November 4, 2001
Re: An Eye for An Eye, Foreword, Chs 1-4: Highly Unusual & Yet Like Other Irish Novels; Gothic Atmosphere
An Eye for an Eye opens as a mystery and flashback. It is the only one of all Trollope's novels which works this way. It opens with a one and one-half page 'Foreword' in which we met a woman in a private asylum 'somewhere in the west of England' [in the manuscript Trollope wrote 'Ireland']. She sits quietly all day, occasionally uttering the same phrases over and over, 'An eye for an eye . . . and a tooth for a tooth. Is it not the law?' And her attendant agrees 'An eye for an eye, madam. Oh, certainly. That is the law. An eye for an eye, no doubt'. The book is an unravelling of this opening image, an explanation of who the woman is and how she came to be there, of the meaning of her formula repeated 'a dozen dozen times' a day.
There is an argument that the most interesting characters of the book are not the young people, but the older ones we meet first. As yet we know nothing more of the crazed woman but that someone is willing to pay for her to live in physical comfort and peace, to get others to treat her with respect and kindness. Something which without money would not be her lot.
I have taught this novel twice in a "gothic" course. It is the only novel by Trollope which has many of the elements of the gothic; it is in fact an Irish gothic romance -- Hutton called it "poetic". It also opens with a long description of a place. A bleak landscape, not social. A great dark house, deserted, no children; it's the gothic made (see An Eye for an Eye, Oxford ed, Sutherland pp. 104). The isolation is not as unusual for Trollope as readers who only remember the Barsetshire and Palliser novels assume (others than open this way include The Belton Estate) What is unusual is his insistence on its gloom, darkness, quiet, sombreness for its own sake. In the Belton Estate the son has committed suicide and the father and daugher financially desperate; the Scroopes are fine financially. Trollope also ahas other older men who open books as people living isolated, apart from everyone (that is seen in a number of Trollope's older males at the opening of books, e.g., Sir Thomas Underdown who wanders the streets of London in the wee hours of the morning opens Ralph the Heir), but his quiet sadness.
His character is of great interest in the book, and he is partly implicated in the tragedy to come. He is a deeply disappointed man but also not angry, someone who is humane and will not force his will on another to get someone to live the way he wants them to. I suggest he is an exemplary character: we are to like him. The story line thus far: his actual heir and sonr was no good -- the character of this man would make him fit in the beargarten in TWWLN. The old man finds himself alone. He remarries a kind woman -- who has no money. He is not greedy. He does insist on rank. Ah.
But he an exemplary landlord and really lives up to his responsibilities: he doesn't want his proposed heir, his nephew Fred to put up rents; he wants Fred to preserve trees; he wants Fred to live on the land, look out for his tenants, marry a woman whom all will respect, Sophia Mellerby. He shows the open-mindedness of Plantagenet Palliser: when he meets his sister-in-law who he hitherto despised for her low class origins and assumed was awful because of it, he sees and acknowledges he was wrong.
Some themes set up: responsibility, toleration. The book asks through the character of Fred, his longings: what do we owe to people? Which ones? Their demands are in conflict. Who shall we hurt? Why is there this conflict?
The reason my students were drawn intensely to this book is they saw it as a generational conflict. The boys were Fred, the girls were Kate, Earl Scroope and his wife, parent figures they recognized.
The characters are given real complexity though we get no superabundance of details and histories They are all ambiguous in their motives, just like real life. The Earl's second wife is more than implicated in the tragedy: it is a question how far she causes it -- as we shall see. So it's important to pay attention.
What do we learn? She cares about rank intensely -- partly because it's all she's got to respect herself for. She was poor; she is not pretty. She is also highly religious, puritan in her instincts. Now Trollope does not favor this usually and he does not favor it here. She is already seen as narrow, and a spy. She gets another woman to watch Fred from afar and seems willing to pressure Fred in ways her husband is not.
Not to say this is an unsympathetic portrait. We see that Lady Scroope loves the Earl, is kind to him. Reread the allusions of to the quiet times he and she have together, their mutual kindness (Oxford An Eye for an Eye, ed Sutherland, p. 11).
Fred's character is still unfolded. We have not moved into his mind as yet: thus far he is one of Trollope's vacillating heroes, young, but there is this already: he wants to escape, and really escape. He moves away from the circle at home to go to a place where he can disappear from the social world; he is attracted to the wild. This sowing of "wild oats" is Trollope's euphemistic way of referring to Fred's desire to have sex and women outside marriage as well as drinking, gambling, horse-riding and the free pleasures of the young aristocratic English male's existence at the time. Perhaps the earlier first readers feared that Fred would turn out like the Earl's son.
However, the very hesitation with which Trollope describes Fred, the insistence on his good nature, his willingness to be grateful, to reciprocate, his immediate fondness for his uncle -- and his supiness, his love of comfort and ease -- is intended to make us feel this will not be a young man who is going simply to exploit the uncle, take the money and spend his life in Paris. Ireland is after all no place for luxury and wealth. Fred is not going after prostitutes and street life.
There is hints, foreshadowings. This too is part of the unusual psychological structuring. Three times we have been told that Jack would have been the better choice as heir. Fred says it. He is the sensible one. We see he likes Sophie; he asks her to marry him. She on the other hand is cold; she marries as bargain, a career choice (which note the countess did not) and refuses Jack but not on the grounds that she loves Fred. Jack accepts it. He seems to have his moral compass steady yet knows when to flex. He has not been perverted from his feelings to use them to aggrandize himself but does not grow angry at others who have.
The one to watch is Fred and the thing to keep your steady eye on is the build-up of the novel's second landscape and other trio of characters: Father Marty, Mrs O'Hara and yes Kate.
The theme of a young man isolated having to make ethical choices is not unusual for Trollope; it's right up his alley. The treatment though is -- except when we look at Castle Richmond, The Kellys and O'Kellys and The Macdermots. The angle out of which Fred comes is the same that brought forth Thady Macdermots, Lord Balladine and Herbert and Owen Fitzgerald.
Cheers to all,
Date: Sun, 04 Nov 2001
Re: An Eye for an Eye, Chs 1-4: Something Seriously Wrong with these people
I suppose it may simply have been the gothic atmosphere that Ellen has talked about, but I came away with the feeling that there was some implied authorial criticism in the description of Scroope Manor and its inhabitants. Trollope seems to be suggesting that there is some something seriously wrong with these people.
Ellen says that we are meant to like the Earl. Yes, he is easy-going with Fred, compared with his wife. He respects Fredís autonomy more than she does. Heís not overbearing. Also, we feel sorry for him to some degree. His son had died after having disgraced the family. But there are many suggestive details about him. I didnít think he was entirely a good guy.
Scroope Manor is a huge place filled with servants whose job it is to serve the needs of these two under-occupied people. The library is filled with "useless" books of theology. This suggested to me that these people may be out of touch with the purpose and meaning of their lives. Scroope Manor is a gloomy place because its occupants seem to carry around an inner burden. The Earl himself is stooped, as if carrying a burden. After his sonís death Lord Scroope never again held up his head, we are told.
The family seems to be riddled with relationship problems. There was the dead son, of course. But the Earl also had quarreled with his brother and as a result had not even met his brotherís wife. "They were a people who thought much of the church, who were good to the poor, who strove to be noble; -- but they could not forgive injuries." That is a major dig, it seems to me.
I do give the Earl credit for being able to change his mind about Mrs. Neville. He had expected her to be low-class and loud and had been prepared not to like her, but she turned out to be otherwise and he was open to who she really was. He also doesnít hold Jackís name against him when he finds out that he is a decent person. The Earl was predisposed against people named Jack ("There had never yet been a Jack among the Sroopeís"). This amused me because I have a brother named John who goes by Jack. It seems a very silly prejudice.
But the major problem with these Scroopes seems to be that they donít care about the individual and what the individual thinks, feels, hopes, etc. Instead they are obsessed with their wealth, position, and the preservation of their way of life. This is even more true of Lady Scroope but the Earl seems to be implicated too.
Re: [Trollope-l] An Eye for An Eye: A Novel about Contrasts and Clashes,
Defense of the Style
Date: Sun, 04 Nov 2001
I disagree absolutely with those who complain about Trollope's use of dialect. I enjoy the way Trollope does it: lightly, suggestively, not with the intense imitation and use of words and patternings of sentences that are very different from standard polished UC (upper class) English. I would say of An Eye for an Eye there is much less of such lilting pleasure than in any of the other three of Trollope's Anglo-Irish novels because about 1/2 of the text takes place in England and focuses on English characters. The book is organized in alternating contrasts: four chapters in Western Ireland, four chapters in southwestern England, four in Ireland, four in England. Trollope also works to contrast the mindset of Fred to that of the Irish trio he is drawn to: Fred thinks and speaks standard upper class English. The letters too are idiolects in the brilliant way Trollope has: the language of each reflects the character of the writer. I did read Binchy's piece and what I was struck by was how she avoided the interesting issues and passions of the book. I wondered how carefully she had read it.
To move away from the use of suggestively imitative English -- Trollope's case -- to dialect in the way we find it in Scott, George Eliot's Adam Bede, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, or some US books like The Yearling or Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Lewis Grassic Gibbon's A Scots Quair I can see complaints about the uses of dialects as making the book more difficult to read. That we saw in Scott's Rob Roy. But even there I enjoy the difference. I am just now reading Waverley and part of my delight comes from the poetry of the new text which is based on Scott's original manuscript. My case in point where I assume most will agree is the poetry of Robert Burns. I have seen it printed with the rhythms, language and words changed. The inner spirit of the man is erased. "Auld Lang Syne" would not be the same poem when Englished.
Jill's point about condescension is one we are alive to today in ways the Victorians weren't. They thought -- and until the mid-20th century many writers, critics and readers apparently agreed -- that they were bringing into the arena of writing the culture, language, and mood, the behavior and outlook (for language is a form of behavior and reflects an outlook) of poor, ignored, powerless people. Many a historical novel of the 19th and early 20th century may be as readily called a regional book, for its aim is not only to bring forward to the reader the living experience of the past, but that living experience as it was felt and understood by those who at the time had no access to making their understanding of their story known. Thus Scott can be seen as a rescure operation, liberating the Scots imagination, keeping its ways of thought alive by bringing us into the culture of Scotland. That is part of the point of his book.
Trollope doesn't go this far: he sympathizes with the Irish, but he sees them from an English point of view; I suppose that's one reason he doesn't go any further than suggestive alternations of small patterns and repeated words. At least he does not caricature them (as Thackeray does). What we have in An Eye for an Eye is a clash of classes more than a clash of cultures, though, to be sure, the latter is there too.
Re: An Eye for an Eye, Chs 1-4: Unease & Disquiet
To Todd and everyone,
I agree with Todd that we are supposed to find both the Earl and his Countess severely wanting in all aspects of life except insofar as something ministers to their physical comfort. I was emphasizing the positive because in the long run Fred is as responsible for the tragedy as his stepmother. I was urging the point that there are marvelous characters who should not simply be targets for our blame. We should say, "there but for the grace of God, go I"
The novel and its aftermath are set in a wild landscape and there is much gloom at Scroope Mansion. This and the guilt, the sense that we cannot escape our fate, make it into a gothic.
The way Todd described the isolation of the central older pair reminded me of descriptions of other characters in Anglo-Irish books. The unease and disquiet of the culture seeped into its books.
Todd writes a perceptive or "proleptic" (looking forward to what is to come correctly) final paragraph:
"But the major problem with these Scroopes seems to be that they donít care about the individual and what the individual thinks, feels, hopes, etc. Instead they are obsessed with their wealth, position, and the preservation of their way of life. This is even more true of Lady Scroope but the Earl seems to be implicated too."
This is one of the central moral lessons of the book: Fred fights again having his inner self directed and controlled by the position his grandfather has "bestowed" upon him
Cheers to all,