Resonances of the Bigamy Charge; Falling off in Intensity into Envelopes (A Deus Ex Machina); Framing Women in "Sensation" Novels & Imprisonment for Women in Trollope's Novels; Imprisonment for Women in Victorian Literature - a P.S.

To Trollope-l

4 June 2001

Re: John Caldigate, Chs 49-54: Resonances of the Bigamy Charge

The following exchange from Victoria might give some near-contemporary context for Trollope's suddenly deflected and distanced treatment of this guilty verdict in a bigamy charge. I follow it up with some thoughts concurring with the reviewers at the time that the novel falls away badly for this portion of Trollope's narrative.

From: M. Mendelssohn
Sent: Thursday, May 31, 2001
Subject: John Francis Stanley, Earl Russell (1865-1931)


I've been reading My Life and Adventures, the autobiography of John Francis Stanley ("Frank"), Earl Russell (1865-1931)(a.k.a. brother of Bertrand Russell). In his own autobiography, Bertrand says of his brother: "The Russells never understood him at all, and regarded him from the first as a limb of Satan. Not unnaturally, finding himself so viewed, he set out to live up to his reputation".

I'm particularly curious about Frank's early matrimonial trials (in 1891 and 1894) and the fact that his first wife, Mabel Edith, accused him of a "gross charge", "a charge of the most disgraceful immorality" relating to a "man called X" who was "visited in his bedroom in the small hours of the night and morning on four separate occasions by Lord Russell". Is the identity of this Mr. X known?

During the matrimonial trials, the prosecution attempted to connect the homosexuality charge to Frank's ambiguous dismissal from Balliol in 1885 in order to show that Frank was "a man addicted to such practices". Can anyone shed a little more light on the mysterious letter which caused Frank to be sent down?

Also, I'd be very grateful for any other accounts or treatments of the trials and/or Frank.


This was answered by Gail Savage on 1 June, 2001:

There is another account of the infamous letter leading to Frank Russell's discharge from Oxford in George Santayana's Person's and Places: Fragments of Autobiography, although nothing on the exact contents of the letter. Anne Holmes has an essay on the Russell divorce trial published in George Robb and Nancy Erber's collection, Disorder in the Court (1999) and I have an essay on Russell's role in divorce law reform in the journal published out of the Russell archive at Macmaster University: Russell (Summer 1996). Russell finally divorced his first wife in Reno and married again immediately, but the English courts did not recognise the American divorce, which made him vulnerable to the charge of bigamy. Of course the bigamy charge also finally made it possible for his first wife to divorce him--which she did. But the government actually prosecuted the bigamy charge, and Russell took the case to the House of Lords. He was convicted and spent several months in prison, whiling away his time composing a book attacking English divorce laws and calling for reform. His third marriage, to the novelist Elizabeth von Arnim, didn't work out either, and she pilloried his character in one of her novels. After WWI Russell spoke frequently in the House of Lords on divorce law reform and the records of the divorce litigation and the bigamy prosecution are in the PRO.

Gail Savage
St. Mary's College of Maryland

John Caldigate: Falling off in Intensity into Envelopes

My argument is that the intensity and interest of John Caldigate falls off in this week's instalment. The humor about the envelope and Bagwax is more than a little heavy-handed. It is stretched out too much, and repeated. That Trollope is aware he is carrying it on for too long may be demonstrated by his opting suddenly to have yet another love story: this time between Bagwax and Curlydown's daughter. This is a sign of his reaching for filler: he does it in Ralph the Heir, Ayala's Angel, He Knew He Was Right, and (worst one of all, the concluding sentimental love story in) Dr Wortle's School. Last minute undeveloped love stories characterize the concluding sequences of all of the above.

In Caldigate specifically his problem is that for the later 19th century his material is really dynamite. Were he to have treated it with true candour -- telling of what Dick Shand means when he says he never saw anyone [meaning Caldigate] so taken with a woman as Caldigate was with Euphemia, describing Euphemia and Caldigate's intense quarreling, her desire to hold onto her property and her reluctance to marry because then Caldigate would control her money -- then his book would not have been suitable for the audience his publisher was going to sell the books to. I find fascinating the statement the narrator makes that Euphemia began not to want to marry because she didn't want to hand over power over her money to a husband. This would make the novel part of the meditation that Trollope follows up in He Knew He Was Right. Most of the time he only talks of how the husband doesn't want the wife's parents to give her property, wants his wife wholly beholden to him. In John Caldigate he at least comes out with the natural thought an independent woman would have about the property laws in the UK. He Knew He Was Right alludes continually to the married woman's property act and the custody laws in England which were being debated in parliament and changing. John Caldigate was written in the same milieu, and its references to divorce and bigamy probably seemed to Trollope sufficient for the book. But there are other areas it skims over. Imagine if the Boltons were to try to gain custody over Hester's child today -- regarded as illegitimate it is of course no one's but hers.

Similarly, Trollope's own morality will not permit him to argue strongly against the divorce laws at the time -- or the use of custom to (in effect) strangle individual fulfillment.

As far as the story goes, Trollope is not willing to punish his hero too far. Now he brings forth Shand to insist that there was no ceremony and that there was therefore no marriage. To insists he saw the hardening of Euphemia, the quarrels between her and Caldigate, the hatred that had erupted, her turning to Crinkett. Trollope just did not have the stomach -- or nerve -- to leave his hero languish in jail and end the novel in ironic ambiguous tragedy. The last time he ended a novel so very sombrely -- with the hanging of Thady Macdermot -- his novel was castigated by the reviewers.

So he resorts to this deus ex machina which comes out of his own autobiography, presented in a deflected shallowly comic mode. Meanwhile we the readers are left hanging. Where are the characters we care about? Nothing is given us of what is going on within Hester, John Caldigate or his father. We are fobbed off with Sir John Joram's vacation plans and the imbecility of suburban life.

I can now see why reviewers were not engaged with his novel -- they repeatedly say how well John Caldigate begins and how it doesn't fulfill, doesn't achieve at all what it seemed set out to do. I speculate that had Trollope ended his novel about 3/4s the way through, left Caldigate in jail and allowed Hester to return to her parents, with all destroyed, the novel just might have made a real impression on the public, been remembered and today be part of a known cannon instead of forgotten. Of course had he had the courage to dramatize the scenes hinted at which occurred in Australia he would have had a genuine hit.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

To Victoria

November 22, 2000

Re: Framing Women in 'Sensation' Novels

Re: Imprisonment for Women in Trollope's Novels

I am taking the liberty of cross-posting this to Trollope-l as it may whet appetites for John Caldigate and give another broader perspective on Trollope's fiction. Someone who is writing a feminist study of Victorian fiction and poetry asked for names of novels and situations in which female characters are imprisoned and in which they are used as objects, particularly those which include mirrors and portraits. So I responded:

In John Caldigate, Anthony Trollope's heroine, Hester Bolton, is literally imprisoned by her family after it is discovered her husband, John Caldigate (after whom the book is named) either was married to or lived outside marriage for quite some time with one Mrs Euphemia Smith. It is remarkable sequence since Hester is not only no longer a virgin, she has had a child, and asserts that she doesn't care if her husband was married to someone else or lived with her. This assertion is startling because Caldigate is charged with bigamy and if the charge holds Hester is not married to him. Underlying this story is the reality that 19th century people did practice serial monogamy because of the difficulty of obtaining a divorce. It is a coded way of talking about the occurrences of bigamy, separation and living outside marriage in the period. Think of G. H. Lewes and Maryanne Evans or George Eliot -- with whom Trollope was close. A much harsher imprisonment which includes incessant psychological harassment and accusations of sexual desire (a 'no no') is inflicted on Linda Tressel by her aunt; it leads to her death (Linda Tressel is the name of this unhappily neglected dark novel).

One could also argue that other heroines in the novels are in effect imprisoned: Emily Trevelyan by her husband Louis after he decides she is about to be unfaithful to him, closes up their house and sends her off to house with two other women in southwest England whose name is resonant of nuns and imprisonment (He Knew He Was Right); the heroine of Is He Popenjoy? feels imprisoned in her husband's house with his sisters and is talked of as released for a few months of year when she gets to live in her own house in London (by assumed arrangement, or agreement it is understood to be hers as her or her father's money is paying for it). Except for poor Linda Tressel I can't this morning think of a heroine who is imprisoned who is not a wife. Now that's interesting.

I can't remember any uses of mirrors or portraits this morning. That doesn't mean Trollope doesn't use the motif, but I have a hunch he would regard it as romantic, too fleeting and intangible to dwell upon as a core experience around which to build some plot sequence. He does argue in his Autobiography against the separation at the time between 'sensation' novels and his own realistic ones: he says all good novels must be both, and instances scenes from earlier Victorian novelists, contemporaries and his own which are sensational: from his own work he uses Orley Farm. Of course he has defined sensation so as to mean strongly dramatic and pictorial and melodramatic rather than drenched in sex or subversive or violent &c&c.

Comments or other Trollope or Victorian heroines who are imprisoned, anyone? I do think Dickens has some and he uses mirrors and portraits.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

There is a mirror in Miss Mackenzie - she leans forward and kisses her reflection, and one could argue that she was effectively imprisoned in her room .

Rory O'Farrell

Collins uses the imprisonment device in both The Woman in White and Man and Wife, and we see it of course with Mrs Rochester (Bertha) in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. And Charlotte Bronte's sister Ann's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Just post Victorian of course is Charlotte Perkins Gillman 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. There is also the metaphorical 'imprisonment' of societal mores which can take in another tranche of Victorian heroines (Ruth, Esther Walters, Cary Brattle in The Vicar of Bullhampton and very many of Dickens' fallen angels!) If one regards Cousin Phillis as imprisoned by her circumstances, this would widen the 'search' and I could see the case here to include someone like Rosamund Lydgate, who certainly felt her circumstances were 'trapping' her but then we have to decide between subjective and objective definitions of 'imprisonment'! There is a lot of discussion about the use of mirrors in The Mad Woman in the Attic by Gilbert and Gubar, but I am too tired to search the book out at the moment! (Nearly 11 pm here in the UK!) but no doubt as soon as I get into bed I will think of someone!

Love, Gwyn.

Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Imprisonment for Women in Victorian Literature - a P.S.

Dear Ellen

How could I have forgotten Lady Audley? Imprisoned physically and metaphorically (for her passions!) in a lunatic asylum. Braddon does this in some other books, but again my mind has gone blank, although lots of my co-listers on the Braddon list would surely know!

Love, Gwyn (Yes, I am going to bed now!)

Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Imprisonment for Women in Victorian Literature

I am also too sleepy to go look up anything at the moment, but besides being imprisioned, didn't Mrs. Rochester try on some of Jane's wedding garments and look at herself in the mirror while wearing them? Or was this someone else? And the young Jane seemed imprisioned in -what?- the Red Room? -at the very beginning of the book, and was rather imprisioned in the dreadful boarding school.


Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000
From: Dr N BOWN
Subject: Framing Women In Sensation Novels

This may be either obvious or irrelevant to your research, but during the late 1850s and 1860s Rossetti was painting numerous pictures of women enclosed in very shallow picture space, normally head and shoulders or half-length, and often framed by decorative tiles (eg The Blue Bower) or flowers (Venus Verticordia) or drapery (La Ghirlandata). Though none of these was exhibited publicly during the 1860s, they were very well known among connoisseurs. Wilkie Collins, for example, knew Rossetti and must have seen some of these works (cf the description of Lydia Gwilt in Armadale). I wouldn't think it too far-fetched to connect Rossetti's pictures of women (which were amazingly influential) with the images of framing and entrapment of women in sensation novels of the period.

Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000
From: jennifer carnell
Subject: Framing Women In Sensation Novels

Other Mary Braddon novels which might be of use are Circ (about a rich woman patron who poses for her artist with disastrous results), and Lost For Love which has an artist's model as one for its heroines. One of the most famous 'sensation' paintings is On the Brink by Alfred Elmore, and it was Braddon who chose the title for Elmore.

Jennifer Carnell

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