Date: Sat, 4 May 2002
North America: Vol 2: 3 and 4 Sender: email@example.com
Here are a few comments on this week's chapters of 'North America': Volume 2 Chapter 3: 'The Causes of the War' and Chapter 4 'Washington to St Louis'.
To be honest, so far I've found 'North America' a more difficult/demanding read than I expected. As we've discussed, Trollope seems to be uneasy about writing in the first person and does hold back, and he also seems to be growing increasingly unhappy as his journey continues - hardly surprising when you consider that he was travelling through a country in the grip of civil war. It must have been a difficult time to visit as a tourist-cum-travel writer.
Ellen has mentioned that Trollope does get repetitive about the war, and I would definitely agree with this. I found the first part of Volume 2: Chapter 3 'The Causes of the War' very much going over the same ground again, as Trollope wearily argues that the South has a good case for self-government, yet the North has been left with no choice but to go to war. He mentions somewhere that he has already discussed all this in the volume one, yet he still continues to agonise over the same questions in volume two.
I suppose that, in a country torn by war, the same thoughts would inevitably continue to go through your mind. Still, it is a shame that Trollope did not do more editing, and get rid of some of the repetition. His points might have more force if they were made once rather than half a dozen times.
However, the real problem with Chapter 3 is not the repetition, but the discussion of slavery and the plight of Native Americans. Fanny Trollope is very strong on these questions in 'Domestic Manners of the Americans', writing with passionate force against slavery - she also wrote a novel on this subject, 'Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw', which Teresa quotes from in her book, and which may have influenced 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'. Fanny is equally clear-eyed about the treatment of Native Americans, pointing out that the various legal agreements with them are a sham and that they have been cheated out of their land.
By contrast, Anthony tries to be more reasonable about slavery, and, as a result, ends up pleasing nobody, least of all a modern reader. He makes it clear that he opposes slavery at heart, commenting: "The name of slave is odious to me." Yet he bends over backwards to be understanding to the southern states, explaining how vital slavery is to their economy, and going on to claim that people who have spent their lives as slaves are "not fit for freedom". Again he compares slaves with children, as he has done earlier, and he goes on to claim that there is no equality in nature between the races, quoting from his book on the West Indies - I haven't read this but have heard that it is difficult to get through because of the comments about black people.
However, despite being a bit mealy-mouthed on the topic of slavery, Trollope is strong here in his condemnation of segregation. Earlier he didn't tell us what he thought about segregated schools. Here he speaks out strongly against hypocrisy, complaining that even a white American abolitionist wouldn't sit at table with a black person. (I wonder how true this was, though. Bronson Alcott, Louisa's father, was a passionate abolitionist, and he set up a school for black and white children to learn together, during the Civil War period.)
The most chilling part of this chapter is the last paragraph, where Trollope suggests a method of getting rid of slavery by "an edict enfranchising all female children born after a certain date, and all their children" - and then suggests this would probably lead to the African-American population slowly dying out. This reminded me of the discussion of the famine in 'Castle Richmond', where he seems so frighteningly ready to accept the deaths of millions as inevitable, and even argues that the country has benefited in the long run. Once again he is losing sight of the individual life.
All the same, in 'Castle Richmond', he does write very powerfully about the famine when he portrays suffering individuals, and I am wondering if there will be any equally powerful portrayals of individual slaves before the end of the book.
I don't want to fall into the trap of judging Trollope by modern standards - he was writing in a very different age, and that is something we must keep in mind. But nor do I want to skate over the fact that this whole chapter, with its ingrained attitudes, is very disturbing and worrying to a 21st-century reader. Can anybody tell me, is this one of the chapters which has been removed from some abridged editions?
Vol 2 Chapter 4, 'Washington to St Louis', is of special interest because it records Trollope's visit to Cincinnati, the town where his mother spent most of her time in America. He went to visit the bazaar which proved to be such a financial disaster for his family, and he records with a certain wry relish the comment made by the current proprietor:
"I believe, sir, no man or woman ever yet made a dollar in that building; and, as for rent, I don't even expect it."
Like Fanny, he marvels at the number of pigs, referring to Cincinnati as "the great hog metropolis of the western States".
Later in this chapter, in Kentucky, he meets up with a number of "dirty teamsters" at a hotel, and writes about them warmly. We know that Trollope can shrink away from people who are dirty or unkempt, but here he writes with understanding and says he has an affection for them. He draws a striking contrast between the class systems in the two societies, again showing his appreciation of greater equality in America:
"With us there is no level of society. Men stand on a long staircase, but the crowd congregates near the bottom, and the lower steps are very broad. In America men stand upon a common platform, but the platform is raised above the ground, although it does not approach in height the top of our staircase. If we take the average altitude in the two countries, we shall find that the American heads are the more elevated of the two."
Travelling to Lexington, Trollope asks in passing what the origin of the term "blue grass" is. Does anybody know? I'm also fascinated by his description of horses and wagons travelling over the frozen Mississippi at St Louis, and would be interested to know if it still freezes as hard as this.
Date: Sun, 5 May 2002
North American, Chs 22 - 23: Anthony Versus Frances's Views
I have been reading the comments on North America with great interest, though I am ashamed to confess that I am no longer reading the book.
I have been wondering if Trollope found himself in a bit of a no win situation. When he started this book he states quite strongly that he wants to be honest about what he sees, and to counterbalance his mother's 'woman's book' in which 'she described with a light but graphic pen, the social defects and absurdities which our near relatives had adopted into their domestic life.' Now, thirty years later, what he wants to do is to 'dilate on the nature and operation of those political arrangements which had produced the social absurdities observed by her, or to explain that so such absurdities were the natural result of these arrangements in their newness, the defects would certainly pass away, while the political arrangements, if good, would remain.'
This, it seems, is what he has been trying to do. I wonder if the thing which is depressing him as he travels around, is that he is beginning to realise that in many ways his mother was right. He set out to put the record straight, but is finding this increasingly difficult. Hence the book is losing its sense of direction.>>
Sorry to hear you have given up on 'North America', although to be honest I did wonder how many people were still reading - the postings on this book have fallen off. I have to say that it is not as lively and readable as Fanny's 'Domestic Manners', although in many ways Anthony's views are more reasonable and fairer. Despite the sourness of her tone, Fanny gives us more vivid glimpses of everyday life and fewer long passages of theorising.
I don't agree that Anthony found himself sharing his mother's views, however. At the start of our read, I quoted a passage from the 'Autobiography', written after Fanny's death, where he criticises DMOTA strongly and says Fanny was not equipped to be a travel writer. To me, it seems as if the growing depression Trollope felt was not really to do with social customs, but a result of the war. All his life he had been waiting to travel to America, yet now that he was there he found the country in ruins. He was also an isolated figure himself, constantly struggling to justify British foreign policy, and fearful that England would enter the war on the southern side at any moment. The pressure must have been intolerable and I can well believe that the skin eruptions he suffered were psychomatic, as Ellen suggested.
To run slightly ahead of our read, in Volume 2 Chapter 5: Missouri there is a real outpouring of sorrow about the war, almost Biblical at times in its poetic language, which shows just how shocked and despairing Trollope felt in the face of so much suffering and violence.
This is quite a long passage, so I'll just quote the beginning and the ending: "Men and angels must weep as they behold the things that are being done, as they watch the ruin that has come and is still coming, as they look on commerce killed and agriculture suspended. No sight so sad has come upon the earth in our days...
Sick soldiers, who have never seen a battlefield, are dying by hundreds in the squalid dirt of their unaccustomed camps. Men and women talk of war, and of war only. Newspapers full of the war are alone read. A contract for war stores, - too often a dishonest contract, - is the one path open for commercial enterprise. The young man must go to the war or he is disgraced. The war swallows everything and as yet has failed to produce even such bitter fruits as victory or glory. Must it not be said that a curse has fallen upon the land?"
Trollope goes on to argue unconvincingly that the curse may be a blessing in the long run, and to insist that God is watching over all. He even repeats his familiar arguments from 'Castle Richmond' about how the Irish famine eventually benefited the country. But this attempt to reassure himself and his readers does not have the force of the grief in the earlier passage. At times I find myself wishing that Trollope had interviewed the soldiers and reported from the battlefield. But he was not a war correspondent and he kept his distance, instead giving a sense of the growing misery settling over the whole country.
Bye for now
Re: North America, Chs 22 - 23: The American Civil War
It has been suggested that the US civil war was the first modern one in the sense that modern technological weapons were paramount; at the same time, the science of medicine was in its infancy. Indeed medicine developed rapidly as a response to World War One, but that was nearly half a century later and there had been great strides in understanding which enables this progress suddenly to take off -- in the face of sudden desperate need. Stories of nursing in the US civil war, and recently the printing of diaries and letters convey just how lethal and bloody it was. Trollope was seeing this from not so very afar. He does register his sense of the horror in the final sentences of his Civil War short story, "The Two Generals". It is notable that in this fiction -- where he seems able to be so much more daring because he has the mask of fiction -- he talks of how this carnage is "cleansing the land from that stain of slavery:"
"And from that time to this the din of war is still going on, and they are in the thick of it. The carnage of their battles, and the hatreds of their civil contests, are terrible to us when we think of them; but may it not be that the beneficent power of Heaven, which they acknowledge as we do, is thus cleansing their land from that stain of slavery, to abolish which no human power seemed to be sufficient"
Here is no talk of people as property.
Among the few better known writers who recorded the experiences of the civil war are (as nurses) Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott and as fighters Ambrose Bierce and Stephan Crane.