December 18, 2000
Re: Is He Popenjoy?, Chs 59-64: Finale
I thought I would highlight two passages in this final instalment of our novel, one an apparent anomaly, the other slightly uncanny.
The anomaly is Trollope suddenly putting into the Dean's mouth a justification for his behavior throughout the novel. I seem to hear Trollope's own voice ringing throught the Dean's tone -- not only Trollope's but that of many another Victorian adventurer (among them Darwin when he travelled through South America). It's anomalous because were we to follow it for real, there would be no ranks, no artificial hierarchy based on rank rather than achievement, and Trollope has, after all, chosen to write about people who justify their extistence, gain all their pride from their titles". The Dean has just rejoiced openly at the death of the Marquis and Mary objects, to which the Dean answers:
'I thank God that he has gone. I cannot bring myself to lie about it. I hate such lying. To me it is unmanly. Grief or joy, regrets or satisfaction, when expressed, should always be true. It is a grand thing to rise in the world. The ambition to do so is the very salt of the earth. It is the parent of all enterrprise, and the cause of all improvement (Folio Society, IHP, Ch 61, p. 489).
However, before we can rest here we must remember a full resounding paragraph by the narrator, one not ironic, in which he calls the Dean's ambition for a title, his one weakness was his ambition which made him sell his daugther to get the grandchild with the title:
. . . 'He had been subject to one weakess which had marred a manliness which would otherwise have been great. He, who should have been proud of the lowliness of his birth, and have known that the brightest feather in his cap was the fact that having been humbly born (p; 499).
The uncanny passage is one which bears an uncanny similarity to one in Dr Thorne. People may remember that the Greshams are threatened with a court suit, they fear the 'worst' (loss of the case, mortification about their own family members' 'failing' A robust Dr Thorne dismisses it all as nonsence. Among others, Mary Thorne might be involved. Here too we find a Mary called to jury duty, and the Dean, as unintimated as Dr Thorne never was. The lines are strongly reminiscent:
'Mary made the whole journey in perfect safety, and then was able to tell her father the whole story. "I never heard of anything so absurd in all my life"
"I suppose I must go, Papa?
"Not a yard" (Ch 60, p. 477).
How conscious Trollope was that he had returned to this pair, we cannot know. However, some of the similiarities in language and jest are so typical and consistent it seem self-aggrandising (to the reader) to insist Trollope did all this by mistake, in a fit of absence of mind.
Not so. He was in fact more alert: he sees this father- daughter pair much more deeply and detachedly.
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Was who Popenjoy?
I have been waiting until the group finishes reading Is He Popenjoy? before posting the following extract from an article by Margaret Markwick entitled "A Young Man's Jack" in Trollopiana No. 42, dated August 1998. The article principally deals with the idea that many lines in Trollope's novels were so carefully constructed that he was able to introduce a number of suggestive ideas and vulgar jokes without being likely to offend his middle class and largely female readers. I shall wait until we get to John Caldigate before referring to what Markwick thinks we might hear as a use of the f - word.
There are two paragraphs dealing with Is He Popenjoy?. The first summarises the story of the novel, and concludes with the sentence "Only the news of Mary's pregnancy brings about reconciliation and better understanding". The second paragraph is as follows :-
"The book is full of dates, and the importance of dates. Exactly when did the Marquis marry, and when was his son born? Letters, of which there are many, are precisely dated. Thus we know that George and Mary go to London on 31 January, and they intend staying there until the beginning of July. Mrs. Montacute-Jones' dance, where Mary dances the fateful Kappa-Kappa, is held on 10 June and Mary and George part two days later. Mary's baby is said to be due on April Fool's day, a sure sign that someone is about to be duped. He is actually born towards the end of the second week in April. Trollope's hidden joke here is that he gives Mary a ten and a half month pregnancy. Is he Popenjoy? Is Trollope pulling our leg?"
I find the idea great fun, although I think that it is far more likely that Trollope counted wrongly when fixing his dates, rather than that the baby was really a wrong-side-of-the-blanket de Baron. Mary and Jack did not meet after the Kappa-Kappa incident until Jack calls at the Deanery in Chapter LIV, apparently in August.
The question then arises as to when Mary's child was conceived. I follow Margaret Markwick in her view that the marriage was not consummated until after the long discussion between George and Mary in Chapter XXXV (Trollope Society edition p. 276), which culminates in her saying "You must either trust me or we must part". Trollope ends this paragraph with the sentence "Then she put her arm round his neck, and kissed him, and had conquered him." Bingo! Yes, I know that they were at breakfast, but most couples will know that it's only a step back to the bedroom. Once again, this would mean that the child was conceived in the early days of June, so that we are still faced with the ten and a half month pregnancy. We know, however, that Trollope could be sloppy with names and other details relating to his characters, and I think that in this case miscounting must be the most likely explanation.
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000
Subject: Re: [trollope-l] Was who Popenjoy?
I hesitate to bring up such a crass unpleasant suggestion, but given the dates of Mary's pregnancy and, who was where at the time of conception, Was the Dean on hand during the critical time frame? I am guessing that either this was meant as a joke of Trollope's, or more likely the calendar got away from him. Surely Popenjoy cannot be so directly out of a livery stable.
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Was who Popenjoy?
I don't have the book here with me, but I do remember that when I saw
the word June mentioned towards the end of their time in London, I
thought it was a typo and wrote in July, as they were supposed to leave
in the first half of July. Then I had to go back and cross out what I
had written after seeing June written again. so there was some confusion
at least in my mind. It doesn't of course follow that there was
confusion in Trollope's mind, (God forbid anyone else should be confused
when I am; the world would cease to function) but it is a possibility.
And actually, didn't George and Mary spend a few hours together when he
visited her in the Dean's house? Pat
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Is He Popenjoy?, Ch 53-64: The Return to Ironic Comedy
I have just read Howard's fun posting -- and Pat's response about the illustrations.
I can understand the illustrator wanting to finally show Mary as pregnant, but in the text Jack does not know that she is so until later, at dinner. It seems somewhat unlikely that he would have said so much if he had known. Pat
Well, maybe, but then again maybe not. Some men are more attracted to women when they are pregnant than when they are not. A real -- not partly emasculated the way he is in some of the scenes of this book -- de Baron might not have cared. I have seen this in real life on occasion (as when a man marries a woman pregnant by another man) and dramatised in books many times (especially when the story is about the upper classes, and that includes medieval literature). Given the class and sophistication of the milieu Trollope is suggesting, to limit any character by bourgeois inhibitions or distastes, would be a failure of the imagination on our part. Maybe we should all read Margaret Markwick's take on Jack and Mary and regale ourselves with that. A robust animal feel about people is part of Trollope's sensibility.
This action of this week's final chapters are all a consequence of the death of the Marquis. This is the turning point of the book after which its tone changes back to what it was at the start, though it also seems to lose some impelling motive power. Tension suddenly decreases, we have almost a collapse into denouement, and we return to the shallowly modelled comedy of its opening. Throughout the most important element in the whole bok has been its tone: astringent, detached, slightly jaundiced, with fitful gleams here and there of warmth or kindliness on the part of this or that character or the narrator. This is now to the fore.
I am aware people have objected to my characterisations of the book's heroine. Dagny wrote of her response to Adelaide's letter -- the very last scene in which we are allowed to come near Mary's consciousness -- that it was just as it should be, for such anger, spite, rejection, is what a real woman would feel about Adelaide, and it is just like what Lily felt towards MD. I agree it's realistic, but would demur that the tone of the narrator towards Mary in the paragraph is wholly different from the tone of the narrator towards Lily; that after Lily's rejection of the letter, we are given long paragraphs of sympathy towards Lily, that the whole design of the book is to end on Lily as a tragic grave figure. Not so Mary. She has had real moments of nobility: they all occurred in her confrontations with her husband in the middle of the book. In fact, she contrasted beautifully with Trollope's Emily Trevelyan in these. She held firm without taunting; she made no effort to arouse more jealousy; she managed to get him to talk a little, and herself explained her case.
However, on the whole this is not the Mary Trollope has emphasised and not the one he ends on. Characters are not people; they exist inside books, are part of a design, and to end the book this way is to end on a cat fight. If we speak of them as people apart from the tone in which they presented, the design or structure of the book (Lily's scene occurs 2/3s the way through The Small House; it is not the last moment we see her), its themes, we miss what the author is saying to us through the book. As we have learned in the American election, legitimacy is not the same thing as what is ethically right or sound: Mary is the legitimate quieter unconscious and in the long run will be the stronger cat that's all. As the reviewers at the time wrote, Trollope is insistent throughout the novel on the point that her marriage was a wholly manipulated one, a coercion into conformity which lays bare that individual love is a fable. This Mary is a Mrs Montacute Jones in the making, with the important difference is she originally had a heart and has a weak husband. Who can imagine George beating Mary? She has ever been good at rationalising her motives and ignoring what is unpleasant in herself: the difference between the daughter and the father figure in this book is that the father figure can see clearly what are his motives and not blench (very like the Marquis).
The frequently barbed edge in Mary's words is indicative of her intensity as a result of what she has given up without much thinking it out. As dramatized or presented in this book this female is an instinctive creature who doesn't see herself altogether clearly. Note her very last words, the last dramatized words given her in the book. Lord George is now pushing her into giving up her house on the grounds his is the grander one and it is her duty to move into it :) This is just the sort of hilarious irony the book offers throughout, a showing of how the cant of virtue is used to justify self-aggrandisement at every turn. George too insists on her love for him:
'"But loving me as I know you do, I am sure you will not neglect your duty. Do not say again that you hate your dignity. You must never forget now that you are Marchioness of Brotherton".
"I never shall, George".
"That is right, my dear", he said, omitting to understand the little satire conveyed in her words' (Folio Society, IHP, introd. DSkilton, Ch 62, p. 495).
It's not clear whether George is dense or prefers to ignore the implied aggression Mary gets into that phrase. At one point in the book the narrator says both of them are rather dull. Nonetheless, Mary never shall forget she is Marchioness of Brotherton. She ought not to. This is her reward and it has cost her. Her reward has been all the luxuries and parties the Dean wanted for her. It is in fact good that she is not a Lily, but then Lily would never have been brought to such a bargain.
do agree with Dagny, though, that this bringing to the fore a group of letters at the novel's close is important. It keeps the action at a distance from us; were we to come up close to these characters the distaste for what is implied in the last three letters -- filled as they are with exultations over money, over little Giblets and little Popenjoys -- would overturn the book into a The Way We Live Now.
In this last instalment we have several satiric turns which bring home to us the serendipity of rank, its absurdities. The scene of the opening of the will is one. Lord Jack de Baron is alive to the irony that he is given the Marquis's money. But this does happen. It's amusing to see who ends up controlling copyright of author's books after they die. Often the very sorts of people the author most castigated in said book. Irony upon irony, this means he must marry poor Gus. I would have liked to sympathise with Gus in this book; but even more than with Mary, Trollope won't permit it. There is a reference to Gus's loss of her sexual virginity before the engagement was broken up as the real reason Jack de Baron finally married her: 'a sense of what was due to the lady prevailed with him at last', Ch 64, p. 508, a few lines further down from the one that suggest Mary and George are now having satisfied sex). Not only are we given Mary's scorn for her, but the narrator never tires of presenting Gus as a sad case, something no man would want to get stuck with.
I also would have liked to sympathise with Adelaide but she is presented as so much poison. Her last letter compares with Mrs Montacute Jones. The phoniness of each syllable in all three grate: this is a world of posing, endless supposedly gay posturing on the top of squalid motives, sombre choices.
I will divide this posting in half as the rest is about the calendar of the book.
: Is He Popenjoy?: The Underlying Calendar
I generally concur with Margaret Markwick as summarised by Howard Merkin's posting, though I too do not see any evidence for a pre-marital consummation between Mary and Jack. (Just think of the movie Markwick would make: we would have to watch Jack move from Gus's bed to Mary's -- then of course that hot scene between the ladies would make modern sense). A study of the calendar of Is He Popenjoy? doest reveal remarkable things. Being someone who likes to debate, I now wonder about the calendar's accuracy. There are three articles on The Way We Live Now, a book written (and rewritten several times), just around the time of Is He Popenjoy?. P. D. Edwards and a couple of other scholars have, like Margaret Markwick, really studied this calendar and find it mostly consistent. From my studies of Austen's books I know much can be found out about the book's design and ironies by drawing out its particular calendar and just had an essay, 'A Calendar for S&S published in Philological Quarterly, a very venerable scholarly journal where I demonstrated that S&S was originally epistolary based on its calendar.)
We can disagree when consummation or satisfactory sex started with Mary and George, and disagree with Markwick, but that does not obviate or preclude her sense of the book's sardonic jokes at its center. Markwick's way of talking about the new Popenjoy reminds me of Mrs Montacute Jones's way of talking about the little Giblet and the new little Popenjoy in the same breath (Ch 63, p. 503). A whole 'nother novel is caught up in little. We have been hearing about the Giblets all along: another young woman forced into a loveless marriage. If we feel we must reject a pre-marital liaison between Mary and Jack, we need not think that the new Mrs Giblet was a virgin before she married. The joke of course is no one really cares how the new Popenjoy or Giblet came to be. All that matters to each individual is that his candidate get in there, so he shall have the money and prestige. The Dean was all agog to look into the Marquis's sex life; he turns his face away from his daughter and pretends not to see she and Jack are still intensely attracted to one another in that final scene together between them which Aldous was right to call our attention to.
Is He Popenjoy?: In the Opening was the Ending
Let us return to the opening of this book. There Trollope refused to allow us to enter his book easily; he insisted he was a storyteller and this a story. He mocked his own fiction and his role as moralist for the bourgeois with their self-satisfied delicately psychologised stories. He said he is in his way writing a story just such as the one the reader may come across in railway stalls or the most squalid divorce case. His story of the little Popenjoy (we may now say) is 'in nature akin' to the following:
'You remember Mary Walker. Oh yes, you do -- that pretty girl, but such a queer temper! And how she was engaged to marry Harry Jones, and said she wouldn't at the church door, till her father threatened her with bread and water; and how they have been living ever after as happy as two turtle-doves down in Devonshire, till that scoundrel, Lieutenant Smith, went to Bideford! Smith has been found dead at the bottom of a saw-pit Nobody's sorry for him. She's in a madhouse at Exeter; and Jones has disappeared, and couldn't have had more than thirty shillings in his pocket' (Ch 1, p. 1).
Lady George Germaine (how that's a wonderful pun, including in it as it does her taking over of her husband's strength), oops!, Marchioness of the Brotherton (which she shall never forget), or poor Mary Lovelace that was may not seem to us a Mary Walker. Trollope has done the middle class thing. Made the story 'intelligible' to us, palatable to us, and therefore acceptable, by turning it into material that we can identify with. However, he has not lied; he has not pretended, he has not prettied his story up. At the book's close we can see the parallel once again through the introduction of the little Giblet and the Giblet's marriage. Baron will not be found dead at the bottom of a saw-pit; our Jones or George will not disappear. He has hung on admirably. He has sat by his mean brother and watched him die; he has endured his wife in bed, and finally pleased her. He has become the Dean's son-in-law. There is an Oedipal joke here too.
This has been a fascinating book. It is only my second time straight through, the first time I have read it with care. I don't think it will ever be my favorite book by Trollope; I'm not even sure I like it very much. I know I don't like how Trollope's attitude towards sexual satisfaction emerges again and again as finally or somehow unimportant in the scheme of things, though I grant he's right that for many people far more important is their power over other people in the public world and how they are perceived by others. It is though highly intelligent and takes real effort to begin to understand. The ironies multiple to the point that we are in one of those Henry James novels where we are left looking at the dappled light on the leaves rather than the sun. The difference here is the dappled light has not been sunny, but a cool white with little emotion. Not that this is a wholly controlled book. Something is bothering Mr Trollope, and it has to do with his presentation of George, to which conception he will keep returning to the end of the career -- think of An Old Man's Love, of the aspects of Trollope, his wife, Rose, and his great love, Kate Field, as they emerge there.
Cheers to all,