Much of Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now centers on gambling. Though a good deal of that gambling occurs in places such as the Beargarden, it almost as often takes place in the social arena with people as the pieces in a game played for financial prizes. This notion of buying and selling another human being, risking him (more frequently her) in a gamble for monetary stakes, also appears in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South when Dixon reports to Margaret, Frederick, and Mr. Hale that she has just encountered young Leonards in Milton.
" But you did not tell him anything about us — about Frederick?"
" Not I," said Dixon. "He had never the grace to ask where I was staying; and I shouldn't have told him if he had asked. Nor did I ask him what his precious situation was. He was waiting for a bus, and just then it drove up, and he hailed it. But, to plague me to the last , he turned back before he got in, and said, " if you can help me to trap lieutenant Hale, Miss Dixon, we'll go partners in the reward. I know you'd like to be my partner, now wouldn't you? Don't be shy, but say yes." And he jumped on the bus and I saw his ugly face leering at me with a wicked smile to think how he'd had the last word of plaguing. (Penguin edition, 321)
Leonards, a member of the Orion's crew during Frederick's mutiny, knows about Frederick's predicament — and about the price on Frederick's head. Frederick jokes about the hundredpound reward: "What a pity poor old Dixon could not be persuaded to give me up, and make a provision for her old age" (322). Although made in jest, this statement holds great significance. Frederick is in danger not only of being apprehended by British officials, but also risks being discovered and turned in by bounty hunters. Men, such as Leonards, maintain a willingness to trade in another person's life in exchange for their own financial benefit. In some ways, this situation mirrors that which Mr. Thornton encounters when his mill workers strike. He must come to terms with how willing he is to sacrifice another person's well-being for his own monetary gain.
Trollope also demonstrates the ways in which some amassed wealth. Young members of upper classes in The Way We Live Now, Baronets like Felix Carbury and Lords like Nidderdale and Grasslough, spend a tremendous amount of time and money (including nonexistent funds) gambling. The Beargarden crew also spends an almost equal portion of their time pursuing profitable marriages. For example,
The young Lord Nidderdale, the eldest son of the Marquis of Auld Reekie, had offered to take the girl and make her Marchioness in the process of time for over half a million down. Melmotte had not objected to the sum,--so it was said--but had proposed to tie it up. Nidderdale had desired to have it free in his own grasp, and would not move on any other terms. Melmotte had been anxious to secure the Marquis,--very anxious to secure the Marchioness...but at last he had lost his temper, and had asked his lordship's lawyer whether it was likely that he would entrust such a sum to such a man. " You are willing to trust your only child to him," said the lawyer. [I, 32]
In the process, the young women whom they hope to possess, become little more than the right cards to play in order to win the hand and gain control of great wealth. The notion of a romantic love for these women is utterly ridiculous to a man like Felix Carbury, who really can love no one but himself (" he knew so little of the passion that he could hardly make even a young girl believe that he felt it" (I, 19)).
Although certainly not all of this society entangles itself in these games — men like Roger Carbury, for instance, do abstain — Trollope does not portray Felix and his cronies as completely responsible for their demented system of values. Carbury, Nidderdale, and others are true products of their environment. Lady Carbury and Mr. Melmotte, in particular, aid and abett this crime of commodifying the human relationship. When dreaming of her son's potential to win the prize of Marie Melmotte for his wife, Lady Carbury meditates on the resulting financial possibilities and how it might effect her relationship with Felix,
How constantly in her triumph would she be able to forget all his vices, his debts, his gambling, his late hours, and his cruel treatment of herself! As she thought of it the bliss seemed to be too great for the possibility of realisation. She was taught to understand that £10, 000 a year, to begin with, would probably be the least of it; and that the ultimate wealth, might probably be such as to make Sir Felix the richest commoner in England. In her very heart she worshipped wealth, but desired it for him rather than herself." (I, 101)
She makes these thoughts known to Felix constantly--her desires for him, and the motives behind them, are no secret.
Both North and South and The Way We Live Now tell how people use others to accrue money, the game pieces in each instance are different. Most obviously, Marie Melmotte is a woman and Frederick Hale a man. These passages both use business-related terminology to emphasize the capitalistic nature of these interactions. In the Gaskell passage, the key word is "partner" and in Trollope's, words like "process," "proposed," "secure," and "entrust" create the mood of a business transaction. The authors have adopted a particular vocabulary in order to demonstrate the impact of capitalism on their worlds.
These examples, of gambling with people in place of cards, are all part of a larger theme that appears in many Victorian works--that of the struggle to reconcile a capitalist mentality seeping into the social realm. As a result of greater industrialization and increased imperial efforts, among other factors, nineteenth century England experienced a new financial prosperity, often manifesting in the form of liquid capital and new business ventures. How society would absorb this new force, and more specifically, how human interactions would be affected by it, are questions explored in Tennyson's "Morte D' Arthur" (1859), Charles Dickens's Great Expectations (1860), Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) and Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" (1859), among other pieces from this century. Just as Bedivere's relationship with King Arthur is affected by the Knight's struggle to overlook the physical and material beauty of Excaliber in "Morte d'Arthur," "Goblin Market"'s Lizzie and Laura end up in their predicament because of material desire. With North and South and The Way We Live Now Gaskell and Trollope portray yet another dimension of this conflict.
Last modified 1996