Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2001
Re: An Eye for an Eye
I enjoyed this book, rushing through it because one can,(It is an easy read and pulls one along) and am now rereading it with more attention...
I wonder if it seems actually gothic to me. The English part seems too dry to be gothic which I think of as something juicier,with more lively evil lurking about, if that makes sense. I like the Earl and his second wife in a pitying sort of way. If our task on earth is to find a way to live, and to live it, they are doing that to a degree where they don't commit many sins of commission, but their errors of omission are rather sad. And they are not stupid people, so I always feel they could be more forthright...Still, the Earl is old, and has sufferred many losses.
I see the motives of the Earl and Countess are indeed complex, and how this ambiguity causes outcomes to tangle. I feel how much catharsis comes out of this story; but it is too soon to discuss it.
What really occurred to me was how the timing of events drives the plot. (Maybe it always does and this is an inane comment!) I could not help thinking that if the Earl's son had just lived a few years longer, Fred and Kate would probably have married without much turmoil. Or even, if Fred had been somewhat older before he met Kate, he might have made a more well-reasoned decision, not swayed by the fantasy that he could have separate realities here and there, less influenced by Lady Scroope.
(Here I thought of Ellen's game from a few weeks ago. We could make the first sentence of this non-novel, "The Earl of Scroope was well pleased with his son's character, intelligence, ambition and attainment.")
Lady Scroope attaches tragic importance to rank. All that can be said in her favor is that she would have denied herself marriage to a commoner, regardless of what it cost her. So she is not precisely being a hypocrite when she asks Fred to do the same.
I liked the way in which Lady Scroope sometimes held her husband's hand as they sat together.And I liked the way in which the Earl acknowledged that he had misjudged Fred's mother. They are just too limited. But perhaps those are the conventional limitations of their time and rank and they were not able to overcome them.
November 10, 2001
Re: An Eye for an Eye: As an Allegory of Religious, Ethnic, Class, Generation Conflicts, and a Book About Ireland as Such
Dear Jeremy and all,
I am rushed for time but want to respond as I know it's been a couple of days since Jeremy posted his:
I read this book for the first time when I was in Ireland in October. Perhaps because of where I was, I had read the book as a loose allegory of the relationship between England and Ireland. To what extent do Fred's reasons for visiting Ireland and his experiences there mirror aspects of the motivation and history of British rule in Ireland? Perhaps I had this reaction because neither Fred nor Kate come across as real flesh and blood characters - so it is tempting to regard them as representative of something else: Fred as England and Kate as Ireland.
I was very surprised when, on reading the introduction after finishing the book, Maev Binchy had made no reference to this interpretation. I'd be fascinated to know whether, as the book unfolds, others have the same reaction. Ellen - when you taught the book, did you or any of your students react this way?
Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes ...
My students took this book as about Ireland. While we discussed Fred and Kate as young adults dealing with their own passions and longings and coming into conflict with responsibilities, social tabooes they can't deal with and all the other things you might imagine modern 20ish year olds would talk about -- we also discussed the book as self-consciously Irish. We talked about the landscape, the descriptions of the cliffs; one student said it couldn't have happened anywhere else. They needed the cliffs for the isolation; the cliffs are needed for the final scene.
We also talked about the book as a parable about ethnic prejudice. It's clear the English people in the book look down on the Irish as Irish. As Protestants they look askance at the O'Haras and the Father as Catholics. In fact the Father is referred to by Simon Raven as "the priest" in a way that made me feel he participates still in this disdain and prejudice. American students are very alive to such talk as our society has so many ethnic and racial communities and there is so much prejudice. We couldn't make Kate out to be analogously African-American with Fred as White European American as among Black americans intermarriage can be strongly frowned upon. But we did see it as ethnic: a kind of intermarriage between cultures where one side despises the other. Kate did stand for Ireland and Fred for England. One reason we went for these analogies was we had no students in the class who identified as Irish (though some had Irish in their background) and no students who had any English in their background. We did have Catholics and Protestants (and Jewish kids and Islamic and atheists and all sorts), but the students shy away from talking directly about themselves. There is still prejudice between Protestants and Catholics in the US in the midlands -- although it's denied publicly, it's there.
We also talked about the book as about class conflicts. Fred was the wealthy supposedly well-educated young male aristocrat, the Top Male of this society, the heir. Ironically it is Kate who is better educated. We talked a lot about class conflicts in the US and how when a young adult brings home a new boyfriend or girlfriend to their parents, the parents are sizing up the new possible "significant other" in terms of what income they will make, how presentable they are, and ask hinting questions about their parents or "backgrounds". My students were much alive to this. One of the best student papers I got was from a girl who wrote about how her parents stopped her from having a relatioship with someone over his parents' lack of money and high status: she was from India originally and thus under the influence of her parents more than most US students who would have rebelled.
Cheers to all
Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001
Thanks to Ellen for her comments. As we read on, I'll point out how I see the allegory unfold.
In this week's episode, we see how England (Fred) has been tempted by the beauty of Ireland (Kate) and by her natural resources to want to share in them. However, this is not to be an equal relationship. England does not treat the Irish people and Irish natural resources with the same respect as it shows to its own people and natural resources. That this lack of respect will lead to tragedy is foretold in the book's title and in the foreword. In future weeks, we will see the tragedy unfold.
November 11, 2001
Re: An Eye for an Eye: Chs 5-8: Trollope's Wuthering Heights?
It is in Chapter 5 that for me this novel takes off. The evocation of the cliffs of Moher in County Clare (which I remember Mullen saying Trollope visited with Rose shortly before writing the novel), the depiction Mrs O'Hara standing there, bracing herself against the wind for hours, the psychological history of the woman and of her girl, the woman relieved to be out of a world which has dismayed and embittered her, and not foreseeing that the girl would long to join that world, live through it, their irregular cottage with its piano, books, isolated from those with whom they can converse as intellectual equals, and the father who lives nearby -- all so swiftly yet precisely and in nuanced form delineated shows a master of novelist poetry at its best.
I will content myself with quoting a short passage
She would remain for hours on the rocks, looking down upon the sea, when the weather was almost at its roughest. When the winds were still, and the sun was setting across the ocean, and the tame waves were only just audible as they rippled on the stones below, she would sit there with her child, holding the girl's hand or just touching her arm, and would be content so to stay almost without a word; but when the winds blew, and the heavy spray came up in blinding volumes, and the white-headed sea monsters were roaring in their fury against the rocks she would be there alone with her hat in her hand, and her hair drenched. She would watch the gulls wheeling and floating beneath her, and would listen to their screams and try to read their voices. She would envy the birds as they seemed to be worked into madness by the winds which still were not strong enough to drive them from their purposes (Oxford An Eye for an Eye, ed JSutherland, Ch 5, "Ardkill Cottage," p. 39).
This is Wuthering Heights stuff; this woman is a mate for Heathcliff. Alas, all she got was a sleaze, the Captain who she is not sure is alive. Simon Raven's introduction, which is provocative, is wrong on several counts, and this is one of them.
Sometimes in this opening I could hear the accents of Tennyson's Mariana whom Trollope alludes to in these chapters, showing he has this text in mind (it is not the only novel where this connection occurs -- Miss Mackenzie is another). Listen, for example, to this:
"But still, with all this [piano, books, walks, all her mother could and tried to provide, as she had not the money to live in society and be a lady], her mind would become vacant and weary. 'Mother, she would say, 'is it always to be like this?'" ... (p. 41), and
"She only said, My life is dreary,
He cometh not, she said,
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead ... "
Trollope goes on to talk of death, for the mother's consolation is to talk of "eternity,"
"It may be doubted whether any human mind has been able to content itself with hopes of eternity, till distress in some shape has embittered life ..." (p. 41).
Kate is hopeful, young, full of life. Trollope gives us a remarkably non-partisan portrait of a non-aristocratic poverty-striken, non-prestigious young woman who has sexual desire for once.
The portrait of Fred is ambiguous. He is clearly longing for escape; he is drawn to this wild place, but we are not given enough to feel that he is passionately alive and individual so much as simply avoiding what are unpleasant tasks. If the Earl did these tasks, we are made to feel he did them out of some genuine integrity of soul -- for him it was not as for Lady Scroope a path of egotism. Trollope is careful to tell us that Fred meant no harm; he did not come and stay at the cottage because he meant to seduce Kate and then perhaps abandon her: "but the young man who begins by meaning to be a wolf must be bad indeed. Fred Neville had no such meaning" (p. 48). They drifted into he: "she had hardly anyone to love", and he "had nothing to do" (thus does Jane Austen explain what happened to make Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot of Persuasion fall in love). But Ciarhan Hinds would not be a Fred Neville: Captain Wentworth when the ship and the battle calls is a Corsair, a businessman (he tells everyone he made a lot of money); Fred Neville is weaker than this. He cannot make up his mind what he wants.
The really ambiguous figure is Father Marty -- but again a careful reading of these chapters suggests that Raven is unfair. Marty accosts Fred directly: if you have no intention of marrying the girl, leave. Marty speaks; he alerts Fred; he tells Fred that the mother is a tigress (Ch 7, "Father Marty's Hospitality", see especially pp. 58-59, beginning "If you can't spake her fair in the way of making her your wife, don't spake her fair at at all ...") Yes Father Marty does want a husband for this Irish girl, but he makes that plain; there is no underhanded plot.
We should also see that up to the final encounter (which does not occur in this week's segment -- and I mean by that full sexual intercourse) Fred loves Kate -- and as we shall see even afterward in his class-biased way. Trollope also insists on this:
"He loved her too thoroughly for that. He did love her -- not perhaps as she loved him. He had many things in the world to occupy him, and she had but one" (Ch 8, "'I didn't want you to go'", p. 67).
More poetry is running through Mr Trollope's mind:
"Man's love is to man's life a thing apart ' Tis women's whole existence ..."
'Twas Byron said that.
And the descriptions are deeply felt physicality:
"She could remember the words in which he made his oaths to her, and cherish the sweet feling of his arm around her body" (p. 67),
And then Fred is called away: the Earl is said to be ill. But we remember that Mary Quinn has been writing the Countess, and wonder what effect these letters have had.
Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001
Re: An Eye for an Eye: "Ye will reap what ye shall sow"
Again and again I have read protests from members of our group about how forced and unnatural some of the endings to Trollope's novels can be. With An Eye for an Eye, it is as though Trollope wrote the ending first (it certainly does begin the novel) and then wrote a novel which would end at that place. This is a tale, variations of which have happened since tales began to be told. Feckless young man arrives from afar, innocent girl falls in love, gets impregnated and then deserted, being left high and dry while the scamp, with maybe a moment or two of remorse (nothing that would spoil his dinner) gets off scot free. This tale has another, more satisfying (to me) end. How many mothers of these unlucky girls would not have eagerly embraced the opportunity to give the deflowerer of her child the old heave-ho off a cliff?
There are lots of characters in this book which arouse my ire, but none less than Father Marty. In his eagerness to nab this very eligible bachelor for his young parishoner, he allowed his judgment to be clouded. Surely he had seen enough of the world to realize the possibility of a catastrophic end to his machinations. One can understand why a fatuous girl might be deceived by the blandishments of an attractive stranger, but it was the duty of Father Marty to be more perceptive, more aware of the possibility of Fred's fatal weakness of character.
In other words Fred is showing himself to be totally selfish and inconsiderate, and is certainly not the stuff of which even one of Trollope's second-rate heroes is made. ... What then is the point of the story?
I would propose the point would be that "Ye will reap what ye shall sow." Or, what goes around, comes around. Not usually in as timely a fashion, but...
Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001
Re: An Eye for an Eye: Where Trollope begins to annoy me
I have now reached the point in the book where Trollope begins to annoy me. Fred, having had his second period at Scroope, and been subjected to Lord and Lady Scroope's insistence that he must not marry 'beneath' him, turns over in his mind how he may best have his cake and eat it. He considers ways in which he might have Kate as a six months a year wife, and spend six months as the Earl of Scroope, with all its privileges. He would presumably enjoy his share of the income for the whole year. His brother, Jack, tells him that this is impossible, and Father Marty tells him that despite his promise to the Earl, his promise to Kate must take precedence.
However, we are told by Trollope fairly delicately that Kate 'gave him all - and her pricelessness in his eyes was gone for ever'. (Trollope Society edition, Chapter XIII, p.91) We are not told that Fred struggled against the temptation, or that he regarded Kate's 'all' as anything other than a casual lollipop to which he was entitled. He does not appear to show any remorse, or indeed any doubt that having got what he wanted, he would best be off and avoid the problems he would face in England, particularly in the light of the reappearance of Captain O'Hara. In other words Fred is showing himself to be totally selfish and inconsiderate, and is certainly not the stuff of which even one of Trollope's second-rate heroes is made. Trollope always talked about the way in which gentlemen behaved, and it is clear that Fred is no gentleman. What then is the point of the story?
I think that if Trollope had set out to write a three or four hundred page novel, he would have had an opportunity to expand on Fred's dilemmas, but in the short book that he wrote, he appears to me to have failed to draw a convincing picture of Fred and his doubts. Am I wrong, and why?
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001
I read Fred's treatment of Kate as being symbolic of England's treatment of Ireland. Just as Fred enjoys his dalliance with Kate without ever being truly committed to her, so England for a long time took the good things that Ireland has to offer without ever being prepared to allow the Irish a full part in national life. Kate's loss of her virginity can be read as a personal ruination, perhaps analogous to the famine especially if one holds the view that it was English or Anglo-Irish landlordism that had forced Irish peasants into their dangerous overdependence on the potato. From the authorial asides in Castle Richmond, it seems unlikely that Trollope consciously subscribed to this view - perhaps an Eye for an Eye represents a subconscious acknowledgement (or even an apology?) for the views expressed in CR.
As for the ending, Trollope would not have had to be particularly prescient to foresee future violence practised by the Irish against the English. And to really stretch the analogy, perhaps the cost of keeping Kate's mother safe, if not happy, in the asylum can be likened to the way that for the last 25 years or so, Ireland has benefited from grants from the European Community - at a time when England has been a major financial contributor. (Of course, Trollope could not have foreseen that, but he might have been foreseeing a future in which England made some atonement and reparation.)
So I get less annoyed than others at Trollope for this book - by not judging his characters as human beings but as representatives of something else. Or is this all an attempt to read something into the book that simply isn't there?
Date: Wed, 14 Nov 2001
I have been enjoying the discussion of An Eye for an Eye very much. The postings have been quite interesting. Here are my two cents on this week's chapters.
I thought it was interesting that although Trollope sets up contrasting social groups, i.e., the English and the Irish, Protestant and Catholic, rich and poor, etc., in one respect at least they are the same. For the older generation marriage is not about the hopes, dreams, desires, or destinies of individuals.
Although Kate, living in such a remote area, is socially isolated and without any real prospect for meeting a young man, she is not to consider mixing with the local population. Mrs. O'Hara "could not bid her daughter go and meet the butcher's son on equal terms, or seek her friends among the milliners of the neighboring town." In taking this position Mrs. O'Hara aligns herself with the Earl and Lady Scroope in disapproving of what is called, I think, marrying down.
Trollope, while not approving of Mrs. O'Hara's attitude, seems to be accepting of it, noting that people are the way they are. "It cannot really be that all those who swarm in the world below the bar of gentle hood are less blessed, or intended to be less blessed, than the few who float in the higher air. As to real blessedness, does it not come from fitness to the outer life and a sense of duty that shall produce such fitness?" From this we can see that for Trollope social standing is no standard by which to measure the value of a person. "But," he adds, "such matters cannot be changed by the will." He seems to suggest that this attitude is a part of Mrs. O'Hara's social inheritance. It's just the way it is.
No one has a problem with marrying up, though. Neither Mrs. O'Hara nor Father Marty sees anything wrong with Fred seeking marriage with Kate. ("Adventuring" of course is another matter.) But the problem here is that marrying up for Kate is marrying down for Fred. Yet it's not Fred or Kate who are complaining. They would be satisfied to find their own way. It's more the older generation, for whom marriage is a matter of losses and gains.