Irretrievable Decisions & the Ineluctable Past; The Boyces: There is Something in the Misery of Others which does not displease us; Cradell and the Lupexes; The wonderful Christian Boyces

To Trollope-l

May 9, 2000

Re: The Small House, Chs 37-42 (II:7-12) Irretrievable Decisions & the Ineluctable Past

There is a pair of linked themes which run through this novel as of its second volume: irretrievable decisions & the ineluctable past. What happens when you have made a decision you can't go back on? How do you cope with many years of behaving in some way which has led to a present situation you now regret? Chapters 37-42 present us with grave and comic dramatisations of this perception.

The grave ones are reinforced by the illustrations of Squire and Mrs Dale conferring first outside his house and then indoors and of Adolphus Crosbie and the shopkeepers standing hostage to the de Courcy ladies' ostentatious shopping for carpets (which they haven't even got the money for). I feel the Crosbie illustration is an adequate visualisation of his dilemma partly because it is part comic or at least ignoble. Everything in his experience is now petty; there is no worthy emotion or goal anywhere to be seen. The scenes also are social ones, played on the surface as the characters manipulate one another's frustration, bind one another down to further conspicuous consumption, and take their revenges by small spites and imprisoning one another socially.

Not so the scenes between Squire and Mrs Dale. Here I find Trollope again at his finest. In the chapter called 'An Old Man's Complaint' there is a long scene between the two of them in which with great delicacy and sensitive little touches shows this pair bringing out into the open (despite themselves) the Squire's feeling he should be obeyed, should have some say in who Bell marries, and Mrs Dale's resentment of his attempt to interfere with her role. He accuses her of teaching the girls to look at him with suspicion; she accuses him of trying to take her place and come inbetween her and her daughters. The emotions here are real enough, hard, and yet the people themselves originally well-meaning, not originally angry at one another. Their social relationship, their status, and the way they know society looks at how they live, their income, their status, has led them to interact in ways that tear at themselves (Everyman The Small House, ed DSkilton, Ch 37, pp. 346-47). The psychological acuity and natural dialogue is remarkable; an immense amount of meaning is packed into short phrases. We break in where the Squire tries unconsiously to needle his sister-in-law into doing what he wants by insinuating she's afraid to tell her daughter to marry Bernard:

"'You mean that you are afraid to tell her so?'

'I am afraid to do what I think wrong, if you mean that.

'I don't think it would be wrong, and therefore

I shall speak to her myself'

'You must do as you like about that, Mr Dale; I can't prevent you. I shall think you wrong to harass her on such a matter' (p. 346).

Each puts his or her spin on what's happening. The dialogue turns and twists as they accuse, counteraccuse, reinterpret, at each point ending up in the stasis or positions from which they started.

This stasis and also the perception floating through the scenes and emphasised by the narrator afterwards of how lonely these two people are lonely are characteristic of many of Trollope's best novel plots and scenes. A. O. J. Cockshut says Trollope endlessly returns to the drama of loneliness. Mr Dale comes out directly with his sense of isolation. Although he never asks for love, seems to think he doesn't expect it, he does want its outward manifestations. Mrs Dale is equally alone: she has felt he tried to cut her out of a triangle, and so did her girls feel he was trying to get at them without having any relationship to her. She must act for her girls without necessarily having them on her side; she can have no love for herself.

But the words of the scenes are not sentimental. They are hard. In the second scene each of them tries to take advantage of the other. Mrs Dale has come to announce that she's leaving this (in effect) rent-free house, its status, its luxuries. He gets her on the axiom of duty: somehow it's her duty yet again to mortify her own feelings so as to keep others behaving towards her girls as if they were the daughters of the squire. She loses ground for a moment when he says "'your duty is to think of them':

'Of course it is; and in doing this they most cordially agree with me.'

In using such an argument as that, Mrs Dale showed her weakness, and the squire was not slow to take advantage of it. 'Your duty is to them', he said; 'but I do not mean by that that your duty is to let them act in any way that may best please them ... (Ch 38, p 356).

Since she buys into his conservative values, she has no grounds from which to fight him on the score of violated individual feelings.

Trollope's depiction of Crosbie's inner twisting and turning at the office, at Gazebee's house, with Lady de Courcy and Alexandrina are equally psychologically lucid. I have to say that I wouldn't have liked to get into an argument with Mr Trollope: he would be tough negotiator, and know the impulses of his opponent only too well. Crosbie has begun to realise that happiness is something he might just want in life. Victory in the social world -- his office -- might not always come, and if it does, will it be enough:

Was there anything within his reach which he might take in lieu of that which he had lost? He might still be victorious in his office, having more capacity for such victory than others around him. But such success alone would not suffice for him. Then he considered whether he might not even yet be happy in his home, -- whether Alexandrina, when separated from her mother, might not become such a wife as he could love Nothing softens a man's feelings so much as failure, or makes him turn so anxiously to an idea of home as buffeting from those he meets abroad (Ch 40, p. 381-82).

The melancholy underlying all these scenes is made astringent by the hardness of the situation and its reality. It seems to me a very modern -- 20th as well as 19th century -- notion that home is the place we turn to after the buffetings of our intercourse with impersonal hierarchies.

There is also the ironic and sordid comedy of the Countess. She is just about the most sordid character in the book. Lady Amelia has some good emotions: she is acting out of sisterly feeling. It is true that when you are invited into a family, they let their hair down. Now if you came into the family to see them in crowns, you have made a bad mistake, as Crosbie sees:

In Mrs Dale's little household there had been no rising to grandeur; but then, also, there had never been any bathos of dirt. Of this also Crosbie thought as he sat with his tea in his hand (Ch 40, p. 383).

Trollope has taken the highest ranking characters -- the Countess and her Earl -- and shown how they are the lowest precisely because all they care about is making a show in front of others. They have no audience in themselves. Crosbie still does. He is not quite the hollow man nor is he a sycophant of the type of Gazebee, who really believes in the De Courcys and works to keep their appearances and wealth up. What is it Swift says about happiness being the state of being well- deceived? Gazebee is well-deceived. He has what he wants, what he is capable of valuing.

But the emphasis or drama here is not in this struggle of values but in the writhing of Crosbie as he finds himself deeper and deeper entangled, unable to break loose as Gazebee gets him to sign this and that, and the Countess slips more money onto the bill Crosbie is to pay. That's why the scenes are poignant. Crosbie remembers back to what he could have had and is (apparently) gone forever:

After a minute or two he put out his hand to take that of Alexandrina. They were to be married now in a week or two ... He did succeed in getting hold of her fingers, but found in them none of the softness of a reponse. 'Don't',said Lady Alexandrina, withdrawing her hand, and the tone of her voice as she spoke that word was not sweet to his ears. He remembered at the moment a certain scene which took place one evening at the little bridge at Allington, and Lily's voice, and Lily's words, and Lily's passion, as he caressed her, "Oh, my love, my love, my love!" (p. 383).

We feel a depth in the page, some indwelling consciousness because of this intertwining of past with present that is continuous in this book. Paradise lost. One of the reasons he can't turn back is he can't bring Lily back to him now either. He has betrayed her too -- and himself. The Squire and Mrs Dale's conflict and digging in over the years has been less conscious, less dramatic, but the source of the the tension of these scenes is rooted in time and memory in both.

Ellen Moody

Re: The Small House, Chs 37-42 (II:7-12) Irretrievable Decisions & the Ineluctable Past (III)

The comic scenes of these two instalments play upon the irretrievability of decisions and the grasping nature of memory and the past. Comically of course.

The Lupexes' situation is the result of years of strain, distrust, living on the fringe, of his allowing her to have lovers so as to support them both, of her continual despising of him. When she goes off for an afternoon, it's natural for him to think she's deserted. And we don't ever learn where she has been, do we?

Cradell is an idiot for involving himself, for allowing himself to become deeper and deeper entangled. He likes the admiration he gets as the 'macho-male lover', except of course when he is confronted by the raging husband. The scenes are comic but not done broadly. There is a curious sympathy for Lupex. Cradell comes off badly; in Trollope's universe where the manly thing to do is to fight, he's a sneak. Like Crosbie when Squire Dale come to him in his club.

Amelia is trying to entangle Johnny further and he is attempting to prevent this. His behavior thus far is not exemplary (he wrote her a note, there are hints they would be presented as having an affair were Trollope's audience to allow it), but he has made no irretrievable decision.

The scenes were effective. Much action in the fight scene. Just the sort of thing Millais is not very good at -- Millais is better at the moment of intense quiet after moments of inner violence.

Sig brought up the reference to the Marines. As I read I thought about how far Trollope's attitudes are from those of today. Increasingly today the police are supposed to come in and break up violence, especially when it's domestic. Of course when advertised in the media, the conflict always presents a far more simple and innocent situation than these things are in real life. I cannot say I laughed over the these scenes. It's more like a grimace.

Ellen Moody

Re: The Small House, Chs 37-42 (II:7-12) Irretrievable Decisions & the Ineluctable Past (III)

Now we have the antithesis.

The sweetness of the Dr Crofts-Bell romance derives from the ways in which these two reluctant lovers have managed not quite to burn their bridges to one another. Their love scene is one in which the lady says no, and the gentleman explains that he is in agony because he can't possibly marry her, and yet when they come away, the lady feels elated and the gentleman is not quite without hope. The psychology of the scene is that of Eleanor Bold and Mr Arabin (Barchester Towers). Here is this upper middle woman who thinks she's a treasure, and is instinctively coy and reluctant, and who therefore tries to refuse the male; here's this shy gentleman who wants his female to behave just this way as it makes her more valuable in his eyes. The delight, though, is neither is quite convinced by the other. Trollope depicts gestures and traces the dialogue subtly so we see at points each admit to the other (sotto voce) that they love.

Some people might find the concluding chapter of Lily's Bedside a bit mawkish. It has a number of parallels with S&S. Marianne becomes very ill too; she comes out of bed to confront her sister who has been all self-restraint and the noble lover, Brandon. I see Trollope using Austen's novel the way he used plays later in life: as a plot paradigm whose themes are of interest to him. Then of course he departs and pours his own spirit into the text.

I did find the chapter cloying. When the women kiss and hug, and Lily's teasing is considered hard stuff, I am embarrassed. Yet the feeling is not too strongly dwelt on for by the middle of the chapter, Lily is fighting back again. She gets up -- or tries to. She reads and has a quiet enjoyable day. She makes an effort to bring Dr Crofts together with her sister as her mother and she are going to need a solid loyal brother- and son-in-law. Lily is not irretrievably sick; like her sister, there's a future in which she may make new or different choices. So Trollope's theme works to give the chapter backbone and move us forward.

I also like the self-reflexive criticism of novels put into Bell and Lily's mouths. Bell, who is in this conversation, an Elinor-sensible character, says she doesn't like novels because they are too sweet, too unreal. Lily says she likes novels precisely because they are romantic. So Bell counters, well if we are going to have unreality, then let's have heroism in terms of real life. The novels alluded to are Scott's Heart of Mid-Lothian and Ivanhoe:

If so, then I'd go back to the old school, and have the heroine, walking all the way up from Edinburgh to London, and falling among thieves; or else nursing a wounded hero, and describing the battle from the window. We've got tired of that; or else the people who write can't do it nowadays. But if we are to have real life, let it be real'

'No, Bell, no!' said Lily, 'Real life is sometimes so painful' (Everyman The Small House, ed DSKilton, Ch 42, p. 395).

It's a dialectic, a debate. Trollope has himself shown us a bit of sweet romance, perhaps some inward heroism and much that is painful. I'm with Bell on this but I feel for Lily. Which is the response Trollope probably wanted.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 08:04:49
Subject: [trollope-l] The Small House at Allington: The Boyces

That there is something in the misery of others which does not displease us, and that spite takes a myriad of forms, not least often the kind in which people are glad to hear of the misfortunes of others (as it brings them down, can be construed into an "I told them so"), and that these motives are hard to prove, since somehow people are ashamed of them and they remain half-hidden even to those who who speak their leering gratification aloud -- are realities people don't much like to talk of directly. So novels do it for us. When I read of Mrs Boyce's response to the troubles of the Dales, and thought about how Lily could prefer not to go out in public and this feeling was sympathised with by her relatives, I remembered Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. In the first after the Bennet family has had some comedown they are told Mrs Lucas is hurrying over to commiserate, and Elizabeth says, she hopes not, she would much prefer for the Lucases to have the decency to triumph over them at a distance. In the second very like Lily, right after the betrayal Marianne goes nowhere: one difference here is Lily begins to go out and strain herself doing it, then falls sick, and then well and then tries again; Marianne refuses to go anyway and is herself responsible for her near encounter with death; she seeks self-destruction.

It's these little strokes that make The Small House truthful to nature. When we were reading Dr Thorne I saw a number of parallels between it and P&P particularly in the relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet and Squire and Lady Arabella Gresham. Austen is working the same terrain.

Ellen Moody

Re: The Small House: Mrs Dale and Austen's Mrs Dashwood

If Trollope used Austen's S&S in the way he slightly later used old plays, the explanation for the anomalous behavior of Mrs Dale could be that central the plot of the story as taken from S&S, we have a mother who is does 'not drive her daughters or scheme with her daughters in some kind of marriage market'. Mrs Dashwood is an idealist'; Austen makes the point that most mothers would warn Marianne away from Willoughby because he had no money of his own, or could lose it as a dependent; or would try to inveigle Elinor's love to marry her because he might inherit. Also like Mrs Dale, Mrs Dashwood refuses to interfere with her daughter's love affairs; both will not question the Lily-Marianne character; both refuse to push the Bell-Elinor character. Had the mother in either character been more forceful or less romantic, the daughter's fates would not have worked out the way it does. The romantic self- immolating female (Lily-Marianne) could not have sacrificed herself; the sensible restrained one (Bell-Elinor) would not have been left alone to involve herself with a man who himself has not much money and humble prospects (Dr Crofts-Austen's Edward Ferrars who ends up a clergyman).

A smaller but telling parallel is the use of February. Both Willoughby and Crosbie marry in the middle of February; both Marianne and Lily wait silently, scouring the papers to learn of it.

An important difference here is that Austen is far sharper and more critical towards the mother figure; she satirises her. The mother is also not given much of a life of her own, though there are hints she could have had one. Brandon is not beyond her. Trollope sympathises with Mrs Dale and makes us enter into her point of view. Mrs Dale's quiet sacrifice of a life of her own provides a poignant undercurrent for this novel. She is at another end of a spectrum to Mrs Lupex and Amelia Roper, but none of these three have a niche in their society from which they can be independent and create their own identifies and demand respect. Lily is thrown away for money; Alexandrina can be said to be sacrificed to rank. All she has ever done is an immolation to that. Which woman in the novel has some fulfillment that is worth having? Julia de Guest is her own woman, but disrespected as an old maid. Only in terms of Trollope's scheme the heroine who approaches conventional ideals of virtue (and coyness), unworldiness most closely: Isabelle Dale.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 13:52:06 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [trollope-l] SMA: Cradell/Lupex

I agree with Ellen that Cradell comes off rather badly but somehow I don't really have any sympathy for Lupex. Even when he thought that his wife had run off I didn't really feel badly for him. Perhaps it was because I didn't really think she had left with Cradell, although I did think she might have left. It wasn't a strong feeling though, as she seemed to have it pretty easy at the boarding house.

Lupex certainly gave me a good laugh though. Trollope's writing was very picturesque when Lupex attacked Cradell:

"Cradell was shaking beneath his grasp like an aspen leaf,--or rather not like an aspen leaf, unless an aspen leaf when shaken is to be seen with its eyes shut, its mouth open, and its tongue hanging out."

Harking back to a prior discussion and wonderful post on cliches, this has to be the best passage I have even seen on shaking like a leaf.


Date: Wed, 10 May 2000 14:41:38 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [trollope-l] SMA: The wonderful Christian Boyces

Well, that petty Mrs. Boyce, taking delight in the misfortune of the Dales.

Having a minister in the family and knowing another rather well, I am thankful to say that I don't think their wives are like Mrs. Boyce. Of course one never really knows? Who outside her family might know Mrs. Boyce's true feelings.

And the worst part is, aside from the fact that she seems very hypocritical, is that she is teaching her daughters to be petty like her:

"from which lesson the Boyce girls learned plainly that Mrs. Dale, with Bell and Lidy, were about to have a fall in the world, and that they were to be treated accordingly."

Just minor characters here, but probably portraying most of that small town society's feelings about the possibly imminent come-down in the world of Mrs. Dale and her daughters.


Date: Sat, 13 May 2000 09:00:41 +0100
Subject: [trollope-l] The Small House, Mrs Dale

I have been musing over Mrs Dale and the way in which Trollope presents her. She is not exactly sympathetically drawn but she seems quite remarkable amongst Trollope mothers, to me, because she does not drive her daughters or scheme with her daughters in some kind of marriage market. Others who have read Trollope more widely than me can say whether she is unique in this respect.

Usually Trollope writes about the mothers who want their daughters to marry and to marry well, with irony or criticism. But here we have a mother who does not push her daughters in any way and yet Trollope does not make her a character we can whole heartedly applaud.

Despite marrying into Dales she seems to share their stubborn characteristic and does not appear to have tried to build bridges between herself and the Squire. Trollope lets us see that her daughters have other reasons for wanting to leave the Small House and their support is suspect. Bell wants to display she can be poor and Lily is wrapped up in self sacrifice. We get the most criticism of Mrs Dale in those scenes where Lily is shown as the queen of the house and Trollope whilst seeming to be sympathetic with Mrs Dale about her difficulty, also reveals her weakness.


From: The Hansens
Subject: TROL SHA: 36-38

Is anyone still reading at the scheduled pace? If not, I might just whip through this. It's a wonderful book and 30 pages a week is too slow to be reading alone.

This week we have Johnny going back to his office after his affair with Crosbie to find himself a hero to his peers. One of them jokes that next time Johnny may go looking for a viscount to cut up! That was great at the end of Chapter 36 where De Guest, after congratulating Johnny for his work on Crosbie, takes time to correct him on the proper way to address a Lord!

The next two chapters, on the misunderstanding between Mr Dale and his sister-in-law, are really well done. Our reading doesn't take us far enough to find out how this is resolved, but the writing is perfect.

I note how the author is putting off Lily's reaction to the railway station incident. It is taking forever for the news to reach her, and the reader finds himself waiting to learn her reaction, which this reader for one fears will not be to Johnny's benefit.

Bart Hansen

Back to the second read:

To Trollope-l

May 12, 1998

Re: The Small House: Crosbie and Austen's Willoughby

This to Kathleen,

I know my belief that Trollope had memories of _Sense and Sensibility_ in mind when he began his original situation and developed it in he Small House has not met with approval from all--though some have agreed enthusiastically. Still, since I am nothing if not stubborn, I have not let go of my idea.

I will rephrase it this way, let us suppose for the sake of argument and shedding light on The Small House and Trollope's intentions and point of view he was remembering some of the central elements of Sense and Sensibility. Suppose then that Adolphus Crosbie is Sir John Willoughby re-seen, but re-seen in much more depth and with a psychological perspective that forces us to take circumstances into account and see how such man would see himself, rationalize his selfishness and, when apart from Lily, shallowness and urge for rank, wealth, and luxuries away. All of us see ourselves in a pleasant light. So Trollope enters into Crosbie's mind--as Austen does not, as her technique is much more that of a satirist and she models more shallowly and especially in _S&S+_ in the direction of antithetical and reinforcing patterns (Marianne and Elinor are antithetical and they are also a doppelganger figure; Lily and Belle are much realer but their depiction has something of the same themes running through).

But although Trollope invites us to go inside Crosbie, he does not mean us to forget what Crosbie is looked at objectively and what he is doing to Lily--and also himself. As Austen too makes us see what Willoughby does to himself. Their punishment is to be them? to get their wishes? watch out what you wish for and all that.

I'm just trying to suggest a perspective which will include in it both a introspective and humane portrayal of a man like Crosbie with an objective condemnation of him morally speaking.

Ellen Moody

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