Anthony Trollope's "Two Heroines of Plumplington"

Written 1882 (June or by June)
Published 1882 (December), Good Cheer, the Christmas Number of Good Words

Edward John Gregory (1850-1909), Marooning, 1887

From Jill Spriggs:

Subject: Short Stories: "The Two Heroines of Plumplington"

Around last Christmas I posted on this story, thinking, in error, that we would be discussing the Christmas stories on Christmas week. With a few minor modifications, I am reposting this at the correct, much later, time.

"The Two Heroines of Plumplington" is one of two short stories published after Anthony Trollope's death (the other is "Not If I know It"). I will quote from the introduction to the Trollope Society edition of The Christmas Stories:

"Published posthumously in Good Cheer, the Christmas edition of Good Words in 1882, [The Two Heroines of Plumplington] is both unique and representative of his work. It is unique because it is the only one of his short stories set in Barsetshire; it is representative because it expounds on his favorite theme, the politics of love and society. The story comes after a lifetime spent observing and recording with keenly accurate details the habits of men and women in the ways of the world. He was, as Sadleir has said, socially speaking the wisest of English novelists, and it is that wisdom which makes "The Two Heroines of Plumplington" the culmination of the comic war waged in the name of social politics." "The Two Heroines of Plumplington" also gives the lie to the idea that increasing bitterness with life led to the darkening of Anthony Trollope's writing. This is as light and happy a story as they come, and a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so.

Emily Greenmantle and Polly Peppercorn were the only daughters (and only children) of elderly widowers. They were friends in spite of a social gulf between the two. Mr. Greenmantle (his Christian name was never used in the story, that I can ascertain) was the manager of the local bank with aristocratic aspirations; he desired his daughter Emily to make a match with the young Harry Gresham. "Emily Greenmantle did not incline her ear that way," and instead set her heart on Philip Hughes, a cashier in her father's bank. Hickory Peppercorn was foreman (I believe the equivalent of our plant manager) of the local brewery. Polly's undesirable prospective bridegroom came in the shape of a young malt salesman named Jack Hollycombe. Each father was obdurate in his disapproval, and each daughter persistent in the face of opposition.

The two girls were friends. Another point in common for the two families, was a friendship with Dr. Freeborn, the local clergyman. Each daughter went to Dr. Freeborn, for moral support. Each father was compelled to listen, if not willingly, at least courteously, to his remonstrances for their obstructions to young love.

"But Emily Greenmantle was somewhat differently circumstanced from Polly Peppercorn. Emily was afraid of her father's sternness, whereas Polly was not in the least afraid of her governor, as she was wont to call him. Old Hickory was, in a way, afraid of Polly." But Mr. Greenmantle would also find himself to be vulnerable to Emily.

Polly used guerilla tactics to overcome her father's objections. "No disrespect was shown to her father, not a word was heard from her mouth that was not affectionate or at least decorous. But she took upon herself at once a certain lowering of her own social standing. She never drank tea with Emily Greenmantle, or accosted her in the street with her old friendly manner. She was terribly humble to Dr. Freeborn, who however would not acknowledge her humility on any account. 'Let me have none of your stage plays or I shall take you and shake you.' ... But Polly performed her greatest stroke in reference to a change in her dress. All her new silks, that had been the pride of her father's heart, were made to give way to old stuff gowns. People wondered where the old gowns, which had not been seen for years, had been stowed away. ... all Plumplington knew that Polly was fitting herself, as regarded her outside garniture, to be the wife of Jack Hollycombe with 40 s. a week. ... [Hickory Peppercorn] could only tear his hair and greet, and swear to himself that under no such artillery as this would he give way. ... She might make him very unhappy by wearing dowdy clothes, but she would not quite break his heart."

It was not only with her father that Polly exhibited her newfound humility, but she flashed it with some ostentation throughout the town. Poor Emily, who really needed all the friends she could get at this point, also was part of the show. No longer was she "Emily" to Polly, but "Miss Greenmantle". " ' A girl has to begin where her husband begins; and as I mean to be Jack's wife I have to fit myself for the place. ... You're a lady bred and born, and Mr. Hughes is a gentleman. Father tells me that a man who goes about the country selling malt isn't a gentleman." Emily used her strongest argument with Polly: " ' Dr. Freeborn says that you and I are not to quarrel. I am sure I don't see why we should.' ... [Polly responded] 'Your papa and my father are not the same. ... One is a gentleman, and the other isn't. That's the long and short of it. I oughtn't to have gone to your house drinking tea and the rest of it; and I oughtn't to have called you Emily. ... Dr. Freeborn mustn't quite have it all his own way. Of course Dr. Freeborn is everything in Plumplington; and when I'm Jack's wife I'll do what he tells me again.' "

Mr. Greenmantle was not the type to shout and slam doors as was Mr. Peppercorn, but " ... he had pressed his lips together till there was no lip really visible. And he had raised his forehead on high till it looked as though one continuous poker descended from the crown of his head passing through his entire body." It seemed that the Peppercorns were two irresistible forces, and the Greenmantles were two immovable objects. Mr. Greenmantle may have had his severe sternness to scare acquiescence from Emily, but she had internal melancholy and outward misery on her side, which to a fond parent like Mr. Greenmantle would be just as difficult to bear as Polly's sackcloth for her father.

In the introduction, Betty Breyer commented on Anthony Trollope's slipping in social commentary with his romances, which is evident in the following passage: "The Peppercorns and the Greenmantles were looked down upon almost from an equal height [by Dr. Freeborn]. Now Mr. Greenmantle considered himself to be infinitely superior to Mr. Peppercorn, and to be almost, if not altogether, equal to Dr. Freeborn. He was much the richer of the two, and his money was quite sufficient to outweigh a century or two of blood." Dr. Freeborn could enumerate his ancestors to Charles I, while his wife could, to James I. Blood made him a gentleman, while Mr. Greenmantle felt his money made him one. Did the fact that Mr. Greenmantle had more money than Mr. Peppercorn make him more of a gentleman, or was it that banking was a more genteel occupation than brewing? "The one great line of demarcation in the world was that which separated gentlemen from non-gentlemen. ... There could be no doubt that he was on the right side of the line of demarcation. He was therefore quite determined that his daughter should not marry the Cashier in his bank." Emily's point of view differed from her father's: "In her eyes Philip Hughes was quite as good a gentleman as her father. He was the son of a clergyman who was now dead, but had been intimate with Dr. Freeborn. And in the natural course of events might succeed her father as manager of the bank." In the course of a tense meal with her father, Emily stumbled upon the means for her victory. Unable from tension to eat, she sat and, " ... now a tear trickled from her eye down her nose as she gazed upon the empty plate."

To combat the potential for weakness in the face of his daughter's depression, Mr. Greenmantle determined to take Emily to the south of France. To his aggravation, Mr. Peppercorn decided this would also be a good idea for him and Polly. Polly flew to Emily with the news, instigated by Dr. Freeborn, who knew that Mr. Greenmantle would be appalled by the idea of doing the same thing as Mr. Peppercorn. The idea was abandoned.

Emily, being a "gentleman's" daughter, was "delicate". She began to "pine' from the stress of her unsettled situation. The doctor was sent for, medication prescribed, her condition did not improve. The doctor began coming twice a day, and numerous neighbors began inquiring anxiously after Emily's health. Mr. Greenmantle was unhappy; "It was a cruel case. The money was his money, and the girl was his girl, and the young man was his clerk. He ought according to the rules of justice in the world to have had plenary power over them all. But it had come to pass that his power was nothing. What is a father to do when a young lady goes to bed and remains there? And how is soft-hearted father to make any use of his money when all his neighbors are against him?"

Polly, sensing that Mr. Greenmantle was giving way, used this as added ammunition against her own father. The two stern fathers had been forced to give way, and Christmas dinner at the Freeborns' included both fathers, daughters, and successful lovers.

Jill Spriggs

To Trollope-l

May 17, 1998

Re: Short Story: "The Two Heroines of Plumpington"

To Jill's splendid posting I can only add this piquant autobiographical source for the depiction of Mr Greenmantle, the bank manager, and his daughter, Emily:

Rose Heseltine's father was a bank manager; the real-life situation is slightly reversed: while on the one hand Trollope was a postal clerk (about the equivalent of Philip Hughes as a cashier in the bank), he also had a lineage which included land-owning squires and lawyers and higher clergymen. According to Victoria Glendinning, given Rose's father's appallingly bad house (supposed to reek of a bad sewer system), and the lack of a lineage behind them or anyone who had gone to university, Mrs Frances Trollope might have felt her son was going down in the world--if of course she cared or thought such a phrase was applicable to a son who had been a postal clerk for many years, was now a surveyor's assistant in the backwaters of Ireland, and had not himself gone to university. In any case in real life there would have been subtle class conflicts to be adjudicated between the young couple and their different sets of relatives.

Let us recall that Anthony and Rose did not marry right away, and when they did, they went to live in lodgings. It was then quite a well before they could afford to rent a house, and many years later before Trollope become the successful novelists, Mr Trollope who invented Barsetshire and they moved to England and bought a house. lendinning describes their earliest household in Ireland with a faithful male servant (Irish) who stayed with them for many years into their time in England. Mostly the servants in Ireland went barefoot. Here we have a series of economic realities and different kinds of social types and classes which again would have affected their earliest years together.

Glendinning feels a good deal of the social feel of Trollope's memories of his courting of Rose and their earliest times together went into the creation of "The Two Heroines."

Thanking Jill for her lovely post which conveyed the mood of the story. Yes this and Ayala's Angel are two stories which show the old man was not so gloomy as stories like Mr Scarborough's Family suggest. Then again the sad poignancy of An Old Man's Love and the Swiftian ironies of The Fixed Period tell another story.

Ellen Moody

Most unhappily I appear to have lost two emails in one of which Duffy Pratt said he read this story as parodic and "tongue-in-cheek".

To Trollope-l

May 24, 1998

Re: Short Story: "The Two Heroines of Plumpington"

In response to this week's postings suggesting another way of reading "The Two Heroines", John Sutherland offers us some interesting comments in the notes in the back of his edition. Sutherland says Trollope had told someone "he could not do another Barchester story." I wonder what this sentence signifies. That he was just too tired? But then he would say I cannot do another story. When he wrote Ralph the Heir_ he remarked there is something distasteful or embarrassing to him in being an old man and still writing love stories. Is it that he associates Barchester with love stories? But they are far more than that; they are about class conflict and this story is that.

Perhaps he means he cannot get up the emotion appropriate to the characteristic overarching benevolence of such stories. Perhaps. Does this mean they were an act? If they were in a way, this might account for the feeling someone had this story is parodic, tongue-in-cheek.

I find the comment interesting and perhaps in it (if we could get the inner jist of what he means) a key to understanding the feel and themes of the story.

Ellen Moody

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