November 22, 1998
Re: The Belton Estate: Chs 7-11: Trollope's Unconventionality
What strikes me about this week's chapters is how truthful Trollope is about certain kinds of things that people not only lie about as a matter of course, but don't realise they lie. Obviously this idea is at the heart of Trollope's depiction of the Captain Aylmer's response to Clara Amedroz. If we were to ask Aylmer, he would tell us he loves her, but there is but one person he loves: himself. That in just about all relationships there is one person who needs the other more or is more vulnerable to the others' demands be it from sensitivity of spirit, lack of prestige in the world's eyes, lack of a separate income, or because he or she just plain needs the other person's support and companionship more is something most of us know. I like where Trollope makes the point that Aylmer himself realises that one's "interest depend[s] on other things besides money" (Oxford Belton Estate, ed. Halperin, p. 120). It's too easy to say that what counts in life's battle is money and money trumps all; in human relationships it has often more to do with the human spirit's emotionalism, brains, warmth. All this Clara has, and it makes her superior yet vulnerable. I really loved Trollope for saying that the flaw in this marriage is
"that the stronger was submitting itself to the weaker, the greater to the less, themore honest to the less honest, that which ws nearly true, to that which was in great part false" (p. 132).
Most people would not be willing to write this; they would fear the accusation, elitist. Or they would think Aylmer the stronger. In terms of the world's values, yes. Not in terms of what they have within themselves to give to the other. She is giving herself up to an inferior person whose inferiority will destroy her spirit because it won't appreciate or understand hers.
This novel seems to me to have for a central theme: unconventional truths versus what people say to be so. Everyone says Mrs Winterfield was a saint; Trollope makes us see this definition of sainthood is wholly inadequate. I don't know why people who read Trollope don't see how strikingly unconventional are his opinions; maybe because he says them so simply. Take his attitude towards death. A.O.Cockshut writes that Trollope alone of the Victorians doesn't write long lugubrious, indeed half-hysterical scenes of death. In Trollope characters die and everyone gets on with life even if saddened or frightened for a while. What Trollope concentrates on is how the dying think about life and act towards it in the last weeks, and how the living behave after the death -- really. Here take the scene between Clara and the the Rev Mr Possit. When Clara goes down on her knees, Trollope writes:
"the struggle within her bosom was hard, and when he bade her to keel and pray with him, she doubted for a moment between rebellion and hypocrisy. But she had determined to be meek, and so hypocrisy carried the hour" (p. 109).
He goes on for a brilliant paragraph to point out how for most people prayer is the outward action they submit to because everyone does it; certainly that's Mr Possit's case. We see the Possit mourns the loss of his Sunday dinner and seventy pounds far more than the lady gone. Says Trollope, and who can blame him. Of course Clara has it worse: she has nothing.
Indeed the whole presentation of Clara is unconventional. She is no Rachel Ray. She is withdrawn, careful, cool, aware she is regarded as a burden to her world, kicking continually against the pricks that will not let her earn her living and require her to conform and acquiesce to those more powerful than she. We are told her aunt's will left her out because at that time Clara had said something particularly rebellious, angry. I see in this novel a hard presentation of the miseries of women who are forced into dependence. Clara is not a submissive no one and nobody.
The hero is a clown, a clout, someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. Will is no Galahad and no Lancelot. To have Will Belton for the hero is to flout all conventions. Is it not the Aylmers the world tells girls to go after? Trollope in fact has made Clara fall for this ideal. The man's kiss is like ice once you get it.
There are no lies about life in provincial towns. Aylmer is not a fool. He is right. Clara herself agrees, but says she has no choice, and hardly anyone does. The fact is people make money where they are born, and must stay with their ties. In the later 19th century there were not enough jobs and niches outside family connections for gentry like these people to do anything else. On the other hand, Trollope presents pictures of the beauty of the landscape that are deeply alluring. It is peaceful; one could be happy -- for Clara, with a Will Belton.
Clara also cares nothing for big houses. Women were supposed to care for big houses in those days as they are nowadays told they must seek big jobs.
The content is Austen-like in that we are invited into the quiet backwaters of life. It is also centered on marriage, sex, love, and money. Austenian topics. Further, as with an Austen novel, the silent agonies that abide are precisely those in which nothing much appears to have happened to the minds of most of those who look on; nothing much even to notice.
Yet a terrible scourging has begun. When Clara "comes up" to Aylmer "radiant with joy", my heart felt for her. There follows a wholly believable dramatisation of just one of those common experiences which destroy the spontaneity of those few hearts among us who are affectionate and trusting, the kind of experiences that go unrecorded because they are so painful and people would laugh at anyone who would record them. More importantly: such experiences turn and twist the Claras of the world into further silence and an appearance of hardness or into becoming hard themselves, one of those of the stolid majority who like to discuss money matters. Mrs Winterfield, that saint, certainly didn't mind.
How long does it take for someone to admit to herself what a mistake she has made in accepting a relationship? Especially in a world which can only recognise the outward promise as important. (In the real world I have seen people stay married for years rather than lose face before some relatives.) I see the issue in the book posed as, Will Clara have the moral courage to break off from Aylmer though all will be amazed and/or further despise her (for then she will be broke)? Then will come, Will she marry the unacceptable apparently non-sexy lover. Now Will Belton recalls Johnny Eames in this, so let us recall that Lily didn't follow stereotypical expectations at all.
From John Letts, posted around the time we were beginning our The Belton Estate read; this come from a piece that was printed in the London Sunday Times in 1995.
Re: The Belton Estate: A Turning Point
I have no idea where I was when President Kennedy was shot, or when Germany surrendered, or when the Berlin Wall was breached. But I do know where I was when I first became a Trollopian, It was on the white sands of Scotland's Polin Beach, just below Cape Wrath, which is Norse for 'the turning point'.
It was certainly a turning point for me. I opened the dark blue pocket Oxford Classic edition of The Belton Estate by Anthony Trollope, which I had picked up just before going to Scotland, mainly out of curiosity, because I had never heard of it. I caught sunstroke reading it, but it was not the only way I was affected. As I was the editorial director of the Folio Society at the time, it was my business to read widely, and to know all the more obvious landmarks in Victorian and Edwardian fiction. Yet here was this extremely intelligent and readable book, which I had not come across before. Why had nobody told me about it? The Barsetshire novels, I knew, Also The Pallisers, The Way We Live Now and Is He Popenjoy? The Belton Estate must have had its admirers, but Trollope was not one of them. In his autobiography, he remarked "It is readable and contains scenes which are true to life, but it has no particular merits, and will add nothing to my reputation as a novelist". Henry James, too, found it as flat and boring as the landscape of Holland - although when Trollope died, James said that he had been one of the greatest of the writers who had helped the human heart to know itself: and this was never more true than in The Belton Estate.
Actually, what Trollope had forgotten was that, at this time, he had become increasingly interested in aiming at realism: not just composing a parallel world out of hundreds of carefully observed fragments. His plot is simple, almost perfunctory. Clara Amedroz is the only surviving child of an embittered old landowner, who has wasted his estate (and her inheritance) in supporting his only son, who, as the novel opens, has spent their last penny, and then killed himself. Clara's future is bleak.
Like many girls of her class and time, she has neither the resources nor the contacts to earn her living. For such girls, the only escape from a life as a governess or companion is marriage: difficult in a world where they meet or know hardly anyone. Clara has two small chances here: two distant cousins (both of whom, incidentally, have inherited most of her family resources). Her choice lies between Will Belton, a bluff farmer, whose unpolished exterior conceals a true, warm and impulsive nature; and Captain Frederick Aylmer, a snobbish, mother-dominated, and ambitious aristocrat whose heart is hard to locate. Clara first refuses Will; then against her better judgement, accepts the calculating captain. Trollope says this might have been a wise resolution, but for this flaw: " that the stronger was submitting to the weaker, the more honest to the less honest, that which was nearly true to that which was in great part false."
Here is the scene in which the captain's mother, one of the most splendid ogres in fiction, meets her prospective daughter-in-law: "Had her son brought Lady Emily to the house as his future bride, Lady Aylmer would probably have been in the hall when the arrival took place: and had Clara possessed 10,000 of her own, she would probably have met her at the drawing-room door; but as she had neither money nor title - as she in fact brought no advantage of any sort - Lady Aylmer was found stitching a bit of worsted, as though she has expected no one to come to her. And her daughter Belinda was stitching also - by special order from her mother. Lady Aylmer was not without strong hope that the engagement might even yet be broken off. Snubbing, she thought, might be efficacious to the purpose: and so Clara was to be snubbed."
Clara, in fact, is far too independent a soul to put up with this - however precarious her situation. Here another of Trollope's skills comes in. Will is real, and warm and physical; Trollope depicts the stirring of blood in his veins (and, eventually in Clara's) quite unambiguously. We, of course, can see the end coming, yet Trollope's skill is still to maintain our suspense. This may be an early precursor of the simplified spare novel of the 1930s: it remains strong and subtle, and like Will, true.
November 26, 1998
Re: The Belton Estate: Sexual Enthrallment, the Animus
Although Trollope must necessarily keep to hints, it seems clear to me why Clara prefers Aylmer -- and it certainly would to the average female reader of the time. Aylmer is the Clark Gable of the book, the sexy enigmatic, allusive, suave, glamorous, admirable, and rich male (money=power=sex) of the book. Jung defined this type as the _animus_ of a given cultural group or milieu. On Litalk we just finished reading a book where we found one version of the type full-blown: Valmont, son of Lovelace, son of Lothario. Modern versions may be found in Max de Winter (of Rebecca) and hundreds of feminine romances. Will Belton is the clown, the clutz, the awkward sincere man who is dissed by everyone because he's clumsy, sincere, not handsome, certainly not suave, not impressive, not presentable at dinner parties where the rich and powerful gather. He is merely kind, truly passionate, hard-working, intelligent in those areas he needs to know about. The point is made repeatedly that Clara finds Aylmer enigmatic and she finds Will more than a little embarrassing.
I don't agree that Trollope thinks all males should dominate all females. I don't see where he says anything like this, and if you consider his many novels you will find as many marriages where the woman is the powerful center and no necessary correlation between happiness and the man being powerful. Happiness comes from congenial spirits and kindness and -- oh yes -- solvency. In Trollope's books when the wolf is at the door, love flies out the window. Trollope detests tyrants be they male or female. He thinks a marriage goes more easily when the male is in the dominant position because the society makes both more comfortable that way, but he doesn't think it is happier or more fulfilled. One interesting relationship in this regard is that of Archbishop and Mrs Grantly: it is Mrs Grantly who rules that rooster.
Trollope does not himself confront the whole truth of human relationships as a negotiaton of power and submission between two people whose inner natures vy for dominance. He again and again says (as he does in this novel) that people who are dense, cold, determined, and not that much in love with anyone but themselves will dominate in a relationship. Not the more intelligent or sensitive or perceptive. In fact these three qualities work against holding the power in a relationship. Yet in many of his couples the happy ending is the result of the latter person -- the intelligent, sensitive, kind, perceptive -- emerging the dominant one. I think this is such a pleasant idea he can't resist it. I suppose it's an only way to provide that upbeat happy ending which leaves the reader undisturbed. It's not a happy truth about life to say to your reader well well the person is happy in submitting to this inferior type. They are at least safe. That makes people squirm. Now this truth is not avoided in modern serious novels -- nor come to think of it is it avoided in MP where we are told Fanny Price is happy in submitting to Edmund although he is not worth 3 of her. One great novelist who does not avoid this reality is A. S. Byatt
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Marcella McCarthy)
Subject: Trollope and Forster
I like a lot of what Ellen says here, but I think that I must a little defend Will, even though he's not my type. Isn't there an element of town against country in the situation? I see Aylmer as the smoothie, not very in touch, for instance, with the hole that his aunt's death will make in a community, and the importance of someone living in her house to keep things going. Yes, he casts a sophisticated shadow (but we see later how very febrile and patchy that really is) but Clara can already see that there are better ways to go. It is the countryside, the walk in the country, that brings out his good side and the proposal. Town rather puts him off Clara, he can see she doesn't quite fit in, he wonders if he has made a wise choice. He's thinking of the social powers a "lady" will have as against a plain "miss", and not of love.
Will on the other hand is vibrant, alive, bringing energy and regeneration to the old estate and the old name, full also of sexual energy, I think. Surely I am not alone in feeling that Clara uses the cousinship to warn herself off that sexual pull. He is a healthy, hearty animal, he kisses her, he is warm and embracing, he agonises when he goes against his instincts to grab her. His colouring is warm and ruddy and of course we find that underneath it all his delicacy and gentlemanliness is exquisite.
The opposition between the two men reminds me very much of A Room with a View, where I think that Forster creates a similar oppposition. In that novel the hero, George, is like Will in that he is honest, impulsive, sexual and impatient with the inadequate smoothnesses of polite society. At the very start of the novel he exclaims that it is perfectly obvious that he and his father should give up their rooms to the ladies who want a room with a view. he simply has no patience with the anxious maunderings of the conventional Charlotte Bartlett. He kisses the heroine impulsively, he walks home in the rain, he cannot forget her despite her engagement.
Cecil Vyse, the Aylmer figure, is cultured, well-thought of (with a powerful mother he wishes to please who Lucy must submit and adapt to). He is a creature of the city, he finds rural pursuits boring and silly. Just look at the two kiss scenes. Forster almost cariacatures Trollope. When Aylmer kisses Clara "his kiss was as cold and as proper as though they had been man and wife for years". Cecil's first kiss with Lucy is similarly odd and cold. He scrupulously asks permission and is almost shocked by the warmth of her response (this is very wittly done in the film). There's a parallel to George's kiss among the flowers, too, but I won't spoil things by bringing this up now.
Anyway, my point is that Forster and Trollope are at the same thing, and I don't think that we're meant to see Will as the safe brother figure who is non-sexual. I think his sexuality is one of the key elements that he has to put against Aylmer in the fight for Clara, because it is what Aylmer can't or won't give. Will is "safe" because he is so good and so honourable--not because there is no feeling there on either side. I really don't see Aylmer as sexy, even at first, and certainly not when we get to know him and his private calculations.
Re: The Belton Estate: Will as the Hero
To Marcella and all,
I didn't mean to say Will was not sexy. I agree whole-heartedly with Marcella's description of Will as
"vibrant, alive, bringing energy and regeneration to the old estate and the old name, full also of sexual energy, I think. Surely I am not alone in feeling that Clara uses the cousinship to warn herself off that sexual pull. He is a healthy, hearty animal, he kisses her, he is warm and embracing, he agonises when he goes against his instincts to grab her."
I also see Will as "honest, impulsive, sexual and impatient with the inadequate smoothnesses of polite society."
But does Clara? Is she not fooled by an image of sexuality which is false? one which is a compound of too many novels written in the vein of Mrs Radcliffe and a desire to have a man aristocratic and powerful people appear to admire in the drawing-rooms and political meeting-places of the world, the clubs, the salons. To the majority of people who inhabit such rooms, and I would suggest certainly to those who go there by choice and enjoy it, Will is not even presentable. Thus Mr Amedroz winces at him. Mr Amedroz is a fool. We are told that Clara "knew that he [Will] was the better man of the two, though she knew also that she could not love him as she loved the other" (Oxford The Belton Estate, ed. JHalperin, p. 84)
I was trying to say that Clara mistakes what true sexual experience is. And how should she not, given the education and background of such a girl.
Re: The Belton Estate: Chs 7-11: Feminist Novel
Here am I to assert that The Belton Estate is one of Trollope's most feminist books.
He works to deflate, defeat, expose, and otherwise make nonsense of the macho male and animus figure as found in typical feminine romance from Ann Radcliffe's to our own day.
He is insistent on how cruel, unfair, harsh, and awful is the dependence of women, their inability to make their real abilities felt. The book opens with a young man, Charles Amedroz (really as bad as Eliot claims the older Transome was). He ruins the estate, spends all, and then shoots himself through the head. The result: Clara is broke.
Trollope makes the case Mrs Winterfield is a horror, especially when she leaves all to Captain Aylmer. See portrait of Mrs Prime in Rachel Ray. If anything Mrs Winterfield is at least as bad because she's very stingy with money she does have. She has never loosened up for a moment.
A passage which makes my case that Trollope is by no means for women submitting to men at all, at all. It is the one where he points out the falsity of the hypothesis that
"the husband should be the stronger and the greater of the two. The theory is based on the following hypothesis; --- and the hypothesis sometimes fails of confirmation. In ordinary marriage the vessel rights itsef and the stronger and the greater takes the lead, whether clothed in petticoats or in coat, waistcoat, and trousers; but there sometimes comes a terrible shipwreck, when the woman before marriage has filled herself full of ideas of submission and then finds that her golden-headed god has got an irony body and feet of clay" (p. 132)
Clara is marrying the God with the feet of clay. Will will consult her. He will lean on her in his way.
In addition, there's the ironic description of Mrs Winterfield: "[she was] one of those women who have always believed that their own sex is in every respect inferior to the other" (p. 90). Then there's the narrator's bitterness that Clara must live on "nothing a year" (p. 110).
I'd like also to suggest a neat parallel with Austen's art in this novel and Rachel Ray: the reason they are both natty nuts is they figure forth emblematic meaning through the nuances of small incidents. In both it is done comically, viz.,
"'What can she want with a cow?' said Mr Amedroz.
'I am sure she wants one very much'' (p. 72).
And then a bit later,
"'I'll bring you a dog that will follow you without thinking of apples'" (p. 75).
Will is that sweet dog. Oh what a fool is Clara Amedroz.
Those on our list who have not read "The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne" (a short story by Trollope) are urged to read it. Too bad Patience Woolworthy had not read The Belton Estate or Clara, Patience's story.
And then there's the quiet cynicism: "When people complain of some cruel shame which does not affect themselves personally, the complaint is generally accompanied by an unexpressed and unconscious feeling of satisfaction" (p. 116).
Henry James damned this book as stupid, vulgar, boring, and repetitive. Why?
Re: The Belton Estate: Trollope's Even-Handedness
This in response to John Mize's thoughtful post:
It's an old truism, but nonetheless true that Trollope is intellectually and often quite explicitly liberal while remaining emotionally conservative. In novel after novel he confronts highly controversial dilemmas, and in numbers of them he directly and at times mischievously offended his middle class readers (Lady Anna the one I am now embarked upon is such a novel). When you look at his voting record, his stated positions, you find a man ahead of his time. The intellectual ironies of his books and many of the explicit statements break down conventional thought and are subtle reflections of realities people rarely admit to in their dreams much less write down for public consumption. His Autobiography is astonishing (he knew this and put it away in a drawer to be published after his death). He tells us frankly how miserable he was as a boy, regales us with every humiliation he knew, tells of the debts and near madness of his father, of his own urge to suicide -- all in the most ordinary language -- and how he first began to find himself in Ireland. (He doesn't not tell of his mother and Hervieu, but he tells less lies about it in what he does say than any other relative or writer until very recently.)
Yet as we read we feel the pull of the narrative is towards stability, towards the status quo, towards peace, and he relentlessly shows the "other side" in every case to the point of paining the reader who is at all liberal in outlook. He cannot help but justify Mrs Winterfield; she is not an ogre. Captain Aylmer is the way many people are. We are to admire Clara for her constancy and kindness to her aunt. She is a kind of Fanny Price. In Rachel Ray, he presents the case for the county families too -- as well as Mr Tappit and Luke Rowan too. His position is admirably summed up in a letter by Monk to Phineas Finn in the book of that name. He is, as he said of himself, ironically, an advanced conservative liberal.
As to women and men and sex, Trollope seems to me to have been a highly sexed man and he regards women in a primarily sexual light from the core outwards. For him that meant the woman wanted a man she could yield to; what was important to him was that she yield to him -- or to her parents -- without violating her identity, her notions of what is good, her integrity if you will. Thus he inculcates a lesson in which he is ever redefining what is true "manliness" and I think in this book the truest "manliness" is to be found in Will Belton. It is not macho behavior, suave manners, or cunning; it is strength to do what is morally right, to be loyal to one's word, and not to compromise to the point of harming others or taking from them what is not rightfully yours (that rightful is a problem). The point of Can You Forgive Her? is to reveal that the best man of the lot is the shy, quiet and apparently unsexy Plantagenet; the "wild" man of the book, George Vavasour (the Aylmer of the paradigm) is cruel, destructive, atavistic.
Trollope does argue that women who have "fallen" should not be made outcasts and treats them more frankly and fully and even sympathetically than many of his contemporaries. (In fact, most of his contemporaries don't show fallen women very much except in the most lurid melodramatic ways.) On the other hand, he never frees himself of the notion that a woman who has had sex before marriage or several sex partners whether in or outside marriage is somehow to be feared; such women frightened him; he sees them as not ladies, as rough, coarsened, loosened from morality. It's a failure of his imagination. I have been reading Phyllis Rose's Parallel Lives and she makes the important point that middle class males in Trollope's era were also kept innocent, away from sex with women of their own class. Millais was probably a near virgin on the first night he lay with Effie Gray too. Poor woman. Well poor man too, no wonder he had a near nervous breakdown just before marrying her. Like Ruskin, Millais, Carlyle, and the others, Trollope probably had some experiences with sex as an unmarried unattached young man in London for a number of years, but had been taught to and never ceased to regard sex as somehow a sacred and taboo area of life. Many people still are taught this. If it were not so, Mr Starr's report would have provoked indifferent laughter and real pity, not an impeachment inquiry.
It is true that Trollope does not think culture or our manners are primarily a social construct. If he were to use such language, he would agree that culture and manners are primarily a development of biology and rooted in human nature. I think culture and manners are a combination of biology and evolution within a particular culture under the pressure of its technological and economic circumstances. In other words culture is both a construct and rooted in realities we can't escape. I think this is called sociobiology.
From Kishor Kale
Subject: Intentionality in The Belton Estate Sender: email@example.com I have noticed in The Belton Estate some examples of what I call rereading irony in it. Some of these strike me as being almost certainly unintentional, whereas others give the impression of probably being unintentional, but with a lower degree of probability than the first set. This is in contrast with he Small House at Allington, which gave me the impression that the rereading irony was deliberate.
This and our present discussion leads to a general question which I understand is of interest to literary critics: to what extent should a reader's response to a text be influenced by his beliefs about the intentions of the author? I find that when I spot an effect in the text which I believe that the author did not intend, I tend to congratulate myself for my own cleverness in getting one up on him/her; but when I believe that the effect was intentional, I admire the author's skill. This represents a bifurcation of emotional response caused by beliefs about the author which have been engendered by the text rather than by the intrinsic meaning of the text itself.
Unintentional rereading irony can be subdivided into two cases: those in which the ironic statement had been written by the author before he had decided upon the future event which would give it the effect of rereading irony, and those in which the statement had been written afterwards. In the first case, the ironic effect is as much at the expense of the author as of the characters.
I am not sure how to reconcile the above with the critical position that in reading a text, one should only be concerned with the characters and the narrator, and not with the real author; and so I welcome comments on this.
Re: Intentionality and Rereading I have a quick but I think correct answer to one of Kishor's queries. I think all critics take into account what they believe are the author's intentions. They may pretend not to, but it is impossible to write as if a clearly authored text had no author.
But like Marcella I am puzzled by Kishor's distinctions. I think we have one irony on a first read. In Emma, we see many things that Emma doesn't see, but we don't see others. We know the Rev Mr Elton is after her, not Harriet, that neither she nor Frank Churchill love one another, but most of us don't know Jane Fairfax and Frank are engaged until late in the book. Then when we reread all sorts of incidents and comments gain in meaning. We find ironies we hadn't before. A third reading may reveal yet more. Some of these ironies have to do with perceptions of characters, others of morals, still others simply of events. Does multiplying categories help us understand this?. The single term irony may seem overworked but each instance is just a variation on this device of saying one thing and meaning much more or another.
November 28, 1998
Re: The Belton Estate: Beyond the Status-Markers
This is written in response to John Mize's posting this morning.
I think it is fascinating to read what people at the time said about earlier authors -- just as I find the most enlightening material one can read to understand earlier great books is to read the minor books and diaries and private letters of the era. We see these highly intelligent people who could write imaginative art that is still significant or still lives for us as their contemporaries saw them and in the light of other practitioners of the art of writing out the soul. One of the frequent accusations hurled at Trollope's novels was morbid; he was deliberately forcing people to look at the "dark" side of life. This of course was not the way people talked about the Barsetshire books and the biggest mistake anyone can make is to think of Trollope as primarily the author of these books and measure the others against the 6 Barsetshire books alone. (People do.) It was the way his readers and critics talked about many of his novellas, The Macdermots, Lady Anna, The Belton Estate, He Knew He Was Right, TMr Scarborough's Family. One critic writing of An Eye for An Eye said copies of it should be confiscated (it shows a girl who is deeply sexually engaged by a young man and gets pregnant by him outside marriage). The problem here is it's not easy to understand what exactly was morbid when the word is used. For example, one critic wrote of The Vicar of Bullhampton it was safe reading for old and young ladies! One of the frequent accusations hurled at Thackeray was he was cynical. I suppose what was meant was that Thackeray didn't believe in any of the conventional morality or showed the reader no one did or ever does, and certainly no one lives by it. However, one can't tell. They also call both men sceptics. Bronte's Jane Eyre was morbid, subversive, and anti-Christian. But Dickens was a great social reformer. If you can figure out what was in each case acceptable or not acceptable, you will have understood the full import of the author's words as he or she meant them at the time.
I have an idea what Trollope meant by calling Mr Knightley a stick by-the-bye. Many anti-Austenites use this kind of language for all her men. They mean that she didn't know "real" men; her men are virgins or unaggressive cyphers she saw from afar. She never had sex is the implication. Paradoxically, this draws some passionate Janeites to her :)
John feels Bronte shares what I outlined as Trollope's attitude of what kind of relationship a woman ought ideally to seek; I think a lot of more thoughtful Victorians may have. What they saw was women and men forced to give up individual fulfillment in exchange for a place or position in society. People today also often experience a conflict between what they think they have to do to please their social peers and superiors and how they would really like to spend their time; since the marriage relationship has to some extent been freed of this economic grounding, we can try to think of male-female or male-male and female-female relationships (some people choose as lovers and life-companions people of the same sex) in ways which transcend this violation. What we discover is that other kinds of politics which are versions of dominance and submission still exist.
I have been thinking of another reason Clara finds Captain Aylmer sexy and Will not. Captain Aylmer has many status-markers that Will lacks. It is embarrassing for a man to buy you a cow; Captain Aylmer would never for a moment be so gauche, so frank about our needs in life. We ought to remember that we have our status markers too and they also guide how we find sexy and who not. In our society one's sexual arrangements are no longer status-markers as they were in Victorian times, but many other things are: language, house, clothes, manners, speech patterns, reading tastes, and especially and above all (in the USA at least) one's job and income.
Now these status markers are so important they enter into our sex-marital relationships today. The person who has more of these has power in the relationship. I am struck by how modern Trollope's approach to the relationship between Captain Aylmer and Clara is.
I am so touched by Will and fond of him because he is oblivious to these. I love that. It's so rare. Trollope has emphasised this point by giving him a badly crippled sister who he loves dearly and is not only kind to but allows to tell him what to do. Whom he respects. In Austen's world such a sister might well have found herself as a child put in some foster home and forgotten about. The reason Mary Belton exists in the carpet, is a pattern in it is she figures forth precisely this inner quality in Will: to live in a realm beyond the status-markers.
From John Mize:
In Jane Austen's Emma if Emma had actually become engaged to Frank Churchill, I suspect that Knightley would have hid his feelings for Emma from both Emma and himself, because he would have considered it his duty to do so. That seems to be one of the reasons Trollope disapproved of the character of George Knightley. There is a suspicion that those people who are able to act against their own emotions can't have had very strong emotions in the first place. I tend to see Knightley as someone with very strong emotions but also very strong defenses against those emotions.
There is a sort of arrogant pride in the creed of the gentleman. You do your duty no matter what it costs you, and you refuse to complain to others or explain yourself. Such self-control has its emotional costs. During the 1930s and 1940s the New York Yankees' center-fielder, Joe Dimaggio, was as famous for his cool, dignified self-control as for his athletic skills. Dimaggio refused to show any emotions on or off the field, and his teammates and opponents were both impressed and intimidated by his aloof dignity. Inside Dimaggio seems to have been less in control, as evidenced by his recurrent bleeding ulcers.
From Jill Spriggs:
Re: The Belton Estate: Clara Amedroz's Passionate Nature
I found the passionate natures of Clara (although hers is less apparent) and Will to be well drawn, and her reluctance to admit her error in attaching herself to Alymer realistic. Also his ardent desire for Clara when he discovered that the girl he thought so eager for him, had lost her desire for their union.