Trollope and the Comforts and Lies of Prudential Fiction; Hating the Victim; Jilting, Noble or Otherwise

To Trollope-l

Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2000 10:07:21
Subject: [trollope-l] Trollope and the Comforts and Lies of Prudential Fiction

In response to June, I would say that one of things that distinguishes Trollope's novels from the run of many of his best and minor good contemporaries is that he begins with the marriage. In He Knew He Was Right loss and sorrow are no subtext. Or he begins with a pair of adults or single adult facing life alone, both minor and major plots do not move towards a wedding but show it to have been a violation and to have been negotiated on such terms as twist all natural impulses and end in forms of realistic disaster: Orley Farm, many of the subplots of the Pallisers; the Palliser marriage is in fact one of Trollope's greatest achievements because there we watch a couple live a life through in which they become utterly dependent on one another, and yet they poison (by their personalities) much of the daily enjoyments, little happinesses upon which one another's existence depends. And yet they hang on. Trollope investigates why.

One of my favorite chapters in all Trollope is that of Mr Harding's long day in London, and I would say that the paragraph June quoted in not one in which we are shown how the shorn lamb is not on top of the loss of his skin further tortured. The strength of the chapter is in its ordinariness, the realism of the intense loneliness of the man. We love the chapter because for once a novelist is telling the truth about how each of us is often, most of the time, alone. It is also about the man's sensitivity, his tenderness, his self-abnegation and how he responds to the indifference and brutality of mindset he encounters everywhere.

To turn to that chapter, I wrote when we read it on his list last June,

'It is the vision of the outsider -- Mr Harding reminds me of Candide at moments, with just a touch of Pangloss. We get continual satiric perceptions about our world undercut by Mr Harding's nervousness and humility or lack of certainty about the universal applicability of his judgements.. For example, Mr Harding registers no illusions about Westminster Abbey: what show can carry on for years with an inadequate and uninterested audience. No wonder it doesn't come off (The Warden, pp 217-220).

Mr Harding doesn't dread illusions because he seems not to have any (as do both Bold & Grantly). The picture of him on the omnibus also recalls that of Father John's trip to Dublin on behalf of Thady Macdermot (where he too is going to see a Big Man, a lawyer for advice). Mr Harding may not know about the secret dens of iniquity hidden away in corners of a shell-fish house; he orders a pint of sherry because he thinks he ought to. I have done that sort of thing. Then it comes and of course it's foul. He takes his punishment pretty well -- which is also to pay for it. On the other hand, Mr Harding realises the world doesn't have all that much to offer better than to be left alone with 'a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee' -- as long as one has the money for these (p. 227) No false pride here either.

Another interesting thing about Mr Harding is he is no young person. When he makes a decision, it will be very hard to retrieve, and there will be consequences which are very unpleasant. Nonetheless, he gives up the sinecure.

What we are talking about can be seen as the old argument whether Trollope's novels are bright or dark. There is also the argument over whether the novels become progressively more pessimistic or were pessimistic from the very start -- or optimistic. I deal with this towards the beginning of my book as it is an important question. Since it's my book I guess I have the right to quote a couple of pertinent paragraphs from that discussion (it's in the opening of Chapter 4):

"In the first to the last of Trollope's books we find major characters who sustain life's blows with equable spirits and a heartening cheerfulness, who instinctively manipulate situations in ways which eventually reward them with love and success or at least safety and worldly comforts. From start to finish, and often in the same book, we also find major characters who cannot cope with the demands of their situation, and who end up inwardly maimed or newly alienated from those around them in irreparable ways. Trollope's greatest creations are characters whose fate combines comedy and tragedy; characters who find themselves in a situation they cannot tolerate without anguish, and to which they respond with an act of unconventional integrity. This act leaves them diminished in the eyes of their society, but an object of poignant admiration for the reader.

One such character is Mr Harding, who at the end of _The Warden_ tells us he is 'not warden now, only precentor' (p. 284).7 Another is Lily Dale, heroine of The Small House at Allington."

I was making a different sort of point in my posting on the lies and comforts of prudential fiction. I was saying that the way Trollope manipulates his plots encourages the reader to think that if he or she is good or cheerful or courageous or loyal and giving, all will turn out well. Only if we are reading carefully, do we see that those happy endings Trollope provides are not the result of the character's moral stance, but the result of a plot contrivance or chance (engineered into the plot in such a way as to make for compensatory relief or contentment or peace or resignation). At the same time, one of Trollope's central lessons insofar as he presents a portrait of society and its demands to us is that if we are prudent, and sometimes this means making an amoral decision (marry for money, for family aggrandisement), choosing to hurt or be disloyal or betray someone else who is in our way because society says everyone does that, if we deny our desires for individual fulfillment, we will at least achieve safety and perhaps material comfort. Again the lesson is false because those novels who give this comfort are skewed to produce a happy or resigned ending out of plot devices.

The defense I would make to this charge myself is that not all Trollope's novels lie in quite this way and those which do weave truths into the lies which overturn them. Here is Adolphus Crosbie who is following the world's ways; he is the prudent one, not Lily. What will be his fate? The story of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser focuses as much on the pains of their entanglement and lives as it does on its pleasures, nay more on the pains and difficulties. The problem with Framley Parsonage is that we are given so many good fairy godmothers and godfathers (the Luftons) that only one villain is left abandoned, and many a reader will simply dismiss Sowerby as different from him or her, bad, and therefore deserving punishment. Real reading of the text shows Trollope is at times intensely sympathetic towards Sowerby and presents far worse villain than him who carry on with wealth and respect.

The greatness of The Small House does not lie just in the portrait of Crosbie. It lies in the portrait of Lily and I was defending her as a character and explaining why people dislike her. It's not her fault; it's her creator's. Readers resent Lily when what has happened is Trollope has wanted to have it both ways. As I wrote, the poetic justice of prudential comforting fiction says the heroine must be rewarded for loving truly. But in life we are not. And when we complain and suffer, people who are mostly heartless, dense, and insensitive and probably would act more like Crosbie in the case in point anyway, sneer at us, tear us down. Why? Well she's not hard enough. We fear the contagion of the emotional and melancholic and despise it all the more actively. Lily's fate -- one in which she is rewarded with pain and loneliness because she has been so giving -- carries with it an inference readers don't like. What is also great about the fiction is that unlike Austen's _Sense and Sensibility_ where the heroine is married off to a man she has no erotic feeling for, has not wanted at all, is older and not all that compatible, Lily carries on saying no.

Just like Mr Harding. Why is Lily made to complain, and Mr Harding doesn't? Because Trollope also wants to teach us prudence in sexual matters. A girl who gives, who loses her virginity or near as dammit, will be shattered, will be maimed, will not get over it (see Freud's 'The Taboo of Virginity -- Trollope is not the first great artist not to have had to read Freud to understand people). And here, as I've tried to suggest, Trollope himself displays a good deal of moral stupidity, classism and sexism (which recalls the 1950s here in America which I refer to as it recently came out).

Yet was it because Lily gave of herself so strongly that Crosbie betrayed her? Trollope tries to suggest had she held off tightly, he might have not taken her so for granted. I suggest his own fiction and psychological analysis of Crosbie shows that Crosbie would still have gone to de Courcy castle, and probably all the more easily dismissed Lily. Lily couldn't win; it's a no-win situation for her. That is obscured by the sexual elements in the story.

The misreadings of The Small House come from Trollope's mixture of comfort and lies which I would argue do not have to be intrinsic to prudential fiction, though I admit these are often found together in such books.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

I have lost June Siegel's reply, but have my answer to it:

Re: Trollope and the Comforts of Prudential Fiction

I quite take June's point: in Trollope's fiction when a character reaches the edge or move over the threshold of perceived security and safety, and suffers much, the reader is encouraged to be comforted with the spectacle of the character fighting on, enduring, finding peace in the continuing steadiness of life's rhythms themselves. What I was saying was somewhat outside such comforts: I was attempting to place them in a more accurate or larger picture of life's scheme. In Castle Richmond the hero wins out in the end mostly because of a series of plot devices, one of which is somewhat improbable: the stalwart lawyer-detective of great integrity actually lays his hands on documents which demonstrate our hero is not a bastard after all, and can inherit his property and retreat into contentment in the beauty of Ireland in the arms of his faithful lady-love. But in life this rarely happens. We take the glass of comfort very well because Trollope's fiction gives the prize to the prudent and hard-working young man, but he does not win out because of his courage or because he has been prudent. A plot which is a realistic variant on the deus ex machina type combined with the happiness of the providential romance type (Trollope's Castle Richmond recalls Edgeworth's The Absentee closely) provides the safety at land's end.

By sheering off in this manner the 'advice' of the book can be regarded as inadequate twaddle on behalf of depriving yourself of your individual fulfillment because that's the prudent thing to do and will win the rewards. The truth in life is that you must act without knowing what will come, and most of the time what comes is beyond guessing. Cause-and-effect relationships are notoriously complex in the real world and many a wrench is thrown into machinery which in the end turns out to be for the good, as many an apparent good destroys people. In The Small House Trollope maintains Lily as the center of goodness, Lily as the deeply sympathetic one, the heroine with depths and truth and beauty and passion who has been disgarded by a weak vain man -- her only partly sheered away from this stance when years later he saw her admired for her sexual purity and sainthood as a lover when that was not what he meant at all. I suggest one reason many readers disagree with Trollope on the heroine-like nature of Lily is a grimmer more accurate rendering of the nature of experience is caught by Quentin Crisp thus:

What matters is not what other people think about you but what you think about yourself ... If you have love to give, you give it and you give it where it is needed, but never, never ask for anything in return. Once you've got that in your head, the idea of your heart being broken will disappear forever ...

The poetic justice of prudential comforting fiction says the heroine must be rewarded for loving truly. But in life we are not. And when we complain, people who are mostly heartless, dense, and insensitive and probably would act more like Crosbie in the case in point anyway, sneer at us, tear us down. Why? Well she's not hard enough. We fear the contagion of the emotional and melancholic and despise it all the more actively. I was amused to see the opening sentence of one of this week's chapters told us that what Alexandrina was thinking about was the advantages and disadvantages of her new position. Would there be anyone on this list who would argue that most people still marry to position themselves? Even in large part. You just don't consider someone who is not 'presentable' to those in your world others respect (for reasons which have nothing to do with what they've really earned).

There is an interesting essay on Can You Forgive Her?_ entitled 'Can You Forgive Him?' and the Myth of Realism.' It's by George Levin and appeared in Victorian Studies 18 (1974), 5-35. Levin argues that Trollope constructs plots and creates an emotional framework which persuades readers that a version of the probable is the real, the normal, what really happens. This version of the probable is only the typical as we see it in the drawing room and public scenes. He then proceeds to 'teach' us that 'wisdom resides in learning the rules of society and acquiescing in them'. What I was saying what behind this idea that you will be rewarded is a notion that there is some safety. If only you will accommodate, deprive yourself, sublimate (and here Freud's Civilisation and his Discontents moves into my train of thought). Levine argues that what is commonplace is in many of Trollope's novels presented as an abberation or not presented at all. Trollope's great gift is to show the reader characters who are finding room for their real individual variations and needs within this prudential scheme. This makes for comedy.

I add to this insight that Trollope's greater gift is to show us the tragedy of those who do not fit and the heroism of those who refuse to. Remember that Crosbie is not refusing to go along: here is a young man who is the utter chameleon. At Allington he loves Lily; at Courcy Castle he loves Alexandrina. At least Johnny is uncomfortable with his Amelia. The problem in The Small House is that Trollope is attempting to demonstrate instances of moral heroism (one of which is Lily's, another Johnny's, another Mrs Dale's) in the context of central characters (Lily & Johnny) who we are to feel sorry for because he & she didn't get poetic justice, their reward. At the close of The Small House we leave Johnny to his bleak mutton chop in a bar. Now we know there is no certain reward so we blame the character. We look down on the character (Lily). It's not her fault; it's her creator's who is trying to have it both ways, take in the reader who wants the delusion and carry along the reader who does not.

Ellen Moody

---- If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man but deteriorate the cat. ---Mark Twain

Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 12:43:59
Subject: [trollope-l] The Lies and Comforts of Prudential Fiction

I respond to just one aspect of RJ's complicated adjudication and and rejoinders to my pointing out what I take to be a flaw at the core of Trollope's fiction. Briefly put, I would say that I am taking the strongly mimetic nature of Trollope's fiction as earnestly as he seems to want me to. When he talks of fiction, defends and explains it, he repeatedly refers us to it as an equivalent of life, and measures its success against how far true (in the ordinary sense of adhering to what we experience in life) and how efficacious and relevant is the moral he or other writers have offered us.

I agree that aesthetically considered it matters not what event occurs in a fiction as long as the reader's imagination is deeply gratified, pleased, uplifted, his or her inward needs assuaged and released. I also am alive to the metaphysical implications of what I wrote, but would offer in response that Trollope himself only very rarely and then embarrassedly suggests we read his fiction metaphysically; most of the time, he works to separate the world of novels off from any realm but that of an imitation of life or the pleasures of listening to a story. Myself I find great interest in the few novels where he debates and examines religious beliefs (Castle Richmond and The Bertrams come to mind). I grant the latter criteria is aesthetic, but Trollope himself never justifies his novels based on this; indeed he himself deprecates the pandering; that is that he must write a love story, that he must please some 'female' taste -- like Thackeray he seems to regard novels as a form often for women and therefore somewhat inferior to political, travel, & historical texts).

So my criteria are his. RJ doesn't like the word lie. It is an eloquent forcible word which names something significant. William Dean Howells uses it many times in defense of his novels: he says he doesn't lie. Twain uses it; he detests lies. They are in the passages I am thinking of talking of just the legerdemain I am speaking of: they call it sentimentalising the ending, giving rewards out which the character's conduct would never merit in real life. Indeed, one of the reasons I think very highly of _The Small House_, find it the superior work (from this criteria of Trollope's own) is, as RJ says, ' success depends on the reader's finding satisfaction in an inarguably uncomfortable ending.' I find great satisfaction in the ending of the The Small House. Those who read the ninth chapter of my book on Can You Forgive Her? will find after I list and summarise a group of postings in which the various writers said they found satisfaction in Can You Forgive Her?, I tell my reasons for finding that ending a betrayal of much that counted in both Alice Vavasour's and Lady Glen's stories. Unlike Lucy Robarts, they had been given such a burden of intense inner life throughout, one which was anything but conventionally exemplary, that I could not feel happy at the ending, only dismayed.

The Small House does seem to me to represent a quantam leap in depth and interest over two previous Barchester books where they attempt to delve into sexual realities. There is nothing approaching the portrait of Adolphus Crosbie or Lily Dale in Dr Thorne or Framley Parsonage. I don't mean the earlier characters aren't themselves done suggestively in adult ways; rather that Trollope moves from suggestion to intimate realisation of the truth of our inner lives which does not correspond to prudential lectures and rewards at all.

I also had in mind the essay I cited "Can You Forgive Him?" (George Levin, Victorian Studies 18 [1974], 5-35. I really suggest to RJ that he go to the NYPL or some such good library near him and get this essay. In a nutshell Trollope plays games with the probable in order to lure us away from the real which he thinks dangerous and de-stabilising of society. Levin is always so sharp -- and respectful of Trollope too. Only real respect for an author would make me go to this trouble of 'the compliment of rational opposition' (as Austen's Elinor Dashwood puts it). Trollope is read; he is still influential. Only real respect for an author would make me go to this trouble of 'the compliment of rational opposition' to him (in the language of Austen's Elinor Dashwood). Trollope is read; he is still influential. To talk in the moral words that Trollope and his generation thought appropriate to fiction's importance, Trollope's novels can can mislead readers into thinking that if they make some apparently prudential choice, it's worth what they give up, for it will make them safe. Now the next question is, Does fiction really influence our behavior. In what ways? Or does it just reinforce whatever was in our minds in the first place.

Cheers to all, Ellen Moody

Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2000 08:52:48 -0600
Subject: [trollope-l] Hating the victim

In our discussions of Lily Dale, a number of writers have either shown dislike for her or have mentioned people who do not like her. So I wonder, why do some people find an antipathy for a victim. For Lily Dale is indeed a victim. She has been taken in by Mr. Crosbie to the point where in her trust of him she has committed herself either sexually or almost sexually to a man who will abandon her. She has put all her trust in him, and he has broken that trust. So she is a victim. It seems to me that hating the victim is more common that we like to admit. Every time I taught Chaucer's Clerk's Tale there were some students who disliked Griselda for not standing up to her abusive husband. Some people in our culture are embarrassed by victims, for instance members of minority groups which undergo continual condemnation only because they belong to a minority. Those unfortunates tend to make some people uncomfortable, and we tend to dislike people who make us uncomfortable. Lily Dale has been victimized in about as thorough a way as a 19-year old woman of her class and era can be victimized. So some Trollope readers alleviate their own discomfort by calling her a prig and even worse. But from Lily's point of view, and Trollope is very good at giving various points of view to various characters, Lily sees herself as soiled and not fit for the marriage bed of any gentleman. She tells her mother that she and her mother will live together from then on. No man will ever wed her. She has been shocked to her very bones. Personally I think her reaction, given her upbringing and century, is normal. There is nothing here to dislike. She is a very sad and disappointed young woman who has made up her mind to endure. And so she does.


Bravo, Sig. Readers reacted the same way to Lucy Morris, during a reading of The Eustace Diamonds. Although the circumstances were different, Lucy, too, chose to make up her mind and endure as she waited for Frank Greystock to keep his word. Her intelligence and wit and perspicacity went largely unremarked, while her grey dress, an emblem of her lack of vanity, seemed to annoy some readers exceedingly, as did her refusal to condemn Frank. What largely went unrecognized during that discussion was her strength and determination, and the extent to which her upbringing made her forbearance an admirable trait -- as it should still so be considered.


April 23, 2000

R: Small House & An Old Man's Love: Hating the Victim I'm going to chime with Sig and June. I have had to grow used to presenting stories in my classes in which it's clear the author wants us to sympathise with someone who has fallen or is destroyed for reasons beyond their control or whose suffering is partly self-inflicted where quite a number of students will loudly (it usually is loudly) proclaim their disgust, impatience, and and at times intense dislike of said character. Sometimes they proceed to berate the author, but it's not usual. I would go a little further than Sig to agree with Catherine that 'the quiet strength of principlied endurance doesn't sit comfortably with many modern readers'. Catherine mentions the 'Fanny Price battles' which 20th century criticism as well as on-line list discussions are filled with: in these one finds also the strong tendency of late 20th century people to celebrate aggression no matter what the outcome and no matter what for; if the character is not all-out selfish, they are phony, hypocritical, or, great weasling oxymoron, passive-aggressive.

I didn't participate in the discussion of The Eustace Diamonds that June refers to, but I can gather from what she wrote where the lines of the debate fell. In the case of Lucy Morris, I suggest another source of distaste: she's the underdog. I find my students also do not identify with the underdog for similar reasons (which I outlined in my several postings on The Comforts and Lies of Prudential Fiction). My view is that in the late 20th century we have regressed in our public attitude towards vulnerability and powerlessness. I don't say that's what many people think or feel or act upon with respect to one another in private. At least we may hope the tenor of public discourse today has not made it harder for the powerless (and powerlessness has many many complex causes) in private.

It is appropriate to bring this matter up for both An Old Man's Love and The Small House. William Whittlestaff is one of the most touching of Trollope's later characters; he has in him a good deal of Trollope himself and also fits the type we find first in Mr Harding. It's somehow fitting that towards the beginning and very end of Trollope's career we find the same character vacillating -- for Mr Whittlestaff vacillates too, and his vacillation becomes the core dilemma of the book -- and heroism in the same self-abnegation. Lily's refusal to hate Crosbie, her defense of him and intense desire not to dissolve into bitterness fits the pattern of what we find at the close of An Old's Man Love. Chapter 2 of this week's instalment which tells us of Mr Whittlestaff's shy sensitive youth, of how one girl he loved preferred the hard, sensuous coarse man shows an understanding of a tender complex disposition few males admit to, much less lay out before us so knowingly. Later in the book there is a remarkable passage which shows Mr Whittlestaff gaining strength from Horace which shows us how Trollope himself approached literature in private: in one of his essays he talks of how great literature must be heart-felt and communicate personal consolation.

I agree with Todd that abstractly considered An Old Man's Love can be interpreted as a demonstration of the uncertainty of identity, the fleetingness of desire. But then we can say that of Adolphus Crosbie; as Glendinning says somewhere else the vacillating character is central to many of Trollope's fictions. What is to the fore -- the literal story -- counts. I am most struck by the courageous truth of the depiction of an old man who desires to go to bed with a young girl. He wants her; it's desire that drives him. And it's not disgusting. Trollope shows the uncanny ability of genius to mock itself while opening before us a raw seam of his mind. Whittlestaff is phallic: he's a dry stick, been whittled away through life. At the same time the note is poignant, and we are asked to love Mr Whittlestaff.

It is of course another closely autobiographical text. Trollope wrote a number of these, and my sense is he does this kind of ficiton most frequently in the shorter novels and short stories. A. L. Rowse remarks that the situation of Mary Lawrie to Whittlestaff is analogous of Trollope with Kate Fields; Mrs Baggett is another variant on Mrs Neverbend. Could a man be more frank about how a wife of many years can do without him, dismiss him, laugh at him, and not understand him. Fiction remains a mask under which people discuss their autobiography and here we have a portrait of Rose's response to Trollope's intense romance with Kate Fields. When I read An Old Man's Love (and also The Fixed Period) I think of Arthur Miller's comment about what makes for intense and great art:

The writer must be in it; he can't be to one side of it, ever . He has to be endangered by it. His own attitudes have to be tested in it. The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.

Ellen Moody

Re: The Small House, Chs 25-30: Letters and Pictures

Typing out, copying and pasting the descriptions and commentaries on the illustrations for last and now this week's and peeping forward at next week's illustrations onto my websitehas made me aware that a counterpoint is going on between the verbal and pictorial narratives before us. We have been concentrating on the intense depiction of the inner psychology of Adolphus Crosbie and Lily Dale which is indeed the strongest current in these three installments, those which overwhelm the Johnny Eames matter.

However, there are other threads. One takes up the whole of "The Board": it is a sharp, indeed hilarious saturnine and just satire on how people behave in hierarchies in middle class positions. It's perfect that Trollope never tells us what the General Committee or the Board of Commissions does. It doesn't matter. What matter is who's on top, who is climbing up, who going down, and how each individual grooms or irritates the other. Mr Optimist, Major Fiasco, Mr Butterwell ('Tact, tact, tact' is his very effective weapon), Sir Raffle Buffle -- each type we all have met is caught perfectly. We can see aspects of ourselves in them if we are able to tell ourselves some truths. Trollope chose the topics for Millais's pictures, and I see in his choices here (and elsewhere) an instintive counterpoint going on.

The dining scene in the boarding house is very funny. In my Everyman edition of The Small House Skilton includes some quotations from a similar scene in Dickens. Dickens's landlady is perhaps funnier in her comic anguish, but then Trollope's figures are not so caricatured. Here too politics is going on, who's on top, who's going down, with a sexual slant. Trollope goes as far as he dares to let us know that Mrs Lupex and Cradell are lovers, and that Johnny once again becomes the lover of Amelia Roper -- despite himself. Trollope keeps the parallel with Crosbie up to Johnny's advantage. Johnny may think of going elsewhere, he may hesitate to enter into the boarding house, but he does walk in. He does have the courage to leave his room; he has the courage to follow his instincts with Amelia. Crosbie literally runs away: his avoidance of the Squire is that of the sneak. His use of letters is also that of a sneak; he will put on paper that which he would dare not say for it is so hypocritical, or, that which is true is degrading. He is small. He comes into a room and doesn't shake a man's hand because he knows it's not to his interest anymore. A tiny gesture by Trollope, but one which depicts the essential lack of heart and generosity of the man. Johnny has real passion -- and finally courage.

Not only the illustrations but the running series of letters provides another way of communicating with the reader, giving us meaning through ways beyond the explicit words on the page. I was interested to see that Lady Julia de Guest's letter which brings the Squire into London is not dropped into the text until after we witness Crosbie running away and Fowler Pratt's second interview with the Squire (see Everyman The Small House, ed DSkilton, Ch 26, pp. 234-38). This is a considered deliberate reversal. It would have been much easier and more natural for Trollope to present the letter first, then take the Squire to London. Why do this? So that when we read Lady Julia's letter, it does not lay flat on the page before us with nothing between us and the letter. Having seen what the Squire did as a result of the letter, and Crosbie and Pratt's conversations and the ensuing scenes, we read Lady Julia's letter over the shoulder of the Squire. We think about him reading it as we read it. (This is what is called epistolarity: astute use of the real circumstances and psychological experience surrounding a letter as well as the letter itself to make meaning.) Lily's waiting and watching for Crosbie's letter, his thinking about the necessity of writing and his inability to do it, the first scratched out sentence, and final blow delivered by letter provide the other train of reinforcement in this week's chapters.

It's worth noting that _An Old Man's Love_ is initiated by a dialogue of two letters.

Cheers to all, Ellen Moody

Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2000 12:53:43 -0000
Subject: [trollope-l] Jilting, Noble or Otherwise

Sig - I agree with you (and also with Ellen) about Lily Dale, but I had to wrestle with the issue for quite a bit first. I didn't even think of the "blame the victim" angle until you brought it up. I am trying to see where SHA and Sense and Sensibility converge and diverge on the issue of "a woman wronged." I read an essay once that called S&S a "nasty book" because of the way Marianne is paired off with a man for whom she has no romantic (erotic) feelings. Why did Austen do this? For Trollope readers of the "marmalade in the basket"/Framley Parsonage school of thought, Lily's plight is not acceptable. Ouch! I want my happy ending! But Trollope is too subtle to let us have Johnny and Lily ride off into the sunset.

Here is another thing - I notice that once a woman is sexually awakened by a man, she loses some of her "delicacy" according to Trollope. One doesn't have to find literal sexual activity between a man and a woman. (How mealy mouthed we are about talking about such things!) A woman who thinks as Lily thinks believes once she has pledged her heart, she is "used goods" if the marriage doesn't take place. Is this the reason that jilting, Noble or otherwise, was considered so "indelicate" etc.? Alice Vavasor's story comes to mind. Can You Forgive Her? makes much more sense if one looks upon Alice's story with a different understanding of romance and engagements.

To swing the thought pendulum in yet another direction, there are Austenites who don't like Fanny Price because she endures rather than fight. The quiet strength of principled endurance doesn't sit comfortably with many modern readers.

Catherine Crean

From: "R J Keefe"
Subject: [trollope-l] Trollope and the Comforts and Lies of Prudential Fiction
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2000 15:10:00 -0400

For a week now, I have been pondering a brilliantly composed insight from one of Ellen Moody's posts with the referenced heading:

"We take the glass of comfort very well because Trollope's fiction gives the prize to the prudent and hard-working young man, but he does not win out because of his courage or because he has been prudent."

And, as is not unusual, I have been drawing conclusions that I believe are entirely different and to some degree opposed to Ellen's. I should like to explore the reason for this difference, which I take to lie in the ways that we connect the two terms of the premise - the phrases separated by 'but.' As to the premise itself, I take it to be a truth that ought to be universally acknowledged.

If it is an overstatement to infer that Ellen finds a lie in Trollope's art, then I beg pardon. I am extremely uncomfortable with the use of the terms 'true' and 'false' where art is concerned, for I put art in a realm beyond these categories, or perhaps beneath them. It does not occur to me to ask whether art be true or false. I ask whether art is satisfying. Satisfaction, in turn, is not a synonym for comfort. In the novel before us, 'The Small House at Allington,' success depends on the reader's finding satisfaction in an inarguably uncomfortable ending.

Thinking over Ellen's premise, with which let me say once again that I completely agree, I've arrived at the following proposition: Trollope's generally happy endings (which, permit me to say, I would never call 'lies') are armatures into which his prudential narratives are set, like precious stones in a gold band. The gold band is the providential resolution worked out by means of plot devices, or if you will bestowed by an Almighty Trollope upon his deserving characters. The precious stones are his leading characters' inner and (married love and public honor aside) immaterial objectives. Insofar as virtue is its own reward, Trollope's characters win their own prizes; insofar as more is required in this world for comfort than the rewards of virtue, Trollope supplies it. He corrects or reforms one part of life in order to present another, more interesting aspect realistically.

There is not a representational art known to man that does not perform this pair of operations: reformation with regard to X, representation with regard to Y. I am inclined to add that X equals 'appearance' and Y equals 'soul' or 'substance.' The classical myths, and the poems and paintings inspired by them, tend to perfect the physical characteristics of their protagonists but leave their moral characteristics distinctly unimproved. I believe that the trick of making gods mighty and goddesses beautiful simply gets appearances out of the way, and at the same time robs their possessors of the excuses that most of us mortals resort to for our own shortcomings. (Ellen asks about positioning in marriage. My own observations come down more heavily on looks: for most people, the very attractive are deemed unavailable without being asked.) Jove's amours are interesting precisely because he's superb and needn't give his attractions a thought - and yet he has recourse to a catalogue of disguises. Hera is both jealous and childless - why is that? Bad skin is probably not the explanation. Take away the defects of mortal bodies, and the defects of moral natures stand out as it were radiantly.

The novel - Trollope's novel, anyway - deploys these operations in a contrary order, but it deploys them nonetheless. The X factor, almost invariably money, is manipulated to create moral problems that might not otherwise arise. If money were no object, Trollope's heroines wouldn't inhabit out-of-the-way cottages like Rachel Ray, or live dependent lives like Lucy Morris's, and their men would marry them in the first chapter, thus depriving the reader of very realistic moral adventures. It is when these adventures are over - when the Y factor has been resolved - that Trollope fixes the couple's money problems by means of one trick or another. In 'The Small House at Allington,' an interesting variant of Trollope's standard outline, the money problem is effectively resolved at the very moment that Adolphus Crosbie fails in what I've called a moral adventure: he has hardly engaged himself to Lady Alexandrina (from whom he expects no fortune) before being promoted to a better-paying position. Money was not the issue for him after all; he longed for the worldly air of Courcy Castle, and knew that no amount of money would make Lily fond of breathing it. The fact that the novel is at its midpoint when these matters are settled accounts, I think, for the polarized nature of responses to Lily's subsequent history, for her story is over when her uncle observes, at the end of Chapter XXX, that 'The Dales were ever constant!' How you value this somewhat unfashionable virtue (how we prize 'flexibility'!) will probably determine your evaluation of Lily as a victim.

The reality that surrounds us is confusing, and we have developed different techniques of clarification for different purposes. The rendering of reality in realistic words is political philosophy, not the fiction of novels. The verbatim account of an actual conversation is oral history, not drama. Art cannot begin until reality has in some regard been suppressed. As an unabashed bourgeois, I am painfully aware of the Marxist principles that still underlie much common talk about the arts. I have no answer to the charge that I advocate art for art's sake, because it means nothing to me. Nor is this the place to dismantle the pejorative slogan 'bourgeois escapism.' I've been working on the conundrum of elitism for two years at least without advancing beyond the tentative, but I am convinced that 'elitism' is a word we'd do well to retire, at least because it rarely signifies the behavior of elected officials. (Which is a shame, because it describes Mayor Giuliani's philosophy.) Finally, I cannot defend my belief in the paramountcy of pleasure in art because that's just what it is: a matter of faith.

RJ Keefe

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Page Last Updated 11 January 2003