March 8, 2001
Re: Ayala's Angel: The Self, Society, and the Book
This is written in response to Angela's comment and as a final thought on the debate RJ and I have been having.
One of the functions of illustrations for the Victorian reader and for those who still try to partake a now no longer done meditation upon illustrations within books is to enrichen the reader's experience. A number of the books on illustration that I read for my book contained arguments and evidence for this point of view. Trollope's comment that Millais showed him what he had been trying to get at with his verbal portrait of Lady Mason and that afterwards he, Trollope, would sit and stare at Millais's drawings is often quoted. What I try to do when I write weekly of the pictures in the Folio Society editions -- or when I have them the suites of original illustations to Trollope's story -- similarly to stare at the pictures and the text they stand next to. The reason it's important that illustrations not be misplaced, but dropped into the book next to the text they are intended to illustrate is they are a commentary and interpretation in their own right. Sometimes the illustrator shows us details we have been missing.
In the case of this week's single illustration, Geary reminded me of how we were told at the opening of the novel that Adelaide was not only pretty in the way of Emmeline (note the romance lady names), but had some inner vivacity and emotionalism that allured much richer, better-connected, in the worldly sense smarter (should I have said cunning and sharp) men. I also remembered a few stray words about Mrs Dosett as square and plain. Then I came upon the paragraph that says -- at the opening of the book where these things are important -- that Reginald Dosett was a beautiful young man, and where Trollope ironically laments the reality that a man's beauty is not for sale in the world's marketplace in the way a woman's is. He must rise in another manner -- and among the things that do this are a thick-skin such as Sir Thomas is able to assume.
The ability of the person with a thick-skin to get through life with apparent success -- at least less humiliation -- is a familiar theme in Trollope. It configures one of the contrasts between Plantagenet Palliser and Lady Glen in the later Palliser novels, she with her thick skin and coarse morality and he with his sensitivity and desire to be finer and nobler in his relationship with people. But not I think this emphasis on beauty, on male beauty.
Each novel that is artful and written out of a deeply imaginative impulse is a world unto itself. I would argue this is true of all Trollope's books -- each one has a different tapestry. So here is a new thread we have not seen before, and Angela brings before us the perspective from the outside which explains a deeper impulse and gives more poignancy to the portrait of Colonel Stubbs:
"Ellen has brought out from the illustrations that Reginal Dosset was beautiful. I'd not picked that out of the text. Reading this week's sections I see that Frank is described as a manly man and as someone with beauty.
I used to be said (rather meanly perhaps) of George Eliot that she deliberately wrote in tragic and harsh lives for her beautiful women characters and happy lives for her modest 'brown' women because of her consciousness of her own lack of beauty. This is a view that is hard to prove.
Could it be applied to Trollope and this novel though? Where a bristly and ugly man is beautiful on the inside and other beautiful men are of less account? Trollope himself looked more like Jonathan Stubbs than anyone else and is a rather frightening figure in the later photographs. (I think one can be viewed from the National Portrait Gallery website).
We have been saying how Ayala is a displacement of Kate Fields, with Stubbs as the rejected Trollope. Beauty and the beast indeed. The picture Angela directed me to reminded me of that again: the aging, fat, awkward, ugly Trollope and this adorable bundle of femininity.
I don't want to beat a dead horse and am a little worried that much of what RJ and I have been debating has seemed obscure or simply dull to many of the members of the list. Still this new variation on the autobiographical angle of vision Angela brings out makes me want to say that what I have been arguing for is space, private space, and mine is not a pessimistic point of view but optimistic (for once). When the self sits down to read a book, he or she can carve a space between his mind and body and that of society outside. That is the function of imaginative reverie. We forget we are sitting in that chair. In that space there is freedom. We need not relive the choices half-forced upon us which are partly responsible for what surrounds our chair. The same goes for the artist sitting down to write his book: Trollope tells us that in his dreams he found a free space to create; he uses age-old platonic metaphors to convey the exhilarating experience. This morning I have been reading an article from the New Yorker, Helen Vendler on the poetry of James Merrill, a US poet who won the prestigious Yale Bollingen Prize and recently died of AIDS. She praises and quotes at length Merrill's poetry. Numbers of the stanzas quoted in this essay. A number say far better than I have been able to say why we need not weary of Trollope -- for after all that is where this debate began -- that we can read him in a highly varied way which is more deeply consonate with the text than any passing moral-economic lesson about safety and prudence though this loom large on the surface of many moments in his texts.
Helen Vendler says Merrill made his poetry out of being a misfit -- or his feeling he was. There's our Anthony as a boy and young man into his early 30s. She says Merrill wrote out of "the pain occasioned through relations with parents and lovers", yet is a comic writer who "persists in "making the pain yield to solace or to insight". Trollope denies his relationship to his brother and mother and father was directly or still painful when he writes his Autobiography though we can see it was. Let us recall the brother beat the hell out of Trollope as a boy, went to university, was intensely favored -- there is that poignant letter from Trollope to his brother and mother asking if they have forgotten about him. Trollope sees his pain as one which occurred in the space of his being perceived as a failure, a misfit; he also reiterates endlessly through his novels that girls didn't go for him. There are also larger elements of class, money, luxuries whose desirability he works hard to make us admit we feel too. The two stanzas quoted by Vendler will sum up a bit of what I have tried to say about ways of reading Trollope that will make the experience much richer and more interesting. I have chosen both because they relate to Ayala's Angel, this bright book -- on the surface. The first is one which insists on creating, finding happiness in the midst of unhappiness -- which the Stebbins are right to say was with Trollope in his later years as strongly as his former (witness: Mr Scarborough's Family). So the artist is the
Enchanter: the black swan [who] has learned to enter
Sorrow's lost secret center
Where like maypole separate tragedies
Are wound about a tower of ribbons.
This one may be read as a gloss on Stubbs's letter to the Marchesa justifying his desire to marry Ayala (Folio Society Ayala, introd. AEThomas, Ch 21, p. 161), especially where he says of Ayala's refusal to marry the rich Tom Tringle and knuckle under to the other Tringles, "No doubt she was a fool, but I cannot but like her the better for it" and speaks of his persistent desire for her although "love cannot put a leg of mutton into the pot":
Love merely as the best
There is, and one would make the best of of that
By saying how it grows and in what climates ...
to say at the end, whowever we find it, good,
Bad, or indifferent, it helps us, and the air
Is sweetest there. The air is very sweet.
I recall that Frank Houston is the shallow false Allan-a-dale of the book, the cad. His beauty has garnered for him Imogene, but then Trollope's other familiar themes include the child-woman's masochism, her thrill before the "animus" of Jung's description to which characters from George Vavasour, Burgo Fitzgerald down to the shameless Frank Houston conform.
Love, as Vendler says, may as a "subject" seem so overused to us in reading, but after all it is not overused in life. I would be the first to agree that in this particular book -- as in many others -- Trollope shies away from dealing with it fully as an adult; he can only do so allusively because of the prurience of his audience, and their demands that he inhibit himself from telling the full story. Though we do have in Ayala what Vendler calls 'the opportunism of erotic experience' (Hamel, Stubbs, Tom Tringle, even clumsy transparent absurd Gertrude are opportunists), 'the repetition- compulsion that convicts one or irremediably stupidity in love matters (Stubbs himself, Tom Tringle, Imogene), 'the tendency of sexual intensity to fade.' This last is found in just about all Trollope's married people -- alas because it is not always true and equally common and poignant is "the incongruity of erotic feeling in an aging body" and "infidelity to a love partner". Vis-a-vis Trollope felt that incongruity in his love for Kate Fields, and perhaps the other women he encountered in his travels alone around the world and whom he occasionally shows us glimpses of (Miss Viner, the young woman in "Ride Across Palestine"); a spiritual infidelity and alientation to a love partner on Trollope's behalf, and a raw one at that is found in his portrait of Mrs Baggett's relationship to Mr Whittlestaff and Mr and Mrs Neverbend (variants on Rose and Anthony when old). Trollope leaves much out -- physical sex -- but he is rarely frank and true to erotic life as no other mid-Victorian novelist. And novels don't exist in a vaccuum; they come from an artist. To see his books against a scrim of his existence makes them richer for us, tells us things about ourselves, makes us feel less lonely, that there was someone who also saw and felt similarly. One of the richest ways to read Is He Popenjoy? is as a story of two brothers, George being Trollope himself; and as a story of a father- daughter intensely with subliminated love at the center (Oedipal), with the Dean being Trollope.
I may to some seem to be performing a rescue operation for Ayala, and downright geologizing both Ayala and Is He Popenjoy?. Still there are many ways to read a book to make it genuinely useful to us without resorting to reading against the grain.
Cheers to all,
March 8, 2001
Re: Ayala's Angel: Jonathan and Ayala
I'd like to add to my posting of the other day that to recognize Trollope himself in the portrait of Jonathan Stubbs and Ayala as a displacement of Kate Fields lends the book a level of poignancy and unresolved conflicts which deepen it. Take Stalham which we are supposed to admire so, or think so very pleasurable, a kind of pleasure the narrator suggests is not available to the Tringles since they are "nouveau riche", not really aristocratic- comfortable with themselves. Well, Stubbs's cottage is imagined in stark contrast to Stalham -- and in stark contrast to the Dosett home. The inference: there is a third choice; it's not either/or. Stubb is clearly idyllically content on his mountain: again a stark contrast, this time to Sir Thomas who emerges from the narrative suddenly to meet Hamel as he climbs away from Stubb's cottage. Why does Sir Thomas emerge at this point: he's on Trollope's mind. We are told he is only really happy in Lombard Street. Merle Park, Queen's Gate, Glenbogie itself don't make the cut for him. He's an alter ego in the scheme of Trollope's deeper imaginings to Jonathan Stubbs.
To see Ayala in this light is also to make sense of the book in terms of Trollope's oeuvre. Ayala is endlessly called an anomaly; something that doesn't fit. Not so. It is linked to what we see in An Old Man's Love, Mr Whittlestaff's Mary Lawson turned into something our narrator can have with no Mrs Bagget in sight; the obverse side of a mirror which gives us Mr and Mrs Neverbend. An Old Man's Love and The Fixed Period are Trollope responding to what is: in the first place with grief, in the second with savage irony. Ayala is his dream-idyll whose full implications (erotic needs) he has not been able to face in life but can work out through his dream work imagination. I wonder (though can't know) if Geary knew the photograph of Kate Fields that appears in C. P Snow's biography for his illustrations provide a young girl closely similar, even to the dark ringlets. This week's illustrations show us Stubbs hunting: a big looking man, reminiscent of Trollope as he describes himself and appears in caricatures of himself hunting.
For me on this level this book becomes alive, mature, is given explanatory purchase. The sneering is a form of keeping at bay, justifying to himself his own sublimations, compromises. People have not sufficiently gotten underneath the carapace of a portrait Trollope made of himself in An Autobiography -- in order of course to fend off others.
Cheers to all,
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] Ayala's Angel: The Difficulty of Placing It
To Angela and Ian,
This evidence shows publishers were unwilling to take this book; The question then is, Why didn't publishers want it? The answer given by most scholars is that several of Trollope's previous novels didn't sell well -- among them some of those most admired today: The Way We Live Now, The Prime Minister It galled Trollope to see that the latter didn't sell well when The Eustace Diamonds -- which he regarded as pandering -- did. Well, maybe that's partly why it sold. Scholars and critics attempt to answer the question of why Trollope's reputation and sales had fallen so badly, for Ayala is only one of several novels around this time that Trollope kept in his drawer. The consensus is that after he left off writing the complacent Victorian kind of book that the Barsetshire series represents he gradually lost his readership.
Trollope became interested in just this question of what makes for a readership years before when he insisted on placing several of his novels anonymously. In An Autobiography Trollope says he had two reasons for this. First he suggests he wanted to produce a very different kind of book. He wanted to free himself of previous expectations. Second though he says that he wanted to see if producing his novels without his name would change the sales. Was there anything in his novels which was selling them now when they hadn't sold for the first hard ten years of writing (years which included some fine books, the three Irish novels, The Warden &c). The answer was, No. It was the label -- A Trollope. For everything he produced without a label sold as poorly as his work had before the success of Framley Parsonage. (Again later in life Trollope was bitter about the lack of success of one of these: Nina Balatka which Trollope rightly thought an original, fine little book; he again comparing what he considered an important achievement to Eustace Diamonds; Nina was strikingly superior and original, worth far more.)
So what he was proving to himself is that a name sold a label. This shows Trollope's saturnine sense of humour turned upon himself. It shows a quality of mind that makes him attractive. Not self- complacent at all. Rather like Jonathan Swift -- the other man upon whom Glendinning recently wrote a biography. And there are Swiftian novels by Trollope (e.g., the superb The Fixed Period). But it also relates to the difficulty of placing Ayala. The brand name had soured; the product for some time previous had not been the usual peaches readers had been expecting under the label Del Monte (to use American references -- canned sweet stuff). Whatever was under the label Ayala wasn't the issue at all.
That doesn't mean the book is either good or bad, just that the publishers' attitudes have nothing to do with the quality of the book necessarily -- nor sales receipts. This story is told repeatedly of other authors: Pride and Prejudice turned down without a look; l Gattopardo sent back with a sneer, and so on.
Cheers to all,
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] Ayala's Angel and Daniel Deronda
Daniel Deronda is a very great book. It sustains the soul. I wouldn't want to see it a bit shortened. Its meditations, lyrical passages, descriptions are central to the experience.
I am partly glad to make this relate to the thread just started on Trollope's difficulty in placing Ayala: if it was implied that a book sells poorly because it's great, that's not so either. Daniel Deronda made George Eliot and Lewes a great deal of money -- as did Middlemarch. Trollope tried to imitate the success, or at least seemed to think perhaps it was due to how Lewes presented and marketed Eliot's novels in eight large parts. He did this for The Prime Minister: however, it still was damned by the press and apparently not to the taste of his audience. This despite its uses of anti-semitism (which might be imputed to Trollope's simply following his audience's taste) to castigate Ferdinand Lopez -- a ploy of which Daniel Deronda is blessedly free. Its subplot is a remarkably liberal open-minded meditation on Jews in England, partly brought on by an genuine increase in anti-semitism in Germany (including bullies and thugs beginning to beat Jews up in the streets, to which Eliot responded with an eloquent essay, "The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!" which has elements in it which shows Eliot could have foreseen the European wide pogrom of World War II).
No one ever doubted that there are people who want happy books. Indeed that thread started because someone said Hardy's books are depressing and therefore not enjoyable. (Here I'll mention something no one ever mentioned which is simply that Hardy's earlier books are not as dark, and all but Tess and Jude provide the reader with an apparent happy ending for the "good" characters.) Publishers have for centuries now been forcing authors to change their endings to be happier, more upbeat (Godwin's Caleb Williams comes to mind: Dickens ruined, truncated his own Great Expectations). The point was simply that recreational reading (which is a phrase which has no special meaning, it may be parsed as entertainment, pleasure, enjoyment, it encodes nothing special) and books with deep truths about life which are sad are not mutually exclusive. Far from it. To say that "I" don't like it is besides the point. That's no general principle at all.
And this is not an elitist point of view. Rock-a-rock thrives on this reality: dark lyrics to strong rhythmic music sells very well. Very recreational -- meaning entertaining, pleasurable for most -- probably because of the release. People have been getting rich on books with dark truths in them which are sad for decades. I realise one shouldn't argue against what is not a rational general argument. It would be a waste of time except I want to make sure that no one will be put off from suggesting a supposedly sad book. We have had some very good times with Hardy, Gissing -- and Eliot too (Felix Holt paired with the very sad Shirley) on this list. My contribution to the thread was simply to talk about why different kinds of people respond to different kinds of dark books differently, some finding them entertaining (or recreational if this word is preferred), others turning away in desperation (the Dagny and Jill exchange).
I linked Ayala's Angel to Daniel Deronda because I did want to explain why I have been posting much less on Ayala than I did for Is He Popenjoy? or throughout the Barsetshire read. I am aware I am not keeping up the weekly faciliating postings in the same way. What has happened is I have been invited to write a free-style essay-review for a peer-edited and prestigious Victorian journal. As will be understood, this was a gratifying moment. It includes reading three complicated -- and fascinating studies of Victorian novels. One is about modern film adaptations of "classical" Victorian novels by women; another is on abridgements (funnily enough), adaptations, serialisations, what these do to a book, and why they are done in the way they are. The third is a post-colonialist cultural studies book on George Eliot. One subtheme of the book is historical fiction, though it's not central as the book most studied is Daniel Deronda. The link between them all is George Eliot. All three studies have long sections on her work -- for good reason. She is so capacious, and when you begin to read her novels you no longer wonder why she has the reputation she has.
And of course I teach and this term I have been making a new course which includes a series of authors and books I've never taught before: Euripides, Virgil, Chretien de Troyes among them.
Not that I'm not enjoying myself -- re-creating if you will -- this way. I am. I have sent away for a new edition of Romola now. I did like the suggestion of Rienzi. The problem would be availability. Is it available in formats that are inexpensive and readily easy to get?
So that I haven't been posting on Ayala comes from press of time and this press of time will continue probably into the summer (when I have another course which I am going to change somewhat). On the other hand, I admit that reading Ayala carefully brings home its limitations. To have read it against Is He Popenjoy? made it more palatable, and slow reading shows how both are deep dream displacements for Trollope's own longings, astute analysis of male sexualities under pressure from society. I'll go further and say I would never have chosen this book as a singleton for a group to read slowly. I did know it was this unreal romance in many ways. However, when we first broached the two as a pair, there were two people who were so keen on it, that the pair swept all before them. Alas, neither of these two people have posted at all during these weeks. It may be that they have left the list. These things happen. This is a medium which has little accountability -- even for some people to whole or real names. I am now glad we have John Caldigate as a third "relatively unknown" or hard-to-find Trollope. By reading the three in a row we do discover, if nothing else, how little readership tells us about the quality of a work -- even if it can tell us a good deal about an author's reputation and we can then place that against a cultural scrim.
Cheers to all,
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] Ayala's Angel and Daniel Deronda
Dear Ellen and all,
read Daniel Deronda_ earlier this year and enjoyed it greatly. I feel I'll need to re-read it before I feel I have a very good grip on it, as it was so entirely complex, and I still find myself preferring Middlemarch (which I've read twice) to Daniel Deronda. That opinion may change upon re-reads of each, but thus far that's my opinion.
I think Eliot towers over most other Victorian writers, but I think it's her intellectualism that turns off so many readers. She can be so high-flown in her prose, and so academic, that I know I personally don't understand all of her references. But her brilliance I'd never cast into doubt, and I've enjoyed every work of hers I've read thus far. I enjoyed Daniel Deronda partly for all of its contrasts, mostly the light vs. dark theme, and for the evolution of the major characters throughout the book. I was intrigued by Mordecai perhaps most of any of the characters, and in my next read of the book I'll likely concentrate more on him. My first read was a bit on the fast side, as I was trying to keep up with a discussion, but next time through I'll slow things down and savour more.
The debate between happy and unhappy books was so interesting to me, and I agree with Trinity that she and I also agree on so many writers we would say we both enjoy. As to happy vs. unhappy, it's all relative and very, very subjective. I think it's very interesting to find out the reasons people enjoy or don't enjoy a particular author, as it adds a dimension to my understanding of that author. Hardy is one I've loved from the beginning, when I first read Tess and Return of the Native as a teenager. I was hooked from the start and have always been drawn to brooding authors and characters. From Hardy I turned to the Brontės and DH Lawrence, who have many things in common with the dark Hardy. It's just something I enjoy.
I'm somewhat surprised that no editor appears to have touched Hardy's Jude the Obscure, as I don't know of a darker episode in any literature than the scene with the children.. I shan't spoil it for those who haven't read it, but I admit that scene shocked me beyond anything I've read in Victorian lit.
I will also weigh in with Ellen on the crime it is to tamper with endings set down by the author. Let the more sensitive reader turn away if necessary, but I don't think such things should be controlled by editors. It cramps a writer's style, and changes the intent of the work. I definitely would never advocate such censorship and think it's a terrible crime.
I believe that's been my own problem, that reading Ayala so soon after both Is He Popenjoy? and He Knew He Was Right (read for another list) has made AA suffer in comparison. I loved the complexity of IHP and HKHWR, and AA is simply lacking in that way. I finished AA a few weeks ago, and it was somewhat of a struggle to get to the end. I wanted to know how things worked out, but more for my own curiosity about the plot than really caring about the characters. Jonathan Stubbs I enjoyed immensely, but I didn't care as much about Ayala as I'd expected to. For me it just wasn't a gripping read and did suffer horribly due to the other deeper books I was also reading at the same time.
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] Inconsistencies in Trollope's novels & Ayala's Angel
At the point that where we are at in our reading, I am finding that the various sub-plots do not seem to be fitting well, at least in a temporal sense.
For example, the first sentence of chapter 53 seems to struggle to explain in what order the plot is progressing:
"We must go again to Merle Park, where the Tringle family was still living - and from which Gertrude had not as yet been violently abducted at the period to which the reader has been brought in the relation which has been given of the affairs at Stalham."
Frankly, it is the worst sentence that I have ever read in a Trollope novel. Normally Trollope's familiarity with the reader does not offensively intrude in the enjoyment of the novel, but when one is reminded of things that haven't happened yet it is somewhat irritating. Maybe the high speed at which he worked on the novel is causing difficulties.
I remain confident that Trollope will bring it all together by Chapter 64.
Subject: [trollope-l] What was Trollope thinking?
From: "Catherine Crean" Ellen mentioned reading Trollope's letters to gain insights into Ayala's
Angel. If I had access to Trollope's letters, I certainly would do the same
thing. There are unsolved mysteries in AA and disparate plot elements. I
like this book too much to think that it is a grab bag of ideas, characters,
and plot lines that Trollope wanted to "use up." But, alas, the more we talk
about Ayala's Angel the more the evidence weighs in for this theory! The
plot inconsistencies, including the reappearance of a destroyed letter, I
can accept albeit with difficulty. But the last chapters of the novel - oy
vey! I have never seen such maladroit handling of plot chronology. Trollope
goes backward and forward in time, with authorial intrusions reminding us of
who is where, what we are supposed to remember at this point in time, and
what we're supposed to forget, because although we've read about it, it
hasn't happened yet. Although Ayala's Angel is a "problem child" in some
ways, I still would put it in my top three Trollope novels alongside Is He
Popenjoy? which may considered by some another problematic book.
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2001 Dear Ian and Trollope-l friends,
The sort of sentence Ian picks out is not uncommon in Trollope's
fictions. It can even occur several times within one novel: The
Eustace Diamonds is typical. There are two very different plots
going on, the Lucy Morris-centered one (she lives with the
termagant, Lady Linlithgow, is involved with the Fawns, is
waiting around for Frank Greystock) and the Lizze Eustace
centered one (involved with the demi-monde Lord George
de Bruce Caruthers group, is covering up her theft and
loss of the diamonds, coping with police). These are so
apart from one another that they run separately; in order for
Trollope to develop one or other other, he has to move forward in time.
After a while he comes back to the one he has left alone for
a while, and has to backtrack in time and then come forward.
There are a couple of instances as clunky as the one
The key here is just as the stories of Eustace Diamonds
carry on more or less independently, so do the stories of Ayala.
The story of Imogene-and-Frank has very little to do with the other
three stories; Ayala's story carries on separately from
Gertrude's. The same procedure for development and
interest is followed in both novels: a verisimilitude approach
to time must be shelved while the story goes forward, and it must then
be retrieved. In some novels these kinds of statements
occur less frequently (Can You Forgive Her? and Ayala,
where it's not frequent); in some they occur more often
(Eustace Diamonds, The Way We Live Now which
was revised and rearranged more than once according
to a study of the manuscripts by John Sutherland).
It seems to occur more awkwardly -- or catch our
attention -- in those novels where the plots or groups of
characters are really kept separate.
This is a technical difficulty Trollope never solved. The careless
or swiftly-reading reader doesn't notice it so much, though it
can make for confusion and a need to flip back a couple of
pages if you find yourself lost. A slow read will make us aware
of his struggles as a man carrying several stories at once.
One interesting device I've noticed him to use to get over
this is the planted letter. Suddenly a letter will appear which
brings us forward or takes us backward in time (to fill us
in on what's been happening). Letters allow novelists to
defy the pretense of following calendar time and revert to
psychological development of a consciousness across
time which is what readers like to read for, what they are
grabbed by. Trollope is not the first to use a letter in
this way, but he does use this way of catching up to himself
between plots cleverly more than once.
Cheers to all,
Subject: [trollope-l] Carrying Several Stories on at Once in Trollope (Was "Inconsistencies ...)
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Ellen mentioned reading Trollope's letters to gain insights into Ayala's Angel. If I had access to Trollope's letters, I certainly would do the same thing. There are unsolved mysteries in AA and disparate plot elements. I like this book too much to think that it is a grab bag of ideas, characters, and plot lines that Trollope wanted to "use up." But, alas, the more we talk about Ayala's Angel the more the evidence weighs in for this theory! The plot inconsistencies, including the reappearance of a destroyed letter, I can accept albeit with difficulty. But the last chapters of the novel - oy vey! I have never seen such maladroit handling of plot chronology. Trollope goes backward and forward in time, with authorial intrusions reminding us of who is where, what we are supposed to remember at this point in time, and what we're supposed to forget, because although we've read about it, it hasn't happened yet. Although Ayala's Angel is a "problem child" in some ways, I still would put it in my top three Trollope novels alongside Is He Popenjoy? which may considered by some another problematic book.
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2001
Dear Ian and Trollope-l friends,
The sort of sentence Ian picks out is not uncommon in Trollope's fictions. It can even occur several times within one novel: The Eustace Diamonds is typical. There are two very different plots going on, the Lucy Morris-centered one (she lives with the termagant, Lady Linlithgow, is involved with the Fawns, is waiting around for Frank Greystock) and the Lizze Eustace centered one (involved with the demi-monde Lord George de Bruce Caruthers group, is covering up her theft and loss of the diamonds, coping with police). These are so apart from one another that they run separately; in order for Trollope to develop one or other other, he has to move forward in time. After a while he comes back to the one he has left alone for a while, and has to backtrack in time and then come forward. There are a couple of instances as clunky as the one Ian quotes.
The key here is just as the stories of Eustace Diamonds carry on more or less independently, so do the stories of Ayala. The story of Imogene-and-Frank has very little to do with the other three stories; Ayala's story carries on separately from Gertrude's. The same procedure for development and interest is followed in both novels: a verisimilitude approach to time must be shelved while the story goes forward, and it must then be retrieved. In some novels these kinds of statements occur less frequently (Can You Forgive Her? and Ayala, where it's not frequent); in some they occur more often (Eustace Diamonds, The Way We Live Now which was revised and rearranged more than once according to a study of the manuscripts by John Sutherland). It seems to occur more awkwardly -- or catch our attention -- in those novels where the plots or groups of characters are really kept separate.
This is a technical difficulty Trollope never solved. The careless or swiftly-reading reader doesn't notice it so much, though it can make for confusion and a need to flip back a couple of pages if you find yourself lost. A slow read will make us aware of his struggles as a man carrying several stories at once. One interesting device I've noticed him to use to get over this is the planted letter. Suddenly a letter will appear which brings us forward or takes us backward in time (to fill us in on what's been happening). Letters allow novelists to defy the pretense of following calendar time and revert to psychological development of a consciousness across time which is what readers like to read for, what they are grabbed by. Trollope is not the first to use a letter in this way, but he does use this way of catching up to himself between plots cleverly more than once.
Cheers to all,