In Which Everyone Got Married and Lived as Best They Could Ever After; A Fairy Tale; Fear and predation in Ayala's Angel; Fear in Ayala and Rain in Virginia

To Trollope-l

March 24, 2001

Re: Ayala's Angel, Chs 60-64: In Which Everyone Got Married and Lived as Best They Could Ever After

I have now finished this novel -- perhaps a wee bit later than others on our list. However, having gone through very slowly, I was able to pick up how much good feeling there was in the close. A great deal: generous feeling towards all, and tenderness towards young Tom.

Aunt Rosina is a dea ex machina, but she is presented in tones that make her likeable: her failings do harm to no individual, only make her life more troublesome, more contingent on the absurdities of others than her income would make them be (Folio Society Ayala's Angel, introd. AEThomas, Ch 60, pp. 491-92, paragraph beginning "Miss Houston was an old lady ..."). Her feelings are in the right place: on the side of well- understood feeling and courage trumping shallow ruthlessness (Frank marrying Gertrude would have been that), dense irritation to the feelings of others (Mudbury Docimer -- his first name is perfect, buried in the mud). As Imogene and Frank leave the stage, we hear a remark from Augusta which tells us she can feel for Imogene because both their shoes pinch in the same place: "I wonder where they'll find a place to live" (p. 499). And our "chronicler expresses a hope that it may not be long before Frank may see a picture of his own hanging on the walls of the Academy, and that he may live to be afraid of the coming of no baby" (p. 449). This is so redolent of what one might have wished for Millais upon his marriage to Ruskin's ex-wife I cannot but believe that Millais played a strong role in this book in Trollope's imagination, especially when one considers some of the remarks in the scene when Ayala and Lucy visit Hamel in his studio. Millais did spend a good deal of his time making portraits (see Ch 63, p. 525).

Tom is sent upon his travels in what is perhaps the sweetest chapter in the book (Ch 61). As so often happens in a Trollope story, the character most marginalized by the others, the one least respected by the mores of the period, is suddenly declared hero. Who would have thought Priscilla Stanbury, the old maid who was not just not for sale, but not even for rent, was the heroine of He Knew He Was Right? Trollope tells us those who "look at the matter aright" will regard Tom as the "hero of this little history" (p. 500). Everyone in this chapter is kind, everyone tact itself, and the spirit to live on reasserts itself. Tom not only gets out of bed, he interests himself in a spare pair of dress boots. Those who would reject the strong autobiographical element in all novels will have to explain how this motif is so close to the humiliation of one Archibald Greene in the short story of the "O'Conors", and explain why it is that a Mr Greene, the narrator also of "Panjandrum" is given some of the last words of this book, to Colonel Stubbs, "What a happy fellow you are!" (Ch 64, p. 531). I loved Tom for his failure to to go inside to the Mountaineers, for "finding himself unable to face the hall porter" (Ch 61, p. 501) because such things while they seem often so much to social existence and the passing appearance of respect from others are nothing as against his ability "to despair and yet to be constant" (Ch 61, p. 500).

Another of the many resonant lines of this book is our narrator's assertion that "The merit is to despair and yet to be constant". I rather suspect this could explain Mr and Mrs Dosett's philosophy of life if we had been given a real novel with them in the center. Trollope himself despaired after writing novels for 10 years, but yet was constant: he wrote on.

The dialogues in this part of the book show Trollope's genius as a novelist. He has a real talent for it: sharp, vivid, naturalistic, persuasive. Tom visits Ayala who will now see him (since she is no longer in danger from his intense desire for her). Our narrator says he behaved in character. Alas, he wore the absurd jewelry. What is great about Tom in this scene -- as in many throughout the novel --- is he is unashamed of his soul; there is strength in such candour, a candour which enables him to say that Colonel Stubbs was in the right, behaved well to him, "as he does to everyone" (Ch 61, pp. 504-505). The use of the phrase "evil spirit" is intriguing: it makes me think of Freud's essay, "Beyond the Pleasure Principle". There is an evil spirit in Tom which he must obey: which makes him hate those who are so good, which makes him want to destroy himself. Late in life (in "Beyond the Pleasure Principle") Freud backed away from the absolute phraseology of the "death drive" to talk of very real drive to self-destruction which he said emerges when people feel themselves in alien environments. Tom couldn't fit in to this Henry James (using Angela's phrase) world. But it's more than that: he has more in him than the others, more capacity for feeling, if less ability to understand or to express it. His comments to his sisters captures this: "I don't believe you do know anything about it -- that's all". Not that he wishes them badly: he "hopes" they'll "get right too some day". With Mr Traffic and Captain Batsby we don't feel much confidence, but then again there is Sir Thomas with his millions, raking it all in. So he must go on his travels, and our narrator asks us to hope for him the comfort and self-ease we are to hope for the Houstons, live to get "useful information", marry, have a large family, become "the senior partner in the great house of Travers and Treason. Let us, who have soft hearts, now throw our old shoes at him" (Ch 61, p. 508).

I wonder where that custom comes from and what it signals. Archetypes carry meaning. Old shoes. You throw them at people who are so foolish as to put themselves before you in a ceremony of marriage.

"How very much he loved her" is not the heading for the final chapter which unites Colonel Stubbs to Ayala. It takes us into Gertrude's consolidation of her engagement to Batsby & Mr Traffic's departure from Sir Thomas's house. Minus his wife who is to stay in her bed so she may have that baby in comfort and safety. An ironic title. John Letts suggested that we are to see in the depiction of Mr Traffic Trollope's revenge upon a Tory MP. The stupidity, petty behaviors, patently false and uncomfortable self-assertions, and generally speaking continually jockeying for advantage that characterize all four of these lovers vis-a-vis one another (sisters too) is almost made up for by the geniality of tone that bathes the chapter. This one did remind me of how Chaucer can take a fable of real nastiness like "The Miller's Tale" and make it acceptable by his calm acceptance of what he perceives is outrageous if we were to demand of the characters anything like an action which had the slightest unselfishness. I noticed that the last sentence of this chapter showed us Mrs Traffic still clinging to her bedroom upstairs (Ch 62, p. 517). This staying up there might be enough to make one worry about her as it's clear she has no faith in her husband's willingness to provide her with shelter, except that Sir Thomas is there, and can be read as the figure who really is the person who can be said to have "loved" these unloved and hardly loveable women. But then who is loveable by such men?

Our penultimate chapter returns us to Lucy and Hamel and his studio. We have seen too little of this couple. It would have been a much more moving book had Trollope brought them to the center. Even here they are not allowed much space: our attention is to the social scene, to the parallel with Millais, the social satire of the wedding, to Sir Thomas's kindness, and Ayala.

I found it revealing that there is no dramatic scene of either of the sisters' weddings. It is all told, not dramatized. It is a prejudice stemming from Bloomsbury days that says showing, not telling must always be done or a book fails. This is not the place to argue that one, only to refer to many recent literary studies of the novel which shows this is to ignore how much depth of feeling and change of emphasis is necessary in narrative. Trollope didn't want to dramatize these weddings. He wanted to dramatize the psychological and social obstacles that got in the way. From other of his stories (e.g, the close of The Duke's Wedding, Mary Palliser's Marriage, and "The Widow's Mite"), I gather he didn't like ceremonies as hypocritical, especially not what was becoming the gigantic wedding even then. So we end on two dialogues between Stubbs and Ayala in which they remember back and look forward, and hear Stubbs tell the disappointed Mr Greene (our Mr Trollope) that for if he has not been able to have in this world what he longed for "all [will] be made up in the next" (Ch 64, p. 531). Many of those who have written about Trollope have said he needed to have his religious faith to reconcile himself to what he saw in the world in front of him from a boy on.

I have already cited one of my favorite remarks from the whole book in this chapter:

"Infinite trouble has been taken not only in arranging these marriages but in joining like to like -- so that, if not happiness, at any rate sympathetic unhappiness, might be produced." (p. 527).

Here is another: when Colonel Stubbs tells Ayala that he would be "her lover just the same, even though they were husband and wife", our narrator says:

"Alas, no! There he had promised more than it is given to a man to perform. Faith, honesty, steadiness of purpose, joined to the warmest love and the truest heart, will not enable a husband to maintain the sweetness of that aroma which has filled with delight the senses of the girl who has leaned upon his arm as her permitted lover" (p. 531).

It must be admitted that Trollope continually expressed disillusionment with sexual fulfillment after marriage. It did disturb Lewes to the point that he was led to discuss one such remark at the end of one of Trollope's novels. Again we have some autobiography here. We are told by the sceptical Lady Albury not that the reality of marriage is a man is to be everything to a woman, but that it is "the very theory of marriage" (p. 531).

Among my favorite characters have been Mr and Mrs Dosett -- and I notice those of us who have posted while reading the novel have often referred to them -- how long did it take Mr Dosett for his daily walk to and fro work, what did Mrs Dosett want out of life? So I am glad to report that our narrator tells one last truth about them: they were altogether willing to see Ayala married from Stalham because they didn't have the money for it, and remain wholly in character until the book's end:

Mr and Mrs Dosett, who would much rather have stayed away had they not been unwilling not to show their mark of affection to their niece. I doubt whether they were very happy, but they were at any rate received with every distinction" (p. 532).

Stalham has all along been our fairy world of courtesy in Arcadia.

A curious final paragraph: we are told that the woman who we have good reason to see bullies her husband, a man who has been relieved to let her do it, Lady Rufford declares that she sees in Ayala "symptoms of which she was an excellent judge, that Mrs Colonel Stubbs would become known as a professional beauty" (p. 532). After all this book is not just for romantic sheltered schoolgirls with foolish dreams about angels of light. How much after all did Trollope like his "pet" heroine?

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

From: "Thilde Fox"

What remains with me from reading this book is the idea of two girls left orphaned, separated and sent to two such different homes, switched over, remaining friends - what a wonderful idea for a novel! But . . I know that children were often sent away from home, even when the parents were alive. Or it could have been the workhouse for the girls, or being sent into service. Indeed this is a fairy tale.


And finally, from two years earlier:

From: "Catherine Crean"
To: "Ellen Moody"
Subject: Fear and predation in Ayala's Angel
Date: Sat, 4 Sep 1999

Dear Ellen,

Good morning! We are having a lazy foggy day here in New York. I'm enjoying a cup of tea as I finish Ayala's Angel. Such a fascinating book! What chapter are you up to? Some people do not find Ayala Dormer convincing, and some find her tiresome. I think that in Ayala Dormer, Trollope has shown great insight into the heart of young women. Many young women have romantic ideals in mind when they search for partners. Adhering to such naive ideas can be dangerous. In Victotian times when marriage was the only career to which women could aspire, adhering to naive ideas could be fatal. I am reading the chapters where Trollope plays upon a favorite theme: will she or won't she? Ayala has refused Stubbs two times. It has suddenly dawned on me that a great deal of Ayala's reticence comes from sexual fear. Ayala has created an "Angel of Light" as her ideal partner. This angel has few physical attributes. At one point, Ayala wonders why human beings need eat - she wishes people could gain sustenance from the air like trees. This is a young woman who shies from the physical. In describing Stubbs, much is made of his mouth, wide and open, grinning from ear to ear. He had red hair and a beard - a bristly beard not a smooth one. He sounds like the big bad wolf. I wonder why I never saw this aspect of the novel before? The theme of sexual fear and predation is all over this book. The Trafficks are a study in and of themselves. And then, we have the fox hunting scenes. There is so much to this wonderful book!


Re: Fear in Ayala and Rain in Virginia

Good evening!

Dearest Catherine,

Well it has poured sheets of water on and off all day in Virginia. We are getting the remnants of hurricane Dennis. I don't mind as I am so busy at home with all my projects, and today I was feeling a halcyon mood. My daughter Isabel confessed to restlessness by the end of the day -- unusual for her. The world outside tonight is wet clean through.

I agree that Ayala is presented as an innocent girl, who lives in a dream world and who cuts herself off from her own physical sexual impulses. I like your idea that Trollope makes Jonathan Stubbs into a kind of comic big bad wolf. In a way Trollope is punishing Ayala. One thing I was struck with as I was writing about Frank Houston's letters to Imogen, Lady Tringle and Gertrude: what a 'callow' youth he is. Frank is therefore a male counterpart to Ayala. In fact the book is filled with very innocent and ignorant young people who live in dream worlds. Some of their dreams are pretty (Ayala), but some are selfish, supine (Frank's when he wants to marry Gertrude). Trollope gives Sir Thomas Tringle and Reginald Dosett more respect than appears at first. You mentioned the water imagery in your posting to the list, and now you mention the animal imagery which surrounds Colonel Stubbs. I think there is much imagery in all Trollope's novels; in each case the images change to fit the mood, place, themes, characters. Ayala's Angel is fanciful and yet altogether solid too.

A newcomer on the list, Lisa (in effect) agreed with you that in Ayala Trollope shows much insight into a young women's heart: she too said how young women search for the perfect partner. I don't think I did. I somehow never expected anything like perfection. After all growing up I saw my parents, aunts and uncles and saw nothing near perfection in any of them. Maybe this expectation is a result of high expectations for one's life? Again the older people in Trollope's novels have learned to compromise, to resign themselves, to find contentment and companionship where they can.

I worked all day on inventing e-mails for the characters in those novels I discuss in my book The cover will be filled with e-mail addresses of the characters in Trollope's novels.

Talk to you tomorrow.

And so to bed,


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Page Last Updated 11 January 2003