Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2001
From Judy Geater to Trollope-l
Subject: [Trollope-l] The Kellys and the O'Kellys: Drink, love and money
I read the first past of The Kellys and the O'Kellys quite slowly, meaning to stick to the schedule for once in my life... but then became gripped (just as with all the Trollope novels I've read so far) and had to go on to the end. Thanks very much to Ellen for suggesting this one - although it is so early it certainly doesn't feel like immature writing, and it is fascinating to see how different it is from The MacDermots of Ballycloran, which is much darker, a great tragic novel.
The Kellys has a lot more comedy, but I don't think I would totally agree with the description of it on the back of the Oxford World Classics edition as "a light-hearted, humorous story about two marriages and the part played in both by money". It is this, but it is more than this, too.
Yes, the story is centred on two courtships, but it isn't all light-hearted. There is some disturbing subject-matter there, in particular when it comes to the violent, desperate figure of Barry. There's nothing very humorous about Trollope's compelling portrayal of his gradual disintegration. I've noticed there are quite a few alcoholics in Trollope - we've just seen Dick in John Caldigate, who is unusual for a drunk in Victorian fiction because he manages to dry out and rebuild his life. There are also Roger and Louis Scatcherd, the father and son in Doctor Thorne, who drink themselves to death in turn - I remember a passage where Roger chillingly insists that he isn't prepared to stop drinking to save his life, but prefers to drink and die.
Barry is possibly the first of Trollope's drunks, and his drunkenness is portrayed with remorseless fidelity to the truth - the different stages of intoxication, the hangovers the next morning, blurring into the next afternoon, the glasses of soda water for breakfast which he is tempted to top up with brandy.
He is a monster, of course, violent, selfish and thoroughly unpleasant - but Trollope forces us as readers to enter his thought processes and even somehow sympathise with him at his worst. We see how he was brought up to expect everything as his male birthright, so he feels he has a right to be outraged when his sister gets an equal share as her inheritance. Most readers will start to feel less sympathy, though, in the passages where Barry yearns for his sister's death simply so that he can get his hands on her money to pay off his debts. There are plenty of characters in Trollope who hope for inheritances, but there are probably few who contemplate murder in the process.
There's a shocking scene where Barry actually knocks his sister down - I have a feeling there aren't many characters quite this thuggish in Trollope's later novels.
Ellen mentioned that the two plots in 'The Kellys and the O'Kellys' shed light on one another, and I think Barry is in some ways a darker version of Lord Cashel - who never really looks at what he is doing to Mary, but shrouds his meanest actions in polite language.
Just like Barry, Cashel wants to keep the money in his own family - though he is after a vast fortune (£120,000 was presumably millions in Victorian times) rather than the few hundred pounds which the Lynches have between them.
But he wouldn't think of anything as crude as violence. Instead, he prefers to bully Fanny very politely, making it clear that he wouldn't approve of her taking back her lover Frank, and it would be far more proper for her to spend her fortune on trying to save his own son from ruin. I like Fanny, because she is so spirited and won't let him walk all over her. There are plenty of determined heroines in Trollope's novels, and she must be one of the first.
I also find myself wondering whether, if The Kellys had been a success, Trollope might have been encouraged to go on writing about a wider social mix, rather than concentrating on the middle classes as he did in many of his later novels.
Although I've very much enjoyed the novel, I must say I have been irritated by WJ McCormack's patronising footnotes in the Oxford paperback. He seems to have no compunction about interrupting a scene (for footnotes do interrupt the author) in order to complain about a character's name or say that he doesn't find a snippet of dialect very convincing. I remember being annoyed by his introduction to (I think) 'The MacDermots of Ballycloran', where he quoted Trollope's account of his own writing methods from the autobiography, and used it as a stick to beat him with, suggesting that a great writer could not work so fast.
Now I've just ordered an Oxford paperback copy of Castle Richmond, so I'm hoping that McCormack wasn't involved with this one!
Bye for now
"There's a shocking scene where Barry actually knocks his sister down - I have a feeling there aren't many characters quite this thuggish in Trollope's later novels."
George Vavasour, in Can You Forgive Her?, came close. He tried to intimidate his sister Kate into testifying that their grandfather was incompetent when he changed his will, making his money inaccessible to George, a couple of days before he died. George threatened Kate with murder, then threw her down on rocky ground, breaking her arm.
Re: The Kellys and OKellys As Hard Unsentimental Comedy
To Judy G, Jill and all,
The Kellys and O'Kellys is hard comedy. It is so common to read on blurbs on the backs of book inappropriate or silly softening kinds of comments on them: among the most frequent is the one which dismisses a comedy as "light"; I have a book in my house which describes Mansfield Park as rollicking; people still speak of "gentle Jane" Austen: either they can't read the tone and hear the nuances or else unless something catastrophically bad happens (like an unjust hanging of the hero, the way The Macdermots ends), there seems to be a strong tendency to dismiss a story, perhaps a reflex of the common way people in life like to call unimportant intangible miseries.
It is very sad that this book didn't sell either -- and because it was seen as an Irish story; also because the author had not a known name. It is probably true that Trollope's career would not have taken the turn it did after the success of Dr Thorne and the invite to write Framley Parsonage which become such a huge success if these two highly authentic non-pandering works had sold.
Throughout Trollope's career, in all his books, he has a way of facing up to the truth of life, of what people are without flinching from it and without getting excited about it. Look at what this man Lord Cashel is: Trollope is unafraid to face him quietly, portray the pettiness, selfishness, and by so doing show us he is a norm, or commonplace, what we meet where we live everywhere. The wit of the book, the humor is dry, saturnine, controlled: Trollope leaves you the reader to see the cynicism that belies the surface behavior of Cashel, Kilcullen, Daly, Barry Lynch, also the OKellys. A subtle insight about Michael O'Kelly is that he can see himself for what he is doing, and works to soften it: his pragmaticism to Anty is offered as a compensation. He will never beat her too: that's the kind of joke this novel offers. The truth is men are often highly brutal and do beat women; in this period, the law allowed it. The difference here is the way of life is not softened by outward upper class manners, by luxuries: pretenses can be seen as a luxury too, one the poorer sort can't afford.
If you read the scene between Barry and his sister, Anty, and between George Vavasour and his sister, Kate, you will see a closely similar wording. One difference is that Kate is not threatened with a direct assault afterwards. In Can You Forgive Her? this part of the Barry- Anty encounter occurs between George Vavasour and Alice when he comes to visit her and brings a present and she is so appalled by him: he then comes close up to her ears, and threatens her to the point of terrifying her: she writes a long letter to Kate describing the scene in words which again are closely similar to the scene of The Kellys.
Another difference is the way these scenes are used. In The Kellys and O'Kellys Barry's behavior is really an extension of the intimidations, negotiations and threats we see everywhere: when Daly comes to visit the widow and Michael with his paperwork, they menace him physically. In this earlier book Trollope seems intent on looking at human behavior in an essential light: this is the way people are in a culture that allows violence to live nearer the surface. That's one of his "takes" on Ireland. In the later book the same patterns of intimidation form but one part of a perspective that cuts in on another level of human behavior, a higher one which looks to the working out of these patterns in female-male oppositions as such, where the male wants to dominate the woman (John Grey's view of what Alice Vavasour should want out of life, Plantagenet's view of how Lady Glen should function in his) and in parliamentary politics.
The Kellys and O'Kellys makes a good pairing with Can You Forgive Her?. Though while the latter is the softer book (the characters don't go at one another as desperately or obviously), the characters who provide presences of virtue (sensitive, tender, decent) in The Kellys are more unconventional than their counterparts in Can You Forgive Her?. Compare Anty Lynch, Michael O'Kelly, Frank, Lord Ballandine and Fanny Wyndham with Alice Vavasour and John Grey, Plantagenet Palliser and Lady Glen. The latter pairs as conceptions flatter us more.
What makes the former work more original or unusual for the period is the de-emphasis on domesticity and subjectivity. The latter book is written as if the be-all and end-all of everyone's existence is to win for themselves some valuable subjectivity in another person; that is what is desired. This is so common in 19th century novels, indeed since Jane Austen, we don't stop to think how much hypocrisy or sentimentality this contains. In the real world what power you have -- from your money, from your class -- is what makes you desirable. In The Kellys and O'Kellys, not only does Trollope not slide over this reality, he makes it central. None of the characters in _The Kellys_ except the upper class heroine and heiress, Fanny Wyndham, look at the world this way. Only she seems to take her own subjectivity and Frank's as something which trumps all over values, as what we live to have. I offer the idea that Can You Forgive Her? is written with the Fanny Wyndhams of the world in mind -- as is Framley Parsonage, the first of this type or outlooks which then dominates Trollope's work. The Kellys and O'Kellys would make sense to Kilcullen and Dot Blake could they have taken out the time to read it. Blake would have a wry smile on his face at the weakness of Cashel, would grasp its sources. When it comes to the treatment of love, how it affects male behavior particularly, Can You Forgive Her?_ is sentimental in comparison.
That Barry and Kilcullen are meant to be compared, that Trollope saw them as analogous is shown by the ending of the novel. Both Barry and Kilcullen are ejected from their respective communities; both end up outcasts. Now it is not necessarily a sign Trollope dislikes or wants the reader to dislike a character because he ends up an outcast. As we will see at the close of Castle Richmond, the most sympathetic, indeed poignant of the male characters ends up outcast.
Judy is forgetting the powerful portrait of Larry Macdermot in The Macdermots: he is an alcoholic, one who carries on. By killing off alcoholics like Roger Scatcherd Trollope again softens an original conception: the hard truth is alcoholics often don't die; as with Larry, they survive others and remain to be hard burdens. In my view Trollope's portrait of Roger Scatcherd is one of the best across his oeuvre precisely because Trollope captures how loneliness, isolation from his class and high intelligence has led Scatcherd to turn to the bottle. Yes he longs to die; he is killing himself in slow motion through drink and he knows it.
The editor of Castle Richmond in the Oxford Classics is Mary Hamer. McCormack is annoying: he has a prejudgement on Trollope as someone who cannot really sympathize with Irish people, who is an outsider, one of the exploiters, a complacent member of the establishment almost sheerly. It never seems to strike him that if that were so, why did Trollope go against the marketplace continually to write these books, why did Trollope begin with Irish novels?
Cheers to all,
July 16, 2001
Re: The Kellys & O'Kellys presented as disarming revelation
I have come across a reference to two of the three novels we have seen fit to read or to talk about as a group this year. It occurs in John Gross's The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters. In the middle of the 19th century for the first time there were enough common readers with a sufficient education and means to want to read "seriously", to read in a deeper slower way that included the idea of study as a way of sustaining something important in their spirit. There were also their counterparts whose appearance is not much different: those who read to become part of some respectable establishment, to place themselves. Forms of self-improvement and their motives are diverse.
All were served by a new relatively popular kind of book: the literary history; for the first time anthologies began to sell outside the classroom, and along with these came the familiar list of books. I have just put one page of one on this mailing list: it is a vast compilation of recommendations. We are all familiar with other versions of these: 100 of the best books in this century; what every educated person must read, & so on.
In 1901 Oxford University Press opened its remarkably successful publication history of "classics". The label was not pompous, it was not "the classics", just classics, and Gross commends them for this. Their lack of self-importance and a comparable chimera to today's tooted lists, their "disarming indifference to greatness" is signalled by becuase this first "series conferred world-classical status, if only by name, on The Kellys and O'Kellys, Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite and Is He Popenjoy?.
Once upon a time Trollope's novels, no matter how uninviting and uncatchy their titles turned up on recommended lists. Even the subject matter didn't stop people: The Kellys tells you by its title it is about Irish people. I know that when I was writing my book I discovered that The Kellys and O'Kellys has a respectable publication history: that is, it turns up in print repeatedly and more often than several other of Trollope's today better known books (e.g., The Way We Live Now which was a flop at the time of publication, and kept flopping until very recently, a success which can be linked to a film adaptation by Simon Raven in the 1980s.)
I have a colleague who is reading Washington Square and wants to assign it to a class in American novels. I told him that James had Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite partly in mind, about how strikingly persuasive are the parallels between the two books in any attempt to argue for a source for James's book. John Halperin has a couple of articles acknowledging this. My colleague remained amused at the difficulty of remembering the cumbersome title. Sir Harry what? of what?
Trollope as a joke; when someone cites his books as important, puts them on a list as significant, it's a disarming revelation they don't mean their list seriously -- even if they put their money where their mouth is -- as publishers do.
Cheers to all,
I wrote very recently in defense of McCormack:
December 7, 2002
Re: Roger Casement, W. J. McCormack & Trollope's Irish identity
As we are a Trollope and His Contemporaries list and have recently read one of Trollope's books that is arguably Anglo-Irish fiction (certainly the Phineas books combines the strain), I won't put a OT in the subject line.
W. J. McCormack's earlier important book for literature is his Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1980). I found it useful when I wrote Chapter 2 of my book: Trollope and Le Fanu were friends; they lived in the "same" Ireland, shared a similar political outlook; Robert Tracey (another man who writes on Le Fanu, Ireland and Trollope) is persuaded that Trollope was influenced by the Irish Gothic too. This posting is about McCormack's latest book, one which should figure in Irish culture and politics: Roger Casement in Death, or Haunting of the Free State (ISN - 900621 76 2)
McCormack's Roger Casement in Death is reviewed by Keith Jeffery in this past week's Times Literary Supplement. Keith's essay is entitled "Treason and Tram Fares" (p. 24), and opens thus:
Sir Roger Casement (1854-1916), an Irish man with an Ulster Protestant background, first became famous in th early 1900s for exposing the abuses whch accompanied rubber production in the Belgian-controlled 'Congo Free State' in Central Africa. Subsequently he reported on the similar enslavement of 'native' labour in the Amazon Basin, an achievement which brought him worldwide fame and a knighthood. Increasingly drawn towards separatist Irish nationalism, he threw himself fully into the struggle for an independent Iish republic, so much so that in 1914 he travelled to Germany and tried (with only limited success) to persuade Irish prisoners of war to join an 'Irish Brigade' to fight against the he was arrested in the west of Ireland on landing from a German submarine. Tried and found gulty of high treason, he was stripped of his knighthood and hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on August 3, 1916.
He was a deeply complex character. A humanitarian champion of the rights of enslaved Afrixcans and Amerindians exploited and oppressed by rapacious Euroean imperialists, and a successful propagandist and writer on behalf of the oppressed, he was also a servant of the British empire, a member of the British consular service for twenty years, an admirer of Queen Victoria and a man publicly honoured by the British Establishment (though it should be said that he accepted his knighthood with some equivocation). Nowadays he is celebrated as an Irish patriot, with a secure place in the pantheon of Republican heroes as one of the sixteen rebel leaders executed by the British in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.
Casement's reputation, however, is clouded by some by the face -- or allegation -- that he was a homosexual. Following his trial, when a strongly supported campaign was launced to spare him from the death penalty, the British government chose to circulate copies of a number of 'black diaries' found among Casement's possessions, extensively (and graphically) detailing a gay sex life.
McCormack's book has done the significant service of demonstrating without any doubt that the diaries are authentic. It seems that even until today there are groups of people who cannot accommodate the easy enough thought that Casement was both an honorable man and a homosexual.
During the early 20th century these diaries were used to blacken Casement's reputation and there arose a body of people who as a kind of act of faith were determined to disprove the authenticity of these diaries and in a recent major symposium on Casement there were still people at it.
The review is a summary of the ways in which McCormack shows the authenticity of the diaries, what in the content of the diaries reveals (even were you not to have the forensic scientific kinds of tests available now) they are authentic, and about one of the people who wrote a book in the 1930s which was itself written from self-interested and fideist motives, William Joseph Maloney, author of The Forged Casement Diaries (1936).
Jeffery's essay is also interesting for how it sheds light on Ireland as a place where artists and other unconventional people will often end up having two identities. One could say Casement had two identities: his night and secret life, his love of riding trams, and the official "saint." Cecil-Day Lewis was someone who wrote as a poet laureate type and also under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake, crime novels which Lewis described as "a harmless release of an innate spring of cruelty present in everyone." McCormack writes poetry under the pseudonym of Hugh Maxton.
Another essay on the same page (p. 24) of the issue of TLS by Patrick West is on a book by Patrick Ward called Exile, Emigration and Irish Writing (ISBN 0 7165 2658 1) If West is right, and exile is intrinsic to building a typically Irish identity, Trollope has this twice over: he exiled himself from England and found he was freed from within for the first time in his life, lifted off the oppressive years of remembered humiliation, and began to write; then he re-exiled himself from the place he learned to love, only to visit and write about it at intervals and once again at the end of his life -- including a last visit while very ill with death coming on. West shows how many famous Irish people exiled themselves to the periphery in order to write graphically about the center, and how mass emigration has been the experience of the country and individuals too. I had a young Irish woman student in one of my Advanced Comp in Humanities classes in the mid-1990s who had come to live permanently in the US: she was originally in the US illegally, then became legal; she went back to Ireland with a young man, also, Irish, about 2 years ago when Ireland began to offer free university education and helped people to buy land and begin farming. I had a real friendship with her and she often talked of how her experiences were typical of many Irish people still -- including the return to Ireland.
Trollope is not mentioned in either of these essays, but he fits right in, including having a powerful book on the famine. In Castle Richmond we also have as part of our story the exile and return of one of our two heroes; our more tragic hero is permanently exiled at the end.
Cheers to all,