Anthony Trollope's "Aaron Trowe"

Written 1861 (February 3 - 12)
Serialized 1861 (14 & 16 December), Public Opinion
Published in a book 1863 (February), Tales of All Countries: Second Series, Chapman and Hall

To Trollope-l

February 1, 1998

Re: Short Story: "Aaron Trowe:" A Powerful Piece

This is one of Trollope's great short stories. Reasons: the cinematic quality of the closing terrific scene among the rocks and crags over a fearful river; the earlier mood-like description; its concision (in a very few paragraphs at the opening we get Trowe's history embedded in a graphic retelling of a strike); its depiction of both men and women as fierce animals when confronted by death or aroused to a primal revenge (the struggle first between Anastasia Bergen and Aaron Trowe, and then to the death, between Caleb Morton and Aaron Trowe); and finally Trollope's ability to sympathize with Trowe, to see the action from his point of view at crucial moments in the action.

When I read this with my class I astounded students by suggesting that the terrible wound which Trowe inflicts on Anastasia Bergen with a knife which he says will make her an object "the world shall loathe to look upon" was that he cut off one of her breasts, and it was that that made the haunting shriek that reached the ears of another woman and appalled her. If it isn't that, then what it is. I'd still like to know what the following delicately euphemistic passage is describing if not this kind of cut:

"'Then I will do worse than murder you. I will make you such an object that all the world shall loathe to look upon you.' And so saying he took her by the arm and dragged her forth from the wall against which he had stood.

Then there came from her a shriek that was heard far down the shore of that silent sea, and away across to the solitary houses of those living on the other side,--a shriek, very sad, sharp, and prolonged,--which told plainly to those who heard it of woman's woe when in her extremest peril" (Sutherland, p 307).

It is a specifically "women's woe;" she is in extreme "peril" from his knife. We are told her cry was "a wailing" "terrible to hear;" it was spoken of by those who heard it "as though it were not human." What did he do? What are we to imagine? My turning this euphemism into a clear image (the breast is near her heart) also explains the mad rage of Morton and the image that accompanies Trollope's most direct reference to the original source of Morton's bloodlust:

"His cry was for blood; for the blood of an untamed savage brute who had come upon his young doe in her solitude, and striven with such brutal violence to tear her heart from her bosom" (p 311).

An interesting aspect of the story's language which one might expect, given the perspective and Trollope's background, is a frequent use of animal imagery and imagery of the hunt. It comes together in several places, e.g.,

"The wretch who had thus treated the woman whom he loved should be hunted down like a wild beast, as long as he had arms and legs with which to carry on the hunt" (p 311).

What I didn't expect was for Trollope to turn round and pity this "fierce wolf:"

"My reader, when chance has taken you into the hunting-field, has it ever been your lot to sit by on horseback, and watch the digging out of a fox? The operation is not an uncommon one, and in some countries it is held to be in accordance with the rules of fair sport. For myself, I think that when the brute has so far saved himself, he should be entitled to the benefit of his cunning ... I can never, however, watch the doing of that work without thinking much of the agonising struggles of the poor beast whose last refuge is being torn from over his head. There he lies within a few yeards of his arch enemy, the huntsman. The thick breath of the hounds make hot the air within his hole. The sound of their voices is close upon his ears. His breast is nearly bursting with the violence of that effort which has at last brought him to his retreat. And then the pickaxe and mattock are plied above his head, and nearer and more near to him press his foes,--his double foes, human and canine, till at last a huge hand grasps him, and he is dragged forth among his enemies. Almost as soon as his eyes have seen the light the eager noses of a dozen hounds have moistened themselves in his entrails. Ah me! I know that he is vermin, the vermin after whom I have been risking my neck, with a bold ambition that I might ultimately witness his death-struggles; but, nevertheless, I would fain have saved him that last half hour of gradually diminished hope" (pp 313-4).

Ruth apRoberts argues it is Trollope's ingrained habit to "be an advocate for each one of his characters; he makes the best possible case for one, and then juxtaposes this with the demands of the other, defended with a similar passionate sympathy" (p 53). There is passionate sympathy for Trowe. In the first two pages of the story we are told of his "courage" when he murdered a constable during the riot, and that there was "no malice;" that he was a man destroyed because "his heart was sore to death with an idea of injury, and he lashed himself against the bars of his cage with a feeling that it would be well if he could so lash himself till he might perish in his fury" (p 298). In the final two pages he is "a miserable man" who will not be allowed to "die in a hole like a starved dog," he is "driven to despair, hopeless of life," "for him there was no longer any hope in this world." I don't think we are meant to forget the first lines about him:

"Had the world used him well, giving him when he was young ample wages and separating him from turbulent spirits, he also might have used the world well; and then women would have praised the brightness of his eye and manly vigor" (p 298).

Even when he rounds in on Anastasia, Trollope has a "poor wretch" and reference to a "starving wolf" to leave us with.

Of that terrific struggle my students were impressed by her strength. They had been fed on stereotypes of Victorian heroines--another one who didn't fit their preconceptions was Patience Woolsworthy.

None of this is to deny that Trollope insists this man must be hunted down and destroyed lest he destroy others. I also liked the similar austere realism and convention in the portrait of the narrow father who will not let his daughter marry lest it disturb his comfort, and yet when such emotions are roused that are real, the close with its statement that Morton and Anastasia returned to Canada not only because (when he came back to his "normal" self) Morton was "thoroughly ashamed" of the part he played, but also

"he could not endure to meet the ghost of Aaron Trowe, at that point of the road which passes near the cottage.' That the ghost of Aaron Trowe may be seen there and round the little rocky inlet of the sea, is part of the creed of every young woman in Bermuda" (p 320).
 Ellen Moody

From: "Robert Wright"
To: "TrollopeReadingList"
Subject: Short Stories: "Aaron Trowe" and "The House of Heine Brothers in Munich"
Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 12:32:02 -0000

Both of these stories for my money are among the very best of what we have read so far.

Ellen has already said what I would have said about Aaron Trowe, in particular the cinematic quality, the sympathy with the convict, and the plight of the woman with her selfish father. In a sense I think we are being led to conclude that the father is indirectly responsible for what happened, in that he left the girl alone so often and prevented her having the protection and comfort of the marriage with a strong protector whom she desired.

I cannot bring myself to believe Ellen's theory about the woman's mutilation. That to me would be too extreme but I can theorise she was cut around the face in a way which totally destroyed her beauty, hence in most men's eyes her fortune and prospects of marriage in the normal course of events.

To Trollope-l

Bart Hansen suggested the violence was rape; he also condemned Aaron Trowe in a way that suggested Trollope had no sympathy for a "cop-killer" nor could anyone. I answered only the suggestion that the violent act was rape.

February 3, 1998

Re: Short Story: "Aaron Trowe:" It cannot be rape

It cannot be a rape because the words clearly indicate that after Trowe finishes with Anastasia she permanently looks different when anyone looks at her:

"'Then I will do worse than murder you. I will make you such an object that all the world shall loathe to look upon you.' And so saying he took her by the arm and dragged her forth from the wall against which he had stood."

They will immediately see her looks as a woman have been ruined forever. Rape does not happen that swiftly, and Anastasia fights him off like a tiger throughout. He couldn't have gotten near her and actually fucked her. His strength (so to speak) is taken up elsewhere. Robert's suggestion of his cutting her in some horrible way in the face will do if we can think of a single cut. The lines do not suggest cutting and recutting--which is what he does to her arms in their struggles and which results in covering them both with blood:

"the knife wounded her. It wounded her in several places about the arm, covering them both with blood."

The lines identify a single terrifying scream of agony and horror. Horror. Many cuts would get many smaller screams of pain.

Perhaps our reluctance to believe Trowe cut off Anastasia's breast comes from a sense this is rare. It is not. I once saw a woman to whom this had been done, and my experience of violence is not all that wide or varied. When Mrs Bobbit cut Mr Bobbit so famously, it was reported by the police that "cuts the other way" (a man cutting a woman's breast) were in fact "common."

That does not remove the horror. To say it is a breast-cutting makes sense of the horror of the scream as well as of Caleb Morton's animal rage.

I have been listening to David Case's dramatic reading of Victoria Glendinning's biography, and would like to say I had forgotten how good this book is. Among other things, she brings home how violent was the Victorian world in private. Anthony Trollope was thrashed by his older brother with a heavy stick on each and every day of his time at school with him; on many days he and his brother were hit as fiercely and continually by an older boy; a master had the right to "scourge" them all. My idea is Trollope had seen far more than many of us.

However, I agree with Robert that if we can read the lines as suggesting a cut that ruins her face forever it fits. The trouble is it takes more than one cut.

On the idea that we should read this story as a parable that one should hang a man immediately (an argument for capital punishment), this ignores every detail of the story but a general outline. From the moment Trowe appears before us--where we are told he had in him the makings of a fine man, and how it was rage over starvation wages that drove him originally, and then understandable fury--to the end when Trollope actually identifies with Trowe, Trollope is sympathetic towards Trowe.

Ellen Moody

Date: Sat, 7 Feb 1998 15:45:29 -0500
Subject: Short Stories: Continually Aaron

You know what it is, people? What it is, in my view, is a severe failure of auctorial precision on the part of AT, in "Aaron Trowe." (And only now do I notice that Anthony Trollope and Aaron Trowe have the same initials. Probably coincidental, but...). Robert summed up the problem yesterday, in his post:

"we will never know what exactly occasioned the scream, because we are not told (because the story could not have been published if more explicit)"

Yes, just so. Not only did Trollope go all vague on us right at the crucial moment, and not only did he switch from a moment-by-moment description to one that's summary and leaves some things unsaid, but he obscured matters further by writing what appear to be contradictory pieces in the scene.

Ellen is right: an inventory of Trow's weaponry must include a clasp knife (which came out of his pocket midway through his struggle with Anastasia), a pistol (which he had at his hide-out in the cave, but which doesn't seem to figure during his, uh, assault on the Bergen house), and a short, thick poker that he appropriates from the fireplace grate to emphasize his demand for food. Nothing in this inventory lends itself to use in amputating body parts, though certainly with a poker one person can inflict plenty of damage on another person.

Okay, then. Here are the passages I find contradictory, from Trollope's description of the scene.

First problem: exactly what are Trow's intentions, up to the point where the assault begins? Trollope gives Trow quite a bellicose series of speeches, showing a wild fellow who will stop at nothing: (all page citations are from the World's Classics edition, edited by Sutherland)

"A woman! What does the starved wolf care for that? A woman's blood is as sweet to him as that of a man." (304)

"Give me food at once...I will knock out your brains if you do not...You also would be like a tiger if you had fasted for two days, as I have done." (304)

"I must cut your throat unless you give me money. Do you know that?" (305)

"I will shake the teeth out of your head"..."Murder you, yes; why not? I cannot be worse than I am..." (307)

Of course, page 307 also has the much gentler, rational speech where he says "Give me ten sovereigns and I will go," which somewhat breaks the mood. Still, upon the whole Trow is a menacing presence from the darkness, offering violence and capable of any depravity. But then Trollope gets inside Trow's mind and throws doubt even on that:

"And yet he had not purposed to murder her, or even, in the first instance, to inflict on her any bodily harm. But he had been determined to get money.....That there must be money in the house, he had still thought when first he laid hands on the poor woman; and then, *when the struggle had once begun*, when he had felt her muscles contending with his, the passion of the beast was roused within him, and he strove against her as he would have striven against a dog." (309, emphasis supplied)

I submit that the above citation casts doubt on what it was that Trow did to cause Anastasia's scream. Did he cut her? These words say not. Did her bludgeon her with the poker? These words say not. Did he rape or attempt to rape her? These words at least imply not, unless we presume that Trollope didn't think rape involved bodily harm. It seems that one of two things must be true, I think. Either (A) Trow looked so menacing when he grabbed Anastasia and pulled her toward him, that she screamed from fear rather than pain; or, otherwise, (B) there is a telescoping of time implied, though not identified, between when Trow pulled Anastasia away from the wall and when she shrieked.

Possibility A is, I admit, rendered unlikely by the care Trollope takes to describe the scream as absolutely blood-curdling. Also, remember back to the moment when Trow first grabs Anastasia as she sits in the darkened room, in a reverie:

"...for it was especially within her power to control herself, and to make no utterance except with forethought." (303)

The woman is enough controlled, or self-possessed, that she didn't make a sound when seized where she'd thought herself alone. So to find her screaming as though in "extremest peril" later on, argues persuasively that something has happened to her, not simply that she fears something is about to happen. So far I agree with Robert and Ellen. The problem is, the scream occurs at the start of the fight, and Trollope says later that when the fight started, Trow intended no bodily harm. Well, if he intended no harm at the outset of the fight, which was the point where Anastasia screamed, then she must've been crying out in apprehension--not in reaction to violence or to a wound received. Which in turn makes the description of the scream into something perilously like melodrama, and I'll admit the conclusion is not a tempting one to reach.

This gets us to possibility B, which is that there's an unidentified gap of time between when Trow "dragged her forth from the wall" and the start of the next paragraph, which begins "Then there came from her a shriek..." Trollope doesn't SAY there was a gap, so the natural reading is to assume none existed. This is what Ellen does, when she responds to Jill and me that, for heaven's sake, there isn't time in the scene for Trow to rape Anastasia. But if we use this reading, and assume no time lapse, then what are we to make of that damnable exposition on p. 309? If we assume there was a gap of time--he drags her from the wall, she begins to struggle in earnest, he feels her struggling and loses his temper--then the blood-chilling shriek she makes in the next sentence does not conflict with what Trollope says later. Otherwise, without a time gap, Trow grabs her and does her horrid violence immediately--a conclusion our author says is not warranted. So methinks there was a gap, or at least that Trollope had an ellipsis in mind even if he didn't signal it in the manuscript. I don't know whether the gap should be understood as 30 seconds, or three minutes, or five: I don't think it was 10 minutes, but neither does it appear to have been 10 seconds.

Ah, but still we're not out of the woods. Because here's my second problem: if we assume, as Ellen and Robert both argue, that the scream betokens some terrible wound that Trow inflicted on Anastasia, once again we've got Trollope making a later comment that casts doubt on the theory.

Ellen and Jill and Robert and I seem to agree that the clasp knife (which first enters the storyline on p. 308) is not a good candidate for the weapon that caused the scream. But Ellen and Robert say that Trow also had a poker, and they're right. Ellen commented in each of her "Trow" posts yesterday:

"I think in order for the story to make sense the wound had to be I think in order for the story to make sense the wound had to be a real one. Not metaphoric. She is made loathsome to look upon for life. You can do some terrific damage with a poker."

And, also:

...from the text I see a wound, something which made the woman loathsome to look at. Some sharp hard wound--probably from that poker."

Robert made a similar point in his post of 2/6, suggesting that what caused the scream can't have been only pain, but must've been something utterly traumatic that damaged her in some social way--possibly by impairing her beauty, or her chances of marriage, or her acceptability in society.

Very well. Let us say for the sake of argument that Trow did something really vicious with the poker. (And let us, for the sake of our digestions, not speculate any further about precisely what he did, other than that it was bad, and caused a wound). It also caused searing pain, was a vile, inhuman attack, and of course Anastasia screamed in extremest peril--who wouldn't, after all? This galvanizes both her will and her muscles, redoubling her efforts to fight him off.

(Though note in particular that Trollope says that her struggle "was necessary, a struggle for life, for honour, for the happiness of [her fiance]." (308) Interesting phrase, isn't it--the struggle was for life and honour? This isn't one I'd expect to see used if Anastasia were struggling to keep from having her features rearranged. The phrase makes sense if what she's fighting is the loss of her virginity.)

In any event the fight progresses, and Trow finds himself getting about as much abuse as he's dishing out. (The poker seems to have dropped from sight, by this point, but if the man and woman are locked in combat on the floor, wrestling desperately, I suppose the poker wouldn't be a useful weapon even if Trow hadn't contrived to lose it.)(Although, if he meant to bash or skewer her with the poker, and this gave the wound that caused her scream, why pull her toward him and away from the wall to begin with? If she's too near him he won't have leverage with a weapon that does damage by smashing or tearing, not by cutting. But let it go.) Trow, I say, isn't doing very well, and in fact the accursed woman is hurting him. So, enraged, he pulls out his clasp knife and starts jabbing her with "short, ineffectual blows...the knife wounded her...covering them both with blood." (309)

Finally the two servant-girls return to the house. The sound of their approach scares off Trow, who flies into the night. Anastasia, quite reasonably, almost swoons as reaction sets in. When Caleb Morton arrives, Anastasia faints for real. And at that point Trollope introduces a narrative fact that I can't make fit:

"...she could hardly call to mind the nature of the struggle she had undergone. His hot breath close to her own cheek she did remember, and his glaring eyes, and even the roughness of his beard as he pressed his face against her own; but she could not say whence had come the blood, nor till her arm became stiff and motionless did she know that she had been wounded." (310)

It seems to me that most of this description points to a sexual assault, while not being apt for nonsexual battery. Be that as it may, I have no problem with the premise that Anastasia was unaware until later that she'd been wounded _in the arm, by Trow's knife_. But if the inhuman shriek on p. 307 came because Trow'd attacked her savagely with the poker, than how is it possible that three pages later she'd not know she'd been wounded? We're back to an ambiguity about the nature of how Trow made Anastasia scream. If it was an attack that wounded her badly enough to draw blood (or render her loathsome to look upon, bloodlessly--though I'm not clear how one could achieve the latter effect using a poker), then the description from p. 310 isn't coherent with what came before. She might not know she'd been wounded in the arm, true. But since we're saying that a terrible attack, and wound, were what made her scream, don't we find ourselves forced to assume sudden amnesia? By the time we're to p. 310, it sounds as though Trollope thinks Anastasia is wounded in one area of her body: her arm. And that these wounds came from the knife.

Yes? No?

I do think the fault here is Trollope's, not ours: in trying to be delicate and implying what he can't come out and say, he winds up presenting us a section of story that seems to show, at different moments, that the characters consumed and saved the same cake at the same time. Since this can't be true, each reader winds up deciding whether the bulk of the evidence says that the cake is gone or that the cake still is there. And on this question reasonable people always can vary.

Still, since I find it unnatural to spend so much time disputing Ellen's point of view, I want to close by agreeing wholeheartedly with the conclusion to one of her posts from yesterday:

"I also think a story like this put paid to the notion that Trollope wrote only about complacent clergyman sitting in sweet green gardens surrounded by virgins fretting over whom they are going to marry."

Yes indeed.

--John Hopfner

Subject: Short Stories: "Aaron Trowe"


The following post contains graphic material not for the faint of heart or stomach.

I never thought I would jump into a difference of opinion between John Hopfner and Ellen Moody, both of whom I respect highly. In this instance, I must side with John. Cutting off a breast is no simple matter. With the clasp knife Aaron Trowe possessed, it could not have been done in an instant; maybe a sword could have done it, but not the knife described in the story. As John says, Aaron pulled it out of his pocket after the deed which caused the unearthly scream was done. I think that Aaron Trowe raped her, and the scream came at the moment of penetration. As most of us know, rape is not an act of lust, but an assertion of power. When Aaron realized that there was no money to aid with his escape, he exorcised to a small degree his own powerlessness by exerting his power over Anastasia. Her scream was caused not only by the pain of the tearing hymen, but also by the knowledge that, in the society she lived in, Anastasia would be defiled, a soiled being no longer acceptable for polite society, for marriage and family. The fact that Caleb Morton married Anastasia, in spite of her status as damaged goods, especially since he was a minister who could be expected to wish an unspotted wife, elevates him pretty high, in my eyes.

Jill Spriggs

Jill then had another thought:

To enlarge upon my previous post:

Remember that underclothing was not usually worn in the nineteenth century, and raping Anastasia would have been as simple as pulling up the skirt and doing it. Not long at all. Aaron pinioned her arms on the floor in order to complete his revenge. It all happened too fast for Anastasia to really begin her battle until she had already been defiled.

I thought Caleb and Anastasia also went to Canada to escape the everpresent reminders of her ordeal. If her face had been slashed, questions about the scar would follow them where they went.

Jill Spriggs

RE: Short Story: "Aaron Trowe": There's a Third Weapon

This is written in response to John Hopfner who has led me to go back and find another weapon. There is another besides the knife and the pistol -- and of course the man's hands and enraged desperate bodily strength.

First on the issue of sympathy, I have seen Trollope sympathetic to the most dastardly and awful of characters. Mr Scarborough of Mr Scarborough's Family torments both sons, betrays them, lies to everyone, tells people his wife was not his wife, lies to and manipulates his lawyer, is capable of the most brutal of personal politics and yet he is magnificent; he has in him deeper finer feelings, the understanding of what is integrity, and a kind of truth that by the end of the story let us know he is the hero. There is a paragraph at the end by the narrator which insists on this--and on the many flaws and evil in the man. Similarly Sowerby of Framley Parsonage behaves just about as badly as one can imagine someone to behave to everyone, and is himself one of the most lazy sleazes, and yet in the final chapter in which he appears Trollope suddenly turns round and sees the world from Sowerby's eyes and there is a pathos in the man.

On what Trowe did to Anastasia that was worse than murder I will not insist that he cut her breast off, but I will insist he did not rape her. Look at the passage. There is no time for this, and throughout the scene she fights him like a tigress. He couldn't get in in such a short time; the only way he could make her submit would be to have a weapon. There is also no sense of sexual excitement. He has nothing against her. Rape is a crime against a woman as such. What Trowe wants is money; if she will give him, some he is out of there. He makes that clear even pleadingly; if she will not give him money, he is willing to murder her. But he doesn't want to--and in fact doesn't.

Money. He wants it. He is savage for it. It's life to him. This is a perennial theme with Trollope. Comically put, without the stuff you are up the creek. In a story of ultimate desperation it drives a man to an insane savagery and then another man to another instance savagery when he sees what was done to his woman.

Now both Robert and I came to the conclusion the weapon he had was a knife. I agree we overlooked his having first taken out the "clasp knife" from his pocket after the scene of the scream, and that it was after this that we are told of streams of blood and how "the knife wounded her," and "yet, when the knife was in his hand, he had not driven it against her heart"--the last sentence sounding that note of suggesting Trowe is not as bad as he could be--he does not kill her when he could have). As to her not noticing herself bleeding, as someone who has bled a number of times profusely I will say one can bleed withouth being aware of it. A kind of unconsciousness comes with sudden hemorrhage; maybe it's some sort of instinctic survival element in the mind which prevents immediate panic.

Now there is a second weapon. A pistol. We are told he has been terrorizing some negroes to bring him food. His presence alone could not have terrorized them. He must have some weapon. At the close of the story he suddenly has a pistol. It may be the pistol was there in the cave all along; he may have left it in the cave. We are told not. But I think the latter improbable. He has it with him stuck in the sailor's outfit. Of course he would. He had no intention of returning to the cave. The reason he wants money is then he can bribe his way off the island and to freedom. The world is a big place, and he could be hundreds of thousands of miles away if he could get his hands on some money. But a pistol would not produce that scream.

So I went back. And looking carefully, I found a third weapon, "a short thick poker" (p 304). This he takes up as he comes into the house; it is lying by the grate. I find this curious. In two stories Trollope tells of a man who murders another man who has seduced his sister and not married when he takes a trungeon or poker and hits the other man with all his might with it. In both cases the man dies, although the murderer was not planning or plotting death. In the first in _The Macdermots_ due to the political situation, our hero (for he is a hero), Thady is condemned to die as a scrapegoat and to make an example to others ("pour encourager les autres" in Voltaire's famous phrase); in the second in Dr Thorne Roger Scatcherd is adjudged guilty of homicide, is put in prison for a year or so where he does hard labor, and is then released. In a couple of other scenes in other novels it comes back to me that people threaten other people with pokers. I believe in the trial of Phineas Finn in Phineas Redux, the weapon is a long hard instrument which men carried about the streets to protect themselves in London. Now in life Anthony's brother Thomas beat him daily in school with thick hard stick--and so were the other boys in this school beaten by older boys with such sticks. .

The text is ambiguous. I won't reprint it once again. It moves swiftly, very swiftly. As he lunges at her with his poker, there comes from her that haunting shriek that appalled a woman far away.

It seems to me to ignore the speed and probability to pronounce it rape. I see this story as brutal and savage, the most brutal Trollope ever wrote--whose purpose is to show us what we can become. Aaron Trowe is us--as is Anastasia and Morton. At the same time (with Trollope there is always an "at the same time"), if the man did in some way hideously scar Anastastia's breast or use the poker in some way forever to scar her face hideously for life, he gets his retribution. Poetic justice is given as he is madly in the water, desperately holding onto to Morton, unable to swim, and another man comes along, the takes a huge oar and lets

"it fall with all its force on the upturned face of the wretched convict. It was a terrible frightful thing to do,--thus striking one who was so stricken, but who shall say that the blow was not good and just?" (p 319).

This is a terrible moment. Imagine it. Horrible horrible oh most horrible to do this to another human being. Yet says Trollope consider the terrible frightful thing Trowe did to Morton. It has better be terrible or frightful or we are back with Le Fanu titillations. It's a terrible frightful thing men will see upon looking at her. One does not see rape. I think here too we are fooled by Victorian public discourse. I think they had as much sex as we do; it has been shown again and again engagement meant sexual intimacy. People lived together before and outside marriage. The sex act was not treated with such horror. Even in Richardson (who is traumatized by sex as an individual) had to add that Clarissa was drugged, held down, and then raped in front of the other women to make us feel the horror. And still his readers said she should forgive and marry Lovelace.

And why shouldn't Morton be ashamed? Sometimes I wonder about where are our hearts as we start to reason and are not reasoning about ourselves. I was listening to my students today talk of the Texas woman who was executed. Yeah man. She pickaxed someone. I wondered if they considered there but for the grace of God go they. The idea in this story is one we find again and again in Trollope and it is given full imaginative depth: there but for the grace of God go we as Aaron Trowe. Who knows what you can be driven to? The ghost is the ghost of ourselves, the knowledge and memory of what we are that has been revealed to Morton--who is a thoughtful sensitive type.

Anastasia too becomes a fierce beast. She too is likened to a roused animal, half-crazed, fighting for life. She drives her teeth down in that man's finger and holds on. We are again told how she had never been "trained in violence," had always been "feminine." The sense is she didn't know what was in her.

Is it that we think there are things we cannot be driven to? Just as Trowe and Anastasia are parted when they hear a noise our narrator says of him, "And yet he had not purposed to murder her, or, even in the first instance to inflict on her some bodily harm" (p 309).

Again as I think better of Trollope than to read the story as an argument for swift capital punishment for Trowe originally (even in the heigh of the conflict he will stop and say "things had not gone well with him. He had been separated from the wife he had loved, and the children who had been raised at his knee,--separated by his own violence"), so I think better of him than to think he imagined the insanity which leads to vengeance so that at the end we can rest sated with Morton or gratified--as for example some of my students seem to be. Rather he returns the man to his norm self, his tender loving humane self (which sort of self Trowe had in him too, as clearly Anastasia has) who is aghast at what he became.

Caleb Morton was a man of God. We are told at length how he has been spending his life preaching against violence. The reason he has not the money to marry Anastasia is he is bringing the Christian message to this island. He too did not know what he could be driven to. He has acted in a way that goes against everything he has taught to the people of this island and professed to believe in for years. No wonder he can't face himself.

In order for the story to make sense the wound had to be a real one. Not metaphoric. She is made loathesome to look upon for life. You can do some terrific damage with a poker.

A story like this pust paid to the notion that Trollope wrote only about complacent clergyman sitting in sweet green gardens surrounded by virgins fretting over who they are going to marry.

Ellen Moody

From Robert Wright:

Date: Fri, 6 Feb 1998 23:32:39 -0000

I must pitch into this debate again, and say that whilst we will never know what exactly occasioned the scream, because we are not told (because the story could not have been published if more explicit) we can surely deduce that something more than mere pain was involved.

By this I mean that the girl was damaged in a much more social way. Her beauty must have been impaired. Or her chances of marriage. Or her acceptability in society (and we must remember how important, how vital were a girl's marriage prospects - they were literally her life). My original guess about facial scarring may not have been enough. I think Ellen's idea was possible, though probably not practically feasible given the weopans to hand. I think such a would in those days would have mean almost certain death too, in the way that wounds on board ship always involved amputation and very likely eventual death through gangrene.

So, what else is likely? Pokers are nasty things, as Edward II found out (even if Marlowe turned the truth into crushing under a table!). I suppose a heterosexual version of the Edward II death is possible, even though the poker might not have been red hot. Other means might have been used to preculde any possibility of childbirth. Who knows?

The main truth is that, regardless of what might or might not have actually been done, we are meant to believe the damage was utterly traumatic, enough to cause the reverend gentleman to go almost mad and take obscene chances to revenge his love. The very word revenge for a cleric heightens the effect and what was the magnitude of his reaction, given his vocation.


Re: Short Story: "Aaron Trowe" N

ow I am answering Jill's two posts. I just don't see how he could have raped Anastasia that fast. I have never been raped, but I have known women who have. Both (two) said there was a knife, and it took their submitting to it. That is, they had to lay there, and they were terrorized into it by a weapon.

Then from the text I see a wound, something which made the woman loathesome to look at. Some sharp hard wound--probably from that poker.

Finally, I think we are overemphasizing the response to rape or sexual intercourse. In a number of Trollope novels, good women have sex before marriage--and they do marry, are not considered loathesome. I think of Roger Scatcherd's sister. True she leaves for Australia, but no-one is horrified. The shame included a child, and the murder by her brother of Dr Thorne's brother.

I suppose it's a detail we are arguing over. But to me some frighteningly terrible act matches the smashing of Trowe's face and explains how Caleb Morton turned into a savage to match the savagery of Trowe. And that leads to the "moral" or point of the story, which is we can never know what we can descend to if sufficiently driven to it. I see this story as the "other side" to Malacchi's Cove. In that someone does a equally physically appalling good deed, one that was beyond her strength and out of character. In both the characters are primally assaulted and death is seconds away.

As the heroine of "Malachi's Cove," poor and abject as she is, is us, so I see Aaron Trowe and Anastasia and Caleb all as is, and the ghost as the knowledge of what we can become (to Caleb what he became).

In some of Trollope's short stories, the moral has been, "Lord what fools these mortals be" (e.g., "The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box"); in "Aaron Trowe" and "Malacchi's Cove" Ophelia's words come to mind: Lord we know what we are, but we know not what we may be.

Ellen Moody

Re: Sinfield and Trollope

I am working on a review of a book about the influence of Italian literature on the English Renaissance and find myself reading one of those books of scholarship whose continual mark of the mandarin may be found in its thicket of theoretical jargon. It is the sort of book where I look for those places in the text where the mask is dropped to see what the author is up to; sometimes such places come when the author actually gets in contact with the text and has to admit what it says; often they are found in bridging sentence between paragraphs or bridging passages between whole chapters (dead-giveaways these as the author would really like us to read on and finds him or herself constrained to sum up what went before so as to lead us on); often there is a sudden drop into an appeal to our reality (the reader who is reading) and the author talks to us in terms analogous to our experience in the concluding sentences of a chapter. The book is by one Alan Seinfield and is called Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading.

It should come as no surprize that one of the patron saints of this book is Foucault. One of the passages which begins with an invocation to him is in fact useful as a way of articulating the way we read today. Sinfield writes:

"it seems clear that nineteenth-century legal, medical, and sexological discourses on homosexuality made possible new forms of control; but, at the same time, they also made possible what Foucault calls a 'reverse discourse,' whereby 'homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or 'naturality' be acknowledged, often in the same vocaulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.' Deviancy returns from abjection by deploying just those terms that relegated it there in the first place. A dominant discourse cannot prevent 'abuse' of its resources. Even a test that aspires to contain a subordinate perspective must first bring it into visibility; even to misrepresent, one must present. And one that has happened, there can be no guarantee that the subordinate will stay safely in its prescribed place."

Readers misread. They take passages out of context and make them validate what they yearn for. This idea of course is the reverse of the idea the passage opens with in which Sinfield avers it is clear texts allow people to control the behavior of others. I think he's got a lot of faith in the written word, but we must grant him his religion.

The above passage is in fact a bridging one; it leads us into the next paragraph which opens in an equally genuinely explanatory vein:

"Conversely, a text that aspires to dissidence cannot control meaning either. It is bound to slide into disabling nuances that it fails to anticipate, and it cannot prevent the drawing of reactionary inferences by readers who want to do that'" (p 48).

In one of the concluding passages in another chapter we come upon this sequence of sentences. It is a critique of character criticism. Sinfield shows us how we go through the story looking for our revelations of hidden character and then talk about these as Truth:

"Typically, the illusion is said to yield, slowly but surely, to the reality that was always-already there; the individual, in learning from experience to reconcile hismelf to herself to the world, becomes fully the person he or she always was. The ultimate profundity is alleged to appear in trageyd, where the truth about Man is aid to emerge from the depths of the individual. And this usually, in modern times, is the truth of our atavistic nature--the savage Othello underlines the noble (or may be savage and noble at once, but still the savagery seems more fundamental).

He then stops to flog something he calls an essentialist myth, but without explaining this sentence further (which is just popped in as are so many of these in this vein where what it yet to be agreed to is assumed), he goes back to talking with reference to Othello:

Of course people behave in extreme ways in extreme conditions, but this does not demonstrate an underlying Man. Rather people react diversely in diverse circumstances in diverse cultures; these are all ways people behave. The person who betrays his or her comrades under torture, who eats htem to survive an aeroplane disaster, who kills them under intolerable stress, is no more 'real' than the caring and cooperative person we see in more congenial circumstances."

We conclude with him saying how the confused thinking which elevates the atavistic is of course the fault of "essentialist humanism" not "cultural materialism" which does not have the same "narrow view of human potential."

This is calling bad names. Why he thinks people who call themselves humanists have a narrow view of human potential he does not say. It is assumed. I have never thought Othello realler than Archdeacon Grantly. There is also another explanation for the preference for the barbaric, bizarre, and savage in texts, movies, films, plays in our time. The average person has always been drawn to excitement, the more lurid the sex, the more frightening the terror, the more piquant the sordidness the better. On the other hand, he or she equally wants to think he or she is an upstanding civilized person who is bettering him or herself. That's what reading good books are for. Good books are not supposed to be about people hacking away at one another with pokers--or sleazy ladies like Mrs General Talboys teasing a man and enjoying her power over him while she can ever so piously keep him at arm's distance and present herself as maintaining the high ground.

The connection between these texts is discomfort. Neither flatters us. Rose said "Mrs General Talboys" is an "ill-natured story." An interesting element in all Trollope's short stories thus far has been that he's not flattering us.

And that's why I brought this book up, as well as to bring out my sense of why Trollope's larger novels like The Vicar or TWWLN can be made meat for the reactionary today and complacent in his own time. I see them both as aspiring to dissidence, the first through the Vicar and Carrie and Mary Lowther too; the second everywhere--and it too is not a comforting book. Many of Trollope's lesser known books are not. I admit this is an argument for not doing Orley Farm next, because it is more like The Vicar in bringing in its serious themes and critiques in a subordinate position (the trial, the story of the lady who forges the document and almost gets off--it's just that the bigoted will not accept her, the jury says not guilty--what an irony is that). It is an argument for Mr Scarborough's Family, but perhaps like Lady Anna (and The Claverings) which we read on the old list, someone will call it repellent too. I like the repellent.

Ellen Moody

Re: "Aaron Trowe": A Key Paragraph

It has been apparent all along that a key paragraph in the story is left ambiguous, and it is now also clear that Trollope did not work to make all parts of his story consistent. This would be in accord with his use of calendars which, while not as cavalier as Dickens's, is not dovetailed with precision in the manner of Austen or Collins.

Of course I still tend to think there was something Trowe did which forever made Anastasia "loathesome to look upon," and that rape was not looked in with quite the sacramental horror that is suggested. I would also further argue that when Trollope says Trowe had not purposed to inflict bodily harm, he is saying the man hadn't mean to wound her, but he had, just as Thady hadn't meant to murder his sister's lover with a stick, but found he had.

On the other hand, I agree that whenever any explicit sexual gesture comes up, Victorian writers who wanted to get into print and be read by middle class readers suddenly turn euphemistic. We will never know what Lily Dale did in her walks alone in the garden at night with Adolphus Crosbie while she was engaged to him. Or they leave it to our imagination, though one of the most interesting excisions from the original _Macdermots_ is a sentence which makes it explicit that Thady's sister, Feemy, has a miscarriage on the floor of the courthouse; one wonders what readers in subsequent editions thought the young woman suddenly died of.

Trollope shies away from telling us.

The moral of the story is as I outlined it: we never know what we can become, what we can do until we are in extremis, and the knowledge of this is the (highly unusual) ghost of Trollope's story. Ghosts in stories usually figure forth guilt, remorse, inability to retrieve some act, knowledge which in a way we would be better off without.

Ellen Moody

To Trollope-l

February 11, 1998

RE: Short Stories: "Aaron Trowe

Bart Hansen wrote:

"My first argument for an attempted rape, was in our own introduction, where Sutherland talks of 'a graphically described rape scene.' I also mentioned the language on p.310, and suggested that would have been differently worded had her breast been sliced off. To me, words are there to suggest attempted rape - '...the fate that had threatened her...the evil that had been so imminent.' Finally, I repeated my earlier claim that for Trow to rape Anastasia would very well qualify as something to make society 'loathe to look upon' her. I will admit that several other possibilities also come to mind that similarly qualify; the slicing off of a breast or the carving up of her face.

I remain puzzled by the words of sympathy at the end for Trow. If sympathy was to be a factor in the story, why was Trow's crime made to be killing a constable during a riot, rather than something much less severe. Firstly, those two crimes surely are hanging offenses, and secondly, who likes a cop-killer?


To which I responded:

The idea that a man who commits a crime is forever an animal and especially a cop-killer is not Trollope's view at all. The phrase "cop-killer" is 20th century. Trollope seem to feel that people who commit crimes do not therefore give up all connections to the human race and are not any different from those who us who are not so driven. That is the point of his story.

Those who are for capital punishment never imagine they could commit such a crime of course. Those who do are "other" from them, subhuman, strange, forever exiled from the human race. What a comforting thought is this. But you see throughout the story Trollope is at pains to show us that Trowe remained a man like other men, and in the ending of the story to show us how a Christian man like Morton could turn into a killer as savage as Trowe.

Who likes a cop-killer? Those people who have had relatives killed by cops that's who. Who is on the side of strikers?--for that is where Trowe's original crime began, in a strike by workers whose families were starving and wanted a living wage. I am.

Ellen Moody

I'll end this document with two postings I had written three years before when I read the story with my students and placed on Ms Thompson's list, at which time I got no response at all. Perhaps no one had read the story on that list -- or had read it recently.

Re: Teaching "Aaron Trowe:

We are about to do "Aaron Trow" which I have paired with "Returning Home." I have a theory I am going to present to the class; it's kind of startling so I want to know if anyone thinks this is off the wall. Maybe someone will tell me it's not. to wit: when Aaron Trow tells Anastasia Bergen

"I will make you such an obejct that all the world shall loathe to look on you.' And so saying he took her by the arm and dragged her forth from the wall against which he had stood.

Then there came from her a shriek that was heard far down the store of that silent sea, and away across to the solitary houses of those living on the other side,--a shriek very sad, sharp, and prolonged,--which told plainly to those who heard of it of woman's woe when in her extremest peril...

I think he has cut off one of her breasts.

My proofs:

1) The little dialogue imagined between a nearby imaginary woman and her husband: "Did you hear that?" [to the original shriek]... Hear it! Oh Heaven, yes! Whence did it come?' The young wife could not say from whence it came, but clung close to her husband's breast, comforting herself with the knowledge that that terrible sorrow was not hers."

2) The extraordinary rage of Morton and the language used by the narrator repeatedly to describe this cut as one of supreme cruelty and violation: Morton cannot let someone else avenge this "wretch ... who had thus treated the woman whom he loved... His cry was for blood; for the blood of the untamed savage brute who had come upon his young doe in her solitude, and striven with such brutal violence to tear her heart from her bosom." The last phrase is particularly telling.

3) That she is just "covered with blood... her clothes half torn from her body." In the fight Trow wounds her arm but it is a continual hacking, a kind of series of surface wounds, and we are told that when the knife went in "he had not driven it against her heart." Again a telling phrase.

4) She is unable to say "whence had come the blood" to anyone, the women, Caleb, anyone; that is, she can't say it. Of course, her hysteria.

Objections anyone?

Ellen Moody

September 30th,1995

Re: "Returning Home" & "Aaron Trow"

We had an excellent talk on the first; the idea is the student choses an "approach," invents a proposition out of this trajectory, and then tries to demonstrate the truth of said proposition through examples, quotation, and argument. After his or her talk, we respond, and then said student goes home and writes up a short essay.

So for "Returning Home" situational irony was chosen, and the young woman did very well on Trollope's use of foreshadowing throughout the long arduous journey of Fanny Arkwright through the mud-laden jungle, on the irony of how she was not so frail and had lasted, and then after all, had died merely because of a moment's "turn of the hand that had been too strong." The obvious irony was Fanny had chosen the wrong way; but she also pointed out how the strong German had gone down with the frail woman. She also said there was irony in the title "Returning Home" as home would now be for Fanny a grave, and for her husband his place at work near that grave.


Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
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