The Novel Draws to a Close; Mystery Solved: We Find Out Who Stole The Check; Mrs Arabin as dea ex machina; Mr Toogood's Angelic Sherlock Holmes Act

To Trollope-l

September 19, 2000

Re: Last Chronicle, Chs 67-72: The Novel Draws to a Close

As Angela remarked, the stage is beginning to be littered with bodies. We can see that Trollope had to kill off Mrs Proudie. In their classic books on the art of novel writing, E. M. Forster and Percy Lubbock write of fully-rounded characters whose personality is so strong and so pressing that their presence can overturn, subvert, endanger the design of the author. Mrs Proudie is such a character.

In "In Memoriam" (Ch 67), the Bishop remembers the two scenes he had with his wife in last week's installment. In both of these we see Mrs Proudie's tenacity. He repeats more than once that he wishes she would go away and leave him; she asks if he wishes she were dead, and his silence in reply says it all (Ch 66). The reader pays attention to this psychological aspect of their paralysed encounters, but there is the action: she comes in determined to get him to send Thumble to replace Mr Crawley; he refuses; she then defies him and sends Thumble to Hogglestock on her own. We have seen the agony this caused; we will see how unfit Thumble is for such a position. Mrs Proudie causes great evil if evil be defined as pain, destruction of others, especially to no purpose but to gain power for the individual meting it out. In their scenes together it's also clear that unless her character were to be violated -- misrepresented -- she would not let this man do nothing, fall passive. She would have driven him -- and in his intensely depressed state, that too would have brought the community to a crisis.

She had to go.

The suicide of Dobbs Broughton wasn't necessary in the same way: in this case it was just Trollope's way of bringing things in this subplot to a climax which forces on Mrs Dobbs Broughton and Mrs Van Siever and Conray Dalrymple some decision which gives closure to the story.

In reading these closing chapters I am impressed with Trollope's consistency of approach and his integrity. He moves slowly so as to arrive at an open-ended conclusion which seems to come naturally out of all that has gone before. The conversation between Robarts and Crawley is an instance of this. In it we can see why Crawley is not a liked, not a popular man. The word that comes to mind is prig. I was much amused and relieved -- almost a carnivalesque release -- when Archdeacon Grantly simply told the truth: 'what a relief!' (Ch 67, p. 562). It made me remember a real life incident that happened here in my neighborhood about 10 years ago. About two blocks away from me there used to be a welfare project (housing for very poor people who get incomes from the state): one night a woman whose husband continually beat her and her children, and was said to be awful in every way -- this woman followed him out of their sad house after some monstrous act he was said to have committed, got into their automobile and ran him over. Flat dead. In public no one cheered her, but in private conversations were much like that of Archdeacon and Mrs Grantly. Crawley insists on the lipservice -- and to the very person who was responsible for the worst of his misery: as Robarts says but for her "there would have been no commission" (Ch 68, p. 569).

Our pragmatic friend Mark Robarts and Mrs Crawley are much moved by the real distress and humiliation and sense of his own unfitness that Crawley testifies to, his shame in front of his community and fear he had done it, at any rate sense that if everyone could believe that of him, he could not preach before them. I don't know if Trollope has persuaded us of the intensity of this mood sufficiently to make us understand Crawley's refusal to allow Robarts to get his salary and position back for him. Trollope is an extraordinary good psychologist, and his explanation for why Crawley is more cheerful now that he's at the nadir does persuade: "he was able to carry himself now with a greater show of fortitude than had been within his power when the extent of his calamity was more doubtful" (Ch 68, p. 565). When you are down and out, and have hit bottom, there is a certain comfort to it. You can fall no further. Uncertainty is harder to cope with than knowing for sure you have lost, especially when earlier experience suggests that your hope for winning is so very slender -- as Crawley's experience in the previous trial taught him.

It is important that Trollope continually emphasises how it was not a matter of not having the right luxuries that drove the Crawleys: they hardly ever had meat in the house; their breakfast is so meagre as to provide very little nourishment. They are without basics. It's against this background that Crawley's flat relief becomes sympathetic.

Ellen Moody

Re: Last Chronicle, Chs 67-72: Mystery Solved: We Find Out Who Stole the Check

The second part of this week's instalment solves our mystery. The check was given to Mr Crawley by Mrs Arabin. I wonder if there is anyone on this list who is like me in feeling a sense of gross if implicit injustice in how no one ever suspects Mrs Arabin stole the money. When Mr Crawley had the check, and handed it to someone, he was expected to explain how he got it. It's true that pretty quickly Mr Toogood realises the check must have come to her from the Dragon of Wantly to pay the rent. But there is a short gap in time where someone could have voiced at least some desire to hear her explain herself.

Could it be that precisely because Crawley was so poor, he was suspected? Precisely because she is the Dean's wife and therefore above reproach, she is not. I suggest Trollope is aware of this irony.

Of course all this is utterly artificial. In his Autobiography Trollope admits his plot device is strained. He had to keep Mrs Arabin away from Barchester and apart from the Dean. He also implies (it's not explicit, but I think it's there) that no one would have made such a ridiculous fuss over such a small sum. But he couldn't have a bigger one and feel confident some reader might just start to use words like 'criminal' of Crawley. It reminds me of the chaste heroines of 18th century novels: the novelists have to work hard to make up absurd obstacles in the way of their heroines' fulfillment; to make real ones, might impugn their chastity or honor and final impeccability. Still Trollope carries it off -- or maybe not. What do others think?

My feeling is the curve of the fiction is working to make us pay attention to the detective aspect of Mr Toogood's work, his angelic Sherlock Holmes act. We are also moving towards some comedic solution. Notice that Trollope makes his real thief someone we don't know, have never met. No grief or identification need be feared.

I found Mrs Arabin's scenes with Johnny participated in the same choral feel of Mrs Thorne's scenes with Major Grantly. There is a sense that the characters are now being moulded to fit the plot, a perfunctoriness takes over. I'm not quite sure a John Eames would have poured out his soul to a Mrs Arabin. The comedy of John Eames's touring was sharp: after all, what do most tourists remember of what they see anyway. Eames hits all the 'high spots' (from which people make postcards nowadays).

For all this, Trollope is true to his conception, does not sweep away what has happened under the rug. We are told that Crawley will never preach to his congregation again. It's over, irretrievable. Trollope makes it clear that hard words matter. They count. Major Grantly can't just go back to his father and mother and behave as if what happened and what was said between himself and his father didn't happen. This reality is paralleled by the very hard words we hear Mr and Mrs Proudie say to one another. Had she lived, they would not have forgotten them. This is true to life. To have given us complete harmony would clash with the emotional effect and the ethical inferences we take away from the mimetic portrayal of real human relationships played out between parents and grown son and between husband and wife.

Trollope achieves real strength and balance in this ending. The cycle too is coming to an end, for he has this and that character now remembering back to some episode in the earlier books, and again remembering not to deny what went back, but to place it inside the rhythms of imagined existences.

Cheers to all, Ellen Moody Re: Last Chronicle: Mrs Arabin as dea ex machina

In response to part of my postings on Last Chronicle, Rory wrote:

I think Trollope has hit the nail right on the head. Mrs Arabin is older than Johnny Eames - an attractive older woman, as he might see it of the generation of his mother perhaps, to whom he would be attracted in an affectionate (i.e., non sexual) way. In the circumstances of travelling with such a woman, the enforced togetherness of such a journey, it is not unreasonable that one or the other might discuss personal matters. The two might not have known each other prior to the event, but they were aware of each other, and hence abroad could meet as acquaintances, which in such a journey could easily blossom into friendship. Mrs A presumably knew of the Johnny/Lily story - small towns are always hotbeds of gossip, no less in Europe than in USA - and a Mrs A, in the circumstances of such a journey, would draw on her knowledge of this to explore the intricacies of Johnny's personality.

I agree that it's possible, nay even plausible to imagine an older woman on a train listening to a younger man, especially if we are thinking of them as types. In a couple of his short stories and in _John Caldigate_ Trollope makes a point of using the truth that when strangers meet in close terms for a brief time and suppose they will never meet again, they sometimes pour out their hearts to one another. He seems to think this happens particularly often aboard ships: doubtless from his own experience. Ships are a peculiarly closed-off intense environment. Yet in specifics Johnny has a lot to hide; his relationship with MD has not been pretty. He has not shown any disposition to lift off his carapace before his male friends nor the woman he encounters, with the single exception of Lady Julia de Guest, and there we saw a peculiar relationship slowly evolve between specific presences in specific circumstances which made their confidences understandable.

I was referring to my sense from this particular text itself that these characters, as Mrs Thorne and Major Grantly early in the novel, are being swept along for the purposes of the story. I get a sense of flatness and choral voices, particularly in that of Mrs Arabin. She is now turned into a predictable figure: the womanly woman who of course understands and is on the side of the well-meaning hero. We can once we get this niche into which she and Johnny are now fitted predict what will come, almost what they will say. There is a dulling of the narrative; it's just not alive in the way a story is when we are waiting to see what a character will do or say next.

To some extent what is happening in the novel as a whole is that there is a conflict between realism and the comedic resolved yet open ending Trollope is seeking for this novel and the series as a whole. The requirements of the form fight with what might be a charged real presence in the text. That's why Trollope gets rid of Mrs Proudie. It is interesting that Crawley can be fitted into an ending in which the group or the book's society and the life it offers its individuals can be seen as good. After all, what has been Crawley's trouble is not that he differs from the group's morality -- if anything he is more conventional and rigid than many of the characters he can't get along with. What has been his trouble is the group won't reward him for his particular gifts, in fact dismisses these (meaning his intelligence, integrity, embodied in this book in his love of poetry and relationship with the Hogglestock brickmakers). Mrs Proudie genuinely doesn't belong: the roles her society is willing to give her as a woman are at odds with her nature, and her bitter ways and exaggerated domination could be seen as twisted neurotic responses, defensive strategies which attack all who come near her.

Yet it seems to me predictable that it was Mrs Arabin who should take on two choral roles. First, of dea ex machina: she is the goddess in the machine who pulls the solution out of her purse like a rabbit out of a hat. And like Mrs Thorne, she is the womanly confiding person who approves of the conventional hero-male which Johnny is now for the moment squeezed into. We are now to forget his taste for M.D. We are to forget all the interesting squeaziness of his connections with Dalrymple. Put the disquiet back in the box. We are to assume he would be willing to tell of this terrible hurt we have seen him barely able to articulate in front of Lily herself. We are to forget how hard and defensive he can be too. This is not to say that Johnny is too hurt as a character since M.D. is still there and he will have to cope with Lily once again. Neither is Mrs Arabin, for like the Luftons & Thornes and her husband, she is in this novel used as a convenient puppet. They all come to hand because they are originally based on and validate utterly conventional notions of what such people are in their hearts as well as in public.

Cheers to all,

Ellen Moody

From: "Wayne Gisslen"
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2000 13:44:32 -0500
Subject: [trollope-l] _Last Chronicle_, Chs 67-72: Mr Toogood's Angelic Sherlock Holmes Act

Ellen mentions Mr Toogood's "angelic Sherlock Holmes act." (It was probably the Sherlock Holmes stories, which I read as a boy, that first drew me to nineteenth century literature. I think I found the descriptions of late nineteenth-century London even more appealing to my imagination than the detective's mental feats, and I wanted to read more in this vein -- so it was a short jump from Conan Doyle to Dickens and thence, eventually, to Trollope.) Anyway, I was reminded of Holmes from Toogood's first trip down to Barsetshire. In this week's installment he caps his detective work poking around at the Dragon of Wantly. The single line that clinches the Holmes similarity is a few chapters later, when he describes how the observation of an inconspicuous detail gives him the proof he wants: "Then he told the whole story of Dan Stringer, and how he had found Dan out, looking at the top of Dan's hat through the little apperture in the wall of the inn parlour. 'When I saw the twitch in his hat, John, I knew he had handled the check himself.' "

For an old Sherlock Holmes reader, what a delicious little detail.

I do think that the gears of plot machinery creak a little louder in this device of the stolen check than they do in most of the rest of the Trollope I have read. Nevertheless, I thing AT manages to bring it off in the end. If there were nothing else but this plot, I doubt it would work, but the novel is so rich in characters that a few creaking gears hardly matter.

Wayne Gisslen

From Rory O'Farrell:

In "He Knew He Was Right" Trollope describes Bozzle as "a private detective", which the OED records as the first use of the term. Dickens, in Bleak House, had portrayed Inspector Bucket in 1852, but he was a working policeman, not a private detective.

Rory O'Farrell

From Jill Singer:

I found myself smiling at Trollope's sly choice of Mrs. P's place of death: clutching the bedpost -- the battlefield on which she was so often the victor over her spouse (by means we can only imagine). How appropriate.

Jill, grinning in Overland Park KS

From Pat Mahoney

I can't say of course why Trollope did anything, but I do know that when we got to the death of Mrs. P., which I am amazed touched me as much as it did, I read the bishop's thoughts about her character strengths and saw how Mrs. D. B. was just the opposite. Mrs. DB was vain, silly, extravagant, possibly adulterous, and so far removed from taking an interest in her husband or his business that she hardly seemed aware of him or it.In some ways Mrs. P. seemed preferable. If only she could have been bishop in her own right a lot of things would have been better. Pat Mahoney

I would like to expand very briefly on my phrase which Ellen quotes above. I don't mean by it that Trollope had a book of plots which he had noted down ready for use - we know this not to be the case - and by his own admission, he felt that his plots were the weakest part of his writing. But I do believe that he had a very active imagination - can any Trollopian doubt this? - and that his mind, consciously or unconsciously, was continually imagining scenarios. We can reasonably assume this from his ability to sit down and write his 3000 words or so per day with little or no alteration, when he is writing a novel. If his habit was to daydream - whether consciously or unconsciously - and as his P.O. work didn't suffer, I incline to unconsciously, then he might daydream at other times, when not in the flow of composition for a specific book. I'm not a psychiatrist/psychologist, so would not wish to put a name to this ability, although I would welcome discussion on it from others. We know from his own writings that he "lived" with his characters, and that they were "real" to him. In fact, the novelist Amelia Edwards once asked him (circa July 24 1869, see Trollope Chronology p 85) why he let Crosbie jilt Lily Dale, to which he replied "How could I help it? He would do it, confound him" - the imagined character had taken on a personality and will of his own! In a similar way, I suspect he had imagined the Broughton/Madalina/van Siever scenario and mentally worked it up - as a sub plot, it is very elaborate and very complete - so much so that we could easily imagine it forming a large part of a stand alone plot, with minimal alteration.

Rory O'Farrell

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