June 16, 2001
Re: John Caldigate, Chs 61-64: The Ending
I've been waiting to say this until the reading was finished - which is: One of the most poignant scenes I've ever read is when the older Mr. Caldigate meets his son, and father and son ride home hand in hand in their carriage. With few words, that image was so powerful and touching to me.
Regards. Doris White
I will chime in -- having just finished the very last chapter. I too found the scene between father and son almost unbearably poignant. During this last phase of the novel, it has been the father who has visited the officials, bothered them, done all he could, the father who kept and protected Hester, the father who waited for his son. The book opened with John Caldigate's rebellion against his father and their estrangement, and their reunion is as important to the structure of the plot-design as that between Caldigate and Hester.
That's not to say that the return of Caldigate to his home is not moving. It is. It is beautifully done -- among other things Trollope presents it with little overstatement and humanely. Both scenes are indicated indirectly: we are given hardly any dialogue. Rather we are told and swiftly of gestures: the two hands grasping, the woman waiting in her room, and the man opening the door.
On behalf of Mrs Bolton: there is something to be said on behalf of her final scene with her daughter. The wildness of her passion for her daughter is believable. She is in fact an intensely emotional woman. It is wholly in character: what is implied is that sexually with a man there is no satisfaction for her. So she pours her intensity into her daughter, and into controlling others. I admit I felt a sympathy for her too: not in her views, but in the sentence Trollope gave us that the husband was determined that his wife should obey him. That is presented with no irony whatsoever. On those grounds I wish she had refused. Not on the grounds that she owns her girl -- which is her view and still not an uncommon one if one watches how people act. But on the grounds of female obedience, it's an open door to tyranny.
I cannot enter into the pious language of Hester's appeal to her mother. Nor the happy tenants. This is as bad as happy slaves in southern American literature of the 19th century -- the motive of such scenes is similar, and the appeal to the owner-reader. I assume Trollope is intent on reinforcing Hester as unstained. By the same token I feel for Mrs Euphemia Smith. Trollope didn't have to give her three years with hard labour. We are not told that Caldigate had hard labour. I have read what was done to Oscar Wilde. He died shortly after he got out of prison. At least Trollope gives us a sentence about how Caldigate could not behold her "without some pang at his heart". Nor I am in sympathy with either Caldigate's comment on why he paid the money nor Bolton's dislike of it. He paid it for better reasons that he alledges (as one can see when one goes back to the chapter), and Bolton's dense character (one which does well in the world doubtless) is not one I'd like to spend much time with. He is actually more like Caldigate than he supposes. Both the type who succeed as the world judges it by money-making and domination.
Trollope's depiction of Caldigate has been consistent throughout. The one fine quality he is given is his honesty to himself. When his in-laws greet him with grim rejoinders, he thinks it would better have been spared. He doesn't lie about their feelings to him or his to them. I like how our narrator let us know that when the tenants speak so naively about Caldigate's relationship with Euphemia Caldigate feels he prefers the "eloquence" to the "argument, as Caldigate msut have felt when he remembered how fond he had once been of that 'bedangled woman' (this is an adult fiction). Caldigate has never shown himself to be a brooding, oversensitive type. We see he endured silently all the griefs we are to assume he had inflicted on him in prison; we are shown him bouncing back. Unlike Phineas Finn who goes into a deep depression over the humiliation, Caldigate moves on. He thinks only to "be safe in his own home", now with the father he at long last appreciates, and with his loyal wife. The phrase about safety reverberates: the state can take you away and put you in prison. The insistence on the value of Hester's loyalty is also well taken. An important value in relationships, especially marriage. William Bolton remarks on that as part of Hester's fineness towards her husband. There is also a deep sexual satisfaction between them: this was suggested early in the book and is brought back. Of course a new baby is born mighty quickly. But we know Caldigate has been more than a little of a stud all along. One of the reasons Mrs Bolton regarded him with distaste and fear.
Throughout this book the psychology is consistent and, when presented, powerful. My complaint has been that the important presences have been kept from us for too long stretches, not fully enough shown (Caldigate and Hester) or not shown at all for real (Euphemia).
The comedy of Bagwax is kept up and we are given a delightful footnote. I like when Trollope breaks his fiction -- this reminds me of Thackeray -- to write a footnote only I'm afraid half-pretending his comments on the Sydney post-office might be taken in bad spirit (readers will take things personally Trollope himself says more than once in his letter): "I hope my friends in the Sydney post office will take no offence should this story ever reach their ears. I know how well the duties are done in that office, and, between ourselves, I think that Mr Bagwax's journey was quite unnecessary." I find this kind of remark strengthens the fiction; it does not harm it for me. I remember how G. H. Lewes and Polly (George Eliot) didn't like how towards the end of another novel Trollope still made sour comments about marriage: here the spirit is not belied, just turned into a bright ironic remark: "Bagwax went [to Sydney] as a gay bachelor, and spent six happy months in the bright colony".
And we get some kind words for Dick Shand. He returns to do some good among the South Sea Islanders and to find a place where he can be comfortable in himself.
Of the three books we read this is probably the strongest emotionally. To me the most interesting has been Is He Popenjoy?. I feel I learned much about Trollope himself in the depiction of those two brothers, mcuh that now throws light on his other fictions. But the one that has the riveting scenes is this. It is a page-turner. The kind of power it shows trumps Scott at least in Rob Roy. The vitality of Trollope's nervous energy comes out at us across the page from the words on the page which seem so vivid with strength, emotion; Trollope projects and pulls us in throughout, even when he is on the wrong side.
Cheers to all,
Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2001
Subject: [Trollope-l] John Caldigate and Rob Roy
This is Sunday morning, and I have just finished the newspaper. Bunny rabbits are playing in the morning sunshine just outside of my study window. The lizard who lives behind the large Syrian table top, which hang on an outside wall of the house, just poked his head out to see if everything is still okay. This also is the day on which we have finished two very different novels, John Caldigate and Rob Roy. Anyway, I have finished both novels.
John Caldigate has always been one of my favorites. Certainly any young man who goes off to foreign parts, meets an attractive and available young woman, and samples her available favors, is very likely to behave abroad quite contrary to the way he would behave at home. We may, if that is the sort of thing we like to do, twitter in horror at the young man's behavior. But twitter as we will, we cannot find that his conduct is unusual. Young men, when they are far from home, for instance in a military situation, do allow the juices to flow with the assumption that no one is the worse off for their behavior. Sometimes people are worse off because of his behavior, but sometimes not. And our young man, like other young men, cannot believe for the life of him will anything happen that will injure himself or someone else, just because he dallied with a young woman. This is the way the world is, has been, and will be.
Rob Roy is another matter. Scott has done better. He has done better in the two novels and long narrative poem which I have read: Heart of Midlothian, Ivanhoe, and Lady of the Lake. The only real credit I can give to Rob Roy is that the novel is consistent. Turgidly it began, and turgidly it ended. Once in a while a good swashbuckling novelist gives us a novel in which buckets hardly swash while heroes are somewhat less than heroic. I remember how disappointed I was in Kidnapped after relishing every word in Treasure Island. Frank is not a great hero. He plays his part, and he wins his girl. But can anyone imagine Frank going off to Australia and getting mixed up with an adventurous floozie? Also, the end of Rob Roy could have been inspirational for the old movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, in which every member of a given family had to die off before the hero could ascend to the familial acres. Scott is a good pack horse of a novelist, but he is not major. Trollope, of course, is major.
Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2001
As usual, having worked myself up to disagreeing with Ellen about Hester, she comes back with her latest posting regarding JC, with which I am in entire agreement, before I have been able to get into print (or cyberspace).
I believe that Trollope's depiction of Hester and her mother in chapter LXIII is entirely true to his conception of her all the way through the book. She may not behave in the way in which a feisty young heroine of the twenty-second century would behave, but this is completely outside Trollope's experience. What she does do is refuse to be dominated by her mother and insist on her own interpretation of events, which proves to be correct. Why should she then hold a grudge against her mother, who may be impossible in some of her attitudes, but who she loves? I have seen examples in my own family of people who have not spoken for twenty years on account of a hurtful remark or attitude.. I cannot see that either side were any better off for it, even if the original resentment may have been justified. I would regard Hester as a thoroughly nice young woman, able to stand up for what she believes to be right, but not holding lasting resentments. It seems to me that in her last posting Ellen has come to accept this point of view.
I have been thinking why I believe that JC is the best of the last three Trollope novels that we have read. As Ellen says, it is a page turner. I have lost count of the number of times that I have read it, but once again I have found myself reading faster and faster, so that I can reach the end. I believe that this is because the characters are believable, whether you approve of their behaviour or not. As I said at the start of our reading, John Caldigate is one of those young men who can get off with any girl, and usually does. Trollope does not give us a blow by blow account of his life with Euphemia, but implies that when they parted in Australia, he met her demands for money and shares. What he would have done if she had become pregnant it is difficult to say, but this was probably beyond the bounds of what Trollope could get Mudie to accept. I agree that it is unfair that her punishment, including hard labour, exceeded Caldigate's. However, he was found guilty of bigamy, while she was convicted of perjury, and, I suggest, attempting to pervert the course of justice. By most standards, and particularly those of Victorian society, her crime was the more heinous.
Incidentally, I referred some time ago to the court case being brought against Jeffrey Archer for perverting the course of justice and perjury. Archer is, of course, the novelist, who has built a career, including a fortune and a peerage, on his popular sensational novels. The case is currently being heard at the Old Bailey, and the newspapers are naturally full of it. It is difficult to imagine a case of life imitating art so completely. The allegations being made against Archer include keeping a string of mistresses, procuring his secretary to falsify his diaries to enable him to win a £500,000 libel suit against a newspaper and getting a friend to lie by giving him a false alibi for the night he is alleged to have spent with a prostitute. The public in the UK is agog to see what the outcome is, and whether with one leap Jeffrey will become free.
Reverting to the much more interesting matter of Trollope, I think that JC is the best of the last three that we have read. It is possible to become much closer to the people involved. I agree with Ellen that it is difficult to be attracted to anyone in IHP, and although I enjoyed AA much more reading it for the last time with the List, I also agree that the characterisation seems to be a bit superficial. I thought that the best character was Sir Thomas Tringle, followed by Jonathan Stubbs and Tom Tringle. I have never had much time for Ayala and Lucy, who I described a couple of years ago as 'wet', and still think of as feeble.
And now on to The Kellys and the O'Kellys. In my view this is another good read, but some knowledge of Irish history will come in useful, particularly for the first few chapters. Perhaps Rory will help us here.
Re: John Caldigate, Chs 61-64: The Ending
June 19, 2001
To Howard and all,
But I didn't express the point of view Howard's rewording of what said turned it into. Here's his reading of what I wrote:
"I would regard Hester as a thoroughly nice young woman, able to stand up for what she believes to be right, but not holding lasting resentments. It seems to me that in her last posting Ellen has come to accept this point of view."
I denied the reality of the scene insofar as Hester is dramatized. I have all along said that Trollope emasculates his dramatization of Hester: she is only real up to a point; she is allowed no normal anger and suspicion, dismay and distrust and a host of other feelings that in probability she would have not only towards her mother but her husband. Howard's and other people's citations of many people they have known who spent years, nay a timelife of never forgiving, makes my point.
What is real in the particular scene is the mother's behavior.
I regret Trollope's presentation of Hester because it vitiates the depth and reality and effectiveness of his book. I agree with Sig that one criteria which elevates Trollope above many of his contemporaries is psychological realism. When Trollope departs from this to insist upon a falsifying -- and in terms of real life pernicious -- ideal he ruins his own fiction; he makes it less effective, inferior. He is, alas, no Tolstoi in John Caldigate.
When I say the ideal is pernicious, I am not saying it's good for people in real life to part permanently. What I am saying is the fiction itself, the story and scenes that have such power, show us how a tyrannical parent and deceitful young man can destroy a woman's life. We have not done sufficient justice to the cause of the Bolton males during our discussion. William, Robert, the father -- are all quite right to be deeply angry and to remain uncomfortable and have a strong residue of distrust for John Caldigate. What's wrong about the presentation of Hester is it is not real: I have never met such a nice young woman: or only in 3rd grade readers. That's what bothers us about the scene with the mother. Trollope has all along not dramatized Hester and Caldigate's relationship in any detail -- because he instinctively knows he has not presented Hester as she really would have been, really would have felt.
We don't measure a character in a particular scene against general real life people we know vaguely or somewhat but against what has gone before in the book. At the close of this book Hester's words and the emotions Trollope allows her reinforces the right of those over her to hurt her. That we have had a happy ending is not due to John Caldigate, not due to Mrs Mary Bolton, not due to poor Hester -- for I'm on Hester's side here. It is due in part to our fairy tale deus ex machine Bagwax. Which Trollope has let us know is fairy tale repeatedly. Trollope has again been astute enough to answer objections by having all the authority figures in his novel deny that Bagwax's information was particularly important. He has also had going at the same time a highly sceptical presentation of the trial and community feelings so that he can over a series of slowly drawn chapters get us to believe that after a while the community began to see the evidence differently, partly because they felt sorry for the wife. Bagwax's envelope becomes a rationale as much as an original starter of this change of feeling towards the prisoner. Remember he was pardoned, not vindicated. In the chapters on the trial and on its aftermath which resulted in an overturning of the original decision (very hard and rare in Victorian times, so probably improbable), Trollope returns us to his interest in the distance between a trial verdict and the reality everyone concerned in a trial are supposed to be probing.
The analogy from real life also ignores the other side of the case where we know of individuals in families who never speak again. The other side of the case is the cause of the anger. People don't get angry for nothing. In those cases I know of there has been real destruction: someone has inforced or betrayed someone else in such a way that counted. Things that happen to us in our private lives, hidden away, inside the house where no one sees -- such as a scene between Hester and her mother on chairs on three successive mornings in which all the servants of the Boltons also colluded, such as Caldigate's white lies, his fibs to Hester, and his outright lies to his prospective brother-in-law -- count. They can maim a life forever. Someone in authority (a parent) refuses to pay for a specific kind of education for the child; will not let that child go to college; works to prevent some movement or marriage or achievement. It happens all the time. The parent's interest is in their own ego, some other form of aggrandizement which counts to them. Mrs Bolton is a nightmare exaggeration of real happenings. Husbands betray their wives and wives husbands all the time.
The reason I contend on this point is for the sake of what is valuable in John Caldigate: the dramatic fiction contains a warning lesson all right (which is the way Victorians would have put it), but the warning lesson is far more complicated and true to life in most points than a morality which would slide over the real dangers and pains engendered in the fiction would allow. It is also for the sake of Trollope as an artist, so that we should understand where he goes well beyond his own contemporaries and also why his fictions have not been given adequate credit to.
For the rest Howard and I are mostly in agreement. I found I enjoyed Is He Popenjoy? much more in a group setting than I did when I read it alone a couple of years ago. With a little help from recent reading in Freud and a couple of more biographies and other essays on Trollope I have read since then, I now feel that Is He Popenjoy? opens up the reality of Trollope's inner life to us in ways he had not done before: it explicates the signficance of the sexually inadequate male throughout Trollope's stories. IHP has given me a whole new perspective with which to understand the other books -- and sympathize with Trollope as a Victorian male. Reading it made Ayala the more interesting book -- though as last time I found it finally dissatisfying.
It would be interesting to hear what others who read the other two novels along with Caldigate would say about the three as a group.
I too am looking forward to The Kellys and OKellys and Castle Richmond very much. In an indirect way they relate to our historical fiction subgroup: historical fiction seems to cover much of the same terrain as regional novels, and these are what The Kellys and OKellysM and Castle Richmond are. The Kellys is even like George Eliot's "historical fiction": most of her novels are carefully set a couple of decades before the time of writing so as to set them in a particular moment in history. This is true of The Macdermots and The Kelly -- as we shall see.
Re: John Caldigate, Chs 61-64: The Ending
Probably Howard and I have said enough, but I want to say what is the outlook that I bring to the novels we read here on Trollope-l.
Certainly when Trollope brings an exemplary scene or exemplums into his books, we ought to discuss them. That is what we are doing. My outlook is one which could fairly be described as modern critical. I don't look at Trollope's books as museum pieces and simply accept the values he presents. To talk that way seems to me to treat them as entertaining museum pieces. They are much better than that. They still form part of people's reading matter today -- many people all things considered -- and enter into our value systems today. Thus I look at them as they affect our lives and values: this is the mode of modern literary criticism. All the talk and essays we see nowadays (and are often found in Trollopiana) treat the books this way: thus a while back there was one which went into the sex life of one of Trollope's heroes in Is He Popenjoy? in a not only remarkably frank but late 20th century perspective. The author did not only deal with his view that the character didn't have full sexual intercourse with his wife, but judged it by our values. We cannot read as people from 1870s no matter how hard we try.
In cases where behavior today hurts people, reinforces values which (to put it in large terms) speaks for reinforcements of tyrannies, of bigoted prejudices, for regarding other people as automatically suspect or inferior or motivated by envy, malice, greed because they are of a different sex, class, race, and Trollope's texts reinforce these behaviors by dramatizing thought patterns through exemplums or slanted scenes, I feel we ought to speak up against these, on behalf of the liberation of the human spirit and against cruelty. It is important to speak out against anti- semtism not only for the sake of Jews but against the kind of thinking that underlies tribalism. It is important to speak out against denigrations of kinds of people -- as in Trollope's depiction of Louis Scatcherd. One area where Trollope seems unable to get beyond his own fears and class is in the area of women's sex lives, their independence, and their needs for individual fulfillment, particularly when they are not upper class but beneath the gentry. It does seem to me that the later books are actually far more rigid and present prejudiced anti-feminism far more than the earlier ones. I find that interesting. As Trollope grows older he is more and more projecting his own autobiography, and is less detached.
It's interesting that such moments Trollope's fiction often come up as exemplums or exemplary scenes, the melodramatic and the caricatured ones -- in places where Trollope breaks his realism. In David Skilton's Trollope and His Contemporaries, a study of what reviewers at the time wrote about Trollope's books, he writes that Trollope was frequently caught between a demand on the part of his readership that he exemplify their class structure and values and his own genuine desire really to portray something utterly true to life. Sometimes Trollope is very conscious of where he is breaking some taboo (as in the depiction of Lady Mason, a "criminal" as the sympathetic heroine of a book); sometimes he defers to the sensibilities of his audience though he doesn't agree (as in passages in Dr Wortle's School), and sometimes he doesn't see where he has shifted from dramatizing reality to reinforcing values and producing scenes untrue to life.
I do Trollope the compliment of taking his books very seriously -- as I take literature in general seriously. I believe they have an effect on our morality. In Trollope's time they probably worked to make people more moral. He wanted them to. I believe him when he says that. I suggest that today they still have the effect of humanizing the reader in most places -- of widening our sympathetic imagination and simply offering us sheer knowledge about another world. By thinking out those passages where this is not the case, one turns a passage which can anaestheticize people into accepting injustice or into not treating other people fully truly as having the same burden of human feeling we do (as in some of the scenes where Hester is presented as well as several where Euphemia is), we can turn a passage which would have a deleterious effect on us into one which has an ethically enlightened one. We can also bring to Trollope's books fuller understanding than he had. He didn't read Freud and while he sees people so accurately, he doesn't always understand what he sees, or doesn't understand it fully. His Is He Popenjoy? is an astonishing depiction of Oedipal disarrangements and the unhappiness and miseries, the losses society enforces on us. By bringing to bear on what Trollope saw another perspective which sees them in larger view -- what we give up for a meer veneer of civilization in our daily lives -- makes us book enter today's conversation in an adult way, more fully. Other kinds of thought can find in Trollope validation and examples: he's interesting for sociologists, for social psychologies (group dynamics). We need not limit our responses humanly speaking. That's to limit the real reach of Trollope's books. So some modern critical approaches will not criticize him adversely but find him out there way ahead of us today.
Now, as Howard says, onto the next Trollope and Henry Esmond.
June 20, 2001
Re: Time Out before the Coming Irish Novel & Travel Book Read
As we've finished John Caldigate, I hope we will have some general discussion of Is He Popenjoy? (written 1875-75), John Caldigate (written 1877) and Ayala's Angel (written 1878), these three relatively unknown novels by Trollope which are not frequently found in even the better bookstores which carry good literature, and which we have had a journey through as a trio. If people are wondering which novels came between Is He Popenjoy? and John Caldigate, they were The American Senator (written 1875) and The Duke's Children (written 1876). It is probably fair to say that The American Senator counts as another relatively unknown novel by Trollope; The Duke's Children makes the cut of familiarity and printing because it became the sixth of the Pallliser novels. We all have a week to meditate, have a general discussion (or ignore this list altogether), after which the list as a group begins a new phase.
During this week we could ask ourselves what these four -- they really are four -- highly intelligent effective narratives share in mood and presentation, in themes that could have made them unappealing to the original readership. As a start, I would say they are rather dry and controlled: the trauma that is contained, and it is very real, in Is He Popenjoy? and John Caldigate is kept at a distance from us, as are the transgressive themes of both books. Ayala too is indirect, guarded, not inward where we might like it (Tom Tringles), avoiding its very subject (Bohemian art and its values.) Two of them contain astringent critiques of Victorian society: Is He Popenjoy? and The American Senator. Perhaps people have other suggestions.
In addition, we could also ask why they have not regained ground today. He Knew He Was Right was not liked when originally printed, was castigated by reviewers, and is making a big comeback; this curious turnaround is even more true of The Way We Live Now. Is it sheer chance? I suggest not.
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001
Having lurked on this list for quite some time, I want to add my lively sense of enjoyment from both John Caldigate and Rob Roy. In particular, I have enjoyed the points of view of what amounts to an ideal seminar class--the other members of the list who contribute to the discussion. As a lapsed English professor, I find the experience a sort of recaptured youth, only better.
Joining the list has sent me back to the library of the University of Minnesota, where I sweated over a dissertation in the 70s. Now I roam the stacks with a light heart, delighted to choose Trollope Society folios for the next book. In the case of Rob Roy, I finally was motivated to look into a set of the Waverley Novels I had received years ago from an ancient aunt, an octavo edition published in London in 1895. It was interesting to have to cut the yellowing pages. A Highland dirk not being available, I made do with a letter opener.
Anyway, I want to thank Ellen Moody and the regulars who post, and I am looking forward to Henry Esmond.