Dagny Wilson started us off this week:
Subject: [trollope-l] La Vendée: Chapter 26, The Chapel of Genet
I enjoyed this chapter very much, pathos, hardships and all. The war was still to the forefront but not actual battle scenes, rather the plight of the women, children, infirm and aged left behind. It is especially horrific when it is one's own home ground on which the war is being waged.
The wives, sisters, and other women trying to get to the wounded, or trying to escape imminent confrontation with the enemy cannot even travel on established direct routes, but have to take their chances going by round-about routes. Not even is it more time consuming and with the danger of getting lost, where are they to get supplies? No one has much of anything to spare.
Our friends we are travelling with are higher class and have contacts but what about the peasants; I have to wonder what will happen to them, how they will even have enough to eat.
RE: La Vendée, Chs 25-28: Real Merit Dagny has remarked on how moving she finds Chapter 26. This is now my third reading of this novel and I again find that in this closing sequence Trollope has at last worked his way into a trajectory within his imagination from which living scenes emerge.
In Chapter 25 our friends leave Durbellière, and Trollope can recreate the feeling all people have when they say good-bye to a place they have lived in for a very long time and is intertwined with many precious memories. Note how the emotion is not overdone; there is in fact no dialogue. Everyone keeps busy, to keep the trauma under control. Therefore do we believe it:
"On their return into the house from the garden, they began to employ themselvse with arranging and packing the little articles which they intended to take with them. They had all counted on having much to do during the short hours of this one last day; on being hurried and presed, so as to be hardly able to get through their task; but instead of this their work was soon done, and the minutes hung heavy on their hands. They would not talk of the things that were near their hearts, for they feared to add to each other's misery; they strove therefore to talk on different subjects and soon broke down in every attempt they had at conversation" (Oxford La Vendée, MJMcCormack, p. 324).
This chapter ends with a strong scene between Marie and Henri. Henry wants to marry now. He puts it that her brother may die and she will be alone; from the dramatic narrative it's clear he is also thinking he may die. She refuses because this will make her a burden to him (this is part of the strain of ludicrous idealism in the book), but it's also clear that she will give in very soon.
The next chapter (26) brings us into a vast landscape, then into a small chapel, and finally a desolate hovel where one Father Bernard lives. The fiction here is as complex as what we found in first story of Mr Harding (The Warden) and the last of Crawley in The Last Chronicle Trollope's understands the role superstitution, irrational fervor, and the impetus of sheer violence plays in war. The scene in the chapel was good; the description right; the scene in the hovel better. Here we see why La Vendée belongs to the Irish novels. The picture of Father Bernard's isolation, despair, apathy, the attempts nonetheless to rouse himself and make some effort at civilization and courtesy for the two ladies who are his guests are straight out of segments in The Macdermots of Ballycloran when Thady runs away to Augacashel and lives with desperately poor Ribbonmen and from the sequences in Castle Richmond depicting the time of famine. I will quote but one line by Father Jerome on Father Bernard: "To you he seems to be an idiot, but he is not so, though long suffering has made his mind to wander strangely, when he sees strange faces" (p. 345).
I have saved the most striking vein in this chapter for last as it is the one Trollope runs with. De Lescure has been fatally wounded, and Madame de Lescure must be told. The reality is Father Jerome does not know if de Lescure is dead or not; he can neither give her certain reassurance that her husband will live or certain knowledge that he is dead. He is not even sure the wound is surely fatal. Or does not want to face that until he must. Trollope has had the intuition to provide a wound which will not kill the man off right away (in our time, he would live -- as would Sir Philip Sidney and many another famous lingering wounded soldier from the battlefield). This enables him to tell the end of the story of the de Lescures with great power.
What's fine about the scene where the married couple finally meet is at last we are not talking about teenagers. Trollope no longer has to endow 19 year olds with emotions of 40 year olds (he was in his later forties when he wrote this book) Here is no virgin, no untried male.. I just cannot remember a similar scene of love between two older people who have been married for years anywhere in Trollope. Like Dickens he tends to keep their love at a distance from us; they are not the avuncular sexless beings we find in Dickens, but their deeper experience of one another is only shown us in highly indirect ways. Of course he is dying and she knows it:
"Madame de Lescure tried to control herself; but in such moments the feelings of the heart overcome the reason, and the motion of the body are governed by passion alone. In an instant her face was on his bosom, and her arms were locked closely round his body.
'Victorine -- my own Victorine', said he, 'my greatest grief is over now. I feared that we were not to meet again, and that thought alone was almost too much for my courage.
She was for a time unable to articulate a word. He felt her warm tears as she convulsively pressed her cheek against his breast; he felt the violent throbs of her loving heart, and allowed her a few minutes before he asked her to speak to him. She had thrown off the hat which she had worn before entering the room, and he now gently smoothed her ruffled hair with his hand, and collected together the long tresses which had escaped down her neck.'
'Look up, love . . . I haven't seen your face yet, or heard your voice . . . ' (p. 357).
When Victorians wanted to give the reader a strong whiff of sexual emotion, they brought in hair as well as words like breast, heart, throb, tears. Note Trollope has now returned to few spoken words which is the usual mark of his naturalistic dialogue. The scene proceeds with the wife's inability to face the husband's death. So too the husband's. Calm ensues: "then he began to pour out to her all the wishes of his heart, all the thoughts which had run through his brain since consciousness returned to him after his wound" (p. 359). He gives practical advice: what to do about this and that.
The next scene shows us them trying to cross the river on a raft. It's very good. For the sake of the man's survival they need to defy a rule which has been set up to make most people cross more easily; they manage to persuade the man who is pushing the oars. Arthur is at the center of this scene. Again it's true to life in such a situation. The man is a stranger, never met them before, will not see them again. He is also exhausted. Perhaps the piece is overwritten at moments, but not so that there are any false notes. There are none.
I have now to backtrack to Chapter 27: "The Vendeans at St Florent." This is a long realistic description of how difficult flight for thousands of people can be. Trollope brings us back to where his story began, and says the tide has shifted and everyone is being driven back north across the river and then westward to the sea. There are comic notes here. The hero of St Florent is surprised to find how little deference is paid to him by anyone (p. 347). This scene too is given depth and resonance by the presence of de Lescure. He lays on his cot, and moves between giving way "to that despondency which often accompanies bodily suffering" and "that elastic courage which, in spite of all the sufferings he had endured, gave him a strange feeling of delight in the war he was waging" (p. 349).
People do in some ways enjoy war; we are built to thrill at danger, to feel ourselves alive in overcoming obstacles whatever these be. Although as the self-destructing pariah Denot compels attention, I would suggest that ultimately de Lescure emerges as the most interesting character in the book. Now 'sombre, austere' and aware of Henri's failings, he thinks he must somehow get people to accede to Henri replacing him as the legitimate authority. We come up against the problem of not having real legitimate authority when you are a rebel. Let us recall these people are in this situation the rebels: they are the traitors to the present state. This fascinates Trollope. de Lescure knows Henri is too much of an idealist, not thoughtful enough, not respected enough, and yet "the only person possessed of sufficient nerve and authority [from within himself, a curious thing this quality which is recognised by those who are smart] to give the Vendeans a chance of an escape from utter ruin" (p. 351).
This scene of council and discussion is meant to be parallel to the opening one where Cathelineau was chosen as their general. It is more effective because we have experienced the fiction inbetween.
Then we turn back to the "great work" of transporting men, women, children, belongings across the river. A good scene:
"All day the work continued, and when the dark night came on, the boats did not for a moment cease to ply. Immediately after sunset, the rain began to fall in torrents, and as the anxious wretches did not like to leave the close vicinity of the river, which they had spent the whole day in struggling to attain, thousands of them remained there, wet and shivering until morning" (p. 354)
We are told Henri never ceased working. Stripped of his coat, wet through and through, keeping at it until he hears news of de Lescure whence he leaves our Chevalier (Arthur) in place to hurry to see Lescure and the scene I described above ensues.
When I read this, I ask myself how Trollope managed to endure the failure of book after book. In such chapters the genius of the man is poured forth. And what does he get: some dense man who couldn't begin to write anything close to the bad chapters of the book, tells him his book is not worth a damn. Trollope did not attempt historical romance again -- as he did not attempt the kind of radical stance he took in The Macdermots, but that does not mean his early books are without merit. I feel a little indignant on his behalf, except of course he did keep on writing and the point of view that we find in The Macdermots and the kind of thinking about political man that is in this novel informed the later books as far as Trollope dared to allow them.
Chapters 29-30 tomorrow.
Then Wayne Glissen wrote:
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2000 18:08:07 -0500
Subject: [trollope-l] La Vendée, Ch 30: More Real Merit
I've been enjoying the posts about the living scenes in these last chapters. The human drama is becoming more real as Trollope thoroughly warms to his subject, and the tone has changed considerably from the rather distant opening chapters. It has turned from a story of a war to a story of people at war, a significant difference. I endorse Ellen's judgment of chapters 25-28 and thank her for her detailed discussion. For me the high point is Chapter 30, "What good has war done?" with its drama of Michael and Annot Stein and Chapeau. Michael Stein here develops into one of the strongest characters, along with de Lescure and Denot. We know he has been a reluctant Vendeen all along. Here he is given the floor, so to speak, and is given a sympathetic hearing even though, in the mind of Chapeau, he is speaking "rank treason." Never mind politics, never mind vive le roi, look what this terrible war has done. Of course we have seen what the war has done, but primarily from the point of view of the partisons. Here the tables turn and we see human anguish from another perspective: "It's all gone now, house and garden, forge and tools; now and for ever. I don't wish to curse anyone, M.Chapeau, but I am not in the humour to cry _Vive le Roi!_ ...Look at that girl there, with her bare feet bleeding from the sharp stones, and tell me, why should I say Vive le Roi!"
This chapter will take on added significance later when Stein finds himself in the fighting.
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2000 20:51:57 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [trollope-l] La Vendée, chapters 26-30
I have not yet read next week's final section of La Vendée, but this week's section is my favorite thus far. I enjoyed each and every chapter of it.
I was quite hesitant about this novel, not generally caring much for "war" stories and indeed much of the earlier parts did not intrigue me. The plotting, the politics, the stratagies are not really to my taste--but that is just me, I'm sure there are others who enjoy those aspects and maybe even don't care much for this week's section which was loaded with the effects of war on the non-soldiers and the returning soldiers.
Survival was a big theme in this section. Survival of some soldiers and not of others. Survival of some parents' sons while other parents lost their sons. Fathers, brothers, husbands, sweethearts, friends. How to cope with the loss of loved ones and to do it while you are homeless and probably hungry.
So too Angela Richardson:
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 22:23:04 +0100
Subject: Re: [trollope-l] La Vendée
These last chapters have been quite riveting with their ebb and flow of human accounts of the war and it toll.
I found the chapter with Agatha and Cathelineau's mother particular interesting and moving. It seems to me quite unusual to have such a strongly different view portrayed, anti-romance and realistic.
I wrote my second "facilitating" posting on February 17, 1999
RE: La Vendée, Ch 29: The Soldier's Mother
I agree with Wayne that what makes these chapters come alive is Trollope is dramatising war as it impacts on people as people, not on people as standing for some political point of view. Wayne calls our attention to Michael Stein in Chapter 30. Chapter 29 is even more remarkable. We expect people to mourn what they have personally lost, especially when, as in Stein's case, they had no stake in either side winning. In the Chapter on 'Cathelineau's Mother' we see a woman say, What good did it do her to have her son die? We still today have all sorts of people who talk of honouring those who die as soldiers, not only because we might hurt the feelings of those who have lost people, but because it is always said such people want us to celebrate and honour these deaths so as to make them meaningful. Trollope denies this latter assertion through this young man's mother's raw truth.
Agatha who has come to visit her dead beloved's mother with the remarkable idea that if the mother knows, she, Agatha, mourns for him, and all the aristocrats and important people Agatha knows think Cathelineau died "a noble death", his mother will be even more comforted. Agatha expects the mother to be all ceremonious behavior and dignity and mouthing the usual justifications for war. I don't know that that's why Agatha really goes. Trollope suggests she goes because she misses Cathelineau and this is a way of keeping him alive for a bit. However, her conscious purpose is to help the mother glorify the son's death. This is the sort of thing Baldwin talked about when he talked of how sentimentalism avoids reality.
Then Agatha gets this from Madame Cathelineau: "'Dearest friends! What do you know of his dearest friends? How can you tell what his dearest friends may feel about it?'" (Oxford La Vendée, ed MJMcCormack, p. 371). Again after Agatha's assertion of her love for Cathelineau, but admission she was never bethrothed to him, the mother asks if Agatha would have gone home with him, to live in the house he could afford, and Agatha goes red even though the answer is, Yes she would have, but in Agatha's instinctive stiffening we are left to feel that she doubts she would have married him had he lived. Now he's dead, she can claim this. And so the mother then says:
"'Now I have made you angry, Mademoiselle', said the other, chuckling at the success of her scheme. 'Now you are wrath that I should have dared to suppose that the daughter of a Marquis could have looked, in the way of love, on a poor labourer who had been born and bred in a hovel like this'"?
'You mistake me, my friend; I am not angry -- I am anything but angry'.
'You would have scorned him as a loathsome reptile, which to touch would be an abomination', continued the old woman, not noticing in her eagerness, Agatha's denial" (p. 373-4).
Here Trollope its precisely that sore area in the mind which is part of the motivating force of revolution, not counterrevolution. Cathelineau fought on the side of the aristocrats; Cathelineau's mother would have sat down to knit next to Madame Defarge, and we see here with some gratification.
Sentimentality often makes life easier; so too ceremonies, no matter how distant from real emotions and real circumstances.
The chapter is also interesting because Trollope brings before us how people live in different realms of thought and feeling in another way. The mother is irremediably vulgar: as she begins to think of Agatha coming to her cottage as her son's wife, she glories in it and why? "'Such a beautiful bride! such a noble bride! so very very beautiful'" (p. 376). In Castle Richmond Trollope remarks of his attempt to make us sympathise with physically unappealing lower class characters: "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 terrestrial?"
Now Agatha has the finer understanding. She knows why she valued the young man. She loved him for his inner nature. Her argument to the mother that his death was meaningful now becomes that he
"was happy in his death . . . do not think he even wished to live. As it is, he was spared much sorrow which we must all endure" (p. 376).
The old woman's anger, we see, comes from her son's not having "enjoyed the high honours" he should have gotten from someone or other. What is one to do with this way people have of dismissing one another for real? Does she miss him or is she angry at what she conceives to be the loss of something others admired her for having?
At the same time, Trollope's gives this woman ithe dignity of being a mature human being with the burden of life. She is no cartoon character; no exaggeration here. She is a mix of motives. She felt contempt for her son for going to fight on the aristocrats' behalf, yet Trollope tells us "not from contempt, but from admiration and envy" (p. 376). Early in the scene we are told:
"there was more of affection than bitterness in her thoughts of her son. She acknowledged to herself his high qualities; she knew well how good, how noble, how generous, had been his disposition" (p. 370).
True to life too and showing an appreciation of her experience of people, she refuses Agatha's offer to help her escape the Republicans. That is Agatha's other ostensible purpose; to help the mother flee, but
"Whether she still fancied that she would be despised by her new friends, or whether, as she said, she was indifferent to life, and felt herself too old to move from the spot where she had passed so many years, she resolutely held her purpose to await the coming of the republicans" (p. 377).
The mother's first name is Francoise. A pretty name. That's the last we hear of her. And to tell the truth, does it matter why people do what they do or only what they do? I think it matters why people do what they do. Not everyone seems to regard things in this light, partly because it's so hard to know why someone acts some particular way. Do we not find in life that what the majority think & do matters terribly whether they are right or wrong or not. People bow down to what the majority think & do. So we have to take into account their opinions, respect them, no matter how foolish.
I wrote another separately in response to Wayne's:
RE: La Vendée, Ch 30: "What Good has the War Done?"
I'll add a few thoughts to Wayne's on this pivotal chapter. It focuses on the Jacques Chapeau and Annot as well as her father, Michael Stein; we cross the river and rejoin the Lescures and see the world from their point of view once again.
The scene is well done: we are in a beautiful October evening, the sun setting, and Chapeau and Arthur are preparing to cross; it's time; anyone left behind must be left. Then Chapeau hears someone; it is Stein and his daughter, Annot, Chapeau's fiancé. I think the scene is meant to be a parallel to Henri's saving Marie. It is more delicately done. Chapeau must help Annot onto the raft, and Trollope describes the movement with delicacy and gentleness. The old man of course refuses. He can climb aboard himself, thank you very much indeed. Once on, Annot asks Chapeau, how could he have thought to leave her:
"'Leave you, said Chapeau, who had listened for some time to her upbraidings; 'leave you, how could I hlep leaving you? Has not everyone left everybody'" (p. 381).
The three begin to talk of what the war has cost, of why they really entered into it or refused to. The old man says he finally joined because he and his daughter were directly personally threatened, and his house was going to be set "ablaze." Shall he stand there? When Chapeau thanks the father for what he has done for the Vendeans, he denies doing anything for them:
"'I have done the work for which I was paid . . . as for the boys, they took their own way. No, Jaques Chapeau I have taken no part in your battles. I have neither been for or against you. As for the King of the Republic, it was all one to me; let them who understand such things settle that. For fifty years I have earned my bread, and paid what I owed; and now I am driven from my home like a fox from its hole. Why should I say Vive le Roi! Look at that girl there, with her bare feet bleeding from the sharp stones . . .'" (p. 383).
I love this. It makes me think of Virginia Woolf's famous anti-war socialist treatise, Three Guineas. She begins with the statement that the argument against war is not in words, but in the photos of dead bodies, maimed people, and destroyed houses. Trollope thinks the old man sees his problem as powerlessness; the fox in its hole all right.
Chapeau is aghast; Stein doesn't mean to blame the aristocrats they have followed? To which Stein says, look at that girl there, "'musn't there be some great blame somewhere?'"
Chapeau gives up the argument, and they talk of what to do when they get across the river, what is awaiting them. The town they are going to is with them. Chapeau tells of new great plans, and how they have learned from some previous errors, says they are now hopeful. Michael remembers back to Saumar when Chapeau seemed to talk the same talk. Ah, says Chapeau, but now they have a better "comprehensive plan"; the old one was too detailed, too slow. They are about to put it in action. Says Stein: "'It's a great pity they didn't hit on this plan before." I love it. Sardonic irony which is quiet and resonates across a book is the art of the master with words.
All three come get off the raft and go to Laval. There we find ourselves in Laval, a town in a state of intense excitement. Filled with people, rumors. The Lescures and other generals have arrived. Chapeau busies himself finding accommodation for Annot and Stein in the same "comfortable" establishment in which the Lescures have lodged. We are told:
"Lescure had suffered grievously through the whole journey, but he seemed to rally when he reached Laval, and the comparative comfort of his quiet chamber gave him ease, and lessened his despondency" (p. 385).
People pick up a certain buoyancy once again -- as they always do. Henri comes in to say that if "the worst comes to worst" he shall still surely
"hold out the town against the republican army until assistance reached them from England, they were all willing to hope that the cause in which they were engaged might still prosper" (p 385).
The tone here reminded me of Johnson's Rasselas. As the chapters turn, whatever the defeat, the characters again look forward to winning somehow or other tomorrow.
I know many recent novelists write of war (e.g., Tim O'Brien) and others of the irresoluble social realities of existence. It seems to me Trollope here has something to add to our conversation today too. This is actually an intelligent anti-war novel, or at least has the makings of one.