Anthony Trollope's "Returning Home"

Written 1861 (20 - 26 January)
Published 1861 (1 December), Public Opinion
Published in a book 1863 (February), Tales of All Countries: Second Series, Chapman and Hall

To Trollope-l

January 20, 1998

R3: Short Story: "Returning Home"

From N. John Hall's biography of Trollope, Sutherland tells us this is another story based on an actual incident Trollope was told of before he himself took the very route the Arkwrights follow. Sutherland says the "story is remarkable for the closeness of the physical description.

I agree. I would add to this the ironies, and the tight economy of the piece. The ironies are many, and the language stark from first to the last almost brutal sentence (which ends on a "that.") The lady finds her home all right, in the grave. There is also a curious continual use of the word sinking: Fanny Arkwright is constantly "sinking" down in the mud, sinking into her husband's arms, sinking into a blanket carried on wooden planks held up by the men, only finally to sink in the waters. A kind of harsh joke there one does not usually associate with Trollope. After all it was she who insisted on this route. She who presents herself as so frail. I was not sure how were we to take this. Had Trollope hinted she was pregnant, I would have seen it as simple "straight"--frail upper class darling, nurtured as opposed to the English nurse who seem to walk sturdily enough until almost the end.

Some unexpected elements: I liked the perspective. So often the people who colonized foreign places are presented as a form of devil; that they themselves are driven by a desire--or need--to "gather money," live a harsh and lonely life, endure many hardships is nowadays often forgotten. Also Trollope uses a "travel" story, a story set in a far-away place and makes it the basis of a peroration upon one's roots in one's original home.

One general theme that is clear is that of nature's indifference, and I thought about how the love of scenery in English poetry seems to take off after macadamized roads. Of course Sutherland is right and the brilliance of the story lies in the closeness of the description, as in of the rain:

"At first it came in such small soft drops that it was found to be refreshing, but the clouds soon gathered and poured forth their collected waters as though it had not rained for months among those mountains. Not that it came in big drops, or with the violence which wind can give it, beating hither and thither, breaking branches from the trees, and rising up again as it pattered against the ground. There was no violence in the rain. It fell softly in a long, continuous, noiseless strea, sinking into everything that it touched, converting the deep rich earth on all sides into mud."

The violence will come with the waters of course; the above is so beautifully patterned to give the feel of rain coming down softly--but relentlessly.

It's really a remarkably emotional piece too and dwells on primal emotions in an intense way, e.g., need of companionship, physical exhaustion, terror. To read the final scene is like watching a movie.

Finally, narrator is important in this story as when he asks "Why the mules do not die on the road, I cannot say." He works to reinforce the intensity of the moments as when he tells us: As to Harry's loving her, there was no doubt about that, as she well knew." His presence also works to undercut what we are seeing so it doesn't come across as melodramatic.

Ellen Moody

Alas no one answered me. I cannot say why. Three years previously I had the same experience on Ms Thompson's list. I placed the following posting onto the list and got no response at all:

September 30th,1995

Re: "Returning Home" & "Aaron Trow"

We had an excellent talk on the first; the idea is the student choses an "approach," invents a proposition out of this trajectory, and then tries to demonstrate the truth of said proposition through examples, quotation, and argument. After his or her talk, we respond, and then said student goes home and writes up a short essay.

So for "Returning Home" situational irony was chosen, and the young woman did very well on Trollope's use of foreshadowing throughout the long arduous journey of Fanny Arkwright through the mud-laden jungle, on the irony of how she was not so frail and had lasted, and then after all, had died merely because of a moment's "turn of the hand that had been too strong." The obvious irony was Fanny had chosen the wrong way; but she also pointed out how the strong German had gone down with the frail woman. She also said there was irony in the title "Returning Home" as home would now be for Fanny a grave, and for her husband his place at work near that grave.


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