In Trollope's brief final novel, An Old Man's Love, he introduces one of those capsule characterizations for which he is justly well known. The character, a Mr. Hale, has comparatively little to do with advancing the plot, which chiefly concerns a high-principled, admirable, middle-aged man who loves young woman half his age and who loses her to a younger man of somewhat less admirable character who has had roguish adventures outside England. Stated in this manner, the plot of the novel bears an obvious intertextual relation to one of the plotlines in one of Trollope's greatest works, The Way We Live Now: In this, his last completed work, he has essentially repeated the tale of Roger Carbury, Hetta Carbury, and Paul Montague — though Montague's apparent dalliance with an American (!) woman who shot her previous husband and his actual, if innocent, involvement in what turns out to be a railway-stock swindle makes him much more problematic as a romantic hero than does John Gordon acquiring wealth as a "diamond grubber" or wildcat prospector in the Kimberley mines.

If the main plot of An Old Man's Love appears to show Trollope commenting upon a major element in one of his one novels, the introduction and characterization of Mr. Hall shows him commenting implicitly upon one of the greatest novels of one of his greatest predecessors — Jane Austen, for whom we know he had great admiration:

MR. Hale was a pleasant English gentleman, now verging upon seventy years of age, who had "never had a headache in his life," as he was wont to boast, but who lived very carefully, as one who did not intend to have many headaches. He certainly did not intend to make his head ache by the cares of the work of the world. He was very well off; — that is to say, that with so many thousands a year, he managed to live upon half. This he had done for very many years, because the estate was entailed on a distant relative, and because he had not chosen to leave his children paupers. When the girls came he immediately resolved that he would never go up to London, — and kept his resolve. Not above once in three or four years was it supposed to be necessary that he showed his head to a London hairdresser. He was quite content to have a practitioner out from Alresford, and to pay him one shilling, including the journey. His tenants in these bad times had always paid their rents, but they had done so because their rents had not been raised since the squire had come to the throne. Mr. Hall knew well that if he was anxious to save himself from headaches in that line, he had better let his lands on easy terms. He was very hospitable, but he never gave turtle from London, or fish from Southampton, or strawberries or peas on the first of April. He could give a dinner without champagne and thought forty shillings a dozen price enough for port or sherry. [135]

Mr. Hall, who has an entailed estate (which cannot be left to his female offspring), lives frugally — in fact in a style well beneath what one expect — precisely because he does not want to have his daughters end up in the world of Pride and Prejudice; that is, unlike Austen's Mr. Bennett, who retreats to his library and proclaims he can do nothing to help his four daughters, Tollope's Mr. Hall changes his life, sacrificing much because chosen not "to leave his children paupers" and hence dependent upon marriage for their economic survival. Trollope's character obviously criticizes Austen's as weak and self-indulgent, but is Trollope commenting on the novelist or her themes in any way? Or is he just playfully removing the premise of an Austen novel as a sort of in-group joke?

References

Anthony Trollope. An Old Man's Love. [1884] London: Penguin, 1993.


Victorian Web Overview An Old Man's Love Anthony Trollope

Last modified 9 December 2006