Anthony Trollope's "The Turkish Bath"

?Written after 1867 (October) when he became editor of St Paul's
Published 1869 (October), St Paul's
Published in a book 1870 (June), An Editor's Tales, Strahan

To Trollope-L

March 9, 1998

Re: Short Story: "The Turkish Bath": Homosexuality, The Hardships of Authorship, or the Extravagantly Mad Irishman?

When I was teaching this story, it was difficult for me to figure out what to say and to make what I would say coherent. There are a number of disparate elements in this story, all of which are intriguing, some picturesque, others (to me at any rate) puzzling. It may be that the story lacks a center or single focus; it may also be that the homosexual undercurrents of the opening overwhelmed Trollope and the story went off track for too long: it is supposed to be the story of a writer gone mad.

First of all the opening, a striking evocation of a gentleman's bathing house whose undercurrents are homosexual -- or homosocial if this word is preferred. Trollope is fascinated by how people behave when they are naked, or nearly naked, for many of the details of towels, and seated postures, and benches and different styles of walking, clapping, and silences or small talk are about how when people are deprived of almost all their accoutrements will take the tiny bits they have left and try to maintain some dignity with these. That's the source of the comedy. He is also amused by the difference in outward culture or manners between Eastern and Western male behavior. The phrase which captures the mood of this opener is "delicious wonder." The place and experience held a "delicious wonder" for Trollope.

This is developed at length for its own sake. We have here the Victorian male whose sexually was usually so repressed around gentlewomen and in print presenting an odd view of himself half naked with another man similarly half-naked. The part of thes story is not well connected to the them of the writer gone mad.

Another element which doesn't connect very well to the story of a man gone mad from having failed in a dogged ceaseless attempt to obtain an income from literary life is Molloy's Irishness. I think Trollope makes the man Irish to make us sympathize with him. Trollope himself liked Irish people. He gets a great kick out of the man's Irish spiel, his accent, what he takes to be the man's Irish warmth and splendid posturing in the midst of his personally hopeless existence. In this story Trollope shows us how to write English in such a way as to make it redolent of another accent without resorting to dialect--which is so hard and frustrating to read.

The last element of the story is what is finally developed: the hallucinating life of the writer who has failed. Is this a version of Trollope himself? Is this Fred Pickering had he not returned to his father's business? Is it a comment on the Irish imaginaton? I am not sure how we are to take this. I believe we are to sympathize very much with Fred Pickering though to see he had a hard lesson to learn--as I believe there is an exquisite affection and admiration held out towards Mary Gresley's gifts and strength. Fred and Mary of them maintain their essential humanity and we can--or at least I can--identify. Fred Pickering's articles on Samson Agonistes and his attempts at depicting high life in London, his inability to humble himself into an index so that he wrote critiques of the works are to me understandable. I can see myself doing that. I can admire and feel rueful and sorry for Fred. I can, as Trollope asks me to in The Bertrams sorrow for his humanity and at the same time agree he must yield or starve. Similarly though my autobiographical novel would not resemble Mary Gresley's, Mary's is perfectly understandable to me. Trollope tells me what is wrong with it is she is blind to the psychology of most others beyond what she sees in her own mind. She can't write naturalistic dialogue. But the story has charm, it has something sufficiently interesting and compelling that the girl's talent might actually bring her money, and at any rate is leading her to produce things that apart from the sum they might fetch are not garbage. The editor feels she ought to write if she has it in her to write. He is very angry at the man who persuades her to destroy her novel because it is destroying herself. We are really given nothing to identify with in Molloy.

In addition, what are we to say of Molloy's output? Our editor admired Mary's work; Fred's work wasn't bad; it was above and beyond his audience, or inappropriate, or too imaginative. Molloy's work is, we are told, drivel, maddening, absurd, incoherent, ungrammatical, worthless. I am afraid there are postings on Austen-l that I think are parodies of such writing they are so exquisitely bad. Are we to think once upon a time he could write, but now has lost it because he's mad? Are we then to feel for him? Or did he always write drivel? His behavior is such a compound of lies and outrageous fantasy that we are kept at a distance from him with no indication of where the editor stands vis-a-vis him or the literary life through him except an attitude of stunned disbelief.

When I think about this element of the story I wonder why it's not called "The Turkish Bath and the Extravagantly Mad Irishman"

The last element of the story is the sensible yet long-suffering and poignant wife. Of course someone is supporting this man or he couldn't have that tattered glove even in the state he wears it. In this section Trollope brings before us a kind of woman who rarely enters his novels but was much more common in his world than the Mary Crowthers or Henrietta Carburys. She works long hard hours for just enough pay to rent a flat and buy food and clothes for herself and her family. She accepts the world and takes what tiny pleasures and satisfactions she can gain from the respect she has in surviving and her love of her children--and it's clear still living admiration for her mad husband. Are we to admire her? I think so. She is made real, human.

So now our story is "The Turkish Bath, the Extravagantly Mad Irishman, and his Loyal Working Wife, together with the Animadversions of the Good-Hearted but Very Patient Editor."

'll say this for this story: it's memorable.

Ellen Moody

Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998
Subject: Short Stories "The Turkish Bath"

I liked this story and would guess it was well received in its day. It has the ability to keep the reader turning pages. One anticipates a surprise ending, yet one cannot guess what that will be. The twenty pages flew by for me.

Also, the story is valuable for Victorianists, having a detailed description of a Turkish bath of the 1860s. We see the two towel convention, the marble slabs, the shampooing, rubbing, washing, and finally the price of three & six.

Another item of interest, a recent thread on Victoria, is the definition of a 'strong minded' woman. Trollope's is given here; of Mrs Molloy, with 'a face of practical kindness with severity in details,' whose employment is 'the management and government of those around them.'

Like the editor, I was impressed by the benevolence shown by Trollope to the kind of would be writer he often encountered.


To Trollope-l

March 9, 1998

Re: Short Stories: "The Turkish Bath" and "Mary Gresley"

I too liked both stories very much, and agree that if we are to take the depiction of Trollope as editor as anything like the truth, he was very kind. Trollope said that these stories were rooted and sometimes closely mirrored real experiences he had. Of "The Turkish Bath" he wrote in An Autobiography that it was based on an actual experience of his--with the "embellishment of the Turkish Bath:" "an ingenious gentleman got into a conversation with me, I not knowing that he knew me to be an editor, and pressed his little article on my notice." Of "Mary Gresley" he said that when he was editor of St Paul's: "I was appealed to by the dearest of little women whom here I have called Mary Gresley."

There is, however, one qualification of the above beyond the embellishments to the stories, which embellishments are very important--like Mr Molloy's Irishness and madness or Mrs Molloy's strength; or the violation of the young girl's right to an imagination by the religious narrowmindedness and downright stupidity of a male curate-fiance. Sutherland says the insiration for the sequence was also one of Thackeray's finest "Roundabout Essays," "Thorns in the Cushion" in which Thackeray presents himself as the long-suffering editor whose "heart-aches" to the point that he is continually helping and visiting his would-be authors. I have not read this one, but I will have a look later this week because I own it somewhere or other. Sutherland says Trollope's aim was to "further investigate the power, pains, and pathos of being an editor," with this difference: Trollope adds "comedy and intermittent editorial rage." We don't see any of this in the above two.

We can't tell how well any of the stories did individually because they were published in a volume called An Editor's Tales. If the pride and detail with which Trollope discusses the volume is any index, I would say the volume sold well. Each of the stories is identified with a "remembrance of some fact." He identifies--and Sutherland agrees--"The Spotted Dog" as the best story he ever wrote. Sutherland says the volume as a whole is "a high plateau in Trollope's career as a short story writer:" what comes across most strongly in almost all of them... is Trollope's good heart." I would add to this a thorough knowledge of the peculiar workings of people's imagination, their longings to use it, the realities of the literary marketplace, and of course his usual psychological astuteness.

It is very much worth it to read what Trollope had to say about this volume in his Autobiography and what Sutherland says in his introduction to The Later Short Stories. Ellen Moody

From a posting by Heidi Hope Johnson on my comments on the use of the first-person narrator in Trollope's Editor's Tales:

Especially in the story's early portions, I thought this was precisely the way use of the editorial "we" was functioning for the narrator: it is a way for him to maintain some dignity through a sort of linguistic garb to make up for his lack of physical garb. Here, and also throughout the story, this struggle between the man's thoughts and reactions, and the way they are only imperfectly submerged in the "we," is not only fascinating to chart but comedic. I am curious, though, about the "I" that surfaces once (I think it's only once) in the story: page 78 of the OUP edition, end of the story's 6th paragraph. Any ideas about why this deviation or slip? I haven't yet read any of the others from An Editor's Tales--does this appear anywhere else?

To Trollope-l

March 11, 1998

Re: Short Story: "The Turkish Bath"

Heidi Hope Johnson mentions the sudden "drop" from the editiorial "we" into "I" in "The Turkish Bath" (Sutherland p 78). I suppose it's a slip in the sense that if we could ask Trollope, "What happened?" he might look and say "oops!" But the immediate context for the slip is revealing: Mr Molloy has just spoken in such a way as to put on "a splendid face" with just that touch of self-irony and accent that makes our narrator tell us he began to suspect he was talking to an Irishman, and for two phrases he then expresses his personal delight in the idea: "I thought that I detected just a hint of an Irish accent in his tone; but if so the dear brogue of his country, which is always delightful to me..."

Not only two "I's" but a "me." I put the change down to this: the "we" is used to indicate Trollope's position as "powerful editor," with of course considerable self-deprecation." But in this sentence his attraction to the man, and his feelings about the Irish have nothing to do with his being an editor. They are the result of a personal experience of his, an experience in "private" life, in his capacity as Man Who Went to Live in Ireland (as postal surveyor). So he drops the "we." Trollope does not want that slightly "twee" (for that's what it is) kind of irony here. He need no longer half-laughs at his pretensions as he writes about experiences which are the result of this highly limited power of his.

It's not irrelevant to interject here that Thackeray uses this editorial "we" in "Thorns in a Cushion" and other places in Roundabout Papers when referring to himself as the editor. When Thackeray talks about himself in his private capacity, as a man having feelings or thoughts or experiences outside his apparently "powerful" position as editor, he too will drop the "we."

Ellen Moody

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