Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Is He Popenjoy?, Chs 53-59: Is it Misogynous?
As we near the end of the book, I'd like to throw out a speculation that intrigued me this morning as I was reading an essay in the _New York Review of Books_ this morning in which an 18th century scholar summarised some conclusions other scholars have made after reading some misogynous commonplace books. I am not sure, nay, don't even think that Is He Popenjoy? can be explained in a balanced way, a way that takes into consideration the book as a whole, as a misogynous vision, but from what I read it does fit into a typical misogynous design. This can be epitomised as narratives in which we find inadequate males or males who are un-sexed, get no sex, and women who are voracious, strong or cold and calculating. Manipulative pullers of strings with the men as puppets.
What I like about examining this book in terms of this paradigm is it makes sense of the presence of the Baroness Banman who otherwise seems a sort of excrescence on the book, not really intriniscally related. It makes sense of George who some have gone so far as to see as not having any sex with Mary (though we can see this goes too far). It makes sense of the hopeless Marquis. He is hopeless. Who did he marry? He runs away from life to where he hates and is hated. It also, for me, makes sense of what I feel to be Trollope's silence dislike or hostility to Mary which in this week's instalment came out in her scene with the feeble Lord Jack de Baron (well feeble when he confronts her), one where her blindness and obtusenes to her own desires and aggression parallels her behavior in her scene with Guss Mildmay, to whom she is superfluously spiteful, and her scene not so much with Adelaide Houghton (though she was remarkably sneering in that one) as right afterwards and in her commanding words to her husband which the narrator's silence makes me feel he wants us to be put off by (Folio Society, IHP, introd. DSkilton, Ch 55, pp. 435-36, Ch 59, pp. pp. 470, 472). It makes sense of the emasculated role Baron plays. It brings in the Disabilities. All are disabled :).
Are not our men -- except for the Dean -- inadequate, feeble, & useless. The women in the book are martial and manipulative. Those women who are decent are dense and determined These last two weeks Trollope has insisted on the pitfulness of the Marquis of Brotherton, who like Jack de Baron, is as feeble and inadequate as George. Adelaide brushes them both off with a wave of her hand, a word. Brotherton is someone who couldn't face the reality that some people are sycophants (e.g, Mr Groschut) so instead of dismissing them from his mind, he built a picture of the world based on them. That's the point of the scenes between him and Groschut. The Dean was strong because the Dean could brush Groschut off. There were moments in this week's instalments when Jack de Baron looked forward to Anthony Powell's Stringham in A Dance to the Music of Time (Ch 59, p. 467) We have said enough about George.
The only male who is strong is the Dean. But why? It's not just his physique. RJ made such a perceptive comment when he wrote:
'There is a parallel between the Marquis's disregard for the proprieties and the Dean's utter worldliness.'
We are startled at the Marquis's truthfulness because he says his truths in front of people who will protest. The Dean only says in front of his daugher and other family members that he thinks the baby would be better off dead, or at least they would be, that he looks forward to the death of the Marquis. He covers up this total lack of obeying minimal proprieties by intoning on his duty towards his daughter, towards 'his own'. I found as hilariously hypocritical his comment to Mary that she must take the wealth and callow adulation she now will have because "You must take it all as God sends it, Mary" (Ch 59, p. 466) as the Marchioness of Brotherton's comment that Brotherton 'always had so much feeling' (Ch 59, p. 463) and it was 'George who would never behave properly'. The difference is the Dean gains strength from his ruthlessness.
Yet let's look at him from the point of view of sex. Who is his partner? He has no wife. He takes his satisfactions very vicariously. I don't see him as the Archdeacon Grantly because in The Warden the Archdeacon is a pocket cartoon, and in The Last Chronicle Trollope is sympathetic. In numbers of scenes in this week's instalment, Trollope is presenting them man in a context that is cold, distant, inviting us to look askance. He seems to grin from afar at his daughter's play games, and is strong insofar as she is obedient to him. His strength resides in her childlike strengths; she is narrow because she can't see any view but the rationales for herself she has been taught.
What are the women here? We have several very strong ones, none of whom are we led to like, as they are kept at a distance or presented in studiedly manipulative or dense lights: Mrs Montacute Jones with her matches of people who will be miserable (I was amused at Mary's indignation over someone marrying without being in love); Adelaide Hougton about whom I need say no more; Mary who will run her husband, and against whom Jack de Baron is described as helpless, aim inhibited. Guss is no bargain in her desperation. We see hardly any of her. The superficiality of Banman is not much different from the worldliness of Mrs Jones: I can see Mrs Jones in a T. S. Eliot poem, hear her voice in the 'Sweeney Todd' pieces. The exaggerated ultimate of all this is Baronness Banman. And Mrs Jones has banned her man too -- with good reason. They all ban their men: Adelaide bosses her, bullies him; Mary enforces her father's will; Jack must now choose between Guss and a cottage and 200 pounds or Penrim; he's take Guss rather than get some disease or die of inanition.
The strong woman who may be paralleled to the Dean is Lady Sarah. She is the least unfavorable character in the book. Odd how often Trollope likes these penurious self-deprived, self-repressed spinsters. She is at least just -- but in the manner of the Dean, knowing which side her bread is buttered on. Remember how thoroughly she ate her one chop. Pulverised it. But she was no match for Mary who pulled a Marquis on her by refuting her assertion that she loves Mary.
Even the weak woman, the Marchioness exerts the tyranny of the weak over everyone else. We are also given enough in the book to ask ourselves how her sons came to be what they are, given her.
have put the characters into the design. It fits a misogynous comically bad dream. We are in a patriarchy. Mary needs to bring forth a son, though the Dean says not to worry if it's a girl; there'll be another. But that's the surface; the depths show us something else.
From this point of view the Baroness Banman becomes a relevant thread in the book.
I don't say this is the only way one can see this book. Sometimes when we bring to bear on a narrative a hard-line perspective, bring out the colours and lines in it to sharp light we can see hidden impulses in it -- impulses that help explain why the atmosphere of this book is so arid, so jaundiced.
In response to RJ I wrote again this week:
Well said well, the Dean will have his grandchild a Marquis. Yes that is what is accomplished. And Trollope has showed us the underside of how this was managed. So what is meant?
Cheers to all,
December 15, 2000
Re: Is He Popenjoy?: Is it Misanthropic?
With so few (none in my opinion) likeable characters in the story, I see the point of view as misanthropic (as in humanity, not just men). But I don't think having a sympathetic character in the story would serve Trollope's end.
This book brought out an interesting response in me, one that very rarely happens when I read fiction--it made me angry. I didn't like seeing all the characters, in their individual ways, kowtowing to the principles they do. A representative quote that struck me in the last reading section was lady Susanna's lament upon hearing that Brotherton was subpoenaed: "But is it not horrible that people of rank should be made subject to such an annoyance!"
I sat back and tried to figure out why this book stirred my anger the way it did. It does a great job of blowing up the typical *fictional* notion that the virtuous gain the goods--rank, happiness in marriage, and so on. Virtue isn't important to these folks at all. Consider Mary, who offers money in place of sewing clothes for the poor. Money and rank talk, and for the characters in this story there's little else worth listening to.
A thought-provoking (and provoking!) book.
Re: Is He Popenjoy?: People of Rank Should Not be Subject to Such an Annoyance!
Remarks like Lady Susannah's hit sore spots, and she is not the only one to grate on one nerves. It's the complete unself-consciousness of the revelations, the lack of caution. It's realistic. People do talk in unguarded ways once they leave the public forum.
My guess is Trollope expected to get a rise out of his readers: there is a spirit of mischief in him. Think of how his writing Rachel Ray for the Rev Macleod; of course he knew his book would offend evangelical readers. For The Way We Live Now he gives the satirist's rationale of wanting to show us what we are, and he might have given the same rationale for Is He Popenjoy?, but the diffused anger at the obtuseness of so many of the characters is rather Trollope releasing his own emotional reactions to such behavior. The novel shows us how unconsciously obnoxious we are in a continual quiet sort of way. We don't notice it because it goes on all the time.
Cheers to all,
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] IHP: Mary's reaction to Adelaide
I agree with Ellen that there was nothing noble in Mary's actions when Adelaide came to visit her, and certainly nothing courteous, almost the height of discouresy. But why not? Mary had not invited Adelaide to her home--and it is her home. Why should she suffer guests she violently dislikes to come into her home. It's not like it was a social occasion where you sometimes do have to entertain people that are distasteful to you. Myself, I couldn't believe that Adelaide had the nerve to call upon Mary--what gall. Knowing how Mary felt, knowing how she (Adelaide) had attempted to seduce Mary's husband, it seems to me that Adelaide was the first to show discourtesy by visiting Mary uninvited.
Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000
Reply-To: email@example.com Subject: [trollope-l] IHP: The Final Letters
In this last segment Mary receives a letter from "the bad woman" Adelaide. I thought Mary's reaction was perfect. First she is surprised, furious that the woman would dare to write to her and thinks to throw the letter in the fire, unopened. Then curiosity gets the better of her, so she does open it and read it. So true to life, she had to see what the woman had dared to write.
I still chuckle too when I think of Lily Dale throwing a letter to the ground and stomping on it.