A Fairy Tale; Climax and Turning Point; The Belton Estate and Jane Austen's The Watsons; The Letters; Henry James on Trollope and The Belton Estate.

From: Penny Klein
Subject: Belton Estate: A Fairy Tale
Sender: owner-trollope-l@smtp.teleport.com

Don't get me wrong, I like Clara, but she acting as if there is something illegal or immoral about accepting any of the money that her "aunt" wanted to leave for her but didnt' get it done in time. Everyone at the reading mentioned that she should have gotten somethng and she was told that she would. She knows she was kind to the woman, much better to her than the heir presumptive. It shocked me that she tried to refuse the money. I can understand if it was from a crime, a major felony or from someone who had harrased her.

I also think it only happens in fairy tales that a woman gets to stay in her house when the heir is also a rejected suitor who also agrees to act as big brother only. I wish I could be so lucky. I have a big brother, but he would just as soon charge me rent as kick me out for the money he would make if he were the sole heir. No, I do not think that Clara's life is realistic.


To Trollope-l

December 15, 1998

Re: The Belton Estate, Chs 22-26: Climax & Turning Point

As is often true of Trollope's lesser known books, I found these chapters not always pleasant to read, yet deeply absorbing and at times moving.

What happens is Clara takes the fateful decision to honor her engagement, goes to Aylmer Park where she finds Lady Aylmer in charge and her marriage to Captain Aylmer turned into a remote possibility unless she will bring Will Belton's estate on a platter with her. When she refuses, Lady Aylmer plays the trump card of Mrs Askerton: she demands Clara make some explicit statement of eternal disavowal of friendship, and when Clara again refuses, she so insults her that Clara finds in this the excuse to do what she has realised she ought to do for some time now: break with Aylmer, and return to Will. She has at long last realised who it is she loves, who deeply loves her. The problem is she can't just return to him. She can't go live with him -- as she might well do today. The dea ex machina of this book becomes a fallen woman (neat irony): Mrs Askerton has come over to Will's side, and has (temptress-like and less than moral here) tried to persuade him to preclude Clara's going to Aylmer Park in the first place by urging her to accept Mrs Askerton's invitation to live there before going to the Park. Will is tempted, but does not fall; he will leave Clara's choice open to her. However, the offer stands and as this week's installment ends Clara is on her way back to Mrs Askerton where we know Will will come to her.

That's the plot. In outline it reinforces the somewhat feminist thrust of this book. Will will not order Clara around. He gives her her freedom to choose. He does not seek to put people over her to make her conform to society's ways. (In Aylmer's "exoneration if it is one, he has all his life lived by cant; has succeeded by it; probably admires his mother, and certainly as a politician has won and kept office by his utter conventionality.) There is through the workings of the plot and the sense that Clara has done the right thing to stay loyal to a friend whose case is understandable sympathy for the fallen woman. Mrs Askerton is not idealised: all the better. I have always thought the portrayals of prostitutes with hearts of gold as bad as the portrayals of black people who are absolute saints of heroism. Both are condescending and deprive whole groups of people of the adulthood of rage and sin. At the center of the story, the explanation for much of what happens is here is a capable, highly intelligent and strong young woman who ought to be able to earn her own living and can't. She must be a burden to someone or starve. I suppose were this real life Clara could have gone into governessing. She is characterised as not the type.

However, what absorbed and moved me what not this bottle (=outline) but the wine in it (=meditations, strong scenes, commentary by narrator). Since I am also a listener (I dislike the term 'lurker') on a James Family List I found myself puzzled as to why Henry James called this book "stupid" and "dull." I hope I don't offend anyone if I say all the talk this week on JamesF-l has been of how Henry James's fiction may be read as homosocial (=homosexual), and I wondered if the intensity of the presentation of heterosexual love irritated Henry James. I told myself I am allowing myself to take all this "queer theory" too seriously. Still the chapter called "Passionate Pleading" is one of the more passionate I have read by Trollope. Will's suddenly plunging over Clara and kissing her passionately and treating her in ways that lead her to cry and yet eventually understand how much she does deeply love him is as close to sexual encounter as a Victorian author can get with an innocent virgin heroine. The vexed nature of the dialogue, the give-and-take of the scenes, the sheer sensuality of Trollope's language at times -- all so vivid, all great.

Similarly well-done are the scenes in London and Aylmer Park. Captain Aylmer is in a way innocent. He is your ordinary guy. He is doing his duty. He is trying to be civil. Will's nature explodes when confronted by this kind of person. I thought to myself Trollope was pouring himself into Will. Trollope was the bull in the china shop in his world. The scenes on the train were also good. On Victoria there was recently a thread on train scenes in Victorian fiction. Here are some vivid ones where the train itself becomes part of the psychology of what's happening. Then we were in the Great Northern Railway Hotel and Clara took a room for herself -- well at least slept in it. No chaperone. At Aylmer Park Clara can see that Captain Aylmer is suffering more than she. He too wishes she would go away. Yet he remains honorable. I was supposed to warm to Lord Aylmer and I did. Poor Belinda is another woman who is dependent upon the kindness of others -- her harridan-mother.

Penny mentioned how perverse it is of Clara to refuse the 75. I agree the behavior is strained to the point of near unbelievability. In the real world no one chooses to starve. However, does not Clara assume somone will ask her in? Mrs Askerton, a neighbour. Of course then she should take the money all the more because she is not taking it to assert her independence. On the other hand, Trollope's theme is perversity. It is perverse of Clara to cling to Aylmer for so long. Human desire is perverse: we love the thing others value. This is what Halperin thinks the novel is about; I suggest it's one strong element in a larger picture. For example, it does not work for Will. He loves Clara no matter what her situation or circumstance or who wants her or doesn't.

Why did I find the chapters not always pleasant to read. The contest of wills. This typical of Trollope. The use of intimidation by a character who is hard, mean, and very unpleasant but all too common in our world (Lady Aylmer in this case). The sense of pressure and suffocation because Clara feels like she has little choice. The breaking out of these bonds. In the struggle between Clara and Lady Aylmer the politics of dominance and submission -- and Lady Aylmer's use of her ability to bully others everywhere else. How so many characters are desperate, lonely, aimless, in solitude -- Mrs Askerton. The helplessness of some -- and the cold exterior taken on as a form of protection (Mr Askerton). I loved when Clara asked Lady Aylmer upon being told she cannot be friends with Mrs Askerton because she is not what she ought to be, "Which of us is what we ought to be?"

I was struck how Clara tries to get Will to advise her and he won't. As I read that I thought of how many times I try to get my husband to advise me, and he won't. There is a subtheme here about taking advice that we want to hear. We ask for advice, but that's not what we want. We want the person to tell us what we have in our heads and have not faced as what we want to do.

There were all sorts of nice touches in the different scenes. Trollope also paints a milieu and real places. Since we have read The Belton Estate in tandem with Rachel Ray I'll comment on the pair that it seems to me one of Trollope's goals in Rachel Ray was mainly to portray the feel of provincial life (like Cranford). The Belton Estate seems more like The Claverings or Miss Mackenzie: all three are driven and shaped by a group of themes which are not necessarily to be attached to a very specific place.

Comments anyone?

Ellen Moody

Re: The Belton Estat and Jane Austen's The Watsons

For those on our list who are also readers of Austen's novels, I'll like to point to a little vignette earlier in the novel which seemed a close transcription of how Austen's unfinished and quietly-grim little novella: Clara has just said of her engagement to Aylmer: "It is one of those engagements in which neither party is very anxius for an immediate change:

There was something bitter in Clara's tone as she said this, which the old man perceived, but could only half understand. Clara remained with him then for the rest of the day, going down-stairs for five minutes to her dinner, and then returning to him and reading aloud while he dozed. Her winter evenings at Belton Castel were not very bright but she was used to them and made no complaint" (Oxford Belton Estate, ed JHalperin, Ch 18, p 238)

This is how The Watsons ends: Emma sitting next to a very ill father; the difference is Emma is grateful to be up there, and not to go downstairs where life is so much worse.

For many genteel and intelligent women of England before WWI, when women first took jobs out of the home in large numbers, this might have a way many a young women could spend her evening.

Ellen Moody

Re: Letters in The Belton Estate

As ever, Trollope's use of letters in this novel is superb. There's a dissertation topic -- well, maybe not in the modern world, but once upon a time it could have been. There are more of them in The Belton Estate than Rachel Ray: in the latter they are used for climaxes; here they thread and move the inward action along.

Ellen Moody

From: The Hansens
Subject: Belton Estate
Sender: owner-trollope-l@smtp.teleport.com

Speaking of the 75 pounds, I thought that Clara acted perfectly as one would expect a Trollope heroine to act; to send the money back. Forgive me if I do not cite other works, but this is very much in keeping.

Also in the chapter called 'Passionate Pleading' it was quite obvious to me that Clara would not go directly to stay with Mrs Askerton, and thereby not go along with Mrs A's little plot to keep Clara from Aylmer Park. I just knew that this heroine would not take the easy way out and instead insist on a confrontation with the old lady.

The dinner scene at the Great Northern Railway Hotel was very well done. Someone writing a screen play need not change a single word. In this case Will did not go too far, but like with Johnny in 'Small House' who attacked Crosbie at the railway station, Will's anger was strongly presented.

In the next chapter, when Clara arrives at Aylmer Park, another Trollopean theme is repeated. This is where Lady Aylmer remains in her drawing room instead of greeting her guest at the door. How many times have we seen this manner of snubbing the poor intended bride!? Trollope's distaste for this classism gets topped off in the following chapter when he shows Lady Aylmer periodically changing her 'front' or false hair piece. We have come to associate false hair and crinolines with female disapproval on his part.

As for Henry James' criticism of this book, it is my recollection that early on James consistently panned Trollope's works. Don't many young writers do this to the old guard? By the time Trollope was dead, James was much more complementary. I do not ascribe James' more mature appreciation to mere social courtesy. Some writers of any age seem unable to suffer others' success. I understand that today both John Updike and Norman Mailer, in their dotage, appear to be greatly resentful of Tom Wolfe's success.

Looking forward to the final 80 pages, Bart

Re: Henry James on Trollope and The Belton Estate

I'm happy to chime in with Bart (if a few days later): I agree Clara is not one to avoid confrontations; the scenes at the dinner table at the hotel are superb drama. The dinner table at Aylmer Park is also an effective battleground with hashed chicken providing the visibilia to be fought over. I have often thought the best novelists are those whose dramatic narratives can be translated almost directly onto the stage. What we miss in films or the stage is that interior monologue which is also necessary to novelistic art.

Yes personal envy at the success of another may account for some of James's early criticism of Trollope's books. On the other hand, he is usually generous to fellow artists. That's in his interest too: it has not really been in Mailer's interest to flame people in public the way he does. Partly I suppose Trollope's art is close to James's own (Sir Harry Hotspur is really very like Washington Square in many ways). They are like two people of the same religion fighting ferociously over some minor point. But what is the minor point? James appears to have rushed out and gotten each of Trollope's book as it came off the press and sat down and read it. It's not really true that James turned around very slowly and by the time Trollope was dead became respectful. He turned around at the publication of Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel which he wrote about in terms so glowing one would think these novellas were miniature Anna Kareninas. He also didn't pan the other books so severely as he did this. He rants frantically at it. It seems to have roused something in him which made his gorge rise. Yet I think it is a small gem and if not inward, picturesque, romantic & tragic in the manner of Nina and Linda, in the realm of quiet realism just as morbid if I may be permitted the word as one of approbation.

Ellen Moody

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