Castle Richmond, like all Trollope's novels, intersperses narrative and description with passages of what we may term his “wisdom writing” — passages marked by the tone and content we more commonly find in the great essayists like Samuel Johnson or Ralph Waldo Emerson. Trollope (or rather Trollope's narrator) offers the reader broad generalizations about human nature of the sort intended to help us live better and make wiser judgments of ourselves and other people. Here, for example, is the way Trollope (sounding much like Dr. Johnson), opens Chapter 12, which takes place immediately after Herbert Fizgerald and Clara Desmond declare their love: “I believe there is no period of life so happy as that in which a thriving lover leaves his mistress after his first success. . . . he is as a conqueror who has mastered half a continent by his own strategy.” According to Trollope,
It never occurs to him, he hardly believes, that his success is no more than that which is the ordinary lot of mortal man. He never reflects that all the old married fogies whom he knows and despises, have just as much ground for pride, if such pride were enduring; that every fat, silent, dull, somnolent old lady whom he sees and quizzes, has at some period been deemed as worthy a prize as his priceless galleon; and so deemed by as bold a captor as himself.
Some one has said that every young mother, when her first child is born, regards the babe as the most wonderful production of that description which the world has yet seen. And this too is true. But I doubt even whether that conviction is so strong as the conviction of the young successful lover, that he has achieved a triumph which should ennoble him down to late generations. As he goes along he has a contempt for other men; for they know nothing of such glory as his. As he pores over his "Blackstone," he remembers that he does so, not so much that he may acquire law, as that he may acquire Fanny; and then all other porers over "Blackstone" are low and mean in his sight—are mercenary in their views and unfortunate in their ideas, for they have no Fanny in view.
Herbert Fitzgerald had this proud feeling strong within his heart as he galloped away across the greensward, and trotted fast along the road, home to Castle Richmond. She was compounded of all excellences—so he swore to himself over and over again—and being so compounded, she had consented to bestow all these excellences upon him. Being herself goddess-like, she had promised to take him as the object of her world's worship. So he trotted on fast and faster, as though conscious of the half-continent which he had won by his skill and valour. [“Doubts”]
This extended passage manages simultaneously to convey Herbert's thoughts and emotions while placing them in a far broader human context. The passage also entertains us while establishing Trollope's narrator as someone so wise and experienced that we willingly accept his judgments.
Describing the way Herbert cannot concentrate on the matter at hand in the midst of family crisis — “he could not get his thoughts to work rightly” — Trollope moves from the specific case of his protagonist to general truths that apply to all human beings, instructing us that such getting “thoughts to work rightly is, by-the-by, as I take it, the hardest work which a man is called upon to do,” even when the “subject to be thought” isn't particularly difficult. “Were one to say that thoughts about hydrostatics and pneumatics are difficult to the multitude, or that mental efforts in regions of political economy or ethical philosophy are beyond ordinary reach, one would only pronounce an evident truism, an absurd platitude.” But, Trollope urges, if anyone tries to think about something steadily ”The chances are his mind will fly off, will-he-nill-he, to some utterly different matter.” For example, when a man wishes “to debate within himself that question of his wife's temper, he will find himself considering whether he may not judiciously give away half a dozen pairs of those old boots; or when it behoves him to decide whether it shall be manure and a green crop, or a fallow season and then grass seeds, he cannot keep himself from inward inquiry as to the meaning of that peculiar smile on Mrs. Walker's face when he shook hands with her last night.” Turning our attention to Herbert, Trollope relates that “he wished to think about his father's circumstances, but his mind would fly off to Clara Desmond and her perfections.” Clearly, this authorial tactic goes a long way toward establishing both Trollope's attractiveness to the reader, since he does entertain us with such explanatory generalizations, and also his credibility, credibility that makes the author an authority. Perhaps Trollope did not have to make his narrator provide such a broad context for Herbert's inability to think of anything other than his fiancé, but generations of readers of both Trollope and Eliot, another author who uses this technique, like to read such passages.
Some such passages are much briefer than the two previous examples. Sometimes Trollope follows a character's dialogue with brief comments by his narrator. For instance, note how the narrator's judges the words of Prendergast, the Fitzgerald family attorney, who tries to comfort Herbert by telling him “you have borne all this as a man should do. No loss of fortune can ruin one who is so well able to endure misfortune.” To this stoic advice Trollope responds, “But in this Mr. Prendergast was perhaps mistaken. His knowledge of human nature had not carried him sufficiently far. A man's courage under calamity is only tested when he is left in solitude. The meanest among us can bear up while strange eyes are looking at us. And then Mr. Prendergast went away, and he was alone” (Ch. 22).
Trollope, Anthony. Castle Richmond. London & New York: 1906. Project Gutenberg. E-text prepared by Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks, and revised by Rita Bailey and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.. 5 August 2013.
Last modified 12 August 2013