A Taste for Parallelograms; On Travel Literature as a Genre; Contemporary Contexts; Sudden Moments; Trollope's Sympathy for Catholicism

To Trollope-l

March 17, 2002

RE: North America, Chs 4 - 6: A Taste for Parallelograms/On Travel Literature as a Genre

Parallelogramatical cities is a funny phrase. Cities where all exists at right angles leaves us with a funny picture in our mind: Trollope writes that "a right-angled parallelogramical city, such as Philadelphia and the new portion of New York, is from its very nature odious to me." As Joan says, still you don't get lost. A case in point are the towns which grew up in the days the US was a colony. Such a town is the Bronx (nowadays a borough of NYC). It was laid out very early and through sheer serendipity. The result is if you don't know the Bronx, you get lost. It is true that the grids of cities in the US are often rationalized differently: in DC the great avenues are named after the states; two divide the city like cross, and all the streets which run at right angles to one another get the designation North, South, West, and East in accordance to where they are with respect to these two avenues; in NYC the divider is Fifth Avenue. All the Avenues are large and run up and down; the streets run horizontally. All numbers west of Fifth are west; all numbers east of Fifth are east. Only when you get to the Bowery which was laid out early, does the scheme fail. Alexandria where I live is parallelogramatical. The cross is made up of King Street running up and down (from the Potomac to the Masonic Temple) and at right angles from King, Washington Street running horizontally (from Mount Vernon, GW's home, to DC). All streets on the one side of Washington (going to DC) are labelled North; all streets on the other (going to Mount Vernon) are labelled South. I won't bother people with the rest of the scheme but I assure everyone you can learn it in minutes.

Perhaps the tone of Trollope's book is well captured in the sentences in which he then explains himself:

I know that much may be said in its favour -- that drainage and gas-pipes come easier to such a shape, and that ground can be better economized. Nevertheless I prefer a street that is forced to twist itself about. I enjoy the narrowness of Temple Bar, and the mishapen curvature of Pickett Street. The disreputable dinginess of Holywell Street is dear to me, and I love to thread my way up by the Olympic into Covent Garden. Fifth Avenue in New York is as grand as paint and glass can make it; but I would not live in a palace in Fifth Avenue if the corporation of the city would pay my baker's and butcher's bills (North America, Knoft ed, Ch 5, p. 71)

This is wholly unlike his mother's tone. It is eminently good-natured. hom-ey in a kindly comfortable way. To me all things being equal, the work which expresses humanity, kindness, tolerance, the wide and thoughtful view is superiot to the work which expresses narrow prejudice, spite, caste systems and not much beyond the self. The former describes the tone and attitude of the above half-comic and meant-to-be-light comparison; the latter and not unfairly describes a good deal of Fanny Trollope's book. I have suggested when we were reading her book what were some of the very real personal sources of her anger which she dared not voice, but these do not make a good book even if we sympathize. It matters what is the source of our entertainment. Human beings are capable of being entertained by things most of us would probably at least publicly say we are sorry happened.

The stickler in my sentence is "all things being equal." Teresa has said that Fanny's book is lively and Judy points out how graphic she is. Trollope can be equally graphic, but, as Judy notes, he holds back. He does not want to. And he is far from lively in about one-third of this week's chapters. Chapter 6 ("The Connexion of the Canadas with Great Britain") is a dull terrain of repetitive apologetics, explanation and justification of Trollope's liberal opinion that 1) Canada needs to become independent, and 2) commerce, industry, growth in cities and numbers of people because there has been a growth in jobs means prosperity for many more people than picturesque countrysides such as are found in England. We should not forget that the word "liberal" in the 19th century not only meant a reformist and strongly democratic point of view but also a capitalist-mercantile one. I wasn't surprized by this because I have read about half-way through The West Indies and the Spanish Main and once began South Africa: in both Trollope actually argues (in despite of the manifest prejudice he displays towards African black people as lazy, less intelligent &c&c) that both places must eventually be run by the indigenous peoples of the country. They outnumber everyone else and they would truly care if given the chance, truly look out for the interests of their group. Much of what he says in this chapter (once again a "despite" is necessary -- despite his paternalism) is decent, honorable, looking to say what really benefits most people. Nonetheless it's dull. He meanders. He goes nowhere. Maybe it was unfortunate for Canada to be connected :). But he is caring too much and his reader probably didn't and doesn't. Judy tells us Trollope refuses to describe a waterfall when we know from his novels he can do so very well. He can be funny and very accurate about himself: it fits my sense of him as a real person that he would swim in the nude. The description of how people dress and the bathing scene is good. Trollope was a robust highly physical man. He loved to revel in his physical body: he liked cigars, good food, wine, hunting -- and pretty women (he tells us this). When he bothers to, Chapters 4 and 5 ("Lower Canada" and "Upper Canada") have effective description. My husband, Jim and I also travelled one summer into Canada: in 1977 and Trollope's description of the rivers, the St Lawrence, his time in Quebec brought back pleasant memories. It is a strong beautiful river, about as close as I've ever seen to what I imagine the Mississippi must be. He is probably describing boardwalk. His and Rose's adventure climbing up Owl's Mountain and getting lost on the way down captures their sense of being lost, of bewilderment, the labyrinthine paths through the darkness, the mud, the dog dashing by, their fear, and then relief when people came with lanterns hallooing after Anthony and Rose in wet dark (Ch 4, p 59). He is also effective and accurate when he describes the kind of mindset a Catholic culture will foster as opposed to a Protestant one. And having said that the Protestant fosters growth in wealth and independent thinking, he qualifies by suggesting that something has been lost:

"And yet I love their religion. There is something beautiful and almost divine in the faith and obedience of a true son of the Holy Mother. I sometimes fancy that I would fain be a Roman Catholic, -- if I could; as also I would often wish to be still a child, if that were possible" (Ch 4, p 53)

And there's the rub. I suggest that the lack of movement, the stodginess if you will of the book does not come from Trollope's even-handedness but from his not knowing what a travel book is for, from his being uncomfortable with the genre itself. The above statement gives us a sudden whiff of Trollope's inner self and his attempt at cultural analysis. He likes to do this. It seems to me he wants to write a serious book which combines serious politics and cultural analysis with some sense of him as an impersonal voice, but he is not sure he has the legitimacy, that his view will be respected. After all, as he writes in his opening paragraph, he is expected to amuse: in his opening chapter we see Trollope uncomfortable with his role as a popular novelist, something he rarely gave away. He defended his "trade" as his right to make money and he defended novels as serious teachers of cultural and moral lessons; yet he knows that as a novelist he is not regarded as a serious writer and knows that by way of trade he is expected to produce amusing anecdotes. And he does so. But he finds this inadequate as a basis for analysis. And he's right.

He is a private man. He has not told us his wife's first name. The autobiographical and personal are with him saved for the deep musing of his art as a novelist where they appear disguised through the mask of the narrator and his stories and characters. When he hasn't this mask, he can't let go. He can't let loose. And he emerges as fitting the more prosaic categories of the social self we find in his novels too. In the novels from deep within something comes to consciousness and he chases it, develops it (a picture, an imagined scene or incident), dreams it, sometimes for hundreds of pages. He won't allow himself to do that here

So he lurches: now he's the anthropologist studying the somewhat alien culture, then we get sociology, now politics, and then culture. There's far more of these discussions thus far than any anecdotes or description, the latter of which he regards as something a guidebook might offer, but he doesn't really want to provide a guidebook. He uses the term once and with discomfort.

He is best when he moves into his own consciousness suddenly. He may be differentiating himself from what he is seeing or describing: he doesn't like to do what tourists do; he doesn't like to chase around to tourist attractions; he doesn't admire the General whose great plan murdered so many; this fact does not give Quebec a charm to him so he would have skipped chasing up a mountain after Wolfe: "I do not say this boastingly or with pride; but truly acknowledging a deficiency. I have never cared to sit in chairs in which old kings have sat or have their crowns upon their heads" (Ch 4, p. 52). He may regale us with an adventure in which he is involved: the mountain climb, life in an empty hotel, sitting with men who have no conversation. Then we get some perception about the cultural values or realities the dramatic scene he is part of embodied.

He doesn't think this is enough. He must amuse. He must provide hard facts. He must especially provide exhortations and encouragement to his readers to take a right view of commerce, understand a war, a country's policy. Only then has he fulfilled his idea of this genre which like the novel he thinks is meant to help people understand themselves and improve their lot.

He's struggling with this genre and it seems to me he is very uncomfortable with two kinds of travel literature:

* part memoir, a piece of autobiography, story of a person's life during that span of time when he (or she) was away from the place he considered home;

* not a guide book for it is not written on the premise the reader is going to visit the place but rather on the premise she (or he) is not.

Trollope's book on Australia is in fact written to encourge people to emigrate.

He is trying for another kind:

* travel literature as fact and travel literature as political-reportage- polemic.

He also tries for 2 and 4 excepts he eschews the imaginative:

* imaginative description and fantasy based on information culled from books, the experience of the place, people met and talked to while there, a place foreign to him in some way, which is presumed to be foreign to the imagined average reader;

* the imaginative recreation of the place (armchair travelling) is combined with an examination of the culture through fresh eyes as the same time as the author re-examines his own culture.

There's the rub once more. Trollope is determined not to be imaginative but an accurate mirror. In his novels his great strength derives from his letting his consciousness lead him to truths. Not that his intelligence is awry or lacks authenticity: the title of his book shows that he was politically correct 100 years ahead of his time. Canadians are as much North Americans as USians.


Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002
North America, Chs 4 -6: Contemporary Contexts

Hello all

In the introduction to 'North America', Trollope signals that he wants to focus on political arrangements rather than just what he calls 'social details,' so drawing a contrast between his own book and that of his mother. Politics are certainly in the foreground in this week's chapters, as he wrestles with the question of whether Canada - or "the Canadas" as they were then - should seek independence from Britain.

The book was written in the heyday of the British Empire, so I suspect contemporary readers might well have been surprised to discover that Trollope felt Canada was bound to become independent in the longer term. He argues strongly that it is simply untenable for a large country in North America to be governed forever from Downing Street, and he suggests that the greater vitality he has observed in the US is a consequence of its self-government.

"It may be that a dependent country, let the feeling of dependence be ever so much modified by powers of self-governance, cannot hold its own against countries which are in all respects their own masters."

We've had some discussion about whether 'North America' is primarily aimed at British or American readers, but here it is very clear that Trollope is looking to Britain, and wanting to persuade his readers that the Empire cannot continue in its current form indefinitely. In Chapter 6 he writes:

"A wish that British North America should ever be severed from England, or that the Australian colonies should ever be so severed, will by many Englishmen be deemed unpatriotic. But I think that such severance is to be wished if it be the case that colonies standing alone would become more prosperous than they are under British rule."

He is clearly aware that he is walking something of a tightrope here, and repeatedly stresses that he does not feel now is the right time for Canadian independence, with Civil War in the US and no great movement for independence. However, he shows political acuteness in arguing that a degree of self-government will not be enough forever - in the long run, Canadians will not want to see another country's military and economic needs put before their own.

I was interested to see that Trollope seems to look forward to the Commonwealth by arguing that colonies should be "allowed to depart" and seek their own place in the world without war and bloodshed, and also suggesting that Canada will want to keep a monarch even once it has achieved independence.

There is a strong paternalistic quality to much of this, as he refers to Canada as a "child-nation" and refers to Britain as both father and mother in turn. He argues that Britain should run the colonies for their own benefit rather than its own - "...the one object should be the prosperity of the colonists; and not profit, nor glory, nor even power to the parent country."

It would be interesting to know how critics responded to this at the time. Has anybody come across any contemporary criticism from writers in either Canada or Britain?

Although Trollope was of course proved right in the long term about the inevitability of Canadian and Australian independence, he was wrong in some ways about the outcome of the American Civil War. He always supported the North and thought it would win, but he believed it was inevitable that the South would eventually secede in one form or another.

I especially like the passage in Chapter 6 where Trollope questions the concept of unthinking patriotism, and mocks the original verse of 'God save the King' (this verse is never sung now!) which runs:

'O Lord our God arise,
Scatter his enemies
And make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all!'

With the reality of war all too near at hand, Trollope saw the horror of that "and make them fall". I'll quote part of the passage: "It was some fine fury of patriotic feeling which enabled the national poet to put into the mouth of every Englishman that horrible prayer with regard to our enemies, which we sing when we want to do honour to our sovereign. It did not seem to him that it might be well to pray that their hearts might be softened, and our own hearts softened also. National success was all that a patriotic poet could desire, and therefore in our national hymn have we gone on imploring the Lord to arise and scatter our enemies; to confound their politics, whether they be good or ill; and to expose their knavish tricks - such knavish tricks being taken for granted... Any patriotism must be poor which desires glory or even profit for a few at the expense of the many, even though the few be brothers and the many aliens. As a rule patriotism is a virtue only because man's aptitude for good is so finite, that he cannot see and comprehend a wider humanity. He can hardly bring himself to understand that salvation should be extended to Jew and Gentile alike." This whole passage should give pause to anybody who sees Trollope as just the bluff old English conservative with roast beef on the table and hunting, shooting and fishing by way of entertainment. His writing shows that he was far too sensitive to the feelings of others ever to fit this mould very comfortably.
Of course, there is some prejudice in Trollope's works, as with any 19th-century writer - in our read of 'The Landleaguers', we've just seen the unfortunate anti-Semitism in his portrayal of Moss. But this passage shows how brilliantly he could rise above such stereotypes.
Although political discussion tends to dominate in these chapters, there are also some interesting "social details". In Chapter 4, I was amused by Trollope's horror at the mail-driver who stayed at home because it was "raining some" - clearly not something he would have allowed from any of the postmen under his jurisdiction! We also catch a rare glimpse of Rose's determination when we hear that she decided to "see the top of the Owl's Head or die in the attempt" after being told that only young women normally climbed the mountain. Trollope's account of their disastrous attempt at mountaineering is funny to read, but it can't have been quite so funny at the time.
He was clearly impressed by the lumberjacks - it's interesting that they didn't drink while at work, but only during holidays, something which reminds me of the accounts of the Australian miners in 'John Caldigate'. I suppose if you were doing this sort of demanding physical work you couldn't dare to drink while on duty, but you were likely to break out somewhere along the line.
The wood-framed streets he describes puzzle me - I can't picture these in my mind at all. I suppose they must all have been replaced by a more durable road surface many years ago.
Another thing which puzzled me was the reference to filibusters wandering over the border from the US to Canada - I had only come across the word "filibuster" in reference to a time-wasting procedure in Parliament. However, I found a helpful definition at www.xrefer.com and thought I'd pass it on for anybody else who might share my confusion:


Originally piratical adventurers or freebooters who pillaged the Spanish colonies in the 17th century. Subsequently it was used of anyone who engaged in unauthorized war against foreign states. This meaning led to its use to describe speakers in the US Congress, British parliament, or any other assembly seeking to delay legislation by making long speeches to obstruct business. Oxford Paperback Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press 1998

Bye for now
Judy Geater

At 15:24 17/03/02, Judy Geater wrote:

The wood-framed streets he describes puzzle me - I can't picture these in my mind at all. I suppose they must all have been replaced by a more durable road surface many years ago.

Are the "boardwalks", as for example were (are?) in Atlantic City, an example of these?

Rory O'Farrell

To Trollope-l

March 23, 2000

Re: North America: Sudden Moments; Trollope's Sympathy for Catholicism

On Trollope's analogy of Catholicism and childhood, there is a tradition of Anglican polemics against Catholicism which goes back to the later 17th century. Repeatedly the accusation is made that because you can confess your sins and be absolved by a priest, because you are "told what to believe", you are in the position of a child. He sees this submission as anti-intellectual, as a posture which discourages original thought. Here we can see an analogy with Freud's comment that women had not written as brilliantly, had not gone as far intellectually as men because from a very young age they have been taught to repress their appetites and desires, to deny their own thoughts. Finally, Trollope is picking up on the idea which was in the air that Protestantism and the capitalist work ethic go together.

I'd agree that the passage is memorable not so much for what it says but for the sudden sense of an intense yearning pull I like the phrase "memorable poignancy", but note how in the last phrase Trollope reins himself in ("if that were possible"):

"And yet I love their religion. There is something beautiful and almost divine in the faith and obedience of a true son of the Holy Mother. I sometimes fancy that I would fain be a Roman Catholic, -- if I could; as also I would often wish to be still a child, if that were possible" (Ch 4, p 53)

I wish there were more such moments in North America.

Still Trollope is the cultural anthropologist more than the poet and an insightful one. His portrait of French Catholic Quebec, and its people "quietly, orderly, unimpulsive" reminded me of Willa Cather's Shadow and the Rock where she similarly characterized French Catholic Canada.


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