Date: Sun Mar 4, 2001
Subject: Ayala_: Chapts. 43 - 49 A Few Thoughts
A few unrelated thoughts on this week's chapters.
I noted that Mr. Dosett’s work hours are rather strange by today’s standards. He reports to work a little after half-past ten o’clock in the morning and leaves for the day punctually at four (Oxford World Classics, Pgs. 412, 415) . That gives him a five and a half hour work day -- assuming no lunch break! These facts come out because Tom is waiting for his uncle when he arrives at work one morning and then they walk home together at the end of the day. [The walk home takes “fully an hour and a half” (Pg. 416)]. Does anybody know if these were normal work hours for someone in his position (clerk in the Admiralty)?
When Tom finally gets his interview with Ayala and once again appeals to her to be receptive to him, he declares, “I know you think that I am common.” Interesting word, common. It’s the equivalent of “low-class,” isn’t it? Tom realizes that he lacks refinement. By contrast Ayala seems to appeal to everyone by a kind of class-sensitive charm. For example in Rome the Marchesa took to her right away. Despite being penniless and an orphan, Ayala is able to move easily among the wealthy and high-born -- on the strength of her beauty and charm. Tom, despite having great wealth, is unable to make any headway with Ayala (and perhaps in other spheres as well). Are we to understand that a beautiful woman can rise in society on the strength of her beauty but that a man has to prove himself by his adherence to a code of conduct?
Another thing I have been wondering about has to do with the level of education that the young men in this story have attained. Tom Tringle, Isadore Hamel, Frank Houston, Jonathan Stubbs: these are all young men (although Stubbs is a bit older, I guess). Yet none of them attended a university, as far as I can tell. Trollope doesn’t say a word about it. There would be no financial bar to Tom’s attendance (interest might be another matter). Perhaps Hamel and Houston couldn’t afford it. Stubbs -- we don’t learn much about his background, but being a colonel in the army, would he have had a university education? Generally, does Trollope ever put his characters in university settings?
I was interested to note that when Ayala compares Jonathan Stubbs (unfavorably) with the Angel of Light, she describes the Angel in terms of a work of art, a piece of sculpture: “there was a wave of hair and a shape of brow, and a peculiarity of the eye, with a nose and mouth cut as sharp as chisel could cut them out of marble, all of which graced the Angel but none of which belonged to the Colonel” (Pg. 435). It is interesting that Isadore Hamel is a sculptor and that even Frank Houston is a painter (though not an accomplished one). Ayala, the child of an artist, is herself a sculptor -- of dream images. This is not to say that there is anything necessarily praiseworthy about Ayala or her creation, but Trollope does seem to have deliberately linked together this group of artists and their dreams.
Subject: [trollope-l] Short Office Hours
[This really brings back an earlier thread about Mr Dosett's long walks to and from the office.}
Patricia M. Maroney wrote:
Didn't many of them spend a long time in walking to and from the office? And in winter it would be dark a good part of the time both morning and night. It always seemed to me this must have some relation to their brief hours actually at the office.
This is a good point. With modern electric lights, we forget how important natural light was. Also, the hours of work we have been discussing [this is part of another thread] are those for the lowly clerks - the senior office staff seem to have been either enthusiastic attenders at the office - first in, last out, and never failing to point this out to their juniors - or alternately rather flexible (to use a kind word!), coming late, and leaving early.
Rory O'Farrell Email: email@example.com
Tinode, Blessington, Co Wicklow, Ireland
Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] Ayala's Angel, Chs 43-49: The Upper Class World & Nubile Girls
As I recall not only are the working hours for our heroes in in The Small House 10 to 4; they are the same in Can You Forgive Her? (Mr Vavasour who nonetheless complains about having to come in three days a week -- so he need not be there five) and other novels where we come into contact with people recognised to be "gentleman" or aspiring gentleman outside the office. At the same time, these hours are flexible at the end of the day. In The Three Clerks a man can be asked to stay late if he is needed. They are also subject to someone else's needs: John Eames is asked by Raffle Buffle (I forget the man's exact name, but he is modelled on someone Trollope worked for) at 9:30. Eames comes in, but is annoyed because he doesn't believe there is anything useful he can do at that hour he couldn't do just as well later. It is a way of imposing on him his position, letting him know just where he is in the hierarchy to demand his time be given over.
Is this real? Well I remember that Trollope as a postal clerk had to get to the office at similar hours; he writes about it because he was often late and because he is irritated at the demand. Again he feels that getting there early is a waste of his time.
One way to look at this is to remember how we have felt when something brings it home to us that our time is bought, taken away from us for no good reason whatsoever but just to have us there, available, and also to make a point of where we are in the hierarchy. I assume most people on this list have worked in an office something like 5 days a week 8 hours a day --- or a similar institution or factory. I worked as a legal secretary for the FAA for 2 years (1962-1964), again as something call an Administrative Assistant at John Waddington in Leeds for about half a year (1970).
Another is of course class differences. In Trollope's "The Telegraph Girl" those girls have to be there by 10, but they stay until 8. They "get" their meal cheaply at mid-day. They also come in on Saturdays. Servants were at work from the time they got up to the time they went to bed. Here and there in Trollope's novels and those of other Victorians we see the same long hard hours. I need not mention the factory hours and conditions of _Hard Times_.
Todd's posting reminds us of how we are in an upper class world in this novel.
He asks if any of Trollope's novels take us to the university world. Yes, if only briefly, still significantly, in Barchester Towers we see the university world from which Francis Arabin, Joshua Crowley and Obadiah Slope all came. The novel does explore the Puseyite movement, if only tangentially. The Bertrams opens at the university world, and how the two young men do on their exams affects their lives strongly; it places them on a given point on a hierarchy to begin with. Probably one reason Trollope rarely does take us to the university world is he didn't go. As with Jane Austen who tends to write about a group of people well above her income level, so Trollope often does: he was himself not one of these privileged ones. He went to work at age 19 and if he didn't have to get there by 8:30 and stay until 5, still his life was scooped away from him sufficiently by the hours 10 to 4, and then extensions later in the day as necessary and required travelling.
Todd writes: Tom 'declares, "I know you think that I am common." Interesting word, common. It's the equivalent of "low-class," isn't it? Tom realizes that he lacks refinement. By contrast Ayala seems to appeal to everyone by a kind of class-sensitive charm."
It lines up with "lout", no? Although it isn't stressed, it's clear that the Tringles are upstarts in some way: Sir Thomas has made his money. The Alburys, the Marchesa and the world of Stalham are those of the aristocrat to which our narrator supposes the reader will aspire. The text leaves us with a feel that Sir Thomas doesn't consciously -- or at least not for himself so much. However, note that at the same time he sneers at Mr Traffic for not being able to handle a horse. Lord Board-o-trade is newly elevated; thus Gertrude sneers at Augusta. In comparison to Sir Thomas and his son, Traffic, Board-o-trade, the Dosetts are "genteel" in their manners. Houston behaves like a scummy gentleman: Ayala wouldn't call him a "lout" or "common", though she might, were she to know about Imogene, call him a "cad".
The Dosetts fit into this because they all have genteel manners. Mrs Dosett is giving up her life to appearances. She eats miserably so her husband can look well. He walks partly to avoid the infra dig experience of the underground -- which was there but is avoided in novels for the middle class. On Victoria, people suggested that is because it was thought for "low" types and intermingled people "dangerously". Adelaide Dosett by her beauty captured another gentleman-type. Remember Dormer did make enough to support his family very comfortably or keep them going as long as he was alive -- he just didn't put anything away for after he died. When you think about Mr and Mrs Dosett, it's a sign of wisdom. Emmeline Lady Tringle captured Sir Thomas: she wasn't quite vivacious or intelligent enough for a Dormer or for purchasing a duke. As I quoted yesterday, Trollope tells us as the book opens, too bad Reginald's beauty doesn't buy anything on the market: men rise by different means.
Ayala and Lucy then come from genteel people who "instinctively" differentiate between "common" types and the gentlemanly. Isadore Hamel belongs to this gentemanly crew even if illegitimate. Tom doesn't -- nor really Sir Thomas. They have noble souls, but what does that matter? Isadore has a nobility in him too, but that's not what makes him a gentleman. We are told in this week's chapters that Colonel Stubbs was the kind of person everyone behaved respectfully towards. An interesting comment from our narrator precisely because he doesn't tell us why, but leaves us to remember when we have come across such people or if we are, so we think, such people ourselves, and make out quite what this is that demands respect. I suggest it's not quite the same thing that makes for a gentleman. It's some inner hard courageous self-respecting quality which is what men use to get ahead. The equivalent of beauty in the world's marketplace or hierarchies.
The novel is filled with imagery from the art world and romance. Trollope was such a close friend of Millais's, knew numbers of these people, and went assiduously to exhibitions and, when he travelled, to museums. I recall just now Millais's poignant picture of The Blind Girl: a girl sitting out in the countryside, she is in heavy rag-like clothes; another child next to her. He didn't make pictures of princesses all the time. The picture is reprinted in this past week's Times Literary Supplement if anyone is curious.
Once again, too bad Trollope didn't tell some real truths about the art world. Then his book would not feel so obsolete, so shallow in its range. For this week where it's brilliant is in the analysis of the young girl. It is simply true that girls who are young teens are absurd, and perverse and will run away with young men, partly out of an ill-understood rebellion. Trollope's portraits of Ayala and Gertrude are to me as painfully comic as his portrait of Tom Tringle. Where the novel falls down is the lack of an embedded milieu which is thickly-truthful -- and of course the way Trollope sets the whole thing up so that the girls will not pay for their decisions, and as they are somewhat silly anyway and presented as heroines, as slightly unbelievable -- he calls Ayala his "pet heroine" -- we are led not to take our emotions about them seriously. But we should. There's a good deal of psychological truth about child-women.
Cheers to all,
Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] Ayala's Angel, A Picture of Pretty People
Now that I've announced a period of retirement, it seems I can't shut up.
Deeply absorbed by a book that Ellen Moody reminded us of a few weeks ago, Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Vintage, 1962 [but quite available at Amazon.com and elsewhere]) - and, characteristically, not reading the chapters in order - I was amused to come across a quip of Harold Rosenberg's: the intellectual is one who turns answers into questions. I feel the mot's aptness because I find that I really can't reply as I should like to the part of Ellen's multi-faceted post that seems to oppose critical and 'moralizing' readings of fiction. When Ellen writes, "... if we are to think seriously about why bother reading such a book, and what use is it, we might think how this sort of thing just reinforces a group's norms and is not moral at all," I want only to ask on what ground a distinction can be made between 'a group's norms' and morality.
I don't dispute the existence of a distinction. But I believe - more firmly every day, now that I'm working on this - that group norms and morality lie on a continuum, the distinction's between them being a matter of degree. To an extent that surprises even me, I've lost all respect for the image and the construct of 'the individual versus society,' not because, like true-believing Communists of seventy or eighty years ago, I discredit the idea of the individual, but rather for just the opposite reason: I can't bring myself to believe that 'society' can mean anything but 'the sum of us.' To be sure, some people weigh a lot more than others, and all the egalitarian fervor in the world isn't going to bring about anything like true equality for a very long time. But there is no 'them' to 'society,' only 'us.' And our conventions, or group norms, are simply rough and ready, worn and torn black-letter adaptations, necessarily abbreviated to make the negotiation of everyday encounters manageable, of our fullest morality. As such, they're invariably imperfect; but they are rarely malign, and while dictators and employers may act oppressively, I don't believe that society can.
If 'society' as I conceive has an antagonist, it's not the individual but the family. I am not 'against' families when I say this. Rather, I'm 'for' thinking far more seriously than even Freud managed to do about their formation. (Perhaps because of his preoccupation with the development of children, Freud seems to take the constitution of the family as a given; his families 'just happen,' like bad weather.) I hope that Ellen and others will see here the foundation of an interest in Trollope that has inspired my recent spate of postings. It seems to me that Trollope writes with two inarguable axioms in mind: households require financial resources, and marriages require love. The first axiom, as I've said, has been respected for so long that I see no reason not to date it to the prehistoric commitment to a division of labor. The second is utterly recent, and we still haven't digested its ramifications. It's still a question whether the comfortable household formed by a loving couple significantly shelters its offspring from the internalization of truly oppressive expectations.
Just what constitutes adequate financial resources varies idiosyncratically from person to person, and people are hardly of one mind about the nature of love. Nevertheless, we know them when we see them. Perhaps not everybody will agree with that we do, but I think that it's the cornerstone of Trollope's fiction. The fruitlessness of trying to arrive at laws or predictions about what will make people happy is just what makes Trollope's canvas, considering the novels as a whole, immense. If happiness requires both love and money, then how is one to strike a balance between the two? The Frank Houstons and Alice Vavasors who constitute the most interesting (if certainly not the most lovable) group of Trollope's characters find themselves forced to master this calculus.
Characters like Frank and Alice are tempted, understandably, by easy solutions that plump for one desideratum while discounting the other. Frank aims for money, Alice for love. If convention will always favor Frank's decision over Alice's, that's because pounds and pence will always be more open to the evaluation of friends, neighbors, and gossips than the charms of personal appearance or the bonds of friendship. Given money, love may bloom. Without money, the family will be condemned to the misery of the Crawleys. Surely Trollope could not have taken greater pains to show that no one in The Last Chronicle of Barset, - not even Mrs Proudie - subscribes more earnestly to idea that poverty is discreditable than Josiah Crawley himself. It is the root of his 'melancholy' - a distress that I hope it won't be taken as trivialization to identify as our 'clinical depression.'
Reviewing this posting, I find it wanting in the promised interrogatives. And yet I must close with one last assertion. Ellen writes, "Reading can become a way of distancing ourselves from what goes on within us; a way of reinforcing tyrannies from the outside and society's censureship onto ourselves. We may not feel this as we read -- indeed most people do not. But if we articulate it in the way RJ proposes, put the words in such moralising frameworks, does not the experience we have had from the books turn useless. The experience of reading becomes just one more reiteration of what we come across in society and comes into our heads from the real world. The self then fails to put any barrier between him or herself and the world as it enters the book." The only thing that I find to disagree with here is the suggestion that I'm proposing the appropriation of conventions for the purposes of narcissistic aggrandizement.
Re: The Self, Society and the Book
March 6, 2001
This is written in response to RJ's a couple of days ago now:
Actually I never meant anything about narcissistic aggrandizement at all. I'm not sure what that means. when I talked of how when we read we want to have some space in which to find ourselves as individuals apart from society -- for we do exist that way too -- I was talking on behalf of individual freedom as understood by social psychologists. RJ mentioned Hoftstadter; of late I have been reading D. W. Harding who is known in literary circles as the author of seminal essays on Austen but was by profession not a literary critic at all, but a social psychologist. We can also turn to Proust who speaks for a private self as opposed to the public, whose book comes out of the sensitive imaginings and perceptions of such a self. This private self Trollope understood too: it was what he was exploring, visiting, re-enacting in his dream life which he turned into novels. I was simply trying to say how limiting and reinforcing of prejudices which hurt people the moralising way of reading often can be. There is a good essay on Trollope from this point of view and it suggests why he is often not respected -- not from the way he wrote but from the way he is often read. George Levine's "Can You Forgive Him?": it's about the way Trollope treats Alice Vavasour and Lady Glen in the novel. This is not a romantic notion but goes back to the 18th century view of the sympathetic imagination, to Diderot.
There are quite a number of recent critical books which approach Trollope in the way I am trying to suggest you can get the most out of. I often mention A. O. J. Cockshut, but James Kincaid, Robert Tracey, Geoffrey Harvey are as good. In fact increasingly, the point of view which sees Trollope as carving space -- interior space -- for the individual to be fulfilled in, if only through showing us the misery of those who have it not, who are ostracized because of society's inadequacies and inflexibilities -- is one which thinks well of Trollope and does not grow bored with the books. They have a lot to say from the autobiographical, psychoanalytical point of view too -- as we have been seeing recently. I can't agree about the continuum RJ set up: all too often society's norms are anything but moral, are the opposite of moral. That's where Trollope's calm irony comes from.
It is good to talk about these books in this way.
Cheers to all,