Re: The Belton Estate and Victoria Glendinning's Ur-Story
Last week I mentioned that this tale reminds me of the short story 'The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne' and also of Small House in the way Clara's first love is so important to her, how her first suitor rues his declaration, and how she hesitates to change her course from Aylmer to Benton. This in turn brings to mind Victoria Glendinning's theory of Trollope's 'Ur-Story', in that TBE contains much of the formula: the poor innocent country girl who pledges herself to a worldly man who half-heartedly proposes to her. After the girl accepts the young man immediately regrets his commitment. Glendinning next has the man become involved with another, older woman as in Small House but of course we don't know yet whether that will happen with Aylmer.
It is fascinating to watch how the two men change in Clara's eyes, and we can look for Clara to change as well. This is one of those books that coaxes me to read straight through, but so far I have not.
November 30, 1998
Re: The Belton Estate, Chs 12-16: Two Intersecting Ur-Stories
It is interesting how the love triangle reappears in book after book. As Bart says, Victoria Glendinning believes this reappearance is even obsessive and reflects Trollope's own experience as a young man, torn between a sophisticated alluring woman and a younger, plainer, much less prestigious and innocent younger girl (poor Rose Heseltine that was -- to imitate Mr Woodhouse's way of referring to Mrs Weston after marriage in Austen's Emma).
We saw this triangle in The Vicar, with Harry Gilmore playing the part of the undesired, unsexy, longing young man; in The Way We Live Now, with Paul Montague torn between Mrs Hurtle and Henrietta Carbury; in Orley Farm young Peregrine Orme losing Madeleine Staveley to Felix Graham. For me the ur-story closest to what Glendinning speculates is Trollope's own is the ricocheting of Harry Clavering between Julia Brabazon, Lady Ongar, and Florence Burton. Actually one can find it endlessly: Larry Twentyman longs for Mary Masters who is enthralled by an aristocratic male; Johnny Eames longs for Lily Dale who is enthralled by Adolphus Crosbie. I would be inclined to think it is a plot device were it not presented in this intensely emotional manner which is obsessive. On the other hand, is not this just a way of entangling the reader?
In "The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colnne" it's not a triangle, and yet I think we remember the "The Parson's Daughter" when reading The Belton Estate.
There is another pattern in The Belton Estate which Glendining may not point out, but it is one which reappears over and over in Trollope's book -- perhaps just as obsessively, though the presentation of it is quiet and unobtrusive. I referred to Austen's Mr Woodhouse deliberately: in that novel we find a helpless old man, feeble, yet controlling who lives with a highly competent daughter who let us say "manages" him. Emma's game plan is, "Oh I did it that way, papa, because I knew you would want it," and he cannot think of any objection. The illuminating difference here is that while Austen's Mr Woodhouse remains a caricature, a holy fool, someone not quite believable, Trollope's presentation of Mr Amedroz is absolutely credible at every small stroke. Beyond that it's a pattern we see in other novels: it begins in The Macdermots of Ballycloran with Thady trying desperately to care for the half-insane drunken old man, Larry, who has ruined Thady's own life with his desire for prestige, a fancy house, and who repudiates Thady when Thady most needs him; we see it again in Nina Baltaka with Nina caring for Josef Balatka, a similarly desperate feeble character, similarly selfish, tyrannical, and indifferent to his daughter's needs. This pattern as embodied in The Belton Estate is done with more delicacy and ordinary quiet realism than in the two previous embodiments. Of course here we have the young Anthony Trollope left with his deeply distressed frustrated father.
These autobiographical patterns only begin to leap out at the reader after a while. One has to read the novels more than once and look for patterns between them beyond the Barsetshire and Palliser books (or ignoring that linkage).
I can think of two scenes which like The Belton Estate show repetitive intensely emotional patterns intersecting. There's a scene in _he Last Chronicle between the Rev Mr Crawley and the two Proudies which actually echoes a scene between Nina, her father, and a termagant tyrannical woman who seeks to bully Nina in the ugliest way; this of course links Nina with Mr Crawley. When we then turn to Lady Anna (my present concern) and find a young girl so bullied by her mother and torn between two suitors we have the pattern reappearing in every way one can think.
There's a wonderful essay by L. J. Dessner, "The Autobiographical Matrix of Trollope's The Bertrams, Nineteenth Century Fiction, which does for The Bertrams and An Autobiography what I have tried to outline for The Belton Estatein terms of other novels.
These are also effective plot devices. But they are not those necessarily found in other novelists nor so obsessively. There's something almost Hamlet-like in the lack of an objective correlative for the intense emotion with which Trollope invests the above patterns. Still I am rather more convinced of the autobiographical backdrop to the relationship of Clara with Mr Amedroz as reflective of Trollope and his ill father than with the many loves triangles we find to Trollope's supposed love life.
Re: The Belton Estate, Chs 12-16: Patterns in the Carpet
I have been noticing how Trollope organised both our shorter novels around oppositions and comparisons. In our first six chapters the world of the Amedrozes was pictured and analysed, and a thorough inward and lively dramatisation of Will Belton's first visit was presented. In this Trollope presented 4 of the main players (father, daughter, aunt, and good suitor); he also laid out the issues of money, land, sex, gender in terms of realistically depicted minds in interaction with one another. In the next five we moved to Perivale and Trollope placed Clara in the larger context of provincial society and we see her relationship to her aunt and Captain Aylmer. We were invited to compare Aylmer to Belton.
Now we have five chapters more which return us to the Belton Estate and Will Belton. Will is seen at home, in London, and with the Amedrozes. There is a definite shift in point of view. While in the opening two segments, we find Trollope occasionally entering Aylmer's, Will's, Mrs Askerton's, Mr Amedroz's, and even Mrs Winterfield's point of view, the dominating "eye" is that of Clara. We see with her, feel with her. In this week's section we have three chapters, long pieces, in which Clara is taken from the stage and we see the world out of Will's eyes. I find these very effective. We have his long melancholy introspection, his gathering himself together to go out and fight another day, his stay in London, his downright and clear response to Aylmer and the tiny income Clara is supposed to be grateful for (the lawyer suddenly quietly agrees), and then his coming to the Belton Estate. I thought Trollope's presentation of his lack of a false shield made out of proud hypocrisy was very good. Clara tells him of her "love" for Aylmer (I would use another word for this feeling of hers) and expects him not to bring forward his deep grief; the world works this way. Had Will hid from her and himself what he was really feeling, she could have gone on much more easily. In a way she would have been in greater danger from herself. Now at least she knows Will loves her. She wanted it made easier. He doesn't make it easier for her because he doesn't lie to himself. There is real strength in such a character and they do exist in this world.
Equally true to life and subtle are the depictions of Clara's father and Mrs Askerton. What a hard woman is Mrs Askerton. It's interesting to compare her to Mrs Hurtle. Mrs Askerton asks for no quarter, and she gives none. She has learnt that people who ask questions about you, often use the information against you. As a figure she is used in several ways. We see Will does not snitch and does not attempt to control Clara's behavior; Aylmer knowing less, immediately does. Mrs Askerton is also accurate to say she and Clara really live the same kind of lives. We can finally compare the guarded conversation Colonel Askerton has with Clara to the open way Will talks. Askerton is learnt to keep his shield up, and we are to feel for him that he is trying to protect himself and his wife. Will has been luckier. But then so has Aylmer and Aylmer doesn't know it.
Aylmer gives me the creeps. I remember the mother from the first read. A moral horror. Lady Aylmer has the worst possible qualities and values from the standpoint of humanity, decency, kindness, even common courtesy. And she's real. People are like this and others justify it.
But I digress and go ahead.
Last night I wrote about how Mr Amedroz is a kind of Mr Woodhouse but seen grimly, realistically, without softening illusions. These scenes show Clara's affection for him and his for her. However, he is so much in Will's favor because it has penetrated even his dim mind that Will will be good for the estate, to him, and ultimately to Clara. So as in life he is driven by self-interest. Again the theme of guarding oneself v. showing one's vulnerability comes out. We can compare the transparency of Mr Amedroz's behavior to Will's own -- the former out of weakness, the latter out of strength. We can then see them paralleled to Colonel Askerton's walk and conversation with Clara.
I did want to remark on one aspect of Clara's behavior which links her directly to Will (shows they could become two peas in a pod) and distinguishes sharply from Fanny Price. Fanny would never have leapt upon a hint or innuendo such as Captain Aylmer half unconsciously lets out that he got engaged to Clara because he had promised his aunt he would marry her. This is extremely forceful, aggressive, and brave behavior. Of course Fanny has been brow-beaten, an outcast since childhood, grown up nervous. Clara is not nervous. She also is able to remain unwavering. No vacillator she. She does not write or try to change her dismissal of Captain Aylmer. But then when he writes, like Will, she shows her cards.
I am reminded of The Vicar of Bullhampton. There the themes were about whether one should try to be one's brother's keeper, and we discovered there was much to be said for those who try to care for others, but are also nosy and busy-bodies and get nowhere mostly. There was also logic to the position of those who take care of themselves and don't help others, and yet they are also cold, mean, and make the world an ugly hard place for themselves too (if luck should ever run out). In The Belton Estate we are left to wonder how to get through life: shall one show one's cards in the manner of Will and Clara? is this safe? maybe not. but is it good, sweet, kind? yes. On the other hand, there is much to be said for keeping your cards close to your chest and your opponent unaware of what your trump card is.
I have left out Mary Belton. She is just my very favorite character. I love her, the way Will treats her, and don't care that it's not that subtle a presentation. We are given enough to keep it believable and strong. She's my heroine. What is noticeable is how vague Trollope is about her illness. We are told she sleeps so badly because she is often in real pain; sometimes it pains her to eat. She must be carried from here to there. Any guesses as to what she has?
Subject: The Belton Estate, Chs 12-16: Patterns in the Carpet
Hazarding a guess about Mary Belton, in response to Ellen Moody's post: maybe she had what I've got, Ankylosing Spondylitis, which afflicts men mostly but women more severely. Trollope's brief description certainly sounds familiar. No sympathy, please! My response to 'The Belton Estate' has so far been different from Ellen's in two major ways. First of all, I took Trollope literally when he scolded young ladies for their undue prudence (OUP 128). The list of Captain Aylmer's attractions would serve as a frosty martini glass; there is nothing of the passion of Will Belton. And then Trollope takes immense pains to realize this list of characteristics and *still* keep the man halfway sympathetic, or at least not a demon. If he resembles anyone in the old movies, it's the Ralph Bellamy character, the amiable, slightly goofy millionaire who's going to take the heroine 'away from all this.' (See His Girl Friday and, even better, The Awful Truth, both also starring Cary Grant.) The heroine is drawn to him by purely practical considerations, plus an instinctive fear, if you will, of her own possibly uncontrollable sexuality. In the movies, such triangles memorably provide us with screwball comedies, but Trollope takes the danger of the heroine's making the wrong choice too seriously for laughs. Then again, half the screwball ingenues are millionaires in their own right.
The second point on which I disagree is Clara's openness, which Ellen puts with Will's. Heavens, I thought, if that had been the case there would have been no story. Clara is almost obsessively bound by decorous reticence. She can't talk about money. She can't tell Will about Captain Aylmer because she's never said anything to Aylmer himself - and presumably this rules out hints (intelligible hints being vulgar - Mrs-Eltonish, I suppose). She can't tell Mrs. Winterfield that she'll have nothing from her father, and vice versa (this is above and beyond the basic money taboo). I would in short propose that there's a doctoral thesis here: let someone compute the percentage of lines of Clara's dialogue containing straightforward, candid, and particular statements (no bromides, please). I was about to put down the book altogether when her badinage with Aylmer in the train rescued the book for me (though I was never deceived about him, of course, Trollope being quite clear from the beginning).
The next thing that saved the book for me - or would have, if I'd needed it, was the description of Mrs. Winterfield's house at Perivale. Trollope does not linger over the landscape as George Eliot does, and his poetries are best in short shots. This is one of the best. The description of the front of the house, with its garden (through which poor Mrs. Winterfield occasionally 'creeps'!), together with the view of the house and its outbuildings from the river below that we get at a slightly later point, have fixed themselves in my brain as nothing else in Trollope has done - I've absolutely no idea why. Incidentally, I gather that the complex is Georgian, a period I've gathered Trollope, like many Victorians, found brutal rather than classic.
Pulling out my Ordnance Survey was no use. American readers should know that Taunton is actual, but then nothing happens beyond a hundred-yard radius of the railway station. There's a 'West Somerset Railway' - marked 'disused' - that runs up between the Quanton and the Brendon Hills, and I decided that Belton and Redicote must be there. Only twenty miles - and four hours! away. Four hours in a vehicle resembling an unsprung taxi on the old First Avenue. But what about Perivale? I didn't know which way to look. The likeness of its steeple to Salisbury's made me wonder if that was Trollope's model, but I decided against it, as in that case Perivale would have a bishop. As for Aylmer Castle, it's in Yorkshire, as is Trafford Park, the seat of the Duke of Kingsbury, in Marion Fay- in which later novel I think Trollope works out the awful possibilities of aristocratic country-house snootiness rather more richly.
It seems almost as fatuous as observing that the sky is blue on clear days to agree with Ellen about Lady Aylmer, but I hasten to counteract the propensity for the negative inherent in all comment. (It's usually the case that Ellen has left me nothing to say - much worse!) I hope that she will give us Plutarchian pairing of the Folliot sisters.
From Elllen in response to RJ:
In response to RJ I'll say that, like Bart, I like the novel very much. I have not been in any danger of putting it down. Maybe my interpretation is one which shows people why someone can come away from the novel feeling a sound view of life (Will's and Mary's and Clara's) has been put before them against a hard mean sleazy and false or hypocritical one (the Aylmer's) in the context of the selfishness and fatuity, blindness and denseness (Clara's father, brother, aunt) of most the people who make society what it is. In The Warden Trollope asks what is public society but the agglomeration of what many individuals want and how they act.
It's interesting to find that in these more Austen-like novels Trollope, like Austen, builds an imaginary place within a map that really existed. Of course he does this for the Barsetshire and Irish series too.
December 3, 1998
Re: The Belton Estate: Reasons for Liking It
This to Pat and all Trollope friends, I find myself liking The Belton Estate because I feel Clara is real. I can also identify with her situation. I didn't mean to say she is frank all the time (this to RJ); rather that she is a character quite different from Fanny Price in that she has the strength to act swiftly, to dare to give up a possible income, to defy people, to tell the truth (to her aunt, to Aylmer, to Will) when she feels it is right to do so. I also like Will. The characters seem real, not idealised. On the surface it is a much harder book than Rachel Ray.
It also moves swiftly. I am myself coming to the conclusion (most heterodox this) that Trollope's metier was not the enormously long novel. He strained to produce them. He most enjoyed the novella ("that pleasant task," he calls it, "a book less than 300 pages); but he was at his finest in the medium length book (2-3 volumes, not 5).
Re: _The Belton Estate_, Ch 16: Captain Aylmer's Letter
The letter by Captain Aylmer which ended last week's installment (Chapter 11) is introduced by Trollope as "the sort of letter [gentlemen about to marry] should not write to the girls of their hearts" (Oxford Belton Estate, ed. JHalperin, pp. 208-10). What wrong with this letter? Until he gets to Mrs Askerton and his mother on the surface nothing at all. He is only explaining to her why his mother means so much to him and ought to mean a lot to her. He is sorry her father is ill. Even the request for her to stop seeing Mrs Askerton would not sit amiss with many middle class Victorians fearful of losing their respectability and the vulnerability that may cause. Aylmer is not an ogre. Yet Trollope as narrator tells us "it was a disagreeable, nasty letter from the first line to the last" The next sentence goes on to look at it from Clara's point of view -- not "a word or thought that did not grate on her feelings and make her fear for her future happiness."
Trollope gives us the explanation in this week's chapters: on the one hand, Aylmer is a common kind of person; "cold-hearted and ungenerous." This reminds me of Austen's portrait of John Dashwood in S&S; it also clearly recalls the captain in "The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne." These men are not wretches; are suitable and just and will be loyal to those who are loyal to them in their way. But the coldness of heart and lack of real generosity is what is unforgivable. Novels are idealising forms and we hold up a mirror of a group of ideals against our characters. Captain Aylmer is not capable of loving anyone but Captain Aylmer. He is his social mask and thinks, lives, feels cant because he has no deep feeling heart or capacity for imaginative life. Mr Knightley does -- remember how intensely repelled he is when he sees how Jane and Churchill are deceiving Emma; his intense emotional repugnance at Emma's cruelty to Miss Bates at Box Hill; his strong emotional jealousy over Churchill, protectiveness for Jane, Harriet and Emma too. The way he acted at the close of the book. I like Mr Knightley. His strong common sense and integrity reminds me of my father as I would like to believe he was. Mr Knightley does not live by the world's cant.
I can, however, see why John thinks Trollope disapproved of Knightley. I don't know that coldness of character is what Trollope had in mind -- I suspect he found Austen's men not sexy enough. Mr Knightley has only become sexy for me since I watched Mark Strong. (Alan Rickman did the same for Colonel Brandon for me.) Still Trollope does have very sexual men and is (see above) always for warmth of feeling. On the other hand I would counter Thilde's comment about the presentation of Dick Musgrove that Austen is always a satirist, while Trollope remains psychologically realistic and rounded in his approach. That is the key to the complexity of the above letter.
December 4, 1998
Re: Close Reading, Proust, Trollope and the Dynamics of Public Cyberspace
Kishor A Kale wrote:
"Of course there are often different interpretations of paintings and texts; my question was about how common it was for someone to come up with interpretations which were logically defensible yet provably different from any interpretation which the author could conceivably have had in mind."
A belated reply. It is as common as in literary studies. I recommend reading Erwin Panofsky's Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic.
On Kishor's other question, a list is a public forum, perhaps one of the scariest there is. You cannot see the other people; they have nothing seriously at stake (job, money); you don't know who's there. People use pseudonyms. Now even in a public forum where people can be called into account and these realities are operating to create a civilized space within which a given community can operate, there is always the difference between the public and the private self. One of my favorite passages from Proust insists we must remember this. He writes: "un livre est le produit d'un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices." He is not the same man "qui a attendu pendant qu'on était avec les autres, qu'on sent bien le seul réel, et pour lequel seuls les artistes finissent par vivre." I don't know if I agree with the implication that the private self is another or different self; it's rather that the private self is partly masked. In public we are all appearing in a play in which we fit ourselves into roles that are culturally and socially acceptable; sometimes the fit is comfortable and sometimes uncomfortable. I think in his novels Trollope recognises the difference between private and public selves: Aylmer wears a mask of social convention tightly over his face; Will may be frank and candid, but the man who wandered in that garden in anguish and then through the streets of London has put a different expression on his face and is holding his body differently during these chapters than he does when he sits across the fire from Clara and listens to her talk.