Herbert, Clara and the Countess; Among Other Books at the Present Time; Prendergast & Trollope's Art; Consolation or Catharsis?'; "Nothing seasons the mind for endurance like hard work"

To Trollope-l

October 6, 2001

Re: Castle Richmond, Chs 26-35: Herbert, Clara and the Countess

To answer Dagny's question, Herbert does not ask to see Clara alone because of several elements in his nature. His action comes out of a social situation which includes not only his personality, but his sense of hers and the strength of the Countess's immediate coldness and heavy intimidation.

As in all Trollope's fictions, the psychology of all the characters here is true to life, mixed, ambiguous. This includes the behavior of Clara's younger brother, the Earl who in the second interview remembers how fond he was of Owen and how much Owen meant to him in his isolation and loneliness). So several things are going on. Trollope emphasizes how Herbert is demoralized. Trollope keeps saying he should have taken a horse. He would not then be sodden, soaked and exhausted and in no frame of mind or body to interact effectively with the Desmond group. At that point in time also Trollope says Herbert was precipitate in even going because he is not sure of what he should do. He seems to come half-expecting that the Countess will show some sympathy. He is dumbfounded when she almost immediately breaks off the engagement. This is the key to the scene. He had not expected her to be so unkind, so mercenary, so chilling. She can be even more disdainful because of the way he looks. Thus he is nonplussed and does not know how to act.

Rory refers to the automatic cant about how a young man must tell the mother in order not to offend delicacy, and that might operate on some upper level of his mind, but it's clear such non-thinking ideas haven't operated as actuating motives with anyone in the book. More to the point, they should not operate here as he is engaged to Clara. They have been left alone many times; when he hugs her and they re-inforce their engagement this week we are told in hints how he had tried out of masculine desire to go further than simply kissing and hugging and putting his hand around her waist. He really has the right to see her because they have been engaged. He is (as are many Trollope males) too passive here, not sufficiently aggressive. Note too that both young men have first courted Clara. In the second interview when Herbert arrives on a horse, rightly dressed and is prepared for coldness, the Countess is aware he has the right to see Clara, and then he has to insist on that right. We all know in life that often we are bullied out of having what we want because we don't speak up on our own behalf. In the second interview (in this week's chapters), he does. Then the Countess has to try hard to intimidate him out of seeing Clara. She uses her son. She fails. He is stronger in his resolve this time for reasons beyond his preparation in mind and boy.

Very strongly evident as a motive for his not insisting on seeing Clara the first time is his unsureness about how Clara might respond. Remember he goes home, half-thinking she will reject him. Trollope insists on this and says Herbert's sister Emmeline is the one who really knew Clara. Emmeline is important in helping Herbert and Clara to hold onto their engagement. She gives moral force to Herbert's personaltiy -- after the letters from Clara have arrived. Herbert is not the "sure" aggressive male type that Owen represents; he is one of Trollope's self-effacing males (rather like Plantagenet Palliser in this). It's only when Clara writes her letters, not one but two that his resolve is strengthened to see her. Those letters -- as is so often common in a Trollope novel -- are very important. Clara could do it from afar; she takes advantage of the calm and cool of a letter at a distance. We fear for her that her mother will destroy the letter. But the mother doesn't. Why not? They are engaged. They have the right to communicate by letters. Letters are signs a couple is engaged in a 19th century novel.

So in the second interview Herbert now has the strength, partly from knowing what Clara has written, to insist on his right to see her. The Countess fails intimidate him out of seeing her, and says she is conceding his right but he is "wrong" to take advantage of this. Notice how people manipulate mores. When Herbert does see Clara for this second time, Clara rushes into his arms. Now she might not have done that in the first interview because she would not have known how he has lost all. Remember too that Owen and our narrator say that she really fell in love with Herbert after she learned he was the total underdog; then he had her romantic sympathy; then she no longer felt guilty about jilting Owen.

Trollope's characters when thought about reap real understanding of how we behave in this our life too. How we need others to network on our behalf. That Aunt Letty does not network on Herbert's behalf shows how despite her good nature her mores can be manipulated to continue harmful behavior. Trollope comes out three times explicitly on behalf of Herbert and Clara staying engaged; he says explicitly the mores that Aunt Letty follows and is harassed into by the Countess's visit are not fair, unjust, wrong. We are led to have an ambiguous half-forgiving attitude towards Letty because the narrator tells us she doesn't like the Countess.

The person who comes off very badly here is the Countess. And yet she too is made understandable, she too has had her tragedy, though like many another Trollope heroine of her type (Julia Brabazon in The Claverings comes to mind), she has made her own bed and is trying to make a similarly iron one for her daughter. She does not want her daughter to return to Owen because the daughter loves him but for the same obtuse motives for which she married a man who never loved her, never gave her a cent, left her isolated and frustrated and blind to her part in her tragedy still.

The hopeful thing about Clara and Herbert and Owen is they recognize things about themselves and act on motives of integrity and the heart and what counts in life for happiness. Owen is too far from society's mores to be able even to get near what he wants; he overdoes it. He has no idea how to network at all. He is a very interesting character -- and very real. People like him today do end up in unemployment offices, outside networks; he could not begin to get on in the modern psychologized compromising world. He is an Old World chivalric hero even in this romance, and the Countess a blind Guinevere.


Re: Castle Richmond: Among Other Books at the Present Time

I'd like to respond to Judy W's posting on how she finds herself responding to Trollope's pictures of the famine:

"I'm a little behind in reading and just finished the chapters in which Trollope gives us the famine stricken country, the people losing everything, including their lives---- and Herbert and family losing their status, legitimacy, large amounts of money. I know there have been postings about this already, but it was so affecting as I read it this morning I'm writing about it again, in light of the devastation in NY and DC. It's hard to sympathize with the Fitzgerald's plight when thinking about the starving Irish "peasants", seeing the burn victims and devastated families in NY, seeing the already starving people fleeing Afghanistan or huddled in tents---and I just am not sure how it would have been seen or how Trollope intended it to be seen in his time. I think so much more would have been left to the reader's imagination to picture, without the exposure we've had to pictures of so many starving people in so many countries, but then, perhaps in those times, people saw more starving people and had more experience of rural poverty in their daily lives than most Americans do. Very affecting chapters for reasons that may not have entirely to do with the writing."

Since September 11th I have taught twice. (I missed one because of my illness which to be frank was a high anxiety attack for which I was hospitalized and probably was partly brought on by the aftermath of September 11th as these hit me personally.) In both classes the students are responding to the literature differently. We read Euripides' Trojan Women in the light of September 11th; we are reading Virgil's Aeneid in the light of September 11th. The students are leading the discussion this way; they are giving talks which place these works in the present time. I find I am responding to what I read in the light of recent events too. Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands which a group of people on another list are reading (and some of them are on this list too) gives a cogent explanation for how the mindset of people can evolve in a culture which takes them into trains of tribal hatred, fear and intolerance. Castle Richmond also may be read as one man's attempt to make sense of grave calamities. It is absurd and offensive of Trollope to write paragraphs which come out of his conscious mind which leads him to dismiss this horror as leading to a present time where there are so fewer Irish around that those left can now find food and make a few shillings more than they used to. Whoopee. But beyond these chilling punctuations (chilling because they show us how religious ideologies can function to shut people off from reality, to insulate them and make them uphold great cruelties), he dramatizes with great compassion and truthfulness the despair and terrible suffering of the Irish people. This week's chapters (31-35) which we are due to discuss starting this weekend contain one of the most moving and best chapters Trollope ever wrote about the poor and vulnerable of the world: Herbert happens into a cabin where he comes upon a woman near death from starvation, next to her is a child in the same state, on a bed of straw is a baby who has just died. She cannot get food or money since she has a husband -- unless she goes to a poorhouse. There she would be treated with harsh regimentation, separated off in a separate place, in effect made to feel like a failed animal, a child, and probably given very little food to boot. These rules are analogous to those we find today in welfare programs: as people in the US come off these programs (are forced off), we don't know where they go. No statistics are kept. An interesting sidelight on how those who administer such programs know just what part intimidation and class interactions play is that last week it was announced by the Federal Gov't that if you were a victim or related to a victim of either terrorist attack, you would be given unemployment checks without having to make out the usual forms which include hassling, showing you are looking for a job (which is not easy if no one wants to hire you), in other words with some genuine humane charity.

So the woman in Trollope's novel is dying. Most truthful is her apparent lack of emotion, of affect. True to life. Most truthful is how Herbert's orders that she should be helped are half-ignored, put off for a while so that by the time the woman is found she is certainly cold dead.

Maybe one reason I am not liking Pendennis particularly at this time is it seems so superficial in its concerns. When Herbert goes again to visit the Countess and Clara and this time insists on seeing Clara alone, he is constantly paradoxically buoyed up and strengthened by the consideration of how little hard is his plight compared with that of the woman he has just seen. La Rochefoucauld gave the cynic's axiom on that one: there is something in the misery of others which does not displease us. That's too coldly said. It's rather that Herbert gets a much larger perspective on his own case when he confronts that woman.


To Trollope-l

October 13, 2001

Re: Castle Richmond, Ch 35: Prendergast & Trollope's Art

Before we move on to the second to the last week of Castle Richmond, I'd like to say what a remarkable portrait of a man Trollope creates in Mr Prendergast. We have to think a bit to realise he is one of a number of powerful characters whose first name we are never given. We are never told Mrs Proudie's first name and while it was once very common for people of her milieu to name the first son and first daughter after the mother and father it was not universal, nor are Trollope's characters universally named that way when we know their names.

The closing scene of Chapter 35 shows Trollope at his best. A few years ago there was much "cant" (I think it but others might disagree so I put my word in quotation marks) about how telling is so much superior to showing, and this sort of thing was one of the bats used to hit Trollope. He told didn't show. This is a wholly inadequate way to describe how fiction works and gains its power. Henry James who is often praised by the pro-tellers never talked of fiction this way. He praised something he called the pictorial effect. That was what you needed to nest in as a writer to draw your reader into your reverie. One of Trollope's greatest strength is actually his power of general analysis, of understanding how a certain sort of person will feel or talk or behave and applying that understanding to a particular situation which has been fully developed by a long story. Mr Prendergast and Herbert Fitzgerald's very different takes on how to regard time in one's life is such an instance. It is partly that Herbert is young and Prendergast much older, that Herbert has the road to climb ahead and has been so badly hit lately and Prendergast himself spent years working for little, expecting little, waiting -- all sublimination he. But we read the following passage also in the light of the rigorous kind of benevolence and justice Prendergast has shown in all the doings of the novel thus far, and of the disappointed desires for love of the awkward supposedly priggish young man who is passionately engaged with life and a young woman he left behind:

It is sad for a man to feel, when he knows that he is fast going down the hill of life ,that the experience of old age is to be no longer valued nor its wisdom appreciated. The elderly man of hti sday thinks that he has been robbed of his chance in life. when he was in his full physical vigour he was not old enough for mental success. He was still winning his spurs at forty. But at fifty -- so does the world change -- he learns that he is past his work. By some unconscious and unlucky leap he has passed from the unripeness of youht to the decay of age, without even knowing what it was to be in his prime. A man should always seize his opportunity; but the canges of the times in hwich he has lived have neer allowd him to have one. There has been no period of flood inhis tide which might lead him onto fortune. While he has been waiting patiently for highw ater the ebb has come upon him. Mr Prendergast himself had been a successful man, and his regrets, therefore, were philosophical. As forHerbert, he did not look upon the question at all i nthe same light as his elderly friend, and on the whole was rather exhilarated by the tone of Mr Prendergast's sarcasm. Perhaps Mr Prendergast had intended that such should be its effect.

The last two sentences show Trollope's genius. To unravel all the meaning packed into them would take pages and you still might not get into your words what is there. To be exhilarated by someone's sarcasm over his loss, to see that's this is cheering when you face it yourself, a mode of companionship takes perception. To do it takes self-abnegation and a willingness to give the gift of shared powerless against certain kinds of social and economic circumstances.

The next paragraph rounds the above out with an implicit note of tenderness and solicitude on Prendergast's part and received comfort on Herbert's that makes the scene so effective. That note is the result of the story which we are reading these paragraphs in the light of and the previous indirect ethical shaping of our narratof:

The long evening passed away cosily enough, leaving on Herbert's mind an impression that in choosing to be a barrister he had certainly chosen the noblest walk of life in which a man could earn his bread. Mr Prendergast did not promise him either fame or fortune, nor did he speak by any means in high enthusiastic language; he said much of the necessity of long hours, of tedious work, of Amaryllis left by herself in the shade, and of Nerea's locks unheeded; but neverthless he spoken in a manner to rouse the ambition and satisfy the lonings of the young man who listened to him. there was much wisdom in what he did, and much benevolence also (Oxford Castle Richmond, ed MHamer, Ch 35, p. 398).

The reason film adaptations cannot come near Trollope's novels is they must necessarily lack the above kind of utterance and art. The delicacy of the allusion to Milton's Lycidas (which Trollope alludes to many times in his novels) gives the passage just the lift into the picturesque it needs.

For those of us who are older and still trying for those youthful passions to be fulfilled, it is more than mellowing; it consoles. When I have had students read Trollope, it is always the rather older student who enjoys Trollope most.

Onto next week's chapters tomorrow.


Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001
Re: Consolation or Catharsis?

Ellen wrote:

For those of us who are older and still trying for those youthful passions to be fulfilled, it is more than mellowing; it consoles. When I have had students read Trollope, it is always the rather older student who enjoys Trollope most.

Well, I'm not sure that it always consoles. Sometimes it sharpens the feel of old wounds and old losses. Catharsis, maybe, but not necessarily consolation.

Thank you, however, for this thought-provoking post. I finished Castle Richmond some time ago, just before we started on it as a group. It was a pleasure to be stimulated to reread this chapter.

Wayne Gisslen

Subject: A little quote

Here's a little quote from one of the final chapters of Castle Richmond which has nothing to do with the story but is one that I have enjoyed and repeated for years:

"Superannuated! The men who think of superannuation at sixty are those whose lives have been idle, not they who have really buckled themselves to work. It is my opinion that nothing seasons the mind for endurance like hard work. Port wine should perhaps be added."

Trollope wrote these words in his forties. We love much about Trollope, but one of the points I particularly like is his enjoyment of the world, his love of hard work, and his fondness of port wine and other mundane delicacies.


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