'orgies' he holds at Hap House?; Poignant Yet Troubling; The Incest Motif; Castle Richmond, Pendennis -- and Middlemarch; Thackeray's Girls; Castle Richmond and Pendennis: Females and Males
Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001
Re: Castle Richmond:

Judy G. wrote:

Talking of Owen, does anybody know exactly what is meant by the 'orgies' he holds at Hap House? I assumed this simply meant late-night drinking sessions, probably with gambling included, but would the word have had a sexual connotation for Victorian readers as it does for us today?

I seem to recall that women were mentioned in the text, but maybe not specifically in relation to the wild parties.

Even in one of Balzac's stories, La Peau de chagrin, the word orgy doesn't seem to have quite the connotation that it does for us today. This scene went on and on and on, and mostly the characters were just drinking, eating and talking. And this was a French novel! :-)


Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2001
Re: Castle Richmond, Chs 21-25

The chapters for this week's discussion really gripped me. I read them pretty much at one sitting, very unusual for me--I simply couldn't put the book down and stayed up late Friday night reading--without falling asleep as I generally do when reading at night.

The timing of the blackmail scheme and its drastic resolution by Prendergast was paramount.

I've always been a bit dumfounded by entails, etc. It just seemed strange to me how property would pass to a lesser relative, how control of deciding on one's heir was lost to a family. All I know of it is through novels; it often, as in this one, can play a key role in the plot.

This brings up the point of honor. Prendergast never thinks for a moment of trying to conceal the fact that Lady Fitzgerald's first husband is still alive. He immediately acts on the premise that Herbert is no longer the heir and all must go to the rightful heir.

What does this say of Sir Thomas? Yes, he wants to protect his wife--but at whose expense? Myself, I can hardly condemn him for this, but what about his honor and the honor of the family name. If he tries to keep the honor of the name intact, he is dishonorable in keeping the property from the rightful heir. A multi-edged sword.

The conversation between Owen and Herbert--on the very day Herbert will find out he is no longer the heir he thought he was and all property will go to Owen. During the conversation, I was really feeling for Herbert since we, the readers, knew what was coming. I worried because of the harsh words and when Owen told Herbert he (Herbert) would rue the day he had treated Owen with such insolence. Of course, I'm thinking--well that day isn't very far off.

But later Owen proved me wrong, he is more concerned with Herbert's mother Lady Fitzgerald, worrying about her, than in getting revenge on Herbert.


Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2001
From: Ellen Moody
Subject: [Trollope-l] Castle Richmond, Chs 21-25: Poignant Yet Troubling; The Incest Motif
Sender: trollope-l-admin@trollope.org

Like Dagny, I found this week's chapters gripping -- the scene between Herbert and Prendergast was just poignant. We seem to be at the site of some radical tragedy, something far more radically wrong than Herbert simply losing his property. A reading of this and the following scene between Herbert and his father as well as the statements made by Mollett-Talbot himself, and the recoil with which Aby's behavior and statements, especially about Lady Fitzgerald are treated brings me to my paradoxical theme: while I can deeply sympathize with Herbert's loss of his property and his name, the intense horror with which the presence of Lady Fitzgerald's living husband is treated goes beyond a norm of emotion today.

What I'm getting at is an attitude towards love and women in family settings that provides Walter Houghton in his Victorian Frame of Mind with enough ammunition to spin out several illuminating chapters on the real queasiness with which sexual fufillment within a family was treated by 19th century English people and some suggestions why. We have seen Sir Thomas totally shattered; the man is near death. Repeatedly Trollope insists on Lady Fitzgerald's "innocence", though in this week's chapters we suddenly get a curiously jaundiced word here and there about her past. She is kept from us continually: we are not allowed to see her; we are barely allowed to hear her talk. Mrs Jones's horror is not about property: it's about her mistress having spent all these years living with Sir Thomas apparently in an unmarried state. The horror is these children are somehow polluted. Houghton presents much evidence we have seen in this and other novels by Trollope, Thackeray and other Victorians we have read to show that in daily life

"In the Victorian home swarming with children sex was a secret. It was the skeleton in the parental chamber. No one mentioned it. Any untoward questions were answered with a white lie or a shocked rebuke ... [quotations] This conspiracy of silence was partly a mistaken effort to protect the child, especially the boy, from temptation (initially from masturbation ... ), but at bottom it sprang from a personal feeling of revulsion."

For the Victorian home to function as a "haven of security" from the vicissitudes of an untamed capitalist order (this is a fair summary of Houghton's argument), it was essential that the woman be pure, that love be treated as something which is not ephemeral or insecure, but holy, religious. There are all sorts of novels written about how women suddenly at the end of some 30 years come across some child who is theirs and they were forced to give up. Often the child is just about to die or the woman is. This is the frisson at the heart of Mrs Wood's East Lynne. Houghton quotes a number of passages by Thackeray about Mrs Pendennis which show just this train of thought.

Prendergast is more than a "helper" character: in Propp's anthropological analysis of character types he is also a "dispatcher" and a deus ex machina. The detective aspect of the man is beginning to emerge in this week's chapters. Note he does hint that they have to believe the man right now because there is nothing to disprove the first marriage between Mollett and Mary Wainright. The detective has regularly taken on providential functions in modern literature since Sherlock Holmes. But we do find this use in Dickens's Bleak House -- else how could he save everyone. I suggest the detective genre is arguably, demonstrably the gothic re-structured as providential romance (in modern guise). That's why they are so popular. This all powerful male or female who rights all -- or at any rate almost does.

Houghton connects not only the insecurities of the economic and political order of the period to this way of regarding women, sons (particularly sons) and love and marriage, but also the Victorian dislike of levity. Again Thackeray is brought up immediately: Houghton goes about to quote several passages where readers wax indignant and pained because Thackeray persists in treating "serious things" (especially having to do with the family and "sexual evil") "lightly". Houghton quotes a letter by Charlotte Bronte on how she "found Thackeray's' lecture on Fielding very painful".

Why is this troubling? After all, someone will say but today "we" no longer fix our security on false notions of the permanence of the family or the purity of women. I would ask, in the light of the tragedy of last Tuesday, which "we" do you mean? There are literally thousands of people on this earth who do so fix their notions of security, who do so insist on keeping women in veils, in the house -- fundamentally out of the same imagined connection people have through various religions made between sex and evil. In this week's TLS there is a long article reviewing three books on the burning of widows in India -- which still happens occasionally. All three are agreed that an important impetus behind this "religious sacrifice" is the desire to keep the woman pure. It's not merely that the property should not go to the wrong child or that some extra woman is around who needs food and shelter. Part of the religious fanaticism that fuelled last week's incident is the revulsion some groups within the Islamic movement (not all, but some) feel towards Western women. The Taliban whip women in the street who show any leg at all. Again let us not comfort ourselves with a "them" or "otherness", for Jerry Falwell was able to get on US TV and say the incident was partly God punishing the secularism of US society and he specifically mentioned sexual freedom and linked it to laws which allow abortion.

It seems to me that when Trollope brings before us material like this we ought not altogether silently pass by it. We have -- some of us -- talked of how Trollope's attitude towards the famine in this book is troubling. The great merit of Castle Richmond is that the way the famine is treated is frank and detailed enough so that we see its direct relevance to famine today: the causes are the same: a group of people inside a territory have a very fragile entitlement to food and suddenly the food supply dips down below subsidence. We can clearly see that the Fitzgeralds, the Molletts, the O'Dwyers are not starving.

My feeling is Trollope reached for this taboo -- this central totem in the family of the Fitzgeralds -- instinctively as a way of having a story whose "feel" would be appropriate to the other half of his book. In both parts we are shown something going radically wrong. He was determined that we should not read this book with lightness. Note the sudden turn-around and language he uses about the Molletts when their blackmailing bullying has ceased to prevail:

"I have endeavoured to excite the sympathy of those wh oare going with me through this story for the sufferings of that family of the Fitzgeralds; but how shall I succeed in exciting their sympathy for this other family of the Molletts? And yet why not? If we are to sympathize only with the good, or worse still, only with the graceful, how little will there be in our character that is better than terrestial? Those Molletts also were human, and had strings to their hearts, at which the world would now probably pull with sufficient vigour. For myself I can truly say that my strongest feeling is for their wretchedness" (Oxford Castle Richmond, ed MHamer, Ch 23, p. 256).

In both parts in order to deal with it and end up with a qualified kind of acceptance of life -- one of Trollope's frequent sayings at such points in a novel and it is suggested in life is "God will temper the wind to the shorn lamb". It had for him religious resonance. We must remember the harsh boyhood he had and how intensely sensitive he was -- this is all retold powerfully in his An Autobiography. One reason he remained religious -- or would not allow anyone to discuss Darwin and other strong sceptical currents of the period -- was he needed to assert that life was ultimately good and there was a protective kind God behind it all. Yet his mind and imagination reaches for core realities in the worlds of his novels.

Orgies in the period meant overeating, meant drinking heavily, but they also meant sex. As Dagny remarks, there are hints here and there that women are being had too. This is part of the repressive atmosphere of the period to do it this way: but one reason Owen is regarded as an "outcast", as having gone beyond the pale, and Trollope describes him in such a way as recalls his description of his own young manhood in London where he too went to taverns and probably had prostitutes and got involved with working class girls sexually -- is Owen is hosting parties where sexual promiscuity simply goes on. Anthony Powell repeatedly says in his Memoirs that Victorians were not much different from us; marriages broke up, men beat wives, wives were unfaithful, but they kept it off-stage.

Trollope has in Castle Richmond brought it onstage -- and this includes a remarkable depiction of a woman who married for money and without love, who is now old, and want to go to bed with (i.e.) marry the young man who wants her young daughter. In one of Houghton's chapters on the way sex was never discussed in Victorian families, he presents a situation which reminds me strongly of He Knew He Was Right and other novels by Trollope and other Victorian English writers where the girl is just about dared to say aloud that she doesn't want to marry someone because she is not physically attracted to him. This was taboo. Why? Because marriage was used for economic aggrandizement between and within families. So the Desmond story too deals with a radical wrong, a radical wrong done long ago -- one in which the woman was complicit. But then it's wrong to talk of people who are pure victims or purely ogres; the way societies structure themselves comes out of the ambivalent desires people allow to compel them into various acts and customs.

Judy mentions a post-modern book: Writing the Irish Famine by Christopher Morash. They are often hard to read because they deal with subtleties and often with transgressive ideas (which the author may write on behalf of) that are discreetly veiled and made impersonal. I can see the houses are used in the way Morash suggests: Trollope often uses houses symbolically (novels that come to mind immediately where this is true include The Claverings, An Eye for an Eye, Can You Forgive Her?). I haven't heard of the other novels besides Maria Edgeworth's that Judy mentions. I shall now hunt in my trusty Oxford Companion to Irish Literature to see if they are there.

Cheers to all,

To Trollope-l

Re: Castle Richmond, Pendennis -- and Middlemarch

September 25, 2001

While I am reading Castle Richmond and Pendennis with others on our list, I am listening to George Eliot's Middlemarch in my car. This is, as I realise now, probably the fourth time through Middlemarch for me -- though two have been by listening to Maureen O'Brien read it for Cover-to-Cover audiocassettes.

I want to bring together the three books with regard to the author's understanding of how middle class women's and men's sexuality was repressed in the Victorian period. Kathryn Hughes's biography of Eliot is subtitled "the last Victorian". I would call her also (following Virginia Woolf) the first modern. In a depiction of Dorothea Brooke's almost (to us) unbelievable innocence about Will Ladislaw's sexual desire for her and blindness to Casaubon's (actually justified) nervous jealousy and rigid resentful self-threatened anxiety, George Eliot becomes explicit about why women like Dorothea are kept "innocent". Unlike either Trollope or Thackeray in their fictions, she reasons out why her particular milieu in her era used women as icons of security and "loving pure havens to be depended upon". Now she argues in this slightly astonishing passage for keeping women this way. She suggests the drawbacks are outweighed by the advantages.

What is even more interesting is she presents the advantages as good for individuals. It makes Ladislaw feel good to see Dorothea "pure chyrstal". Who wants "street versions" of melodies? Will is also more comfortable around Dorothea since she is unaware of his sexual desire for her and evidences no sexual desire for him. Looking at Thackeray's broken private life (the wife he so badly chose, a "girl-child") and thinking about real women in the Victorian period I have read about and depictions of women in the fiction -- as for example Mary Wainright, Lady Fitzgerald and her family, the blackmailing of her husband and his shattered state; the absurdly unreal depiction of Pendennis's mother, Helen, so many of the females exploited and bullied by their families in other of Trollope's novels -- it seems rather that the drawback was to individuals, and it was severe. Repress a central part of existence -- or try to -- and you must fail and also cause reactions which are unhealthy and exploitative.

The supposed advantage would be to society at large which Victorians really believed existed. By this I mean there is the 20th century argument that there is no such thing as society for most of us except as an imagined entity in our minds. What there are are many individuals and small groups we meet daily and have to deal with in order to eat, have shelter, make out in life, survive through cooperation, however minimally and publicly. Thackeray inveighs against how little we know of what goes on in other people's minds, even to the extent of someone we go to bed with nightly. Acting upon this train of thought (which Thackeray found he could not and never really thought to in important decisions) is crucial in understanding the individual freedoms we have in Western society. The old divorce laws which basically made it almost impossible for the average person to get a divorce was predicated on the notion that it was good for society to repress individual dissatisfaction (or worse -- I've been reading about wife beating which was acceptable in Western society well into the 19th century, since nothing was done to stop it or help women against it for real).

What makes George Eliot so great a novelist is the consciousness with which she writes both as an artist and about her buried as well as explicit content. I have no doubt that when she read a book like Castle Richmond she would have immediately seen the raw core of sexual tabooes at the center of the Fitzgerald stories (both of them: the older woman in love with a young man after a life of frustration and the married woman forced to creep about and enact super- impeccable behaviors outside the bedroom she shares with the man who is apparently not her husband) and at the center of Pendennis's real problems. When Pendennis leaves for Oxbridge, the last line of the section entitled "Conclusion of the First Part" tells us Pendennis will be secure and happy and comfortable because he knows his pure mother is in her knees praying for him, and since she is so pure, "He knows her pure blessings are following him, as he is carried miles away" (Oxford Pendennis, ed JSutherland, Ch 16, p. 200).

In one of his Ramblers Samuel Johnson remarks that the only way to achieve real stability, security and happiness in life is to base one's actions on truth to nature.

There is a lot to be learnt from reading Castle Richmond and Pendennis about ourselves and our world too -- as I wrote in my first posting this week on Castle Richmond.

It amuses me to remember that Trollope interrupted himself while writing Castle Richmond to write Framley Parsonage and that it was Framley Parsonage which made his reputation. Framley Parsonage is in some respects (not all) cotton candy in comparison with Castle Richmond. Of course it was Thackeray who probably thought of Trollope for central display in the new Cornhill and Thackeray who wrote the delightfully courteous letter to Trollope welcoming him as a member of the Cornhill staff.

And it dismays me to see that George Eliot sees the truths she does and can yet argue for keeping the Dorotheas, Lady Fitzgeralds and Helen Pendennises of her world children in self-destructive chains. But then this also (I have gathered) bothers many modern readers of Eliot. George Eliot was of course not alone in her conscious understanding of the issues; she was remarkable for writing them out in novels that reached a large general public.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Date: Sat, 29 Sep 2001
Thackeray's Girls

This is my Thackeray year. I read Henry Esmond, am reading both The Virginians and Pendennis. Before I break down and throw all the Thackeray books out of the window, I hope to read The Newcombs.

Now here's a thought: Thackeray's first (and I think greatest) major novel was Vanity Fair. In it we follow the lives of two young women, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley. Becky is scheming and selfish, while Amelia is just too good to be true. These girls seem to be repeated so far as I have read in other novels. In Henry Esmond Rachel is the Amelia type. In Pendennis both Emily the actress and Blanche Amory are the Becky type. Of course some were mixtures such as General Lambert's daughters. But I find it interesting how neither Becky nor Amelia ever left Thackeray.


Re: Castle Richmond and Pendennis: Females and Males

This is written partly in response to Sig's on the females in Pendennis. Group reads make strange bedfellows: a couple of years ago a group of us read Bleak House and The Warden at the same time, so we used to compare the two. Now some of us are reading Castle Richmond and Pendennis at the same time, and they become an odd couple.

Sig suggests that Thackeray repeats the same pair of female types in three of Thackeray's novels. I have read A Shabby Genteel Story and there are a very close pair of Amelia and Becky dolls there. So I see it -- as also Dobbin providing a figure analogous to Henry Esmond. As I recall, A Shabby Genteel Story has a rake male at (a Lovelace figure at the center) so it differs. Pendennis also differs. This type does not appear in Vanity Fair (the closest thing is Jos Sedley) or Henry Esmond: thus far he is a caricatured naif straight out of Gulliver's Travels. Gullible is Pendennis's middle name.

And for me that is one of the problems with _Pendennis_: I don't dislike the hero, but then I don't like him particularly. He's sort of not there; a non-entity more vacuous than Fielding's puppets in Tom Jones. We have yet to go inside Pendennis's mind: he seems to have none. That would be okay were the novel truly and consistently a satire: but it's not. It makes an assault -- and a strong one -- on our emotions. Demands that we identify with this blank space where there should be a mind. We have been given some reflective life from his uncle, and some of the mother and cousin-sister, but these are heavily caricature. I could enter into Pendennis's mother and sister's affections were I to feel something for Pendennis -- as I do for Henry Esmond (who is similarly the object of the affections and lusts of his women) and for Dobbin, and later Rawdon Crawley. I find the women so fatuous because the character has not been made into a presence worth paying attention to. Again, there's nothing inward there. When I look at his actions, they are self-indulgent or dumb; good-natured, but then a dog can be very good-natured. I feel no sympathy for his faults, partly because Thackeray himself has shown them to be the product of mindlessness. There's a personal element for me too: I don't long to give big dinners, bet, have feasts, buy women, have "friends" on any terms. The one point in last week's narrative where I began to feel something for Pendennis was in the last paragraph when he actually sat down and did some work and got his degree. At least there was something I could admire or respect -- though again there was no sense of a vivid presence.

In contrast, I really like both Owen and Herbert Fitzgerald -- and very much. I loved this week when Herbert stood up for his mother and said she had nothing to be ashamed of; I loved how he treated her. I loved how Owen was magnificent to him in his downfall and refused to disrespect him. Both Owen and Herbert have suffered, have endured, have earned my respect by either coping with a hard non-niche or niche. Go back to The Kellys I really liked Michael Kelly for his decency and self-control; his kindness to a plain older woman, his appreciation of her. I liked Lord Ballandine for his sensitivity, because he lost gallantly and held out; I had a sneaking affection for Dot Blake because I felt a real presence was there, cunning, and making it through life. So I can in both these novels endure the way the women act towards the men. The women are also very passionate in Castle Richmond, adult in a number of ways. I thought at long last when Lady Fitzgerald spoke, she spoke intelligently, strongly, and the Countess of Desmond is brilliant portraiture. It matches Thackeray's Beatrice and Rachel in Henry Esmond.

The problem is partly one of mixing genres. The mind that is in the narrative is the narrator's. That is typical of satire. The one presence we believe and adhere to is Thackeray's. His emotional speeches touch us. But then again he seems to be producing a story he thinks goes into a comic novel rather than one which reflects his inner life. I remember reading David Cecil on Victorian Novelists where Cecil said what was wrong with Thackeray's novels was he avoided telling what was really on his mind.

In this connection, there is something more: Thackeray assumes I will like this type, this caricature of a Pendennis; he doesn't work at it making me life him. He pays some lip service to justifying the guy, but it's tepid. I almost feel slightly insulted to be fobbed off with this stuff. This to my mind is part of what Cecil was getting at when he said here was Thackeray's flaw, here was why he was no longer being read -- for Cecil discussed this in this 1930s book.

If I were to take him as a real character, (which I don't, but say I did for the sake of argument), Pendennis is one of the privileged of his world, despite his so-called modest inheritance. Some tiny percentage of males went to university. In contrast, Herbert and Owen are troubled figures; Michael Kelly is a working man. Lord Ballandine is closer to Pendennis, but he grieves inwardly in ways we can enter into psychologically. He's an adult figure, and Trollope really gives us much ammunition to see where he has brought his troubles on himself seriously. Ballandine really suffers, nearly misses out, but for the three avuncular characters brought in to save the situation. When I look back to Frank Osbaldistone also a novel about a young man growing up, I had the sense that Scott knew I might not identify, because he did not so strongly identify.

When I think of Scott's fictions with their heros growing up in the center and Pendennis, they remind me Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. I have only got about a 1/3 of the way through about the first volume, but there is a closely similar series of events. I wonder if Elizabeth knows if Thackeray could have had Wilhelm Meister in mind: does he mention it in any letters? A few critics I have now read argued _Wilhelm Meister_ was a very popular translation in the period; that everyone knew it and it was imitated by people like G. H. Lewes in Ranthorpe Like Pendennis and Ranthorpe, in Wilhelm the young man begins by this time openly having an affair with a woman in the theatre beneath him; he goes on to university where he is fleeced because he is a shallow do-nothing luxuriating gentleman; then he is going on for a career of some sort. In this one, though, Goethe keeps his distance from Wilhelm. To my taste, Goethe's attitude is so cool and indifferent it's a bit unnerving. When I compare Thackeray's treatment to Goethe, it feels so mawkish and strongly empathetic in comparison, too empathetic. Did Thackeray have an ideal audience of men like himself in mind ultimately?

I know there's a book by Kate Flint on how Victorian women read novels for real. I wonder how they reacted to this one in their heart-of-hearts. Arthur's education fund indeed.

How do others feel about Pendennis? On Victoria today someone said she cannot feel about Dorothea Brooke the way Eliot assumed she would because Dorothea is just so privileged, exclusive, sheltered. Pendennis isn't sheltered except by his own self- perception which is Thackeray identifies with.


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