Anthony Trollope's "Journey to Panama"

Written by 1861 (November)
Published 1861, The Victoria Regia: Original Contributions in Poetry and Prose, editor Adelaide A Proctor (Emily Faithfull at the the Victoria Press
Published in a book 1867 (August), Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, Strahan

To Trollope-l

February 11, 1998

Re: The Voyage Out: Another Ur-Story: "Journey to Panama"

Last night I finished another of Trollope's great short stories: we have had several over these weeks: "La Mere Bauche," "The Parson's Daughter," "A Ride Across Palestine," "Returning Home," and "Aaron Trowe." We have one more to come: "Malachi's Cove." We have also had some interesting mood pieces ("The Chateau of Prince Polignac" and "Mrs General Talboys" "The Widow's Mite"),and one cunning use of first person narrative ("The Man who Kept His Money in a box"), and some attempts at "cultural studies" of a place or types of people ("Unprotected Female"). But this week's "Journey to Panama" compares to Trollope's best; it combines a mood with an exploration of a complex psychological situation in a suspended moment of time.

Most striking about "A Journey to Panama" to someone who has read other of Trollope's stories is that it is, to use Glendinning's label, a Ur-story. In this volume we have had one such version of it in "A Ride." We now have one before us in TWWLN; others are to be found in John Caldigate and The Bertrams plus vignettes scattered in the travel books. What happens is a man and woman find themselves together on a journey; it usually includes a boat-trip which takes a long time. The woman is for some reason cut off from any family or friends. Both are free for the duration of the journey, and closely thrown together. A intense romance emerges which both half-know may not last past the duration of the trip, certainly not for any long time afterwards or be regarded as anything permanent. As Trollope himself said all fiction and writing comes out of a writer's experience, and in some of the above we see analogues to Trollope's character or temperament or situation, we have here slices of some autobiographical experience or experiences.

Such stories move outside conventional relationships, and the characters therefore speak frankly to one. As Trollope says in "Journey to Panama," something is released in us when we know we will never see the person again. I have said how despite Trollope's real ability to sympathize with all his characters, and for example, enter into the case of someone who may have prostituted herself for a while (Carried Brattle), he still finds himself unable to accept as a central heroine the woman who has had sex outside marriage. In this week's chapters Trollope does not allow us to think Mrs Hurtle will be our permanent heroine--and certainly assures us Paul Montague is not going to go to bed with her again so that he will get back to dear Henrietta. No matter how sleazy Montague's way of life is--or his own behavior sexually--his "wife" must be chaste. Well in stories like "A Journey to Panama" Trollope can make such a woman his heroine, release the ur-story to stand on its own, and let the woman tell her story in a moving way that leaves her the heroine. Unlike "A Ride to Palestine" he doesn't betray the heroine at the end of the story either. She doesn't marry because she doesn't want to. She's not for sale; she's not going to enter a relationship based on an earlier humiliation or confession of vulnerability.

I particularly liked the opening section of this story, with the depiction of the journey, the mood, the "chaperons" who are watch-dogs and society's so-called moral people but are actually moral horrors. In the context of this I found very moving the woman's comments about her "friends" and relatives who have coerced her into selling herself as wife to a man she's never met,

"Oh, Mr Forrest, if you knew what it was to have to live with such people as those.' And then, out of that, on that evening, there grew up between them something like the confidence of real friendship" (Sutherland, 1991 Oxford paperback, Early Short Stories, p. 387).

As to the wealth her forced marriage is going to bring her, which the male in this story, a Mr Ralph Forrest, likens to " a palace in Peru," this woman, Emily Viner says,

"An English workhouse would be better, but an English poorhouse is not opened to me. You do not know what it is to have friends--no, not friend, but people belonging to you--just so near as to make your respectability a matter of interest to them, but not so near that they should care for your happiness. Emily Viner married to Mr Gorlock [the rich old man who awaits her] is put out of the way respectably" (391).

And then in another dialogue she says, "there are worse things Mr Forrest than being alone in the world. It is often a woman's lot to wish she were let alone" (384).

Trollope allows Forrest genuinely to fall in love with this woman; their conversations are full and detailed; it is true they part when the ship comes to shore, but not because Mr Forrest wants to part. Although Mr Gorloch has died and Emily could become wife to Forrest, Emily really wants to be free, and makes this interesting statement about their relationship and conversations during the voyage:

"While he [Mr Gorloch] lived,it seemed to me that in those last days I had a right to speak my thoughts plainly. You and I were to part and meet no more, and I regarded us both as people apart, who for a while might drop the common usages of the world" (396).

Alas, since the "common usages" will come right back in again, she bids him adieu.

Trollope can sympathize deeply with and for a few pages make an unconventional woman his heroine. Probably he felt he could afford it. In the longer books he was willing to risk less--or maybe in such a book he feared where his imagination might take him were he to allow himself to enter fully into the woman's case. Mrs Smith lives with John Caldigate off-stage.

Ellen Moody

To which John Mize replied:

To a large extent all Miss Viner's problems are solved by the death of a man whom she didn't particularly like and certainly did not want to marry. Forrest at first thinks that her earlier admission that she didn't want to marry Gorloch means that they have become so intimate that they will eventually marry. Of course the opposite is true. Miss Viner has no intention of marrying Forrest, and her earlier confession may be part of the reason. She is ashamed of her earlier vulnerbility, and she is also probably feeling somewhat guilty about profiting from Gorloch's death. I don't see how she could help being not being happy about his death. Her new position as a woman with a sufficient income whose fiance has died not only solves her financial problems, but it makes her as independent as a respectable woman could be in the 19th century. She's practically a widow, which except for the grief of losing a loved one, is an enviable position. She essentially has the benefit without much of the pain. Forrest knows all this, and he knows that she never loved Gorloch. No one else need know that, and Miss Viner won't tell them, as it is none of their business. I think that is what she means when she says, "Let your tongue forget me. I have given you no cause to speak good of me, and you will be too kind to speak evil." By the way doesn't Gorloch sound like the name for the villain or maybe even the dragon in a pulp sword and sorcery epic?

John Mize

I had also asked where Vancouver Island in the story is:

From: Ursula Rempel
Subject: "Journey to Panama" Query

I gather "Vancouver's Island" must be somewhere between California and Peru, but my trusty World's Atlas has no such place in its index. I know "Vancouver Island" very well indeed, but this is surely not what Trollope had in mind--a route far north of the trip described.

So--where is (Captain) Vancouver's Island?

Ursula Rempel

To which Mike Powe replied:

I'm sure this is the Canadian island now known simply as Vancouver Island. The given sentence is describing alternative directions for travel -- north from the Isthmus of Panama to California and thence to Vancouver's Island; south from the Isthmus to Peru and thence to Chili.


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