ith Arabella Trefoil, Trollope created one of his most formidable and tragic characters. Tall, blonde, beautiful, stately, Arabella is thirty and has been on the marital market for nearly ten years, held there by her dreadful grasping mother Lady Augustus. She is engaged to the stiff civil service diplomat John Morton who becomes the heir to Bragton Hall, an estate of some substance in the Midlands. Its sorry state of repair instills doubts both in Arabella and in her mealy-mouthed mother; doubts compounded by the wealthy Lord Rufford of Rufford Hall, who is altogether a more enticing prospect. In one scene of breathtaking inventiveness, Arabella contrives to arrive for a ball at Rufford Hall ahead of her fiancé's carriage, in order that she may make her customary entrance unattached. The difficulties which Arabella faces lie in her own brutal self-awareness of the facts of life as she perceives them: she has no friends, everyone knows that she is actively seeking a fortune, and she makes little pretence about it. She does not expect love: indeed, it is debatable whether she ever did. Faced with Lord Rufford's considerable wealth, and in the presence of her fiancé, she goes after the aristocrat, narrowly falling at the last hurdle. Arabella's eventual fate is surprising, though anyone familiar with Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust may get some sort of idea: exile.
Now for the American Senator of the title. He is something of a lesser character than we are led to expect, except that his is the most frequent presence in the novel. Through his eyes, and from his mouth, we perceive Trollope's sly attitude towards Victorian British hypocrisy. Elias Gotobed's persistent questions about everything British, from social mores to country hunting, pervade this story, and abrade the sensibilities of his hosts. But it is through him that we begin to see Araballa Trefoil, not as the vivacious Lizzie Eustace, nor as the maimed Julia Ongar, but as a tragic, bleached-out object in a shop window, pitiably on permanent display: 'I can't stand this any longer and I won't. What man has to work as I do? ...I never cared much for anybody, and shall never again care at all.'
[Published with the permission of The Trollope Society]
Last modified 2000