August 19, 2000
Re: The Last Chronicle: Everyone Has Got Something the Matter with Him of Some Kind
With all our talk of Grace and Henry Grantly, we have been concentrating on the more marginal and minor characters which hit our "hot buttons" at the expense of the central strong ones Trollope thought we would focus upon.
The depiction of Lily Dale, John Eames and Adolphus Crosbie has taken some interesting turns. First in their last and candidly direct and emotional encounter, Trollope placed evidence before us which suggests that despite Lily's official determination to remain an 'old maid' (dreaded phrase at the time), she could be won. And by two different men. She still loves Crosbie and it's sexual as well as rooted in having made him a repository of her self-esteem. She is startlingly frank for a Victorian heroine:
When I sleep I dream of him. When I am alone I cannot banish him from my thoughts. I cannot define what it is to love him. I want nothing from him -- nothing, nothing. But I move about my little world thinking of him, and I shall do so to the end. I used to feel proud of my love, though it made me so wretched that I thought it would kill me. I am not proud of it any longer. It is a foolish poor- spirited weakness, -- as though my heart has been only half-formed in the making (Houghton Mifflin Last Chronicle, Ch 35, p. 280).
People have never wanted to admit such vulnerability; shame is among the strongest emotions people have, and they are ashamed when they want or need someone else so badly. She realises that in fact she is safer not marrying Crosbie because her vulnerability is so absolute.
Yet I see hints in this scene that Lily could be won by Johnny too. She is so full-blooded, so much a woman. She responds to his aggressive demands that he love her; were the scene a play, the playwright would show us this. That is why John says at one point "'I think you love me'". And Trollope underlines in a single sentence given the narrator:
'Lily, one little word can do it, -- half a word, a nod, a smile. Just touch my arm with your hand and I will take it for a yes'. I think that she almost tried to touch him; that the word was in her throat, and that she almost strove to speak it. But there was no syllable spoken, and her fingers did not loose themselves to fall upon his sleeve. 'Lily, Lily, what can I say to you?'
'I wish I could', she whispered; -- but the whisper was so hoarse that he hardly recognised her voice" (p. 279).
We are to remember she is a sexually awakened woman; whether she and Crosbie actually fucked or not, she went into orgasm. I see hints today in this week's scene that she could be available; that I take it is why the Madalina plot is brought in: precisely to make what ensues partly the ambiguity of Eames's own nature. Like Frank Greystock (of Eustace Diamonds), John is no angel of light.
Last week someone mentioned the scenes with Crawley as astonishing perspicuous about depression. I would say the man is much more than depressed; he has lost control of his rational ego; his suffering and humiliation have been so intense. His eyes stare at the page but are not fixed on them; he pauses without realising it; the stillness is weighty; his phrases have no ordering; he is suddenly determined about nothing, precise. The great pathos is when he begins to persuade himself he must remember taking and using the money consciously -- when he doesn't. The depiction of him from the wife's point of view gives the necessary backbone: it's interesting she uses the word 'castaway'; he is a 'castaway' thorugh 'vanity and hatred of those above him'. This word is used by Trollope elsewhere of women who are gone into prostitution . He is also physically ill; ghastly, yet so proud and dignified; we see him revel in his Miltonic poetry too. A remarkable scene (Ch 41). Trollope never wrote better.
The comedy is provided by Toogood and the waiter -- and also Crosbie. We discussed Toogood last week. These are somewhat Dickensian scenes, benevolent humour. The comedy of Crosbie is not so merry. I may have an odd sense of humour but I found Trollope's way of presenting Crosbie's opening gambit to Butterwell funny. It reminded me of how Shakespeare's Touchstone distances us from the action, and by mockery makes it absurd:
Crosbie had been preparing the exact words with which he asailed Mr Butterwell for the last quarter of an hour, before they were uttered. There is always a difficulty in the choice, not only of the words with which money should be borrowed, but of the fashion after which they should be spoken. There is the slow deliberate manner, in using which the borrower attempts to carry the wished-for lender along with him by force of argument, and to prove that the desire to borrow shows no imprudence on his own part, and that a tendency to lend wil lshow none on the part of the intended lender. It may be said that this mode fails oftener than any other. There is the piteous manner, -- the plea for commiseration. "My dear fellow, unless you will see me through now, upon my word I shall be badly off" (Ch 44, p. 347).
Howard used the word illicit of sex in an earlier posting today. It is an irony that the way money is used in the world is licit, for what we see Mussy and Broughton and Crosbie and the de Courcys doing is so sleazy. Crosbie is the victim who hung himself on his own false values, and now is paying, paying, paying, and borrowing, borrowing, borrowing. I see all these scenes as reflecting light on the absurdity of calling Crawley a criminal, on the cruelty of bringing him to trial for doing hard work for little money while the rest of the world goes about their moneymaking in ways that ought not to be licit. Sleaze, exploitation, and much of it the result of paper. Paper which now torments Crawley. Still the scenes with Butterwell are funny: we laugh at the reality of the picture. Butterwell is obviously a soft touch. We may remember that John Eames was not when Cradell approached him. The dialogue between Butterwell and Crosbie is funny: they are so flatly telling one another plain truths.
The scene does contain an idea of Trollope's I have run across elsewhere: in order to win sympathy, Crosbie berates himself: "'I don't mean that I shall [blow my brains out]. I'm too much of a coward, I fancy'. A man who desires to soften another man's heart, should always abuse himself. In softening a woman's heart, he should abuse her" (p. 349). I wonder if this was his experience, and if so, with whom? Or is it wishful thinking?
This week's chapters end on Dr Tempest's visit to the palace and its aftermath. This is clearly conceived as a replay of Crawley's visit. Again Dr Tempest refuses to talk to Mrs Proudie because she is a woman. The scene doesn't grab us as much from Dr Tempest's point of view as it did from Crawley since he was such an underdog and Mrs Proudie so excoriated Crawley, but then it's not intended to. The point here is the final rupture between the Proudies. Mrs Proudie has gone too far finally.
An important emotion centrally explored in The Last Chronicle is shame. Crawley is shamed. Lily is shamed. And now Bishop Proudie. What he cannot get over is how Mrs Proudie's behavior makes of him something not deserving respect -- because that's how she treats him. He uses the word "disgrace" (Ch 47, p. 379). Like Lily, he is shamed in front of himself; it is that he cannot face what is in himself that makes him begin to self-destruct and go towards the same behavior as Crawley. He does of course start out at a higher, less depressive point, so he doesn't wish his own death: he wishes for that of Mrs Proudie; of course he shoves if out of his mind, but then it enters back into the crevices (Ch 47, p. 381). How else get rid of her but dream she's dead? He can't get rid of her. He wishes he were a stone-mason. His job won't let him separate himself from her for a minute. Many a couple lasts because both go out to different jobs :).
Anyone ever notice how many people in this novel have had suicidal thoughts: Crawley, Crosbie (comically, but half-real), and now Proudie on his wife's behalf and eventually himself. There is flat desolation and despair in the bishop; she has crossed the Rubicon. Trollope recognises the heaviness of the intangible, not the eternal lightness of being. He has a good way with the simplest of words for suggesting the irreversibility of the Bishop's revulsion at this point "With him the matter had gone so deep that he could not answer her in the same spirit". The good phrase is "gone so deep that . . " (Ch 47, p. 382).
By the next page Trollope is undercutting with counterpointed comedy. It's no coincidence that Cradell's idea for Johnny to get a vacation is "send him a medical certificate":
"'Nonsense', said Eames.
'I don't see that it's nonsense at all. they can't get over a medical certificate from a respectable man; and everybody has got something the matter with him of some kind" (Ch 48, p. 383).
This is our world. Maybe if the Bishop got himself a medical certificate, he could get a vacation from his wife. Toogood ought to work on getting Crawley a medical certificate. And after all, is not Crosbie's life a kind of twisted sickness. It is also funny how he had to pay to bring the body home, and Butterwell said he wouldn't have done it. Maybe we should all hurry out and get medical certificates?
When we start to look carefully into The Last Chronicle there is much sophisticated commentary and disillusioned compassion for us everywhere. Too bad Barsetshire has a reputation for escapism, complacency, the kind of thing people are said to turn to with relief the way they do to their pillows -- this not only keeps some reader away; it encourages those who read the book not to see what is in front of them. The Last Chronicle has some flaws: it is too fat; there are a couple of filler romances stories (Emily Dunstable and Bernard are in this sense such another as Grace and Grantly); there are 'dead' characters, people once living but now barely present to us as they once were (the Thornes, Luftons). But the seams that are good are very good.
Cheers to all,
August 24, 2000
Re: Last Chronicle: Lily as a Portrait of a Real Woman
It's true we had a debate over whether Lily and Adolphus had full sexual intercourse (notice I avoid the 'f' word), and some said they thought so, others said they thought not, and still others that Trollope left exactly what happened to our imagination, making only the point that they had sufficient intense sexual intimacy to the point that a girl like Lily would regard herself as having 'given' herself to this man as his bethrothed wife. After the scene in the garden, Lily begins to call herself Adolphus' wife. My position was the third -- as is RJ's. Now I think in this week's chapters Trollope is harking back to the scenes in The Small House in order to remind us that Lily's love is carnal -- to use RJ's word. I preferred to the less Biblical sexually awakened. Sometimes it's best to be frank: a woman doesn't need to have a man's penis put in her to have an orgasm. She can have an orgasm through petting, especially if her emotions are intensely aroused. At some point in The Small House Lily says she feels forever tied to Crosbie in words which recall Freud's quotation of a young girl who lost her virginity to a man and was therefore forever tied to him. Freud's paper on the Taboo of Virginity suggests the reason for this taboo is rooted in human nature: men and families want to know the heirs are theirs; not the children of some other male and family (this is Samuel Johnson's reason for the taboo -- yes, he discussed it).
It's interesting that Joan is reading a book in which she finds a portrait of just such another woman as Lily. Lily is real; she is of course shaped to a type so that her feelings can home to the readers as generalised, as someone whom we recognise and we have met individual versions of. I find her behavior on the wedding day of Crosbie absolutely believable. It may not be admirable from the point of view of wanting to believe the human character self-sufficient, rational and strong. But people are irrational. Over the years of my life I have seen so many instances of such behavior -- and to be frank have seen versions of it in myself -- that I couldn't retell all the instances.
One comes to mind which is not sexual so I'll tell it as when we eliminate sex from discussion we often find things easier to give credit to. A young woman I knew when I was in my late twenties had a husband who left her one night. He had been mistreating in all sorts of ways (not physical, but emotional), including having affairs with another woman. She had two small children. On his way out he told her he was off to sleep with another woman but just might come back. What did she do? She washed the floors and cleaned her house until 3 in the morning. She hoped he would return; she really did. He had gone out this way before. The next evening she made a supper for two. She kept up this behavior for about a week. She was desperately trying to make reality be the way her emotional needs dictated. It wasn't. I know some would simple call this sick, masochistic. But it isn't. Today there are all sorts of clinical studies of how depression comes on from intense grief at loss, how one of the ways we deal with grief is denial, and how such behavior resembles that of people who have lost someone to death and carry on behaving as if the dead person were there.
All this is to say that as with Crawley, Trollope has depicted a real psychology, one often found in our society among women, probably because women have not had the power or means to shape reality in accordance with their desires the way men have. His depiction of Lily is daring because it's founded in sex which was something English Victorian novels sidled around.
The depicton of Crawley is also admirable. Howard is right to say Musselboro and Dobbs Broughton and in fact Lufton's agent's behaviors are all perfectly legal. My point was simply they ought not to be since what they do is far more vicious from a humane point of view than most acts of sex whether in or outside marriage, hurtful, exploitative. It can be seen here that I do not regard acts of sex as something necessarily as competition, triumph, as using one another. If the world were run according to notions of decency, Mussy and Broughton would be hauled into courts of law, and nowadays we do have attempts through legislatures to control and to imprison people who overcharge interest, who hound people. Debt collection agencies have to tow a narrow line or they find themselves facing a lawyer. Mr Crawley should be admired instead of the scapegoat.
Now the reason the depiction of Crawley is brave on Trollope's part is he presents the men from within, empathising, idealising the conduct of his family towards him. From the point of view of a mercenary status-obsessed society which admires the cunning, strong, aggressive and does not admire readers of Milton's Samson Agonistes, Trollope is doing something which undermines their values, says they are wrong, their standards are awful. The people who others admire are those who smile, who succeed in worldly ways; they win elections. Crawley is one of the world's losers. And he is the hero of this book -- as is Lily its heroine.
Trollope is asking us to look into our hearts and think a little about ourselves, our values, the way our world works. He doesn't expect to change the world very much, but rather to extend our sympathetic imagination if of course we are capable of entering into another's shoes. This takes analogous thinking. Have you ever done anything in an emotional way like Lily that you are ashamed of and hardly dare admit to yourself, or think about anymore? Clung to someone? Been unable to accept a reality you cannot come near to controlling? Lily had no money, prestige, connections like Lady Alexandrina; she couldn't compete on the grounds Crosbie was acting upon. Has no one here ever been in her position in some other way? Have you never been enraged, hurt, wounded, known you were given the wrong end of the stick unfairly, and suddenly seen society anew, thought about its crass injustices as opposed to pious lip service. It's not a matter of feeling the characters' pain. That's sentimental rot that gets us nowhere. Trollope is not a sentimentalist and shows the hard responses Lily and Crawley get and always how they get something out of being martyrs. And why not? Why should they just despise themselves and die? It is a matter of looking at the book's picture of society as a whole and understanding injustice and human nature as it works out in an injust society better.
That's why the fiction is seriously moral, has adult morality, not little third grade maxims about how to behave. Does literature improve people? Does it extend their sympathetic imaginations? I wish I could believe it did. In the 19th century many writers thought so and you come across defenses of literature that return to this notion. I quoted one of the most famous of them in my book, Samuel Johnson's:
'the progress of reformation is gradual and silent, as the extension of evening shadows; we know that they were short at noon, and are long at sun-set, but our senses were not able to discern their increase'
Alas, what I have seen is that those who come to a book with the understanding in them that the book seeks to create respond sympathetically, and those who come to it with a predisposition to turn away from what is unlike themselves miss the point, or get irritated, or simply go on about what is presented in harsh ways (meaning berate poor Lily or Crawley or dismiss Mr Harding as an unreal saint) as if the character were a person down the street whose fate and behavior they need to separate themselves from. Lily is not us; Crawley is not us. They are what we could be or have been at hidden moments in our lives. And we are asked to think about this and maybe act a little more compassionately as we go about our lives.
This is the one justification for novel reading. Somewhere one of the Victorians calls novel sentimental little books where such sensivity is on display and rules as one never really sees in the world or rules it at all. This individual was right. Maybe it was Thackeray. I can't remember just now.
Cheers to all,
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2000 15:24:31 +0200
Subject: Re: [trollope-l] Last Chronicle: Lily as a Portrait of a Real Woman
I was interested in Ellen's post regarding the moral content of novels and whether they are "improving". I have just finished reading George Eliot's Romola (which was a bit of a struggle) and I can see some similarities between Romola and Lily. Romola goes further than Lily, she marries Tito before she is disillusioned with him, which makes it worse for her because she can't then retreat, like Lily, and become the famous OM [by which Roger meant "old maid"].
What I was going to say was that although Romola is written as an interesting character, and has interesting moral decisions to make, one of the off-putting things about the book is the direct moralising which GE indulges in. One gets the feeling of being lectured to. Trollope is much more subtle.