October 14, 2001
Re: Castle Richmond, Chs 36-40: The Denouement
This week's chapters bring to us the explanation which is to bring about our tragicomic close. That's not really a good word for the ending of this book as tragicomedy usually refers to a work which seems headed for sheer tragedy and in the last act by a reformation or sudden stroke of great good and unexpected luck ends in happiness. It's hard to call the resolution of the Castle Richmond family's troubles a happy ending: Sir Thomas remains dead, Lady Fitzgerald alone, and as Herbert and Clara pick up life together, they do so in a landscape which is barely recovering from the ultimate trauma of famine and exile (emigration). It's equally hard to call the Hap House and Castle Desmond pair tragic: Owen has been headed for this ending all book long and he holds his head high; he is honorable, noble, lives on (tragic heroes are supposed to die); the Countess's life was destroyed long before the book opened; what she is is her choice; and she has never leaves off the values which caused her to mismarry in the first place. I wouldn't call her a sympathetic figure. Trollope tells us that if we thrust forward a few years we will discover that the people left in Ireland got paid minimally more because there were so fewer of them. That he infers from this some good providential scheme is beyond sense. Still it is a partially happy story, and partially a story of desperate loss.
I was thinking while I was reading how startling different this book is from the book Trollope was writing: the records show Trollope writing Castle Richmond between 4 August 1859 and 28 February 1860 and Framley Parsonage between 2 November 1859 and 27 June 1860. While there is great brilliance in Framley Parsonage, particularly the characterization of Sowerby, the depiction of Mark Robarts's temptation and slow downfall, and the interaction between Lucy Robarts and the Crawleys and Lucy Robarts and Lady Lufton, I really prefer Castle Richmond with all its flawed analysis of the famine. Its frank fixation on sex is one of its strengths; I more than half prefer the ending of Castle Richmond to one labelled "wherein all are married, live happily ever after and have two children". That title shows Trollope mocking his own cant. I find the marriage of Miss Dunstable to Dr Thorne not badly carried off but still a violation of Dr Thorne, of the original spirit in which these two characters were conceived. The wryness of the closing paragraph over Lady Lufton doesn't quite make up for the bending of the woman, though she is a persuasive depiction of a woman who has gone through or is going through menopause. Not that Castle Richmond isn't much more the romance, and Framley Parsonage in many phases realistic. Maybe one ought just to marvel over the same man producing such different books at the same time.
The story of Owen Fitzgerald heads for its sad close when Owen comes to see Clara. It's clear she has grown up and is not to be bullied into accepting someone she now has good reason to think would not give her a happy life even if she is still intensely attracted to him. Notice Trollope called the chapter, "Condemned" (Chapter 38). A title which requires some explanation. Who is condemned? Clara for choosing the tender man, the upright sane rational one who can fit into society and who she has learned to value. Probably not, though as in Can You Forgive Her? Trollope treats seriously the reality that sexually women will go for the animus, the dangerous asocial male (that's the source of Alice's longing for George, of Lady Glen's attraction to Burgo). No the one condemned is Owen.
And it is sad. He is probably the most sheerly noble character in the book, the most selfless when it comes to material things, the most loving, the one with the most unqualified ability to give to other people what they need for he sees a lot into others when they are face-to-face. The chapter between him and the Earl is one of several where Trollope dramatizes a loving relationship between men. Owen is the only person to have truly given the young Earl any sense of companionship and joy in existence (Oxford Castle Richmond, ed MHamer, Chapter 36).
Not that Herbert is a stick. I never mentioned how moving and beautiful was last week's chapter when Herbert bid adieu to the landscape of Ireland. Trollope has him walk through a desolate landscape and find deep charm in it; he calls it an "intimacy with natural objects" you have grown up among (Chapter 34, p. 384). It is Herbert who is given the confrontations with the Irish people who are starving. Probably Owen would not have paid attention to them quite; Owen has trouble with "I-and-thou" relationships. Herbert can move on, flex.
Trollope uses the metaphor of fox-hunting in other novels for women hunting men (most notably Arabella Trefoil hunts men in The American Senator). Here it becomes Prendergast tracking the "vermin" down. A harsh analogy. Letters play a significant role in this book. Trollope doesn't use them in the original distinction way he does in the mid-career books, but they are dropped in at crucial moments and have brilliace. Aby's letter is a tour de force performance; how he exposes himself. As Clara and Herbert's letters brought them together, so this one shows Aby getting back: at Owen, at his father, hoping to bring something in. Trollope expects us to feel Aby has just given Prendergast more evidence for despising him.
Since I am reading Pendennis at the same time I am struck by how much more seriously Trollope treats the way women are mistreated and abused than Thackeray. Thackeray really half-expects us to believe that Captain Shandy's wife is a possible human being. Loving, affectinonate, respectful; when her ne-er-do-well husband goes off leaving her flat for the night, does she feel resentful: no she is happy to drink watery tea and dream of his return. It's not meant to be funny. In Castle Richmond we see something of the real way two women would deal with a man who lives off them; they are too quiescent, not permitted any real sign of the intense anger and frustration and disappointment such women would feel, but at least their misery and plight is not dismissed (Chapters 39-40).
There are perhaps a few people still reading slowly along with me. I wonder how they are finding the turns of events we see here. It could be said that Aby's letter is the _deus ex machina_ of a story that would have had to end in quiet desolation -- as does The Small House and is too contrived. We are held off for too long. The Owen story seems, however, to me, perfectly consonant with all that has gone before, including Clara's insistence on her integrity.
I thank Wayne for his response to my posting last night. I think he and many others found it impossible to read this book slowly. It is not conceived as a longue haleine and if you have never read it before and don't know how it's going to end, it is a page turner. Would anyone who has long ago finished like to comment now, to offer a summing up comment. We are near the end.
Cheers to all