Wonderful Love Story and Moral Lessons; Indispensable Meddlers: Mrs Buttered Cornbread and Lady Glencora Palliser; Adding to the Chorus of Praise; Complaints and Fascination; Xenophobia?; Rachel Ray and The Vicar of Bullhampton; Unpleasantness; Rachel Ray: As Another of Several Studies of Provincial Life; Antisemitism in Trollope; Trollope and the Radicals

From: The Hansens Subject: Rachel Ray, 16-20: [Wonderful Love Story and Moral Lessons]
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These are five very fine chapters. The wonderful love story doesn't need my praise, so I will dwell on a couple of 'lessons' from chapter seventeen.

First we have the old brewer, Tappitt. He is resistant to change and bullheaded about the making of bad beer. But in this chapter he does something that Trollope feels is always foolish: he ignores good advice from one qualifed to give it. Honyman, who I guess is his lawyer, presents three alternatives to Tappitt, and all three are ignored. This decision to ignore good advice will probably later be regretted.

The second lesson is the satire that is directed toward the gossip generated in the small town of Baslehurst. The accusation that Rowan has left unpaid bills receives wide circulation and the one man who might deny this, Mr Griggs, remains silent. This gossip quickly sweeps through town and, while it can be considered a plot device to enhance suspense around the romance, it does seem unpleasant as such. To this, Mrs Tappitt adds that Rowan has engaged himself with another girl. In the three chapters that follow, this second bit of gossip doesn't catch on, but maybe it will surface again later!


Subject: TROL Rachel Ray: 16-20: Indispensable Meddlers

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This is just to beat my little drum again to call attention to the very amusing similarity between Mrs. Buttered Cornbread, in 'Electioneering,' and Lady Glencora Palliser. Both are indispensible meddlers, although Trollope allows the earlier figure a smoother road to success. I particularly liked the agility with which Patty Comfort fences with the Tappitts, and finally decides that she'd rather fight for Rachel Ray than for her husband!

RJ Keefe

To Trollope-l

October 19, 1998

Re: Rachel Ray, Chs 16-20: Adding to the Chorus of Praise

I too found the love story superlatively well done. If this were a number I could point out it begins with a frank and attractively simple and sincere letter from Luke to Rachel; is woven up to a high point by Mrs Ray's seeking out of the wisdom of Mr Comfort who makes the mistake of accepting electioneering and other gossip for truth; and ends with a delicately done long meditation by Rachel after which we have her letter which matches Luke's. I was struck by a similarity of phrasing in it to that the alcoholic scholar writes at the opening of "The Spotted Dog: "I shall never expect or even hope to see you again." The scholar wrote he expected no answer to his appeal for work. Such sentences are hard to write. Trollope shows his ear for what I'll call nervous prose when he has Rachel eliminate a "to me;" the "to me" would have added the note of plangency which the letter just skirts. As I have read ahead I'd like to say in a couple of chapters there is a moving scene between Rachel and her mother where the mother hears "a tone of agony" repressed deep in Rachel's words, and I felt a lump come in my throat. It's the understated quality of Rachel's grief that is so appealing.

RJ brought up the electioneering. We do have antisemitism here. What strikes me about these scenes is simply how realistic they are. As in the Palliser novels, Trollope brings home to us how people vote based on personal passion and how what they say has little to do with why they are voting a particular way or not. Language is a tool of manipulation. But the specific words in these scenes seem quite mimetic. People living in a small town would talk just this way, and the conversation about the Jew and his being a tailor and all the petty prejudices that come out are Trollope mirroring the reality of his day. He does say that it is a shame Dr Harford is now so bitter against Prong and the Liberals (and therefore Hart) because such bitterness and hatred (especially of his rival, Prong) "disfigured the close of a useful and conscientious life" (Oxford Rachel Ray, ed. PDEdwards, p. 236).

I'd like also to mention another quality in this story that reminds me of Austen. If I met most of these people in real life, and worse, had to live with them, I'd probably dislike them very much. They are awful -- at least they are characterised in ways that show up their pettiness, stupidity, meannesses, especially the two mothers, Mrs Tappitt and Mrs Rowan with respect to Rachel and her mother. Yet as I read I don't feel ill. They are ignorant, foolish. Austen has many characters in her novels who are like some of these people similarly appalling, and yet one gets up amused and not despairing. Partly it's that we are invited to see the world from their point of view and identify with them. Partly it's that we have laughed the sting of the truth away because Trollope talks in a constant tone of irony. Also the sting is pulled or softened by Trollope's own affectionate tone for Mrs Ray, Rachel, & Luke & Mrs Cornbury. So too does the lucidity of his language and the continual beauty of the scenery console. Grace and loveliness seem to suffuse the atmosphere of the book and bathe things in a more charitable light than in reason or justice many of these people deserve. Perhaps though it is this unsentimental understanding of the motives of everyone that makes the love story acceptable. It's not sentimental.

Finally, Trollope neatly dovetails the two plots together; the talk at the Comforts becomes the ruination of Rachel's joy. Bart brought up the Tappitt plot which I also see as figuring forth a struggle between old landed relaxed England and new commercial enterprise which must pay its way. It's all woven together gently and without strain.

Quite a little book. Does anyone else want to add anything? I am aware there are things one could complain about.

Ellen Moody

From: Thilde Fox
Subject: RRay: Ch 16-20: [Complaints and Fascination]
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Ellen said, "I am aware there are things one could complain about."

I do have a complaint - I find that there is a lot of repetition, especially about Rachel's feelings, and her memory of the hand in the sky. I know there is a certain "Austen" feel to the book, but I don't think Austen says anything twice.

On the other hand I find the description of the men's gossip fascinating, especially as it works up to our realisation of what Mr.Comfort will say about the letter. It is not clear yet how these two lovers will get together.

Ellen also said that she wouldn't really like to meet many of the characters. But I would add that I wouldn't mind living in their world, as long as I belonged to their social class, I mean! Trollope is easy reading, his world is organised, and the "good" characters get good things, and the bad have only themselves to blame. True for Austen too, of course. I can always pick up a Trollope book, however I feel. I need to steady my nerves before I pick up, say, Nostromo or Jude, or New Grub Street which I haven't been able to get, but I read the comments. We tend to feel that there was no real change in English society till WWI, but the books show a different picture.

Thilde and Mike Fox

From Duffy Pratt:

trollope-l@teleport.com Subject: Rachel Ray, Chs 16-20: Adding to the Chorus of Praise
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I've just caught up, and I too am enjoying the book.

I would like to add a new twist to the commentary. It seems to me that there is a deep connection between the three plots (the love story, the brewery struggle, and the election). All three arise out of xenophobia.

The election is the most clear -- Hart is a Jew from London (and a capitalist) not to be trusted in the district. (As an aside, I could not tell how much of Mrs. Buttered Cornbread's anti-semitism was genuine. I had the feeling that she was playing on Tappitt's bigotry to win him over. Thus, I wanted to believe that she was mostly pushing his buttons, but this is largely because I would like to like her, fairy godmother that she is.)

The love story has the same problem -- Luke is also from London. He's a stranger to Baselhurst. Its easy to say he leaves bad debts and to pass other false rumors about him, like his other engagement. Because he is an outsider, he is subject to Mrs. Ray's doubts.

As for Mr. Tappitt and the brewery -- the area is an apple growing area. Beer is a stranger to the area. Mr. Tappitt only makes bad beer, so he is not a threat to the local custom and can be tolerated. Luke's desire to make good beer, however, could be unsettling to an entire way of life.

It occurs to me that Mr. Prong also is disliked as a newcomer and outsider. The fear is that he'll abscond to Australia if he gets his hands on Mrs. Prime's money. His parish is new and strange to the district.


Rachel Ray: Xenophobia?

While I agree with Duffy Pratt's insightful parallels aligning the strands of Rachel Ray I'd like to suggest that 'xenophobia' is too strong a word for the reservations displayed by the good people of Baslehurst. Real xenophobia would have precluded Hart's campaign, I should think. The popularity of cider explains Tappitt's bad brew in its indifference to beer. And Mrs. Ray really struggles to *maintain* a proper mistrust of Luke Rowan, whom she likes very much as soon as she meets him. What we have in all three instances is a provincial conservatism that always prefers the old ways of doing things. In this regard, Tappitt is about as backward as anyone in Baslehurst; and Trollope himself outdoes any of his characters in misgivings about Mr. Prong.

RJ Keefe

Re: Rachel Ray and The Vicar of Bullhampton

Like RJ, I agree with Duffy and Thilde that this is a closed narrow-minded suspicious community, but think xenophobia is too strong a word for it. Not only would xenophobia have prevented Hart from running in the first place, but xenophobia tends to be aggressive. Xenophobia is what is manipulated into violent nationalistic wars. This is more your garden-variety of small-town community tribalism. The portrait of the town's easy disposition to be wary and then suspicious and distrustful and finally believe the worst of a stranger reminds me of Trollope's characterisation of Bullhampton at the opening of that novel. The comparison with Austen is instructive because of the contrast: I think she never got far enough out of her world to recognise how otherness frightens a tight-knit community of people who have never travelled very far nor seen very much outside of their own sphere of experience and beliefs.


From Duffy Pratt:

Re: Rachel Ray: Unpleasantness

The unpleasantness I was talking about was included this state of mind. It's stifling and even if all too human can take very ugly turns. But it is more than that. It is the demand for conformity, the refusal to acknowledge differences even amongst themselves, the judgemental bent of mind, and worse of all, to me, the lack of privacy for anyone except upstairs in their bedroom or an hour snatched by sitting on a stile.

None of this is to say that Trollope is not accurate in his portrait. Another difference between him and Austen is that her characters are always shaded into satire or caricature. Except perhaps for Mr Prong and Mrs Prime (who are overdone for effect), all these people are rounded. I have met mild versions of them repeatedly in my life -- for the so-called big city often resolves itself into tiny communities with a mindset that approximates that of Baslehurst insofar as the generalised will of the average person can make it.

Duffy Pratt

To Trollope-l

October 8, 1998

Re: Rachel Ray: As Another of Several Studies of Provincial Life

First I agreed

"the women in Rachel Ray defer to the men...Maybe this was really the way it was or seemed to be in a tiny provincial town and village?

Then John Mize replied:

I'm sure that it was. Women were certainly expected to defer to men, and the ideal woman was the domestic, nurturing, self-sacrificing Angel of the House. In their own way all three Bronte sisters declared war against the Angel, and for that reason, all were attacked as unnatural, unfeminine, etc. The majority of the attacks were, of course, against Charlotte, since Anne and Emily were more ignored than castigated. I am glad to see Trollope was on Charlotte's side."

To which I'd now like to add:

I am not sure Trollope was on Charlotte's side in the sense of declaring war against the ideal domestic woman: we see a number of such types in his novels. What he did dislike was hypocrisy, prurience (and oddly enough, considering his attitude towards virginity for upper class women, he detested hypocrisy in the area of sex), and lies about human nature. Trollope understood he had to tell or insinuate a number of these himself in order for his books to sell. One of the elements I like about Rachel Ray is the women are real; none are idealised or sentimentalised in the manner of Madeleine Staveley or Dr Wortle's daughter or some of the heroines in the short stories (to name just those that come to mind). Trollope liked Bronte's books because they tell the truth insofar as she dared -- and with intense passionate conviction.

A good novelist always has a moral design or several moral designs which underlie and shape his texts (or stories and characters). In Rachel Ray Trollope seems to me to have consciously determined that he would present a picture of small town provincial life as it really was. Perhaps this is why the book seems so Austen-like. She said three or four families (or was it two or three?) in a small village was just the thing for the center of a fiction to begin on. It is, however, probably more accurate to liken Rachel Ray to George Eliot's early shorter novels or Mrs Gaskell's Cranford. Now Trollope had other designs in Rachel Ray than Eliot or Gaskell in their books. He was determined to get at religious bigotry and hypocrisy, and perhaps he imagined his portrait of village life would please the Rev Mr Macleod's readership -- and they wouldn't notice the undercurrents all that much. Hard to say. He had written other books whose deeper undercurrents were only understood by the few. The problem in Rachel Ray is the undercurrents are not so "under" but very much to the fore.

Still I suggest provincial life was his central overriding design. Here we have the story of a brewery. Trollope dramatises small-time capitalism. We will have the story of an election. Trollope will dramatise the political behavior of the human animal in this arena, and it is different from what goes on in the Big City or Parliament itself.

Trollope has other books which show he was interested in "studies of provincial life" (I believe the phrase "provincial life" occurs in the subtitle of Middlemarch). In Miss Mackenzi he adds to this an attempt to present a middle-aged woman who is not married. He wanted to write a story which was not a love story. He did not succeed. He couldn't think of anything else to do with his heroine. In The Vicar of Bullhampton he attempted a picture of small town life and the first couple of chapters are wonderfully successful; he then veered off into other themes (again true charity as opposed to religious bigotry, again sex, but this time centering on a girl who has spent time as a prostitute). The illustrations to The Vicar of Bullhampton show the illustrator understood part of Trollope's purpose was to present pictures of provincial life; perhaps Trollope hoped for idyllic landscapes from Millais.

A deep conscious theme which repeats itself -- there are many such in Trollope -- is the one I'll describe as the opposite of what one finds in Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_. It is caught up in the old saying "there but for the grace of God go I". My modern version is "there but for an occasional relenting upon the part of Lady Luck go I". The Rev Mr Frank Fenwick loathes the Rev Mr Puddleham because Puddleham says of people who are weak, vulnerable, have failed, are "sinful" they are other than him. He closes a wall against them. (This is also Austen's Mr Collins's notion of Christianity when Collins advises Mr Bennet to let Lydia roam the streets and never lift a finger to help her.) Fenwick also rebels against the Marquis of Trowbridge for his belief that his class status makes him different from and better than human failings; Fenwick gets a kick out of suggesting to Trowbridge Trowbridge's daughters could "fall" the way Carrie Brattle did if chance had been against them. In Rachel Ray the Mrs Primes and Mr Prongs think they are somehow different than others and take it upon themselves to hate & fear other people -- or at least behave towards them in a hateful fearful way which comes down to the same thing.

But this is but one element or strand, perhaps a large one, as such prejudice often looms large in small town life, in the whole book. It may have struck Macleod as the central design of the book, and certainly Macleod and his readers may well have taken the view of humanity we find in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress at the end of which Christian rejoices to see some people thrown into hell while he goes to Paradise. His going to Paradise is in fact (we are told) all the more joyous at this sight. (So I sometimes think rich people enjoy their riches because they think how it differentiates them from the poor and therefore makes them better and different.) Still the central design was provincial life and to really show it as it was.

Ellen Moody

From Marcella MacCarthy

Subject: TROL Antisemitism in Trollope
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I'd just like to say how much I am enjoying this discussion, and thanks to Julian for bringing up some detailed points. I was impressed by the number of references in The Prime Minister to Lopez's possible Jewishness--in a sense whether he is really Jewish by heritage or faith is not the point, it is that he is "flashy/moneyed/darkskinned/outsider/not an English gentleman" and this means he is automatically considered as a Jew. It's a term of abuse in Trollope's eyes here, even if that abuse is put in a prejudiced mouth. Let's be honest, Italians and Gypsies do not come to mind. In mainstream literature the prejudices of society are usually reflected, even if they are then analysed, and mainstream 19th cent. society was biased and prejudiced just as our own still is.

As far as the "ethnic" versus "race" question goes, perhaps these words are seen differently in the US, but for what it's worth, "ethnic" to me defines a cultural context, "race" as Ellen has said more elegantly, a genetic inheritance. But if you are Jewish you get the double whammy. Look at the descriptions. "..You can't tell a Jew because of where they go to worship: they might be lip-service converts. Oh no, you can tell them from their swarthy skin, their hooked noses, their bright, too-close-together eyes." Aren't these being thought of as racial characteristics? Jews in literature seem to often have this kind of marking out as physically different. It's as though they are too threatening by being pale-skinned and beautiful (sexy Lopez, all those seductive Jewish women from Shakespeare's Jessica onwards), you have to have this authorial voice saying it is not true, they don't really look just like us, they are different for those who can see truly. Emily sees flashing dark eyes, Trollope sees the hooked nose. Oh dear, perhaps that's too simplistic. I know it's painful to look at writers that ones likes and has read before and admit that there's more there than we saw unaided, but in part that's the delight of critical reading.

I am very fond of Trollope, but I expect most list members would agree that it doesn't do him any favours to ignore this aspect of his writing. I am all in favour of sharpening up our own critical prejudices, improving opinnion into knowledge. I am reading Rachel Ray at the moment (as are many of us) and noticed the character of the Jewish member of Parliament and how he is maligned PURELY on the grounds of his race--he doesn't feature as a person at all (sorry, don't read on if you don't want to know--not a major plot giveaway). I don't remember noticing this when I read it before--perhaps it just slid past me, parhaps I didn't like it, but there is a little area of the book where there is a lot of "you don't want a Jew representing you" stuff which I found really leaves a bad taste. Yes, I know it can be read as ironic, but one of the touchstones of virtue and reason in the book, Mrs. Cornbury, finds herself using these arguments to win a vote for her husband, even though she seems to feel a distaste for doing so, and the defence is seen to be weak and unthinking. It's like becoming aware of sexism or other kinds of prejudice--you reread so differently. Like looking at Enid Blyton stories as an adult. But I'm glad we do.


Antisemitisim in Trollope

Trollope hints that such might be the case, as he says that she was willing to pretend to tell Tappit what she thought about a Jew in Parliament, but she wasn't willing to go as far as to abuse Rachel just to get Tappit's vote. However to me that is no better, probably even worse, than if she actually were a bigot. Many of the leading segregationist Southern politicians, such as George Wallace and Strom Thurmond, had little trouble courting black votes once blacks were allowed to register to vote. When Wallace died, people talked about how his attitudes toward race changed. I doubt if he ever had strong attitudes toward race. When racial demogaguery was the way to win elections, that was his preferred course. When the times changed, he conveniently changed course. I suspect that a modern Dante would place Wallace and his friends in a less desirable section of Hell than the bigots whose votes they courted.

John Mize

To Trollope-l

October 30, 1998

Re: Rachel Ray: Those Dark Undersides

I probably don't understand what Judith Moore meant or was referring to precisely when she said she read Rachel Ray adversarially. That is, did she mean she read it as an adversary of Trollope or the whole of the novel or some specific themes or inferences she takes away from it? I admit I am alway puzzled by such large generalised words.

So maybe I am misunderstanding but think that John Mize's comment in reply is somewhat mine:

"I agree with Ellen that RR is not a dark book, but even when Trollope is extolling the virtues of small town life, he doesn't completely neglect its dark, slimy underbelly. He throws in these little asides which subvert the general sunniness."

My difference is that I see these asides everywhere. Trollope is constantly undercutting and showing us the appalling side of many of these people. That he shows us their essential humanity makes him a realist. In fact evil is banal (as has too often been said); to quote Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us. In his own time the book was seen as sharply ironic and unacceptable to precisely those readers whose lives it mirrors: the readers of Good Words. If Trollope had not himself put all this dark underside, unpleasantness, and sharp indications of bigotry, fear, prejudice, and ignorance into the book, they would not be there for us to pick up. I think he did dislike much that he pictures in the book. He also accepts it -- I think this is sometimes called "negative capability." Maybe many of us don't accept it; we would like something stronger, but then you would have caricature or satire or something quite different from this quiet little Austen-like book. Myself I don't accept such things; I really loathe a great deal what I see in the world, but then I don't write novels and stay in my house insofar as my world permits me to.

Our discussion has again and again reminded me of a classic essay by Tolkien on Beowulf. Many critics had just about said (=implied) how astonishing it is such a moral imbecile should write such a tragic deeply felt poem which presents a serious and accurate portrait of Anglo-Saxon life through the epic form. Tolkien's reply is that subtle masterpieces are not written by moral fools and the Beowulf poet knew what he was doing or the poem would be an incoherent mess. I would here instance a typical student essay. Now many of them are indeed unconscious of what they do and their work shows it. Oh boy does it show it. I don't say anyone of us has said Trollope is a fool but we ought to give him credit for so beautifully weaving in all those undersides to make a gem of a work of art. He may be another adversary too -- the Rev Mr MacCleod certainly thought so. In his letters one is continually seeing his editors toning things down, asking him to change this or that (pul - lease) or downright rejecting something as unacceptable to the public. I always remember what a lesson he was taught when his great frankly dark book, The Macdermots of Ballycloran fell dead from the press and he was mocked as having created a "Mount Misery" for everyone to contemplate; also Skilton's work which goes far to show that Trollope's wonderful reputation and sales declined after he stopped writing the similarly apparently sunny Barsetshire series.

Ellen Moody

From: John Mize
Subject: TROL Trol: RR: Trollope and the Radicals
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I found Trollope's discription of Luke as a typical Radical interesting. According to Trollope most Radicals were not republicans at heart. They wanted the working men to prosper, but they had no intention to abolish the aristocracy or monarchy. That sounds odd to me. Was that wishful thinking on Trollope's part? I remember that in his biography of Thackeray Trollope criticized Thackeray's being too hard on the rich and powerful. He went on to say that at bottom Thackeray was something of a republican. I had the impression that Trollope saw Thackeray's possible republican tendencies as something of a character flaw. I remember reading that in one of Trollope's political novels he had a troublemaking demogogue named Turnbull who most people thought was based on John Bright. Trollope said something to the effect that while Turnbull's politics were Bright's, his character was not.

John Mize

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