Anthony Trollope's "An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids"

Written 1859 (1 September - 29 October), inbetween writing Castle Richmond
Serialized 1860 (October 6 & 13), Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper
Published in a book 1861 (November), Tales of All Countries: First Series, Chapman and Hall

Date: Tue, 09 Dec 1997 17:09:45 +0000
From: Robert Wright
Subject: Short Stories - "An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids" -- Introduction

Another piece of whimsy, derived from the time when trollope was asked to go and sort out the Egyptian routing of letters on behalf of the General Post Office. In this vein, I am reminded of a visit I made to Alice Springs. There I saw a telegraph office which the British had constructed. The telegraph line completed the routing from London to Sydney via India, and reduced the time taken for communications to reach the colony from 7 weeks to a few hours. How amazing that must have been, and how much more it must have meant to the people in those days than, for example, the relentless increases in technology mean to us today. But I digress...

Two things jump out of the pages. One is the attitude of different kinds of women to men and each other. There is especially the wife who hangs upon her husband, asserting her rights against the wiles of other females. Then we have the daughters who would deny flirting, but are more than cross when mother tries to remove them from temptation. And, of course the unprotected female who tries to insinuate herself into the parties of men whilst making it clear she has no need of a brother or father for support. Oh yes and there are others too, but I leave others to explore this rich ground.

The other side is the tourist angle. The noise. The guides touting for business. The robbing. The fact you are in a foreign land and are at the mercy of those who organise tours for you. Of course the English have always tried the expedient of turning foreign parts into clones of the homeland, as you can see if you pop over to Bermuda or other such places, all of which rather defeats the idea of going abroad. Maybe that's why the French love Jersey and the British hate Vancouver Island?

Ah well, enjoy the story, which starts today and is "due" this weekend.

Robert Wright

Re: Short Story: "An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids"

From the response I got from my students a couple of years ago I'd like to say that this seems to the sort of story which can offend some readers today very much. I think Trollope is kinder to Miss Dawkins than is obvious: he feels for her loneliness; he shows how strained is her existence; he suggests how the others only regard her as a nuisance or for what they might get out of her. He even acknowledges her desire to have the adventure of existence for real. Yet it is also all too clear he thinks her a nag, a leech, someone who is living an unnatural life, deserving of snubbing when she lies to manipulate an invitation out of Mr Damer.

Similarly although Trollope again tells some harsh & ironic truths about travelling--guides are rapacious, as a rich American or British person everyone you meet is trying to rip you off, when you get to the great object it's loses its mystery and what with the heat, the flies, the discomfort, and tedium of it all--maybe you'd be better off staying home, his depiction of the Arabians the travellers meet grates. He has some ugly phrases about them.

I would argue irony is equally directed at the Frenchman, the English father, the mother who calls out for protection (she is a sugar bowl to flies), the daughter who is coy and so on. The story has a brilliantly realized landscape and feel. But it's blunt honesty and dislike of what we would call an unattached or independent woman probably put a lot of people on our list off.

Ellen Moody

Subject: Short Stories -- The Unprotected Female Piles On

Okay, maybe I'm the only reader here with an adolescent mindset. Or perhaps I'm merely the only one who lacks handy access to an OED. But I've a question for the list-members who do have access to an OED or the like: did Trollope slip a joke past the editors in his "Unprotected Female" story, or am I merely reading anachronistically?

I refer to the throw-away line (page 101 of the World's Classics edition of the Early Short Stories) that occurs just after Mrs. Damer has been complaining about her donkey. Trollope gives Mrs. Damer this dialog: "...Oh, dear! oh, dear! this animal does hurt me so! every time he moves he flings his head about, and that gives me such a bump."

Then, at the start of the next paragraph, we have "'Majestic piles, are they not?' said Miss Dawkins..." And a few lines later she reiterates, "Immense piles."

Miss Dawkins is talking about the pyramids, which at this point are visible to the party at a distance of about two miles. But the juxtaposition of the two bits of dialog, and the equivocal nature of the word "piles" as I understand it, makes me wonder whether Trollope mightn't have been snickering up his sleeve. "Unprotected female" indeed--someone give that poor woman a padded saddle!

My dictionaries, and my reference books about slang terms, neither shed any light on the question of how long the word "piles" has meant, among other things, hemorrhoids, or on the question of whether this usage was to be found in British English as far back as the 1850s. So what about it: may we conclude that Trollope might have been enjoying a little joke, or instead must I strive to elevate my deplorable level of reading?

Otherwise I agree with previous comments that have appeared on this story, especially those from John Mize and from Ellen Moody. Miss Dawkins is not an altogether admirable character, but the hostility Trollope marshals against her doesn't seem to spring principally from the fact that she speaks a feminist line. His hostility arises because she isn't walking the talk of independence, not because she's trying to be independent. Moreover, in common with Miss Dawkins, none of the other characters seems likable either. The story reminds me a little of a TV sitcom where all the main characters have exaggerated personalities or lead with their faults foremost, and where the audience is supposed to be laughing at the characters, not with them.

I agree with earlier comments, too, about the odd picture Trollope paints here of foreign tourists, given that he himself was devoted to foreign travel. I'm sure he ran into quite a few ugly tourists in his day, and many whose whole aim in traveling was to make foreign locales as much like home as possible. Probably the urge to have some fun at their expense was irresistible. But one can come away from the story thinking that Trollope disesteemed travelers as a class, just as one can come away thinking that he disesteemed women who tried to make an independent go of their lives. I'm not sure that either reading would be strictly fair to the text, though.

John Hopfner

"Robert Wright"
Subject: Short Stories - Piles

Alas for me, I was also one who noticed the joke about piles loud and clear, but wondered whether it was my juvenile brain and love of puns. Piles is still the usual description in England of the distressing medical condition haemmorhoids, and I am sure that would still have been the case 130 years ago. My grandmother used the term, and she was well over 90 when she died in 1980.

Robert J Wright

Re: Short Story: "Unprotected Female..." and "Immense Piles"

I was going dutifully to look up "piles" in my OED, but am happy to defer to Robert's grandmother. I admit I missed that joke. Alas. But I believe it to be very much in Trollope's style. There was an article by John Sutherland in the _TLS_ sometime back in which he reviewed a book which discussed hidden sexual puns, innuendoes, events, and what we'd call symbols in Victorian fiction. The book apparently went to great length to find bisexual and homosexual puns too. Sutherland rejoiced at this book, and in his review added some anecdotes which included a couple of stories about Thackeray at a men's club, and some women too at their version of a girls-only gossip group. Sutherland agreed with the writer, but was in effect arguing that one doesn't need to be supersubtle. The jokes are not covert; they are overt. The idea was if the reader didn't want to see it, wasn't looking, he or she wouldn't be disturbed, but if he or she was "alert" to such jokes, they are there a-plenty.

I'd like to use this opportunity briefly to look forward to "A Ride to Palestine" because that is a rare open sexually ambiguous story. We will find a young woman dressed as a young man who applies to our narrator for help in riding across Palestine. Among her/his many difficulties are the saddle which is one meant for a large man. Trollope plays upon this and we are told how sore this strange young man--to whom our narrator is "strangely" attracted. What's interesting in this story is the tone is not that of the robust joke; but is more modern and seems to explore through wit the ambiguous nature of sexual experience.

There is another "level" to the "piles" pun. In my reading of this story Trollope mocks Mrs Damer as another "unprotected" female as much as he mocks Miss Dawkins. There is a ironic contrast set up between these two. The names are alike. I see Trollope as showing us that Mrs Damer is no model for women either.

There is more to Trollope than is to be found in Barchester Towers. John Letts once wrote me that what he'd like to see was a book on the "unknown" Trollope, the man of the later dark books, the ironical presence behind the cheer, the saturnine man, the writer of the short stories and some striking _novellas_ in which various radical points about divorce, bigamy, pregnancy outside marriage, the Irish, and other unacceptable topics are explored.

Ellen Moody

Someone who must remain unidentified suddenly wrote in:

For the 'Unprotected Female', the introduction points out that a misogynistic thread follows Miss Dawkins, the single woman traveling alone. To pick up on the movie theme, here this part would be taken by a young Maggie Smith.

From: hansenb@frb.govf To:

It's funny how we misunderstand one another on these lists. When Ellen wrote her original post on the Unprotected Female, I was sure her caution for offense was about Miss Dawkins. I reckoned that the readers open to offense were those on the list itself who had been or might be unprotected females while traveling. Just as Robert mentioned the taking of political correctness back a century (something only yesterday I mentioned to someone off-list), I thought Ellen feared that criticizing such a single woman today would put people off. Now it turns out that her concern is for the 'one eyed Arab' reference.


To: From: John Mize
Subject: Short Story: "An Unprotected Female at the Pyramids"

At 10:59 PM 12/21/97, Ellen wrote:

"Yet is is also all too clear he thinks her a nag, a leech, someone who is living an unnatural life, deserving of snubbing when she lies to manipulate an invitation out of Mr Damer.

I don't know if I qualify as one of Bart's ahistorical 20th century feminists. I never called Gilmore a stalker, but I did say his obsessiveness was similar in kind, if not in degree, to that of the stalker. Even so, I wasn't offended by Trollope's portrait of Miss Dawkins. She seems to me to be the familiar bachelor uncle or friend who sponges off his married friends and relations while pretending to be independent. Henry Thoreau was a good example of this type. As has been noted, Walden Pond was not so far from civilization that one could not hear Mrs. Emerson's dinner bell. Major Pendennis in Thackeray's Pendennis is a fictional example of the type. Trollope might be a little more annoyed at a woman who plays this game than a man, but I'll forgive him this time.

Personally I much preferred Miss Dawkins to the other tourists in the story; she was the best of a bad lot. I agreed with Trollope's negative take on tourists and tourism. I always cringed when I was outside the United States and ran into American tourists. They embarrassed me so much that I took to using a cover story that I was a Canadian, and I hoped no one would talk about hockey, since all I knew was "Put the puck in the net, eh?" I also always hated to be in countries with per-capita incomes below that of the United States, where people wanted to get money from me. I felt beseiged and guilty. I always preferred countries richer than ours, like Japan and Germany, where the natives looked at me with indifference, or at worst, benign contempt.

As far as political correctness goes, I do suspect we Americans are a little more sensitive to criticism than are Europeans. In the United States we Birkenstock-wearing, treehugging, cheese-eating neo-Maoists are much too empathetic, tolerant and in touch with the whole cosmos to mock anyone, except of course, Donald Trump, Jerry Falwell, and ... because, after all, those people do deserve it. Even those brave, independent minded, Judaeo-Christian, free market neo and/or paleo-conservatives who coined the term "politically correct" and are sublimely tolerant of jokes about women, Jews, blacks, etc. lose their composure when their heroes, such as Jesus Christ, Ronald Reagan and Ronald McDonald, are under attack. Martin Luther had it right. The real question is whose ox is being gored.

John Mize

This to Rachel:

I agree that there is a good deal of irony directed at everyone in the story. In this it is like Austen.


Re: Misogyny and Anti-feminism

Dear Everyone

I am "snuffed" out because I am actually not that not offended by "The Unprotected Female." There is one line in the story which makes me wince: "the hideous brown, shrieking, one-eyed Arab." I can agree with Trollope that when one travels as a tourist and is therefore one of the wealthy (relatively speaking) of the world one can be bombarded by belligerent tradesmen who think you are there to be fleeced, by aggressive beggars, and even by thieves (this happened to my husband and I while in Rome). Personally I'm not keen on Miss Dawkins as she is presented, and as I suggested even her "faults" are balanced by a real sensitivity in the language to her loneliness, alienation, distance from others, and need of other people.

However, I taught this story twice--and at the same time also assigned "The Relics..." As I said in my first post on "The Relics..." I invited the girls in the class to express whatever they felt about Trollope's portrait of the Old Maid wielding the scissors. I assumed they would be angry. Not a peep. But when we got to this story, they were indignant. Maybe it was the title that irritated them. I did begin "The Unprotected Female" by apologizing for the above superfluously racist description of the Arab beggars, but have to admit when I looked about encountered blank looks. Again my students were not at all upset. Now I thought the crack against Arabs far worse than anything said about Miss Dawkins as Miss Dawkins is treated like a person and they are in this story (not elsewhere) generally treated like so many bothersome flies.

I brought this matter up because of the varying amounts of dismay expressed at "The Relics..." here and because I half-expected my fellow-readers to feel put-off in some way or other by two elements in the story: Trollope's attitude to the unattached or independent female and his way of describing the Arab guides and beggars.

Ellen Moody

To Trollope-L

December 24, 1997

R: Short Story: "The Unprotected Female at the Pyramids"

I agree with just about everything John Mize wrote about the story. Yes Trollope is satirizing a whole variety of tourists from the moment the story opens and we find them staying in a hotel which repeats the experience of life they know at home to the moment it closes when we are told the tiny groups within the larger group we have met on its way to the pyramids reformed with others of their own kind to go see another "monument" which can have no no more effect on them than what they have taken away from the Pyramids.

Still, in the context of Trollope's own life his attitude towards tourism remains enigmatic. We have seen him mocking the attitude towards relics, towards the visitation of "tourist attractions." People are like flies and the attraction the mysterious sugar bowl, which I rather think most people are "attracted" to because others have been there before them and it becomes "the place" to go to, the "somewhere" to be photographed against or to take something away from as opposed to "nowhere." Yet Trollope himself loved to travel. He wrote 5 major travel books. A number of his novels use material from his travels, and many other of the stories evidence his fascination with the experience of travel itself and the places he has gone to. Are we to assume when he got there he knew enough to go "nowhere" where there was "nobody" but the reality of the culture itself as evidenced by the people no-one wants to photograph and their habitats which have no relics in them? Maybe. He writes very good travel books which capture the essence of a place and people. Still one might come away thinking he mocks travel itself, when what he mocks is a way of travelling which is not travelling from oneself and one's own world, troubles, values, predisposition, and troubles at all. What's "wrong" with the Damers, Miss Dawkins, the American and the Frenchman is they might as well as have stayed home. And when they get there, ironically, they feel this truth and are dismayed.

As a side comment--having nothing to do witht the attitude of the story, its "message"--I'd like to remark how brilliantly it is realized, how natural and persuasive is the dialogue, how the scene in the desert and the feel of the place is brought before us, how the groups and movements and their dialogues and gestures are balanced against one another (both to reinforce and ironically undercut--Mrs Damer, the "protected" lady is certainly no-one for us to admire nor imitate). This is a man who has a real gift for dramatic narrative and psychologized and pictorial verbal art.

Ellen Moody

To Trollope-L

Re: Short Story: "Unprotected Female..." and pylys

Tonight over dinner I told my husband about the perceived bawdy joke in the above joke, he was, of course not lazy, and when we were done, went straight to our OED.

We discovered piles meaning "a disease characterized by tumours of the veins of the lower rectum, haemorrhoids" goes back in the records to 1400-50 where one read in a medical manuscript of a "good medicine for the pylys;" in 1527 we read of "sores and pylys on the fondament like wrattes;" in 1533 Elyot wrote of "piles or hemoroids," and the descriptions by the 19th century in various diaries get quite graphic and unpleasant but very recognizable to anyone who has endured or known someone who has endured this unhappy condition.

The most embarrassing incident I have ever experienced on the Net occurred one day on Victoria. A man who doubtless (really doubtless) meant to write off-list, pressed "r" to some message which had gone to all Victoria and we were 'treated' to his description of his most uncomfortable piles. The poor man had to come onto that list and apologize. I confess when I reached the sentence which included the word "piles" and realized what had happened, I immediately pressed Control D. But then I always hide my eyes in movies when something unpleasant gets too graphic.

Cheers to all, Ellen

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