Barchester Towers, Chapters 47 - 50
The Summing Up: Robin Gilmour's "Introduction"; Which Book Was Trollope Born to Write?; Comic Closure; On Behalf of Esther Summerson (from Bleak House) and Contra Madeline; Barchester Towers as a Sequel to The Warden?; Trollope's Struggles with His Publisher and Editor over the Text of Barchester Towers

We returned to Gene starting the week off:

Subject: [trollope-l] BT: The Summing Up (Longish)

I like to read Introductions both before the novel and after. My Penguin Classics edition of BT is edited and introduced by Robin Gilmour, who also wrote what I consider the best book I've read on Victorian England: The Victorian Period: the Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature, 1830-1890.

It is true that so many "introductions" are really summing ups, and Gilmour's to BT is no exception. But It is not a disappointment, at least to me. In fact, it is also the best commentary on BT of the fair number I have read. Gilmour comments on a comparison of Jane Austen's rural England to Trollope's, and he agrees that the change is substantial, but not insuperable. Rural England has progressed (???) to a network controlled from London and no one can escape it. In the beginning there is a telegram to London; we read of trains going to London; and there is the press in London, all challenging a rural way of life. Trollope has captured this significant turning point, particularly in the life of the church, with great "humour, sympathy, irony, and nostalgia."

Trollope's strength is not to take either extremist view, conservative or reforming. He writes of a period when ironically the Evangelicals obtained power while they were losing prestige. His observation that there were two different types of Low Church advocates is perhaps sometimes forgotten. Bishop Proudie is of the broadminded, latitudarian view, while Mrs. Proudie and Mr. Slope represent the sterner evangelical faction. Dr. Grantly and Mr. Arabin are the champions of the High Church side, so high that they are like the Tractarians, although they stop short of the Newman way.

And yet, Trollope, by magnifying the Arabin-Slope skirmishes to a comparison with ancient Greek high tragedy lowers the tension, and this may be why BT is "a topical novel on a contentious subject which from the first seems to have aroused amusement and affection rather than controversy." Likewise, when Trollope has Slope gratuitously insulting Mr. Harding with his "useless rubbish of past centuries" speech, he is taking up the larger question of "the two great moving principles of social humanity": love of the past and permanence versus a passion for progression. These are treated by Sir Walter Scott, but whereas in Scott progress wins out, "the enduring appeal in Trollope's novel is that it recognizes the forces making for change ... but satisfies the reader's admiration of permanence.

Gilmour sees the high point of Volume One as Mrs. Proudie's reception, where all sides meet. Here she finds a defeat as the sofa incident "exposes the real woman" under the lace train. But still at the end of the volume, Mr. Slope is in the ascendancy. In Volume Two there is a retreat to rural areas, Plumstead, Puddingdale, and especially Ullathorne. In these chapters the reader gets to re-assess opinions about the comic-feudal Thornes, and what they stand for. "No longer simple absurb anachronisms, they are seen to represent the still living values of old Barsetshire and its ways: true courtesy, generous hospitality, a quaint but generous paternalism." This is in significant contrast to Volume One and Mr. Slope's "useless rubbish of past centuries.

Our editor also comments on Trollope's personal intervention and "spoiler" asides which Henry James found so annoying. Gilmour says that the more interesting people in the novel are those outside the conventional romantic plotting devices. Although he finds the villainous Slope a two-dimensional character, Dr. Grantly, Mrs. Proudie, Bertie, and the Signora represent more complex issues, such as worldliness. The Archdeacon's sincere sorrow on the coming death of his father contrasts strongly with his worldly outlook. Why should readers expect the clergy to be so unlike other humans? Grantly is "generous, hospitable, and a gentleman," in great contrast to the bad manners of the Proudies and Slope.

In good measure, BT is a novel where women rule: Mrs. Proudie, Mrs. Quiverful, in their way Charlotte over her father, Miss Thorne over her brother, and discreetly Mrs. Grantly over the Archdeacon. Slope recognizes this before others do, and he takes advantage of it, though he can't sustain his maneuvers when he tries to play all sides against the middle. Gilmour has a word of praise for the Signora, who, although cynical and without principles, is never dull. Gilmour asks, "who cannot forgive much to the character who" splendidly ruins Mrs. Proudie's party, outstares the Countess de Courcy, and expedites the romance of Arabin and Mrs. Bold? The Signora is "refreshingly indifferent to rank, and the effect of her impropriety is nearly always to bring out the truth hidden beneath the reticent social surface." Bertie's observation of the desirability of taking a lesson from Germany was later echoed by Eliot in Middlemarch when she has Ladislaw point out that Casaubon's ignorance of German writings vitiates the magnus opus he is working on.

In his general recalcitrance toward reform, Trollope is different from other Victorian novelists. He "speaks up for the comic truth that accepting the human fallibility involved in our need for the 'usual amount of comfort' may save us from destructive illusions about ourselves and others." Trollope's creed is more like Archdeacon Grantly's when the latter observes "And where on earth can a man have peace and rest if not in a deanery?"

So Gilmour concludes, "It is that unique blend of comedy, worldly wisdom and nostalgia for a less hurried past which constitutes the lasting charm of Barsetshire."

I must confess that I got much more out of my second reading of Gilmour's Introduction than the first.

Gene Stratton

To which Phoebe Wray replied:


In a message dated 9/13/99 12:38:07 AM, Gene quoted:

"Gilmour asks, "who cannot forgive much to the character who" splendidly ruins Mrs. Proudie's party, outstares the Countess de Courcy, and expedites the romance of Arabin and Mrs. Bold? The Signora is "refreshingly indifferent to rank, and the effect of her impropriety is nearly always to bring out the truth hidden beneath the reticent social surface."

I certainly came to admire the Signora greatly. She did have a generosity of spirit underneath her worldliness -- she didn't mock or disparage the affection between Arabin and Mrs Bold, for instance. I admired her for making a virtue of her affliction, theatrical though she is. It cannot have been pleasant for her to ALWAYS need to be carried about outside -- as in the rather quick exit from the grand party, when she was shipped off first, basically to get her out of the way so Mrs Bold's problem could be dealt with. And, of course, with her sensitivities, what might she have said about moonlight walks, could she have joined the others?

I came to like the Archbishop as well. A heart beats in his breast. On the other hand, dear Mr Harding's self-doubts and acute sensibilities begin to get a little thin for me by the end of this book. I want to say: Pull up your socks, old man!

I must add that I had written I was stunned when Eleanor smacked Slope. That doesn't mean I didn't applaud the deed, it just surprised me that she would get physical. Actually, AT had calculated the escalation of her discomfort at the party to make her a jangle of nerves, so the slap was entirely justified for me.

This was a wonderful book.

best wishes,
Phoebe Wray

To Trollope-l

September 13, 1999

Re: Barchester Towers: Comic Closure

Like Gene, I liked Robin Gilmour's essay on the novel, and think it gains in meaning the more you reread BT. Probably the more you read other Victorian novels which swirl about similar issues in the context of the lives of characters of the same class. Robin Gilmour's book is high on my list of books I mean to read. Actually much that Gilmour says in this introduction one or other of us said over these couple of months we have been reading and talking about the book together. Gene added more in his comments and quotations from the essay itself.

To these I'd like to add Gilmour's assessment that even though the novel's action focuses on 'the imperatives of Victorian culture' on behalf of struggle and battle, 'the deeper current of novel runs with Mr Harding's wish for peace and rest.' Indeed, this note it is upon which the pastoral feel of the book rests -- whatever might be its intellectual and surface adherence to the hurry and competition of the cash- and property-nexus of 19th century life.

I'm not quite with Phoebe on Mr Harding: he is not the central force of the book, only one quiet force among several, Barchester Towers validates his view of what's worth while in life, which he strongly adheres to. The final paragraph of the novel ends on him; when he is deep in his cups, he can pull the curtain of his courtesy aside and show he does understand what's happening in power and other relationships (Penguin BT, ed RGilmour, Ch 18, p. 489, the 'little quiet jokes' of the man), and there are many passages which present him in ways I find and think Trollope would have liked his readers to find deeply appealing. Take his walking in arm-and-arm to Hiram's Hospital with Mr Quiverful in order to help give Quiverful legitimacy

Mr Harding had no state occasion. When he left his old house ,he wnet forht from it with the same quiet composure as though he were merely taking his daily walk ... (p. 492)

Around Mr Harding still swirls the same satire on the disparity between what churchmen profess are their central preoccupations and duties and what these really are. It is when Mr Harding refuses the deanery that the Archdeacon is driven to tell the truth that a dean doesn't have much to do, has more peace and quiet than anyone, need not care for any people's opinions whatsoever (pp. 455-56). The irony of the narrator's following comment must stand for them all:

Mr Harding seemed to have this foolish idea, not only that there were new duties to do, but that no one should accept the place who was not himself prepared to do them (p. 457).

What madness for those who understand how paid niches or jobs in the society have ever worked. And so Trollope's satire extends beyond the business of the being in the church.

The character who opposed Mr Harding as on a spectrum most, and yet reinforced the kinds of inferences about the world which swirl around him is the Signora Neroni. Calm disillusion is what they share. I know Jill Spriggs mounted a persuasive argument to demonstrate that when we read the Signora's humiliating teasing of Slope it is justified, and we can accept it not as cruel but as only what one would expect. The man wants to use her as his mistress if he could. Then he would drop her. Still I found the last scene between her and Slope distasteful: there was something crude in the laughter. There also seems little satisfaction in an existence like the Signora's if this is the way she spends her hours amusing herself.

Still one could also make a case that in the last chapter in which we see the inward life of the Stanhope household, they were no longer the gay characters who were escaping the trammels which entangle people in our society because we look to eat and drink and sleep comfortably and with the respect of others, but rather a desperate group who were at every moment constricted and driven to lead second and third rate lives (not fulfilled ones at all) because of these constrictions. And it is sad.

Bertie has a wonderful facility at drawing, but he doesn't work his talent until it becomes something serious -- and paying. Charlotte's is a singularly isolated life. The one note of cheer they strike is they are together; where one Stanhope is, there is another. They will stick together. And only thus will Madeline survive. No, as Phoebe says, it cannot be pleasant always to have to be carried about. Madeline would have liked to walk in Barsetshire by moonlight. Unlike Bertie, her jokes are sour because she is soured -- and one understands why, though what she subjects Slope to does not always amuse.

The sticking together of the Stanhopes is, however, more than you can say cheerfully of Bishop and Mrs Proudie. I was with Mr Slope when he said 'As to the Bishop, I pity him' (p. 486). As I read the 'turning off' scene of Mr Slope (the Bishop and Mrs Proudie turn Slope off), I thought to myself after all Mrs Proudie is the character who carries whatever feminism there is in the novel insofar as a woman seeking power and a presence (or career and money) on her own is concerned. She will not be embarrassed into leaving the Bishop's study when Slope comes in; she will not be intimidated, ridiculed or silenced by disdain once the interview begins. Actually Slope's attitude towards Mrs Proudie is just that of the Rev Mr Crawley in The Last Chronicle. Crawley too tries to make it understood for once and for all that he will not contend with a woman in words that are remarkably similar to Slope's in this scene (see p. 484, '"Mrs Proudie, pray let it be understood, once for all, that I will have no words with you ..."'). In Trollope's novels men will not contend with women as authority figures; if they do, they are regarded by him or others as emasculated, humiliated, absurd. Mrs Proudie holds her own and emasculates her husband.

Slope has spunk though. If the comic spirit of this book is anywhere evident it is in his resilience. I think we are to admire Mr Slope's refusal to allow the world to see he has been pushed aside in the following final encounter between the Archdeacon (now a nearly confirmed full winner in the world's battle for prizes) and Mr Slope:

'They did not speak now; but they looked each other full in the face, and Mr SLope's countenance was as impudent, as triumphant, as defaint as ever. Had Dr Grantly not known to the contrary, he woudl have imagined tha this enemy had wond the deanship, the wife, and all the rich honours, for which he had been striving. As it was, he had lost everything that he had in the world, and had just received his congé from his bishop (p. 478).

This is the first we hear of where the see-saw of political patronage (=caprice) has landed Mr Slope. Never fear though. This is a comedy, and as Trollope slyly reminds us -- undercutting the complacency of the ending by so doing lest we think this is life -- a novel (see especially the opening paragraph to Chapter 17, p. 481 in the Penguin), a kind of children's dinner-party to be made up of sweetmeats and sugar-plums (p. 495). Thus when each of Mr Slope's hopes falls through, and finally comes the note from Sir Nicholas that the deanship is 'disposed of', our narrator writes:

'Let us give Mr Slope his due. He did not lie prostrate under this blow, or give himself up to vain lamentations; he did ont henceforward despair of life, and call upon the gods above and below to carry him off. He sat himself down in his chair, counted out what monies he had in hand for present purposes, and what others were coming in to him, bethought himself as to the best sphere for his future exertions, and at once wrote off a letter to a rich sugar-refiner's wife in Baker Street . . . (p. 486).

If it seems a bit pat that when last heard of this rich sugar-refiner's wife has become a widow who is 'inconsolable; or, in other words, in want of consolaton' which Mr Slope is glad to supply, we are to remember this is a novel, a comedy. At any rate Mr Slope is one of those people whom Gilmour says looks forward to change, welcomes the coming of the new kinds of hierarchies which will emerge based on power and individual initiative. He shakes the dust off his feet and gives 'no longing, lingering look after the catherdral towers, as the train' hurries 'him quickly out of their sight' (p. 486).

Gilmour thinks that Eleanor Bold is the character most 'entirely subservient to the conventions of romantic plot-making' and novels (p. xvi). Certainly her scene with Arabin is touching, but I think it is so because it is told from the point of view of the awkward unromantic Arabin. To me much more effective somehow was the comedy of the Grantlys. Mr Grantly growing ill with his own nightmares about Eleanor marrying Slope, Slope becoming Dean, and Mr Arabin becoming entangled with the Signora, all the while the reader knows that the happying ending is a few pages ahead. The dialogues between the Grantlys are fun because we go beneath the prim surfaces of such people to show them anxious and consequently quarreling with one another. There' s a note we all recognise probably from our own lives -- while the conventions of novel- making have always this stilted quality drawn from too much stiff idealisation and not enough truth about sex.

Perhaps Eleanor's story of the three suitors was the most conventional structure in the story (I believe Gene wrote about this several weeks ago now), but it did provide a story and structure, and Trollope had to fit his intelligent serious commentary on the life of his time in a framework which sold.

I finished the book with a strong sense of admiration for the man who wrote it. It's judicious, the book of a thinking adult man -- one who knows how to entertain us by setting before us insoluble perplexities very like our own. Poor Eleanor. She may be happier in her father's presence than anywhere else, and like the eloquent philosophy of her husband's sermons, but not the less for that does she like 'red letters in her own prayerbook', and while we are not to presume 'she has a taste ofr candle,s or that she is at all astray about the real presence ... she has an inkling that way' (p. 497). I am reminded of a female horse in Orwell's Animal Farm who when all is said and done cannot be got not to care whether she has a pretty pink ribbon on her tail or not.

Cheers to all
Ellen Moody

At which point Gene wrote the following:

Subject: [trollope-l] BT: Why Was Trollope Born?

Many of us have paid our tribute to Barchester Towers, and the consensus seems to be that it is a truly great novel. R. H. Super in his biography of Trollope, The Chronicler of Barsetshire, writes of the praise given this book, over all his other writings, by someone who knew him well (although it's backhanded in another respect).

Trollope's writings on contemporary political themes sometimes were criticized by the media, and he was especially accused of floundering in platitudes and commonplaces. Although Pall Mall magazine to which he frequently contributed defended him, after Trollope's death Frederick Greenwood, Pall Mall's editor, wrote that Trollope was a man "with the aspect of a wild boar, and with not infrequent resemblance to same [and he was] extraordinarily ambitious to figure as politician, but a politician he was not born to be: he was born to write Barchester Towers."

Gene Stratton

To Trollope-l

September 14, 1999

Re: Barchester Towers or The Last Chronicle of Barset or maybe "The Spotted Dog"?

In the interests of getting more people to write more posts on Barchester Towers in the mood of "summing up" and in the interests of stepping back to look at the full context of the Barsetshire series for our marathon, I respond to Gene's posting on BT. I suggest with other critics that Barchester Towers remains a sport for Trollope; a wonderful festive book, but not typical.

The baby which Trollope was born to write was a big one: The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire: a deeply inward perspective on human nature which also takes into account the impress of society on the individual mind. This omits the 13 novellas (of which The Warden is one); the 42 short stories, and the two savage satires (The Way We Live Now and Is He Popenjoy), and a few highly romantic romance-novels (e.g., Castle Richmond). Still ...

Barchester Towers does what Trollope wanted it to do very well: it is a novel which analyses man in his social functioning, particularly with reference to church politics and different religious and moral doctrines actually function or are used in society. Its technique is often Fieldingesque; it makes a sharp use of caricature. The only chapter where we travel at length into someone's mind is the one which introduces Mr Arabin, and thereafter he is mostly seen from the outside. The analyses of Mr Slope are highly intermittent and at times as reductive as the portrait of archdeacon Grantly in The Warden. There's as frequent as usage of the mock-heroic and literary allusion as we found in The Warden-- though perhaps not as jarring since it occurs throughout the book. Barchester Towers moves into Thackeray's vein: Trollope as showman, parading his presence as our storyteller in order to undercut any strong emotions we might feel towards the subject matter. Religion, church politics, sex, feminism are touchy matters.

How about this: in Barchester Towers Trollope performed for his century in the way Guareschi performed for ours in the 20th in Italy: the satiric tales of Don Camillo are similarly fable-like in their final effect. It is true to say that such caution leaves a text open to the accusations of superficiality and coarseness. There is something coarse about the presentation of the Signora Neroni and Slope. This time through I also felt it was not believable within the terms of the fiction itself that the Signora Neroni should really attract Arabin in the way she did, beckon to Eleanor and operate Eleanor as a puppet-master, and make for the happy ending. That the reader doesn't quite think about how poor Madeline is our deus ex machina, getting rid of Slope, marrying people off to one another testifies to Trollope's skill in making her feel all-powerful for the moment. Then he can dismiss her as a helpless poverty-striken cripple. So he works his character both ways, but the scene between the Signora and Eleanor did not quite work for me.

In another excellent book on Trollope's fiction (there are so many good ones, Robin Gilmour is not alone), The Unofficial Trollope, Bill Overton says the unofficial Trollope is the man who wrote so much fiction that is not easily susceptible of categorisation, that escapes our pigeonholing because he can show how the individual mind is 'bathed in the vision of the community', how the identities of people in private cannot be hidden in public to those who can see what is in front of them -- and it's Trollope's function to make us see preternaturally what in life is barely visible. Another theme in Trollope, according to Overton, is 'the intepenetrability of minds'.

I instanced The Last Chronicle since Overton analyses it and I think the Rev Josiah Crawley is a supreme creation of Trollope's in this connection. However, the brilliance of Trollope's treatment of the interiors of personalities in situations which are complex and the reader is allowed to come up close to his characters occur in many other novels. We find both in Dr Thorne and The Bertrams immediately afterwards. Tolstoi wrote of the latter, it 'killed' him; he wept, he was so envious of Trollope's power over the reader, he could barely so go on working on his own stuff.

I have here a secondary candidate: When I think of how in 'The Spotted Dog' Trollope opens with an unforgettable letter from an anguished personality which is yet in control of himself, and then brings on stage a scene in which we see how so many elements central to the functioning of the human personality are brought out in this pre-eminently social, difficult and common moment (the interview), I suggest that looking outside the Barsetshire series and his very long books, Trollope was born to write 'The Spotted Dog'.

Barchester Towers is a popular book because it's been made easy to swallow for us. The darker currents running underneath are left for the narrator to bring in when he mocks his own fiction or his characters even in the final moments of his fiction. The mockery remains benign. No one, not even Mr Slope, comes to real harm. Not so in many of the other books, say the first, The Macdermots to the last, Mr Scarborough's Family.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

The interested reader is reminded that a whole bunch of us were reading Bleak House at this time. There were so many moans and groans about Esther Summerson. Much resentment, distaste, self-confident blame. So as we were at the same time writing our final assessments of Barchester Towers, I contributed the following comparison. I like to play devil's advocate on lists: I also like what Esther Summerson stands for and wish the mood or strains of feeling her character represents were more prevalent in life.

To Trollope-l

September 21, 1999

Re: On Behalf of Esther and Contra Madeline

One of the problems of cyberspace and the kinds of conversation it encourages, is we often on lists press our points strongly as if we were lawyers with a brief. This is perhaps the result of modern unversity training which discourages the older Montaigne encompassing approach, the bellestristic as it came to be called in Woolf's time. Also in any given posting, most of us write hastily, don't have the time finely to nuance our statements or bring in all the necessary qualifications.

There are many beautiful passages in Esther's many narratives in Bleak House. I don't think that this were the result of Dickens's psychological understanding of her developmental history, but rather a sort of lyrical élan in which he expressed what seemed to him best about the human spirit. Humility, kindness, courtesy, a complete lack of competition for prizes but rather a satisfaction in doing and making good things for their own sakes. There was poetry there.

Gene seems right when he says that even in Dickens's era people recognised his characters were 'puppets' (a favorite somewhat denigrating phrase I have come across other novelists using for Dickens's characters). In our own time -- and especially here on a list whose central star is Trollope -- we look for psychological depths; we also assume a sexual maturity will inform any text for adults. To me Esther's scene with Woodcourt was hopelessly vitiated by the censorship. I would suggest that Dickens more than half-meant us to look at this character as an indepth portrayal; surely that's why he gives her one-half of his book and allows her to tell his story in the first person. He was straining his gifts -- if I may be allowed the comparison, much like Ann Radcliffe in her Italian. Both poets not psychological novelists.

My inability to laugh at Guppy shows more about me than Dickens. I never find cruelty amusing -- which was what I thought was supposed to amuse me in Smallweed's behavior. I just take it too seriously; it does too much harm in the world, is too common. In the case of the clerks I felt I was asked to laugh at them as well as enjoy the exposure of their hypocrisy and smallness. But then again I don't find hypocrisy and smallness funny. See above argument.

Bleak House has a strange sort of distorted greatness. Rather like the megasaurus we first see walking into the fog.

Madeline is often distasteful and Trollope meant her to be so. In the earlier parts of the novel, the presentation is gay and light; however at the same time Trollope tells us the Stanhopes are fundamentally finally heartless. That quality or element in her education has been her undoing, it made her judge badly when it was time for her to make an important decision (who to marry). The insouciance and not caring has made Bertie what he is -- a man without passion for an intense fulfillment. As the story progresses, we see how hard, harsh, and soured Madeline is, how empty Bertie.

Trollope manages to explain them both psychologically; I think he manages to make us sympathise up to a point. Bertie tells the truth; he does not persecute or try to fool Elinor. Trollope gives Madeline the role of the good fairy in the novel. Trollope also shows the Stanhope family as kind to one another in all sorts of daily ways. No small thing that. At least not in my experience.

Still on the whole Bertie was not good husband material. No one to depend upon, have a child with. He knew it. I found myself comparing him to Skimpole; the difference in psychological understanding and persuasiveness was all on Trollope's side. Madeline is presented as gallant at times, as someone who has not quite deserved her lifelong punishment. Yet that punishment has turned her into someone most of us would avoid. I didn't care for how she enjoyed watching Slope squirm. It was as bad sign. As I wrote, maybe in the original text Trollope had descriptions which would have made me side with her; however, as the text now stands, she comes across as ignoble as he.

Cheers to all,
Ellen Moody

Subject: [trollope-l] In support of Esther and against Madeline

From: "Howard Merkin"

I cannot go along with the majority of the members of the list who seem to find Esther Summerson unbearably good and efficient. She clearly is both of these things, but you have to consider her history. She was born and brought up under a shadow - remember 'Your mother, Esther, is your disgrace, and you were hers.' (BH, ch. 3). She was taken on in what appeared to be a relatively menial capacity at Bleak House, and had to make her way by her kindly nature and efficiency. She did this by being sweet and affectionate to everyone, and by the effective control of the household, symbolised by those deplored keys. She then suffered a grave illness and disfigurement, and apparently lost the one man who evidently touched her heart and possibly her sexual feelings. She agreed to what amounted to a marriage of convenience with John Jarndyce because of the respect that she had for him, and was then faced with a declaration by Allan Woodcourt before she had been released from her promise by Jarndyce.

It seems unreasonable to expect Dickens to indicate sexual passion in the scene between Esther and Allan. Dickens never achieved even the slight nuances that Trollope was able to introduce (for example in Is He Popenjoy?) and was probably even more terrified of the prudery of Mudie and his publisher's readers than Trollope. Of course Dickens was repetitive and he could frequently become dull as a consequence. Nevertheless it is difficult to avoid smiling at Guppy as he makes his final volte-face in his last declaration to Esther. Bleak House was a splendid novel, despite Dickens's longeurs, but he was never as accomplished or polished a writer as Trollope

Having stuck up for Esther, can I now do the opposite for Madeline Neroni. I am sure that Trollope intended to show her as a scheming and dishonest woman, using her disability to excuse her behaviour. All the nonsense that she talked about her daughter and the blood of Tiberius and the last of the Neros was intended to impress, and cannot be attributed to her injuries, whatever they may have been. She seemed to be unable to avoid exercising her fascination on every man who gave her a second glance, and her only redeeming feature seems to have been when she decided to bring Eleanor and Arabin together because he evidently wanted her so badly. I may be softening a little towards her because, following Jill's posting some time ago, I have now acquired the BBC video recording of The Barchester Chronicles. In this Madeline is played by Susan Hampshire, and it is difficult to dislike any character who she plays.

Incidentally, last Tuesday Ellen warned US readers of the incompatibility of British and US Audiocassettes. I think that she meant Videocassettes, since there is no problem with audio, but there certainly can be with video, since the British cassettes use the European PAL system, while the US cassettes use something else - I am not sure what.

Howard Merkin

Pat Maroney now joined in:

I agree with Howard's assessment of Esther and Bleak House. I too found Esther hard to take the first time I read the book, but she really is as she had to be, given her background, and my respect for her grew with the second and more with the third readings. I also agree with Ellen that Lady Dedlock is so well done; the cold of the death scene went through my bones. As to the proposal, I was so glad that Esther was finally to marry Woodcourt that I never thought to find fault with it. I like Dickens and have read and reread him for many years and feel that there are many elements of Bleak House that are so moving, beyond what most authors could ever hope to achieve. But it is an experience now to reread him after learning to love Trollope. In many ways Dickens does suffer by comparison. But not in Bleak House. Pat

Subject: [trollope-l] Afterthoughts on Barchester Towers From: Sigmund Eisner

While we were reading Barchester Towers, we spent considerable time analyzing Mr. Slope and the Stanhope family. And well we should have. The five Stanhopes and Slope were integral parts of the plot and the psychological presentation of Barchester Towers. But note this: In the four following Barchester novels we never again meet either the Stanhopes or Slope. We do meet Mr. Harding and his progeny and Archdeacon Grantly and his progeny. And, of course, we meet lots of new characters. But never again do we see six of the major characters of the early Barchester novels. I suppose we can conclude that all six of them served a purpose in BT, and that was that.

Subject: The affliction of the Senora Neroni

[This posting was written at another time but I place it here as appropriate to the thread): Some months ago there was a debate about the pathology underlying the Senora's diability and some speculation about how it might have arisen. I am today in a position to make a contribution to that debate. In the Routledge edition of Barchester Towers at 63 Trollope describes her as having injured the sinews of her knee

"so fatally, that when she stood she lost eight inches of her accustomed height; so fatally, that when she essayed to move, she could only drag herself painfully along , with protruded hip and extended foot in a manner less graceful than a hunchback . . . "

When the internal female reproductive organs receive an insult delivered, for example, by an abortionist's knitting needle or, as in the case of which I have some personal knowledge, the probe of a sophisticated procedure, there can be internal bleeding.

The blood flows into the peritoneal cavity causing infection; in the case I have observed these past months the infection spread to and invaded the sacro-ileac joint which, I have now learnt, is the bridge between pelvis and thigh and one of the body's major weight-bearing joints.. The pain associated with this condition is excruciating and not terribly much alleviated if the author of the misfortune tells his victim that there is nothing wrong with her.

The condition can be cured: an MRI scan, sophisticated X-rays, powerful antibiotic drugs, almost complete immobility and 24 hour nursing are helpful as is a huge dose of luck. Two months later the disability so accurately described by Trollope has much abated but is still evident. It is aggravated by just about everything. I just do not know how the victim would have survived without powerful anti-inflammatory agents to reduce the symptomatic pain.

But for those who have no access to the miracles of modern medicine and a brilliant surgeon the condition is chronic.

I think I can forgive the Senora quite a lot now.

Neil Tuchten

Subject: [trollope-l] La Diva Maddalena

From: "R J Keefe"

A propos the debate about Esther Summerson and Madeline Neroni, I was reminded that at the beginning of our reading of Barchester Towers note was taken of the strong mock heroic flavor of the Archdeacon's maneuvers. I wonder if we're not to regard Madeline mock-heroically, too: that is, as the parody of a goddess. There is a truly Olympian quality to the Stanhopes' financial irresponsibility and ethical insouciance. And whenever I think of Madeline now I see not the great Susan Hampshire but the 'noxious siren' (OUP 279) and 'basilisk' (2 OUP 120) whose sofa is no less a divine attribute than Aphrodite's shell.

It is this mock-heroic quality that sets Barchester Towers apart from Trollope's other novels and gives it its peculiar air of great fun. There will be no place in the future work for inframoral fascinators.

RJ Keefe

To Trollope-l

Re: Afterthoughts on Barchester Towers

September 21, 1999

In response to both Sig's and RJ's posts on Slope and the Stanhopes and Madeline, perhaps Trollope felt these extravagant characters would not suit a fully realistic novel. The portraits of Slope and Madeline are exaggerations of traits which were themselves normally not visible, and certainly not put all together in one character. There's a sense in which Slope and Madeline are too good to be true -- too funny and, were we inclined to feel for them, which Trollope works to stop, too pathetic. Bertie's blue suit, blonde beard and young manhood in which he out- Disraeli'd Disraeli is cut from the same cloth. The bringing to Barcestershire of these Italianised demi-mondes is brilliant, but not sober. It's not the world of Framley Parsonage or The Last Chronicle which are not mock-heroic, not milieux for goddesses and snakes.

It is curious how Trollope never brings these 6 back. He so loves to bring back characters, to make them reappear, it is probably revealing to think about which characters are not brought back. Burgo Fitzgerald is heard of again, but never reappears after Can You Forgive Her?. One thing that unites Madeline, Burgo, Charlotte and perhaps Bertie and the father too is the probability of a desperately sad or empty ending for their lives. Trollope didn't want us to see it. Imagine Slope and his widow twenty years from now? No thank you. He'd be clawing at her, she, hating him.


Gene Stratton also responded to R. J. Keefe:

Re: La Signora Neroni and Mrs Winifred Hurtle

I agree with RJ that in no other Trollope novel I've read is there such mirth as in BT, but I think Trollope still could find a place for inframoral fascinators. Mrs. Winifred Hurtle of TWWLN seems to be more than capable of competition with La Signora in terms of inframorality, amorality, or supramorality, and she is certainly a fascinating woman. Indeed, it is Winifred who refers to Melmotte as rising "above honesty" in a supposed allusion to Napoleon III's writings on Caesar. "Such a man rises above honesty ... as a great general rises above humanity when he sacrifices an army to conquer a nation." I suspect she saw herself the same way vis-a-vis morality.

Not as many classical illusions are there, but still Winifred can compare herself to Creusa face to face with Medusa. And if there is weakness in La Neroni to give the groom away, there is none in La Hurtle, who sleeps with the prospective groom before she finally gives in to reality. Is her husband still alive? Whose? Madeline's? Winifred's? There's a question mark with both. If in spite of her power over men, Madame Neroni is maimed by her husband, there is no such weakness in Mrs. Hurtle's similar power: she shot one man through the head and she lives on unscathed to fascinate even more. And if Madeline is kind to Mrs. Bold, so is Winifred kind to children. "She had that good nature about her she liked to see the bairns eating pudding just as if they was her own."

Trollope ends up thinking "that Mrs. Hurtle, with all her faults, was a good-natured woman." I think he felt the same about Mrs. Neroni. History never repeats itself the same way, but I can see more than just a bit of Neroni Redux in Mrs. Hurtle.

Gene Stratton

To Trollope-l

September 26, 1999

Re: BT: Barchester Towers as a Sequel to The Warden?; Trollope's Struggles with His Publisher and Editor over the Text of Barchester Towers

I sent two posts a couple of hours ago, just before a brief power outage, and they seem to have gotten lost or been obliterated so here is an abbreviated memory of them:

In reading Trollope's correspondence with his publisher, Longman, over his readers' original response to the original text of BT, I have found a few letters about this book and The Warden that may be of interest to some of us.

First, while Trollope can be talking with hindsight, I feel his general honesty to be such, that the meaning of his words to Longman can only be construed to say that he wrote The Warden with a sequel in mind. Myself I saw open 'threads' placed in the last chapter which seemed clearly to point to another possible volume. Here is what Trollope wrote William Longoman on 17 February 1855:

I should feel much obliged to you if you would tell me whether the sale of The Warden has been so far satisfactory. My object in asking you is this. When the book was written, I intended to write a second part for publication in the event of the first part taking and the tale was framed on this intention. I have written about one third of the second part and if I should hear from you that the sale of the first part has hitherto been fairly successful I will make an effort to finish the second before I go abroad on 1st May (Letters, ed Hall, I, 40).

Longman apparently replied favorably.

However, while the reader, Joseph Cauvin, very much liked _The Warden_ -- and almost without any reserves -- he did not like Barchester Towers. He found it 'inferior' to the previous novel, and while he praises the author's power in displaying political intrigues, subtle analysis of characters' motives, and easy natural style, he objects to the work's

low-mindedness and the vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a "lady" or "gentleman" among them. Such a bishop and his wife as Dr and Mrs Proudie have certainly not appeared in our time, and prebendary doctor Stanhope's lovely daughter, who is separated from her husband -- and Italian brute who has crippled her for life -- is a most repulsive exaggerated and unnatural character. A good deal of the progress of the tale depends upon this lady, whose beauteous countenance makes sad havoc of the virtuous feelings of the clergymen and others who come in contact with her. The character is a great blot on the work.

Cauvin does not think the work 'uninteresting.' To the contrary, he (perceptively here I think) finds most interesting Trollope's 'fatal facility in the execution that makes you fancy that the author is playing with his reader, showing how easy it is for him to write a novel in three volumes'. Cauvin then recommends compressing 3 volumes into 2 and directs Longman's attention to the need to look at (censor) 'Mrs Proudie's Reception' and 'A Love Scene'(Letters, I, 46).

Trollope defended his work and his conception of Madeline's character robustly, said one cannot simply reduce a 3 volume work into 2, and demanded his 'moderate' (it was moderate) asking price of £100 (I, 46-47, 51-52). However, he did agree to make some changes. Some of these I have read about as generally described in books about Trollope or Barchester Towers: Trollope change all the 'warm' passages (by which is meant sexy), got rid of 'coarse' expressions ('fat stomach' became 'deep chest').

What we are not told though is the detail that Trollope did go through the 'longer passages' Cauvin marked, apparently in 'A Love Scene' and removed these entirely or wholly rewrote them. Now this is the first of the three love-hate scenes between the Signora and Slope which occasioned Jill Spriggs to defend the Signora because Slope was so obviously lecherous and wanted to have her carnally insofar as he could get at her body, and which prompted Jill Singer to talk about the sexual innuendoes in the book. If anyone cares to go back, I think you can even figure or speculate with some probability where Trollope eliminated what Victorian prudery and the fear the publisher and his reader had of offending their readers might have startled at. I suggest that Trollope's text and the dislike of Slope and humiliation of Slope that comes out of the text might be better understood and therefore more effective had Trollope not been forced to alter the text.

A little later in Hall's edition, Trollope again refers to his troubles over BT and says:

I shall never forget a terrible & killing correspondence which I had with W. Longman because I would make a clergyman kiss a lady whom he proposed to marry -- He, the clergyman I mean; not he Wm Longman. But in that instance William Longman's church principles were perhaps in the stake (I, 117).

I suppose this refers to Mr Arabin and Eleanor as Slope is a hypocrite in his proposal to Madeline. Still ...

Another item in the reader's objection is not spelt out but implied by his referring to Slope more than once as a 'low-minded Low Churchman'. I think the reader and publisher feared offending the evangelical readership. This I take from Cauvin's saying of The Warden that Trollope's 'vein of quiet humour and (good-natured) satire' at the expense and in order to expose 'the abuses that have crept into Cathedral and Hospital Trusts' allows the work to remain 'acceptable to all Low Churchmen and dissenters' (I, 38-39, 46_) As this objection was not made explicit (at least in the letters we have), Trollope does not answer to it (in these same letters).

I think it worth noting that the two most dramatic and compelling characters (after Mrs Proudie) which most readers come away remembering most were the two the publisher and reader worried most about. I cannot resist saying about this that the second academic essay I ever had published was changed before it was put into print without my okaying it, and in each and every case what the editor did turn something I had written into something far duller. What got me was my worrisome opinion was still there, it was just expressed in a far more muddled way. Maybe he hoped no one would get my point :).

The reader does point out the chapter in which Mr Arabin is introduced and in which the inward nature of the man is explored as one of the strongest in the book: 'If you will read Vol 2, Chs 1, 2 & 3, you will discover specimens of the author's merits . . .' (I, 46).

There is much to be learned about Trollope and his books in Hall's editions of Trollope's letters; even better, one can extrapolate out and see the relevance of it to the Victorian frame of mind -- and the conditions under which books are printed today too.

Ellen Moody

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