February 5, 2002
Re: The Landleaguers, Chs 24-31: No one will convict the murderer
This week's chapters end in two murders: of Florian Jones and of Terry Carroll. Both were on their way to provide evidence to put into jail the leader of local group of active insurgents against the leading property owner of the area. I admire Trollope's treatment of these deaths.
He makes the point that no one will convict the murderer. As in each of his books where he treats of court, he simply presents it as a given that justice and truth is not what courts bring forth: rather they bring forth a community emotional feeling and attitude towards an accused as filtered through the not-necessarily intelligent minds of the jurers and their prejudices, these minds and prejudices having been swayed by the amoral tactics of clever lawyers. Thady slaughtered, Lady Mason declared innocent are but two of the more egregiously wrong judgements; when the judgement happens to coincide with justice (as in Chaffanbrass's two cases, one in Three Clerks and one in Phineas Redux), Trollope shows the innocent person and guilty were rightly labelled by chance and by the tactics of the lawyer); often it's a muddle (we don't and will never know the truth about John Caldigate's behavior in Australia). As an American I naturally think of the OJSimpson case, but there have been many others which caught the public attention similarly; the more centrally analogous are the cases of the 1880s through 1920s like Sacco and Vanzetti (I probably spelled their names wrong, poor guys).
On Victoria someone made fun of Dickens for his over-wrought sentimental treatment of children's deaths, and quoted someone who said when Dickens didn't know what to do next in a novel he killed off a child and wrung the tears. It's not fair because many Victorians did this in novels -- and not only for children. Trollope never does. He is astonishingly modern in his treatment of death. Austere, non-emotional. He also tells the truth about the ambivalent feelings of the people who are left surrounding the corpse. I recall -- as who does not once they've read it -- the first spontaneous thoughts of Bishop Proudie upon the death of his wife include intense relief and a kind of gladness and gaiety. Ding dong the witch of his life is dead. In The Claverings the cold bickerings of the husband and wife, his cruelty, her strongest emotion fear of him and what he'll say about the young heir's death -- that's what comes out under the pressure of this inevitable endless absence.
And so of Florian Jones we get from the narrator: "There was the end of poor Florian Jones and all his troubles". We enter the father's mind to be told:
"We can hardly analyze the father's mind as he went. Not a tear came to his relief. Nor during this half hour cna be hardly have ' been said to sorrow. An intensity of wrath filled his breast. He has spent his time for many a long year in doing all in his power for those around him, and now they had brought him to this.They had robbed him of his boy's heart. They had taught his boy to be one of them, and to be untrue to his people. And now, becuase he had yielded to better teachings, they had murdered him. They had taught his boy to be a coward; for even in his bereavement he remembered poor Florian's failing. The accursed Papist people wer all cowards down to their backbones. So he said of them in his rage" (Oxford Landleaguers, ed MHamer, ch 30, p. 256)
The last sentence ("So he said of them in his rage") is a salutary reminder that this view of the situation and these people is partial. When Jones goes on to think of how powerful are his enemies, he forgets this kind of killing shows their powerlessness; he forgets he too is part of a phalanx, one which has _legal_ violence on its side. It's significant that the narrator does reiterate the father's sense of alienation and emphasis on his son's cowardice and disloyalty: "there seemed to be a feeling about the country that Florian Jones had deserved his fate" (Ch 31, p. 258). For me this blackening of Florian, swaying us to feel a sense of dismissal is a flaw in this otherwise austerely admirable presentation of a typical happening in a civil war.
Terry Carroll's death is achieved with flawless impersonality -- it reminds me of the moment Mrs O'Hara kicks the hero of An Eye for an Eye off the cliff: remorseless. And that's the way murders sometimes happen. As Terry steps out of the enormous crowd which our narrator tells us had got together precisely to create a confused sense of bedlam and deflect attention from what the leaders of the community intended to do to this man who was betraying them, we are told:
"It was the last step he ever made. At that moment the flash of a pistol was seen in the court; of a pistol close at the man's ear, and Terry Carroll was a dead man" (Ch 31, p. 264).
Like Florian Jones, Terry Carroll was about to be "untrue to his people". But the reason he is killed is not this abstract emotional flourish about imagined communities (Mrs Thatcher had a point when she said there is no such thing as society), but that his evidence will put in jail the people who are the organizers of the revolt and probably aid the police in putting yet more people away. It's also an example: "pour encourager les autres" (Voltaire's ironic way of putting this).
It is fitting that in Trollope's final long fiction we have a return to a fervently politicized packed courthouse in Ireland:
"But the court was crowded in a wonderful manner, so that they who understood the ways of criminal courts in Ireland knew that something special was boded .." (p. 264).
"No jury would have found him [Lax] guilty". I remember how in _The Macdermots of Ballycloran_ the lawyer looks at Thady after his showing that Pat Brady is a liar and has set Thady up and the jurors looked on impassively, and the lawyer realizes Thady is a dead man.
So ends or climaxes one of the three stories of this week's instalment.
Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2002
Very good, Ellen. For years I have been using Dickens' death of Little Nell as my example of Dickens' mawkish sentimentality and comparing it with the death of Mrs. Proudie. It takes Little Nell fifty pages to die. Trollope kills off Mrs. Proudie and then spends fifty pages explaining the effect of her death. Trollope is at his best when he gives us the deaths of Florian Jones and Terry Carroll. There is nothing sentimental there.
Some may ask what we have against sentimentality. Well, it's unreal. It moves the lesser thinkers (the readers of Harlequin books) to gratifying emotionalism. And it's unfair on the part of the writer. People grieve at a death, naturally. But it's unfair to use normal grief to jerk the tears from the ungrieving readers.
Enough: I find I'm now on a soap box.
Sig To Trollope-l
February 6, 2002
Re: Death in Trollope
Sig and all,
The Stebbinses, A. O. J. Cockshut and Robert Tracy all have some interesting things to say about Trollope's scrupulously real treatment of death as experienced by those who surround the corpse (it's not being there any more and the reaction of each to how the realities of their lives will now change) and his quick dismissive dramatization of the moment of death or deathbed (even in cases of sickness). The Stebbinses and Tracy (like other writers, critics, scholars) who have written about Trollope treat specific instances of death in the novels; Cockshut goes one better and devotes a whole chapter to the subject. The chapter ends on the Swiftian satire, The Fixed Period.
Cockshut says that in the overwhelming number of Victorian novelists (including Thackeray and Scott whom we recently read here) death is treated as something "abnormal and specialised": Dickens dramatizes a "mystery" at length (complete with imagery of the supernatural); Thackeray treats death as the occasion for deep reflections aroused in the narrator or suddenly wise characters contemplating the body from a distance; George Eliot works hard to manoeuvre a subject into a position for reflections which are intently serious; the body is kept out of the light (or placed in a numinous one) in others; the mood is one of awe or (in the case of criminals) savage satisfaction. None of this happens in Trollope, even with criminals. Trollope introduces "death as something to be faced and experienced" and the people surrounding the dying are usually "calm and undramatic" in their immediate responses; it's not a spectacle; he focuses on the real ordinariness of the responses of the people to a corpse, a funeral, to what to do afterwards and what will happen now. Trollope is neither attracted to nor does he feel a distaste for death. Cockshut finds the one Victorian novelist who does this on occasion is Surtees.
He then asks what we are to make of this and says that since Trollope does not provide generalisations surrounding these death scenes or "aftermaths", we can't really say easily. Truly religious characters (for whom it is not cant or rationales for their desires), like Mr Harding (for example) or fanatics (the fundamentalists) or atheists (Brattle) are rare in Trollope. Religion in Trollope is mostly "an unconvincing posture" inculculated since childhood "before an unknown universe". He does educe different kinds of states of feelings in Trollope himself from a few novels and the harsh satirical treatment of The Fixed Period. I find it interesting that Trollope was for cremation -- something even today it's not hard to find makes people uneasy. The Stebbins set the novels in Trollope's autobiography and find much to say about the last novels especially (Mr Scarborough's Family); Tracy places his attitudes in the intellectual currents of the time and says he belongs with the inacknowledged sceptics of his period.
This is an interesting topic for (as has been said) death is today one of those things people do not discuss; funerals are designed to keep people well at a distance from the corpse (Jessica Mitford's books are very good here -- very sharp). Death with money are great factors and not very mentionable.
Re: The Landleaguers, Chs 24-31: Larks Need to Eat Too
Taking my cue from Judy and my interchange last week, we have in our second story the Trollope's realistic depiction of a lark needs to eat too -- and pay the rent. (Willa Cather's Corinne book is entitled Song of the Lark.) This gets Rachel into considerable difficulties. Now she has two men willing to support her -- in exchange for sexual favors. On Moss's behalf, one should say he's willing to marry her -- that it may be bigamy is to his mind neither here or there. Who would bother prosecute who'd have the money? Trollope's narrator makes the argument on Rachel's behalf that she knew she ought to economize and even wanted to economize but she could not do it -- for it's expected that she arrive in a carriage, expected that she dress a certain way, expected that she not live in an utter hovel.
Sexual and financial implicit bargaining runs through the sharp frank scenes between Rachel and Moss and Rachel and Lord Castlewell (in whom Rachel immediately intuitively recognizes "an elderly buck", Ch 26, p. 216). Rachel is hard as nails when she needs to be, and between her and Moss the words are thrown back and forth in the normal ugly ways of such banal but common conversations. It's hard to say who gets to make the better 'points' (veiled taunts):
"'Cannot a woman sing without being wife to any man?'
'Ha,ha, yes indeed!'
She understood the scorn intended to be thrown on her line of life by his words, and was wretched to think that he was getting the better of her in conversation" (Oxford Landleaguers, ed MHamer, Ch 27, p. 225)
As with the political story to which the death of Florian provides a first climax, the above material is very un- Victorian. The types of women we meet in Victorian domestic novels don't fight on this crude level -- a level on which much of social life in business once it gets out in the open with words can be played out.
Rachel knows that she has to return the £200 to Lord Castlewell -- even if he didn't necessarily expect anything in return, it sets up a relationship by the fact of the giving, and to others it will certainly suggest she did yield to him. Here's where Trollope's depiction of the laxadaisical (spelling?) father comes in. Gerald O'Mahoney is one of the small charms of this book: after Edith he is the character as imagined person I can endure or like best. He gets a kick out of life, takes it as it comes, is willing quietly to take money under the table, and Lord Castlewell makes the check out to him.
I do regret the almost total absence of any dramatization of art in this book -- this recalls Ayala's Angel. After all why does Rachel sing? What does she get out of it beyond money? She seems not to get much of that and as to freedom, it's clearly a myth. Social custom hems her in on all sides: if she went to bed with either of her suitors, it would make her position worse. Rachel's aspirations are not totally neglected. Here and there we get a paragraph acknowledging her enjoyment of the stage, her abilities and power opposite Moss. Interestingly Trollope does justice to Moss here: he's a good actor and he and Rachel are a successful team. Would that we had some scene in detail. I enjoyed the irony of Moss's wry retort to Castlewell that he can get Rachel a more intelligent discriminating audience: "'We have the most intelligent audience in all London'" (such a phrase satirizes audiences). As with the Dormers, and Colonel Stubbs, Trollope's lark and her master, Moss, are not given any space to show us the imagined world they are working in and what makes such work truly worth while.
It's not that Trollope has no love for art or music. We know he can write of these things intelligently and directly through his sketches, his literary and other criticism. He can present his own dream world. Perhaps he thought his audience wouldn't appreciate it. I wonder if he trusted his audience enough, if he worried that the larger audience for a long novel than for a story would include too many people for whom such romantic verbal poetry would fall on deaf ears. I'll conclude this posting with copying and pasting a lovely recreation of the sound of the zither which Trollope attempted in one of his short stories, appropriately about Vienna:
"Reader, did you ever hear the zither? When played, as it sometimes is played in Vienna, it combines all the softest notes of the human voice. It sings to you of love, and then wails to you of disappointed love, till it fills you with a melancholy from which there is no escaping,--from which you never wish to escape. It speaks to you as no other instrument ever speaks, and reveals to you with wonderful eloquence the sadness in which it delights It produces a luxury of anguish, a fulness of the satisfaction of imaginary woe, a realization of the mysterious delights of romance, which no words can ever thoroughly supply. While the notes are living, while the music is still in the air, the ear comes to cot greedily every atom of tone which the instrument will produce, so that the slightest extraeous sound becomes an offence. The notes sink and sink so low and low, with their soft sad wail of delicious woe, that the listener dreads that something will be lost in the struggle of listening. There seems to come some lethargy on his sense of hearing, which he fears will shut out from his brain the last, lowest, sweetest strain, the very pearl of the music for which he has been watching with the all intensity of prolonged desire. And then the zither is silent, and there remains a fond memory together with a deep regret" (Sutherland, Trollope: Later Stories, "Lotta Schmidt", pp. 27-8).
Trollope's reputation as a philistine hurts him -- that it was already part of his public image we see in Howell's remark about meeting him ("among the finest of artists" and "the most philistine of men") "Lotta Schmidt" is a short story which circles around some public musicians in Vienna in the 19th century. It is a question of communicating to the reader the sound of the zither. I once heard a zither I'll never forget: the background music to Orson Welles's The Third Man. This continually exquisitely haunting playful refrain, tricky-like, helped make the film the great art it is.
Trollope could have given us Rachel's voice -- in the conversation this week both refer to well-known respected singers in whose tradition Rachel is said to sing. Mary Hamer's notes bear out the truth of Trollope's references. I wouldn't mind the sordidness of the scenes of Rachel's and Moss's story -- for they are indeed a couple -- having this relief. But then maybe Trollope didn't want to allure us nor admit openly to being allured himself.
Re: The Landleaguers, Chs 24-31: Rival Loving Sisters
Our third story returns in this instalment: the thread of the romance of Edith and Yorke Clayton belongs as a subcurve to the Irish story. Trollope planned it and wove it; he was probably planning to use it to provide a qualified happy ending this novel.
This is the most Victorian-like of the books' threads. Though I like Edith -- maybe that's why I like her -- I recognize in her a type that descends from Jane Austen's Elinor Dashwood. Her sister, Ada, is a rather faded version of the passionate unworldly sister which we often find in such pairs. Sheer serendipity has brought Howells onto our list just at the time we are reading this novel -- most appropriately to hand, for in Howells's The Rise of Lapham we have a variant on this sort of story where one sister vows to give up the man she loves to the other sister, even though the man himself has no intention of being so yielded over. Quite why such unlikely selfless motivation for sisters' rivalry was commonly dramatized in novels of the period towards the end of the 19th century is probably obvious enough. Trollope does pick up what's in the air and he has picked up this motif which is the worst part of this third story.
The best is supposed to be the few moments of gaiety at the Galway Ball, which gaiety seems to be strongest when the young women are looking forward to going. Trollope works it into the boycotting story: they must go, says Edith, because they must hold up their faces before the community. They must not let others think they are cowed, for then they are cowed indeed. Nor must they tell any truths, like they can barely afford it, that in such circles the knowledge of Florian's apostacy will be a silent disgrace. The point is made repeatedly that they now do the household chores. it's good for them I'd say. There is good feeling at the ball too. We are told by Trollope's biographers that when he was a young man he enjoyed going to balls and dancing. It was a way for the gentry to interact sexually and socially; from the point of view of their authority figures, a safe controlled one. This sets Trollope's own emotional roots and sensibility back in Jane Austen's and his mother's era.
My favorite sentence from this part of this week's instalment is, though, Edith's response to her father's sudden query about her own deeper feeling about such "dos". He is voicing objections to the scheme, to which Edith finally says,
"I think you ought to let her [Ada] go; it is, but for the one night.'
'And you?' asked the father.
'I must go with her, I suppose, to keep her company.'
'And are you not fond of society?'
'No; -- not as she is. I like the rattle very well just for a few minutes'" (Oxford Landleaguers, Ch 24, p. 199)
I truly wish I could identify more with Trollope's favored heroines. I know I rarely do. I can understand, like, appreciate, admire, enjoy, but rarely identify. Well here is one such instance where I do: "the rattle". Very good. All sorts of connotations brought in there. It's got the concision of a sort of poetry, wry, saturnine, one that is heard in Trollope from time to time.