. The Altneuschul was one of the few buildings to remain unharmed.
The survival of the Old-New Synagogue during many major uprisings and wars dating both from its beginnings through World War II is a testament of the Jew’s desire and ability to hold onto their heritage. It is a brilliant testament of Gothic architecture and the will of the Prague Jewish community to maintain its heritage over centuries of oppression. The Old-New Synagogue has the distinction of being one of only two Jewish sites that are depicted on postage stamps issued by Israel and the Czech Republic. Although the number of Jews in Prague is lower than it was before World War II, they have continued to worship their religion and not allowed their heritage to disappear. The survival of the Old-New Synagogue and the establishment of museum have helped them to preserve their heritage. The Altneuschul in one of only three synagogues in Prague that continue to have regular religious services.
The description of how it came by its name is interesting. Everyone clearly thinks that it is the old-new synagogue. The Czech name, Staranova and the German or Yiddish name, altneuschul all mean the same thing, but the suggestion that it may have come from the Hebrew Al-tenai schul, or 'on-condition' synagogue does seem rather attractive, if a little improbable.
The service that Ziska moved into seems to have been a normal high-holiday service, and it is most unlikely that people would have been engaged in personal prayer at the same time as other(s) were reading from the Torah. It is normal for one person, usually a cantor, or chazan to sing or intone the portion from the Torah, while the rest of the congregation listen more or less attentively. It seems likely that he went in at a time of general prayer, which always sounds like a general mumbling. Clearly no-one explained properly to Trollope what was going on, and he drew his own conclusions from a situation that he was unable to understand.
August 2, 2004
Re: Nina Balatka, Chs 7-9: The Encounter on the Bridge
Chapter 8 is longer chapter than we've had thus far and it centers on a slowly developed dialogue between Anton and Nina as they meet on the Charles Bridge. It begins with a note from Anton to Nina:
"'Dearest, meet me on the bridge this evening at eight. I will be at your end of the right-hand pathway exactly at eight'." (Oxford Nina, ed RTracy, Ch 8, p 91).
The scene is built up picturesquely, and there are two motifs running through Nina's mind explicitly, and a third implicitly. Explicitly she thinks about conversion: she has no sense of help or presence from these statues or the people around her; she feels Anton is an immovable inflexible personality; the problem is, Would her conversion be real? If not, if it's a pretense to please, she foresees she would be wretched.
I was thinking this morning that it's not true that Trollope's novels don't deal with religion. Perhaps people haven't wanted to go into this area because what he probes makes some of his readership uncomfortable. He does probe doctrine in Barchester Towers (satirically) and The Bertrams (explicitly -- he does not seem to accept the Bible as literally true, but an allegory); he deals with church politics again and again, and there are a series of papers Mullen describes where he connects this to doctrine. He is very interested in how religion works as a social force in people's lives: how it controls their sexuality, relationships with one another. In general he is against the kind of total repression of sexuality or denial of it that he sees as central to fundamentalist religions in the Victorian period (and perhaps to some sects still today). In this novel and Linda we have direct confrontation of these issues; Miss Mackenzie is more in the oblique style, but it links to Rachel Ray where the issue of repression by people who want power over others but do not repress themselves is dealt with.
I am bothered in this novel by how Trollope keeps calling Trendellson "the Jew." The Jew said this; the Jew did that. On one level he is talking to an imagined English reader who looks at Jews as outsiders. Ragussis deals with the idea that to English people at the time Jews were outsiders to be converted. Nina does think about the possibility Anton could change, but rejects this immediately. But on another level, to me it suggests that Trollope's sympathies with Anton are finally limited. Anton is not seen as simply human, but a Jew. It's like white people in the US calling other white people people, but black people are blacks. black people, not simply people. Trollope is at a gut level racist, or racialist (the new fashionable term) even when trying to enter sympathetically into Anton's case -- to the point of giving him the same initials.
A second motif on the bridge is her fear of Trendellson's inflexibility. She seems to be conceived as what I'd call potentially masochistic. She will obey this man to the nth degree; if he told her not to go to the bathroom, she might try to obey. Some might say this is extreme; it's prosaically unusual. My view is Trollope means to present a type and do it writ large. Trendellson is attracted to her because she is this utter self-abnegating type.
A third motif is suicide. Nina has an urge to kill herself. It's so easy; she could avoid all these ugly awful people, and their demands, pressures, use of her, and this includes Anton. This is implicit in the way she looks down at the river, enters into the water, looks at these statues. The thought of drowning herself to escape these people and this life thrust on her in which she will have no control even over her bodily space moves into her consciousness repeatedly. It's why she likes to linger on the bridge, by the buttresses. In this page the thought is attached to Lotta, and she lingers over the waters of oblivion. We see her look down "through the parapet of the bridge, there was just light enough for her to see the black water fast beneath her" (p. 92).
Their conversation goes from pp. 94-104. The main recurrence are Anton's attempts to break through his psychological carapace and throw off the renewed suspicions of Nina and love her openly, tenderly; his equal attempts to bully her unmercifully through this (half-crazed) demand for obedience we find repeatedly in Trollope's novels. She must sneak around her father or do what's necessary (implicitly including lying) to find out if the papers of ownership are in her house. At the same time she must not tell her father what she's about. This is great; catch-22 anyone? (Excuse the vulgarity but the equivalent is: My dear, shit by all means, but don't shit on the floor and don't shit on the pot.)
He is prepared to coerce her by withdrawing his love:
"'Good-night, he said, preparing to turn from her.
'Anton, Anton, do not leave me like that.'
'How then shall I leave you' (p. 103).
In The Macdermots of Ballycloran Trollope shows a male (a captain) using this technique to get the heroine to go to bed with him. He will leave her and walks off carelessly unless she yields. What an old story is this. How cruel. When I read this I say to myself Nina ought to run far away from this guy, but know she doesn't because what are her options? Her family? They are horrors. This is a book about the power of the family under capitalist/hierarchical values as rooted in human nature to do great harm, endlessly to hurt. In this it links directly to Linda where this power is taken to the ultimate (Linda's grave).
So NIna has nowhere to turn. There's literally no money for food. She has to pawn her mother's necklace. The dialogue is not all harshness. Anton has his softer moments. These seem to come out of sexual feeling, sheer physical presence as well as his instinctive response to her utter yieldingness. On his part he too is isolated, alone, in desperate need of kindness and openness on someone's part and the only place to get any of this is with Nina.
Neither wants to be false to the other; perhaps these moments of grasping at one another, these fragments of words where they tell of their real feelings, their vulnerability and need are the most poignant for all around them they have people who are instilling in their brains the idea that the other is false. This is far more realistic than what we saw in The Duke's Children where we were asked to believe that this kind of insidious treachery on the part of those who keep someone isolated in order to break her from her lover would not lie in this way and that rumors of the other's erotic doings would not be exploited to the utmost to break the couple up -- and successfully.
Trollope has got to show us what these tactics fail here. The idea is they fail because the relatives are so hard. The intolerance and cruelty paradoxically keeps the young couple who have decent feelings still together.
On Anton's obsession over the document: this is what we saw in Miss Mackenzie. The Victorians called theirs the cash-nexus society, and talked of how contracts were its center. Contracts are on paper. Today in our world many of us will have had the experience that someone will only give us something or we can only prove our credentials through a piece of paper. Anton's obsession is the direct result of his society's obsessions.
I'll write separately about chapter 9.
Re: Nina Balatka, Chs 7-9: At Home and On the Bridge Again
Chapter 9 is made up of three segments. First, Nina goes on (to me exacerbatingly) about how she has got to obey this man to the nth degree. This will be the strongest rule of her existence. (I have often wondered if this kind of obsession in Trollope's work comes from Rose being anything but this way; it's a release.) We get a fairly long drawn out scene (mostly pictorial) where she manipulates her father into showing her his papers.
I am drawn to the portrait of the father who says
"'Why cannot you let me be at peace, then?'
Having so said he turned himself to the wall ..." (Oxford Nina, ed RTracy, Ch 9, p. 108).
That's easy. She can't leave him at peace because no one leaves her at peace.
Nina discovers that the paper Anton wants is not there. She is not relieved since she has now understood that in fact Anton is not going to believe the paper is not there. He has decided it is.
I'm reminded of the famous use of pouring poison in someone's ear in Hamlet. Poison has been poured into Anton's ear and he is receptive to it because of years of socially-induced paranoia. Again we see Trollope bringing out the sources a people's staying apart from a larger group when the larger group despises and outrages the feelings of the smaller one.
The second scene is an ugly clash with Ziska. Ziska seems to think he can bully Nina into becoming his wife. Perhaps in fact some people do submit to this kind of pressure. They are willing to ignore continual insults and for the sake of fitting in and security pretend to forget how they have been treated until they were taken into the family -- or group of friends. I'm not one of these and find Nina's refusal therapeutic. Exhilarating is too strong a word, but her reply goes in this direction for me:
"I hate you, because you have been cruel . .. for you! - I would sooner die in the street than take a crust of bread from you.' Then she darted from him, and succeeded in escaping without hearing the words with which he replied to her angry taunts (p. 112).
And the last scene is the rebarbative yet reconciling moment with Anton on the bridge. Quite by chance (the town is imagined as small and our characters continually wandering back and forth from their houses across the bridge to one another), they meet. Trollope does refer to Anton as "the Jew." She tells him she has pawned her necklace; he takes the paper and we see he means to retrieve it. She tells him what happened between her and her father, and we see he doubts her, but her forthright statement does stop this form of preying on her:
"'If you doubt me, you will kill me'." (p. 114).
He repeats what he has been told; the name of Lotta Luxe is brought up (the alert reader is thus reminded of who the culprit is and how something has been done whose results we have yet to endure). From out of Anton's mind comes the statement: "'Nina, sometimes I think that I have been mad to love a Christian'" (p. 115). Thus he acknowledges that what is going on wrong between them comes out of the human beings who are doing all they can to part and make them hate one another. He knows this, so he cries out to her
"'You are everything to me, because I love you. How could I deceive you?'
'Nina, Nina, my own one!' he said.
'And as I love you, so do you love me? Say that you love me also.'
'I do, said he -- 'I love you as my own soul' (p. 115)
And he clings to her and with this assurance of his love for her, she tries to make herself happy.
This word love is used so flexibily. What is their love compounded of? The coldness combined with demands for cash or its equivalent from everyone they have ever met. Only in one another has this relentless been set aside.
One might say Trollope has presented a picture of the Victorian family, its cash and contract nexus, a hard critique. But this is not just historical. Nowadays we learn to socialize and manipulate and smooth over these realities for "success." Cold hearts and warm cash is the name of a sociological study by Marcia Millman of the US family in the second half of the 20th century. So the book is about more than religion and nationalism and it is not romance even if Trollope's mode of writing and mood is that of high romance as he met it in Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Partly this is the result of strong language ("her soul revolted"), but it's also the result of taking a situation in extremis and pulling out the basic fundamental emotions underlying it.
Cheers to all,
Date: Sun, 08 Aug 2004
Subject: [trollope-l] Homesite Page: Another Photo of the Charles Bridge for Nina Reply-To: email@example.com
In our present book, much is happening on the Charles Bridge. It becomes a symbol of both the attempt of our lovers to bridge the distances between themselves which others have created and they themselves feel:
I doubt whether Trollope made a clear distinction in his mind as we do between biology and culture when it comes to phenotypes (or gene pools). The way Trollope refers to AT ("the Jew") suggests he saw the differences between him and Christian people as biological or ontological. He also seems to think that an education into a class goes down deep into someone's psyche so that someone who is brought up as a gentleman or lady is ontologically superior to someone who is not. It is true that neither Anton or Nina is presented as a gentleman or lady. They are of the "order" of people we discover in The Golden Lion and Linda Tressel. Nonetheless, Trollope is racialist or racist, classist and insists on the secondariness of women, on their submission to very restrictive mores even if this ends up punishing them badly when they end up with a violent or bad man.
At the same time the thrust of the plot-design, characters' relationships and psychological nuances of this novella, Nina Balatka suggests that what keeps Trollope's lovers apart are social inventions. He also in this (and all his novels) writes out of an essentialist point of view that human nature is at the level of the psyche which activates people everywhere the same.
Thank you to Dagny for the picture. We have another cold wintry day. Bright and clear.