November 21, 2000
Re: Is He Popenjoy?, Chs 30-37: Sex, Pride & Coldness (I)
Hi everyone. This week's chapters are so rich that I don't know where to begin, especially as no one else has posted on them thus far. As usual I will pick out a couple of themes and hope that others talk about what I omitted.
My theme is the relationship between sex and pride. In Is He Popenjoy? Trollope lays bare in a stark way the imstinctive impulses and moral rationalisations that underly a number of confrontations in other novels in which a jealous husband is unable to express his anxiety in any other way but to bark a harsh command at his wife which will stop her from associating with the man his wife is attracted to and whom he fears, and in which the wife becomes rigid with indignation at the very accusation and argues that to behave as if he distrusted her is an insult to her integrity -- or as it is called in this book, honor and sanctity. At the heart of the debate is the assumption that a woman's sexual chastity is her honor; if she has sex with more than one man she is degraded, somehow subhuman and despicable. Lord George's insistence to Adelaide that his wife is a holy object to him is his way of expressing the idea that her sexual chastity is sacred and even any adverse comment on it a breaking of some taboo which he cannot put up with.
The way I've put it places the emphasis on the sex, and certainly the voiced values here center on sex. However, the scenes in this book between Mary and George revolve around pride. In the debate between Adler and Freud over whether sexual desire is one of the strongest unconscious motivation of human conduct (Freud), or the need to be respected because you are not vulnerable, have a high opinion of yourself, will not yield to others's demands and place yourself high on whatever terms a given human hierarchy works (Adler), Trollope comes down on pride. The conversations between Mary and George repeatedly show them playing a game in which she demands he treat her as altogether above any kind of susceptibility to needing someone else or having an animal appetite for release (be it through sex, dance, riding in a carriage), or she is insulted forever, will not go to bed with him again, will in fact go home to her father rather than endure such an insult. He, on the other hand, wants her to protect his pride against other people despising him because he cannot control her, because they see she is attracted to someone else and just might be tempted to go to bed with him. When they quarrel over her finding Adelaide's letter, Trollope sees it as a triumph for her because it puts her in the superior position. George has been revealed as breaking a code, as weak before another human being's demands, and now she has a commanding position because she has not been proved so vulnerable, so susceptible. The behavior over sexual conduct is a function of their pride. She doesn't care about the other woman; she can despise her because the other woman is despicable on several counts: not just sexual availability, but her begging and open manipulation, and what Mary regards as lies. Apparently there are lies that are allowed (like marrying without love, like pretending not to know that Miss Mildmay and Jack de Baron had a love affair), and there are lies that are not allowed (like omitting to tell another woman her husband is visiting you). Both of these are sins of omission, but the latter puts a woman in a strong position, the former puts her in weak one. The difference is whether you acted on sexual appetite and need (Folio Society Is He Popenjoy?, introd. D. Skilton, Chs 34-35, pp. 267-86).
Trollope's presentation of George and Mary's way of going to and behaving at Lady Brabazon's party after Mary has found the letter from Adelaide brings out how the two are continually not free, not open with one another. It reminds me of how I have heard people talk of their marriages in ways which suggest marriage partners treat one another as sparring partners, do not fully confide in one another, especially when it comes to one appearing to be at fault somewhere. It's not the fault that matters, but the use of it. George says nothing about what he really wants (not to go to said party), Mary says nothing about what she is really feeling (triumphant, vindicated), and each action during the party doesn't matter for itself but as a point made in a battle about who needs who more, who has admitted to fault, and who will be free of the other when they want to be and in charge of the other when they want to be.
As a reader I am out of sympathy with the whole business. I realise Trollope assumes his reader will admire Mary for her proud stance. When we read _He Knew He Was Right_ so long ago, one woman wrote that Emily Trevelyan's behavior was noble. I know from experience that people behave this way: guarded, fundamentally cold when pressed in this manner, seeing themselves as deprived of space; no one has a right so to encroach. I can only refer to Marianne Dashwood's many replies to Elinor (in Austen's Sense and Sensibility), that such stern off-standishness as a way of getting through the world on every level (no matter how intimate, including apparently in bed) leaves a cold stone at the heart of experience. George's response to Adelaide that 'there is no use in being tender. It can only produce misery and destruction' (Ch 35, p. 280), may be true, but life on these terms is not noble; it's preferring that others treat you with a certain awe to all else. It's not simply whether life is worth living on these terms, but how such a posture colours all else. It's no wonder George is ginger around Mary from the start. The men in a number of Trollope's novels are sexual weaklings in just the way George is. At the same time they wants the wife to behave in this proud way of refusing to acknowledge anyone could have any suspicion of them as a mortal insult in and of itself because it's a sign such a woman will not have sex with another man, and he will not have to be despised by others, and worry about his property (that a false heir would be foisted on him). In _Kept in the Dark_, George Western is insenced with Cecilia Holt because her behavior is not coolly at a distance from others -- or him. They are sexually very happy, and this makes him distrust her.
To read Is He Popenjoy? is to grasp why the Trevelyans in He Knew He Was Right and the Westerns in Kept in the Dark come to grief. That George and Mary are willing to discuss these motifs to a certain extent allows them to come to a half- understanding. Louis and Emily can't even talk about it. That both are willing to give in a little, and especially George, enables them to carry on living side-by- side. Neither Cecilia nor George Western will yield an inch.
What saves all this is that Trollope does justice to another point of view by allowing Adelaide Houghton to tell some hard truths to George in the way the Marquis has been telling hard truths all novel long. Whether her words about her husband and herself mean they don't have sex altogether or have inadequate sex are not the point, but rather simply that this is so and she is willing to say so and act on it. She is right to say to find 'comforts' and release may cost George 'trouble' and he give these up as he 'hates trouble', not because he doesn't want the comfort, and at times very badly. She hits him hard: 'I tell you that she cares more for Jack de Baron's little finger than she cares for you' (p. 282). It may be objected that thus far Mary has seemed to care for no one except herself and her father, but we have repeatedly seen that she enjoys the shallow frivolity of a Jack de Baron, is willing to take his satiric talk as so much nonsence so that she shall have the thrill of rebelling just a bit, the titillation, and finds George dull, dull, dull. Trollope intersperses the scene between George and Adelaide with a lot of bad-mouthing of Adelaide (she is the woman 'spinning meshes' for him, the manipulator); he points out how in public she seems not to be troubled with heartache (then neither is Mary). But no where is it denied that there is real emotion in Adelaide, that she breaks through this code of pride, and the narrator's final comments distance him from 'the reader' who will see Adelaide as 'a mass of whipped cream turned sour'. I'm not such a reader. Adelaide's 'spite, malice, and evil passion' are matched by Mary's coldness and denseness, which in this arrangement are what she is respected for, what protects her -- and Trollope dramatizes this and brings it before us in George's thoughts.
I'll divide this posting into two at this point.
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Is He Popenjoy?, Chs 30-37: Sex, Pride & Coldness (I)
Hello all, and Happy Thanksgiving to all the Americans on the list.
This week's chapters are so rich that I don't know where to begin, especially as no one else has posted on them thus far.
This is exactly how I feel about these chapters, too! Since I finished Popenjoy a while ago, I re-read this week's chapters yesterday, but just couldn't think where to start.
I was very interested by your views on the link between sex and pride in these chapters. It seems to me that the real guts of the novel are here, in this fencing for position between husband and wife. Even though the rather misleading title of the novel refers to the Popenjoy mystery, this seems to be a sub-plot - to me anyway. The main interest really lies in the struggle between George and Mary. I remember reading an article in a magazine recently about ways to tell if a relationship is healthy. One danger sign was being too insistent on, say, exactly equal free time - you went to a dance so I get an equal amount of time to go fishing. You saw your friend last night so I see mine tonight. Not so much give and take, more insisting on your own rights at all costs. George and Mary seem to have this same attitude, using problems in their relationship as bargaining counters. She is upset by his flirtation, but sees it as her opportunity to start waltzing again!
I think Trollope shows the double standard governing men's and women's behaviour brilliantly through the very different reactions of Mary and George to flirtations by the other one. Sorry, I know that's clumsily worded, but can't find a better way of putting it.
Mary is annoyed with George after finding the love letter, but realises that he is not in love with Adelaide and doesn't see a real threat to their marriage. She glories in forgiving him and feeling superior for a change, rather than being cast as the child bride who must defer to her older and wiser husband.
By contrast, although George equally realises that Mary is not in love with Jack, he is horrified that Guss and his brother have both mentioned her name in conjunction with that of his. He fears that even ill-founded gossip could ruin her reputation - Caesar's wife must be seen to be above reproach, as he repeatedly puts it to himself. Unfortunately, however, he does not explain things to Mary in those terms, but resorts to ordering her around, telling her she had "better drop this gentleman's acquaintance" but not really telling her why. He is afraid of gossip - she thinks he wrongly suspects her of an affair. As you said, Ellen, this couple never really tell each other what they are thinking or feeling. They get caught up in a web of half-truths and things they have half-said.
I do feel a little more sympathetic to Mary than to George, though, because she is still so young. She went straight from the household of her domineering father to that of her equally domineering husband - so, as she struggles to become an adult and find out what she is like herself, she has no space at all to do it in. Although Trollope is unsympathetic to the caricatured feminists, I think he is sympathetic to this hemmed-in feeling which Mary experiences. There is this same sensitivity to the frustrations of women in other novels by Trollope. For instance, in The Small House at Allington, Lady Alexandrina unforgettably describes the boredom of her days, shut in the house all day while her husband is out at work. This is the sort of fate which the lively Mary wants to avoid at all costs.
Getting back to the question of George and Mary's sexual relationship, I get the feeling their marriage has been consummated, hence their assurance that they are strongly bound together. But, although I think they have had a physical relationship in the past, the references to separate rooms and lack of children which Howard quoted certainly look like signs that there is an estrangement between them now.
Re: Is He Popenjoy?, Chs 30-37: Sex, Pride & Coldness (II)
In this week's chapters the Marquis once again has the upper hand in the game of telling truths. If you read his words with care from the opening of the book, you will find one thing he does not do is pretend to feelings he's not got. His one line letter is all him. No rhetoric, no ploy. He manipulates the weak brother, but then the weak brother here -- as with his wife, Mary -- buys into all the assumptions which allow this manipulation. Trollope wants us to see this. The Dean's constant reiteration he is just doing his duty, prefers to find out now rather than have to bother latter are patent hypocrisies. When pressed, out comes the comment, he must look out for his own, is fighting for Mary's interests (which he distinguishes as different from Mary's happiness though we are not told how this is): "It would be a cruelty to the boy to let him be brought up as Lord Popenjoy and afterwards disposssessed"' (Ch 36, p. 286). The thought just breaks the Dean's heart. Yes they are all distasteful: the Marquis, George and the Dean. I looked up scumbag in a couple of good dictionaries and could not find it recorded in print before the 20th century. However, this does not mean the phrase was not in use. Condoms after use can be so described and they were certainly around and used by men for going to prostitutes in this period. The vein of mockery comes out very uncomfortably in this pun. Scumbag's Hotel. When I say the Marquis hasn't pretended to any false ceremonies or prettied over his life though he did try to cover up his wife's family's manipulation of her to get some property and income -- I don't mean I would want to remain in the same room with such a man. One hopes he might be more decent in private, but since we never see him where he thinks himself in private or with his wife we can't know. We don't even have any reason to think he acts more confidingly or openly in private than George with Mary. Is there anywhere this bunch is not on display? Only in the scenes between Mary and her father are guards let down and not wholly there.
'A man is bound to ascertain his own rights' (Ch 36, . 286) and assert them, says the Dean. A woman is bound to make sure she is not to be treated as someone who it just might be possible to disrespect and to act on that demand, says Mary. Again I say people behave like this; I recognise it. Trollope has laid it all bare before us. The ironic question for me, is how in such a world can anyone have any enjoyment? The Dean wants Mary to go to the dance because he likes 'pretty and innocent things'. The Dean of course 'delights' in Balls. He worked hard to get his daughter positioned for this. But she is going to dance with de Baron because she's got a white dress and it goes well with red. Pretty on the surface some might say, but the clothes talk money and kind of innocence are we talking about? In this world some natural sex might be a relief. I loved George's quiet riposte: to the Dean's 'I think any innocent thing that makes life joyous and pretty is good: 'That is rather begging the question' (Ch 37, p. 297). The party is run by Mrs Montacute Jones, regularly called by our narrator in his most slithering mocking voice, 'a sinful old woman' (Ch 37, p. 296). How she offends the narrator it's hard to say. We are told that the reason she got her separation from her husband is that he beat her too regularly and obviously (Ch 25, p. 197). That alert woman, Lady Susannah 'read all about it in the papers'. The Dean looks at Mrs Jones as a provider of prettiness and innocence. That about says it all.
There is a curious mocking reference which compares Lord George to one of Mrs Bond's ducks who 'would certainly not have come out of the pond had they fully understood the nature of that lady's invitation' (Ch 37, p. 294). Sutherland says this refers to a fable or nursery rhyme in which Mrs Bond 'calls in her trusting ducks from the safety of the pond to slaughter them' (p. 328). We should recall Lewis Carroll's 'The Walrus and the Carpenter'. I could feel more for George were he simply an oyster or a duck, but he has spent his life upholding this system, he carries on in the most intimate moments of his life drawing blood from himself (metaphorically, though the analogy with the sperm he manages to get up with Mary does pop into my mind) supporting this system. That he is dismissed by the others as either 'an ass' (his brother's assessment) or 'in an ill humour with the world' (the Dean's) serves him right.
Yet Lord George is the hero and by reading carefully through for this second time he does seem to be the character Trollope most identifies with -- as he does with Louis Trevelyan and Cousin Henry. Again and again I remember Cousin Henry from the novel of that name. Imagine how Lord George would have fared in a court in which the baby Popenjoy's legitimacy was contested. No better than Kafka's K.
Again the only modern poet in English who comes near to what this book has to tell us is Philip Larkin.
Cheers to all,
Re: Is He Popenjoy?, Chs 30-37: Sex, Pride & Coldness
It is interesting how the title refers to what takes little space in the narrative. Much more is given over to the story of George and Mary and its ramifications in their relationships with Jack de Baron and Adelaide Houghton, and through the former, by extension to Augustus Mildmay. I was working on my homepage yesterday and noticed that the 'big' novel written just before Is He Popenjoy? is The Way We Live Now: another hard satire. The big novel written immediately after Is He Popenjoy? is The American Senator. We read that on this list just before we began the Barsetshire series, and in that also the title is taken from a character who occupies little space in the narrative. The narrative creates a community called Dillsborough, and the stories we are deeply engaged with are those of the inhabitants. Yet the theme is strongly carried by the Senator: Elias Gotobed. It is through his appearances, his aggressively debating conversations, and his behavior, which starts a suit, that the themes of the book are made explicit. He is also not psychologically realistic, or at least not wholly so. He is larger than life -- the way the Marquis is.
I conclude that Trollope works more often symbolically than many readers realise. Juliet McMasters and others have written about his symbolic uses of houses and landscapes. The problem may be in the word 'symbol' which seems to put readers off. All language has resonance and you can hardly state anything in a sentence without implying some ethical or psychological attitude towards it. Ben (on Victorian Fiction or French Literature) wrote about that the other day. Trollope is strongly aware of this, and uses language precisely. Popenjoy the baby may say nothing, but the situation he is in, weak, fragile, everyone expecting him to die, most of them caring nothing for him as an individual but only because he might own the property and someday be powerful (a connection) and rich, tells us a great deal about the world of these characters: amoral, inhumane, hypocritical. We never see the relationship of the child's mother or father to the baby, only that of people like the Dean, Lord George and lawyers. Trollope has done that deliberately to create the perspective with which he wants to frame the dramatised story -- for who turns out to be Popenjoy is central to the unfolding of the book's story.
I agree that we could take George and Mary's relationship as unhealthy, but feel that to do that allows us to say to ourselves, oh, this is not me, this is other than me; what I know is so very different. Trollope's vagueness and the rounded typing outlines of the characters are intended to make us see ourselves in them. I feel out of sympathy and almost have trouble understanding how people can live together in this way as husband and wife, probably because of the sexual component where the wife's sexual behavior is turned into something sacred and her breaking of her chastity regarded as some terrible transgression of a seriously-taken taboo, but in my life have found myself in relationships with people outside marriage and sometimes inside too that resemble this -- in the modern world we especially see such manipulative behavior in the workplace. Always of course implicit, more than half-hidden, paying lip service to vary different motives and ideals. We are more willing to admit to it going on in the workplace than in the family which still seems to be hedged about the aura of the sacred, nowadays more in the parent-child relationship than anywhere else.
I agree that Trollope creates sympathy for Mary -- though I see sympathy for George too. What is remarkable is how sharp and distant he is from them both. All Mary's complaints about her rivals are founded on her vanities: she does not have to have false hair; she has never herself been jilted ((Folio Society, IHP, Ch 33, p. 260). The narrator after she speaks is careful to point this sort of hidden triumph in her out repeatedly. Her mind is that of a spiteful child when she thinks about Gus Mildmay: 'Perhaps after all, they would be married. It would be a pity, because she was not half nice enough for him' (p. 252). What did Gus ever do to her? Nothing of course. It's rather that Adelaide is right about Mary's attraction to de Baron. Then there's Mary's musings while she is dancing. Trollope will create sympathy for her: while she is dancing she feels this 'soft impalpable regret -- a regret not recognised as such -- telling her that if she had seen all this before she had married, instead of afterwards, she might have found a better lot for herself (Ch 27, p. 210). The 'a regret not recognised as such' shows us that Trollope recognises the place of the unconscious or subconscious in our behavior every bit as surely as Freud.
However, then at the same time he tells us how 'our heroine' had no real 'hard work' to do: 'the toil of smiles, the pretence at flirtation, the long- continued assumption of fictitious character [wooing here is a pretense, so too love before marriage], the making oneself bright to the bright, solemn to the solemn, and romantic to the romantic' (p 210). Mary can enjoy her bouts with de Barone because nothing is riding on it; she need not get anything practical out of it. Is she aware of this? No. She is just bored stiff with the husband who provides and is himself frustrated by her coldness and his own inadequacy. The passage goes on, and the narrator begins to tell us of how Mary was also sometimes aware of how other ladies had so much bigger carriages, so much fancier: 'She had brought only a broughham, and had that kept for her by the generosity of her father' (p. 210). Worse yet George won't spend money on 'the true sheen of diamonds, the luxury of pearls, and richness of rubies' (p. 210). Trollope's Lily Dale doesn't have thoughts like these nor is she hard and dense to others. Add to this her response to the letter which doesn't really bother her emotionally. She doesn't care for George. It provides the triumph, the handle; now just as long as he doesn't visit that woman again, or maybe just once. The maybe just once gives away the lack of real hurt. Her bond is with the father. This is a more realistic and even jaundiced picture of our exemplary Victorian heroine than Trollope usually provides. It is interesting we have a heroine without a mother: imagine had Trollope provided Mary with one of these. Given the mood and themes and design of the book, she would have been a hard unsentimental and therefore distasteful presentation of a Mrs Grantly type.
The key in all of it, is to see the analogies with our own world and ourselves. That's why it's done so quietly. And why the reviewers were incensed.
Cheers to all, Ellen Moody
Re: Is He Popenjoy?, Chs 30-37: Sex, Pride & Coldness: Oops!
I mistyped incensed. I know I often have typos -- as do others. Still the the word may puzzle people with the letters switched. I am ten-fingered typist and tap rapidly away and these switched letters are the result of that.
From Lisa Guardini:
I've been enjoying IHP tremendously, and can't quite figure out why I'm not finding more to comment upon regarding this novel. It's so entirely rich, and I'm so involved in the book, yet life has been so busy I've not had much opportunity to pop over and chat. :-(
I was very interested by your views on the link between sex and pride in these chapters. It seems to me that the real guts of the novel are here, in this fencing for position between husband and wife.
Though I've not yet finished the book, and have no idea how the popenjoy issue will resolve itself, I'd tend to agree this does seem the crux of this novel. The husband/wife issue and the jealousy issue seem to take center-stage in this book, and the constant battling for superiority is taking up a lot of plot time.
I remember reading an article in a magazine recently about ways to tell if a relationship is healthy. One danger sign was being too insistent on, say, exactly equal free time - you went to a dance so I get an equal amount of time to go fishing. You saw your friend last night so I see mine tonight. Not so much give and take, more insisting on your own rights at all costs. George and Mary seem to have this same attitude, using problems in their relationship as bargaining counters. She is upset by his flirtation, but sees it as her opportunity to start waltzing again!
I've just passed this point in the novel, and have been so interested in how Mary is taking all of this. She's defiant, which I like, yet doesn't employ any truly underhanded tactics in an attempt to manipulate George, which I admire. She doesn't go running home to daddy, as she feels that isn't proper (to involve her father in her marriage, or overrule her husband by employing her daddy to do her dirty work..), and while she does appeal to a friend for advice she doesn't really do anything I'd consider manipulative. I think she shows a very healthy sense of herself and her rights, actually, and I applaud her sense of justice.
Mary's attitude toward George's flirtation is interesting, especially in light of her own situation with Jack de Baron. Though she really doesn't seem to be coy with him (Jack), her behaviour does contain a certain amount of what could be called flirtation. But these are two young people, and it's entirely normal for them to be acting the way they are. It appears perfectly innocent to me, and rather natural that they'd have such similar interests, etc. George's jealousy of de Baron, to my mind, reflects on his own guilt in his relations with Adelaide. His intentions aren't entirely chaste, so he reflects the same upon his wife. Again, a natural enough result, but it's clear George is dallying with danger much more than his wife, in her respective situation.
I think Trollope shows the double standard governing men's and women's behaviour brilliantly through the very different reactions of Mary and George to flirtations by the other one.
I agree completely. We see George asserting his husbandly rights, and Mary taking a defensive posture, so much throughout this section of the novel. It's very clear who is the dominant partner in this relationship.
As you said, Ellen, this couple never really tell each other what they are >thinking or feeling. They get caught up in a web of half-truths and things they have half-said.
It almost seems this is presented as inevitable marital manipulation, I'd say. It's amazing how much trouble you can get yourself into when you operate on these half-truths, as Judy and Ellen mention.
I do feel a little more sympathetic to Mary than to George, though, because she is still so young.
I feel the same, Judy. I also think much of what she does is in reaction to what she perceives as George's attempts to control her, and can scarcely blame her for feeling resentful.
November 22, 2000
Re: Is He Popenjoy?: Sex, Pride and Coldness
I just read Lisa's response to Judy's comments on George and Mary. It's clear we have three very different responses to, or readings of, this core conflict of the novel. In this case we have no gender divide since all three are women. The faultline lies perhaps in a different ideal of marriage, what kinds of compromises and manipulations are acceptable. We all emphasized the emotional realities which underlie the relationship, the ability of each partner to be truthful to him or herself and to the other with frankness.
However, I went on to regard the emotional needs of each and a demand for kindness and truth as the trump card which makes all else outside of it a junkyard which does not matter: and that includes de Baron, dancing, who gets real pearls and fancy carriages, Adelaide, and who has the big titles, and what other people are thinking. If we look at George and Mary we will see that she is acting as if the first three matter more than her husband's feelings and is willing to shape her relationship with him in order for her to have the right to make them the trump card; and we will see that he is acting as if the last is the trump card which beats all else, with Adelaide so much junk. That latter attitude (towards Adelaide) comes out of his adherence to an unthinking double standard about sex, and again hierarchies based on social rank and convention. He also is intensely concerned with what other people think because despite much evidence to the contrary (his brother's behavior, his own use of lawyers), he considers that somehow what other people think will hurt him. He covers this up by resorting to his so-called right to be obeyed, but unlike Louis Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right is willing to go underneath this code and half-admit his need to remain proud in public and not be sneered at as the man Mary married because she was too young to know any better. His brother and the Dean and Lady Sarah would tell him such worries show foolishness on his part: what other people think count only if they have some law on their side or only if you allow your idea of their supposed thoughts to bother you. He is weak because he does the latter.
Not much to choose from? Maybe not.
I suppose I give George the credit of wanting to make deeper feelings count, though he no more loves Mary than she does him. A real subtext in the novel concerns male sexuality and in George -- as other Trollope males heroes, from Plantagent Palliser to Will Belton, from Louis Trevelyan to Cousin Henry and Mr Whittlestaff. All these regarded together show that Trollope regarded the standard male paradigm of sexual duties as arduous, often embarrassing or difficult to achieve (given the way his middle class heroines behave); the so-called joys of sex become a challenge to one self-esteem, in George's case downright uphill (I make a joke) work. I know that Trollope read Tristram Shandy with real enjoyment and remembered it because of his punning use of Dr Slop's name in Barchester Towers. In Tristram Shandy we find the same unusually frank depiction of male sexuality -- though in Shandy it is brought out comically.
Cheers to all, Ellen Moody
Date: Sat, 25 Nov 2000
Subject: [trollope-l] Is He Popenjoy?: A Double Standard & Attitudes to Sex, Caste Arrogance, & Marriage
We certainly do have a double standard operating here. Were George to be having sex with Adelaide, Mary would not have the right to divorce him, much less separate, even less demand he stop and go away from temptation to the 'health' of country life. Were this novel to have been written three decades later, George would have been having sex, and the relationship between him and Adelaide, her attraction for him, make more sense. The prudery and (as Baudelaire would rightly say) hypocrisy of the English middle class reader of the later 1770s would not permit this. Lest anyone think I mean any slur, I'd say the middle class readers of the US were even worse: their popular books can be read as boys' or girls' books today. Not Is He Popenjoy?
However, if we bring in our own contemporary mores here, why stop at this? Why not go further? In my first posting this week I wrote that I was out of sympathy with the whole business. I didn't just mean that I found the use of pride as a weapon and something that trumps feeling alienating (both George and Mary accent pride in their way of encountering one another); I mean this way of valuing or respecting someone else based on their sexual conduct. I could better respond to Mary if she were not arguing that George has no right even to suggest she is unchaste, even the thought pollutes her, but if she were arguing the equation between her value as a human being and her sexuality is pernicious. Her contention reinforces the sexual measure -- and starkly at that.
I guess that's why I didn't emphasize the double standard, though it is certainly glaring. The problem is to talk of this standard as distasteful is still to accept, to buy into this way of measuring people by their sexual conduct. All you are doing is applying to both denial and its concomittants repression and then inadequacy and non-fulfillment when you do go to bed. Why measure anyone's worth this way.
How about the value of positioning people vis-a-vis their titles and money? though in this novel Trollope is criticising such over-valuation. Even if Mary is the granddaughter of a candlemaker and someone who kept livery stables, the Dean is selling her to get the title for the grandchild. We are to be made very uncomfortable by the Dean and even more by the Marquis. There's also how George feels he did Mary a big favor by marrying her. We could almost say that there's an argument Trollope is in retreat from the central story of Dr Thorne. There the heroine, Mary, is a bastard and the sardonic joke is her money suddenly nullifies her bastardy. I see the Dean and this Mary as a reconfiguration of Dr and Mary Thorne, one much harder and colder.
I stayed within psychological terms in order to try to reflect how Trollope was personating and urging us to feel humanely about the characters -- without recourse to sexual scrim and caste arrogance which permeates the narrative. It's always still a Victorian novel. No one even asks the real question, What are you marrying for? Why bother? Do you want companionship? We don't see anyone seeking that as primary.
The question doesn't come up for this society. For individuals I suppose it did of course. We can go back to Milton to find an eloquent statement of this.