Anthony Trollope's "Alice Dugdale"

Written 1878 (12 May - 10 June)
Published 1878 (December), Good Cheer, Christmas Number of Good Words
Published in a book 1882 (December), Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices; and Other Stories, Wm Isbister

To Trollope-l

From Robert Wright:

What a great start to Chapter III. This is the description of the indolent and ineffective Sir Walter Wanless (Wanless, geddit?) who frittered away his inheritance in true Trollopian style, and of course got landed with daughters who needed marrying off and a scheming wife to ensure the young men got trapped into "popping" the question:

"Sir Walter Wanless was one of those great men who never do anything great, but achieve their greatness partly through their tailors, partly by a breadth of eyebrow and carriage of the body...partly by outside gifts of fortune.... His tailor had been well chosen, and had always turned him out as the best dressed old baronet in England. His eyebrow was all his own, and certainly commanded respect from those with whom eyebrows are effective. He never read; he eschewed farming, by which he had lost money in early life; and had, so to say, no visible occupation at all.

But he was Sir Walter Wanless, and what with his tailor and with his eyebrow he did command a great deal of respect in the area around Beetham."

Robert J Wright from work in Reading, Berks

From Sigmund Eisner:

Subject: Short Stories "Alice Dugdale" Sender:

Yes, I also enjoyed "Alice Dugdale." One knows from the very beginning that the Major will marry Alice. Georgianna Wanless is not for him. But I do wish to observe that Georgianna is almost the twin sister of Griselda Grantly, the daughter of the worldly Archdeacon in the early Barchester novels. Griselda is capable and cold. She eventually gets the perfect husband for herself, Lord Dumbello, who later becomes the Marquis of Hartletop and is a willing slave to his Griselda. Apparently Trollope liked her, for she keeps appearing, not just in the Barchester novels but in several of the Palliser novels.


May 3, 1998

Re: Short Story: "Alice Dugdale" Like Sig says Trollope likes the sort of woman and man who marry for love. Trollope is serious when he argues one must not marry unless one loves the individual. He is speaking against a culture which endorsed marrying as a way of climbing up a rung on a ladder (as the Major puts it). And Georgiana Wanless is such another as Griselda Grantley, Lady Dumbello, and would only demur that yes Trollope likes to use this type as a character but because he appears to have loathed the ice-queen, the large majestic blonde with her big shoulders (=big breasts), the statuesque cold woman. The type seems to have been admired by many people in his era -- perhaps she was the "ultimate leisured object and fecund Anglo-Saxon"?

Trollope's conception of love is, however, idealistic or sentimental. Again and again Trollope says the couple who ponder their love deeply are getting nowhere. He seems to have thought that sexual attraction and fulfillment are at the center of what's called love. He loathes the Griselda's and feels a distaste for the Georgiana's (both "g's" sounds--Trollope also uses the name Arabella for women he doesn't like) not because they are for sale, but because their goods are worthless. They have no warmth, no passion. Another version of this type is Lady Alexandrina de Courcy--and the story of Crosbie is similar to that of our Major except Crosbie lets himself get snatched up and ends up lonely for the rest of his life.

This is not to say Trollope advises marriage without money. But in his books he repeatedly gives us stories where it is argued and demonstrated that if one has enough money for both, that's all one needs in the money department.

Trollope does not emphasize congeniality of spirit in the manner of Austen. He shows men who respect women for holding the same values as they--but this is not the same thing as congeniality. I can think of couple after couple who Trollope presents as happily married partly because they share the same values which are anti-mercenary and idealistic, partly because of sexual satisfaction, and partly because there is enough money for the class expectations of the given couple. I would put it in that order.

So he's is both robust and tender in stories like "Alice Dugdale".

This is one of those stories from this volume I have done with students and they liked it very much.

Ellen Moody

Re: "Alice Dugdale"

Since it was I who asserted I can think of couple after couple who are not deeply congenial in the way Austen's heroes and heroines are, I ought at least to have named one.

My chief candidates are Lady Violet Effingham and Lord Chiltern. No two people could spend their days more differently. They are sexually very happy. The lady provided the solid money, the man has become Master of the Hunt to support his estate. Violet is subtle, loves books, spends her days at home; Chiltern spends his with his dogs and horses and other men. So what, says Trollope.

Austen could not have presented such a couple in the affectionate and accepting manner of Trollope.

My guess is Trollope felt this way because he and his Rose were very happy but had decidedly different ways of spending their lives. Rose was a pragmatist, and Trollope lived to live in his imagined worlds.

I do agree with Robert about Lord Wanless. Here is a type of useless aristocrat who has done nothing worth while for anyone all his life, but who is respected for his wealth and arrogance (the "eyebrow"). We have seen this type many times. Now I instance George Bertram's father, Captain Marrable's, and the whole bunch at the Beargarten and their fathers too. How paradoxical is Trollope. He tells to admire the aristocracy, but he shows it as often so much sleaze, as so many drones.

Ellen Moody

Re: Short Story: "Alice Dugdale": A Bird Pecked at Her Window

Still I wonder if we have not approached where the power of the story lies: Alice and her struggle to survive what appears to be --and almost became -- Major John Rossiter's abandonment of her after he had publicly more than half-courted her and certainly caused her to fall in love with him. The most poignant and psychologically interesting passages in the novel are those where we see Alice try to crush her feelings for Rossiter, listen to the narrator analyze how hurt and aching and strained she is, watch her behave in front of other people in such a way as to try either to prevent them from seeing she is wounded or from commiserating with her. In a way we are back to the perception about human nature which informs "The Spotted Dog": what pains Alice as much as the loss of Rossiter is her loss of status, her damaged self-esteem and pride when in front of others.

The scenes at Brook Park between the Wanlesses and Rossiter and the scenes in London between Rossiter and first Sir Walter and then Lady Wanless are all in the mood of social comedy, perhaps a bit saturnine, now wry, and again ironic. They show the desperation of a woman who has 5 daughters to get rid of and no income to give for a husband. She must sell "blood." I agree there is an analogy here with P&P (as also the opening dialogue between the Vicar and his wife in "Christmas at Kirby Cottage" find a husband and wife discussing whether a single man in want of wife ought to be brought to the cottage, in Trollope's case the wife thinking it dangerous.) But they remain on the level of surface. What gives the story its depth of emotion and brings the moral pattern home to the reader's sympathetic imagination are the scenes of Alice at home, Alice and her father, Alice and Major Rossiter.

There are so many sentences, paragraphs, and little scenes dotted throughout the story which express Alice's silent agon--which does end happily--it's hard to choose which one to share. Here is one towards the beginning of the story:

Again and again, she asked herself,--what did it matter? Even though she were unhappy, even though she felt a keen, palpable, perpetual aching at her heart, what would it matter so long as she could go about and do her business? Some people in this world had to be unhappy;--perhaps most people. And this was a sorrow which, though it might not wear off, would be wearing become dull enough to be bearable...

We see her remind herself of all her advantages, all the "charms" of her existence. She wants not to care but knows the things she has named are not enough for her. Thus

"She despised herself becuase there was a hole in her heart,--because she felt herself to shrink all over when the name of Georgiana Wanless was mentioned in her hearing" (Oxford Classic Paperback, 1995 ed JSutherland, p 457).

Austen uses the same phrase in Mansfield Park: Henry Crawford seeks to make a hole in Fanny Price's heart. To Austen and Trollope this phrase had cutting resonance.

In the middle of the story when it looks as if the Major will marry Georgiana, Alice is strained almost to the breaking point: "Then she took herself to her own room, and sat awhile alone with a countenance much changed. The lines of sorrow about her brow were terrible. There was not a tear, but her mouth was close pressed, and her hand working constantly by her side" (p 473).

Not a word is exaggerated. No romantic intense gestures or melodrama. A girl sitting alone on a bed, her face hard to watch, her mouth very tight, her hand beyond her control.

Then another long passage follows at the close of the story when her father tells her the Major will not marry Georgiana. I will quote but two sentences which capture the feeling that runs through this passage: "There was stern strength in her voice as she said this, which forced her father to look at her almost with amazement. 'Do not think that I am fierce, papa'" (p 485). Alice thinks she is hard inside; she thinks she has formed a carapace around her heart so she is in no danger of "mortification." In the final scene we see how easily this carapace dissolves away.

I thought the final metaphor of the Major as a bird who has pecked at the window, and flown in and out again, but returns determined to peck once more perfect in its delicacy and connotations of just the right amount of romance and just the right amount of sex.

The chapter divisions and structuring of the story are also beautifully done. There's more art here than meeets the eye.

Ellen Moody

Re: Short Story: Two Country Doctors' Daughters: Alice and Molly Over on Litalk-l we recently talked of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, and I liked to suggest a connection between "Alice Dugdale" and Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. Gaskell's Molly Gibson, the heroine of Gaskell's novel is a country doctor's daughter. She is therefore looked down upon by the aristocratic county family. She too is patient, suffers, and in the end wins love partly by being passive and endlessly sacrificing, partly by controlling her passion and holding firm to her pride. Her father marries a woman who is not worthy of him--in Mrs Gaskell Mrs Gibson is a monster; Trollope's second Mrs Dugdale is merely a nonentity, a nothing. But both marriages are not presented as beautifully contented at all. The neighborhood of spies and busybodies in both stories are similar. The indrawn secludedness, the constraints of the lives of all the characters is similar. Gaskell's hero is more idealized, but he too goes off and Molly must wait for him to return to her.

The final largest parallel is both stories are utterly domestic. There is hardly any reference to the political world or great events outside the small town of the novel. Mrs Gaskell refers us to scientific discoveries at least, but Trollope keeps us wholly in the world of the genteel fringe people of the English bourgeois. They are also strictly realistic. There are no caricatures. In contrast, for example, Austen's P&P has a sharp satiric thrust, where in Gaskell and Trollope the critique of society while real and poignant is muted.

I guess I'm glad I had not to live a life in a prison, even a prison whose bars are flowers and whose rewards are peace and, if you are very lucky, real love. I certainly could not have born easily with Lady Deepbell who has her counterparts in Gaskell's Wives and Daughters too.

Ellen Moody

Re: Short Story: Alice Dugdale, another one with a dimpled cheek

I too noticed Alice's telltale dimple. There was an essay in the 18th century Intelligencer (a small newsletter of the American Society for 18th Studies) about the popularity of bows and arrows as a past-time in the later 18th and early 19th century. According to the writer, toxophilites were seen as a kind of Diana, a chaste and cold Amazon who might allure but when you got near her repelled you. So much for Georgiana.

We have a similar situation to that of "The Parsons Daughter" in that there is a question whether the country girl will fit in. In the former story where the man begins to destroy his fiancee's esteem by his attempt to re-educate and then deserts her when she insists on her right to be herself and her worthiness, her lack of a need to be "polished" to enter this wonderful upper class world, and in this latter where the man decides to take the country girl not based on Georgiana's lack of manners but his lack of any love for her, and real love for Alice, we see what Trollope thought of such reasoning. It is prizing the superficial, the appearance that sells to those whose opinion is not worth having--the same sort who respect Sir Walter for his eyebrows.

What saves this story from being cloying is Alice does not sob, weep, fall into another woman's arms and blush, does not cringe and beg and plead. She stands coolly and firmly; she may be devoured from inside, but she has a pride which will keep her safe and keep her self-respect. It is the momentary let-down of this that left poor Patience Woolsworthy vulnerable to her brute of a Captain.

Another type like Sir Walter may be found in Alice Vavasour's father. They just litter Trollope's fictions.

There is a good deal of astringency and disillusioned reality in this romantic tale. That and it's controlled patterning make it a successful piece of art.

Ellen Moody

Subject: Short Stories: "Alice Dugdale"

I never did post on "The Lady of Launay" last week, because, quite frankly, I did not like it. It was so gooily cloying that I felt I needed an insulin shot to recover. As a mother of three daughters, two grown, I wish to inform all that the few occasions my children and I have cried in each others' arms, it was a gut wrenching experience with nothing sweet about it. As a person not demonstrative by nature, I found one semi hysterical female, and one trying desperately hard not to be (thus defying her "true womanly nature"), revolting. What Philip saw in either of these saps, I know not; in his place I would have run away to sea. Ocean going gales can have nothing on those two when going full force.

Alice Dugdale was better. Being one of the most clumsy women I know, I liked the fact that Alice got the guy, rather than the lovely tennis player/archer/horsewoman with the Grade A pedrigree. It is obvious, in the course of reading this story, what kind of woman our Anthony would prefer. For one globe trotting kind of guy, AT seems to like the domestic, homebody type. While it does seem to take him rather long to get to the point, I enjoyed every meandering word. Good thing John Rossiter had at least fifteen hundred a year, if Alice inherited any of her father's fecundity. Anyone else notice the presence, yet again, of "that perpetual dimpling of the cheek"?

Upon his return from India, John Rossiter, "renewed his acquaintance with his old playfellow", Alice. Events proceeded apace, in spite of John's mother's aspirations after a grander alliance. If her son was going to marry a penniless wife, could it not as well be one with the highest of county pedrigrees? And that Alice, well she was just, so, you know, so Beetham, don't you know? John went to visit the grand Wanlesses, was allured, but not quite captured, returned to Beetham, had his esteem for Alice reinforced, returned to Brook Park for another visit. While Georgiana (Griselda) was mighty easy on the eyes, she was rather difficult to converse with. Long silent years lay ahead for her husband to be, but no one could argue how ornamental she would be. "Alice Dugdale was, after all, a common thing. There is a fitness to such matters, - so said Mrs. Rossiter, - and a propriety in like being married to like. ... Destiny had carried him, - the Major - , higher up, and would require him to live in London, among ornate people, with polished habits, and peculiar manners of their own. Would not Alice be out of her element in London?"

As has been already stated, there really was no doubt about how this story would end. Even knowing this, the journey was pleasurable.

Jill Spriggs

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