nthony Trollope's satirical depiction of nineteenth-century British society in The Way We Live Now (1875) introduces today's reader to two popular pastimes enjoyed by male members of the Victorian upper-classes: membership in a club and the pursuit of women, preferably wealthy women, whom they might marry. A look at publications contemporary with Trollope show us that critical and comical dissections of society abounded. If we compare Trollope's descriptions of the Beargarden and the marriage race with articles in Punch, we gain a fuller understanding of clubs, the marriage market, and Trollope's accuracy. "Never pay your subscription until you have obtained post rank. Modern Clubs collapse so suddenly that it is well to be on the safe side," begins a Punch article. "How to Use a Club." The column continues by giving other tips on how one might utilize a club membership to one's full advantage: "Always run down to the Club when you are in it; even call it a pot-house. The other members will, of course, think that you belong to several superior Clubs, and love you accordingly." We begin to see the club not only as means of escape from life's responsibilities, but as a place where one can play with others' perceptions of one's wealth and reputation.
The club seems to offer a smaller community in which looking out for oneself proves easier than in the larger society: "When the Smoking-room Waiter brings you the cigar-box, ask boldly and loudly, 'Which are the eighteen-penny ones?' and select quietly a twopenny cheroot. So you gain at a minimum of expenditure one of the greatest advantages of wealth. . . Get hold of a Lord if you can; invite him to dinner, and take care that everyone knows who he is. After he's gone, shrug your shoulders, call him 'Poor devil!' and hint that you 'dessay he's glad of a dinner.' So you score doubly."
"Stare at strangers as though they were some new form of wild beasts," the list of rules continues. "You don't pay an entrance-fee and annual subscription to have your Club turned into an hotel. Besides, other members' friends are always cads." At the club, one can snub others in one's own, smaller slice of society. One can select acquaintances with the ease and authority of the richest man in London.
Trollope paints a lively picture of the Beargarden, a place where Nidderdale, Longestaffe, Grendall, Carbury, Grasslough and Montague can lose themselves in temporary freedom from many of society's restrictions. When the Beargarden collapses and the members realize that hope of saving it must be abandoned, we hear its praises sung:
"'It's such a pity,' said Nidderdale, 'because there never has been anything like it.'
'Smoke all over the house,' said Dolly.
'No horrid nonsense about closing,' said Grasslough, 'and no infernal old fogies wearing out the carpets and paying for nothing.'
'Not a vestige of propriety, or any beastly rules to be kept! That's what I liked,' said Nidderdale." (II, 431)
The Beargarden's combination of "parsimony with profligacy" suited its young members. In fact, as one critic observed, "by comparison with Melmotte, the somnolent good nature of the Beargarden seems almost sublime." (Cockshut). The scenes at the Beargarden offer readers as well as characters a welcome respite from the relentless plots and schemes of the society at large. Despite the temporary nature of the escape and the continued scheming among club members, the Beargarden provides a humorous and relaxed atmosphere perhaps unparalleled in London upper-class society.
Cockshut, A.O.J. . Anthony Trollope: A Critical Study William Collins, 1955.
"How to Use a Club." Punch 72 (1877): 9-10.
Last modified 25 October 2000.