The following description of Roger Carbury from Trollope's The Way We Live Now shows how skillfully the novelist roots his characters in matters of socio-economic class and social change. In Here he places him in the context of growing industrialization, capitalism, and consequent change in the centrality and power of the old rural gentry, who are here seen rivalled and even displaced by those with new money earned in cities. — George P. Landow
ROGER CARBURY, of Carbury Hall, the owner of a small property in Suffolk, was the head of the Carbury family. The Carburys had been in Suffolk a great many years — certainly from the time of the War of the Roses, — and had always held up their heads. But they had never held them very high. It was not known that any had risen ever to the honour of knighthood before Sir Patrick, going higher than that, had been made a baronet. They had, however, been true to their acres and their acres true to them through the perils of civil wars, Reformation, Commonwealth, and Revolution, and the head Carbury of the day had always owned, and had always lived at, Carbury Hall. At the beginning of the present century the squire of Calbury had been a considerable man, if not in his county, at any rate in his part of the county. The income of the estate had sufficed to enable him to live plenteously and hospitably, to drink port wine, to ride a stout hunter, and to keep an old lumbering coach for his wife's use when she went avisiting. He had an old butler who had never lived anywhere else, and a boy from the village who was in a way apprenticed to the butler. There was a cook, not too proud to wash up her own dishes, and a couple of young women; — while the house was kept by Mrs. Carbury herself, who marked and gave out her own linen, made her own preserves, and looked to the curing of her own hams.
In the year 1800 the Carbury property was sufficient for the Carbury house. Since that tirne the Carbury property has considerahly increased in value, and the rents have been raised. Even the acreage has been extended by the enclosure of commons. But the income is no longer comfortably adequate to the wants of an English gentleman's household. If a moderate estate in land be left to a man now, there arises the question whether he is not damaged unless an income also be Icrt to him wherewith to keep up the estate. Land is a luuxury, and of all luxuries is the most costly. Now the Carburys had never had anything but land. Suffolk has not been rnade rich and great either by coal or iron. No great town had sprung up on the confines of the Carbury property. No eldest son had gone into trade or risen high in a profession so as to add to the Carhury wealth. No great heiress had been married. There had been no ruin, — no misfortune. But in the days of which we write the Squire of Carbury Hall had become a poor man simply through the wealth of others. [Chapter 6, pp. 47-48]
1. Note how seamlessly Trollope blends characterization, exposition, and historical background. What does this combination of techniques imply about the novelist's conceptions of society and the individual's place in it? What does it imply about the role and methods of narrative fiction?
2. How does Trollope combine personal (or individual) narrative here with larger cultural ones?
3. In what earlier British novels do rural gentry such as those here described appear?
4. In what sense does Trollope agree with Matthew Arnold that his is an age of transition? What effects could such an assumption have upon the (a) subject, (b) plot, (c) characterization, and (d) exposition of fiction?
Last modified 23 December 2006