Anthony Trollope's "Malachi's Cove"

Written 1864 (6 - 9 September)
Published 1864 (December), Good Words Published in a book 1867 (August), Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, Strahan

Date: Sun, 15 Feb 1998 08:03:12 EST
Subject: Short Stories "Malachi's Cove"

What a sweet story this was! And what a likeable creature Mally, " ... wild- looking, almost unearthly creature, with wild-flowing, black, uncombed hair ...". It almost seems like she sprang fully formed from the earth, totally unaware of any vestiges of civilization, but yet with a native gentility. " ... she was so good to her grandfather; and it was said of her that though she carried to him a little gin and tobacco almost daily, she bought nothing for herself." When persuaded by the clergyman that " ... she would be received there [at church] without distinction to her clothing ... " she began attending church, in spite of obviously feeling out of place.

Trouble came to Mally's grim hardworking existence in the form of competition. "And now, when she saw big farmers' lads coming with other donkeys, - and, indeed, there was one who came with a pony; no boy, but a young man, old enough to know better than rob a poor old man and a young girl, - she reviled the whole human race ... " Barty, the closest farmer's son, did not mean to interfere with Mally's livelihood. "He was bigger than she was, and stronger, and would get [the seaweed] fron the outer rocks, with which she never meddled. " Being the rough edged diamond that she was, Mally scornfully rejected any idea that this interloper could get seaweed from where she could not. Angry as she was, Mally warned Barty about an especially dangerous pool, into which he nevertheless fell, to almost sure death.

Mally saved Barty, at great risk to herself. His head had been battered against the rocks, and her grandfather feared that it would appear that she had carried out her threats of revenge. Sure enough, his father's reaction when summoned to the side of his son was, " ' If he has come by his death between you, your blood shall be taken for his ... ' Then the wife shrieked out that her child had been murdered, and Mally, looking around into the faces of the three, saw that her grandfather's words had come true." Mally's reaction to being unjustly accused was not fear. "They might say what they liked. They might make it out to be murder. They might drag her and her grandfather to Camelford gaol, and then to Bodmin, and the gallows; but they could not take from her the conscious feeling that was her own. She had done her best to save him, - her very best. And she had saved him!"

Reassuringly, in Anthony Trollope's short stories, virtue is rewarded. Barty regained consciousness, and "Mally" was the first word he spoke. The farmer Gunliffe realized he had wronged Mally; "... in truth the man knew that she had saved his boy's life, and that he had injured her instead of thanking her. He was now taking her to his heart, and as words were wanting to him, he was showing his love in this silent fashion. He held her hand as though she were a child ..."

The forlorn and lonely waif had found love. What a wonderful way to end this book!

Jill Spriggs

To Trollope-l

February 16, 1998

Re: Short Story: "Malachi's Cove:" A Tale of Nature

Like "The Parson's Daughter at Oxney Colne," this is one of those of Trollope's short stories which makes it into the anthologies. I too think it is one of his best. Jill has spoken of its happy ending, and of the trust in the better aspects of human nature to win out over the worse. I agree but would like to suggest it is also a brutal story, and in the depiction of the wild landscape, the desperate poverty of the old man and his wild waif of a granddaughter, sibyl-like in her presence, a survivor in the strength of her soul and instincts of her body, and in the extraordinary scene in which she saves Barty's life from the waters, it is a match for "Aaron Trowe." Indeed I would liken them to a pair of sonnets which echo and contrast to one another, a kind of diptych of the potentialities of the primal self when confronted with the forces of nature which man cannot tame. Fire, water, earth, and sky were the elements of the world said the Elizabethans; and this is a story of water, earth, sky, and rock. Take for example,

"Every now and then there came a squall of rain, and though there was sufficient light, the heavens were black with clouds. A scene more beautiful might hardly be found by those who love the glories of the coast. The light for such objects was perfect. Nothing could exceed the grandeur of the colours,--the blue of the open sea, the white of the breaking waves, the yellow sands, or the streaks of red and brown which gave such richness to the cliffs" (Sutherland p 464).

Never underestimate the strength of rocks, or their ineluctability, and the blood that will come from you if you hold to them. This is a story which also has a great deal of blood in it--Barty's as he hold tight against the "suction of the waves" in the treacherous pools. Yellow sands is a phrase from a song in the tempest, and Mally will undergo a seachange; rocks too provide an image of resistance in the Renaissance; resisting billows, sky, time, and men.

"Malachi's Cove" has the same elements as "Aaron Trowe:" again there is a cinematic quality to its terrific scenes, among rocks and crags, this time over a fearful rushing ocean from whose tides the characters are determined to wrest a starkly precarious living; again there is great concision and naturalism in the dialogue, with each of the characters speaking words that resonate with threat or menace or love; again there is a depiction of both men and women as fierce animals when confronted by death, this time aroused by a desperate dread of losing life; there is the motif of revenge--on the part of Barty's parents. It's curious how at trials those who are most vindictive and indeed savage for someone, anyone, to kill "in return," or nowadays as they seem to see it, have the state's apparatus kill in return, are the murdered person's close relatives. Trollope is aware of this; indeed he makes it a basis of his building of admiration for Mally who carries on rescuing Barty though at the risk of her own life and with full knowledge even if she succeeds in saving him as far as she is able, if he dies, his people will do all they can to have her "blood" in return ("'If he has come by his death between you, your blood shall be taken for his,' said he;" and again "they shall give us blood for blood"). Finally, once again Trollope's curious ability to enter into everyone's point of view recalls "Aaron Trowe."

I found particularly imaginatively brilliant the curious otherworldly depiction of Mally as a being uncanny, un-homey (as Freud would say); I suppose the domestication of her at the close of the story is part of its point. Trollope says this spirit is in some of us too; we need only be cut off from social contact in the manner of Mally. Here are Barty and Mally competing over who shall rake in the most seaweed:

"And when he had failed in some haul Mally would jeer him with a wild, weird laughter, and shriek to him through the wind that he was not half a man" (p 465).

We are told people fear her; she has no friends.

Trollope also sees through the antagonism of Barty and Mally to something ultimately sexual about it. It comes as no surprize to the reader she ends up marrying Barty. In fact Trollope need only hint about this at the end. Mally's ending up in the kitchen of this comfortable civilized farmhouse is, we feel, clearly obviously explained. Barty gathers the seaweed not just to make money for his family, but to master Mally. To want to master a woman is apparently just the other side, can be twisted into by a slight turn of one's attitude, to wanting to have sex with her. Says the narrator of Barty's motives: "He would not be beaten by a girl" (p 466). This is fundamental to Trollope--and in fact why he distrusts non-virgins so much. He fears a man cannot master these women as he can a virgin. Doubtless a failure of the imagination on his part.

At the same time the portrait is realistic, even prosaic. There is only Mally's "hard and perilous work among the waters" between her grandfather and the poorhouse, but, as our narrator says, when she goes to church in her usual clothes because she took the preacher at his word that she need not dress differently than her norm, she

"went with a courage which certainly deserved admiration, though I doubt whether there was not mingled with it an obstinacy which was less admirable" (p 460).

Other realistic touches include the price of seaweed going down and the necessity of gathering more of the stuff to make it pay ("So Mally and the donkey toiled and toiled"...), the question of property rights. No one owns the sea, unfair as this may seem to someone who has made a path to it.

The end of the story matches the beginning. At the opening we see the grandfather allowing Mally to risk life, body, going down to the coast. We get a long magnificent description of the coast of "Cornwall, between Tintagel and Bossiney." Arthur's territory this. Excalibur was filmed in such a place. I think of many lines in Tennyson's Idylls. At the close we see Barty's father tenderly leading the girl away:

"Then Gunliffe turned round and followed her up the path,wondering at the life which this girl led so far away form all her sex. It was now dark night, and he had found her working at the very edge of the rolling waves by herself, in the darkness, while the only human being who might seem to be her protector had already gone to bed.

When they were at the top of the cliff Gunliffe took her by her hand, and led her along. She did not comprehend this, but she made no attempt to take her hand from his. Something he said about falling on the cliffs, but it was muttered so lowlly that Mally hardly understood him. But in truth the man knew that she had saved his boy's life, and that he had injured her instead of thanking her. He was now taking her to his heart, and as words were wanting to him, he was showing his love after this silent fashion" (p 473).

Victoria Glendinning tells me Trollope believed in Providence because were he not to do so he could not have carried on, given the life he led as a boy and young man and the world he observed and wrote about from his time in Ireland at the time of famine until his later years in London and travels everywhere about the world. It is probably therefore suitable that we should end our journey though this volume which a story which can be interpreted as ultimately happy.

It is noteworthy that this is an undercurrent in the story. What is obvious is the indifference of nature, its savagery in the landscape and men and women; the need people have of one another and of love because of this. The last words we hear are spoken by Barty's mother as she tells Mally, Mally will be her "child" now. How can she be Mrs Gunliffe's child? Why, by marrying Barty. What the story ends on are the two motifs of uncanniness and desperate holding onto some unjustifed notion of one's "property rights." We hear of how

"people said that Barty Gunliffe had married a mermaid out of the sea; but when it was said in Mally's hearing I doubt whether she liked it; and when Barty himself would call her a mermaid she would frown at him, and throw about her black hair, and pretend to cuff him with her little hand" (pp 474-5)

And then we are told how Mally's grandfather was taken up to the top of the cliff and lived out his "remaining days" under the roof of the Gunliffe's,

"and as for the cove and the right of sea-weed, form that time forth all that has been supposed to attach itself to Gunliffe's farm, and I do not know that any of the neighbors are preapred to dispute the right" (p 475).

Ellen Moody

From: Ellen Moody
Subject: Females who embrace dirt

Dear Valerie,

The reason people object to terms like "spunky" and "feisty" is they trivialize oppression and vulnerability and they buy into the hierarchy by admiring someone who in good humor puts up with it.

There is someone you could call a spunky heroine in Trollope's 'Malacchi's Cove' who may be said to embrace dirt in more ways than one. Not only does she stubbornly refuse to clean herself up and dress in the manners of middle class gentry women; she makes a living for herself and her grandfather by gathering seaweed and selling it for fertilisers.

Ellen Moody

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated: 11 January 2003