Anthony Trollope's "The Last Austrian Who Left Venice"

Written 1866 (8 - 14 December)
Published 1867 (January), Good Words
Published in a book 1867 (August), Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, Strahan

To Trollope-l

March 2, 1998

Re: Short Stories: "The Last Austrian Who Left Venice"

I have very pleasant memories of reading this story with a group of students a couple of terms ago. It was one of those they liked and seemed to understand with ease.

It sent me off to Nina Balatka which I read over a period of two nights. That too is a story of intermarriage. I won't talk about that one in detail here, since it does not treat the problems of intermarriage with the kind of softness and inward affection for all parties concerned that we find in "The Last Austrian," but is in mood much closer to Lady Anna where the choice is regarded as being on the horns of a terrible dilemma and the young lady is surrounded by cruel or hard people, is herself nearly desperate for money and food, and is betrayed by someone she trusts (somewhat in the manner of Lady Anna being betrayed by her mother) and similarly almost ends in a theatrical death. I bring it up rather as a contrast and as, together with Lady Ann, evidence Trollope was interested in the question of what happens when one attempts to marry outside one's cultural group and finds oneself in a world where one is expected to have different loyalties, lead another kind of life, and even believe very different interpretations of reality.

One of the reasons my students liked this story is that Trollope is kind to everyone and presents them all as normally kind people. The characters are all treated with delicacy and as essentially good and well-meaning people caught up in circumstances and loyalties beyond their control. For myself I found interesting how the characters, almost helplessly as it were, find themselves quarrelling and very angry at one another personally, although they try hard not to be. They seem to turn into ciphers of large attitudes even when they don't want to. It suggests how unfree people really are.

Another interesting aspect of the story is how detailed and accurate the depiction of the Austrian occupation of northern Italy. I have always thought Trollope would have liked to write many more stories and long novels about other things beyond the usual (tired?) story of the courting of a middle class virgin English girl by a good middle class English young man whose obstacles are also anything but disturbing to the mind of the middle class English reader (not enough money, some "wild" or sexy young man who attracts the girl, or, conversely, some older woman who attracts the man). He is highly sophisticated and knowledgeable about many areas of politics and economics not only in English and Irish life but life around the globe. In this case of Italy, he had his brother and mother living long years there; his brother long learned learned volumes about Italian history; and of course the English community was fascinated by the "rigorismento." I suppose there are those who might say his understanding of how those in charge of the Austrian side and those in charge of the Italian rebellion both distrusted and used Garibaldi for their purposes (power for themselves) is cynical; I think it is the truth and born out by the records which Trollope gathers up in the following concise sentences:

"The tasks they had before them, of driving the Austrians from the fortresses amidst their own mountains, was an impossible one, impossible even had Garibaldi been supplied with ordinary military equipments,--but ridiculously impossible for him in all the nakedness in which he was sent. Nothing was done to enable him to succeed. That he should be successful was neither intended or desired. He was, in fact,--then, as he had been always, since hte days in which he gave Naples to Italy,--simply a stumbling-block in the way of the king. Of the king's ministers, and of the king's generals. 'There is that Garibaldi again,--with volunteers flocking to him by the thousands:--what shall we do to rid ourselves of Garibaldi and his volunteers? How shall we dispose of them?' That has been the feeling of those in power in Italy,--and not unnaturally their feeling,--with regard to Garibaldi. A man so honest, so brave, so patriotic, so popular, and so impracticable, cannot but have been a trouble to them" (1996 Oxford ed, Sutherland, p 68).

Finally, the individual descriptions of places and dramatic narratives are done with Trollope's characteristic insight, delicacy, and naturalism of language. I don't know which are better done, those of the growing friendship between the Austrian officer and the Italian brother, and then its growing tension, and finally displacement by their roles as fighting men for their respective groups; those of the mother and daughter; or those of the loving couple. It should come as no surprise the student who gave a talk on this one preferred the most romantic one of all, the closing scene of the girl and young man by his bedside where she and he finally overcome their awkwardness from a long absence from one another, pride, guards, and so on. It is to be noted that Nina (another Nina) is very brave and independent to cross the line and go search for her lover in the hospital, find a place to stay, and remain to nurse him. It's so human of him not to imagine fully what this took, and of her not to want to make him realize it, and so astute and concise of Trollope to catch it all up in one sentence: "It had seemed as though he had understood nothing of what she had done in coming to him; that he had failed altogether in feeling that she had come as a wife goes to a husband" (p 72).

Among other things, this story is a marvel of concise. Consider how much happens and swiftly, how much continually conveyed.

Ellen Moody

From Robert Wright:

"The Last Austrian" is altogether more fun than "Lotta Schmidt". But here again, Trollope insists on making his women wimps. I can understand a woman taking advice from her brother and mother as to the practical consequences of marrying a foe, when you are at war with his race. I dare say many British women made the same choices when attracted to Germans and Italians 50 years ago. But she resorts to blaming her brother for what happened. If he had not introduced his friend, she would not have fallen in love and the problem would not have arisen.

Another fine mess YOU'VE got me into...

At last she shows some go and heads off to find her smitted lover, then spends DAYS waiting for him to get round to popping the question (yawn). Then we feel good because it ends happily ever after, which at least makes up for some of the preceding text.

Robert J Wright, Kensington London ENGLAND

To which I responded:

Robert I don't Nina as a submissive woman. She's very strong. She holds out for what she wants firmly against her brother; she stands on her own with her mother when the brother is gone; she goes off and travels into a war-tore place by herself and stays there and nurses her lover even though he shows no love for her until the very end. In the end she leaves her family to go to a strange country and live there. She is, after all, presented as deeply a product of her Italian familial background, someone who is drenched in the "rigorismento" and has experienced the continual petty humiliations of occupation--and Trollope is as good on these as he is on Fred's dread of other humiliations in the workhouse and inabilty to cope with them in the daily politics of life. She rises above this far more resolutely than either of the men or her mother.

What did you want her to do? Go out and shoot people herself? Betray her brother by leaving the home he saw himself as protecting? She waits until he is safe and then she goes. Leave the guy she loved for some notion of a country? She's smarter than that, though she doesn't deny her roots either.

She's stronger than most heroines presented in fictions today.


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