Eroticism in Rachel Raye; Closure; Is it Something in His Tone?; A Single Letter; Rachel Ray and Felix Holt, Radical; Eliot and Trollope; Dancing and the Evangelicals

To Trollope-l

Re: Eroticism in Rachel Ray

Although the satire on religious fundamentalism, really religious bigotry, cant, hypocrisy is writ large in this book, and is even more striking when you consider Trollope wrote it "for" the audience of Good Words (until the editor got a look at it, and said, bargain's off), it somehow seems to me a side issue in this book in a way it is not a side issue in John Caldigate or in the first half of Miss Mackenzie. Although in the end equally ineffective, Mrs Prime (and Miss Pucker, who squints like the Bath preacher in Miss Mackenzie) is not a central influence in the story in the way Mrs Bolton is. Mrs Bolton and the Bolton family have a righteousness about themselves that makes them find John Caldigate abhorrent and distrust him immediately; they lack charity and any sense of "there but for the grace of God go I..." and are determined to keep the suit up. It's not Mrs Prime who separates Rachel and Rowan; it's the fatuous shallow Comfort (a Church of England man) and he is following the gossip and rumor started by Tappitt. Rowan's struggle with Tappitt over the brewery takes the center stage, and it is Tappitt's spread of ugly rumors and Mrs Tappitt's jealousy of Rachel and resentment of her triumph particularly because Mrs Tappitt sees Rachel as lower class that lead to rumors which separate the couple.

The introduction to Rachel Ray by P. D. Edwards in the Oxford paperback World Classics seemed to me to get to the central depths of this little story-- for it is a small romantic tale which centers mostly on a single group of characters closely intertwined, one plot as it were. He talks of the felt reality of this exquisitely created world, the class conflicts (which I thought were equally central or to the side as the religious conflicts; Mrs Sturt is made parallel to Mrs Cornbury which is interesting), and he dwells especially on Trollope's depictions of the Tappitts who are anything but aristocrats but are portrayed with real subtlety and not patronizingly.

P. D. Edwards sees the strong sensuality of this book as a contrast deliberately set-up against the barren mean ways of the religious evangelicals of the book. He talks about the eroticism & the landscaped world beautifully. Certainly the 2 can be fitted together this way, but I suggest the sex is also there for itself. Again as in so many Trollope novels we have a young woman presented as helpless against her lover once she admits she loves him. PDEdwards sees this as Trollope's acquiescence in Byron's idea that "Man's love is of a man's life athing apart,/'Tis a woman's whole existence." Rachel is prepared to pine away, to take a good deal of punishment, and doesn't blame Rowan for his anger at her when he should know she was forced to write her letter. Edwards talks of the antique pastoral imagery, and pastoral is a highly erotic form. He says:

"the real conqueror, the real occupying power will be Luke ... the sexual surrender Rachel has ready in effect made will give him a much more total possession of her than she will ever have of him..."

and he quotes Trollope's narrator:

"She could almost believe that he had been specally made and dstined for her behoof. She blushed even while lying in bed as she remembered how the gait of the man, and the tone of his voice, had taken possession of her eyes, and ears fro the first day on which she had met him."

I'm too tired tonight, but in much more subdued language, and in a quieter way this is the trajectory through which Ball conquers Miss Mackenzie. The imagery is autumnal, but again the man is hard, involved with money; again she waits patiently for him to come to her, though in _Miss Mackenzie_ Ball is not the sensually appealing man Rowan is.

If we put together the beautiful reverie pieces of this novel, the highly erotic landscape scenes which I quoted earlier this month, and the above love story (including the gayer scenes at the Tappitt ball the stress of which, together with the jealousy of the other women, and agression of the men, quite overcome Rachel), I think we find ourselves at the core of the book's power, although to be sure the plot hinges on Rowan's ability to make good on his legal claim on the brewery.

I don't think this is one of Trollope's great books, but it shows in a kind of bare way and minor key many of his preoccupations. I have left out the electioneering of the Cornburys versus Mr Hart which also comes up; I thought the next Trollope novel I'd try this summer would be Ralph the Heir about an election.

Here's a question: is there a heroine in Trollope who deeply loves one man, is disappointed in or loses this love, and then learns to love another as deeply? This after all is the norm, the way of the world. Trollope does really seem to believe that "good" women are naturally constant; again and again in his books appears a woman who cannot swerve from a man once she has loved him. I'm afraid this is probably not so at all; but he insists on this notion in heroine after heroine. I have been trying to think of some heroine we are to sympathize with who does not "work" this way. (Mind you I have by no means read all his tales.) Lady Glencora's love for Plantagenet doesn't count, for it is a subdued affection, a compound of gratitude, esteem, loyalty, and respect, not deep erotic enthrallment; this she has only with Burgo, she misses it forever, and if I remember (I haven't read the Duke's Children in a long time) but doesn't she encourage one of their children in a love affair which is not prudent because she remembers all she has lost and I mean lost forever? Jane Austen in her Mansfield Park at least suggests that if Edmund had married Mary Crawford, Fanny would have gotten over it, and might have married and been very deeply in love with Henry Crawford and he might have become a better man for her. Does Trollope say this kind of thing somewhere?

Ellen Moody

To Trollope-l

November 2, 1998

Re: Rachel Ray, Chs 25-30: Closure

What I have liked best about this novel all along is its artistic consistency. Its end is in its beginning, and as Trollope begins to tie the ribbons together, none of the ties seem forced, everything seems to work out much as we might have expected, except of course in life things we hope for or expect often do not come to pass, and this novel is very life-like. In a number of Trollope's novels, and the one that leaps to mind tonight is Phineas Redux, we take the plunge into downright deep tragedy or explore unease, the impossibility of resolution or resignation, personal anguish, loss (and so on), and suddenly at the end in steps a fairy Godmother figure and all is well, and we move into an upswing into cheer in which pots of money are given out to all and we are told everyone will be happy. This is true of the last chapter of Can You Forgive Her? where the women are complex interesting and abused or frustrated figures until just before the end when we are told they are now or should be contented, and if they are not, they are fools. It's interesting that the last chapter opens with Mr Tappit resigning his brewery, and the penultimate with Mrs Prime giving in for the nonce. As in life, this novels has winners and losers, and some of the winners have suffered much and have had to compromise, and some of the losers are better off than they realise.

Perhaps really to like this novel one must sympathise with Rachel Ray. It is named after her. Well throughout I have, though I am not blind to the strong aggression in her husband-to-be's character, one which bodes well for her economic security but suggests all will not be that easy for her in the years to come. He is rightly called "imperious." He demands and she yields. It's not sentimental, and there is a strong sexual undertow in all their encounters. Of course I often succumb to love scenes and well-done letters, and should be counted among those who enjoy this sort of thing when it seems to beat with the passion of life. In this connection Millais's (or Trollope's) choice for the watercolour was perfect. (There is much evidence to suggest that throughout his career) Trollope continued to suggest good subjects to his illustrators much in the manner of Dickens.

I also properly disliked Mrs Prime for the reasons I was meant to. She is a repressed and repressive figure. I have met enough of such people in my life though usually they have been people who demand repression on behalf of careers, money, power, ambition, and such like. She seems to do it out of fear of life. She probably deserved Mr Prong.

The Tappitts amused me as I think they were meant to, though in life I wouldn't be keen to visit them very often.

The most uncomfortable parts of the novel for me were those which concerned the election, Hart, and yes the class-bias Trollope continually evidenced and was willing to use as ammunition to discredit the Evangelicals. I look upon Patty Comfort (Mrs Cornbury) as the Lady Glen of the novel.

For such a little book Trollope included a number of effective memorable social scenes: the ball, the meeting at the tavern, the election, Mrs Ray's visit to Exeter. There were so many effective intimate scenes too, some indoors, some out. The description of the landscape at key points was poetic and done without the least strain. The community as a whole was utterly believable.

I really felt as if I were reading some small gem knocked off by a master jewelist in his spare time. If gone into in detail I also think we can lead ourselves into the heart of some of Trollope's most important concerns and themes, including the urge towards charity and an enjoyment of life as it presents itself. In its quiet way it rates as high as a number of the long novels and is much much better than a meretricious performance like Eustace Diamonds. He did not have to pad; there is no padding here, and no falseness. We may not find the truth about England at the time pleasant, but he means not to lie, and mostly succeeds within the terms of an erotic and disillusioned pastoral.

Ellen Moody

The following was written in 1995 but I insert it here as an appropriate qualifier to the above:

Re: Is It Something in His Tone?

I have an irresistible impulse to say that after one of those very bad days indeed (as in TS Eliot "my nerves are shot..."), I opened Rachel Ray and within about half an hour felt better.

This is a puzzle. Mr Tappit wanted to murder Mr Rowan with a poker; Mrs Ray went to Mrs Prime to be bullied; and Mr Rowan is not really worthy Miss Ray; and yet I was comforted.

There is something in the rational tranquillity of the tone? the kindness of heart and tolerance & penetrating intelligence of the explanations? what is it I wonder. In Rachel Ray the beauty and grace of the prose helps.

Ellen Moody

To which I had the response:

Address: (John Woolley)

Yep; add humour, and these are the reasons *I* read Trollope -- a genuinely charitable and humble man, deeply understanding of the human heart, with a vast gift for narrative.

- Fr. John Woolley, still happy after "Ayala's Angel", just beginning "Lord Palmerston"

From: Patricia D Stark
Subject: Is It Something in His Tone?

Ellen -- That is amazing because I have read Rachel Ray at least 20 times during heavy stress and over burden periods of my life and every time felt the same surprise that you did to the degree that it was almost like being transported to the Garden of Eden before the Fall. Well, perhaps this is an overstatement, but.... Pat

Rachel Ray: Is It Something In His Tone?

I too have enjoyed the postings by Ellen Moody, Bonnie Robinson, and Katy Edgcombe. It seems to me to be a very good idea for each of us to tell the net whenever we finish reading or rereading a Trollope novel because then the novel is fresh with us. Accordingly, I have just finished reading Rachel Ray and have these thoughts. First, again we have Trollope taking on the evangelical Christians of his own time. Mrs. Prime in RR is the younger sister of Mrs. Proudy. Mr. Prong could grow up to be

Obediah Slope. And Rachel Ray was written ten years after _Barchester Towers_. Trollope is consistent in his attitude here. He deplores people who think that there should be no more cakes and ales and feel that if it makes you happy it's wrong. One wonders what Trollope would say about today's religious fundamentalists, who, of course, are to be found in every clime and creed.

Rachel Ray is concerned with the workings of a small-town brewery, and again I am reminded of Trollope's continual interest in the workings of business. Trollope also says that a man (read person today) must be occupied, and when the chief brewer of RR is forced to retire one sees Trollope's pity for him, although his character was never portrayed as one of the noblest. Trollope's interest in business appears all through his travel books. For instance, when he writes of Australia or South Africa he is always telling us how people make their living there.

The title character of Rachel Ray is a good girl. One does get a bit tired of Trollope's good girls, unless, of course, they are Violet Effingham, who does have a sense of humor. Rachel is no Lily Dale, subject of recent postings, although Rachel does momentarily consider running to her gentleman, with or without benefit of clergy. Naturally she abandons that idea very quickly.

Anyway, those of you who haven't read Rachel Ray for a long time or at all, think about doing so.

In a recent posting Katy Edgcombe asked us to talk about our favorites. I still want to give a boost to John Caldigate, which I like because, like Orley Farm it is a very good mystery. I wish someone would read and post opinions about JC. I read it some time ago and mainly recall my pleasure at reading it.


Re: Rachel Ray: A Single Letter

We never mentioned how in Rachel Ray a single letter written by the heroine to her fiance plays a devastating role in the book.

Ellen Moody

November 1998

Re: Rachel Ray and Felix Holt, Radical

While I was away I began Eliot's Felix Holt, Radical. I didn't get very far into the book but I did finish the introduction and move into Chapter One. I think we will find this experience rich with matter. As ever, I find George Eliot closer to me than so many of the 19th century novelists; her ways of thought seem more like those of the 20th century. She thinks abstractly; she looks to economic equality; she has a genuine breadth of approach and conscious humanity that is uplifting. Her way of being a woman is closer to what I understand than Austen's. I identify with Austen's heroines but as people more than specifically as women.

She is, however, a Victorian, and there were two comments about Felix Holt, Radical in the introduction to the Penguin edition by Lynda Mugglestone which bear directly on some of what we've talked about in Rachel Ray.

First, the secret ballot. I was astonished to read that George Eliot was against the secret ballot. Ms Mugglestone quotes Felix's comment on the secret ballot as '"No! -- something else before all that"'. Trollope says it's unmanly not to stand up and say what you believe and vote for that; in the case of Eliot (if I understand Mugglestone's quotation from the novel) what she feared was if you give people the power to vote secretly they may abuse this power by voting 'mischievously.' People will use their votes to 'waste and destroy, to be cruel to the weak . . . ' She is assuming that voting publicly forces people to vote with integrity or wisdom. I don't know that people can always agree on what integrity or wisdom is when it comes to voting. Some people will vote on abstract principle even if the results may hurt them; others will vote for a candidate who they don't like, but who can win over some other candidate they dislike more. The purpose of the secret ballot was to free people from overt local pressure.

There's a deep distrust of democracy here -- not that it is not justified. But what system has been better?

A second connection has to do with Trollope's definition of Luke Rowan as a radical. What Trollope refers to as radical in Luke's case is someone who is willing to overturn the present local order through recourse to technology and personal strength. It has nothing to do with economic or social or even political equality. Well Transome is a radical in this way. He is eager to use modern techniques; he has little respect for old ties, old bonds. I suppose Lady Mason's son, Lucius, was then a radical.

Two more points of interest: in the introduction Ms Mugglestone quotes Henry James as complaining that Felix Holt, Radical is another of these vulgar books. I always knew that vulgar had to do with the specific and concrete mention of money (Emerson called Jane Austen insufferably vulgar because money is a root cause of much of the action of her books.) I have always been puzzled by this complaint since James's characters are motivated by money too; they just don't admit it. Ms Mugglestone quotes James's definition of vulgarity with respect to Felix Holt. James says what makes a book vulgar is that its development does not come from the inner natures of the characters but external circumstances (=money and other tangible things). At least it explains what is meant.

The second is a definition of what is meant by a political novel which strikes me as applicable to Trollope's novels as well as Felix Holt. A contemporary critic, E. S. Dallas, wrote of Felix Holt that it was a political novel because it sought to

'exhibit the characters of men as they conduct themselves in a political struggle, here panting after some high ideal of what they ought to be, there floundering contented in things as they are, some seeking honestly for the general good, others selfishly grasping at power and pelf."

In this connection Phineas Redux does not turn back on itself altogether because at the end of that book Phineas is deeply disillusioned and his marriage to Marie is one of two highly intelligent people resigned to the reality that except in rare cases politics is utterly self-interested.

Ellen Moody

To Trollope-l

November 20, 1998

Re: Eliot and Trollope

As Marcella remarks, comparisons are odious; I'll add they can also often be invidious. On the other hand, comparative analysis is what critics continually do. That's what we mean by contextual studies, what we do when we look at intertextuality, that's how we understand and judge too. For me to read Felix Holt is to throw light on Rachel Ray and vice versa, though I read them both in their own right too.

Trollope and Eliot have suffered very different kinds of reputations. I say suffered because reputations are often an amalgam of assumptions and stereotypical thinking which loses some important realities about the author's lives and texts and times. From around 1890 until as recently as the 1950s Trollope was derided by scholars and academics; what kept his books going was people read them anyway (scholars and academics too, though while sitting on a couch near a pillow so the book could be stashed away lest anyone see). Eliot has been done no favor to by those who have overworshipped her for her great intelligence; because she and Jane Austen and recently Virginia Woolf were the rare women birds on a horizon of literature which showed mostly men it was also somewhat unacceptable to try to look at just where, say, her feminism and radicalism stopped and a timidity and conservatism took over.

For myself I am sorry if I was misunderstood for I have been if anyone thinks I don't really like George Eliot's novels and letters and those few shorter things I've read enormously. I do. Her life fascinates me. I have been citing books by her during "elections" since Trollope-l formed. I am no expert though since I love to read I've read a number of her novels, a few books on her, and some of her essays and letters. I think my favorite of her novels is Middlemarch. I found myself enraged by The Mill on the Floss: I couldn't bear how Maggie kissed the whip; I know this will shock but I thought she should have celebrated her brother's demise not died with him. I remember admiring Romola and enjoying it too: I am originally a Renaissance scholar and the book is the product of brilliant scholarship; at least I think it's superb historical fiction. There are anachronisms, but there must be. I don't know which is the work best known by her in the US since Silas Marner is no longer required in the high schools (as it once was in the US).

I agree the Trollope most people who have read but one or two seem to have read is Barchester Towers. It is a book written in deliciously high spirits -- though it is darker in its implications than people often say. My favorite characters in it are Bertie Stanhope and his crippled sister, the Signora Neroni. Consider them, their outlook, their lives and you'll see what I mean. The Pallisers as a series are also pretty well-known. The Way We Live Now is a contemporary favorite today. I'd compare The Warden to Silas Marner as a book which was once upon a time a commonly set text in school; I don't know about Silas but of The Warden I'd say the peculiar kind of moral courage Mr Harding represents, the courage to walk away because you are asked to do something which is a violation of your nature and find yourself laughed at, not be admired by the world, even scorned, and abused as somehow twisted is a virtue Trollope induces us to respect strongly in fiction after fiction. It will eventually come up tangentially when Clara Amedroz is required to make a choice which no one will admire her much for but herself.

Ellen Moody

And then two years, one book and a long essay on Trollope's use of letters and many more group conversations on line, I wrote the following in response to a query by Judy Geater:

To Trollope-l

Re: Dancing and the Evangelicals Rachel Ray and Felix Holt, Radical December 3, 2000

To Judy, Rachel Ray was rejected by Good Words. The story has been told a number of times; most introductions include it. One can infer from the incident something that comes to the surface repeatedly in Is He Popenjoy? Trollope had a strong spirit of subversive mischief in him. He was invited to write a novel by the Rev Macleod for a magazine known to be heavily evangelical; the opening sequence includes three delightful chapters in which the heroine goes to her first ball. She shocks her own relatives -- especially a jealous spiteful sister (that's the way Trollope characterises the sister); the relatives and their clergyman friend are shown to be bigoted hypocrites. Rachel even seems to walks out with the young man -- without a chaperone. When Trollope protested that he could never imagine Macleod's readership protesting these scenes or his characterisation and story in general, Macleod just about accused him of disingenuousness (lying is the less polite word). How could he not know he would offend? And how could he imagine that Macleod would still honor the contract and publish the novel. Macleod presented himself in a way similar to Thackeray when Thackeray rejected a couple of Trollope's short stories.

Rachel Ray is a lovely novel -- a fractured pastoral with strong satiric sequences on the hypocrisies and root impulses of puritanism, on the evangelicals as tyrannical, rightist, and on elections. It also has an astute portrait of the strong hero and the enthralled heroine. Although Lady Anna was by reviewers said to be comparable to _Felix Holt_ (both looked at as radical), Rachel Ray is rather like Felix Holt in many many ways. We read it and The Belton Estate about 2 years ago on this list, and Felix Holt about a year and one year ago.

George Eliot loved Rachel Ray and was so enthusiastic about it when she read it, she rushed a letter to Trollope to tell him how healthy and beautifully knit together it was. She said such a novel would do people good. As Macleod was right about the satire, this tells us much about Eliot.

There are still cultures in the world -- and religious groups here in the US -- who regard dancing as sinful.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

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