Rachel Ray and The Belton Estate: Mothers and Middle Class Respectablity; Sad & Bitter/Sweet Comedy & Hard; The Belton Estate: Believable or Unrealistic?; The Author's Stance: Belton Estate and Felix Holt
Subject: Rachel Ray and The Belton Estate: Mothers and Middle Class Respectablity Sender: owner-trollope-l@smtp.teleport.com

December 7, 1998

From John Mize

In both Rachel Ray and The Belton Estate Trollope has an overbearing, interfering mother and a bride-to-be who will not tolerate being dictated to by her future husband's mother. Luke will not let his mother dictate to him when it comes to Rachel, but Frederic fails the same test. In both novels the mothers seem to stand for respectable, middle class society. Trollope's attitude toward middle class respectablity seems ambivalent. He doesn't want to offend the proprieties, but at times he finds the severe, unforgiving nature of respectable opinion intolerable. Clara can't bring herself to give up Mrs. Askerton, since they are already friends, but Trollope suggests that if she had known about Mrs. Askerton's history beforehand, she would not have allowed herself to become that close to the woman. Did Trollope's wife see George Eliot socially or did she avoid her since she wasn't actually Mrs. Lewes?

John Mize

To Trollope-l

December 7, 1998

Re: Belton Estat, Chs 17-21: Sad & Bitter/Sweet Comedy & Hard Beauty

As John Mize says, this chapter brings before us the miserable Lady Aylmer. It also brings Lord Aylmer, the daughter, Belinda, Aylmer Castle, and the Park. What struck me about the chapter in which they were introduced and all their appearances thereafter as well as all the descriptions of the place and the manners therein is how sad and bitter it is all. It is a commonplace in Austen criticism that a large school of critics thinks about Austen in the manner of D. W. Harding: they see a strong or dominating vein in her work which they call 'regulated hatred.' Halperin refers to it as acid, anger, delicious malice; Mudrick talks about her irony as the tool of the weak in life, but powerful in the world.

What has struck me is that until recently there has not been such a school of criticism about Trollope. There are some who talk about his underlying sombreness, disillusion, quiet cynicism, many despairing characters (AOCockshut & Geoffrey Harvey come to mind). But no one talks about the sadness and bitterness of many chapters, phases in novels, and depictions of so many characters in his books. Chapter 17 is commonplace in Trollope. The opening description of Aylmer Park is veyr bitter: aristocratic is repeated until it becomes the most jaundicated of qualities; the servants are fat, lazy, and stupid, the lady of the house is a bully, stingy, mean; she entertains herself by making the lives of these servants miserable; Lord Aylmer is a man who gets no pleasure out of life except when he escapes from Lady Aylmer and can rail at anyone who comes his way. His problem is he can "only blow up the servants" when they pass him by; "Lady Aylmer can get at them day and night" (Oxford Belton Estate, Ch 17, pp. 211-14).

The daughter is a desperate case. The one friend she has she abandons to save a few shillings. She leads a death in life, her mother's instrument in all things. (She recalls a similar old-maid aristocratic woman in The Kellys except in the earlier book Trollope is somewhat more sympathetic and comic in approach.) Their adament attitude to Mrs Askerton is condemned; the reason Clara and others must ostracise her is the world is filled with such moral horrors, not because it is right or kind or just to do so. In fact Trollope again (as he does so often) makes a point of saying how unfair, gross, and evil the world is with regard to such women: the world gives them no second chance; forces them to self-destruct.

He also never misses a chance to depict them as ugly. Lady Aylmer has fat arms, fat hands, a horrible front of hair, cheap, ugly, old, and dishevelled (p. 221). The father is a heartless selfish petty coward in his conversation with his son.

When people talk of how Trollope absolutely or complacently supports the establishment, I wonder if they have read his books with even the least care. Not that I think this vein is politically-motivated; I don't. I think it's personal and comes out of austere moral standard combined with a love of life's joys as they really are rather than faked for prestige.

Trollope doesn't sentimentalise. He doesn't present his previously-fallen woman as any kind of paragon. Mrs Askerton's story (Chapter 18) is terribly real; it must have happened to many Victorian women of her period. She is made lucky: the man died. He also shows Clara's motives are mixed. She feels for her friend, but she is also rebelling against this lover. I suggest he wants us to believe that Clara really loves Will but does not know her own mind. She is fooled by the values of the world, by a young girl's false view of what's alluring. There are number of passages (Chapter 19) where Trollope suggests she wants to wiggle out of the marriage, doesn't like Aylmer, in fact loves Will, is waiting for him, thinks the world of him. There's also the soliloquy that ends this week's installment: "Did she wish to be his wife? Could she assure herself that if they were married they would make each other happy? Did she love him?" (p. 278)

Again I think this is real. I have met women and men who are going out with someone, sleeping with him or her, even married and seem to deny to themselves what is apparent to many about them: they dislike the partnet but cannot face this dislike.

The catastrophe has now occurred. Mr Amedroz is dead. As in Trollope's other books, and in the presentation of Mrs Winterfield's death, we get no lugubrious dead scene. He just vanishes; death is not being there any more and the consequences for everyone else of your not being there. This book has had three deaths which isolate Clara more and more: the brother's suicide, the aunt's, and now the father's. Will has the delicacy to feel he is wrong to take what a suicide gave him. The use of a suicide to begin the novel with sets a tone of sombreness too.

The last two of this week's chapters relieve the darkness some. I find real sweet comedy in Will's reappearance and inward struggles first at Plaistow with his sister, then with his lawyer and continually with himself (Chapter 20) Trollope is never behind the times. The news is brought by a telegraphic message; Will hops on a train, means to take the mail train, see his lawyer. I was touched by his stubbornness, transparency, confusion, irrationality. The interior monologues are all very well done. The lawyer is another good guy, and wise. He sees the problem immediately, and Trollope suggest this in brief lines: "'He is engaged to her, you know, said the lawyer, in a low voice'" (p. 264). Green is kind to Will without being foolish or soft or sentimental. The tone hit is just right.

There is also beauty in Mrs Askerton's character (Chapter 21) She is honest and truer than any Aylmer. She is hard too: "'I don't believe that what people call consolation is ever of any use. It is a terrible thing to lose a father'" (p. 270). She could not help her deceit, but now that she understands how Clara has nothing and how vulnerable she makes us, she offers to go away. One could write about the characters and themes and Trollope's attitudes towards these just from the letters in this novel. Each mirrors the complicated inward souls of the people.

We end with Clara waiting for Will to come to her.

Comments anyone?

Ellen Moody

Subject: Belton Estate, Chs 17-21: Sad & Bitter/Sweet Comedy & Hard

Ellen could be right that Trollope was trying to make us see that Clara did not know her own mind, that she should have allowed herself to be guided by the wiser males.

But I think he was trying to show us that tempermentally, Will and Clara are a perfect match. Both ardent, passionate, intensely loyal. Clara would never have been happy with Alymer; a Miss Fenton (from A Simple Story by Inchbald) or Griselda Grantley would have been more to his taste. As a person who will do anything to avoid rocking the boat, he would have rapidly found himself seasick in one with Clara. Will saw Clara's indomitable spirit in dealing with the many trials of her life, and I think it was this that made him fall in love so quickly with her.

Yes, I know it is only a book, but to me, these characters are so very real!

Jill Spriggs

Subject: Belton Estate, Chs 17-21: Sad & Bitter/Sweet Comedy & Hard Sender: owner-trollope-l@smtp.teleport.com

Yes, Clara is wonderful in that she is not at all "missish". I love the way in which she takes Will up on his hearty enthusiasm for life when she first meets him, and is happy to be embraced as a cousin, and call him by his first name, when you feel that a Griselda Grantley type would have shied away from his loud warmth. She is glad to have him there to breate new life into the estate, and happy to accept the cow. This is part of what makes her so suffocated at Aylmer Park. She recognises at last that she and Will are more alike than unlike, and this undermines her initial respect for Aylmer.

At heart Clara dislikes the sober quietness of ladies sewing, ordering tea, snubbing each other silently and going out for jolting, slow airings in the carriage. She put up with the quiet life at Perivale because she was fond of her aunt, and her aunt is old, and she thought that Aylmer did the same. Slowly she realises that he actually likes this model of a woman, and that this is quite different from the vision that she has of how a property works as the heart of a community (see, for instance, their different ideas about why the house at Perivale should be kept up).

The struggle about Mrs. Askerton is part of this. She is the sort of person the Aylmers like to gossip about. Clara takes her as she finds her, and is loyal. I love the way that Trolllope shows us how Mrs. Askerton fears Will's honesty and thinks that he will reveal her past to Clara, when of course it is Frederick she has to fear. No such woman would have to tremble because of Will, guided as he is by his exquisitely courteous and generous instincts. Clara, how can you resist?

It reminds me in part of Ayala's Angel, where Ayala's Jonathan Stubbs shows her the joys of riding on horseback--a kind of physical and spiritual freedom for her from a similarly conventional and dull life.


Subject: The Belton Estate: Believable or Unrealistic? Sender: owner-trollope-l@smtp.teleport.com

I am a little behind most of you with this book, however I don't remember if anyone commented on Clara's possible inexperience as a reason she doesn't know who she loves? I can't imagine that her position in life even before her brother's death gave her much invitations to other people's homes or to social occaisions in which she would have observed or been part of the mating ritual? I think the narrator does state that Mrs. Askerton is the only freind she has until Will comes along.

Capt Aylmer tells her the first time they are engaged that he wants her to defer to his mama, she doesn't get it. I think an experienced woman would have realised that comment from him meant that danger lies ahead if the engagement proceeded. Also she didn' think about the number of times she found herself thinking of Will while she was with Aylmer. I think a woman in love would not even have remembered who will belton was.

I actually do not think this situation is all that realistic. I have yet to meet a woman who has had as many marriage proposals as Clara. In fact considering her poverty, it is a real surprise that the capt even thought of asking her the first time becasue he could do better. However Trollope wanted to talk about the getting something difficult rather than something easy. I have seen that in poeple but not to this extent. wow, two marriage proposals from the same man to a woman he really only knows slightly. pklein28@mindspring.com

Penny Klein

To Trollope-l

December 9, 1998

Re: The Author's Stance: Belton Estate and Felix Holt

I agree with Marcella and Jill that Trollope's characters seem so real. They leap off the page at us. I suggest it's not so much their attitudes or characters which is responsible for this but 1) Trollope's ability to convey nervous energy through language; and 2) his stance. He is close to the characters; he is either inside them looking out or right next to them, moving in to see the world from their perspective and then standing next to them to comment. In comparison George Eliot works at a distance. She stands off from her character from afar; any typical paragraph which have much commentary of an external descriptive and moral analytical kind. The moral analysis endlessly moves out to consider the characters as an example of this type of thing in life or that. The advantage gained in perspective is enormous; she seems so intelligent. The loss in immediacy is also enormous. We just don't feel the passion of her characters radiating out at us from the page. To me this suggests that Eliot is more at home with critical thinking and might probably have preferred to write in another genre, though so many novelists have taken her more distanced stance: she is really very like Scott in the stance; Trollope, on the other hand, seems to combine the ability of a Richardson to be the character with a social perspective which at least suggests the breadth of Fielding and can move out when he wants to frame the action in a social and political context.

I also agree with Penny that the story of Clara is not realistic. Still so are most novels of many periods. At least she only has two lovers and both of them are presented in ways that show us they have much to do beyond woo her, and she too has a live to live which is independent of what they are, or at least would very much like to live one. In Eliot's case, Esther will have two lovers too, and the relationship between them as men and she as a possible wife is presented somewhat realistically. They will survive if they don't get her; and vice versa. One might wish love stories were not at the central of the plots themselves -- however, that's the form in the 19th century. Gissing may decry it, but the broken love story is at the center of the plot of New Grub Street. Among popular novels today it's not all that much different.

Ellen Moody

Subject: The Belton Estate: Believable or Unrealistic
Sender: owner-trollope-l@smtp.teleport.com

I agree that the engagement of Capt. Aylmer and Clara is not the most convincing thing Trollope ever wrote, and would add that the captain is not the most vivid character T. ever drew. However, the two must have known of, and then known, each other much of their lives because of the connection with the aunt. To this add the fact that they were together when Clara's brother, and then the aunt, died, and all the emotional involvement that brought. Plus we should assume that there is some chemistry between them. Plus Clara's financial straits were not dire until very late in their relationship. She is pretty, educated, a gentleman's daughter, and actually fully acceptable as his wife; remember Elizabeth Bennet's statement to Lady Catherine as to "Mr. Darcy is a gentleman and I am a gentleman's daughter." All those proposals are a kick, but i think Eleanor Bold outdid her in getting two in one day, with a third lover in the wings.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I like this novel a lot, even though there isn't much humor in it. Since then we have been to Aylmer Park, and I think Trollope is at his best with miserable women. My favorite scene in Rachel Ray was the visit Mrs. Rowan and Mrs. Tappit paid to Mrs. Ray. Lady Aylmer is a hoot, but only because it is obvious by then that Clara has begun the long process of falling out of love and so lady Aylmer has no real power to destroy her prospects of happiness. WE can enjoy watching her wage her wars. it is interesting to wonder what would have happened had the Alymers been the warm. loving parents Clara never had. She almost certainly would have married the captain then and maybe it would have been OK, at least for awhile. But of course it would have been a different book then.

One final thought on the Aylmers. I remember Garnet Bass of JASNA writing once in connection with Jane Austen that she had learned that "just because you're wrong doesn't mean you're not right." Lady Alymer was wrong about the reasons why Clara was the wrong wife for Fred, but she was also right that Clara was the wrong wife for him. Fred's father was also a misery, but he hit the nail on the head when he told Fred that the only real reason for him to marry Clara was if he was passionately in love with her, and he obviously wasn't. Pat

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