July 22, 2001
[Trollope-l] The Kellys & O'Kellys: Patterns of Intimidation
I have a few miscellaneous comments to make on recent chapters in The Kellys and the O'Kellys.
First, a quick thank you to Ellen for her comments on the novel and the illustrations so far. Her framing of the book as one centered on patterns of intimidation makes good sense to me and helps to pull it together for me.
I was interested in seeing the development of the character of Daly, the lawyer. Barry Lynch will never be capable of assessing his situation with objectivity or seeing beyond his narrow self-interest. To a lesser extent the same thing can be said of the group to which he is opposed, i.e., Martin Kelly, Mrs. Kelly, the young Kellys, etc. The Kellys and Barry Lynch are both tightly bound to particular points of view. Daly comes between the two, initially as Barry’s hireling. However, as events progress he regains his normal independence of mind and advises Barry to give up his plan to prevent the Martin/Anty marriage. Daly stands out in this novel -- so far at least -- in being able to look at things objectively.
I was surprised to see, in the chapter entitled “Lord Ballindine at Home,” that Trollope was still introducing characters and setting the scene, even though with this chapter we are about half way through the story. I thought that this might be a consequence of the somewhat cumbersome plot structure involving the two families. Having to skip back and forth every four or five chapters means that development is slow.
In the hunt scene that concluded this week’s group of chapters, Barry Lynch provokes the anger of Lord Ballindine (and some of his fellow hunters) by failing to observe, through his ignorance of the rules of the game, the proper norms of good hunting style and causing the injury of one of Lord Ballindine’s prize dogs. I thought this scene was interesting because it shows Barry Lynch getting a little of his own medicine, being treated with arrogance and scorn. It makes you look at him differently. It humanizes him a little. It also gives you a somewhat different view of Ballindine. He’s not entirely the sensitive soul we were seeing earlier. Trollope keeps turning and turning the scene. It is not fixed.
Just a few thoughts, for what they’re worth.
Re: The Kellys and OKellys: Anty and Frank, Lord Ballindine
In response to Todd and all,
I'm glad Todd agrees with me that patterns of intimidation, a kind of continuum from outright near assault, through bullying and menace, down to insinuation on the one hand, and varieties of yielding on the other provide the underlying plot-patterns which make up this book.
I did see this while I was writing my book; what I didn't see and has come from reading it so slowly is that Anty is not the only character for whom this this fundamental way societies structure themselves at a one-on-one level makes life very difficult. This is true for Frank, Lord Ballindine too. Until this point he has had defeat after defeat; he is getting nowhere; he is wasting his substance and his time. Trollope tells us he is far more decent, has far more within him worth developing than 10 Dot Blakes (he doesn't use the number but that's what he means). This is interesting for me because hitherto I had always simply disliked this ne-er-do-well aristocratic hero I am supposed to forgive because "most men are that way" -- the apology Trollope produces later in his career for the likes of Harry Clavering -- and in Ayala's Angel Frank Houston. Now for the first time since Trollope is developing this type for the first time, he is delving him, and we can see that partly these young men are paradoxically misfits. They don't have a vocation -- like Plantagenet Palliser and in his dialogue with his son, Lord Silverbridge who is another of these young ne-er-do-wells, apparently shallow, Palliser gives a moving speak about how it is work which is meaningful to you which physics pain, even if that work doesn't help or change society very much, even if it's not understood. So here we have the autobiographical roots of this type: Trollope as a young man was just such a misfit in London; like Frank, Lord Ballindine, Trollope longed for wife, settled life, family but didn't manage it; later in life Trollope turned himself through his novels into a Plantagenet Palliser. Maybe they didn't or couldn't change society much; maybe only a few really understood what he was getting at; but they physicked pain, gave him a raison d'etre, self- respect, a niche, a role he would produce in front of others as a worthy identity.
I will after this see these Harry Clavering types more sympathetically. I will also see how they link to the Johnny Eames and Charlie Tudors as aspects of the author himself. This temporary or in some tragic cases permanent (Burgo Fitzgerald) misfit status is coterminus with them all.
It's an early book in other ways. Trollope hasn't begun to develop his uses of letters which fill a lot of the psychological space in other novels. He doesn't use free indirect speech at length -- inward meditations in which the narrator moves freely into and outside of characters minds in a dramatic scene. There is a lack of decoration (for lack of a better word I'll use that). And Trollope's rather bleak vision of people, his refusal to believe in the lies of ceremony feels even over strong in a novel where we are not with wealthy and luxurious people in fancy parks, but in plain inns, stores, country mansions where the Lord hasn't big rents. The result is plainness.
Entertainment is a curious thing. I had a look at Trollope's chapter on Henry Esmond in his book on Thackeray. I wanted to see why Trollope rated the book so high: apparently it's the characters. He goes into them as if he were a social psychologist and they on his couch. His language is ethical, but we see the highly individualised inner lives of Thackeray's people. Vanity Fair is much more types, and Trollope is not as impressed. Yet we know that Vanity Fair is today the valued book, the highly-praised one, the preferred book. We have to conclude that people don't care so much for in-depth characters eligible for entry in a Henry James novel -- Dot Blake is even better than that as a character. I offer the idea that VF is more entertaining than HE. It is written in higher spirits, very satiric, very playful; maybe the simpler oppositions are aesthetically satisfying.
As to The Kellys and O'Kellys, how about the idea that although it is a mature book, has real incisive interest, deals with adult issues, has fascinating characters -- still it's not as entertaining as Can You Forgive Her? It lacks the latter's decoration, high style in sentences, luxurious descriptions -- and glamour. There is little glamour in The Kellys. Trollope is open in regarding that as phony, something that doesn't exist. At least in this book. Maybe an index of a man who has written more novels is he knows how to entertain, how to flatter. For VF and Can You Forgive Her? flatter us in ways that HE and The Kellys don't. The former too tell us we are fascinating pretty people; the latter make me think of Freud's saying:
each of us will be well advised, on some suitable occasion, to make a low bow to the deeply moral nature of mankind; it will help us to be generally popular and much will be forgiven us for it." --Sigmund Freud
Not that VF shows people to have a moral nature, but that Thackeray is amused by our lack of it. He's the theatre manager. Such a metaphor is entertaining; there is nothing of this in Kellys.
On Daly and Lynch: it is salutary to see how Trollope can make us see they are not monsters altogether. Daly is a man who has a living to earn, and from the very beginning he dislikes himself for what he's doing. Michael Kelly has get at Daly by hammering at him that he must be pretty desperate to do this sort of work. And Barry has his sensitivities -- only he is so very brutal and mean that it is hard to keep sympathy up.
Cheers to all,