he major novels of this period proclaim the principles of comedy much more loudly than the earlier novels. There are many passages that read rather like rules from a textbook on the comedy of manners: 'the usual courtesies of society demand that there shall be civility—almost flattering civility—from host to guest and from guest to host' (The Vicar of Bullhampton 8). But equally characteristic is the remainder of this passage and its sarcastic inversion: 'and yet how often does it occur that in the midst of these courtesies there is something that tells of hatred, of ridicule, or of scorn! How often does it happen that the guest knows that he is disliked, or the host knows that he is a bore!' The happy voice is continually being outshouted by the ironic, but then so is the ironic voice challenged by the comic. Again in The Vicar of Bullhampton, for instance, there is an especially important scene when the prostitute Carry Brattle tells the Vicar that nobody loves her, that love simply does not exist in her world. Now the Vicar is throwing all of his training and the whole of his Christian belief into reclaiming Carry, and such a declaration challenges that belief directly and, so it seems, successfully: 'He thought for a moment that he would tell her that the Lord loved her; but there was something human at his heart, something perhaps too human, which made him feel that were he down low upon the ground, some love that was nearer to him, some love that was more easily intelligible, which had been more palpably felt, would in his fraility and his wickedness be of more immediate avail to him than the love even of the Lord God' (25). The Vicar, unsupported in his cause by God and His love, stands for a moment in an empty world. But his next response fills the world again with a new and human substance: 'I love you, Carry, truly. My wife loves you dearly' (25). The form of this particular novel, and of the other major novels of this period, achieves some similar balance between comedy and irony.
But the full satisfactions of neither are available to us, and we are [143/144] likely to regard all of these novels as interesting failures. Trollope himself spoke very slightingly of the best novels in this group: The Vicar of Bullhampton 'certainly is not very good'; He Knew He Was Right is 'nearly altogether bad'; Ralph the Heir is 'one of the worst novels I have written'; even The Way We Live Now is seriously flawed by its satiric exaggeration and flabby love story (Autobiography 333, 322, 343, 355-56). He also defended the weakest novels of this period—Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, The Claverings, and Lady Anna2—probably because he could see little difference between them and their much more admired cousins. In any event, they all seek the same end: the creation of a desire in the reader for a formal resolution that is, in turn, frustrated. The anticipation of the satisfactions appropriate either to comedy or irony is aroused but never fulfilled. These are the novels in which Trollope explores most fully the use of unconventional moral centres: madmen, prostitutes, swindlers. More often, we get the sense of an uncertain focus, of a shifting focus, or of none at all. We often do not know which is the main plot and which the cautionary or exceptional one, which action establishes the hope of the world depicted and which one sets its limits. Is the quixotic Vicar or the embittered, atheistic Jacob Brattle at the heart of The Vicar of Bullhampton? Is Roger Carbury in The Way We Live Now a moral guide or a crusty senex? Are we meant to attend more to Trevelyan's madness or to the successful love stories in He Knew He Was Right? Funerals and marriages come at the same time, and we hardly know in which we are required to participate. Alternate plots in the same novel suggest absolutely opposite conditions of being. The narrator's comments move us in directions contrary to those we are led by the action to anticipate.
The best place to look for an explanation for this curious formal duplicity or ambiguity is, I think, in the major chronicle being written during this time. As with the novels surrounding and infiltrating the publication of the Barsetshire series, these later novels support the Palliser series by providing an opportunity for experiment. The Palliser series is as much a probing of irony as the Barsetshire series was of comedy. The Barsetshire world is best defined by Mr. Harding, the Palliser world by Mrs. Carbuncle and Lord George [144/145] de Bruce Carruthers. When the Barsetshire values are pressed hardest, Mr. Crawley is isolated, but he is, we see, never alone; Phineas Finn, however, really is alone in a world that is fallen. Such support as he receives is scattered and sporadic, and those he trusts most and who see most deeply into life explain that they can never be certain that any man would not, under the pressure of circumstances, commit murder. For Crawley, those who see most deeply know that no circumstances could ever make a gentleman turn thief. But the word 'gentleman' hardly has public meaning in the Palliser series. There are gentlemen about, to be sure, right at the heart even, but they no longer form a society around those crucial values which define and support the word 'gentleman.' Mr. Harding's values are established, but the Duke finally stands almost entirely alone. Phineas's rescue, unlike Mr. Crawley's, has no social resonance. He and Madame Max stand against the ignorant armies without any hope of bringing light. The Palliser novels are explorations of processes of accommodation, all more or less unsatisfactory, to the ironic world.
Techniques for achieving this delicate balance are developed and tested outside the series. The first novels, Linda Tressel, Sir Harry Hotspur, and The Claverings, are all rather crude and violent attempts to investigate the effects of directly inverting comedy. He Knew He Was Right, The Vicar of Bullhampton, Ralph the Heir, and Lady Anna, however, establish the balance by working mostly with the techniques mentioned before: unconventional or uncertain moral standards, contradictory subplots, and a subversive narrator. The Way We Live Now continues these attempts and adds a new element, the satiric narrator. Reaching back to the model in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Trollope plays off the alternating comic and ironic plots against a narrator who attacks both. Its reputation to the contrary, the novel seems to me neither successful nor especially dark. It is, however, extremely illuminating; Trollope always is revealing and almost unfailingly interesting when he tries to extend his range—even when, as here, he decides that the attempt was a mistake, even when he reaches that decision before the novel is over.
Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, those odd books published anonymously, are almost as revealing. What reasons Trollope may have had for these and other excursions into new settings are not clear to me, but such settings, whether in Ireland, Prague, Nuremberg, Australia, or America, seem to suggest to him civilizations [145/146] with highly unsteady principles and therefore less stability than England. In each, therefore, he could work out problems in a simplified form. Linda and Nina and Sir Harry Hotspur are white rats, electrodes and all, helping to establish conditions that will make possible Lizzie Eustace, the Duke as Prime Minister, and the mature Glencora. The simpler characters also participate in actions that attempt the most direct sort of comic reversal.
These novels stand comedy on its head. Linda Tressel and Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite both reverse the results of a traditional comic situation wherein a young and spirited heroine holding to the values of the heart stands against the prudent and restrictive maxims of her elders. The histories of rebellious girls occupying the major novels are here reduced to essentials and pushed to grim extremes. In Linda Tressel the heroine's instinctive search for love and joy is tested against the power of a Calvinist aunt to convince her that she, her instincts, and the world at large are 'vile.' The aunt, supported by the gruesome wisdom of the townsfolk, sets about to break Linda's spirit and force her into a marriage that is safe and profitable. But, though Linda's mind and even her imagination are captured, her instincts apparently triumph, and she runs off with her anarchist lover. Rachel Ray all over again, it appears. There had been many hints prior to the elopement that such a triumph was in store for romantic readers and a romantic heroine. Linda's curls, for instance, though a cause of the greatest concern to her aunt, who wants them to be 'confined' and invisible, 'would be seen over her shoulders and across her back, tempting the eyes of men sorely' (2). But the attempted elopement flops dismally, and all the hints come to nothing. Almost before the conductor has come around for tickets, the anarchist lover has proved himself to be something of a scoundrel, and Linda is plunged into misery: 'For Linda the worst circumstance of all was this, that she had never as yet brought herself to disbelieve her aunt's religious menaces' (14). Her one rebellious experiment tends to verify her aunt's gloom, and there is no escape anywhere for Linda. She has nothing to do but die. It is a pointless death too: the aunt just begins to see the consequences of her life-denying religion, but as soon as Linda is buried, she regains her bearings and 'the fury of her creed returned' (17).
Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, 'written on the same plan as Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel,' Trollope says (Autobiography [146/147] 335), is slightly more subtle, removing such obvious external enemies as Calvinism and substituting conventional romanticism as the final psychological trap. Comic expectations become the major source of disaster. Here a very good-natured and sorely tried Hotspur is attempting to preserve the integrity of his estate by settling the questions of its inheritor. Characteristically, he has no easy choices: his son is dead, and the natural heir is a villain. So he arranges to leave the money and land to his daughter's husband-to-be, trusting to nature, he says (4), to set things right when she marries. But nature is most untrustworthy, allowing the daughter ironically to fall in love with the villain. She is not only in love with him but sees him as 'godlike,' 'divine' (2). As the evidence of her lover's swindling, adultery, lying, and cheating mounts, Emily clings the more tenaciously to her romantic image of him. Poor Sir Harry, trying to extricate everyone sensibly, finds comic doctrines being brought against him by friends: 'young people in such contests could always beat the old people' (13). Such comedy is now clear madness, and Sir Harry is forced to watch Emily die of a broken heart. The villain goes 'from bad to worse' (24), and the estate is left to some immensely wealthy and distant cousin who hardly notices the addition to his land, swallowing the Hotspur estate and the name without so much as a blink.
Trollope generally works out such comic reversals with far less simplicity and finality, however. These novels are characteristically not so much reversals as mixtures of comedy and irony, even when, as in The Claverings, the mixtures are somewhat lumpy. Trollope questioned whether 'any one reads The Claverings' (Autobiography 198), a point now beyond question, but the novel is one of his most interesting if also one of his most imperfect investigations of romantic comedy. It explores a variety of solutions to the problems posed by the conflict between prudence and romance. Until the very end, none of the solutions seems very satisfactory. Throughout the novel nature has been able to help very little, but just as things look hopeless, she steps in with some effective but very unusual comic aid: serious illness and death. The vacillating hero becomes so sick that he can be browbeaten into some kind of resolution, and a couple of scoundrels are happily lost at sea. This last act the narrator desperately wants us to see as kindly: 'Was it not well that two such men should be consigned to the fishes. . . ?' (44). The widow, after all, though she feels a little down at present, will soon [147/148] find out, he says, that she was 'well quit' of her husband, that 'her period of comfort was in truth only commencing' (44). But despite this cheerleading, it is hard to become enthusiastic on the side of illness and death and hard to see how they satisfactorily settle the issue.
In fact, they do not. Trollope tries to graft on to an ironic story a comic resolution, and it does not take.3 Comedies may include such dire events, but they can hardly be made to depend on them. Until the very end the novel appears to be an exposition on the paralysing effects of doubt, much like Tennyson's 'Supposed Confessions.' The hero endures 'an agony of doubt' (42) for weeks over whom to marry, while the girl who truly loves him says that she will not die if he leaves her but very well may if he does not decide to do something: 'It is only the doubt that kills one' (40). Images of such deadly stasis abound, resulting in some of the most grisly scenes of emptiness between human beings in all of Trollope: a wife says of her husband's response to a little girl who had lived but a year, 'I think he has forgotten Meeny altogether,—even that she was ever here' (20). The novel seems to be set on demonstrating the impotence of all romance. Of another dead baby it is said, 'Yes; the poor little baby is dead, in spite of the pills and the powders, the daisies and the buttercups' (24), and when a character threatens suicide, she is met with: 'Ah! That is what we call poetry. Poetry is very pretty, and in saying this as you do, you make yourself divine. But to be dashed over the cliffs and broken on the rocks;—in prose it is not so well' (27).
Compounding the problem is the fact that the hero is remarkably unattractive, even by Trollope's standards. The narrator seems reluctant, further, to do much to lessen the distance between him and the reader. There are the usual protestations that the hero is like most men about us, non-heroic and weak and average (see chs. 10 and 28), but there is a conspicuous absence of 'we's.' No real attempt is made to identify us with the hero, and the defences of him usually seem perfunctory. As if recognizing the problem, the narrator becomes sarcastic with the reader—'you say, delicate reader, a true man can love but one woman' (28)—which in fact makes matters worse by increasing our estrangement from this curious novel. When the ending is attached, then, the narrator has nothing with [148/149] which to support the comedy and is forced instead to rely on apologies: 'Few young ladies, I fear, will envy Fanny Clavering her lover: but they will remember that love will still be lord of all' (48). But that is not what we, young ladies or not, are likely to remember. Such abstract satisfactions are not offered to us with much confidence, which is well; for they are not likely to prevail for a moment against the dominant ironic force of the novel.
The far more successful He Knew He Was Right also plays off death and marriages against one another at the end. Even though the death is much more explicitly present here, as are the madness and torture preceding it, the novel's attempted balance of comedy and irony tips as far into comedy as The Claverings sank into irony. Of the five love stories presented in the novel, the one between Trevelyan and Emily ends tragically, that between Arabella French and the Revd. Mr. Gibson ends in pretty grim irony, but the other three are much more than just successful; they are triumphs of pure romance, ending in marriages that combine wit, spirit, love, and property. It is as if three Elizabeths married three Darcys. With Raskolnikov and Mrs. Willy Loman thrown in, one might justly add. It is not an easy novel to sort out. Even if one sees Trevelyan's madness and Emily's distress as the major subjects of the novel, however, there is no denying the strong comic pressure that builds up against that tragedy.4
Such a notion of Trevelyan's centrality is perhaps more vulnerable than it at first appears. It is accurate, in a sense, to think of the treatment of Trevelyan as 'psychological,' but we generally mean more by that term than just the extraordinarily acute analysis of motive and conscience we receive from the narrator. Such commentary does not, in itself, distance us, but the relentless social context into which the commentary places Trevelyan makes us think of him more as a case, less as a presence. He is always seen as part of a larger group and never really allowed to be alone. He extends the limits of the comic world, but he cannot leave it. We never, I submit, feel him to be existing solely as a being without context as we do sometimes in the presence of Raskolnikov or Heathcliff or dozens of characters in Dickens, beginning with Fagin and Bill Sikes. He is never presented as is a character in [149/150] a dramatic monologue, never allowed his 'song.' In fact, the presentation of Trevelyan and even some of the analysis emphasize his repellent and grotesque qualities, the self-conscious staginess that coexists with the pathetic madness: 'As he said this, he dashed his hand upon the table, and looked up with an air that would have been comic with its assumed magnificence had it not been for the true tragedy of the occasion' (69). Trevelyan creates true tragedies, but he is never allowed tragic response or even a tragic attitude. The narrator very often directs our attention to such distracting externals as Trevelyan's posings, distancing us and thus protecting us from the pure force of tragedy. His analyses of Emily and Trevelyan's tragedy are sometimes jocularly sarcastic: 'And so it came to pass that that blessing of a rich marriage, which had as it were fallen upon them at the Mandarins from out of heaven, had become, after an interval of but two short years, anything but an unmixed blessing' (11). He can make Emily sound like Eleanor Bold in her 'baby-worship' (11) and even at the end can break the tie between her and the reader by commenting on her presumably heroic return to her husband, 'There is nothing that a woman will not forgive a man, when he is weaker than she is herself (93).
Trollope later said that the novel failed dismally to realize his intentions, which were 'to create sympathy for the unfortunate man.' Looking back over the story, he realizes the strength of the comic scenes but can find no sympathy for Trevelyan (Autobiography 321-22). Whatever Trollope's intentions may have been, it is difficult to read the novel now and see in the treatment of Trevelyan any failure. The novel is not, of course, a successful tragedy, but it seems never to make that attempt. Trevelyan, however important in the novel's action, stands finally as a signal of the fierce dangers in the world, but not of the world itself. He severely limits the extent and power of comedy without counteracting it. He plays out a prominent but only cautionary plot to a dominant comedy.
It is not a gentle world to be sure. It can strip away the pretences of romance, as it does with the French sisters, and reveal 'two pigs . . . at the same trough, each striving to take the delicacies of the banquet from the other, and yet enjoying always the warmth of the same dunghill' (44). Nature is not to be trusted to arrange matters; things will not work themselves out naturally. Nor is the world a [150/151] safe guide. Bozzle, the private detective who most 'knew the world' (38), sees as its 'normal condition' 'things dark and dishonest, fights fought and races run that they might be lost, plants and crosses, women false to their husbands, sons false to their fathers, daughters to their mothers, servants to their masters, affairs always secret, dark, foul, and fraudulent' (28). Trollope's representative of the solid instincts of beloved old Toryism here, Miss Jemima Stanbury, finds it impossible now to locate the values she still trusts: 'I like to see a difference between a gentleman and a house-breaker. For the matter of that I'm told that there is a difference, and that the house-breakers all look like gentlemen now' (12). This is not to say that gentlemen and their standards are not present or even, as her nephew admits, that good may not be more common than evil. But, he adds, it is 'not always easy to tell the one . . . from the other' (44). It is a slippery world, totally without certainty, one which can appear to he simply absurd. Colonel Osborne, who starts all the trouble by pursuing Emily, is himself a symbol of pure nothingness: 'it was generally thought of him that he might have been something considerable, had it not suited him better to be nothing at all' (2). But out of this emptiness comes a furious quarrel also over nothing—'a trumpery quarrel . . . sheer and simple nonsense' (16). And out of this triviality comes death. Trollope does allow us, even while protecting us, to see both the absurdity and pain caused by Emily and Trevelyan. Emily says, 'I have had to learn that torturing has not gone out of the world;—that is all' (95). Their son Louey, 'cowed and overcome . . . by the terrible melancholy of his whole life' (79), is an effective and unsentimental image of the disastrous shipwreck they have brought on themselves.
There are many casualties, certainly, not only Emily, her husband and son, who attempt an alliance, but those who are frightened off and remain by themselves, like Miss Jemima and Priscilla Stanbury. There is no assured protection from nature, no guarantees that love and good will can make for happiness. The only certain security is the security of nullity. One can choose to avoid risk but only at the cost of becoming nothing: 'How many people there are that don't seem to belong to anybody . . . Because they're just nobodies. They are not anything particular to anybody, and so they go on living till they die' (51). Mrs. Trevelyan tells her sister Nora that one had better 'drown herself than do as I have done' (60). But Nora's lover Hugh has an answer for such cautions. He argues 'that safety was not [151/152] desirable, that energy, patience, and mutual confidence would be increased by the excitement of risk' (70). 'Nothing,' he says, 'could ever be done without some risk' (53). And those who refuse to take risks become exactly that nothing. One can either freeze or leap into the darkness, a fairly grim justification on its own, since the darkness may contain Colonel Osborne, Trevelyan, and Bozzle. But Hugh has another point: 'For myself, I own that life would be tame to me, if there were no dangers to be overcome' (53). These leaps in the dark, then, are not simply last-ditch attempts to avoid being ground into powder; they are also fun in themselves and may possibly result in more fun. Trevelyan's tragic story is countered by others which take the same romantic premisses, the marriage for love alone, and end happily. Three out of four is not bad, however little consolation that may be to the fourth party. To those trembling on the brink, it is meant to be directly encouraging. The narrator says that although he cannot guarantee that a purely romantic decision 'will always be better,' 'we do feel sure that that country will be most prosperous in which such leaps in the dark are made with the greatest freedom' (33). The argument is almost Benthamite, but it is the closest approximation to the beneficent nature of the pastoral now available. And the greatest number in this novel are provided with the greatest happiness through some lucky leaps. Nora and Hugh are the prominent example, but Dorothy Stanbury and Brooke Burgess risk Miss Jemima's displeasure by boldly declaring their romance and their refusal to submit to her prejudices. Caroline Waddington and Charles Glascock are deterred at first by the lady's fears: 'It would be a leap in the dark, and all such leaps must needs be dangerous, and therefore should be avoided' (56). But finally she abandons the general position and declares, 'I shouldn't fear the leap for myself, if it wouldn't hurt him' (81). From that point the outcome is certain, since no men are likely to hold back, not because they are more courageous than women but because they risk so little.
Women take most of the risks, the novel says, and are therefore required to be better and more desperate athletes if a nation founded on leaps in the dark is to prosper. Nothing about the novel is more remarkable than its image of men floating through a world half-consciously, protected by the power given them by social convention from taking chances, almost from acting, and certainly from thinking. If the novel is psychological in the sense of imagining the [152/153] creation of thought under pressure, it is so in its treatment of women, not of men. Even Trevelyan never really thinks but only invents new and fantastic forms of protection for his wounded pride. But the pressures on women force them to see clearly or be swallowed up, often to see clearly and be swallowed up.
They offer themselves up as sacrifices to the freedom of the men; men use the language of virtuous self-effacement, but women have to endure the reality: 'It is all very well for a man to talk about his name and his honour; but it is the woman's honour and the woman's name that are, in truth, placed in jeopardy. Let the woman do what she will, the man can, in truth, show his face in the world . . . But the woman may be compelled to veil hers, either by her own fault, or by his' (11). The issue is seldom absent from a page of the novel. Both Emily and Nora are bitterly sensitive to this general degradation long before Trevelyan gives much specific cause: Nora thinks 'the lot of a woman' is to be 'wretched, unfortunate, almost degrading'; the fact that 'there was no path open to her energy, other than that of getting a husband' makes her 'almost sick' (4). When her sister says, 'It is a very poor thing to be a woman,' Nora answers, 'It is perhaps better than being a dog' (5). Nora says thatall men, 'after all,' 'despise women' (25), an insight that throws remarkable light not only on Trevelyan but on the other men in the novel. Priscilla mounts an ironic defence of women on the grounds that men at least cannot 'suckle babies' or 'forget themselves,' as women can (25). We are never allowed to lose sight of the point. Even Bozzle is provided with a wife who argues that men simply cannot have absolute and total rights: 'I don't believe a bit of his rights' (59). If the narrator takes us for a walk in the streets, casual conversation that we overhear follows the same course: '"There's a young 'ooman has to do with that ere little game," said the potboy. "And it's two to one the young 'ooman has the worst of it," said the barmaid. "They mostly does," said the potboy' (32). Even Caroline Waddington worries about the hardness of a woman's lot.
This last subplot also introduces the American feminist Wallachia Petrie, 'the Republican Browning,' whose solutions are ridiculed because they are based on a dangerous 'antagonism to men' (77) and also because they are far too simple. She blandly assures her friend that 'things good in theory . . . will be good also when practised' (77) and imagines that it is up to her to institute the practice. She sees none of the complexities. To her, England is [153/154] simply 'a game played out' (55), a collection of fading decadents, without connection with the new and vigorous land she imagines America to be. But Caroline sees all the connections and sees that women in America, in England, in all the world have it much the same. She sees further that 'the ways of the world are not to be altered because Wally writes poetry' (55). Feminism is burlesqued here, certainly, but the burlesque is conducted in terms that exactly invert those of the usual attack. Ordinarily we are assured that there is no dilemma after all and that the femininsts are proposing radical solutions for non-problems. Here we are led to believe that the dilemma is far too deeply rooted and basic ever to be touched by the feminists' solutions: they are too easy, too optimistic in that they are solutions at all.
For the novel never really suggests that there are solutions. Hugh Stanbury has the best practical insight into the problem: 'I fancy I shouldn't look after my wife at all . . . It seems to me that women hate to be told about their duties' (19). But this is only a tactical operating plan. Even the issue between Emily and Trevelyan amounts finally only to an isoluble question of 'obedience' (9). The narrator provides lots of jokes early on about how difficult Emily was 'to manage' (9). But the demand for obedience soon becomes a fierce demand for total submission. Trevelyan finally wants an admission of infidelity, but when he receives it he cares nothing for it, precisely because, as Dr. Nevill says, his madness has had nothing to do with any notion of her infidelity 'but arose from an obstinate determination to yield nothing' (98). Time and again, like Chaucer's Clerk, Hamlet, and a good many lesser examples, when pressed he turns on all women with terrible, neurotic rage. He finally is interested only in protecting some primitive sense of male power: 'should he yield to her now,—should he make her any promise,—might not the result be that he would be . . . robbed of what he loved better than his liberty,—his power as a man?' (79). This 'power as a man' is so mysterious and so fragile that it cannot tolerate the slightest jostling, let alone Emily's spirited independence. The only solution to their problem was for her cheerily to accept annihilation: 'Had she been able always to keep her neck in the dust under his foot, their married life might have passed without outward calamity' (98).
In the end Emily does come round, too late, to an agreement of this sort, vowing never to take another leap in the dark (98) and thus connecting herself to others who recognize the terrible risks [154/155] women run. And these others, seeing perhaps rightly 'that no woman should trust herself to any man' (28), are allowed only to will their own nothingness. Miss Stanbury muses, 'I am very desolate and solitary here. But I rather think that women who don't get married are intended to be desolate' (66). Dorothy's harsher analysis is even more applicable: 'A man who is a nobody can perhaps make himself somebody,—or, at any rate, he can try; but a woman has no means of trying. She is a nobody, and a nobody she must remain . . . She is just there and that's all' (51). Priscilla Stanbury, who in almost any other romantic comedy would be treated as a funny old maid, is here allowed dignity and also wisdom: 'I wonder why it is that you two should be married, and so grandly married, and that I shall never, never have any one to love' (97). Love still provides the meaning and hope for the world, but it is no longer easily come by, nor is the search for it any longer safe. Those, like Priscilla, who recognize the dangers, are likely to be left stranded by that very recognition. Those who, seeing or not, leap outward may find terror or, more likely, love. But even love itself is now corrupted by the neurotic politics of power and submission.
The Vicar of Bullhampton concerns the treatment of those who have been injured by their leaps in the dark. The comic remedies are only partially effective, just as the comic solutions in He Knew He Was Right were only partially applicable. 'It is not easy to set crooked things straight,' says the Vicar (22), but he tries anyway, fitting splints here and there with a quixotic energy and a radical charity that are at times effective. There are still some who limp, some who cannot be helped, and some who are worse off for the interfering physician. But the odds are generally favourable still; as in He Knew He Was Right, there is something of a statistical argument presented. If one cannot establish a pastoral world exactly, one can still try to maintain pastoral values in a few spots, propped and patched up though they be. Crooked things may sometimes be made straight.
But only by something like miracle-working. The Vicar is certainly Trollope's most explicitly religious figure and this novel his most radical statement on the uses of Christianity.5 Still, as miracle-workers go, the Vicar is a clumsy and undependable one indeed. [155/156] He has great success with the stupid old Marquis and the matter of the chapel, fair success with Sam Brattle and with his sister Carry, none at all with old Jacob Brattle, and less than none in arranging the lives of Squire Gilmore and Mary Lowther. He is on the side of the best natural forces, but these forces are neither all-powerful nor necessarily benign. There is even a level on which the Vicar plays the part of a nosy intruder: a drunken landlady tells him, '"People know what is good for them to do, well enough, without being dictated to by a clergyman!" He had repeated the words to himself and to his wife a dozen times, and talked of having them put up in big red letters over the fire-place in his own study' (63). This self-knowledge, along with his fallibility, really establishes his basic humanity and makes his successes all the more paradoxical and important. He is one of Trollope's gentlemanly Christians, anxious to make his parishioners comfortable and quick to protect them against the harshness of the doctrine he preaches. But the Vicar is required to extend charity and grace much further than earlier parsons. As a result, he feels, concurrent with his love for peace, a pleasure in pugnacity; he secretly distrusts 'that doctrine of non-retaliation' (19). In supporting innocence, he senses the great power of the sophisticated and thus, without exactly realizing it, turns to a more primitive and forceful Christianity. The Vicar finally fights not just to heal the meek and wounded but to help them in inheriting the earth.
As a result, he has the great strength of radicalism, never worrying for a moment about the doctrinal difficulties he is encountering in helping Carry escape prostitution. He knows whom he loves, and that is enough. Enough for him, that is, but not quite enough for all situations. The narrator gently comments, 'The crooked places of the world, if they are to be made straight at all, must be made straight after a sterner and juster fashion' (40). The Vicar's love, strong as it is, is nowhere near so pure as he would like to think. It is partly a love for his own past and a consequent desire to protect it; it is partly sexual attraction to Carry's undeniable 'prettiness'; it is partly a love for his own romantic castle-building and 'the sweet smiles of affectionate gratitude with which he himself would be received when he visited her happy hearth' (40) after her restoration. Human he certainly is, but his humanity also contains a mercy and generosity that force him closer and closer to the most startling New Testament Christianity. When a modern female [156/157] Pharisee tells him that Biblical times and modern times are two very different things and ought not to be confused, the Vicar reflects that this 'was only what the world had said to her,—the world that knows so much better how to treat an erring sinner than did Our Saviour when on earth' (41). He is nearly turned against the world for a time, becoming 'almost tired of his efforts to set other people straight, so great were the difficulties that came in his way' (46). But he never becomes bitter, only tired, and after a brief rest he is back at it. He manages a reconciliation with the prissy Marquis and the dissenting minister and puts an end to the period in which everyone in the town was 'busy hating and abusing somebody else' (36). The Marquis sees the Vicar, not inaccurately really, as an anarchist, a demagogue of democracy, but he is finally brought round. The novel, like the Vicar, is very gentle with fools.
With Mary and the squire, though, the limitations of the Vicar's romantic notions are clearly exposed. It seems a perfect match, and the Vicar brings them together, confident that nature and his own loving encouragement will do the rest. But it turns out that the squire finds an irresistible pleasure in 'puling and whining love' (38), and Mary is nearly forced into settling for the ugly satisfactions of self-sacrifice. The poor, well-meaning Vicar is almost pressed into the role of the hard-hearted and prudent guardian, unable to keep Mary from escaping and unable to console Gilmore when she does. His interference has nearly wrecked things. When, near the novel's close, Mary leaves (or escapes from) the Vicar's house, she picks up the 'crooked-things-straight' motif and reverses it: 'If you could only know how anxious I have been not to be wrong. But things have been wrong, and I could not put them right' (65). The Vicar can only wish that he had never set eyes on such incorrigibles: 'I wish with all my heart that she had never come to Bullhampton' (65).
These extremes of success and failure suggest the alternatives which come together in the much more complex situation presented by the Brattles. The Vicar's staunch defence of the unjustly accused Sam is effective up to a point, but it hardly reconciles Sam to the beauties of the law or a lawful society: 'But it's done now, and there ain't been much justice in it. As far as I sees, there never ain't much justice' (73). Carry's difficult situation requires more of the Vicar's energy and ingenuity; it tests fully the reaches of his humanity. Anyone can pity a whore, but the Vicar can see how useless pity is, [157/158] how it can be transformed into punishment. Carry doesn't need pity, but imaginative understanding and love. He can offer her that. God's love is meaningless to her, as he understands, but not his own love and his wife's (25). Even more, Carry's past never distances her from him, and he never thinks of her as a case but as a person like himself or—the acid test—his wife. He can, therefore, understand that Carry's life, brutal and painful as it has been, has also had its pleasures and excitements, and that one cannot in true charity offer 'a mode of life that, in its general attractions, shall be about equal to that of a hermit in the desert' (52). The grand inhumanity of this form of charity is based on a desire to make crooked things remain crooked, to experience the haughty pleasures of contemplating 'a monster of ingratitude': 'If we left the doors of our prisons open, and then expressed disgust because the prisoners walked out, we should hardly be less rational' (52). The moving love the Vicar shows for Carry is a positive contrast to the ordinary sort of charity and would be the perfect evidence of the effectiveness of his Christianity, except that it is only partially effective. He can never really persuade Carry's father to accept either his daughter or the doctrine of love the Vicar is preaching. Jacob Brattle's deep agnosticism, his sense that life is more or less accursed, seems beyond the Vicar's reach. A dark transformation of the traditional jolly miller, old Brattle has become so sensitive to basic injustice that the Vicar's words seem to him superficial and childish. He puts comedy to the final test, and comedy fails.
Up to then, though, comedy has worked well enough to represent a decent and lively operating principle, even if it is unsound philosophically. Though Brattle's test of comedy is far more severe than that offered by Trevelyan, we are still more likely to be moved by the comedy in this novel. It seems more ingrained with the method. The Vicar, in a sense, is the narrator, or nearly akin. They both use the same methods of extension, analogy, and then personal application. The Vicar insults virtually everyone with his constant analogies, insisting that Carry is like us all and shouting, 'Then speak of her as you would of any other sister or brother,—not as a thing that must be always vile because she has fallen once' (17). He asks the Marquis to think of himself as if he were Sam Brattle in jail and stirs up everyone with his very unwelcome comparisons. Best of all, he compares himself to others and can receive quietly analogies others apply to him. When Jacob Brattle suggests that [158/159] he think of himself as father to a whore (63), the Vicar feels compassion, not outrage. The narrator works in the same way on our imagination, both within the action and without, but most centrally in the Preface, where Carry's 'misery' is identified with 'every misery to which humanity is subject.' The Vicar's wife finally illustrates the point at which all these comparisons are aiming: 'Had she, too, been fair, might not she also have fallen?' (53). The charitable imagination can go no further, but neither can it stop short of this point, according to this novel.
Sharing as they do the dangers of this world, all ranks and classes are levelled, all differences made to seem artificial. The Vicar of Bullhampton is far and away Trollope's most democratic statement, but its emphasis is clearly not political at all. 'We are all of us men' no longer means what it did in Barchester Towers. Now we are all of us weak, erring, fallen; even the best of us are limited, relatively ineffectual, sometimes even harmful. At the same time there is a very strong sense of common pleasure here: the usual Trollope celebrations of friendship, good digestion, and a healthy grievance, but also the highly unusual celebration of sensuality, sometimes put indirectly—'There must be no more laying of her head upon his shoulder, no more twisting of her fingers through his locks, no more looking into his eyes, no more amorous pressing of her lips against his own' (33)—sometimes as a joke—'When it comes to this, that a pair of lovers are content to sit and rub their features together like two birds, there is not much more need of talking' (18)—but sometimes as the lovely expression of strong desire: 'It was sweet to her to see and to remember the motions of his body. When walking by his side she could hardly forbear to touch him with her shoulder' (20). The pastoral protections are given up now, but the values are still alive and may still, here and there, bloom.
Both Ralph the Heir and Lady Anna also take on the issue of levelling, the first more metaphysically and the second more socially than The Vicar of Bullhampton. Neither is as unified or successful as the previous novel. They are, in fact, likely to strike us as peculiar, so inharmonious is the mixture of comedy and irony. Ralph the Heir levels by means of a basic cynicism. It argues, as do the comedies of nature, that things should be left to take their course, not, however, because such courses will be happy ones but because even the best plans lead nowhere anyhow. One might as well, then, relax. The chief relaxer or non-planner is the Ralph of the title, also [159/160] the hero, a totally unsavoury character who is rewarded for his lassitude, one gathers, certainly not for his moral qualities. Nearly everyone perceives the futility of all effort, good or bad, and a strange emptiness and lack of vitality pervade all action and all talk. Accommodation becomes pretty much a matter of giving up. Those who for one reason or another get out of a narrow track, as does Neefit, lose all dignity. The poor tailor, honest and well-meaning, gets nothing that he wants, mainly because he has wanted something in particular and tried to get it. Acceptance, therefore, means taking what there is because there is nothing else available. Old Griffenbottom, M.P., whose life has been neither exciting, nor important, nor moral, nor pleasant, seems to realize this: 'At any rate, such as was the life, it was his life; and he had no time left to choose another' (25).
The novel works on a principle that is not unusual for ironic comedies: deflating illusions. Everyone is presumably educated. The odd thing here is the chaotic nature of the education, particularly the bizarre graduation exercises. Only the scoundrel hero is fully rewarded; prizes are given out with little regard for merit, sometimes indeed almost sarcastically. Comedies of accommodation always ask us to give up a great deal but in return always give us a system that is, if not coherent, decent, and if not decent, pleasant. But here it is none of the three. Despite all this, the novel tries at the end to leap back into comedy. One of the three plots brings its lovers to an incongruous position of being god and goddess to one another, as if the attack on such wish-fulfilment romance, carried on for hundreds of pages, had somehow not reached the area where they dwell. The narrator, similarly, goes to work apologizing furiously and at enormous length for the hero and trying to do something to make poor Sir Thomas Underwood seem less central and less paralysed. All of this confuses the form, 'opening' it, perhaps, but only by botching it.
The hero is one problem, without doubt. Ralph the heir is made the special charge not only of the plot and nature but, he thinks, of 'divine Providence' (36). Religion has a surprisingly prominent part to play in the novel, often advanced as the only answer to these dilemmas. But no one pays any attention to religion, and the dilemmas are apparently solved anyway. So maybe Ralph the heir is the favoured of divinity; such a choice would suit the ironic cosmos implied in the novel. At the end, Ralph achieves a marriage with [160/161] a war-horse who will give him an average sort of life. Sir Thomas tries to claim that 'he will love his own wife and children,' perhaps becoming a 'most respectable country gentleman' (56). If so, this says something severe about love and respectability, not to mention country gentlemen. In truth, though, these interminable apologies for Ralph are simply confused—sometimes sly, sometimes ironic, sometimes asking us to identify with him and think of him as an average specimen, sometimes arguing that his is the dangerous villainy of which we should beware. But he is finally neither exemplary nor a warning; he is, as Trollope said, very dull for such a scoundrel (Autobiography 343). His wife-to-be and her mother talk about 'fixing' him. It will be hard to do, but they are resolved to try. Such an act is a parody of rebirth and restoration; it is a job for a garage mechanic, not the goddess of spring.
Sir Thomas is an even more difficult problem. The novel opens on a very powerful image of his extreme loneliness. He has 'warm affections' but no friends, simply because 'he lacked the power that way, rather than the will' (1). He wanders about the Inns of Court at night, gazing at lighted windows and imagining conversations in which he can never engage. He isolates himself from his daughters and exists as a consequence with a conscience which can cause him great pain but never move him to act. He stands for Parliament, wins, but then has to go through a petition hearing in which corruption of opponents is exposed and the bororgh at last disenfranchised. Victory and morality all in one, and all for nothing. He endlessly plans a book on Bacon, never writing it. He agonizes over the truth of Christianity but can neither reach decisions nor rid himself of the question. 'He thought much, but he thought nothing out, and was consequently at sixty still in doubt about almost everything. . . . He was for ever doubting, for ever intending, and for ever despising himself for his doubts and unaccomplished intentions' (40). He is a parody of Mr. Harding, suggesting the man withdrawn in a world that does not protect withdrawal. His instincts are good ones; he is a gentleman honest and true. But he is a mere nothing. The narrator can hardly even try to rescue Sir Thomas for comedy, but neither can he be ignored. So the embarrassment of a hopeful apology must be lived through: 'Purer air,' perhaps, might yet produce . . . it has for others . . . let us hope it will. . . . This sort of thing closes the novel. It is clearly not sardonic; one might wish that it were. [161/162]
Lady Anna suffers from a similar serious and interesting division, this time between comedy and tragedy, between social classes, and also, as in Ralph the Heir, between the pattern of accommodation and a world that resists any very pleasant accommodation. Here the last problem is handled more satisfactorily by having the young lovers escape to Australia at the end. The old society can hardly be stretched far enough to tolerate the union of an earl's daughter with a tailor. But the class issue, important as it is, hides a far more serious imperfection. The tailor tells his new wife that 'hearts will be sore. As the world goes yet awhile, there must be injustice; and sorrow will follow' (48). They must live not so much as outcasts, which has its own comforts, but with sorrow and injustice, which have none. The hope contained in the 'as the world goes yet awhile' phrase is entirely confined to the radical tailor, whose Utopian visions the novel very pointedly does not share. It sees fully the grounds for radicalism, the defects in the present world, but it is far less confident about any improvements. The young people have to take enormous risks. Everyone tells them that they are degrading themselves, and that argument is never really met. It is surely a world in which love has little chance.
The conflict between the impulse of romantic comedy and the bleak assumptions of irony are manifested in an odd blurring of the novel's focus. Though the title makes a faint effort to elevate Lady Anna to that position, she lacks her mother's strength and ambition and becomes first simply a pure victim and then simply a pure heroine. She really generates none of the novel's main energies. These come mostly from the inflexible, tragic countess and the imaginatively comic Sir William Patterson. They divide the novel between them. They meet only once, he with his humane wisdom, she with her grim hope that her daughter will die rather than disgrace herself. When Sir William appeals to her as a mother and a Christian to relax into tolerance, she flashes back with Mr. Crawley's words, 'It is easy to say all that, sir. Wait till you are tried' (37). The clash looks a little like that between Tennyson's Rizpah and the charity worker or that implied between Arnold's Wragg and Mr. Roebuck. Actually, however, Sir William's wisdom finally rules the novel—or most of it anyhow. We are asked to respect both points of view, even though they seem to be, and are, irreconcilable.
The countess is much like the Mr. Crawley whose words she repeats, insisting on playing out a tragedy in the midst of a comic [162/163] world, clinging to her sense of injustice in the face of all attempts at healing. Her love for her daughter becomes so absolute that she threatens to kill her in order to express that love most perfectly. She actually does shoot the tailor. She is like a Webster or Middleton character wildly careering about in a drawing-room comedy. Becoming so involved with the conflict itself, she draws all her sustenance from it. It becomes necessary to her, and she thus resists any solution whatever (8). One must admit that her prose becomes a little strained and stagey toward the end—'Yes! She would face it all' (43)—but she never loses the power to upset things. Even with the wedding imminent, she almost overwhelms her daughter with remorse. But this nearly demonic figure has been presented carefully from the start in a sympathetic light, thus guaranteeing her disruptive ability. The opening sentence says of her, 'no fiercer cruelty was ever experienced by a woman' (1). Her refusal to accommodate herself in any way haunts the counter plea for easy acceptance and makes it seem at times superficial.
The plea is, however, made eloquently by the narrative itself, with the fine support of Sir William Patterson, the Solicitor-General and clearly Trollope's ideal lawyer.6 He is ideal because he is scarcely a lawyer at all. He has little regard for legal evidence, but much for what he considers the broad rights of the case as a whole. He depends on imagination, not reason, and he is willing to rest opinions on sympathy alone. He understands the world well enough to see that no absolutes are applicable, and he finds a way to operate without ever having final assurances. Significantly, the novel never discloses the facts of the great case that continues throughout. Sir William, in an astonishingly open appeal, finally asks the other lawyers to forget the case and to consider the 'romance' within them: 'Have not generosity and valour always prevailed over wealth and rank with ladies in story?' (30). He is, as one of his outraged enemies says, really a 'poet' (33), not a lawyer. He is the maker of that part of the novel which is comic, presiding over the wedding at the end with deserved satisfaction. The chapter title proclaims 'Things Arrange Themselves' (47), but 'things' have had a great boost from Sir William. He cannot arrange the inclusion of the countess, of course, or even make terms with her, but this failure provides the major interest, as well as the major problem, of the novel. [163/164]
The Way We Live Now, like the other novels in this series, attempts to stretch the comic pattern so as to include the darkest and most unlikely processes. In doing so, ordinary materials are twisted far out of shape. Seers, for example, appear in the unexpected form of the weak-headed pair, Dolly Longstaffe and Lord Nidderdale.7 Dolly's concluding wisdom, 'Most fellows are bad fellows in one way or another,' is carried by Nidderdale to a higher philosophic pitch: 'If one wants to keep one's self straight, one has to work hard at it, one way or the other. I suppose it all comes from the fall of Adam' (96). It is the fallen world we live in now, all right, and a great deal of work of many kinds is required to make anything at all out of it. Trollope returns here to his own past, to The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson, that deformed child only he has ever loved, and to his friend Thackeray for yet another experiment with comic and ironic materials. The Way We Live Now contains a major comic plot played off against another ironic one, with a satiric narrator undercutting both, precisely the formula of Amelia, Becky, and the puppeteer. The novel is Trollope's rendition of Vanity Fair thirty years afterwards.
Like most strong satires, it had for its original audience the obvious power of what we now think of as 'relevance,' that is, topicality with a moral bent. The Times enthusiastically called it 'neither a caricature nor a photograph; it is a likeness of the face which society wears to-day' (24 Aug. 1875, p. 4) and the Saturday Review huffily proclaimed that, uncivil Mr. Trollope to the contrary, this was not the way they lived, thank you (40 [17 July 1875], p. 88)! Both responses, fervid and immediate, would have been equally pleasing to a satirist, but Trollope was hardly a whole-hearted satirist. His Thackeray is filled with protests against the assumptions and effects of that genre, and he could grant to The Way We Live Now only that it was 'as a satire, powerful and good.' To Trollope, that meant that it was only a good sample of an inferior species; the book could not escape 'the fault which is to be attributed to almost all satires,' namely, that 'the accusations are exaggerated' (Autobiography 355). In truth, the novel is only partly satiric anyway; that is, it is satire only part way through. Satiric absolutisms gradually yield to the modifications [164/l65] of comedy. A comic structure begins to emerge about mid-way and grows more evident as the book proceeds, finally controlling, though not subduing the darkness.9 That this is a comedy of the injured and mutilated is true, but the cynics (and satirists) are repudiated, and there is room for some romance in the new world. Nature is never spent—nor is England—so long as there are John Crumbs who can invade the city, make Felix 'one mash of gore' and win back to the pastoral world a dutiful wife. Not everyone is rescued, but what appeared sure to be harsh fates, Georgianna Longstaffe's, for instance, are softened and some characters are rejuvenated. And though Paul Montague, the romantic hero, simply escapes from Melmotte and is in no sense triumphant, by the end of the novel 'all family feuds were at an end' (100). At least one great victory is allowed, the miraculous rebirth of 'the chief character,'10 Lady Carbury.
But The Way We Live Now is no Rachel Ray. That chief character, Lady Carbury, is so immersed in self-disgust that the only love she can show for most of the novel is a diseased love for her son. The world seems to be divided between those who hate themselves and those who capitalize on that hatred. Character after character reflects on the mysterious and sudden changes in social customs that allow behaviour which would formerly have been thought scandalous, indicating a radical depreciation of the underlying moral values. Lord Nidderdale vaguely ponders 'that now it did not much matter what a man did,—if only he were successful' (53). It is the world Trollope always feared, the one ruled by competitive exams, by results, by the future. Those who now succeed, as Nidderdale says, by any means at hand, are naturally those who 'get things done.' Slow and Bideawhile are displaced by the new man, Squercum, who makes himself 'a character for getting things done after a marvellous and new fashion' (58). Such looking to results, waiting for fulfilments, paradoxically causes a sense of growing insubstantiality. It causes also the ascendancy of people like Melmotte and his near kin, 'the Brother of the Sun,' whose power is in direct [165/166] proportion to their inscrutable emptiness. Actual deeds have been reduced to appearances, men to shirt-fronts, just as the currency of commerce has degenerated from gold to paper to words. It is a world made only for grief: Lady Carbury's 'happiness, like that of most of us, was ever in the future,—never reached but always coming' (12). Her happiness does in fact come, when she finally gives up on the future. Whether this happens to 'most of us' depends in Trollope's terms on how closely we attend to the novel.
We must especially attend to Augustus Melmotte, welcomed to England, where 'British freedom would alone allow him to enjoy, without persecution, the fruits of his industry' (4). England is the one society vulnerable, stupid, and corrupt enough to admit Melmotte, a point stressed throughout, to the intense discomfort of many who agreed with Arnold's Mr. Roebuck or the Saturday Review. As Melmotte advances, however, to being chosen 'the great and honourable type of British Commerce' (58), the symbolism becomes clearly public, as in a way it has always been, like Hawthorne's A, not a secret between author and reader but an overt symbol that all can read. Melmotte is much plainer even than the A, and almost everyone reads the symbol correctly from the start. Not many in England are substantially fooled by Melmotte for very long. They at least are never fooled about his morality: 'The tradesmen had learned enough to be quite free of doubt, and in the City Mr. Melmotte's name was worth any money,—though his character was perhaps worth but little' (4). The distinction here is crucial. While it stands as an indictment of the English that ethics are so absolutely divorced from daily practice, it is paradoxically to their credit that they manage for the most part to maintain the distinction. Morality is trivial to them, but the search for money is never made into the search for God; they never confuse money and religion. In Dickens, Melmotte would have been turned into a grotesque saint, but the separations are maintained here, and there is little religious imagery (there is some in Ch. 35). People never forget that Melmotte is a scoundrel; they just do not care much. Georgianna Longstaffe sees it all from the inside: 'She could understand it all. Mr. Melmotte was admitted into society, because of some enormous power which was supposed to lie in his hands; but even by those who thus admitted him he was regarded as a thief and a scoundrel' (32). Men grant to Melmotte the reality of a slogan only; he is 'the strong rock, the impregnable tower of [166/167] commerce, the very navel of the commercial enterprise of the world' (35). They only mistake that slogan for reality and imagine that scoundrels can win.
Melmotte is not a native growth, the natural product of English degeneracy exactly. He is an outsider, a freak whose freakishness is no longer as repulsive as it should be. England has not itself become diseased but has lost the power to detect disease in others. Julia Monogram expresses this dissociation: 'Going there [to Melmotte's] when the Emperor of China is there, or anything of that kind, is no more than going to the play. Somebody chooses to get all London into his house, and all London chooses to go. But it isn't understood that that means acquaintance' (32). She has a point, but she cannot get off quite this easily, nor can the nation. Melmotte is not England itself, but England cannot escape some responsibility for his success.
Melmotte is not so much a satiric reflection of England, then, as a very serious test of her moral worth. More than that, too, England has not only prepared the field and then blandly awaited the grotesque harvest; she has in a way created the farmer. Melmotte is in this sense England's creation and its victim. He soon finds that he is no longer playing the game but is being played by it (35). Even worse, he is almost led to believe in the reality of his own myth, 'the most remarkable circumstance in the career of this remarkable man,' the narrator says (56). Trollope finally complicates the originally simple satire by making us feel a sympathy for this man not unlike that evoked by Mary Shelley for the monster. Melmotte is tracked down not by virtue but by Squercum, who thinks that 'to have hunted down Melmotte would make Squercum as great almost as Melmotte himself' (81). There is little pleasure for us in the great merchant's fall. We are made to share in his misery and to admire a strength even greater than that of Mr. Crawley or the countess in Lady Anna. Unlike them, Mr. Melmotte will not be tricked into imagining the satisfactions of tragic martyrdom: 'He told himself over and over again that the fault had been not in circumstances,—not in that which men call Fortune,—but in his own incapacity to bear his position' (81). He has been used by the world to give it a false lustre, a sick, fake life, and we are thus unable to share either in the virtuous reaction against Mr. Melmotte when his crimes are known or in the sentimental counterreaction, the 'white-washing' (88) that takes place later. He is [167/168] a pathetic and finally moving image of a person used and cast aside by a society that has let him climb to the top without letting him advance an inch toward the heart. In a way, Julia Monogram is perhaps right after all; there is no essential 'acquaintance.' Melmotte is never a fully satiric weapon, then, since the linkages are never direct: society is nearly as conscious of his meaning as are we. The indictment is strong, but it is not finally achieved primarily through satire.
Even stronger than the charge brought against England by Melmotte is the frightening suggestion that he is not alone. Perhaps he is but an earlier and cruder form of what will become a more polished, insidious evil, just as the Mafia is an advance on the cattle-rustler. Mr. Alf, like Melmotte a tough outsider, waits and watches Melmotte's mistakes, hiding in the shadows and then advancing in the same line but with infinitely more stealth. He is determined never to be made an instrument of and thus masquerades as a reformer, proclaiming the corruption of the world more loudly than anyone else and insisting, 'we must make it different' (11). The symbolism in his position, editor of the Evening Pulpit, is not meant to be subtle. He knows how to capitalize on the instability of moral values by writing articles which can, at once, support either, both, or neither side of a question. He is a god of irony: 'next to its omniscience its irony was the strongest weapon belonging to the "Evening Pulpit"' (30). He is the first to denounce Melmotte, and he does it, for once, unironically, not because he is morally sensitive but because he is an early version of the P.R. man, accurately sniffing out the wild shifts in public opinion. His view of the world is precisely attuned to its worst features, and because he has no moral sense he has no guilt. His only standard is competence, getting things done: 'Dishonesty is not the general fault of the critics. . . . It is incapacity' (89). Mr. Alf's values and Mr. Alf's tone forecast with grim accuracy the tone and values of such modern men of competence as the Watergate criminals. Like Alf, they believe that the common alternative to ruthless pragmatism is a boggy sentimentality.
There are, however, other tests of England in which it manages better results; contrary indications are given that the old morality, though shrunken, has not altogether gone. Deep within even Dolly Longstaffe and Lord Nidderdale is a sense that things should be different, and it is the disastrous mistake of people like Felix Carbury [168/169] to imagine that the neglect of morality is really its death. Felix's tests of the society are just as important as are Melmotte's and really much more basic. Felix is a literalist who thinks that there really are no standards now, that it does not in fact matter what one does. But he is wrong. John Crumb comes from the still-alive land like Kipling's Hodge to assert the continuing vigour of old England. But even the London world is repulsed by Felix on moral grounds. Paul Montague, in a moment of cynical despair, says, 'If Felix had £20,000 a year, everybody would think him the finest fellow in the world' (4). He is corrected immediately by the narrator: 'In saying this, however, Mr. Paul Montague showed himself unfit to gauge the opinion of the world. Whether Sir Felix be rich or poor, the world, evil-hearted as it is, will never think him a fine fellow' (4). Evil-hearted it may be, but the world still has a moral sense, is capable of shedding at least some of its enemies, collecting its resources, and granting happiness.
The novel is not purely satiric for very long. There are plenty of indications early on that satire is intended. The first chapter introduces Mr. Booker, whose virtue has been deeply corrupted by 'the usages of his time.' There are many such nudges about 'the times' in the early part of the novel, and there is a strong and clear morality established to support this topicality. Felix is introduced as one whose 'life had been in every way bad' (2), and Mr. Booker's complex compromises with circumstances are contemptuously dismissed with 'he was quite at liberty to break stone, or to starve honestly' (11). This sort of absolutism is unusual for Trollope, and the satiric emphasis on simple 'truth' quite uncongenial. In the first part of the novel the single-minded satiric charge is that truth is no longer respected. As the truth begins to appear more and more complex, however, the sympathies of the novel switch from the hunters after truth (and after Melmotte) to those compromisers and temporizers, groping darkly for some sort of half-truth if they can find it. Truth is pushed out of the way by complexity and, more strongly, by the comic virtues: understanding, tolerance, love.
As the novel switches genres, a greater emphasis is put on the country scenes involving Ruby Ruggles and her struggle to decide between Felix and John Crumb. Actually there is not much deciding to do, as the forces of virtue, bolstered by such unlikely supporters as Mrs. Hurtle, gang up on her and compel her to do the right thing. [169/170] But the coercion is, for once, all to the good. John Crumb suggests the pastoral ideal now reduced to violent action and also to speechlessness. Just like Dickens's Joe Gargery, he preserves his innocence by avoiding altogether the sophistications of language. Crumb's world of nature is rough and therefore real; the world of language, in Alf, Melmotte, and Lady Carbury, is now totally unreal. It is a radical distinction but not by any means a pessimistic one. The ability to make such a distinction allows the novel to support a series of triumphs. Mrs. Hurtle looks on Crumb as a type altogether unknown to her in her previous life: 'The man was to her an extraordinary being,—so constant, so slow, so unexpressive, so unlike her own countrymen,—willing to endure so much, and at the same time so warm in his affections!' (71). He is unlike anything in America, precisely because he is the essential Englishman, steady, open, and honourable: 'He means what he says, and I call that the best of good manners' (94), says Mrs. Pipkin, who is in a position to know good manners when she sees them. Crumb is a very new type for the comedy of manners, but in the world that creates Melmotte we are grateful for anything, including this rough cleansing, this diving back to the raw origins of the gentlemanly code.
Crumb's victory with Ruby parallels that of Hetta with Paul Montague. Hetta is curiously detached and protected from her mother's world precisely because she belongs to the world of John Crumb. She has an instinctive hatred of London, saying of Mr. Broune that he has 'that air of selfishness which is so very common with people in London;—as though what he said were all said out of surface politeness' (31). Like Crumb, she rejects all surface, reaching deep to find the moral values that can reform the comic world. Hetta's romantic innocence, so despised by her mother, is finally confirmed. What is more important, Paul is rescued from London—and from Mrs. Hurtle.
Mrs. Hurtle comes to be one of the most important figures in the novel, especially in her capacity as representative of America. For it is America which can eventually be made into a symbol that will drain off the satire and allow for comedy. America suggests the true hell that England should regard as a warning; it stands in place of satire's cruel mirror and allows the readers to look at a projection of their tendencies, not really at themselves. Hamilton K. Fisker, Mrs. Hurtle's countryman, is drawn over from America because he smells in Melmotte a wonderful example of what Americans in [170/171] Martin Chuzzlewit call 'our na-tive raw material': 'We're a bigger people than any of you and have more room,' says Fisker; 'we go after bigger things, and don't stand shilly-shally on the brink as you do. But Melmotte pretty nigh beats the best among us' (9). Fisker wonders if perhaps England is new territory ready for annexation, if not exactly by America, then by the American principle. But he finds that he is wrong, that even Melmotte and certainly all the British are, like the poor nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand he has such contempt for, restrained by scruples too ingrained for them to discard (92). He goes back home, and England is safe, not declared innocent, but at least not quite guilty, of the charge of cohabiting with America.
Mrs. Hurtle is treated with sympathy, but it is of the sort accorded to some tiger struggling fruitlessly to leave its brutal ways. She has a great admiration for Melmotte—'such a man rises above honesty' (26)—and thus establishes a moral link to America that is never forged with England. She is anxious also to make Paul 'a hero' (42), but we see what her ideas of heroism are. She is the creature of extreme action Trollope always treated with respectful fear. The restlessness and desperation she evidences are understood fully and pitied, but not on that account does one propose to open the cage. She is given wonderful reasons for self-justification, it is true. She has shot a man trying to rape her and challenges Paul to dare blame her: 'In this soft civilization of yours you know nothing of such necessity' (47). Exactly, which is just why the civilization must be preserved.
Because she is treated with sympathy as an individual, while the civilization she represents is treated with utter disgust, Mrs. Hurtle would never have been easy to get rid of in any resolution of the novel. But as the novel actually turns to comedy, she presents an even greater problem. Trollope attempts the audacious solution of making the tigress into a fairy godmother, cooing over John Crumb and spending endless hours in the most selfless and tedious work of advancing his love with Ruby. She does all this, we are told, 'from pure charity' (87). Trollope said later that he recognized the fact that she 'is kept too long on the stage,' explaining that he used her because she was so much better done than the boring Paul and Hetta (Letters 342). The explanation is endearing but inadequate. What has happened to the fierce rebellion? Why should Mrs. Hurtle, of all [171/172] people, become the spokeswoman for society and for conventional values? The pastoral forces are bolstered, perhaps, by having such a tough supporter, but the support is so unexpected that it reveals the jagged, ill-disguised seams where comedy has been tacked on to the satire.
Even lumpier and more distracting is the change in the role played by Roger Carbury. At first he is a moral man outcast completely from society because of his morality: 'The old-fashioned idea that the touching of pitch will defile still prevailed with him. He was a gentleman' (8). He is, like Mr. Harding, 'always right' (38). He measures the distance the world has travelled from an approved position, making continual pronouncements of a ringing, Biblical sort. When Hetta says everyone is now going to Melmotte's house, Roger answers, 'Is there not another place to which we are told that a great many are going, simply because the road has become thronged and fashionable?' (8). Such figures as Roger can be honoured prophets or street-corner fanatics, depending entirely on the context. While Roger is never ridiculed, he becomes a little like the malcontent in Jacobean drama who is still ranting after many of the problems have been solved. Finally, his separateness and his doomsday morality are out of place, and it takes some extraordinary sleight-of-hand on Trollope's part to keep Roger from slipping into the position of Malvolio, a crank trying to block the festivity. The shift in his position is marked at just about midpoint, where his grim prophecies are countered by those of another gentleman, the Bishop of Elmham, who also holds by the old values, but whose tolerance and moderation represent a new spirit in the novel.13 When Roger advocates a strict interpretation of the golden rule, the bishop counters with a position the novel itself finally comes to hold: 'But we must hope that some may be saved even if they have not practised at all times that grand self-denial. Who comes up to that teaching?' (55). Far from seeing this imperfection as cause for dismay, for a belief like Roger's that the world is 'going to the dogs,' the bishop argues that things are, on the whole, getting better: 'There is a wider spirit of justice abroad, more of mercy from one to another, a more lively charity, and if less of religious enthusiasm, less also of superstition' (55). Justice, charity, and mercy [172/173] replace truth. The narrator begins to attribute Roger's 'melancholy view of things in general' more and more to his failure in love (55) and to suggest that he is, finally, a good-hearted gentleman but an untrustworthy spokesman. He is included in the final comedy at the end only when he 'crushes' his heart (100) and leaves the property outside the family, thus departing from 'the theory of my life' (100). Even Roger can change, but one notices the strain involved in including him.
There is no strain with Lady Carbury, however, whose triumph is the most important evidence of the validity of the comic promise. She is totally immersed in the new world at the novel's opening; she is one of the modern artists who uses art as a saleable commodity. Her unscrupulousness is explained by the narrator in terms of a terrible background which has so battered her that 'she had been made sharp, incredulous, and untrustworthy by the difficulties of her position' (2). The notion that circumstances are so powerful is depressing, but such a notion also implies that human beings are not changed but just twisted and thus available for reclamation. Though Lady Carbury is in some senses most fully trapped by the ironic world, the comic pattern catches her up very quickly too. She is cast as one of those traditional parents opposing their children's love with tired, old prudential values. She even sees herself in this role and thinks of it in terms of comic convention: 'Lady Carbury recalled to her mind her old conviction that a daughter may always succeed in beating a hard-hearted parent in a contention about marriage, if she be well in earnest' (12). But she resists any sort of comedy and treats her daughter harshly, even viciously. She so distrusts and fears romantic tendencies that she can hardly tolerate her daughter: 'If there was anything that she could not forgive in life it was romance' (84). To her, 'everybody is a burden to other people. It is the way of life' (84). It is not the way of life, it is only the way we live now, but Lady Carbury understandably cannot see this. In her tough way, she is trying to save her daughter by means of the wisdom she has acquired. She really believes that Hetta will perish unless she gives up all serious ideas of romance: 'The world at large has to eat dry bread, and cannot get cakes and sweetmeats. A girl, when she thinks of giving herself to a husband, has to remember this' (91).
But from this bitterness she is freed by a wave of romance that rescues not only her daughter but herself. She reaches exactly the [173/174] point achieved by Thackeray's narrator in Vanity Fair: 'It was all "leather or prunello," as she said to herself;—it was all vanity,—and vanity,—and vanity!' (99). But this bleak self-knowledge turns out to be false knowledge, and romantic old Mr. Broune shows her that all is certainly not vanity: 'That morning the world had been a perfect blank to her. There was no single object of interest before her. Now everything was rose-coloured' (99). Perhaps, as the narrator says, they did not live ever after with perfect happiness, since no one ever does. But they make a tolerable, in fact very satisfying, accommodation to the way we live now. They even alter that way a little. The first had at one time seemed terribly difficult, the second impossible. [174/175]
Last modified 26 September 2013