A Novel with Two Heroes?; A Novel of Symbolic Houses and Landscapes; The Perceptive Miss Dunstable: An Ironic Festival Figure

To Trollope-l

October 17, 1999

Re: Dr Thorne, Chs 15-19: A Novel with Two Heroes?

In this week's instalment we leave Dr Thorne and accompany Frank to Courcy Castle. I will not stretch my argument that Dr Thorne dominates the book beyond suggesting that through Mary his presence is felt throughout this sequence as follows:

Chapters 15-16: Mary is central to what stands in the way of Miss Dunstable and Frank; a sense of Frank's danger from a penniless unconnected girl drives the Countess to prod the young man even more strongly than she would.

Chapter 17: Roger Scatcherd carries within him the history of Mary's mother.

Chapter 18: We compare the falsity of the Honourable (ahem) George to Frank's honesty (even if he is not a perfect hero).

Chapter 19: The Duke of Omnium and the cold feast he provides takes its meaning through opposition to Dr Thorne and his way of being. At Gatherum we are told a couple of times Dr Thorne does not and it's implied would not come. The image of the feast in literature is one of hospitality, of warm, of friendship; here it's all appetite, networking, a way of snubbing the company and letting them know their inferior place, how they are to be used. And they yield to it. The wine is apparently enough, though the servants are stingy with the sauce.

My reason for brief summaries is to test Trollope's assertion that we are free to choose Frank as our hero. Has he not engineered the novel so that it sways between two heroes: Dr Thorne and Frank, with now a series of dramatic scenes evolved with Dr Thorne at the center and now a series evolved with Frank's existence if not always his presence at the center.

We could say that in this opening part of Volume 2 (if we are in Volume 2), Frank takes over. It is through his consciousness that much of these chapters are told. (Not all; there's also Miss Dunstable and the our narrator for the 'The Election'.) Yet is not Frank Gresham is a young version of what Dr Thorne will be? I think Frank does become a sort of Dr Thorne in outlook if not tone in The Prime Minister. In the scenes where we find Frank reasoning with and saving Arthur Fletcher from the violence of Ferdinand Lopez, he functions in the manner of Dr Thorne with Roger Scatcherd.

In this novel Frank's view of the world is vindicated -- as are all Dr Thorne's acts in the opening two chapters of the book which saved the infant Mary and brought her to Greshamsbury. Mary after all may save them all. Roger's will has made her into so much money if the eldest son does not survive.

We have yet to meet the eldest Gresham son, but we are told he too is badly alcoholic and that's why Dr Thorne worries about how he will look as executor of the will. There are five important males: Dr Thorne, Frank, Roger Scatcherd, Squire Gresham, and Sir Louis Scatcherd. One of the elements in this book that I think shows how deeply Trollope is feeling it within is how slow he works it out. This is not hack work.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Re: Dr Thorne, Chs 15-19: A Novel of Symbolic Houses and Landscapes

Reading this Barsetshire series through in this way it seems to me the first 'full' Barsetshire book is this one. The nostalgic pastoral 'green' place is adumbrated in The Warden, but there it is done partly to make an argument about the politics of the wardenship. We have the beautiful chapter at the end of Volume I in Barchester Towers where we walk through Barsetshire 'by moonlight'. Again the 'locus amoenus' (to use the classic phrase) is used as background to the religious theme of the book and its festival mood. From neither of the first two books of the Barsetshire series could we draw a map of Barset. If we wanted to, we could try to work out where Dr Fillgrave's practice is, where he comes from and goes to when he makes his unfortunate calls to Boxall Hill. Silverbridge is heard of too.

In Dr Thorne Trollope is conscious that he is embarked on a cycle or series of books. If he was not quite aware of how he could use the De Courcys beyond their role in Ullathorne Sports, he has gone back to hose chapters because George is consistently drawn with how he appears in Barchester Towers. The Bishop and Mrs Proudie turn up for a cameo and characteristic moment at De Courcy Castle. Late in the book Trollope bids adieu to a couple of characters in which he tells us we won't see them anymore "at least in the pages of this novel". Hmmn. That means we could see them in the pages of another. Perhaps it was at this point Trollope knew somewhere inside him that this was to be an on-going series. Someone would ask him to write another. Someone did: the editor of the Cornhill and Thackeray.

My demonstration would be to type out the long loving depiction of East Barsetshire that opens Chapters 1 and 2 wherein we get many details inside a large picture -- except that it's too long. So I just allude to it. The details themselves are connected to one another and placed against the large picture. Like a good novelist who wants to move his fiction ahead and make words work in 100 ways at once, the depiction of East Barsetshire is an occasion for talking about Whig v Tory politics, the mercantile and mostly intolerant and caste-arrogant liberalism that the Duke of Omnium and the De Courcys embody and the old landed paternalist point of view that the present Squire's father (whose shoes the present squire cannot fill) carried in him. We also get quite a thorough picture of the village 20 years ago and again today: the relationship of the Greshams house and Greshamsbury Park and Dr Thorne's house and the Oriel parsonage to the village reminded me very much of the depiction of the relationship of Harry Gilmore's mansion, the parsonage, and the Brattle ménage. I think that's what I meant about _Dr Thorne_ feeling fresh, not hack work. It's the first time Trollope has worked out such a scheme (Hougton Mifflin Dr Thorne, ed EBowen, Ch 1, pp. 1-12).

Trollope made good ironic points about human nature inhis ironic description of the statues of four savages with fours clubs at the portals of the gate of the Gresham mansion and its motto: Gardez Gresham. At one time people argued whether it meant to beware of these strong people, or whether it was an exhortation to the statues to protect them. Nowadays neither construction is possible. The Greshams must protect themselves like common folk (p. 13).

This leads Trollope into a disquisition on how England has become a commercial country, 'a buying and selling' country (p. 14). Its ideals are still those of an agricultural rooted and traditional world: rank and older customs still have their sway, but the sense is not for long. Frank must marry money because his father has not made but only spent it (pp. 15-16).

This thread of creating a landscape and through it depicting and analysing political and social change dominates this week's 5 chapters and makes them rich. I thought something that gave real piquancy to the castle is it too is not just a description. There's irony here: it is a dull, utterly conventional, indeed somewhat ugly and uncomfortable place (pp. 159-61). Our narrator says it must be that the De Courcys wanted it to be that way so we must assume they like it. Reminds me of Grantly Plumstead Episcopi: they care far more about the solemnity and impression of the image they make on others than they do about the actual beauty of their surroundings. And of course they do care about their physical comfort (which we are told Gatherum castle doesn't even have -- the Duke much prefers a smaller place). On the other hand, how beautifully it is worked out; as I read I think of a Constable painting in the way I did as The Warden opened up, viz.,

The surface was flat and unbroken; and though there were magnificent elm-trees standing in straight lines, like hedge-rows, the timber had not that beautiful, wild, scattered look which generally gives the great charm to English scenery (Ch 15, p. 159).

The world inside this domain is not in the least romantic. The DeCourcys seems to have nothing on their minds but money and position. There's something very American about this reading of everything in terms of what money and position it stands for rather than wanting it for itself.

Again the narrator asks us about change: do we like it? He laments the loss of the bustle and excitement of the coaching inn, and asks if we prefer the railway. He admits it's faster, more efficient, more comfortable. Yet ... and the tone invokes a sort of sadness: 'Come my friend, and discourse with me ... (p. 160). Trollope does not decide on behalf of the past because the speaker is an ignorant old man who would decry the loss of his income and usefulness and therefore importance in the world (to others). Yet the emotion of the piece is for the past.

The chapter called 'The Election' takes us into the present -- such as it is. Mr Reddypalm that impeccable innkeeper who would not of course take a bribe, and Mr Nearthewinde and Closerstil who would not offer any. Mr Reddypalm just likes his little bill to be paid (Ch 17, pp. 179-80). The names are deliciously apt. Again the town is beautifully laid out before us as well as its social and economic relationship to the Castle. Mr Moffat v Sir Roger. The level of political dialogue and the placards (pp. 182-85) reminds me of a number of aspects of our political dialogue today though we hide our class prejudices better -- or express them far more subtly. Our British members will want to know that here in the US we are revving up for a Presidential election and a good deal of nonsense of all sorts is to be read in the papers.

I wonder whether anything has been gained by purity. After all most of my life I have voted people into office who voted for programs or to do things which were not in my interest -- or if they were it was just happenstance and part of some general movement in this or that direction. I suspect the real reason for the campaign for purity had nothing to do with ideals and everything to do with the extension of the electorate: those in power didn't want to pay that many people off, so they passed laws forbidding payment. At any rate I'm in sympathy with Trollope's ironic appraisal of how people really felt about purity at the time.

The description of Gatherum is as full and grand and resonant as that of Greshamsbury park and, the village and de Courcy Castle and its village. It's curious how Trollope makes it a mélange of styles, pompous and for the most part difficult to get into, uncomfortable to live in -- no dwelling for real people at all. This contrasts to Ullathorne: remember how that was a Tudor mansion with mullioned windows? I suppose Gatherum is in the latest style of Grandness and Greatness. It reeks of money, marble and pictures everywhere. So what if no one is happy in it? Do people think of what might make them happy? (In The New Zealander Trollope says they don't, or very few do.). Still our narrator admits, while the Duke's architect has designed or redesigned a house in sch a sway as to 'destroy' it 'as regards most of the ordinary purposes of existence':

Nevertheless, Gatherum Castle is a very noble pile; and, standing a sit does on an eminence, has a very fine effect when seen from many a distant knoll and verdant- wooded hill ... (Ch 19, p. 203).

With the icy feast that follows, we may ask why is it that a book whose content is so sardonic, so disillusioned, and whose past or present narrator cannot find much to praise is so comforting or amusing or thought to be nostalgic? I would offer as one answer: the tone of the narrator. The irony makes us laugh without thinking of what we are laughing about. He also has a voice which itself speaks sanity: if all in the world but our Frank, Mary, and Dr Thorne are fools, knaves, or driven, he at least sees this is so. That's a comfort. And he evokes even in the ironic descriptions he gives -- as in those bits I quoted above -- glimpses of beauty which persuade us we have been inside a world worth being inside if only these glimpses could dominate the whole. Et in Arcadia Ego.

Comments anyone?

Ellen Moody

Subject: [trollope-l] Miss Dunstable

From: Sigmund Eisner

I think something should be said about Martha Dunstable, who has always been one of my favorite characters. She comes on the scene as the clear possessor of thousands of pounds, thanks to the lucrative Ointment of Lebanon. But she is not a spoiled rich girl. In fact, she is hardly a girl, having passed, we are told, her thirtieth birthday. She knows she is rich and determines to use her money for her own advantage. When she was chided for wearing curls which were a bit out of style, she answered, "they will always pass muster,... when they are done up with bank-notes." Now there is a perceptive lady. Other men beside Frank want to woo her, and she always puts them off, usually graciously, but with a threat that she can hold her own when she tells Mr. Moffat that she will report to Augusta Gresham all the sweet things that Mr. Moffat plans to say to her. Miss Dunstable will go through the rest of our Barsetshire novels unchanged. He voice is always loud, her perceptions are right on the button, and she remains rich. We have many delightful moments ahead of us from Miss Dunstable.


Subject: Re: [trollope-l] Miss Dunstable

From: Lmatlantic@aol.com

Miss Dunstable is one of Trollopes most delicious creations. She remains with me long after I hear her voice on the page. Perhaps that is part of it, she is so real, so idiosyncratic, so direct, so invincible. There are elements of Mrs. Proudy and other wholly alive creations. The contrast with the simpering, sweet, never a bad thought word spoken-or even thought, in Trollope's "feminine" young heroines is astonishing.


From: "Judy Warner"

Well said, I love Miss Dunstable too. Too bad none of the men realizes her worth--entirely aside from her money. Judy Warner

To which Sig replied:

Judy: "none" is a very strong word. Hang in there, and you will see.


Re: Dr Thorne: The Perceptive Miss Dunstable: An Ironic Festival Figure

I too revel in Miss Dunstable. Why? Because she's so perceptive, so very smart. She's the kind of character who can only be born from the magic of intuitive genius. How to explain how Trollope lights just on the right word, the right nuance, the right gesture to suggest to us that she sees through the hypocrisies of everyone else and remains above it all? That's the magic here. More: since she is so rich, they all kowtow to her while in the tonal words Trollope choses for those around her to her and for her thoughts we know she's not bothered. She laughs at them. In short she's as unflappable as Colonel Stubbs -- with this difference, her acid mind never for moment ceases to register how in their hearts they despise her and find her a bit distasteful.

The curious result for us is a release. Most of us are not rich. Hence no one kowtows. Thus we have no chance to have people suck up. I use the crude language deliberately. Since no one sucks up, but many still may cut or otherwise slight us, we are not in a position to dismiss at them in our hearts. We are not far above in the manner of Miss Dunstable -- who is forever showing off about her high position through money (that's why all the amused talk about how she doctors her doctor and must humour her lawyer). She is what we wish we could be except she's so much smarter. Trollope gives her preternatural perceptions -- which he gives no one else. No one else in the book thus far has registered the hypocrisies of those around them with this kind of awareness or sparkle.

Miss Dunstable is an ironic festival figure . A kind of Falstaff whe deflates all around her while holding her own . It's realistic because without her money she wouldn't manage it. Our joy in her really has little to do with her spunk or aggression -- because she isn't very aggressive. She fits in. What we joy in is how she remains untouched by the venality around her, is not angered or embittered, keeps her honest values and integrity and can recognise and become friends with those she recognises as spirits like her -- say Frank and later Dr Thorne and Mary.

The magic of Trollope's genius does this -- or his intuitive literary tact and control. It's a rare gift to be able to write dialogue which conveys this and is yet naturalistic. Yet he does it. The letters exchanged between Miss Dunstable and the Honourable George are delicious because she sees through him beyond his seeking her just for her money. She can pick out where he has tactlessly given away how he longs for his brother to die (people do, without much realising it -- as George does in his letter). She takes each turn of his letter and 'reads' or interprets it in the light of honesty and integrity and decency and shows him to be the callow knave/fool he is. Yet she remains good-tempered (Houghton Mifflin Dr Thorne, ed EBowen, Ch 18, pp. 192-95). But in a way it's easier to do this kind of thing in letters. You can be explicit; you can spin out the interlocutors as if they were sparring duellists. Not so in a dialogue.

The way Trollope does it is to continually have her wryly undercut whatever she is told that is at all phony, debunk it, and bring forth the truth. For example, when Frank attempts to tell Miss Dunstable the Countess and he talked of Miss Dunstable's prudence, virtue and beauty:

'Virtues and prudence! She said I was prudent and virtuous?'

'Yes'. 'And you talked of my beauty. That was so kind of you! You didn't either of you say anything about other matters?'

'What other matters?'

'Oh! I don't knowl Only some people are sometimes valued rather for what they've got than for any good qualities belonging to themselves intrinsically' (p. 190).

Trollope depends on us to know that Frank has to be lying. People don't talk about other people's prudence, virtue, and beauty even when they've got it. Miss Dunstable is no beauty. Trollope depends upon us to translate 'other matters' into money. Miss Dunstable emerges as sharp yet she expresses herself ironically, enigmatically and in the following line moves on to praise Frank who is not all that deserving of her praise. (She is just attracted to the awkward well-meaning young man.) So she seems good humoured and under control and within limits indifferent to these sorts of lies.

The same method underlies her dialogues with the Honourable George and Mr Moffat. Their lies are obvious; her corrections enigmatic but the reference of the irony is clear to us; she remains good-humoured, in control. The result is a wry strong festival release. We have had to endure the Franks, Georges, and Moffats and not done as well in life; here we can enjoy the power Trollope's method seems to endow her with. So we feel better. At least with Miss Dunstable they don't get away with it. And they can't hurt her. She seems impervious -- though she is not. She does register hurt now and again. The wryness does that. We like her for that too.

Miss Dunstable is one of several wonderful character conceptions in this book: Roger Scatcherd, Dr Thorne are two others.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

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