June 10, 2002
Re: North America: Trollope's warmth & Pro-Americanism
Yes we've come to the end of this massive book. I'm not sure I would have read it but for the group read, and I know I would not have read it as carefully. Like Judy I would like to hear what others who stayed the course thought when they came to the end of the book as a whole and how it fits into Trollope's career or life. I too liked the chapter on literature: it is progressive in every way. Trollope says what matters for real for the majority of people is not classic books but the newspaper and he inveighs against the poor quality of US newspapers -- with a side comment that he has, however, long given up the dream of a good newspaper in Britain ("Now I expect it only in my dreams", North America, Knopf ed, Ch 30, p 501)
I thought I'd make my final comment on Trollope's tone as it is in his book's conclusion that one of his most characteristic tones becomes dominant: warmth. In this final chapter Trollope writes with warmth, kindliness, and generosity. He looks back across where he's been and he remembers with nostalgia and pleasure, the good and the bad. He says he has tried to make America into a home wherever he has been, e.g.,
"My weeks in Boston had not been very many, but nevertheless there were haunts there which I knew as though my feet had trodden them for years. There were houses to which I could have gone with my eyes blindfold; doors of which the latches were familiar to my hands; faces which I knew so well that they had ceased to put on for me the fictitious smiles of courtesy" (Ch 31, p 505).
He tells us he has done what he could to enter into the American point of view even when it is not one he necessarily shares: "I have loved their liberty, their prowess, their intelligence, and their progress. I have sympathized with a people who themselves have had no sympathy with passive security and inaction. (That's an perceptive comment about American values today still.) (p. 506). He defends himself for critiquing Americans though he knows that many readers will be offended by any criticism, however just, "But what then? Was any people ever truly served by eulogy; or an honest cause furthered by undue praise?" (p. 506).
In this last chapter he has his mother's book in mind again, and towards the end that the domestic manners of Americans, what so irked his mother has a good side: "That self-asserting, obtrusive independence which so often wounds us, is, if viewed aright, but an outward sign of those good things which a new country has produced for its people" (pp. 527-28). He loves the Irishmen who greet him when he lands in Ireland; he says, perhaps surprizingly to English readers, that "when I meet an Irishman abroad, I always recognize in him more of a kinsman than I do in an Englishman," and identifies with their haunts, falls into their ways, but he does not feel good at their starved and dependent and deference behavior: when people surround him "imploring alms" he is inclined to rejoice in the new ways of this modern industrial entrepreneurial individualistic America. In any case he argues this is a trivial side issue.
The elements and issues in the American culture he wants to end on are its form of government (which he argues works very well for them), its laws and its mores, which he sees as especially beneficial and productive for the people who live in this large country: he comes back to how well educated Americans are relatively to England, and how their ways, mores, laws give "to their millions a personal respect, and a standing above the abjectness of poverty, which with us are much less general than with them" (p. 517). Trollope ran as a liberal and we can see why from this book. Perhaps thought Americans may carry their love of money "or rather of making money" to an extreme, and this has brought dishonesty (p. 517)..
He does argue that Americans have "succeeded as a nation politically and socially" (p. 518). To an American today this may sound a strange thing to say, except that Trollope is writing during the civil war and he is arguing that the secession, however it is terrible just now does not argue that Americans are not succeeding as a culture and society. They are; they are just now having a dispute because they are made up of such different regions (and he seems to think the US would eventually break up whether the North won or not) -- and because of slavery.
Quite a number of pages of the conclusion are taken up by an argument that the one grave fault the founding fathers of the US constitution had was to permit slavery, not to have abolished it or put some wrenches in the machinery of promulgating it which would bring it to an end. Trollope says he understands why the constitution allowed for slavery (political and economic real circumstances) and he suggests that it was hoped at the time that slavery would "fade away" because outside traffic would be abolished. Instead it grew and spread and now confronts Americans with a real problem of people living amongst them from Africa for whom they will have to make some real provision. Throughout the book I have been astonished by Trollope's candid insistence that the civil war was a fight over slavery: US historians didn't say this frankly and generally until after 1950. That he pays such attention to this issue in this conclusion shows he has a gift for the salient, the important. Today still the US is a racist society (or racialist if the new softer word is preferred); today still African-American culture has not been assimilated fairly or with genuine universal respect by the general culture and mores of the population. Racism skews elections.
On the other hand, it is fairly clear that his opposition to slavery is not full-hearted. He is willing to accept it because he's willing to think the South should be parted from the north. He doesn't abhor it in his deepest being; he accepts the private property system everywhere, and if this is one version of it, that's fine. He will not try radically to change any system. He upholds the convict system in Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps had he gone south and really seen slavery . . . Perhaps had he read Fanny Kemble's journal of her time on a Georgian plantation (which I think [not usre] was published in an early version before 1863. I wonder if he read Olmsted's books on the south.
He is also anxious lest the civil war bring about a war between England and the US. We can say that his comment on the horrors of war is one that is as relevant to our world today as his comments on the results of allowing slavery in the original constitution.
He ends his book on a peroration to the self-respect he saw in Americans wherever he went:
If poor, they are not abject in their poverty. They read and write. They walk like human beings made in God's form. They know that they are men and women, owing it to themselves and to the world that they should earn their bread by their labour, but feeling that when earned it is their own. (Ch 31, p. 528).
Implicit in this is a comparison to his own 19th century European culture where people who are not upper class, says Trollope, are not made or allowed to feel that when they earn their bread it is their own.
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002
Re: Trollope's Generosity and Self-Criticism
Looking back at 'North America', Ellen wrote about Trollope's generosity and warmth of tone. Stemming from these qualities is his willingness to subject himself to criticism in the final chapter. He too looks back over his book, and picks out particular passages where he feels that perhaps he fell short of his own standards, criticised too strongly and didn't highlight the positive aspects enough.
"And it seems to me, as I read once more my own pages, that in saying evil things of my friends, I have used language stronger than I intended; whereas I have omitted to express myself with emphasis when I have attempted to say good things. Why need I have told of the mud of Washington, or have exposed the nakedness of Cairo? Why did I speak with such eager enmity of those poor women in the New York cars, who never injured me, now that I think of it?"
I find it interesting that here he picks on three sections which, during our discussion here, several people also felt were particularly dark and negative in tone. I felt that Trollope's own depression at the time came across in his description of the Washington mud, while the criticism of the women in crinolines was far stronger than the context seemed to warrant. The description of Cairo is perhaps the bleakest part of the book - although, given the conditions he saw, it is hard to see how he could have avoided "exposing the nakedness" of the town.
However, as soon as he has criticised himself, Trollope puts the other side and defends his decision to tell the truth as he saw it, even if it is hurtful at times.
"The streets of Washington are muddy and her ways are desolate. The nakedness of Cairo is very naked. And those ladies of New York; is it not to be confessed that they are somewhat imperious in their demands?"
Despite this, I think there is clearly a certain uneasiness over all these passages, and the key to this perhaps lies in the comment:
"Ladies of New York, as I write this, the words which were written among you, are printed and cannot be expunged; but I tender to you my apologies from my home in England."
It sounds from this as if the printer had started typesetting the book before Trollope had completed it, giving him little time to rework and revise as he might have wanted to. I suppose the book was very topical with its civil war subject matter and needed to be printed as soon as possible.
Ellen wrote " In this last chapter he has his mother's book in mind again". I noticed that he actually quotes her words, without saying he is doing so, when he writes about American thin skins. In Chapter 31 of 'Domestic Manners', about the reception of Basil Hall's book in the US, Fanny writes:
"Other nations have been called thin-skinned, but the citizens of the Union have, apparently, no skins at all; they wince if a breeze blows over them, unless it be tempered with adulation."
Anthony also dwells on thin skins:
"O my friends with thin skins, - and here I protest that a thick skin is a fault not to be forgiven in a man or a nation, whereas a thin skin is in itself a merit, if only the wearer of it will be the master and not the slave of his skin, - O, my friends with thin skins, ye whom I call my cousins and love as brethren, will ye not forgive me these harsh words that I have spoken?"
I think his mother's comments are running in his mind here and he is once again trying to rewrite, agreeing that Americans are thin-skinned, but arguing that extreme sensitivity to criticism can in fact be a virtue, as long as people do not automatically reject any criticism as a result. In this long passage, Trollope seems to predict/fear that his book will cause the same sort of offence that his mother's did, and that he will not be welcome in America again because of his forthright comments. In fact, I believe he got a far better reception than he expected. The blurb on the back of my Granville Press edition says:
'Harper's magazine praised Trollope's 'North America', when it appeared in 1862, as 'the best book that has been produced by a foreigner upon us, saving always the philosophical work of De Tocqueville'... 'He breaks out,' Harper's noted with surprise, 'into rather un-English enthusiasm'."
After reading Malcolm Bradbury's book 'Dangerous Pilgrimages', which looks at trans-Atlantic travel literature and fiction in both directions, I'm not sure if it is true that Americans were more thin-skinned than their European counterparts. Bradbury tells how, the year after Trollope's 'North America', Hawthorne published 'Our Old Home', giving a very critical view of Britain and saying people were unfriendly and unwelcoming - this seems to have caused a storm on my side of the Atlantic.
I can't really add to what Ellen has said about Trollope's discussion of American government systems and the civil war. Once again I feel he is even-handed and fair here, and takes the US seriously, not dismissing anything simply because it is different from the British way of doing things. And once again his sorrow over the war, and the resulting divisions between America and Britain, come across clearly.
Bye for now
Re: Anthony Trollope's North America: A 1951 Herald Tribune Review
A small "extra" the bookseller who sent me the Knopf included is a tiny yellowed cut-out of a review which appeared in the New York City daily newspapers, the _Herald Tribune_ in 1951, when Knopf produced the edition. I thought I'd end my postings with a summary of this one.
As some people may know the present New York Review of Books is direct outgrowth of the demise of the New York Herald Tribune. When the Tribune folded a small group of determined intelligent people who had been in the literary/arts department of the Tribune began this very successful wonderful periodical.
The Herald Tribune review is short -- two columns which is still typical of the reviews of books in the New York Times reviews which appear during the week. It is by John K. Hutchens who we are told "is conducting this column" while "Lewis Gannett is on vacation". The higher lexical level and use of "Mr" of Hutchens at one point gives the piece dignity and reminds me of how newspapers have come down in their uses of language in the last half century. Hutchens gives North America a very favorable review. His opening paragraph runs:
"Of this prodigious work Anthony Trollope was to say, in his wonderfully candid autobiography, that it was a true book for its time but not a good one that he could recommend to subsequent readers. So often astute in his self-judgement, he was finely mistaken this time. In a fashion he could not have foreseen North America is superb these ninety years after he set down his impressions of a few months in a country that had just entered on a civil war"
Why does Hutchens find it superb? Trollope tells "of life as it was lived on the edges of the war. Its effect today is that of an extraordinary newsreel of civilian life in 1861-62, vivid in its photography, literate in its running commentary, as fair as an honest, open-minded man could make it." He commends Trollope as a good travel writer so offers some implicit judgement on what makes good travel writing: "he gives you the sense of sitting beside him" [passage quoted from North America]; he thinks about what values the cultural worlds he enters into make visible: a love for gadgets (elevators, central heat, soda bottles that open of themselves without any trouble of wire or string) reveals a strong hope and respect for mechanical improvements as making life much more pleasant and rich for individuals who can save time, energy, and be comfortable while doing whatever it is they want to do.
Most of all Hutchens says Trollope finds at the heart of US life a respect for individual worth, that one person is finally as good as another when they meet face-to-face (or we could nowadays add online):
"That self-asserting, obtrusive independence which so often wounds us is, if veiwed aright, but an outward sign of those good things which a new country has produced for its people ... They read and write. They walk like human beings made in God's form. They know that they are men and women, owing it to themselves and to the world that they should earn their bread by their labour but feeling that when earned it is their own."
Booth and Smalley pick out the same perspective as central to Anthony's book. This is intriguing as Anthony must have known this is a direct refutation of the central perspective of his mother's book. Since we have had so much talk of Gosford Park on this list I think of how what underlies Altman's caustic distaste for the upper and emotional sympathy for the servant classes of that film is the sense that the people upstairs have not earned their bread by their labour (no, they marry for the stuff, they flip cards, they wheel and deal and speculate -- as do the criminally thief-like Melmotte and Frisk of TWWLN) and the people downstairs seem not to realise that they money they have earned is their own to spend as they please.
The centrality of money to American culture emerges as an outward and visible sign of something more positive than we usually think of it in Anthony's book.
The review from this 1951 Herald Tribune is also interestingly dated. It makes visible an earlier era in ways beyond the dignified language: Hutchens makes every effort to be laudatory, high minded, and does not analyze Trollope's book "against the grain" in the manner, say, of the writer in the recent Oxford Companion to Trollope. He remains impersonal, has a rotound tone, seems to be able to think he speaks for many, not just for himself, is the voice of the paper and his readers. People do not write this way today.
I should say I found this Knopf online; I believe (not sure) I paid something like $60 for it while I was writing my book, Trollope on the Net. This is not the only time a bookseller has included small little unexpected presents of this type inside a book sent to me. While large sites like Alibris and Biblion (a site which specializes in older and rare books) allow you to make one stop, I find that going to places like Allcom or (my favorite) bookfinder.com enables you to get into more direct contact with a bookseller and it is when you do that these extras are sent.
Cheers to all,
Re: Final Comments on Travel Literature and Trollope's Willingness to like the US
As to Trollope's book, we cannot deny it is not a classic. At the heart of the flaws of the book is Trollope's lack of realization that what was wanted was an imaginative recreation of a sense of place that would cohere with his readers deepest rooted memories. Perhaps the US was too different from England, all the picturesque things England valued itself for the US seemed to lack. Its sublime was outside the English literary experience. He kept thinking what was wanted was facts, and didn't distinguish his book from sheer guidebooks.
He was also much exercised by the war and the American political system. This is an ethnography trying to get out of a very different genre: the meditative travel book. He also avoids hard issues or skirts round them, content to refer to slavery as an evil, but not what must be eradicated.
But unlike many of his English compatriots, Trollope was not resentful, not jealous, and determined not to make a bestseller by wise-cracks, sneers, and appealing to the human desire to put something down. Indeed he was willing to say all he could on behalf of a system and point of view (democratic, individualistic) that he took to be directly opposed to much that undergirded England. Maybe his own hurts and long depression as a boy made him like this system. As he felt like an Irishman, so he was ready to like the US for all the (unacknowledged) reasons England had given him such pain, enough to lead to his incessant writing of novels.