Re: What are We Doing Reading this Book
As we begin planning our group read, the first question that comes up is, Are we the only group of people ever to have read La Vendée.
My friends, La Vendée is not the least read of Trollope's novels. That distinction goes to The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson or Harry Heathcote of Gangoil. A Tale of Australian Bush Life. A number of essays or chapters in books include or are wholly upon La Vendée. Not so Brown and Jones or the neglected Harry Heathcote.
How is La Vendée discussed. As a historical novel? No. It's discussed in terms of Trollope's Irish novels, the Irish political situation in the late 1840s, or the general political situation in 1848 across Europe. It comes up in discussions of the real Vendée. It ought to be of interest to those who write of Trollope's politics. Alas, a couple of well-known studies on the Pallisers in which authors profess to know what Trollope's political vision was do not anywhere cite La Vendée.
It is also of interest to French speakers and readers. A couple of times for amusement I searched the Net for Italian and French translations of Trollope's novels. I found that a couple of Barsetshire books were available in French translations (The Warden and Barchester Towers), a couple of the lesser known ones (e.g., Rachel Ray, an interesting choice perhaps reflecting something in it to French taste), a blockbuster or so (Orley Farm and The Way of the World), three of the Pallisers since the TV series (Phineas I, Phineas II, and, apparently popular The Eustace Diamonds) -- and La Vendée. There are two different French translations of La Vendée.
The reason is not far to seek. The counter-revolution in France which began in the northern western provinces around the early 1790s against the increasing power and re-arrangements of the those taking over the ancien régime constitute a fascinating episode in French history. This counter-revolution also teaches people genuinely interested in the politics of revolutions a great deal about all revolutions. Richard Cobb has written brilliantly about the peasant armies of the 1790s in France.
Perhaps here too we have one reason for the lack of interest in Trollope's book by English readers. What do they know of French politics? of European politics? of this apparently obscure episode which failed. Failure is not popular. Failed revolutionaries rarely get to write up their side.
Tell a reader, 'Well, what we have here is a metaphor for what was happening in Ireland in the 1840s', and they might be even less, not more, interested. Remember the failure of Trollope's first two Irish novels? English readers did not want to hear about the harsh realities of life next door for which they were partly responsible. I know this is not enough explanation for the book's failure to attract English readers. Carlyle's The French Revolution, upon which Trollope's book was partly based, sold well among discerning and educated readers.
At any rate, in comparison, there are no translations whatsover of, and only three people have in this century written upon The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson sufficiently to show they know the plot: NJohn Hall, Richard Mullen, and Victoria Glendinning. I believe P. D. Edwards and a couple of others have read it (Kincaid, Pollard &c), but this is on faith. The three who have written about The Struggles say they liked it; Glendinning pronounces it a good bad book. I join their company; I have read it too & laughed a good deal. It is a funhouse version of the advertising and credit world that had grown up in mid-Victorian England. It is a justified satire that doesn't quite come off for various reasons. Anyone who responds to the hype involved in advertisement today and the use of the credit card and false ways of making oneself seem richer than one is the way I do might enjoy The Struggles. It's apposite. Maybe people don't like to hear this sqeazy message; it also takes place among the lower middling orders -- that's why it was damned by reviewers. Too vulgar to be endured.
There is an equivalent kind of evidence for Harry Heathcote. In this case the story is set in Australia so there are comments on the story by Australians and there is evidence people interested in the history of Australia have read it, and especially those who want to know about the political and violent struggle between squatters and those who bought a freehold on land, between agriculturalists and sheep farmers. P. D. Edwards who edited Trollope's travel book on Australia wrote the introduction to the novel which appears for both the Arno and the Oxford paperback; this resembles the reprinting of Hall's introduction for the Oxford by Arno. Mullen has of course read Heathcote for his Penguin Companion.
As far as I can tell there are two editions of La Vendée available in English which are still in print: the one just published by the Trollope Society, and the Oxford paperback I will be using:
Anthony Trollope, La Vendée, ed., introd. W. J. McCormack, Gazetter prepared by Selina Guinness (Oxford: The University Press, 1994), ISBN 0-19-282838-X.
W. J. McCormack wrote the introduction for the Oxford; Mervyn Horder for the Trollope Society La Vendée, and Robert Tracy (interested in Irish literature) for the Arno people (which has, alas fallen out of print. Of course there is the modern French translation of La Vendée too.
I would recommend the Oxford above the others available on the basis of that Gazeteer and the Explanatory Notes. As with The Macdermots of Ballycloran Trollope assumes we know something about the events he is describing. Last night I read the article on La Vendée_ in the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and Mullen's piece on the novel in his Penguin Companion. I noticed a 20 page excursis in Simon Schama's Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. (available in paperback and very readable for those who like luscious prose). McCormack tells you Trollope read a contemporary memoir, Scott's history, and Carlyle's retelling in his big narrative The French Revolution besides hearing about as a metaphor for the Irish political situation at the time.
The publication history is tiny, and, as everyone who has read Trollope's Autobiography knows he was advised to go and sin no more with these historical novels. I suspect many people even at the time felt similarly about Eliot's _Romola_ but didn't have the nerve to tell her this. I like Romola myself. Perhaps the seriously historical novel cannot be popular? In his Collector's Catalogue for La Vendée all Tingay can come up with are 4 earlier editions in England: 1850, the first by Henry Colburn and reissued in the same year; 1874 Chapman and Hall, reissued in 1875 and 1878; 1880 the Ward Lock, Select Library (of which I own a copy; very readable, with pretty marbled paper on the insides of the boards).
The novel is not superlong; it seems to me slightly longer than _The Belton Estate_ though it has 2 fewer chapters. I thought we would keep at the set pace of an average of 5 chapters a week.
So let's say we start in two weeks:
January 10th: Chapters 1-5
January 17th: Chapters 6-10
January 24th: Chapters 11-15
January 31st: Chapters 16--20
February 7th: Chapters 21-25
February 14th: Chapters 26-30
February 21st: Chapters 31-35
The book is also high romance -- as is Romola. Romance as politics; politics as romance. Have we another Dr Zhivago here -- or something which aspired to it?
Comments and advice are solicited.
Second Group of Introductory Postings
RE: Richard Mullen on La Vendée (I)
In his biography of Anthony Trollope, Richard Mullen writes interestingly on Trollope's La Vendée and I thought I could add to what Dagny wrote this morning, by sharing Mullen's thoughts once again:
Mullen suggests the 1848 revolutions across all Europe "turned Trollope's mind towards that greater Revolution, the final act of which ended at Waterloo in the year of his birth." (Trollope was born in 1815.) Trollope was following Scott and ten years ahead of Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities). Mullen says Trollope relied on the royalist memoir, Memoirs of the Marquise de la Rochejaquelin (translated by Scott), as well as Lamartine's recent history, The Girondists and a long history of the French revolution by one Archibald Alison whom Disraeli mocked as Mr Wordy. Trollope also was led to tell the tale of this region because his brother had visited it and wrote a travel book about it. Then his mother was friendly with LaFayette, and had lived in France, where Anthony had visited her. She also wrote a travel book too.
Mullen talks of how many details come from the French Memoir. There is a captured cannon the peasants are devoted to; it comes from this memoir, a copy of which was said to have been found in Napoleon's carriage at Waterloo. The author was still alive at the time Trollope was writing; in the novel she is called Madame de Lescure because it was only after her second marriage that she married Rochejaquelin. Apparently Trollope's brother Tom praised the royalist leader as "the noble-hearted LaRochejaquelin;" of this Mullen says: "Tom, however, had tried to see the background more objectively than his younger brother." I don't understand what Mullen means by this: is Anthony more or less sympathetic than Tom? Mullen is himself conservative and would probably regard anyone who is more sympathetic to the French revolution as 'less objective'.
There is a second equally important context for La Vendée. People reading the Oxford classic paperback will notice the editor is W. J. McCormack, an Irish scholar and historian. This is appropriate as through the veil or metaphor of French history Trollope was discussing the current crisis situation in Ireland. Of this Mullen writes:
"No doubt Trollope's Irish experiences helped him understand the passionate devotion to Catholicism which played such a large role in that other Celtic outpost, Brittany. Whereas Tom depicted the French priests as "Blind leaders fo the blind," Anthony was much more sympathetic to the religious feelings that inspired the peasantry. Father Jerome, one of the main characters in this novel, is depicted as an intelligent, doubt, and energetic man but one hwo never hesitated to use "superstition to forward his own views".
In another book on Victorian Ireland I have read, it is argued that in the 1830s many Irish politicians used the rhetoric of the French revolution. We should also remember that this book was written 2 years after the worse famine in Irish history -- and it wasn't over yet. In Castle Richmond Trollope would show intimate knowledge of the famine in Ireland. It's also important to know that one of the most sympathetic good men Trollope ever drew is an Irish Catholic priest, Father McGrath who is absolutely loyal to the Irish Catholic tragic hero of the The Macdermots. Mullen frames the opening of La Vendée as follows:
"The novel opens with the fall of the French monarchy in August 1792 and ends, in the year of the author's birth, with the entrance of the Allied armies into Paris after Waterloo. Most of the book follows the military campaigns of the peasant armies of western France in their attempt to restore the Bourbons. The novel is strongly royalist in tone and the denunciations of revolutionaries reminds one of Edmund Burke. However, it also shows Trollope's habit of sympathising with the point of view of his principal characters: he is telling the story of the royalist uprising and therefore tells it from their point of view . . . [In addition, although] Trollope based on the novel on the Rochejaquelin famly, he used the historical novelist's privilege of inventing a new daughter for the famly so that he could introduce a love story. Her brother Henri's exploits were well remembered . . . "
[In the opening chapters Trollope] exaggerates the role of Jacques Cathelineau as the inspirer of the uprising and portrays him as an heroic figure who realises that his love for Rochejaquelin's aristorcartic sister is an impossible one. Ironically the cause for which he fights itself prevents his love's being fulfilled . . . Although the real Cathelineau was a carter, Trollope makes him a postillion. Perhaps that was the only example of an ordinary Frenchman that Trollope had yet had time to observe on hurried trips to Paris. La Vendée is an early example of what would become a trend in Trolloe's non-English novels: giving important roles to characters from the lower classes.
I know La Vendée contains a famous set-piece portrait of Robespierre. Of this Mullen says Trollope does anything but vindicate him, but does "grapple with the contradictions in the man's character:
"He believed in nothing but himself, and the reasoning faculty wiht which he felt himself to be endowed. He thought himself perfect in his human nature, and wishing to make others perfect as he was, he fell into the lowest abyss of crime and misery in which a por human creature ever wallowed. He seems almost to have been sent into the world to prove the inefficacy of human reason to effect human happiness" (quoted from La Vendée).
Mullen feels the above shows insight into Trollope's "distrust of both absolute power and absolute reason." Mullen sees Trollope as having much "romantic conservativism beneath his Victorian liberalism" (and Mullen connects this back to Burke and to Trollope's mother). Says Mullen (very aptly here I think):
"The Vendéan cause had a perfect appeal for him: it allowed him to sympathise with rebels against Utopians tyrants."
Two final contexts: It is a history novel in which Trollope means to imitate Sir Walter Scott by bringing onto the stage famous people in the midst of his portrait of ordinary ones. Late in the book there are scenes which recall Scott's Ivanhoe.
Fanny Trollope was herself engaged with revolutionary/radical types beyond her time in Paris. When she left her husband with Hervieu, it was to join Frances Wright, the woman whose Nashoba, a colony for free love and for educating freed slaves Fanny was headed for. Fanny Trollope is sometimes called an ultra-Tory but this is to dismiss how complicated her political opinions were. When we read her novels, we talked of how she came out on the side of factory workers, children worked to death, women pregnant outside marriage. Fanny Trollope's politics are as complicated as Anthony's own -- and his as complicated as his older brother Thomas's. We should remember (Mullen says this too) that our Trollope's brother and mother sympathised strongly with the Italian revolutionaries.
Cheers to all,
RE: Richard Mullen on La Vendée (II)
Mullen includes the verdict of Hugh Walpole, a early 20th century writer who wrote a good short book on Trollope -- in strong praise of Trollope as modern. Hugh Walpole was himself "a distinguished historical novelist and praised _La Vendée_ as because in it runs a "true strain of human sympathy." Walpole argued Trollope's history novel was better than Bulwer Lytton's or Harrison Ainsworth's:
"Walpole was particularly impressed with Trollope's depiction of Adolphe Denot, a coward who betrayed the royalists. As Walpole so rightly said, such a figure would have been most unattractive to Trollope. 'Had Denot been the work of a modern novelist, write Walpole . . . 'he would have been compelled to yield to a very drastic course of pscho-analysis,' but Trollope allows this contemptible figure to reveal hismelf in his own actions and words.' "
Of Trollope's first three novels, the two Irish, the tragic Macdermots of Ballycloran and the comic Kellys and O'Kellys, Mullen writes: they
"show his ability to observe alien societies with a combination of detachment and sympathy. They show how strong a well-spring of Romanticism existed beneath his gruff Victorian realism. Those two most characteristic causes of Romantic feeling, the ruined manor house and a devotion to fallen greatness, stirred him to write. These books also show two aspects that are normally neglected by most of his devoted readers: an interest in violence and a fascinatioin with madness. They teem with violence -- murder, executions, seduction and revolution -- and the violence is often connected with the effect of madness or obsession on a family. He did not need to imagine this: he had only to recall the Harrow farmhouse after his father's temper drove most of the famiy to America, leaving the young Anthony alone with that increasingly demented parent. The three novels also share a theme of vanished grandeur . . . "
Mullen connects this with the decline of Trollope's own family. Here though we should remember they never declined all that far -- or at least after a long trauma not permanently. By the time Trollope was writing La Vendée his mother had built a beautiful mansion in Penrith for his sister to live in with her husband and was soon to fill the palatial Villino Trollope in Italy, as grand and aristocratic a setting as one can imagine for the "revolutionary" Tom and mother, Fanny . . .
All the quotations come from Mullen's AT: A Victorian in His Times (London, 1990), pp. 217-22. I find the title revealing: the real Victorian of the book is Mullen himself; like Morton Cohen on Lewis Carroll, Mullen is actually much more a Victorian in the stereotypical meaning of the word than Trollope or his mother.
What's wrong with the book? The characters are said to be unreal, the dialogue not natural, and the depiction of French culture inadequate. The latter Trollope did improve in his short story, "La Mère Bauche" and the novella, The Golden Lion of Granpère.
Re: La Vendée and The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire (III)
One more clause by Mullen is worth sharing: underlying most of Trollope's later work and coming out directly again and again in some of it is "the ever-present fear that one could so easily be flung from the comfort of a rectory or the luxury of a country house into the swirling world of misery and poverty that lurked around them."
RE La Vendée: Counter Revolution (I)
In response to Dagny's and Judy's postings I'd say that even if the execution of Trollope's novel leaves a good deal to be desired (especially in the earlier parts of the book), the content is fascinating because it focuses on counter-revolution. Counter revolution is a significant phenomenon: when you go into why revolutions fail, you often find it's because there was a counter revolution which brought on a civil war which brought on paranoia and then chaos from which emerged a dictatorship. This pattern repeats itself from the French revolution through the Russian to smaller coups today.
The Irish background and the revolutions of 1848 also make any book on counter-revolution interesting: the novels are ways of talking about what was happening to people alive then. I agree it doesn't make the novel itself more entertaining, but it gives it some roots. Trollope wrote La Vendée after he wrote two Irish novels; around this time he also write a travelbook on Ireland. I now remember the book I read on Victorian Ireland: W. J. McCormack's Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, Oxford, 1980. There are essays in _Trollopiana_ which align Trollope with Anglo-Irishmen like LeFanu; Trollope loved Irish literature and spent 20 years there; he found himself there.
It's fascinating to know that Balzac wrote his book, Les Chouans as a result of living in Vendean countryside.
When we read La Vendée first time round, I wrote a little summary of the actual events leading up to Trollope's historical situation. Here is part of that posting:
In February 1793 the Convention decreed a levy on the whole of France. One area of France in the North and west comprising Brittany, Poitou, Anjou, Maine called La Vendée broke out in resurrection. The average person there was still very poor, hungry, over-taxed. There was a culture gap between the city sophisticates and bourgeois; the peasants were angry that their Catholic festivals were no longer supported by the state, angry that, their priests stigmatised. The leaders of the first risings came from the peasantry. J. Cathelineau, one of Trollope's characters, was a pedlar. The Vendéans were as fierce towards the French Republicans as the Republicans were to them.
The earlest successes of the Vendéeans coincided with some serious losses by the Republican or French army. What happened was the émigres saw a chance to return to France by joining the Vendéan army. Some of the early successes of the peasants was due to this aristocratic leadership. The royalist noble, Henri de la Rochejaquelein in Trollope's novel is based on a real person. His wife's memoir was the central source of Trollope's novel.
Another book by Charles Tilly, The Vendée: A Sociological Analysis brings in the middle class in the Vendéan region. Tilly argues the local leadership in the region were discontented because their positions were being taken from them and filled with people appointed by powerful politicians in Paris. There were also economic conflicts between middling types in the country and merchants in Paris who were supporters of the revolution. Trollope has some middling types in his novel too.
A real war erupted and with its vastly superior arms and resources the Republican French cause won. However, many atrocities happened: as Orwell said of the Spanish civil war, the thing to remember is all sides do it, and all sides lie about it. It's said that the behavior of the French army on behalf of liberté, egalité, and fraternité was as bloody as the ferocity of the peasant armies.
At first the French army was in deep trouble. It hadn't good generals. It was also fighting the foreign armies which invaded. At one point much later they got to Paris. However, eventually they were able to divide the Vendéan & émigre army, drive them to the sea and north of the Loire. The Vendéans did have this advantage: theirs was a guerilla army. They would gather when needed, fight, and then return home. Scatter. The order after a battle was over became famous: egaillez-vous les gars. Then they would unite when needed again.
It's interesting that not only was there guerilla warfare; there were internment camps.
At any rate a French army annihilated and massacred the main body of the Vendéans towards the end of 1793; there were many people guillotined too. As I understand it Trollope's novel takes the situation up to Waterloo.
Good sources for reading about La Vendée include the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica; the work of Richard Cobb, a historian of the Revolution who has edited a wonderful book called Voices of the French Revolution; Lefebvre, the famous historian of the French revolution. If anyone can cite others, please do. I find Schama's book Citizens very difficult to read. No one usually mentions it, but I think Trollope was influenced by Carlyle's The French Revolution, an enormous narrative history (which is today in print as an Oxford classic paperback).
Again Trollope's book is a romance, a Scott-like one (or so Trollope thought) made from historical materials. Still the historical materials are so fascinating -- as is Trollope's curious adherence to a counter-revolution for a counter revolution is still a revolution.
RE La Vendée: Counter Revolution (II)
This is not to say that the feeling which the acts done during the revolution and then counter revolution went away. As in Yugoslavia and elsewhere the past remained, the dead, the atrocities, the air was poisoned for a very long time to come. It takes generations to forget. (People ask why did Yugoslavia ignite: because no one had forgotten what had happened in WWII when the Serbs fought with Russia and England the Croats with the Germans -- against one another. There is a good argument that the show trials in South Africa today are only making things worse.)
The interest one can find in this insurrection that was not fully over until 1815 (Waterloo) has numbers of modern analogues worth noting. The first spark that caused it was conscription, the demand in 1793 by the Convention that all able-bodied males join an army and kill or be killed in accordance with the commands of their officers. I haven't room to prove but will simply assert that as someone who lived through the much misunderstood 1960s, the spark that caused galvanized so much anti-war feeling during the Vietnam war was the spread of conscription beyond the working classes in 1967-9.
There was and is a real disjunction between what people in cities and cosmopolitan culture, the upper and middling classes understand to be true and life's values and what people in working and agricultural and lower middling people feel and think. The two sets of people are often worlds away from one another. People in cities intermingle with people of different types and read a good deal. This is an important part of the background to what happened leading up to WWI in the Austro-Hungarian empire and recently in Yugoslavia; it is the background to the present terrible and savage tribal wars going on there. In the case of the Vendée it was almost impossible for those running the Revolution in Paris and the whole area of thought that is called the Enlightenment to understand what a religiously-based festival means to rural people; how tied they are to their priests for moral education, solace, giving their lives sense and meaning.
Money and bread. While the revolution promised an increase in the standard of living, it did not bring that; bread remained scarce, famine was still too close and in fact taxes went up after the overthrow of the absolute monarchy. We can see the failure of the new South African government to change the economic conditions of the poverty-striken black people as our analogy here.
These are just a few analogies. I am sure if I knew more about 19th century politics in Ireland I would know why the incident of La Vendée was meaningful to them. In his introduction to the book, Wm McCormack instances several phases of the Russian revolution as analogies -- about which I don't know enough.
An interesting difference between 1793 and our own is the glorification of soldiering we have known for a couple of centuries. Since the invention of the nation-state and patriotism and the growth of what's called nationalism, the attitude towards soldiers has changed enormously from what it was until towards the close of the 18th century. Throughout the Renaissance soldiers were regarded as the scum of the earth. Most armies were mercenary; when an army took a town it was understood that the soldiers would rape, murder, and steal. Soldiers were paid through gain of booty. They had no pensions; they were despised because in old age they were often crippled and poor -- if they lived. They died most often of disease. Cromwell was the first general to institute a rule that soldiers were not to rape, murder, and steal; he paid his soldiers a salary out of taxes from Parliament. Napoleon tried to follow this plan. Thus in the English civil war the Parliamentarian army was much more popular because they didn't destroy everything they went through. The term cavalier comes from Caballero (Spanish word I have misspelt) based on the Spanish mercenary soldiers. When the Vendéan peasant was asked to go out and fight, he didn't regard himself as going on a glorious task. The old régime was seen as supported by soldiers who came from the worst elements of the population. The peasants and less powerful people were those the soldiers were given housing with. Soldiers were regarded as anything but moral and good Christians. Myself I think we could do with much less glorification of soldiering, and I agree with Johnson that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel [politician especially]. At any rate the attitudes so familiar today, respect given soldiers, their pensions, health care, and so on were unimaginable in 1793.
I guess one should also keep in mind Orwell's great dictum: remember everyone practices atrocities (all sides) and everyone lies about it. An interesting facet about the English Civil war in the 17th century is if you read about it in memoirs and real details you find that many local insurrections were carried out by the very poor and labourers and servants against the masters and mistresses in the big houses. In fact local feuds and hatreds were able to come out and people took revenge. This too was an important part of the Vendéan scene in France in the 1790s. In the 1950s if you didn't like a colleague in your office, you called him a communist. Maybe you could get him fired and get his job.
Of course human stupidity, boredom, the worst traits of human nature in us all are released, and especially the love of violence in all wars. We see in these cases how most individuals see only and act for themselves. The very smart ambitious ruthless people taking advantage of these realities and stir up memories, hatreds, greed, appetite. All this must be put into this mix to understand the surface events I have described briefly.
Once again Good sources for reading about La Vendée include the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica; the work of Richard Cobb, a historian of the Revolution who has edited a wonderful book called Voices of the French Revolution; Lefebvre, the famous historian of the French revolution. If anyone can cite others, please do. I find Schama's book Citizens very difficult to read and brittle, callous, a kind of circus, not humane in any true sense of the word.
We are actually going to embark on a romance made from these historical materials. However, the historical materials are what led Trollope to attempt the story. It was the late 1840s, just after a year of repressed revolution, and famine in Ireland. The Irish were deprived of their Catholic religion, penalised, despised by the Protestant Irish ascendancy. McCormack says in the 1820s to 1830s many French memoirs of the revolution were written and published. Doubtless a way ot make a living. I have read some of these, mostly by women: Madame d'Echerolles, the Princesse de Lamballe, and a Madame de la Tour du Pin (friend to Talleyrand).
Comments, additions, improvements are invited. I have left the sex out. Each side also accused one another of terrible sexual deeds. Perhaps not everyone knows that Marie Antoinette was accused of committing incest with the young Dauphin at her trial, and the boy was actually gotten to tell stories about how his mother did these terrible sexual things to him. (Shades of what happens to day-care centers because of other paranoias and guilts)
Let us begin, my friends. And let us not think we are reading a book not worth reading. Oh no.