Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] John Caldigate: Mrs. Bolton
Toward the end of this week's chapters, we see a different kind of John Caldigate. He has returned from Australia a wealthy man. He has made his peace with his father, and he is again the heir of Folking. Now all he wants is to receive permission from Mr. and Mrs. Bolton to address their daughter, Hester, with a view toward honorable marriage. From his view nothing can go wrong since he is no longer the rat-catching kid who got into financial difficulties with Mr. Davis.
But now he meets Mrs. Bolton. We, of course, have met her before. She is similar to Bishop and Mrs. Proudy, to Dorothea Prime and Mr. Prong in Rachel Ray , and to President Neverbend of Brittanula. To Trollope Mrs. Bolton is Low Church. To us who grew up in the twentieth century, she is what we would call a Fundamentalist. Since Fundamentalists believe without thought, Trollope, accompanied by most of us, cannot stand them. Trollope is never gracious to people who live on the other side of the hill. That is to say, he has shown some antipathy to Catholics, Jews, Italians, Caribbean Blacks, and others. But all of these generally have a faith, which Trollope can respect although he does not generally agree with it. A Low Church Fundamentalist is different. First he is both one of us and not one of us. That is to say, he (or she) had the opportunity to adhere to the High Church and rejected that opportunity. But please note: Everyone of the Fundamentalists that I can think of in the world of Trollop is ultimately defeated in one way or another. They, for instance, never can prevent a marriage, win their political position, or force their ways on others. Mrs. Bolton is no different. As this novel goes on, we shall see more of her, and the first-time readers will see what I'm talking about here.
Anyway, do enjoy the novel, and as time goes on, I hope to tell you more about the Mrs. Boltons of this world and how they get and lose their power. Also, I hope to prove to you, or anyway, some of you why John Caldigate is one of my favorite novels by Trollope or anyone else.
April 21, 2001
Re: John Caldigate, Chs 13-18: Characters Up Close
Sig has focused on the opening gambit of Trollope's portrait of Mrs Bolton for his first comment on this week's chapters. She is certainly a female type who recurs in Trollope: the overbearing, domineering, utterly unreasonable and unreasoning woman. In most cases she is presented as a fundamentalist: in a way this gives Trollope a way of making her appear reasonable to herself. Her rationale for her hatred, nay fear of life (for that's what her distaste for pleasure, especially of the sexual kind is) is given her by a hard-line reiteration of the supposed tenets of her religion. Probably this is the way Trollope saw such women: he connected the denseness and stilled rage and resentment with the resentments of Low Church and the class conflicts which intermixed with religion. The most masterly and dreadful portrait here is that of the Calvinist aunt in Linda Tressel who literally drives her niece to her grave by her accusations that the girl's love for a young man make her a harlot, castaway, vile -- and her ceaseless harassment of her. However, he does show the type when she has not this religious rationale: I would connect the Baroness Banman and the caricatured feminist, Wallachia Petrie -- funnily called Wally by the female she wants for herself -- to the kind: they too have a strong distaste for men, for sex, distrust pleasure. The impulse is more than one of control, more than one of lunging towards power.
In each case though Trollope does develop the type with nuances out of the woman's particular milieu and story and that is what will happen here. The Boltons themselves are a severe stern lot, "puritans" (in the popular sense), narrowed by their "work ethic" (as defined by R. H. Tawney a function of Reformation Protestantism). So we shall have to see how the story unravels itself. To me the conflict between Hester and the mother makes Hester a much more interesting character than her type (the intelligent passionate yet ever-so-virginal maiden) in other of Trollope's later books is.
I'll focus on what to me shows Trollope's real strengths in the first part of this week's chapter: Trollope's analysis and presentation of Mr Daniel Caldigate. The opening three paragraphs of Chapter XIII (Folio Society John Caldigate, intro RCTerry, pp. 92-93) are masterly. I had been reading Scott and just finished Manzoni's The Bethrothed and what strikes me as so characteristic of these historical fictions and different from Trollope's is the angle of vision. Manzoni and Scott take a stance towards their characters that leaves them standing at a distance from the characters. They don't come up close, so the characters always fit into a social landscape that takes up the page space and never move beyond the type casting.
Not Trollope. He gets up close to his characters; the page space is devoted to the movements of their minds. We are near them, listening to them think and feel and following their trains of thoughts as they experience them. And they therefore never remain types. Here we have this apparently hard man, one who has not patience for people who are not as self-controlled, austere, and quietly intellectual (or well-read and thoughtful) as he; he has high standards he can't bear for his son not to come up to. He has cast the son off in distress at the son's apparent allegiance to another kind of person, to the Shands and Babingtons of the world. Now he is solitary. We watch as over the course of time he changes, melts, and when the son begins to succeed, begins to admire and want him home again. It makes sense that the two of them can come together more closely through letters than they could face-to-face. They can join in imagination better than they can in fleshly reality. Now that they are apart the things that mattered to them and kept them apart when together no longer seem important. Trollope is good with the one liner that is persuasively real: the quotations from Caldigate's letters are just the sort of thing we can believe and which reach the father where he lives. A full chapter is taken over Daniel Caldigate's responses to John Caldigate's time away and letters, to their mutual slow changes. Trollope is also good at making us feel time has past: three years, time enough for this man openly to show how glad he will be "to have a companion at last" (pp. 94-99).
When the son comes home, Trollope keeps up this delicate nuanced portrait of their estranged relationship slowly turning to one of respect and confidence -- and eventually (though not yet) trust (Ch 14, pp. 100-105). Caldigate's reform is believable. Trollope cannot but be aware that he has modelled the son on the father: Caldigate is as adamantine in his self-containment, as intelligent, as self-controlled. That's why he succeeded. As happens with children, it took years for the character he inherited and which was shaped by years with the parent to come out. It's revealing to see how Caldigate can advise the father that he ought not to despise the Shands as they have their sterling human qualities of kindliness and sense, and ought to see that the Babingtons too are not all sloth and frivolity. Actually Daniel Caldigate's dislike of the aimless unexamined life links him to the unbending Boltons. We can see Hester and John came from similar homes. I wish only that Trollope had mentioned some of Caldigate's political opinions which the father is so relieved to find he has. But then this is not Phineas Finn, not a Palliser or political novel -- like Rachel Ray is in part.
I offer the idea that one reason John Caldigate is a stronger book than many of Trollope's is its focus on families and family relationships: the father and son (Caldigates), the mother and daughter (Hester and Mrs Bolton), the "styles" of living and thinking in the Shands, the Babingtons, the Caldigates and the Boltons first developed separately and then compared. This is not a love story; it is not a book about 5 love stories -- which is after all what was continually in the foreground of Ayala's Angel. A unloving love story was at the center of Is He Popenjoy? (Lord George Germaine and Mary Lovelace). The center here shifts to make us look at love and estrangement between parents and children and how such relationships strongly affect how the child interacts with those of his or her generation.
We can see this in the treatment of Dick Shand's family (Chapter 15). Notice how little room is given to Caldigate and Maria's uncomfortable scene, how much to the Shand's realistically limited emotional distress over Dick. There is far more about shirts than about Thomson's Seasons -- which I didn't know was a popular book among readers this late in the 19th century. When Caldigate comes to see Hester, the shift quickly moves to how her father feels about him.
A final 2 comments which are something ofnon- sequitors: John Caldigate's regret for Mick Maggot shows us that Trollope means us to feel for alcoholic: "Ah, sir, I wish you could have known poor Mick Maggot" (Ch 14, p. 101). The narrator words on Mick's fate were: "And this went on [the alternating bouts of intense hard work and uninterrupted steady conduct and intense hard drinking] till Mick had -- killed himself" (p. 95). I thought of Trollope's sympathetic portrait of Roger Scatcherd's alcoholism. Mick is a kind of shorthand allusion to that earlier meditation and analysis. Much has been suggested about Mick by a very few words in a couple of chapters.
And Trollope is cheating by pretending not to remember Mrs Smith. The vague allusions to Caldigate's "affairs" which he has somehow to finish off really won't do. We remember her and wonder what happened. To me the not telling of how Caldigate and Mrs Smith's relationship finally fell apart is the one strong blemish and failure of this book. It is the hole at its center, for it would not have been the conventional love story at all. I wonder to Angela who knows Wilkie Collins's work so well: does Collins develop such a relationship frankly and in an adult way at length?
Cheers to all, Ellen Moody
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] John Caldigate, Basil and a real life occurrence recorded
To my question whether Wilkie Collins frankly depicted a sexual relationship between a gentleman or male character who is a hero (and therefore role model) and a woman who is not a prostitute outside marriage, Angela wrote:
I am consulting with Paul about this one Ellen and will come back to you. Collins does deal amazingly frankly with sex for the time, and a secret marriage is at the heart of Basil which we are currently reading on the Collins list. We have just reached a point in that narrative where the maincharacter hears his wife making love to someone else through a hotel wall. The novel was roundly condemned for it, Collins all the time pretending that he is innocent of this sexual reading of the passage :
"I listened; and through the thin partition, I heard voices - her voice, and his voice. I heard and I knew - knew my degradation in all its infamy, knew my wrongs in all their nameless horror."
This reminds me of a striking moment in Mary Lutyen's book on John and Effie Ruskin and Millais. It is made up of letters, journal entries and other documentary papers interpersed by Lutyens's connecting narrative explanations. Ruskin, Effie and Millais took a trip to Scotland and one night Millais is sleeping on the other side of a partition from Effie and Ruskin. The language Millais uses of what he heard going on is vague in just the manner of the above; what is suggested is some sort of masturbation. I know there has been a successful play about Ruskin, Effie and Millais, but suspect that it "whitewashes" what went on by seeing it as nothing. Rather it was an unacceptable substitute. It is after this sequence or passage that Millais begins to behave more determinedly lover-like towards Effie, more protective.
I suppose it was daring of Trollope to dramatize Caldigate's relationship with Mrs Smith and leave us to imagine what has gone on off-stage. His audience did not expect this in a book which had his name on it. The modern reader coming to the end of Chapter 12 knows there is no reason for John Caldigate to leave Mrs Smith's room until eleven the following morning when she will be already dressed.
April 24, 2001
Re: John Caldigate, Chs 13-18: Social Comedy
There is some good social comedy in this week's chapters too. We are in danger of not paying sufficient attention. Why danger? Because what is made fun of is John Caldigate's irrational, unjustified and idealising "love for Hester Bolton. Why should he not marry Maria Shand? Why not marry Julia Babington? He knows far more of them. He likes them. Their families welcome him. A sort of solid or pointed and moralising comedy runs through John Caldigate's encounters first with the families of Maria Shand and Julia Babington and then with the young ladies themselves, one which in a kindly sympathetic way highlights the two family's desire to make John Caldigate one of them and one, and one which pokes quiet fun at John Caldigate for wriggling away from the young ladies themselves. What makes the comedy sweet is he is guilty; he likes them; he knows he owes a good deal to their families. If he just coldly rejected them, we would not like him. If there was no sympathy built up for them out of Caldigate's consciousness, we would see them simply as preying on him. Instead it all seems simply so incompetent. He sees through them so clearly: they do not mean him any harm, far from it; they are good-hearted people if dull, a little dense, living the unexamined moment- by-moment existence. The two young ladies are given poignant sweet words: neither shows anything of the aggressiveness of a Mrs Smith.
So why does Caldigate reject them? Why chase after a dream? Because she is one. Really one could say Trollope is Lacanian here: Caldigate has spent three years staring into a mirror image of his own making. Caldigate seems to want Hester because she is so out of reach, is so beyond the normal prosaic and usual. No toxolite activities for her. For the very few moments and words Hester is given, we see she has a tone of mind that is fine, high, tasteful, but that's all. She is wanted because she is the princess kept from the world in a castle inhabited by an implicitly' dragon lady. One reason I miss the Mrs Smith's scenes and relationship that occurred in Australia is not because I miss the love-making or anything particularly romantic or sensational. Quite the opposite. The gritty thing which would have made sense of Caldigate's attraction to Hester would have been to see the relationship between Mrs Smith and Caldigate deteriorate. It would be revealing to learn what over time turned both him and her off. That then could contrast with his turning to this untouched icon of sweet womanhood.
The comedy of this book differs from those we've read before. Not saturnine and harsh like Popenjoy?, not deflating romance like Ayala; not sweet and arch like the early entrance of Lily in The Small House. No it's kind of solid, moralising, I'd call it good comedy, sound, making us enter into the cases of well-meaning people who are playing obvious games in front of one another. Myself I am not sure that Caldigate would not have been better off with Maria or Julia or even Mrs Smith. But he's stubborn like his father.
Cheers to all,
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] John Caldigate, Chs 13-18: Characters Up Close
"To me the not telling of how Caldigate and Mrs Smith's relationship finally fell apart is the one strong blemish and failure of this book."
I confess I'm a bit puzzled by Trollope's narrative here. I haven't quite caught up with the reading schedule, but it does appear that Trollope plans to leave us completely unenlightened as to how Caldigate and Mrs. Smith part. In the chapters that follow their last meeting, the action of the story advances and the scene shifts to England. Ellen says that their relationship "fell apart" but do we even know this much? When last seen together the couple were on cordial terms. For all we know they came to some understanding together. However, given the character of John Caldigate as we have gotten to know him, it is more probable that he failed to extricate himself from the relationship in a satisfactory way. Yet by holding this critical information back from his reader Trollope seems to be playing the game unfairly. It's as if he has violated some natural law of the narrative art when he drops the thread this way.
I think it's safe to say that we will see more of Mrs. Smith in this story but it seems unlikely that Trollope will go back and dramatize the earlier missing scene. It will be interesting to note later on if his strategy seems justified.