[•• = link to material outside this site. Thanks to James Heffernan, founder and editor-in-chief of Review 19 for sharing this review with readers of the Victorian Web. — George P. Landow.]

Illuminated initial T

he subtitle of this book is "New Readings for the Twenty-First Century," and it was a curious — I will not say foolhardy — choice of James Heffernan to ask an old timer from the twentieth century to appraise it. In any case, it has long been the practice of reviewers to say that such collections are "uneven." Of course that's true. The interesting point here is how even in fact this collection from fifteen contributors turns out to be. Virtually every essay is clever, sophisticated, and informed.

The three women editors included two old timers and even give pride of place to Robert Polhemus. In a previous book, Lot's Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Women's Quest for Authority (2005), Polhemus coined a phrase — "the Lot complex" or "the Lot syndrome" — to describe the attraction of younger women for older men and older men for younger women.

In the present essay he defines the Lot complex as "a dynamic configuration of wishes, sexual fantasies, and symbolic imagery that has worked to form generational relationships and structure personality, gender history, religious faith, social organization, and art" (p.12). Thankfully, he begins with a "short reprise" of the biblical account of the Lot family and its adventures. More people than care to admit it will be grateful for this brushing up on their knowledge of Genesis 19. Moving then to Trollope's fiction — two short stories plus Orley Farm, The Duke's Children, and An Old Man's Love — Polhemus reads this work in light of Trollope's twenty-year platonic, romantic, fatherly, avuncular love for the young American early feminist Kate Field. Polhemus works this biographical information seamlessly into his analysis. My only complaint is faulting his titular pun "(A)genda Trouble and the Lot Complex."

David Skilton revisits the vexed issue for Trollope's contemporaries and some of our own: Does he lack "depth of portraiture"? Do his characters live only on the surface because he's not "inward enough," not "poetic enough," to get to the soul, the inner being of a person? This brand of nonsense just won't go away, for at one breath critics admire Trollope's "realism" and in the next say he can't penetrate surface reality. Tackling this complaint, Skilton coolly demonstrates that while there is very little "poetic" in Trollope and little of religion (there's plenty of satirized religiosity), his work abounds in "mental life."

Steven Amarnick is not chiefly concerned with gender, but doubtless his contribution, a kind of introduction to his forthcoming edition of a late Trollope novel, was too important to leave out on that count. We have long known of a unique event in Trollope's writing career, namely that in 1878 at the urging of Charles Dickens, Jr, Trollope reduced the manuscript of a potential "four volume novel" — The Duke's Children — to the conventional length of three volumes for its serial publication in All the Year Round and its subsequent book publication in 1880. (Trollope published books equivalent in length to one, two, three, four, and five volumes. The Way We Live Now, for example, is by Trollope's measure a "five volume" novel.) Once or twice before, Trollope had somewhat shortened novels for a later edition, but in general he didn't fiddle with his texts once they appeared in print, and The Duke's Childrennever appeared in more than three volumes. But the original "four-volume"manuscript, complete with all its (still legible) crossings-out, is held in the Beinecke Library at Yale. And now, some 130 or so years after the fact, we are to have it in print. This is a big event. Unless some astonishingly large cache of private letters turns up, this new publication of the "original" Duke's Children closes down, so to say, Trollope's textual canon. There are no more unpublished manuscripts lying around waiting to be published (like The New Zealander in 1972); no more will be added to Trollope's outsize oeuvre. Moreover, this new edition will restore the original version of a novel that by readers' consensus — and even that of most critics — is among the very finest of Trollope's forty-seven novels. Amarnick tells us that the restorations primarily flesh out the character of the Duke's elder son, Lord Silverbridge, and amplify the political content of the novel. We must recall that Trollope cut the novel not to improve it but — as his popularity and the money his novels were bringing him had fallen off — to accommodate a publisher. There is little reason to think that the original uncut version is not "better" than the cut version (though all agree Trollope did a fine job of abridging the novel). Of course Amarnick thinks the original a better novel. My money would also be with that choice. Let us hope Amarnick hurries on with his edition.

Anca Vlasopolos tackles two of Trollope's saddest tales, "Mary Gresley" and Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite. Vlasopolos has, in addition to her critical acumen, a talent for retelling a story in two or three pages and managing at the same time to catch the nuances and ambivalences. In her view Trollope in these stories "delivers a radical critique" of two of the "great machines" of his day: Religion in "Mary Gresley" and History — or Class — in Sir Harry Hotspur. It's a subtle argument. Both heroines, Mary Gresley and Emily Hotspur, meet early deaths because of their allegiances. Is Trollope, Vlasopolos asks, blaming these two tragic heroines? Her answer is no: "We have a feeling of waste as well as loss at the end of these tales, and it is not merely obeisance on Trollope's part to generic conventions of tragedy, since both plots could easily have been turned toward a comic [happy] ending." Instead, Vlasopolos concludes, "I would contend that Trollope mourns, at the same time as he is hastening, the passing of the proper Victorian heroine — the girl too good to live — as he begins, just begins, scratching an assay of the New Woman" (p. 233). Good stuff, and convincingly argued.

Jenny Bourne Taylor's essay on bastardy helps to show the immense range of subjects Trollope tackled in his novels. "Trollope's late fiction," writes Taylor, " amplifies contemporary liberal ambivalence towards legitimacy by representing bastardy as fictive and arbitrary yet also as rooted in a belief in the necessity of cultural rather than genealogical continuity" (p. 52). There follow telling points about the irony and parody in such lesser read novels as Ralph the Heir, Lady Anna, Is He Popenjoy? and the ingenious Mr Scarborough's Family, wherein Mr Scarborough, in Taylor's words, "alternately bastardizes and re-legitimises his eldest son Mountjoy." (This last is a novel which, if any serious reader Trollope has so far missed it, ought to be put next on his or her list.)

Deborah Denenholz Morse shows how Trollope's fiction linked two of the most important topics he tackled: women's rights and imperialism. After summarizingthe work of numerous scholars — herself included — on Trollope's enlightened view of women's freedom, especially sexual freedom, He Knew He was Right, she contendsthat this novel is "potent in its critique of the British Empire." Her intent is to "shake up [old fashioned] views of Trollope as unconflicted imperialist and to do so in relation to gender" (p. 80). Her argument turns on the abused wife's frequently mentioned "brownness" (Trollope has a lot of brown-complected young women among his heroines), and the immediate atmosphere in which he wrote the novel — the great brouhaha about Edward Eyre, Governor of the West Indies, who was accused of indiscriminately murdering men, women, and children in the wake of the Morant Bay uprising. Though Morse links this case to Trollope's novel in a complicated, well-made argument, she could have strengthened it by quoting John Morley on Trollope's telling him that "Stuart Mill is the only man in the whole world for the sake of seeing whom I would leave my own home a Sunday." Mill led the "persecution" of Governor Eyre while Carlyle and Ruskin, whom Trollope thought close to insanity in their social criticism, headed Eyre's defense.

Since I can't do justice to a book as long and as varied as this one, I will make but one short observation on Christopher S. Noble's very good essay about Trollope's masculine widows. Anyone who writes "If only Barchester Towers had produced a suffragette Eleanor and an unequivocally gay Arabin [how about Bertie Stanhope?], then we could be proud of it" is on the right track. Anyone who can so deftly put down D. A. Miller's goofy take on Trollope in The Novel and The Police (1988) gets my vote.

Since Bertie Stanhope and some others in Trollope's fiction evince what we today call "homoerotics," Margaret Markwick's essay on this topic is more than welcome. Ranging widely and deftly for her examples, she makes a good point: from beginning to end Trollope seems to display an "air of live-and let-live" tolerance toward homoerotic relations. In An Autobiography, Markwick notes, Trollope, hotly refutes an unfair accusation brought against him fifty years earlier for some "unnamed [homosexual] horror" during his school days at a private school simply because he had come from a public school: "Nevertheless," she writes,

whatever Trollope's own sexual experience of puberty in the hothouse of a public school education, the authorial voice adopted in the novels and short stories is that of a man who grew up into a maturity at ease with his own sexuality, benignly tolerant of the orientation of other men. For when we examine his presentation of this aspect of men's sexuality, we hear the confident voice of tolerance, presenting a manhood that sits comfortably with liberal thinking today. [74].

Amen.

If, as an older Trollopian — age hath a privilege, right? — I may offer any advice to the young and talented new-era Trollope scholars, it is that they read more of Trollope. Judge me in the mass, Henry James has Trollope say. A discussion of Trollope's aversion to dishonest advertising, as in Elsie B. Michie's wonderful essay, "A Woman Of Money: Miss Dunstable, Thomas Holloway, And Victorian Comercial Wealth," ought to mention-if only in a footnote — The Struggles Of Brown, Jones And Robinson — that candidate for one of Trollope's poorest novels. Similarly, any discussion, including Morse's, of Trollope and empire ought to engage or at least to mention his travel book South Africa, by far Trollope's most enlightened account of the British colonies.

In the final essay Regenia Gagnier begins by lamenting the fact that half of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet were members of the Trollope Society and John Major was a vice-president of the Society. And some years back, Victoria Glendinning publicly complained that the Tories had "hijacked" Trollope. Actually it doesn't matter. In spite of describing himself as an "advanced, but still conservative, Liberal," Trollope was a life-long Liberal. Readers who have read a lot of Trollope know what he means. No use arguing — although the fact that "conservative" is lower case does mean something. He himself and his admired political characters, the Duke of Ominum, Phineas Finn, and, especially, Mr. Monk, were Liberal Party members and decidedly liberal for their day. Trollope wanted, like his Duke, to lessen the distance between a Duke and his coachman. While fearingradical Liberals like John Bright (Turnbull in the novels), who wanted revolutionary and immediate change, Trollope and his favorite creations wanted slow but definite change.

 

Many years ago I gave a talk on Trollope and feminism which I perhaps foolishly called "Trollope: A Feminist in spite of Himself." After conceding a lot of Trollope's ill-advised statements (chiefly in his non-fiction) along conventional lines, I marshalled an array of quotations from the novels, consisting chiefly of women speaking on their disabilities, and speaking convincingly, their remarks clearly meant to engage our sympathy. But immediately after the talk a woman colleague pointed out to me that the mere sympathetic presentation of women's disabilities does not make one a feminist. I, of course, quickly conceded the point. Decades later, I'm not so sure. For one thing, there are so many kinds of feminists, and those writing in this book certainly see Trollope as ahead of his time on the subject.

This is a fine collection of essays on Trollope "for the Twenty-First Century." It should not only enlighten students of Trollope but alsointerest students of gender theory and of the Victorian novel. Anyone reading it cannot but deduce that Trollope studies flourish in the new century.

Bibliography

The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope's Novels. Eds. Margaret Markwick, Deborah Denenholz Morse and Regenia Gagnier (Ashgate, 2009) xiii + 259 pp.


Victorian Web Overview Anthony Trollope Book Reviews

Last modified 20 June 2014