Trollope at His Best; Public Humiliation; Loss of Face; Tell It to the Marines

To Trollope-l

May 1, 2000

Re: The Small House, I:1-6 (31-36): Trollope at his Best This week's chapters represent what many readers have long thought to be Trollope's art at its best. They are certainly strongly pleasing and effective. There is so much here I would be hard put to say in a sentence or one assertion what is quite the essence of Trollope's success; the one element that strikes me running through the whole of the sequence is its inwardness. Continually we are drawn into the minds of each of the realised psychological presences, and we are made to believe that minds do feel these ways and people act and speak as a result of these feelings just as Trollope depicts them. We have the satisfaction of getting beneath the surface of life to experience what is intangible or hidden. We like Trollope's downrightness, his forthrightness in admitting to us that the moral cant we are usually told is reality is not, but something much more vulnerable, angry, spiteful and hurt. We also like the narrator for siding with just about everyone, for showing us how each person would see him or herself (of course favorably). This makes us feel securer about our own self-love.

One should say this is a far cry from the alienating and distancing techniques we find in a short novel like An Old Man's Love. We are not meant to identify with Mr Whittlestaff in the way we are with the characters of The Small House.

Some salient moments:

The depictoin of Lily's dealing with her pain, how she first stands straight, will not flinch; how she is driven to bend, to retreat, and how she finally emerges, holding tight. The axe has fallen, the piece of wood is not the same, but it is still there and can hold up what is put onto it. There is a comment about Lily's continued insistence she loves this man that could also explain why Mary Lawrie loves John Gordon (after all Gordon has done nothing for her in comparison with what Whittlestaff wants to do):

Love does not follow worth, and is not given to excellence; -- nor is it destroyed by ill-usage, nor killed by blows and mutilation (Everyman The Small House, ed DSkilton, Ch 31, p. 287).

Do others think this is so? In what way? In the Renaissance Cupid was depicted as blind, an image which visualised the above paradox.

Another close parallel between The Small House and S&S: Willoughby and the rich Miss Grey are married in February as are Crosbie and Lady Alexandrina; Marianne keeps an eye on the papers an demands to be told as does Lily Dale.

I am very touched by Lily. I can identify.

As if the sensibility of the dramatisation of what happens in the Small House threaten to topple the novel into too much _frisson_ and emotionalism without any outward outlet, without any release of aggression, the rest of this week's two instalments are turned over to the conflict within Bernard, the male scenes at the hotel, two respective workplaces (Crosbie's and Johnny's), the sudden combat, and the depiction of Johnny's life first at Lord de Guest's and then at the Roper Boarding House. Note that very little of the actual verbal space is given over to Lily, Bell and their mother; yet we come away remembering them so intensely. Had Trollope not provided the counterbalance, the book would not be as strong, as finally acerbic.

These scenes which follow are those Trollope chose for the illustrations. They combine comedy with a meditation on duels or challenges. I complained about the duel in Dr Thorne. This one works better for me. I really feel Crosbie deserves some punishment; perhaps because Johnny doesn't seem such a mindless bully, so self-righteous, but even tries not to beat the other man and regards the ritual of challenges as absurd pomposities. Johnny's action is also reinforced by the Earl de Guest's and Lady Julia's approval: we like them; they are decent; there is a delicacy in the tone of mind of the Earl. The Squire too longs for some revenge, though we know it was partly his stinginess that led to it and see that when approached by the Earl, he still backs off from giving money unless he choses to out of a full sense of power and lack of obligation. The presentation of Colonel Dale helps. He is the supine sleaze who would never stick up for a woman. His son Bernard does nothing because he is too political. As Trollope remarks, there are things in the world that people are allowed to do, that the law doesn't touch, which we yet ought to signal as appalling betrayals of others we will not accept. On these terms I found the duel satisfying.

It is also less brutal. Mr Moffatt was badly hurt. It's funny how Johnny barely manages to land his blow, but does, how both men land up falling on some yellow-covered novels. The self-reflexive joke signals the growth in inner complexity and perspective between this scene and the beating of Mr Moffat.

Then there's Crosbie's misery. His punishment is to be him, to have gotten this reward and found it ashes. The twisted aggressive mocking comments he makes at Lady Amelia's may boomerang, may not do any good, may be a form of twisting his knife into himself to make others uncomfortable, but it is true to life. It's what we do. How else in a modern society make the Gazebees uncomfortable. They have worked hard to set themselves up beyond any real revenge.

The office scenes are good as are those in the Boarding House. Cradell is having sex with Mrs Lupex; his need to fight a duel is a comic sordid parody of the main plot. On the other hand, Amelia's willingness to litigate against Johnny highlights the high-mindedness and sound pride of a Lily. No use demanding someone who doesn't want you; it only degrades and demeans you both.

There were so many good dialogues; the language moved so swiftly and gracefully, making its points delicately and swiftly I don't know what to quote. I thought Mrs Dale's letter to Mr Crosbie which opened the sequence and Johnny's to the Earl which closed it effective images of their minds against the minds of those they write to. The Earl's woven in letter is effective, as is his adherence to forms. Had Crosbie done at least that, all this would not have happened is probably Trollope's feeling.

Two further points: this chapter contains the two references to Masonic gestures that were pointed out to us last season. They are both by the Earl. The name De Courcy Gazebee is exhilarating parody of the nonsensical abasement of people who are unashamed to abase themselves. It reminds me of real names just like this: Jane Austen's cousin, Eliza de Feuillide who was probably the illegitimate daughter of Warren Hastings in a similar spirit named her son the absurd collocation, Hastings de Feuillide.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Date: Tue, 02 May 2000 11:58:38 +0100
Subject: Re: [trollope-l] The Small House: Public Humiliation

I found very interesting the three examples we get from Trollope of public humiliation in these last chapters.

There is Lily herself who "shrinks from the finger that threatened to touch her sore" which is a powerful image.

Then there is the similie Trollope provides for us, that the public humiliation she feels can be likened to us, dear readers, slipping in the gutter on a wet day. I was pondering whether this, in Victorian times, might mean we get covered in more than wet and mud, perhaps horse droppings as well. Being looked at in this state is as bad as any part of it, Trollope says.

Finally, there is the black eye that Crosbie gets and the way in which he is treated by everyone, from his landlady to his Board. His reaction is the most interesting I think, as the boldness he requires to look the world in the face after this, also makes him become difficult and aggressive to the Courcy's.

Thinking about the scenes in the civil service, this must be one of the unique aspects of Trollope's novels that they deal with this sector of Victorian life. I can't recall many other novels which give us such a detailed picture.


Re: The Small House: Loss of Face

Angela points out the several public humiliations or losses of face the chief characters of The Small House experience at this first climax of the book: Lily and Crosbie are not alone; continual petty losses of face, of humiliation beset all the characters at Mother Ropers (that word mother slithers over the older use of the word Mother for Madame in a Brothel). I suggest that loss of face is a central motif in Trollope's fiction -- and much English fiction which is often (somewhat falsely) called a comedy of manners. Austen centers several novels on just such loss of face. Perhaps that is a central emotional crux to these books: suddenly the apparent disguise or mask of manners is stripped away, or we see that through the mask and manners we are continually giving away our private selves -- and it's painful to realise this.

Trollope has a novel which is strongly focused on life in a civil service office; its plot hinges on the taking of bribes and interchange of favours that come with such terrain, and it ends in a brilliant court case (the first appearance of Chaffanbrass). The Three Clerks_ is strongly autobiographical too. Charlie Tudor is another male variant on young Trollope. Ellen Moody

Subject: [trollope-l] Tell it to the marines

In the comic chapter, "Domestic Troubles" of our recent assignment in The Small House, Mr. Lupex to demonstrate his incredulity uses the expression, "Tell it to the marines." I was a bit surprised, having always assumed in a parochial way that this expression was an Americanism. Still thinking that Trollope had imported it from his transatlantic friends, I checked it out in both Eric Partridge's excellent Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English and also the great grey superauthority The Oxford English Dictionary or the OED. Here is what I learned. From the sixteenth century on British soldiers who happened to serve on the British fleets as a supplement to the regular sailors were called "marines." Naturally the sailors had contempt for these soldiers and held that they would believe anything told them. That is, the sailors looked on the marines as amateurs in a world of professionals. By the early nineteenth century both Scott and Byron had used "tell it to the marines" as an expression of incredulity, but sailors had been using that expression for more than 200 years already. Trollope's use of it was no Yankee importation (most of those were to come later) but a time-honored (time-honoured?) British expression. Since it was looked on as slang by both Partridge and the OED, it seemed fitting that it would come from the mouth of Mr. Lupex, who was one of the characters at Mrs. Roper's boarding house who was not of the highest or most educated class.


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