John Caldigate: Bagwax; Resifting Evidence & Mysteries

Date: Sat, 9 Jun 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] John Caldigate: Bagwax

I am entirely in agreement with Sig that Trollope's Bagwax is a splendid portrait of a dedicated civil servant, with a total absorption in his field of expertise. The manner in which he concentrates on the complex area, the nature and dating of the postmark, and satisfies himself that the envelope in question cannot have been posted at or around the date shown on the postmark, is an entirely convincing piece of work by Trollope. The fact that he then goes on to find a much simpler way of proving his case - the stamp had not been printed by that date - is an example of Trollope's use of his own experience in creating the background of his novel. As he wrote to John Blackwood, "Was I not once a Bagwax myself?".

I don't think that the chapters where Bagwax makes his discoveries are slow. What does seem to drag on is the time taken by the judge and the Home Secretary to come to any conclusions, and I agree with Ellen that it would have been interesting to have read something of John Caldigate's thoughts at that time. I suspect that Trollope knew nothing of the conditions of prisoners in Victorian prisons, and believed in only writing about situations of which he had first-hand, or at least second-hand, experience.

This brings me back to whether we should regard Caldigate as some sort of a villain or not. He certainly was not a saint when he was flirting endlessly with attractive young women, and his behaviour with Euphemia Smith left a lot to be desired, particularly in the light of conventional Victorian morality. When he had lived with her in Ahalala, he had promised to marry her, but it seems that it was she who broke off the match, following her growing addiction to drink and gambling in gold shares. Effectively, Caldigate paid her off in cash and shares, and was entitled to assume that she would keep to her word not to trouble him further. It was she whose actions must be condemned, and the plot with Crinkett and their associates was a bare-faced attempt to extort money from him. I cannot see that Trollope expected his readers to condemn Caldigate, and I think that the 'happy ever after' ending is Trollope's way of tying up an exciting and interesting tale. I'm with Sig in saying that this is among his best novels.

Regards, Howard

To Trollope-l

June 10, 2001

Re: John Calidigate, Chs 54-60: Resifting Evidence

Sig has suggested that Daniel Caldigate is a detective or mystery story. I cannot agree. In a detective story, information of vital importance is carefully withheld and the narrative-design of the book is a forward-thrust where the chief characters are trying to discover evidence, untruths. The Eustace Diamonds is a mock- detective story because Trollope structures the story this way, at the same time as giving us all but one piece of evidence so we know the truth (except for precisely where the diamonds are hidden) from the outset.

Nor is Caldigate a mystery story: when we get to its end, we do not reread it discovering that we have been misreading all along, misunderstood clues, and now all reads somewhat differently. That is the mode of Jane Austen's Emma. We have all the evidence we are going to get that counts from the very beginning, include the signature on the envelope. We as readers have enough given us to see the four people on the stand are liars and trying to get money from Caldigate. (That they are liars does not mean he did not marry Euphemia, only that their characters are miserable.)

The question is, What shall we infer from the evidence, and what we infer tells more about us than whether our inference is correct. If we reread the book, we read it in the same light.

It is, however, a book where we read on to discover what will happen. We want to know if Caldigate will be set free. By this point of the book we realise that this does not depend on his guilt or innocence, but the way his story and that of the conspirators are interpreted. That being so, we cannot tell whether he will be set free. So suspense builds. We worry; we are anxious; we are put in the place of Daniel Caldigate and fret away as we visit different powerful men. We are made to see William Bolton's letter read and interpreted and argued with by the various Boltons. Perhaps one reason Caldigate is kept away from us is the actual merits of the man's case are irrelevant to whether in the end he will be set free before his two years are up.

It may be said that in a Victorian novel we are always given the establishment ending: we cannot have a hero who is not vindicated in the end. Surely we know he will be set free and more or less vindicated. This is, for example, what happens in Phineas Redux; in Bleak House we can reall the trooper goes through the same paradigm. Trollope uses this expectation to make us somewhat at ease in Phineas Redux which has more detective and mystery than The Eustace Diamonds but is still a mock-form since from the beginning we know Phineas didn't kill Bonteen; what we don't know is if the jury will be led to produce a not-guilty verdict and Trollope works hard to show us that the verdict may have nothing to do with the man's actual guilt. In The Macdermots of Ballycloran, Thady is hanged although he is not guilty of murder. However this novel is different: Trollope does not put us at our ease. That's because he wants us genuinely to see how fragile or easy swayed in another direction is the public response to the imprisonment of the four people. It's that imprisonment which strikes the public first -- then the newspapers get to work. Trollope loves to mock reader responses to newspapers.

I suggest John Caldigate is just one more of Trollope's ironic stories where we are given just about all the evidence and watch to see what the characters will do with it. This makes it very like real life rather than the formulaic nature of detective/mystery stories. What makes Caldigate particularly interesting is the distance between what all the characters infer about the evidence and the evidence itself shows us how how unfair are our judgements, how biased by our predilections and desires.

This week's chapters contain a number of long funny elaborations of how different sets of people see the same evidence. We get "the great man" (Trollope's quietly ironic word for the judge, one he repeats several times) pondering, unwilling to see everything differently ("this discovered plot by no means proved the man's innocence. It only proved the determination of certain persons to secure his conviction, whether by fair means or foul", Folio Society John Caldigate, introd. R.C. Terry, Ch 54, p. 423). Trollope's retelling of how "public opinion" saw the story as "the public mind" read the newspapers is ironic since Trollope also expects the reader to interpret the evidence on behalf of setting Caldigate free:

"The Daily Tell-tale had a beautifully sensational article, written by their very best artist. The whole picture was drawn with a cunning hand. The young wife in her lonely house down in Cambridge, which the artist not inaptly called The Moated Grange! The noble, innocent, high-souled husband, eating his heart out within the bars of a country prsion, and with very little else to eat! The indignant father, driven almost to madness by the wrongs done to his son and heir! Had the son not been an heir at this point would have been much less touching" (Ch 59, p. 459).

I've an idea Trollope would have thought modern reader-response criticism hilarious. He would have seen through the attempt to character "the average reader's response" as wholly inadequate to the reality of dense readers, mindlessly driven by sentimental identification with silly archetypes:

"Nobody could understand the twenty thousand pounds. would any man pay such a sum with the object of buying off false witnesses -- and do it in such a manner that all the facts must be brought to light when he was tried? It was said here and there tha he had paid the money because he owed it -- but it had been shown so clearly that he had not owed anyone a penny! [thus is Caldigate's real motive dismissed out of hand] Nevertheless the men were all certain that he was not guilyty, and the ladies thought that whether he were guilty or no didn't matter much. He certainly ought to be released (p. 461).

Which is the sagacious William Bolton's view. In his letter to his brother and father what he leans on is the actual existence of suffering people. The judge, the attornies, all declare a case ought not to be decided on the measurement of the victims and perpetuators' suffering. But in fact this is what finally turns the judge and community back to favor John Caldigate -- at length and after a time. This is why Trollope is biding his narrative, taking time, filling it with Bagwax.

To turn back to last week's illustration: a man caught between two women who look at him as a stranger, stare into his face and know they no longer know him, wonder what he has become, while he feels he is the same, unchanged, and is made uncomfortable by their stares. Dick Shand: there he is, standing before us, fallen from his high place. So too did Caldigate fall; so too was he driven, and lied -- importantly to Robert Bolton. And for that Bolton cannot forgive him. Bolton has to get the better of his own feeling he has been betrayed. To give him credit, he gradually does. But only when his father manages to get up the personal strength to override his self-destructive neurotic, life- and sex- hating wife.

We can't see Caldigate anymore; he is kept from us for about a long third of the book: we haven't seen him for a long time now. How things will end up does not hinge on the postmark -- that's part of the joke about Bagwax's self-importance -- for the envelope with Caldigate's signature on it still stands as the judge says. It hinges on how people will respond to all the evidence. That is what this week's long chapters (and the last one from last week which took place in the judge's mind) are all about. All the lie shows is the four people's desire to reinforce what the signature signifies: that Caldigate acknowledged Euphemia in public as his wife.

What the decision has to do with is a climate of opinion which alters ever so gradually, not to prove Caldigate innocent, but to suggest that there is insufficient evidence to prove him guilty. And then there is the wife, the baby, the estate, the old man -- as William Bolton's letter says. It irritates the judge and the attornies to bring this part of the story up precisely because it is that which is helping to sway the community and to motivate the action. That too is real. In all Trollope's novels cases are decided not based on whether the individual did it or not, or some evidence, but on how these are interpreted. Sometimes the jury and judge get it all wrong (e.g, Macdermots, Orley Farm), sometimes it is left in ambiguity (Lady Anna, Caldigate).

So I would say not only from the view of the book's plot-design -- where we have all the evidence and rereading doesn't change that -- but from the point of what we have in the text before us John Caldigate is not a detective or mystery story. The point is never for Trollope the events in the plot -- Trollope again and again inveighs against this form of fiction as frivolous. The point is chararacter and situation and psychology -- to make us see once more the ironies underlying the way our world is run.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Date: Sun, 10 Jun 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] _John Calidigate_, Chs 54-60: Resifting Evidence

Whenever Ellen has a major disagreement with me, I take a long look at her reasons. Usually I end up explaining why I came to the conclusion I did and having great respect for the reasons of her disagreement. When I hazard John Caldigate to be a mystery, and Ellen says that it isn't, we have such a situation.

It all hangs on what is a mystery.

I looked on a mystery as a problem unsolveable until someone comes along with a clever solution that no one else thought of. Ellen has a narrower view and probably more consistent with the major critics of today. A mystery today wonders who murdered Sir Mortimer. Certainly all clues point to the butler, and we can be pretty sure that that gentleman's gentleman is innocent.

So Ellen is right when she disagrees with me that _John Caldigate_ is a mystery. But I still see it as one, if we may define a mystery as something mysterious that is revealed.

In this situation as in previous ones, I have learned more from Ellen's disagreement than I think anyone has learned from my opinions. But I still look on John Caldigate as a mystery, or anyway a form of mystery.


To Trollope-l

June 11, 2001

Re: John Caldigate, Ch 54-60: Resifting Evidence & Mysteries

As ever, when Sig replies to my debate stance with characteristic generosity, I am led to want to backtrack and find common grounds.

My problem here is that I find only an uncertain ending, not a mystery: all the evidence that can count in deciding the case insofar as evidence can be gotten (and it is all subjective and undemonstrable because the events occurred so far away) is known from the outset of the case. All Bagwax adds is a faked postmark to an envelope whose writing in John Caldigate's hand stands unassailed. Shand's testimony -- were it believed -- is more important. We are told in this week's chapters that he recalls intense quarreling occurring between Euphemia and Caldigate, and a total separation. He firmly believes that there was no ceremony ever because of the deteriorating relationship, even though Caldigate had intended to marry Euphemia. His memories -- or evidence and lack of any memory of a ceremony -- ought to be taken more seriously than the postmark, except that since his status has fallen so low the judge and English attorneys don't want to listen to him.

The perjury charge is not sufficient either: according to the learned barrister that the Secretary consults all this tells us is "if their main story was true, they were lying as to details". A pardon is warranted but only "if the perjury be then proved -- and even so nearly proved as to satisfy the outside world -- the man's detention will be thought to have been a hardship" (Folio Society John Caldigate, introd. RCTerry, Ch 59, p. 461).

There is certainly suspense. We don't know if the judge will decide to free Caldigate before the two year period is up; we are not sure that in freeing Caldigate, the judge will use wording sufficiently strong so as to vindicate Caldigate from the charge of bigamy. Recall that like Phineas Finn, the last time we saw Caldigate, he wanted to be vindicated. Thus we may assume while he wants to be freed, he doesn't to be freed because his imprisonment is a hardship. But that seems to be the grounds on which in reality it is going to be done.

And yet we are not sure. Several people on our list who have contributed actively have said they found themselves unable to read in the slow patient manner Sig and I seem to manage: someone called the book a page-turner. Someone else said she was very moved when Caldigate was freed. I see suspense for certain, but no mystery, unless it be the mystery of the human mind and the way communities operate -- which is put before us. I find myself remembering The American Senator another book in which Trollope used a court case which was settled on the basis of the power of an individual not the rights of a case in order to examine the ironies of what binds a community together.

The traditional word for this kind of plot is suspense as opposed to dramatic irony. Shakespeare, it is usually said, often gives us the story based on dramatic irony. We know Desdemona is innocent; we know Hero (from Much Ado) is innocent. Sometimes he will withhold information that is vital for a long time: only in the third act of Hamlet do we learn that Claudio killed Hamlet's father: this is solid evidence since Claudio says this in an overheard prayer to God. But no vital information is withheld in John Caldigate. It's just that we don't know for sure how people will decide -- and my argument is partly that this is central to Trollope's point.

He is certainly giving his absent hero a hard lesson. We may assume John Caldigate is suffering. The "feel" of the book at this point is that Caldigate has paid for his "crime" or sin. Earlier I argued that the plot-design this and other books by Trollope belong to are that of the hero who violates a moral law and goes through an ordeal as a result. (Scott's plot-design is the quest, or journey, but it is not a quest to gain an object, rather a quest to move into the past and deep into Scottish realities and the nature of a community.)

Sig and I also have this common ground: there is a mystery about why Trollope punishes this hero so strongly. Certainly he socks it to him. My view has been and continues to be that Caldigate's guilt is not proved; we are not sure what happened: since he was willing to lie early on, his evidence is as tainted as that of his tormenters (the four who followed him from Australia to wrest a fortune back from him). Trollope often lets other of his heroes who behave very badly off relatively lightly. So why so harsh here? Autobiographical interpretations might led us to think about whether Trollope himself had been unfaithful in some journeying of his own and was expiating: this story of a man who gets entangled sexually with a woman on a journey occurs several times in Trollope's oeuvre, in one case where the narrator is given a name Trollope often gives himself ("The Ride Across Palestine").

So the unusual strong punishment of the weak hero is odd, needs explaining, and is not going to be finally explained by anyone. Maybe somewhere in himself Trollope just personally preferred the vacillating weak hero. Caldigate has not been a vacillator.

I would wish he might emerge as shattered as Dick Shand. Martin Luther King was right when he argued that unearned suffering is redemptive; perhaps Caldigate will be a little less selfish and complacent and hard than he once was; he has the capacity for it: he pitied Mick Maggot, saw the tragedy of the man; he understands he has done wrong to Maria Shand; he respects people like the Shands whom his father dismisses.

Another mystery is the character of Euphemia. She is kept from us: now I see that she refused to marry Crinkett too and again on the grounds she moved away from Caldigate: she didn't want to have someone else control the money that would be hers. I wonder about her past. What has made her so desperate, so (rightly) suspicious, so nervy. This book demands a prequel.

Beyond that where exactly does Trollope stand on all the issues he has brought up. Here he is writing a novel in a situation where he can no longer easily sell them; where he is no longer the Apollo of the Circulating Library. Yet he refuses to write sensation fiction, and he will not return simply to the courtship plot and Barsetshire sort of books. He turns to use the bigamy theme which one finds in so many novels of the period, but he doesn't use it straight out in the way of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Instead it is presented indirectly, and the hero's thoughts hidden from us as well as the realities of the initiating situation in Australia. There is a mystery in the anti-hero, Caldigate himself, one not solvable, only something rich to place -- against Trollope's life, his other heroes, the place of this novel in his career. There is also its real function as a postcolonial novel: it's all about what happens to people who go out to colonies to grow rich.

This makes me remember a character I favor as much as others do Bagwax: Anna Young. Poor Anna. A servant. She followed Euphemia across the world; she was bullied by Euphemia into submitting to not being paid until they got aboard ship. Then she was not paid because Euphemia was arrested:

"Euphemia Smith had been too strong for her companion. She had declared that she would not pay the money till they were afloat, and then that she would not pay it till they had left Plymouth. When the police came on board the Julius Vogel, Anna Young had as yet received nothing (Ch 56, p. 431).

This reminds me of a closing line in Lady Susan where Austen says that for her part the character she really sympathizes with is Miss Manwaring who is a marginalized woman character cheated of the man she had schemed to marry for money. Austen writes:

"For myself I confess that I can pity only Miss Manswaring, who coming to Town & putting herself to an expense in Cloathes, which impoverished her for two years, on purpose to secure him, was defrauded of her due by a Woman ten years older than herself". Miss Manwaring is a marginalized woman character cheated of the man she had schemed to marry for money."

Trollope leaves room for Anna Young. He doesn't forget her. She shows us better than Caldigate why we should dislike Euphemia; indeed she shows up all the characters. I reserve my pity for her and her mystery. For like all the people of this novel she carries a genuine human burden like us all. I imagine she might have told Bagwax he was better off staying home, playing games with stools with Miss Jemima Curlydown in Apricot Villa. Trollope is usually kindly to his characters and he is so to Bagwax He leaves Bagwax naively self-important to the end: who but Hester will listen to him with such attention?

Cheers to all,

Date: Sun, 10 Jun 2001
Subject: [trollope-l] John Caldigate: Bagwax's Role

Bagwax is a dedicated post office worker who has much expertise in the ways of his profession. He also cares very much about justice. It pains him to think of the sufferings of the Caldigate family. Nor will his conscience allow him to take something that he isnít entitled to, such as an all-expenses-paid trip to Sydney. He is comic in his single-minded pursuit of the truth, which is admirable and amusing at the same time. In the way of minor characters, he is a bit exaggerated.

He has his role to play in the exposure of the conspirators, but he also is part of Trollopeís picture of the contrasting ways in which people make their livings or pursue their dreams. Bagwax is just a little guy working out his fate within a narrow sphere, but in his way he shares in the full range of lifeís joys and sorrows. He is engaged in the daily battle of good against evil. He is totally upright. He contrasts with Crinkett and the others out there in the wasteland clawing at the ground in search of gold, getting drunk, cheating each other, etc.

Crinkett and Co. may seem to have a little more scope in their lives than Bagwax because they travel internationally and build mansions and so on, but in reality they would have to undergo significant evolution before they reached the Bagwax level of development.


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