Anthony Trollope's "Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices"

There is no document to pinpoint when this was written;
Asked by Donald Macleod, brother and successor to Norman Macleod at Good Words for a 'storiette', 1876 (24 October), Trollope produced this, paid £175.
Serialized 1877 (February - May), Good Words
Published in a book 1882 (December), Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices; and Other Stories, Wm Isbister

To Trollope-l

April 14, 1998

Re: Short Story: "Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices"

I don't expect this short story will not be made into a movie any time soon. It is a story built out of the slow awakening of a basically kindly but domineering old woman who does not like changes and does not understand anything of the larger workings of economics nor how they are making luxuries available and altering human relationships as they do so, to a hard truth. This truth is that money, and all it brings and stands for in our contemporary society, means more to people than their relationships with one another, that people will choose to break long-standing relationships rather than lose out in the continuously demanding rung-by-rung (or should I say zwansiger by zwansiger) ascension to some "desirable state." The reason it will not be made into a movie is that people don't like stories about elderly women with fat upper arms, and certainly not be made comfortable by Trollope's desire to show us just how hard the ordinary person is, and just where affection ends and determined selfishness begins, and what people really want (status, things). This is not a sentimental story. Fritz Shclessen will not marry Malchen until the old woman forks out the dowry. Trollope takes our measure in this story.

The perspective here is also not a common one today. Trollope feels genuine sympathy for the old woman. It's true that she wants to believe she is all-powerful, and that she can control the lives of those around her; she thinks they must be grateful to her for all she provides them and must want to reciprocate. She is not idealized. She does not like to be told what to do. She is the epitome, we are told of Toryism. She is against education because it will "unfit the minds" of others to their "duties in life." She has a good position in the world and does not want to see others change that world. They serve her in the way she likes and allow her to serve--and dominate others--in the way she likes. On the other hand, she has this idea that people are fair, are just, and can be made to act upon love and loyalty to one another as a central motive which can trump money or status or a yearning for luxuries. This is where she is wrong. Partly she has not looked sufficiently into her own heart or why she is so disciplined. She does not grasp the source of her self-discipline nor how it has achieved her success. A turning point in the story occurs when she discovers Herr Weiss had had "his salary raised in the spring" and never mentioned it. He (and all those he stands for which in this story is the world) would have carried on exploiting her into bankruptcy unless she equally exploits him. She must learn that people will not pay higher prices even if they make more money--if they can get away with it. If they pay less and get more, that means "more things" for them--more status.

Each time I read this story I find myself feeling very anxious for the Frau. It feels painful to me when she discovers how little people care for one another, how person after person deserts her and finds someone who will pay them more, and how her business begins to fall off when she is no longer handing out the good things she had been because she is trying to keep prices down and yet not go bankrupt. I wince at the dialogues.

The picture of the world is strikingly modern and what we have here in story-form is an analysis of why prices go up. Mr Cartwright (the voice of the author) tells the Frau the problem is partly that when there is more gold around, the value of gold diminishes. It will therefore buy less (Sutherland, pp 341-2). The butcher has told her too that she must swim with the stream; if things cost more, she must put her prices up. The narrator adds little comments about how people are dressing more luxuriously now, how they expect more things, and how this as well as the sheer status that accrues to more money drives everyone to ask for more wages, more money, and put their prices up. I suppose had Marx wanted to put an analysis of why inflation occurs during a given moment of quiet prosperity he could have done no better.

Nevertheless, the viewpoint is not modern--another reason' the story will not become a movie any time soon. Trollope enters very sympathetically into the woman's position and seems through her and her miseries to reveal to us as the old bonds of affection dissolve away that contracts are on-going bargains which can be abrogated at any time. By doing this he does not make us comfortable. It is done gently, quietly, slowly (another "no-no" in today's world), but it is a hard picture of the world which does not glorify or celebrate those things in human nature which lead to higher prices. We are cogs in a machine; we must swim with the stream or be drowned or retire our boat into a harbour no-one will admire or come to visit much. The Frau wants to remain useful; she wants to be be wanted, to be respected, and she gets a glimpse of the realities of human nature she had not understood very well so she puts her prices up.

Trollope said the "Spotted Dog" and this story were his best short fictions. I agree. In them both Trollope shows us how the private self cannot escape the aggregate of social demands and values the average person lives by.

Comments anyone?

Ellen Moody

From John Mize:

I also thought it was a really good story. I especially liked the way Trollope dramatized the uneasiness of a traditional conservative with modern laissez faire capitalism. Frau Frohman believes in hiearchy, stability and noblesse oblige, but not in the untrammeled rule of money. We see the same conflict in the Republican Party in the US today. The traditional social conservatives are beginning to be uneasy with their supposed allies, the corporate leaders of the country. Not completely surprisingly, Pat Buchanan got his biggest cheers in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination when he attacked US corporate interests. Corporate leaders essentially see nationstates as anachronistic troublemakers who want to interfere with the free flow of capital. As far as they are concerned, anyone who opposes unrestricted capital flow on the grounds of workers' rights, environmental protection, or any other pretext is either a fool or a demogogue. I saw Ralph Nader on television a few days ago talking about the dangers posed by the new bank mergers in the US. His opponent, a banking industry bigshot, essentially told Nader that bigness is the future, in banking as in every other industry, and Nader and the other critics should just grow up and learn to live with it.

John Mize

To Trollope-l

April 15, 1998

Re: Short Story: "Frau Frohman" as Mrs Thatcher?

Dear John,

I suggest if Mrs Thatcher were to have read "Why Frau Frohman Raised Her Prices," Mrs Thatcher would recognize the Frau immediately as altogether a "wet." The Frau is a conservative conservative, that breed of Paternalistic Tory of which Macmillan was said to have been such a sterling example. The point of the story is in part that the Frau is a pre-capitalist woman. The Frau's heart is as yet without that carapace that allows people to fire a supposed friend and define the act as a "cost-effective measure."

Ellen Moody

From Sigmund Eisner: Subject: Short Stories: "Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices"

A little late, I know, but I have just finished "Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices." This tale has more appeal to me than most of the other short stories which emphasized that the course of true love never runs smoothly, and that's all they emphasized. Here we have a fascinating conflict between theory and reality. Like many theorists of our own time, Frau Frohmann cannot understand the distinction between her theory and the reality of the world around her. Inflation, which is a fact of life understood by everyone hurt by it, doesn't exist for her. Her theory is that if her prices were good enough for thirty years ago they are good enough for today, and it hurts her pride that she should buckle down to doing what everyone else is doing. Of course she comes around in time and discovers to her surprise that her pride in her establishment is in no way diminished by her raised prices. The story is a cautionary tale against putting theory above practice and should be required reading for all of the literary theorists whom I know today.

An added delight to the story is the Germanic rhythms which Trollope includes in Frau Frohmann's reasoning. Early in the story we read the following:

"The Frau had always held her head high,-- had never been ashamed of looking her neighbour in the face, but when she was advised to rush at once up to seven swansigers and a half (or five shillings a day), she felt that, should she do so, she would be overwhelmed with shame. Would not her customers then have cause of complaint? Would not they have such cause that they would in truth desert her? Did she not know that Herr Weiss, the magistrate from Brixen, with his wife, and his wife's sister, and the children, who came yearly to the Peacock, could not afford to bring his family at this increased rate of expenses? And the Fraulein Tendel with her sister would never come from Innsbruck if such an announcement was made to her."

This is South German speech. No English or American person would talk this way. The rhythms are South German, and the argument is South German. The parallel is delicious. In his travels Trollope must have heard many Austrians and Tyrolese speak exactly like that. I have heard people from that part of the world use the same speech patterns in English.

So "Frau Frohmann" is a sophisticated story. We should all be pleased that it has been included on our reading list.


Jill Spriggs replied to Sig's comment on the style and rhythm of the sentences in "Frau Frohmann":

RE: The Rhythms of Trollope's Sentences

Like Sig, I am posting on this story late, because I, too, enjoyed it. I also was a little dismayed by the length; how could AT possibly fill 56 pages with the miseries attendant on the decision of a German woman in late middle age, to raise the prices of her accommodations? I was slowly, slowly seduced; this story flows like the best parts of a canoe trip I took in my teens. The long ribbon of river looking like a road if you unfocused your eyes just right, the smooth effortless movement, lolling back in the canoe so your stomach could get tanned as nicely as your shoulders and legs (the only time in my entire life I had a tan, being a freckled redhead). One event followed another, as easily as a river flows in the hot summer. The benign dictator, knowing and comfortable with the fact that her little fiefdom was under complete thrall to her, gradually discovered that the outside world inevitably would encroach on her Eden. Her beloved kaplan, whispering reassurances, at first helped her to maintain the illusion of invinciblility. But first the butcher, then the neighbors supplying "butter, eggs, poultry, honey, fruit, and vegetables", finally Herr Seppel the carpenter, abandoned the Frau for better pay or prices elsewhere. Frau Frohmann was forced to rely on inferior foods and less than adequate services for her guests. The last straw was when the purveyer of inferior meat notified her that his prices would increase in 10 days' time. Our Frau had to eat crow, and jumbled herself, first by calling on Hoff the butcher. He wisely was kind and understanding. But she found that all the deference of her neighbors was purchased, not given unconditonally. Time, tide, and increasing prices respect no man, or woman. She would have to learn to accept, if not enjoy, "going with the flow", as I did on the river all those years ago.

Jill Spriggs

Then Robert Wright added:

Taking the Germanic allusion further, which Sigmund sees in certain of the reported speech, I am reminded of a discussion we had some time ago about Trollope and the jokes he plays on us in his characters' names, how about Suse Krapp for a good laugh?

Robert J Wright from work in Reading, Berks

I did notice Suse Krapp, but admit I didn't laugh. Instead I felt slightly uncomfortable. I knew I was supposed to be on the Frau's "side," but the implied harsh dismissal of the woman was unexpected. I also thought of Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.


From Duffy Pratt:

To Ellen and Robert:

The "good laugh" and the "slightly uncomfortable feeling" are both anachronistic. This is from the "History of Plumbing."

Myth: The word crap is derived from Thomas Crapper’s name.

Fact: W.W.I doughboys passing through England saw the words T. Crapper Chelsea printed on the water tanks and coined the slang crapper meaning toilet.

Thus, even though Crapper may have marketed the toilet by the time Trollope wrote Frau Froemann, the connotations you see in "Krapp" did not become current until WWI.


Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated: 11 January 2003