William Morris relates a fictional tale of a Frenchwoman, Jehane, and her English paramour, Robert, against the historic backdrop of the Hundred Years' War in his poem, "The Haystack in the Floods." He begins the tale in media res, with two questions: "Had she come all the way for this, / To part at last without a kiss? / Yeah had she borne the dirt and rain / That her own eyes might see him slain/ Beside the haystack in the floods?" Morris then proceeds to recount the events leading up to this current situation and to explain how they rode together and how their rendezvous was interrupted by the capture of Robert by Godmar. When faced with the decision of life with Godmar or death with Robert, Jehane refuses life with Godmar. The following passage occurs near the end of the poem, when, in response to Jehane's rejection of him, Godmar violently decapitates Robert in her presence:
. . . with empty hands
Held out, she stood and gazed, and saw
The long bright blade without a flaw
Glide from Godmar's sheath, his hand
In Robert's hair; she saw him bend
Back Robert's head; she saw him send
The thin steel down; the blow told well,
Right backward the knight Robert fell,
And moaned as dogs do, being half dead . . .
She shook her head and gazed awhile
At her cold hands with a rueful smile,
As though this thing had made her mad.
["The Haystack in the Floods," lines 139-158, p. 283]
In contrast to this gruesome portrayal of violence and its devastating emotional effect here is a passage from The Warden in which Trollope narrates John Bold's turbulent agitation and his violent treatment of his horse after his meeting with Dr. Grantly:
Bold was now choking with passion. He had let the archdeacon run on because he knew not with what words to interrupt him; but now that he had been so defied and insulted, he could not leave the room without some reply . . . As John Bold got on his horse, which he was fain to do feeling like a dog turned out of a kitchen, he was again greeted by little Sammy . . . That was certainly the bitterest moment in John Bold's life. Not even the remembrance of his successful love could comfort him; nay, when he thought of Eleanor he felt that it was that very love which had brought him to such a pass . . . He bit the top of his whip, till he penetrated the horn of which it was made: he struck the poor animal in his anger, and then was doubly angry himself at his futile passion. He had been so completely checkmated, so palpably overcome! and what was he to do? [The Warden, 166-167]
Both passages use simile and detailed description of violent conflict. However, the key distinction between them lies in the nature of the conflict that is portrayed. Morris presents realistic images of graphic violence and only briefly suggests Jehane's emotional and psychological response to witnessing this horror. In contrast, while Trollope's physical representation of Bold's violence toward his horse is minimal, he includes detailed explanations of the psychological conflict and emotional anguish he experiences so acutely.
Morris uses vivid imagery of brutal violence, as he conveys the grisly scene of Robert's decapitation in a disturbingly realistic manner. He thereby articulates his theme that ruthless power and insatiable greed lead to depravity and irreversible, tragic consequences. One cannot soon forget the deeply unsettling images Morris selects, including the "long bright blade without a flaw" and that of "the thin steel" being sent down the back of Robert's head. He even likens Robert's moaning in response to that of dogs, thereby adding depth to the full sensory experience of his ghastly tale. Like much of the poem, Jehane's response is ambiguous and expressed in purely physical terms. Morris notes: "She shook her head and gazed awhile / At her cold hands with a rueful smile, / As though this thing had made her mad." Thus, he implies that she has gone insane after witnessing the gory death of her beloved; however, the phrase "as though" still lends a certain sense of ambiguity to this implied outcome.
Unlike Morris, Trollope's use of imagery and detailed physical description is minimal. Instead, his primary focus is upon the interior state of John Bold and his silent frustration and passionate resentment. Trollope's exploration of Bold's mental state articulates his theme that indulging in one's injured pride, bitterness, and passionate anger, especially in response to a ruthless, authoritarian antagonist such as Dr. Grantly, can only lead to futile and self-defeating misery. The only tangible image Trollope provides is that of Bold "choking with passion." He then goes on to chronicle the inner thoughts and reflections of Bold in response to Dr. Grantly's triumphant and haughty declarations. Trollope likens Bold's submissive exit from Plumstead Episcopi following Dr. Grantly's swift termination of their conference to that of "a dog turned out of a kitchen." Bold's intense bitterness and humiliation are fully revealed to the reader by the narrator, who records his indignation at being "so insulted and . . . unable to reply" and at having "given up so much to the request of a girl, and then [to] have had his motives so misunderstood." Trollope briefly and very simply tells how he expresses this frustration and anger physically by biting "the top of his whip, till he penetrated the horn of which it was made" and by striking his horse "in anger." More significantly, Trollope notes that following these hasty actions he is "doubly angry with himself at his futile passion." Thus, he recognizes the futility of his physical expressions of anger and the surging emotions which can accomplish no end. Yet, continuing in the vein of a third-person narrated interior monologue, Trollope confesses that Bold feels himself "so completely checkmated, so palpably overcome" and has no idea what he should proceed to do. Bold's conflict is primarily an internal one, and Trollope successfully illustrates this.
Ultimately, Morris and Trollope effectively employ realism as a style, although they do so in very different ways. Morris' terrifyingly vivid and realistic portrayal of violence in "The Haystack in the Floods" demonstrates realism in regards to physical details and recreation of action. Trollope, however, employs psychological realism in his delineation of Bold's mental anguish and internal conflict, following his departure from Plumstead Episcopi. Although he does relate physical violence briefly, Trollope's true strength in this case lies in his detailed and honest portrayal of the workings of Bold's mind and the emotional turbulence he undergoes as he faces his insulted pride, his sudden powerlessness, and his bitterness regarding his love for Eleanor which has resulted in this painful outcome. Both Morris and Trollope eloquently express deeply troubling conflict and tragic violence. Morris explores physical conflict and brutal violence with a chilling sense of immediacy, while Trollope traces an individual's psychological conflict and violence of emotion with startling penetration and sympathy.
Last modified: 10 May 2003