October 12, 2000
Re: Is He Popenjoy?: An Introduction: Not a Lot to Say About Editions or Reader Responses; Some Recent Essayists
The introduction to this book cannot be overlong. There's not a lot to say about the editions or reader responses. There is, first of all, very little on it in Trollope's An Autobiography. It was written just before Trollope turned to story of his life, and comes as part of the coda-conclusion. He does not speak very highly of it. A brief sentence in his text pretends to explain the title:
When The Prime Minister was finished, I at once began another novel, which is now completed in three volumes, and which is called Is He Popenjoy?. There are two Popenjoys in the book, one succeeding to the title held by the other; but as they are both babies, and do not in the course of the story progress beyond babyhood, the future readers, should the tale ever be published, will not be much interested in them. Nevertheless the story, as a story, is not I think amiss. Since that I have written still another three-volume novel, to which, very much in opposition to my publisher, I have given the name The American Senator.
To this Trollope later appended a footnote:
The American Senator and Popenjoy have since appeared, each with fair success. Neither of them have encountered that reproach which, in regard to The Prime Minister, seemed to tell me that my work as a novelist should be brought to a close. And yet I feel assured that they are very inferior to The Prime Minister. (1980 Oxford An Autobiography, ed FPage & MSadleir, intro PDEdwards, p. 362.
Popenjoy and The American Senator did fare somewhat better with the public; Popenjoy attracted the attention for reasons that make me want to read it. As Sutherland says in the introduction to the Oxford paperback, they saw it as 'satirical and misanthropic', 'a caricature of a corrupt state of society'. In The Academy R. F. Littledale wrote that the book represents Trollope's 'least pleasant manner' and belonged to his books that demonstrate ' how very slight are the barriers whch part modern civilization from ancient savagery.'
Part of the problem seems to be that Trollope did not make characters who are easy to love. We have a replay of Mary and Dr Thorne in Dean and Mary Lovelace, but this Dean is hard and coarse and his deterrmined worldliness makes Archbishop Grantly look sensitively hestitant. One reviewer wrote that 'several characters' are 'so vulgar, coarse, or wanting in self-assertion that they excite nothing but contempt'. About his reaction to unaggressive characters, he ought to speak for himself, but that the characters are hard and not the kind we can cozy up with seems to me a recommendation. Someone else called it 'unwholesome' (!). (See Smalley, The Critical Heritage, 1969 Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp.440-44).
There is the apparent repetition. Trollope is turning old characters types and relationships to new purposes. John Sutherland opens his introductory essay on the book (1986 Oxford World Classics Paperback, pp. vii - xxiv) with a long series of how the characters are replays of this or that earlier characters; since Sutherland often speaks condescendingly, until you get to the second part of his essay it's hard to gather how much Sutherland actually likes the book -- he enjoys its savagery, interrogative mood, the amorality, daring suggestions of near adultery going on everywhere because the marriages made have been essentially loveless, as Austen would say, based on the disinterested desire for an advantageous establishment.
Sutherland also explains the title: it is based on a scandal much written about in the newspapers in which after the heir to the Tichbourne fortune was lost at sea, his mother advertised for information leading to his discovery. An imposter showed up, and the woman clung to him. During the court trial, popular feeling was on the side of the imposter: there were 'near-riots' by 'the English lower-classes' on his behalf when he was found guilty and sentenced to 14 years penal servitude (pp. viii-ix).
This kind of incident happens: the case of Martin Guerre was made into a film several years ago. Those cases I have read about also became the focus for class antagonisms, for watching the machinery of the upper class establishment eject the 'false' claimant. The fascination seems to lie in the idea that there is no such thing as an individual who counts; anyone can fill the bill, if others are willing to agree to it. And often at least one other is, someone whose beloved death has taken. So they are willing to take a substitute. We can laugh equally at those who insist there is such a thing as falseness, as people who deserve to own some property by inherent or paper right ,and those who seeming to mourn an individual are willing to take a replacement. It throws a sceptical lurid light on our myths about meaning. Maybe that this is at the core of Trollope's novel is one key to its hollow mood.
Beyond Sutherland's, I recommend Robert Tracy's essay on Is He Popenjoy? (in the 1999 Oxford Companion to Trollope, 'ed. R. C. Terry):
Domestic comedy yields to a darker world of sexual intrigue, which declines to a darker one still, a bitter battle over property, which becomes a reckless assault on legitimacy and male perogatives. The happy ending, such as it is, comes to us courtesy of two deaths and some very uncivilized howling. This is not the amiable Trollope of legend (pp. 272-74)
In the introduction to my 1998 Folio edition, David Skilton writes in the dulling style of academic criticism, but his essay is astute: he says the novel asks the question, 'Where should power and authority lie in a satisfying, workable marriage?' (pp. ix-xxi). Our central couple do move towards that unthinkable thing, separation and divorce. Interesting to me is how he, like others, talks roughly about all the characters but the heroine. Lord George is 'a very limited and unimaginative man' who 'unthinkingly assumes he can dominate his wife'.
Watch the heroine, Mary. She is a quiet variant on the small-minded and selfish, as hard as everyone else in the book, and wonder why this is never brought up. One should always think about central elements in a story that people are silent about. As I remarked in a posting I wrote about the novel when it first came up, at this time in Europe one finds hard novels which confront life with little sentimentalisation -- for example, Verga's verismo novels in Italy. Trollope ought really to be seen in a fully European context. That's the trouble with much talk about English and US authors: it's too narrow in perspective.
The printing history is as brief as Trollope's discussion in his Autobiography: written 12 October 1874 - 13 May 1875, it was first serialised (and bowlderised) in All the Year Round, 13 October 1877 - 13 July 1878. It came out only once in the luxurious 3 volumer of Chapman and Hall in 1878; by 1879 it appeared in a much cheaper 1 volume version, which was quickly picked up by Tauchnitz. There was a Ward & Lock edition (1880) and a Seaside Library (1883). Until the recent editions of the Trollope and Folio Societies, in the 20th century there have been but three editions: 1907, Dodd, Mead; 1944 a Oxford World Classics which was reprinted 4 times); and in 1986 the Oxford World Classics paperback introduced by Sutherland which many of us will be reading.
I am always interested in translation. This novel has been translated into Russian (1878) and German (also 1878).
There were no original illustrations; however, I do own the Folio for this -- and also Ayala's Angel and John Caldigate which are coming up. I won't be describing them weekly in the way I did for the Barsetshire books when there were illustrations since I don't know the novel that well. The illustrations for Is He Popenjoy? are by Kate Aldous and the frontispiece whose dialogue at the bottom is 'The touch of her hand was pleasant to his arm' has no meaning for me in terms of the fiction until I get there (p. 391 in my edition). So I comment on the illustrations as we go. This is a voyage of discovery for me too. I have only read the novel once and quickly, some three summers ago.
Cheers to all,
Re: Reading Is He Popenjoy?: Wonderful & Exciting!
I am so excited at the prospect of reading Ayala's Angel and Is He Popenjoy? with the Trollope-l readers! Is He Popenjoy? contains one character in particular who stands our sharply from the novel's pages. He is a thoroughly bad man, and you can tell this right off because the character 1) reads French novels 2) smokes cigarettes 3) married - under questionable circumstances an non-English wife who is 4) swarthy in complexion. The character, although English, 5) lives in Italy. (Italy is OK for a vacation or a wedding trip, but BAD for any else.) Yes, Trollope piles Ossa upon Pelion when he assigns nasty attributes to this character. I won't say more, for fear of revealing the plot.
From John Letts
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Is He Popenjoy?: One of Trollope's Very Best Efforts
Years ago when I was about to take over as Editorial Director of The Folio Society, I found a ready prepared list for the following year which included this book. I read it, and was rather impressed, but I took it out. (My reasoning was that it was not a good 'selling' title, and that in any case it was time that Folio did the Barchester series, which I put in the list instead.. I am ashamed say; without reading any but The Warden.) In a sense I was right: the Barsetshire series became bestsellers.
Some years later, after reading The Belton Estate, I became converted to the width and depth of the less known Trollope novels. On reading Is He Popenjoy again, I came to rate it as one of Trollope's very best efforts. Why?
Principally because it struck me that, following the new directions signalled in the second half of Can You Forgive Her? (which, in my view, one can see as the first truly modern novel, and the first to study all aspects of an adult relationship), Is He Popenjoy? is very much another in the same tradition - full of insights into the relationships between men and women, and the meeting (or non-meeting) of minds and bodies. I must say I still think very highly of it, partly for these reasons, and partly because it is one of AT's best performances.