November 8, 1999
Re: Dr Thorne, Chs 28-30: A Second Climax
The first volume of Dr Thorne ended on a series of scenes in which Dr Thorne is at the center. He is there with Sir Roger to talk over the will and care for the man (insofar as the man will permit it); he is there with the Squire to talk over his immense indebtedness. He is there to talk with Mary over her status and love. Finally, he meets Lady Arabella eyeball to eyeball. He does lose the match in the sense that Mary is exiled. On the other hand, we have enough information to feel the strong probability that Mary may turn out herself to be the owner of Greshamsbury.
Switch to De Courcy castle where, among others, we meet Miss Dunstable, Mr Moffat and go on an election. Things are in fact looking worse and worse for Mary - if we were not privy to that codicil in Sir Roger's will. But we are. We meet Sir Louis, and however distasteful the caste arrogance of Trollope's presentation, we can see he is not well and he behaves in such a way that we will not grieve if he is removed. One of this week's chapters show him trying to marry Mary. The doctor does not see the advantage :). Nor do we. In a scene I have fondly remembered for years we have Frank rush over to Mary to propose to her atop a donkey. We know they will be true to one another, even if Frank agrees, to please his father and like the perfect romance hero, to go off for a year and a day to test his love. Curtain down. End of volume.
Note how little suspense we are in. People often talk about how Trollope said this was the one novel whose plot he got from someone else -- his brother. Skilton quotes of Trollope's admission he got the plot from his brother Autobiography and Trollope's comment that its popularity 'surprised' him as an instance of Trollope's 'unfailing instinct for belittling and even paining himself on such matters. Yet (as Skilton says too) how little important is the story line, how little suspense is here. We can see what is going to happen almost from the time we sit by Sir Roger's bed and see him shaking and hear of his equally alcoholic son who has experienced delirium tremens. Skilton says Trollope differs in his use of the secret bastardy/ heiress plot in not presenting it luridly; it putting it before us in the cold light of prosaic day to begin with, in providing nothing melodramatic, but rather insisting on Mary's relationship to Sir Roger from the Chapter called 'The Two Uncles' on. Trollope never lets us forget it -- in this week's chapter there is a line where Sir Louis talks of how he is not worried about that far away cousin inheriting on the same page where we read of Mary Thorne. He is riding next to that cousin.
As I read I feel this is an effective living book and I attribute it to the strong scenes. We are reading so slowly that I find myself each week looking at the chapters and finding them made up of a row of strong dramatic scenes, each with climaxes. This is by no means true of the texture of Trollope's fiction before this. Barchester Towers keeps us at a distance and the narrator gives long passages of description, meditation, connectives, mock heroic parties. The scenes are continual (more than one to a chapter sometimes) and they are long. The dialogue has all the apparent insouciance and serendipity of life. There's little stylisation. So we are so interested in the scenes we forget we know that the outcome is assured? No. We don't forget. Instead we are reading sheerly for the play of the psychologies, to see how we are going to get to the ending. What matters is the journey there, and the inner lives of the individuals.
Re: Dr Thorne, Ch 29: Love Scenes in Trollope and A Donkey Ride
One of the earliest conversations I remember having on a list about Trollope's books was over Trollope's love scenes. I said I loved them, and didn't everyone? Naive me. I imagined everyone felt the way I did. If lead-ups or the whole effect of a Trollope story could be sentimental, these scenes themselves were rarely so. I had remembered the donkey scene between Mary and Frank for a long time after reading the book. It was one of those which remained in my mind. It was funny the way the narrator got us to look at the love scene over the mane and ears of a donkey. Trollope does something similar with a parrot in The American Senator and I think there is a similar criss-crossing of fond deflating comedy in some of the love scenes in Ayala's Angel. I remember writing about the depth of emotion in the scene where Lily is pressed to accept but rejects Johnny Eames; Lady Mason and old Sir Peregrine Orme's touching affection; numbers of the non-love painful scenes between Lady Glen and Planatagenet (her needling him).
Well someone came on the list and said as how she couldn't bear these love scenes. Yuk. They were the pits in Trollope. She skimmed them. I did later learn she was a lesbian, but it was more than that. She disliked the whole ethos of love scenes in novels; disliked the courtship and marriage plot. What was she doing on a Trollope list? I dunno.
At this point -- several years later -- I am ready to agree these love scenes depend on an ethic of chastity until marriage. Sex is put off. That's part of what gives them the tense quality they have. Little gestures must do a great deal of work. Like someone putting someone's fingers in his hand. Aggression is indirect; so too yielding -- though not always, especially when the couple is once engaged. Note how brief are the words given Frank and Mary. The apparent naturalism of it.
This time round I liked the Mary and Frank scene but also the earlier story leading up to it. I liked the fact that Mary insisted on just a donkey. It reminded me of Fanny Price's mare. (Much in this book is like scenes or types from Austen's books.) Ladies got their exercise this way in many a country house.
Comments on love scenes in Trollope? We could compare this one to the salacious jeering and somewhat cruel one of Slope and Madeline Neroni. There are a number of brief and somewhat patterned ones in Barchester Towers: Bertie's lovely telling the truth (which offends Mrs Bold who thinks so well of herself), Arabin's shyness, Slope slapped by Mrs Bold (who thinks so well ... ). The difference in the Frank and Mary one is its long lingering quality again which is also unlike the later ones in The American Senator and Ayala's Angel. There is a freshness and energy to this book as Trollope takes the ideal young unmarried but loving English couple for his center for the first time.
November 10, 1999
Re: Dr Thorne, Chs 28-30: Miss Dunstable's Letters
An interesting aspect of the presentation and role of Miss Dunstable in Dr Thorne is that 1) she writes or answers a number of the letters in this novel; and 2) her letters come at those points in the novel where Frank needs someone to help him stay with Mary. Not that Frank or the narrator lets us get so far as to suspect Frank could be inconstant -- Kindness forbid. But that just when Frank is being pushed hard by someone to desert Mary, he takes out a recent letter by Miss Dunstable re-inspiriting him on Mary's behalf and his resolve is fortified. She's like a good genie in a bottle Frank carries around in his pockets.
There is a particularly good moment late in the book when Mary has written Frank and her letter has been delayed in delivery; by the time Frank gets it, he has been harried and harassed, and is feeling if not serious doubts, at least hesitant. But there is a letter from Miss Dunstable: the narrator quotes part, Frank reads, and he is steadied in his course to write Mary back. It is a letter from Miss Dunstable that leads to Frank going to Boxall Hill, the scene on the donkey and the engagement of Frank and Mary with which this volume (or phase of the novel) closes.
This letter-writing and inspiriting role of Miss Dunstable connects to the depiction of Frank's crises in two ways. One, again and again in conversation when it is brought up to him Mary is a nobody, nothing, has no family, he replies, What was Miss Dunstable and you would have had me marry her. In this week's chapters a letter from Miss Dunstable combines with two conversations in which Frank's mother attacks him on the score of not succeeding with Miss Dunstable (Penguin Dr Thorne, ed Ruth Rendell, Ch 28, p. 338). Frank's father is not so obtuse, and it is Frank who brings Miss Dunstable up when his father urges him to think of Mary's bastardy (of course the squire doesn't say this word explicitly, but it's what is meant, Ch 30, p, 359). It was Miss Dunstable who refused Frank's proposal, for however boyishly and inadequately, he did attempt to propose. She stopped him, and commanded him to be true to whatever was in his heart.
Miss Dunstable plays the role of good fairy on Mary's behalf quietly. Miss Dunstable's values are embodied in Frank's stubborn adhesion to Mary with all her detractions: bastardy, apparent poverty, and also lack of ambition to compete in the manner of a De Courcy.
Miss Dunstable's letters are also fun. They provide a release against the oppressive hierarchy of the book. She does not mince words and shows us the falseness, the indifference, the venality and maneuvring of human nature by 1) explicitly or implicitly speaking of it to Frank face-to-face or in the quoted letters. We like her wry implicit approach. Really they reach a height early in the book when we have Lord George's obviously egregiously manipulative and stupid letter (as when he just about looks forward to the possibility of his elder brother's death), and Miss Dunstable's polite one which through a series of responses shows us exactly wherein George deviated from truth, humanity, decency, even awareness of what his words mean (Ch 18, pp 216-18).
So, like Dr Thorne, although she is not on stage continually, Miss Dunstable's presence -- her values -- form a choral voice of goodness and wisdom in the book. She also plays an active role in bringing about its comic resolution in a group of country copulatives (as Touchstone would have put it).
Alas, my Houghton Mifflin edition is finally falling apart. Its green and yellow cover is coming off, so I have changed the copy I am reading and quoting from. I don't want to resort to scotch-tape, for that is the beginning of the end in keeping a book sound. I had hoped the Penguin edition would tell us what were the original divisions of the novel. However, Ruth Rendell is not the editor of the latest Penguin text of Dr Thorne; she is called introducer and is credited with the notes. That means she did not go back to an original manuscript or any original editions, and the actual text is the same one used in the Houghton Mifflin.
What a shame. An opportunity lost. The other new Penguins have editors who went back to the original manuscript or first edition. I guess Ruth Rendell was thought not to have to do that because she is a published novelist. Her introductory essay in Dr Thorne is good and I'll try to post about it another time.
Cheers to all,
From Ethan A. Edwards
I would say Martha Dunstable (who eventually becomes Mrs. Thorne) is one of the few women in Trollope who operate successfully in society as their own agents, even after she joins her lot to a male. Perhaps because her fortune was new money (from the Elixer of Lebanon) rather than bought through marriage or gained through generations of wealth in the family, she maintained her influence and importance by not giving a straw about what society thought of her; in fact that her whole situation was so far out of the norm, that it could not be limited by a system that didn't really accept it as a possibility. The struggles that other female characters go through is that they desire, and indeed, need, a role of importance in their sphere of society, but cannot or are unwilling to break those same societal expectations. It's true that Mrs. Thorne did not seek political influence--but one has the feeling that it was by her choice, not that she felt that it was absolutely closed to her.
Ethan A. Edwards" To Trollope-l
November 12, 1999
Re: What Was the The First Novel by Anthony Trollope that People Read?
I wonder what was the first novel by Anthony Trollope that
others on this list ever read. Anyone want to tell? Mine
was _Dr Thorne_. I read it because it was assigned in
a Junior level college class for English majors called the
19th Century British Novel. It was 1 of about 11 we
were to read. This included Vanity Fair, Middlemarch
Great Expectations. These were the days of heroic
reading -- for those students who read the books.
And many in that class did. Anyway I remembered Dr
Thorne for a long time afterwards; there was something
about it I liked more than any of the others. This
was against the grain of the professor's lectures;
he condescended to Trollope: Dr Thorne mirrored
the age; the criteria as always (and I think still) is
the artist's original vision, the impress of his mind
and imagination. So therefore of course Dr
Thorne was uninteresting.
The truth is it doesn't mirror the age at all -- any
more than any other book does. Of course it's
rooted in its milieu. But it is Anthony Trollope's
vision of the age from the point of view he
was increasingly to call the Barsetshire one.
I think it would be interesting to know which Trollope
book people read first, and if that was the one
that 'hooked' you onto Trollope -- or some other.
"I wish Mr Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage
for ever" ----Elizabeth Gaskell
Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
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November 12, 1999
Re: What Was the The First Novel by Anthony Trollope that People Read?
I wonder what was the first novel by Anthony Trollope that others on this list ever read. Anyone want to tell? Mine was _Dr Thorne_. I read it because it was assigned in a Junior level college class for English majors called the 19th Century British Novel. It was 1 of about 11 we were to read. This included Vanity Fair, Middlemarch Great Expectations. These were the days of heroic reading -- for those students who read the books. And many in that class did. Anyway I remembered Dr Thorne for a long time afterwards; there was something about it I liked more than any of the others. This was against the grain of the professor's lectures; he condescended to Trollope: Dr Thorne mirrored the age; the criteria as always (and I think still) is the artist's original vision, the impress of his mind and imagination. So therefore of course Dr Thorne was uninteresting.
The truth is it doesn't mirror the age at all -- any more than any other book does. Of course it's rooted in its milieu. But it is Anthony Trollope's vision of the age from the point of view he was increasingly to call the Barsetshire one.
I think it would be interesting to know which Trollope book people read first, and if that was the one that 'hooked' you onto Trollope -- or some other.