Anthony Trollope's "The Lady of Launay"

Written 1878 (18 March)
Serialized 1878 (6 April - 11 May), Light
Published in a book 1882 (December), Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices; and Other Stories, Wm Isbister

Date: Sat, 25 Apr 1998 17:19:22 -0400 (EDT)
From: The Hansens
Subject: Short Stories "The Lady of Launay"

This is really the same story as Frau Frohmann and her prices, isn't it? A woman of the older generation, unable to change an old viewpoint, is prepared to cut off her nose, etc. In the name of family duty and honor, Mrs Miles is set to ruin the lives of three people.

These two stories were written two & three years after TWWLN, and I want to place their purpose with respect to the novel if I can. We have examined what led to the creation of the novel; I wonder what kind of follow-on Trollope intended with these two stories? (Yes, I know, he was earning a living!) Is it just that he asks his older readers of means to prepare for more change than what he has already catalogued?

There are several references to Mrs Miles' traditional sense of duty, but I will set down two: On p. 417. she is determined to 'do my part towards maintaining that order of things which has made my country more blessed than others.' (We can hear strains of Elgar in the background!) Then, on p. 437, Trollope summarizes that Mrs Miles' generation 'had objects which I thought were sacred and holy, to which I had been wedded through many years. They have had to be thrust aside.' Well, he couldn't have been clearer had he sat down to write a proper essay!

I'll leave to others the detailing of Miss Gregory's woes, but Trollope likes to include this kind of a character, doesn't he? He doesn't think much of the kind of sacrifices that society has forced upon the Miss Gregorys.

Fine story!


To Trollope-l

April 28, 1998

Re: Short Story, "The Lady of Launay:" Multilated Lives

I have to admit I disliked this story but cannot deny it has power. I have never come across much commentary on it.

This yet another which revolves what seems to have been an obsessive theme in Trollope's later work which may be phrased as, Does the individual who falls in love with someone who is beneath him (or her) in rank have the right to marry that someone? From what one reads in most contemporary literature (serious and popular), and from what one sees and reads in non-fictional mass media, if there are people today who are torn over whether they should marry for love when the object is not presentable or of a lower class or less well-educated or simply poor with few prospects for good remunerative employment, they keep silent about it or disguise such a conflict from themselves so that it is expressed in more self-flattering terms. Thus this Trollopian dilemma could at best make them uncomfortable, and at worst seem hopelessly obsolete, otiose and distasteful, especially since Trollope wants us at least to enter into the feelings of those who demand that the young people of a given family give up personal fulfillment for family aggrandizement as a duty.

That Trollope does not mean us to condone the behavior of Mrs Miles he makes clear when he says of the young girl with no money, no status, no connections, Bessy

"The reader will understand, perhaps, that I, the writer of this little history, think her to have been fit to beocme the wife of any man who might have been happy enough to win her young heart, however blue his blood" (AT's Later Short Stories, 1995 Oxford World Paperback, edJSutherland, p 390).

He underlines this with his characterization of the elderly poor lonely spinster, Miss Gregory, as someone who has led a "mutilated" existence (p 415). Mutilated is strong. He also characterizes Mrs Miles's temptation to disinherit her son as "evil." When Mrs Miles is "strengthening herself to disinherit her son should he marry Bessy Pryor, Trollope calls this a "strengthening herself for evil" (p 427). He also says her motive for this was also "a desire for masterdom" as opposed to an "honest wish to do what was right" which is in this paragraph defined as letting the young people marry one another (p 427).

So why does he write such stories? Is he seeking to persuade those people of his own generation and that of his parents who he knows act out of such "evil" motives to aggrandize a family fortune at whatever cost to the individual involved including a "mutilated" life. Perhaps. Is he thinking of his older son: there is a tiny piece of evidence Henry fell in love with someone "well beneath him" and Trollope shipped him off to Australia to forget the lady. It worked.

I wonder if anyone would like to comment on this. I think it a theme which obsesses Trollope in his later works. Think of Lady Anna, of Marion Fay, of Mr Scarborough's Castle. Why does he fasten on it so? The text of Lady Anna would seem to support my view of why Trollope wrote this way, but the text of Marion Fay is more ambiguous. If we see Trollope as earnesly trying to persuade the Mrs Miles's of this world--and Josephine Murray, Countess Lovel's (Lady Anna's mother) and fathers of sons like Lord Hampstead--we could say the point of the story is that Mrs Miles has led a mutilated life herself. She has denied herself every personal pleasure and thus driven herself into the arms of Bessy as her one consolation, pitiful clinging Bessy. She then almost cut herself off from that.

There is also the question of whether this idea of duty really ever controlled anyone's behavior. Is it something Trollope is imagining? Is this bogeyman real?

Ellen Moody

Re: Short Stories: Frau Frohmann and Mrs Miles Compared

Bart has suggested that there is a strong similarity between the story we read a couple of weeks ago, "Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices" and this week's, "The Lady of Launay." I am as much struck by the differences as the similarities, but a comparison will reveal corresponding elements in each.

We have two old women. Each one has in her past always controlled and dominated everyone else who was in close contact with her, and she is in part motivated by a desire to continue that control and domination by insisting that her views be those everyone else live by. Each one elevates her views into "duty" or the "good." Each one struggles, and each one loses because she finds she cannot (to quote Hoff the Butcher) "swim against the stream" AT's Later Short Stories, 1995 Oxford World Paperback, edJSutherland, p 342). No individual can deny everyone else their heart's desires and hope to remain their friends.

There the resemblance stops. And it stops with what is the heart desires of everyone else in Frau Frohman's community and Mrs Miles's son and adopted daughter. In the one case Frau Frohman believes that what will count most with most people is their emotional bond and friendship with others. She believes loyalty and love will win out against money and aggrandizement of the world's prestige and prizes. Thus in scene after scene what we read is her coming up against hardness. She sees grim faces everywhere. People will prefer to raise their income for a greater status and luxuries more than they prefer to remain in close friendship with someone else. There is little sentiment in this story, except of course in the blind and partly self-deluded heart of the Frau. She has to see that she too must choose her profit first. Or she will be eaten up alive. Bankrupt. Left alone in a small house because she cannot afford to be Lady Bountiful.

Trollope offers us a fable about capitalism and why it emerges from elements innate to human nature.

In "The Lady of Launay", Mrs Miles wants to get people to go against their emotional nature in order to support some notion of order, of aristocracy. There is no danger that by marrying Bessy Philip will starve or lose his personal prestige or one iota of luxury--as long of course as Mrs Miles does not resort to that evil step of cutting him off as heir. She wants everyone to deny a different element in human nature to support an ideal of hierarchy whose exclusionary basis is "blood" and land and family history. These are not the same things as money. No-one knows this more intently than Trollope. That's why the word "evil." While Frau Frohman thinks people value their emotional bonds with one another and will be true to friends (which includes telling when one's salary has gone up), Mrs Miles wants the young people to mutilate their emotional bonds that have grown over time.

Thus in scene after scene what we see Mrs Miles coming up against is emotionalism. Bessy weeps; she wraps her arms around Mrs Miles; we are told of intense love scenes between the lovers. It is Mrs Miles who is not sentimental; everyone else in the story is--except of course the servants who are operating according to the way of the world we find in Frau Frohman: whoever has money and power gets their friendship.

The story is not cloying because Trollope is wise enough to keep all scenes of love-making short and to emphasize the obstacles in the way. He is also wise enough to emphasize how hard is Mrs Miles and keep us in Mrs Miles's mind, as in internal soliloquys like "who was this girl, that had been picked out of a gutter..." (p 426). Bessy writes no letters. The depiction of Miss Gregory is also a marvel of tact.

Thus in the second story Trollope offers us a fable about love and bonds and how these are necessary to people or they will their life destitute of any happiness or joy.

For my part when such a theme is presented polemically, as part of an argument against a false notion of duty, the author has to be careful not to come across too strongly, too sentimentally, and since Trollope is determined to give us an happy ending, he falls into this. I was made uncomfortable by the story I know I am not in danger of being mutilated in the manner of Philip and Bessy because my choice of a marriage partner was independent of the cash nexus upon which my girlhood depended. we are ourselves wholly dependent many of us on the cash nexus.

Ellen Moody

The following was posted by Jill Spriggs during the week we read "Alice Dugdale"; since the first paragraph is germaine to "The Lady of Launay" I place it here; for the rest see "Alice Dugdale".

Subject: Short Stories: "The Lady of Launay" and "Alice Dugdale"

I never did post on "The Lady of Launay" last week, because, quite frankly, I did not like it. It was so gooily cloying that I felt I needed an insulin shot to recover. As a mother of three daughters, two grown, I wish to inform all that the few occasions my children and I have cried in each others' arms, it was a gut wrenching experience with nothing sweet about it. As a person not demonstrative by nature, I found one semi hysterical female, and one trying desperately hard not to be (thus defying her "true womanly nature"), revolting. What Philip saw in either of these saps, I know not; in his place I would have run away to sea. Ocean going gales can have nothing on those two when going full force ...


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