y the same token, those quiet and apparently backward-looking novels by Trollope find a variety of means to disengage us from the forward movement of the narrative action, to cast doubts on its conclusiveness or even authority, and to create in the reader the same recognition of these dual forms, the open pattern at war with the closed one. I take it that the closed pattern here is even more obvious than it is in Dickens; surely no one adhered more closely to conventional narrative designs than Trollope. Correspondingly, the means for dislocating the total form of the novel from this closed pattern are much quieter and more subtle in Trollope than they are in Dickens, but they are probably more radical. At any rate, the weapons are different. Whereas Dickens generally creates this disjunction by means of the characters and images, Trollope finds his means for opening the closed form primarily outside the main action, in the dramatized narrator and in disruptive minor actions or subplots. In Trollope, the major action is usually itself undisturbed; the complications come from the rhetorical directions given by the narrator and the often subversive or at least critical subplots. Far less frequently, Trollope establishes moral and thematic ambiguity directly, usually, as in Cousin Henry, through the use of a bizarre point of view. In a few places the major action itself becomes subversive of its tradition. The use of chronicles and recurring characters also acts to open the form by attacking the absolute completeness of the individual novel. But generally Trollope depends on the narrator and the minor plots to establish a rhythm that counters, without denying, the rhythm of the primary action. In order to establish the integrity of the counter-movement, the work done by the narrator and the subplots must be done very slowly, by an accumulation of hints, so that it really sets up a growing shadow to the main pattern and its values and assumptions. Early critics were quick to realize what Walter Allen called [24/25] Trollope's 'art of the cumulative' (192); The Spectator, for instance, said 'Mr. Trollope's genius demands space'; his 'imagination paints not by intension, but by extension' (Anon. review 1415). Trollope himself often inserted complaints or apologies in his short stories to the effect that 'Our story must be necessarily too short to permit us to see how the affair grew in all its soft and delicate growth' ('The Last Austrian Who Left Venice'). Just so, and that delicacy, that careful establishment of counter-tensions is what we miss here. This thinness explains why Trollope's short stories and short novels are, without exception, of little interest to us, to Trollope's contemporaries, or to Trollope himself.
Another reason for Trollope's failure in short fiction is that it generally must depend heavily on plot; there he has little chance to develop the usual counter-pattern. Trollope has no opportunity to manipulate those 'hundred and twenty little incidents [which] must be dribbled into the reader's intelligence . . . in such manner that Ihe shall himself be insensible to the process' (Is He Popenjoy? I) and thus was left with nothing but the major action, the 'plot,' a part of fiction for which he expressed the most profound contempt. In the longer fiction Trollope found a wonderful variety of means for carrying on this battle against the dominance of plots and the whole world that was implied by plots, particularly the notion that a coherent action could suggest by itself a morality that was anything more than merely coherent. The complexity of Trollope's novels arises mainly from the fact that this coherence is both attacked and supported. Trollope writes a plot with one hand, while with the other he knifes at it.
'Plot there is none' claimed the Longman's reader in his report on Barchester Towers, and, however overstated that may be, we know that he is indeed on to something (quoted in Sadleir 170). Trollope later confirmed the reader's suspicion to some extent, acknowledging that he spent very little time indeed on plots. He could pretend that the construction of a plot was 'a labour of Hercules' 'altogether beyond my power of accomplishment,' and could even parody his own [25/26] carelessness about plot.4 Still, his genuine attitude is clear enough: plot is 'the most insignificant part of a tale,' which, if overemphasized, can turn the whole art into a mere 'wooden show.'5 Nothing in Trollope's art is more important or more startling than his attempts to draw his readers away from primary concern with the plot. That such devices were more than mere crotchets and that they were consistent with his total form was certainly apparent to Trollope, at least in his attacks on the causal connections that we wrongly imagine tie together human life: 'Men and women when they are written about are always supposed to have fixed resolutions, though in life they are so seldom found to be thus armed' (Castle Richmond 16). The sort of causality implied by plots seems to Trollope simply untrue to life as he sees it, a point grasped to some extent by at least one early reviewer: 'But the realist in fiction is careless about plot. His sole object is to describe men's lives as they really are; and real life is fragmentary and unmethodical.'6
Beyond this, there is a clear sense in Trollope that the Aristotelian assumptions about coherence and order, particularly a coherence between will and act, no longer hold. Trollope insisted over and over that 'character' was supreme in his art, not plot,7 a judgement that might seem a simple-minded misunderstanding of Aristotle, [26/27] unless we take Trollope to mean that action and meaning have now been divorced. Aristotle's essential notion that the fable should contain in itself all the rhetorical power, independent of the telling, asks us to agree that a pattern of meaning can be inferred from a pattern of action. But Trollope, and of course other Victorians, are not at all confident on that point. The sense of being is more and more separate from action, and if one is not necessarily what one does, then it finally does make sense to talk about placing character above plot. Trollope suggests that, most often, complexity of being is hidden or denied by simplicity of action. That the split is not absolute means that the plot is not abandoned, but a thousand cautions are necessary. We must read the plot properly, make it far more complex than it may appear, place the emphases exactly, and, finally and most importantly, not regard it with too much seriousness.
There are other, more particular, explanations for Trollope's attack on plots. Any completed action, any fulfilled pattern is always protested against on account of its falseness to life, its dangerous simplifying quality, and its terrible ability to minister to our desire to 'want it all to be over,' Joyce Carol Oates's wonderful description of fulfilment. Trollope very often ends a romantic comedy with a strong cautionary joke to the effect that marriages are very sad completions to the joy of the engagement, that all pleasure is at an end as one turns from the altar, and the like. Partly this is his way of disrupting the symmetry of the plot and 'opening' the form, but such jokes also express his temperamental distrust of futuristic thought, of Utopias, and even of generalized goals of any kind, heaven included. His novels set themselves squarely against the same linear and progressive views which dominate nineteenth-century thought. Thus there is a kind of backward-looking melancholy we sense even in many of the most conventional comedies, a resistance to any pattern that implies an ending. This resistance surely is Trollope's conservatism in its most profound form.
But other temperamental factors and artistic choices are important in Trollope's attitudes toward plot as well. His tie to the tradition of the comedy of manners is very real, and, in accord with that tradition, he often projects the sense that plot or action is simply too gross to account for the really important aspects of life: the tiny daily acts of kindness or sensitivity that make up the moral life. These are the issues that translate into 'the minute ramifications of [27/28] tale-telling' Trollope says he thought about in place of plot ('A Walk in a Wood' 595). The nineteenth-century sense of history as a record neither of great events nor of great men but of the almost unobserved lives of trivial people is strong in Trollope. He accepted as fully as Jane Austen and Thackeray the assumption that events of great moral consequence occur at Box Hill, not at Waterloo. Trollope's bias in favour of ironic realism makes him despise the pernicious effects of that 'school of art, which delighted to paint the human face as perfect in beauty' (The Eustace Diamonds 35), and he sees in the world just as few heroes as did Thackeray. Unlike Thackeray, however, Trollope can view the absence of heroism with great flexibility. That there is no heroic action is sometimes seen with dismay but more often with mild satisfaction, as a cause for a celebration of the joys of non-heroic conversation, non-heroic dinner parties, and, especially, non-heroic love: 'What would the world come to if none but absolute true heroes were to be thought worthy of women's love? What would the men do? and what&mash;oh! what would become of the women?' (Framley Parsonage 21).
The dissolution of the world that sustained Aristotle's assumptions, then, is accepted only tentatively by Trollope, but even when the old order and unity seem most distant there is no necessary cause for despair. The loss is also a victory. The absence of fulfilment can suggest the absence of endings. Equivocal heroism and equivocal balance of plot and anti-plot, of gain and loss, of irony and comedy, make up the world of the Trollope novel. The central equivocation is formal, as I have argued, involving the opening of the closed form, a delicate operation for which Trollope had many instruments at hand: the action itself, the narrator, and the chronicle device.
Opening the form through a manipulation of the elements in the main plot is so rare in Trollope (however common it may be in other Victorian novelists) that it could safely be ignored but for one fact: he shows a marked tendency to resist one of the major traditional requirements of romantic comedy, namely the full-hearted satisfaction women feel in anticipating marriage. The victory is also seen as a trap, and Trollope's sensitivity to this dilemma and to the 'woman question' at large is so intense in the novels that even the [28/29] major action is often rendered ambiguous. When he was safely away from the intricacy of his fiction and into the simplicity of ideas Trollope could announce with almost desperate confidence that 'the necessity of the supremacy of man [over woman] is as certain to me as the eternity of the soul' (Letters 418). Nor is Trollope's lecture on the higher education of women any more suggestive of interesting notions on the subject. But within the novels themselves, the platitudes disappear completely, and the easy answers of both male supremacists and feminists10 alike are seen to be irrelevant entirely to the dilemma of the woman faced with no satisfying alternatives. For many of Trollope's heroines, life offers only the challenge of making a brilliant marriage. Failure means absolute emptiness, but so may success. Success in any case may mean a loss of freedom or selfhood, a very limited victory indeed. To Pamela Hansford Johnson, Trollope is of all nineteenth-century novelists the most sensitive to women.11 However that may be, the counterplay to romantic comedy is often remarkably strong. Even as early as The Noble Jilt (1850) the heroine resists a perfect marriage with the argument, 'Love's not enough to fill a woman's heart' (I. i). And that, surely, is an attack on the major premiss of all romantic comedy.
Trollope often traces with great insight the common paths women follow through courtship, where their attempt to preserve their independent being leads them finally to feeling isolated, perverse, and consequently guilty. This course results so often in a desire for punishment that the narrator can sarcastically comment, 'With many women I doubt whether there be any more effectual way of touching their hearts than ill-using them and then confessing [29/30] it. If you wish to get the sweetest fragrance from the herb at your feet, tread on it and bruise it' (Miss Mackenzie 10). The punishment and the granting of an illusory sense of power almost always do the trick. The desire for freedom becomes by its very strength the source for an equally strong desire for neurotic submission. Alice Vavasor is Trollope's fullest treatment of this twisted psychological progress, but many of his marriages are haunted by the notion that women can exist as real beings only in sacrifice: 'To sacrifice herself is the special heroism which a woman can achieve. . . . A woman can soar only by suffering' ('The Lady of Launay'). By withholding the full satisfactions of the traditional comic form, such an argument thus suspends the completion of the form itself.
With married women Trollope's treatment is often even harsher, more sarcastic in reference to the easy notions of comic tradition. Though it may be an overstatement to suggest that his views on marriage have 'a certain affinity to those of James Thurber' (Hennessy 97), marriage is certainly not often a very romantic affair in a Trollope novel. When a character in Brown, Jones, and Robinson accuses a friend of wanting a wife simply to be a 'household drudge', the answer tells us a great deal not only about the falseness of the tradition but also about the potential desolation implied by Trollope's counterplots: 'So I would,—only drudge don't sound well. Call her a ministering angel instead, and it comes to the same thing' (13). Women who have been successful in marriage often find that they have triumphantly made their way into nothing at all. The most moving image of this state in Trollope is that of Lady Glencora, whose whole life as heiress, wife, and Duchess of Omnium may be seen as a fight to escape being nothing. And she, the strongest and wittiest of women, fails. This important exception aside, however, Trollope does keep his central action free from subversion.
But not those subsidiary actions that work around and impinge on the main plot. Trollope's wide and very careful reading in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama is very suggestive in this regard, for he used the co-ordinated double and triple plot in ways similarly rich. As in the early drama, Trollope's plots comment one upon the other, most commonly by offering in the minor plots an action that runs counter to, or even burlesques, the main plot, thus disrupting its easy symmetry and complicating our responses. The various plots in Trollope are very often co-ordinated principally through [30/31] mirrored themes and motifs rather than through the actual narrative. We often have the sense that the plots are more properly seen as parallel rather than interwoven, and that such actual contact as is made among them in the action itself is perfunctory or accidental. But this is what we would expect of Trollope, who desires above all to embody the means of his fable at least partly outside the action. We should not, then, expect a great deal of narrative glue to be expended on making the plots stick together on the literal level. In Trollope's art we must infer meanings that go beyond or run counter to plot, a demanding business, of course, and one that requires precise rhetorical control lest readers run wild in the critical woods of appearance and reality, on one hand, or, on the other, see the novels as careless botches. Trollope himself insisted that 'every sentence, every word, through all those pages, should tend to the telling of the story' (Autobiography 237), and, with unusual sententiousness, that 'though the novel which you have to write must belong, let it be all one' (Autobiography 238). But many critics, Victorian and modern, bring the charge of disunity against him, not all, however, with such disarming candour as the Saturday Review on Phineas Finn: 'The last thing in the world apparently that is aimed at is the working out of a simple and harmonious whole. The multiplication of figures is the chief thing, and the system of continuing the story indefinitely . . . baffles criticism. You can never say that the whole displeases you, because you can never be sure that you have got the whole' (27 March 1869: 432).
It is never easy to 'get the whole' in these novels, largely because these subplots are almost always used not to reinforce but to counter the main action and thus open the form. Our initial sense of disharmony, therefore, is quite appropriate. Very often, as in He Knew He Was Right, the various plots give different answers to the same question. Even more often the subplots carry on a burlesque of the wish-fulfilment romance that is controlling the main plot,14 or, with the humorous subplots, solve with ridiculous ease the agonizing [31/32] problems occupying the main characters and thus both highlight and trivialize that agony. The actions involving such figures as Mr. Moulder, Amelia Roper, the widow Greenow, Madalina Demolines, Miss Jemima Stanbury, and Ruby Ruggles are generally not much admired, but they actually form one of Trollope's most flexible and useful agencies for creating his mixed form.
At one point in Trollope's last, unfinished novel, The Landleaguers, the narrator breaks into the action to give his views on a political policy, 'cordially' agreeing here and violently disagreeing there. 'Of my disagreement,' he says, 'no one will take notice;—but my story cannot be written without expressing it' (39). Why not? The story itself does not in any sense depend on his expression of disagreement, and it appears that he means to tell us only that he cannot go on with the story until he gets this argument out of his system. The point of view becomes dislocated and the use of the narrator self-indulgent, out of control, illegitimate. The instance seems to deserve all the witty attacks ever made on Trollope's intrusive narrators, but, by itself, it hardly seems to justify them fully. In fact, such passages are almost as rare as examples of blasphemy or indecency. Trollope's most serious and pressing claim to be recognized as a major artist rests principally with his subtle and organic use of the dramatized narrator. Still, the attacks have been so effective that early admirers of Trollope were sometimes forced to defend him, somewhat comically it now appears, by hailing him as the first of the disappearing authors.15
Even though it is no longer so necessary to mount a general defence of Trollope's practice, there is still little agreement as to the actual effect of these narrators. The four most important modern Trollope critics line up two against two on the question of whether the narrator is used to achieve 'aesthetic distancing' or to pull us directly into the work. Cadbury and apRoberts are on the distancing side; Hillis Miller and Polhemus argue for immersion.16 The [32/33] suggestion that they both are right, depending on which passage one examines, and that Trollope's narrator in fact draws us into the fiction or distances us from it according to the demands of the moment is embarrassingly obvious, but, I think, accurate. It should be noted, however, that the argument for distancing is especially valuable, since Trollope's deceptively gregarious narrator has so often deluded commentators.
Many critics who disliked Trollope's narrator intruding at all disliked even more his intruding in such a vulgar way and assuming such an unwarranted chumminess. The assumption made most often is that the narrator is there to make things easy, to give assurances, to comfort, even to flatter.17 James, naturally, capitalized on this misreading of Trollope's effects, claiming with his characteristic waspish sarcasm that Trollope's realism allowed him to catch an 'exact and on the whole becoming image' (Partial Portraits 101). James's remarks on the flattering narrator seem to me less clever, however, than the narrator's own: the typical novel reader, he says, desires amusement, disdains education, and wants a story in which 'elevated sentiment prevails'; he must be made to feel, of course, 'that the elevated sentiments described are exactly his own' (Ralph the Heir, 56). The chummy narrator, it appears, can be deceptively nasty. The 'good-humoured geniality' of Thackeray seemed to Trollope to be a defect, causing 'the reader to be almost too much at home with his author' (Thackeray 9). Trollope's own narrators are neither so matey nor so consistent.
It is true that the narrator is often charged with the responsibility of making whatever connections there are. Characters tend to wheel about in space, each imagining that he is the isolated centre of some tragedy or wild romance. The narrator characteristically corrects that tendency and provides some sense of community. But it is often an ironic community of the exact sort being resisted by the main plot, which is most often comic. Neither formally nor thematically nor rhetorically do the narrator and the major action [33/34] co-ordinate. The chief function of the narrator, on all levels, is to disrupt. The easy geniality, the flattering warmth is largely of the surface. Frank O'Connor brilliantly points out that Trollope's narrator's 'favorite device is to lead his reader very gently up the garden path of his own conventions and prejudices and then to point out that the reader is wrong' (167-68). Though this is naturally not the single narrative strategy, one observes how very often Trollope's objective descriptions, particularly of bizarre persons or unsavoury motives, imperceptibly alter, drop the objectivity gradually, and move us inward. We suddenly realize that it is not 'it' being discussed but 'we.' Trollope does literally shift the pronouns, adopting a technique of the sermon, a standard device of application. He so disguises the technique, however, that we are led not to contemplation, the end desired by the sermon, but to radical identification— with Ferdinand Lopez, for instance, one of the most repellent of his characters: 'And so he taught himself to regard the old man as a robber and himself as a victim. Who among us is there that does not teach himself the same lesson?' (The Prime Minister 45). We come to recognize as symptomatic Trollope's repeated use of 'And so he taught himself,' suggestive as it is of the irrational way people form their beliefs and the foundations for their behaviour. It is suggestive as well of the quiet and artful way in which the narrator is seeking to educate the reader by establishing control over his imagination.
Controlling the imagination, he can thus educate it, make it grow. The strategy is typically Romantic, as are the pedagogical principles: educate the imagination by stretching it, pushing it away from customary positions and values, and making it live with wild old mariners, idiot boys, and mad mothers, 'rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thoughts.' On the face of it, Trollope's novels and works like 'Alastor' or 'Christabel' are poles apart. But the serenity and ordinariness of Trollope's world often cover perverse identifications he expects us to make or highly unusual values we are forced to accept. One important use of the narrator is to nudge us, against our conscious knowledge and probably against our will, into accepting a most extraordinary value system. Perhaps the clearest example is found in Barchester Towers, where the exceptionally friendly and chatty narrator is used with great subtlety, and we are forced to relax into [34/35] heightened insight. The narrator works from the beginning to establish a surface rhetoric of intimacy and relaxation. 'Our doctrine' he says, 'is, that the author and the reader should move along together in full confidence with each other' (15). The point of this comment and, to a large extent, of the novel itself is that we are all of us men, whether bishops, arclideacons, authors, or readers. He denies explicitly the author's special claim to knowledge and authority, and also appears to deny his fiction the prerogative to surprise, lecture, and edify. On the first level, the rhetoric works by direct flattery, giving the sense that we—the author and the reader— are undeluded, tolerant, realistic, and not bamboozled, as are the characters, by power or position. Since this comfortable rhetorical assumption appears to demand so little, the reader can easily enough accept it. The point of view thus establishes not only a sense of clear and typical realism but a relaxation of the reader's cautions and an easy identification with the novel's most important point; that the joy of life comes in renouncing power and its corollary notions of progress and in accepting the common, the kindly, and the established. Unlike most moral comedies, where the dominant rhetorical mode is attack and where the reader is asked to sharpen his critical faculties, here we are especially asked not to be so eager to judge. The tactful comedy involving Mr. Quiverful and the wardenship, for instance, makes just this point. Trollope brilliantly establishes the entirely understandable impatience of Mrs. Quiverful with her husband's apparent 'sentimental pride' and over-scrupulousness. At the same time, he shows the equally understandable judgement of 'the outer world' that Mr. Quiverful was rapacious and dishonourable. The narrator concludes, 'It is astonishing how much difference the point of view makes in the aspect of all that we look at!' (24). The rhetorical insistence is on moderation and acceptance.
At the same time, however, this basic relaxation is used to promote a clear and startling set of values. For example, the narrator early injects some facetious and good-natured complaints about sermons: 'There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilised and free countries, than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent, and be tormented' (6). He goes on through a rather long paragraph on this 'bore of the age,' working exactly for the expansive, unbuttoned [35/36] attitude in the reader that can recognize the experience as a common one and respond to that recognition with laughter. The next paragraph begins clearly in the same vein, and the reader is encouraged to lean back and companionably agree some more. But the tone and direction are quietly changed. The 'preaching clergyman' becomes the 'young parson,' 'my too self-confident juvenile friend,' 'my insufficient young lecturer,' and the attack is shifted from the general target of boring preachers to the quite specific one of ignorant youth presuming to lecture age. Young clergymen are advised to 'read to me some portion of those time-honoured discourses which our great divines have elaborated in the full maturity of their powers.' Otherwise, 'it all means nothing.' The true harshness and severity of the last comment and of the pervasive assault on youth are masked not only by the light tone but by the introductory rhetoric, which leads us so very gently into the subject. The initial chummy platitudes do disappear, but the tone remains the same and the reader is encouraged to slide into the narrator's position and recognize a 'secret' set of values altogether different from those in the romantic comedy being carried out in the plot. Later in the novel, then, the issue can be brought up without the elaborate introduction. When Mr. Arabin is preparing to read himself in at St. Ewold's, the narrator reflects with deceptively genial irony on the fact that 'it often surprises us that very young men can muster courage to preach for the first time to a strange congregation' (23). He again goes on and on in mock wonder at how those 'who have never yet passed ten thoughtful days' 'are not stricken dumb by the new and awful solemnity of their position.' After a few paragraphs the irony becomes much sharper, though, as the reader is led to the very ungenial reflection that perhaps the process of ordination 'banishes the natural modesty of youth.' We are thus urged to relax into positions which are finally very aggressive and specialized.
As the major action of the novel becomes more idealized, the tone of the narrator becomes sharper and more cynical, so as to insist on his opposition. The Small House at Allington, for instance, locates the major action in the highly principled loyalty and constancy of Lily Dale, a romantic image so exalted that it might be incredible, were it not for the very crusty narrator: 'But men are cowards before women until they become tyrants; and are easy dupes, till of a sudden they recognise the fact that it is pleasanter to be the victimiser than the victim—and as easy' (14). It is this [36/37] narrator who allows us to see the major action of the novel as a record both of romantic loyalty and of neurotic perversity.
The values are not always this aggressive, of course; particularly in the very late, 'dark' novels the narrator sometimes adopts a distinct mildness. His apologies to the reader no longer carry the mock humility of Barchester Towers, but a genuine courtesy, as if seeking to re-establish through the reader a league of gentlemen in order to confront a novelistic world where gentlemen no longer exist. Such a narrative tone is especially apparent in Mr. Scarborough's Family and The Landleaguers. Instead of forcing the the reader to act with Mr. Harding, in other words, the narrator seeks to create Mr. Harding in his narrator and in his reader.
But many narrative comments have no apparent relation to values. They seem to have no thematic function at all and act only to remind us that we are reading a novel. Passages of this sort are very common: 'As the personages of a chronicle such as this should all be made to operate backwards and forwards on each other from the beginning to the end, it would have been desirable that the chronicler should have been able to report that the ceremony was celebrated by Mr. Emilius. But as the wedding did not take place till the end of the summer, and as Mr. Emilius at that time never remained in town, after the season was over, this was impossible' (The Eustace Diamonds 77). Mr. Emilius is clearly an excuse for a joke on the structure of the novel itself, a joke that is used deliberately to make us think of fabricated plots, crude artistic manipulations. Sometimes the narrator will offer some burlesque critical commentary, as in The Three Clerks, where he compares at some length his 'devil,' Undy Scott, to Varney and Bill Sykes [sic], suggesting that he would have hanged the villain, 'had I drunk deeper from that Castalian rill whose dark waters are tinged with the gall of poetic indignation' (44). Just as James said, Trollope took delight 'in reminding the reader that the story he was telling was only, after all, a make-believe.' Those 'suicidal' 'little slaps at credulity' (Partial Portraits 116) are basic to Trollope's art and to the aesthetic assumptions we must grant if we are to appreciate that art.
'It is impossible to imagine what a novelist takes himself to be unless he regard himself as an historian and his narrative as a history' (Partial Portraits 116). The venerable analogy that James here ignores and tries to dismiss to the realm of impossibility is provided by the image of [37/38] the artist as maker.22 The shoemaker gave Trollope his favourite sarcastic reference, but the assumption that art is not something observed but something made is a serious one. Such art is what Albert Cook calls 'reflexive'; 'it considers itself' (25; see also 24-37). Many characters think of themselves as actors in stories, and at one remarkable point in Lady Anna a group of lawyers are urged to remember that they are characters in a comedy and that 'generosity and valour always prevailed over wealth and rank with ladies in story' (30). All this has the slightly dizzying effect of holding one mirror up not to life but to another mirror. Art reflects art. The major role in constructing this reflexive mirror is borne not by the characters, however, but by the narrator. He reminds us over and over that what we are engaged with in reading this novel is art, not life, and that art, unlike life, is an affair of convention, tradition, pure artifice.24
In Doctor Thorne, for example, we are promised right off that the 'hero' (lots of discussion given on that point, of course) will avoid an unhappy end, since the narrator is 'too old now to be a hard-hearted author' (1). Similarly, he says of Mary, 'she is my heroine, and, as such, must necessarily be very beautiful' (3). The artifice is deliberate and dramatic; there is no possibility at these moments of imagining that the action has an autonomous life, of confusing art and life. Again and again, the reader is reminded of the very large gap separating the two. In Doctor Thorne the narrator interrupts a vital courtship scene to remind us of the difference between narrative and real time. It takes him a long time to tell about some hand-squeezing, he says, but in life it would take only a moment. Failing 'a quick spasmodic style' where 'five words and half-a-dozen dashes and inverted commas' (8) could simulate a correspondence, his art must, sadly, differ greatly from life. Not [38/39] only is no attempt made to simulate action, but he very pointedly wants us to recognize the divorce here of art and life, as he does also in a famous passage in Phineas Finn, where he admits that his recounting of a cabinet assembly probably does not bear much relation to actuality. 'But then, again,' he adds, 'there is this safety': no one in the general public will ever know whether he was accurate or not (29).
Lest we become too involved in the action, the narrator is always round the corner with the signs reminding us that such a response would be far too simple. At moments of most intense emotion, when the action threatens to become what we might call 'tough' or 'honest,' that is, when we forget most completely that this is art, the narrator finds some way to slide between us and our absorption. In the very touching scene where the pathetic and courageous Marie Melmotte is beaten by her father, for instance, the narrator offers us a discussion of the propriety of depending on 'spectacle,' a quotation from Horace to support his argument, then a translation of it—'Let not Medea with unnatural rage/Slaughter her mangled infants on the stage'—and finally an assurance that he will not 'harrow' us with such details. The playful language and the grotesque inappropriateness of Medea's tragic exaltation to Marie's pointless struggle for tiny, grubby rewards make it appear almost as if the narrator were making fun of the action. Well, he almost is. As the action pulls us in more strongly, the narrator pushes back on us all the harder.
The effect of this technique is to create a balance in our response, complicating greatly our participation in the action without simply overturning and thus inverting our position. The narrator never gives a sense that he can quite manipulate at will; it is always clear that, even if he is subject to no laws, he will good-naturedly agree to abide by certain conventions. Why? Because we, as readers, are more comfortable that way. 'Since you demand it, I'll provide it,' he says. But he says it, in effect, openly, thus calling our attention to the artificiality not only of the convention but of our demands as well. He will give us happy endings, plenty of marriages, punishments for villains, and the like, but not without letting us see that one source of these patterns is the simple egoism inside ourselves. The effect is the exact opposite of reassurance. We are urged, on one hand, to find full meaning in pattern suggested by the action, but there is a concurrent sense of the artificiality, even falseness of [39/40] that pattern, a sense that genuine life is to be found only outside all pattern. The narrator counters the notion that life or its true reflection in fiction can be explained by easily perceived form: 'The editor specially insists on a Nemesis' (19), according to the literary parody in The Three Clerks. At the same time, life is not certainly altogether without form either. The attack really is upon simple and regular patterns, upon certainty itself, either of a controlled or uncontrolled life. The hypnotic plain narrative, the beautifully transparent style, and all the power of the traditional narrative myths are balanced against this playful narrator and his cunning reminders of the irrational and the unformed. He not only reminds us of these frightening qualities but locates them within ourselves. There is, thus, on the most general level, a formal opposition between the demands and promises of the action and the corrosive remarks of the narrator. The battle is never won, and the disruption is never conclusive. We are engaged in reading a Trollope novel not in the simple and final subversion of the main action but in the richer and more demanding process whereby the conflict between art and life is carried out.
The process is made most evident to us as the plot is worked out alongside a running commentary on the mere arrificiality of that plot. For instance, the narrator reminds us in novel after novel that he despises all secrets and that he will therefore, 'for the comfort of my readers,' tell us all right away (Miss Mackenzie 17). Those who like plots should close the book; those more adventurous should 'look for your interest' elsewhere in the story (Dr. Wortle's School i. 3). The reason for all this, presumably, is the author's disdain for artificiality: 'I abhor a mystery. I would fain, were it possible, have my tale run through, from its little prologue to the customary marriage in its last chapter, with all the smoothness incidental to ordinary life' (The Bertrams 13). He deliberately refuses to withhold information, he says, because such selection and ordering is unnatural. But of course by calling our attention to that presumed naturalness and congratulating himself on it, he is exposing the fact that even apparent naturalness is the artificial semblance of nature. Thus he is merely emphasizing a different sort of control, a different artifice.
For it is the total form of the novel that the narrator is finally interested in disrupting. In order to open the closed form, its symmetry must be attacked, and we therefore expect and indeed [40/41] find the narrator going to work vigorously on all the essential parts of the form, particularly those places where we are, in any case, most conscious of form: the beginning and the end. Trollope's novels customarily begin with a beginning that includes some discussion of the nature of beginnings. Though often moderate in comparison with the attacks on endings, opening commentary always at least notes that the beginnings are beginnings, and more elaborate essays are sometimes included, as in Doctor Thorne, The Eustace Diamonds, and Mr. Scarborough's Family, three novels which, because they are unusual in being highly 'plotted,' therefore require special attention from the artificer. The opening of Is He Popenjoy? contains an amusing passage discussing the relative advantages of various opening strategies, an idea expanded to considerable length in The Duke's Children, where an entire chapter, entitled 'In Medias Res,' is devoted to a discussion of the problem and a jocular demonstration of its difficulties. It even contains a sample opening for analysis: 'Certainly, when I threw her from the garret window to the stony pavement below, I did not anticipate that she would fall so far without injury to life or limb' (9).
But the endings draw much more attention, suggesting as they do the notion of completion, the confirmation of pattern. Here Trollope's narrator brings forth the critical machinery with great display in almost every novel. 'The last details' of romance, he says in The Last Chronicle of Barset, 'if drawn out to their natural conclusions, are apt to be uncomfortable, if not dull' (51), and he good-naturedly protects us from the discomfort and the dullness. By doing so, of course, even greater discomfort is added—but never dullness. In many endings the narrator calls attention to artificiality by suggesting that such conclusions are simply unnecessary (The Bertrams, for instance); in John Caldigate he says he will add the ending just so readers will not think him indolent or cold-hearted. More pointed is the ending of The Three Clerks: 'It need hardly be told in so many words to an habitual novel-reader that Charley did get his bride at last.' The narrator in The Warden plainly says that he would leave out the ending altogether 'were it not for the custom of the thing.' Occasionally he suggests that he allows things to happen simply because of the artificial convention: 'And of whom else must we say a word? Patience, also, of course, got a husband—or will do so' (Doctor Thorne). Barchester Towers similarly ends with, some facetious remarks on giving rose-coloured endings, false as they [41/42] are, because that colour is in fashion. The light jokes on marriage that obtrude at the end of Ayala's Angel subtly disrupt the integrity of the comic solution; the dark jokes on the same subject at the end of Framley Parsonage have the same effect but are far less subtle: 'when the husband walks back from the altar, he has already swallowed the choicest dainties of his banquet. The beef and pudding of married life are then in store for him;—or perhaps only the bread and cheese. Let him take care lest hardly a crust remain— or perhaps not a crust.' The disruption is, however, just that; it is never destruction. The form is opened, but not parodied. At the conclusion of Dr. Wortle's School, for instance, the narrator says, 'I cannot pretend that the reader shall know, as he ought to be made to know, the future fate and fortunes of our personages. They must be left still struggling.' He goes on refusing to tell the future of this person, guessing at what might happen to another. In one sense this is rather a fake openness, since we have a very good idea what will happen, and all the commentary about the continued 'struggling' of these people is not totally discordant with the dynamic quality usually striven for in a comic ending. If struggling, they are still living, even if not quite happily ever after. Even this most extreme form of the narrator's call to artificiality, therefore, functions to provide a balance; full parody is never allowed.
This formal result is supported by a very strong and very unusual rhetoric. Trollope almost surely found this mixed form, in fact, not through thinking about form at all but through a concentration on the effect of his work on the reader. His comments on form are occasional and perfunctory, but he was most interested in rhetoric and spoke on it often and with intensity. He emphasized over and over that the reader's sympathy is the crucial matter, without which 'no novel is anything' ('On English Prose' 124). For Trollope as for many other Victorians, art now had to shoulder responsibilities once taken by religion; novels, Trollope said, 'have in great measure taken the place of sermons' ('Novel-Reading' 27). He exposes his own religious method most openly in The Eustace Diamonds, where he addresses 'my reader, whose sympathies are in truth the great and only aim of my work' (35), explaining that by identifying with the very imperfect (very imperfect indeed in The Eustace Diamonds) characters in these novels we [42/43] learn instinctively and gradually a greater tolerance and charity for the very imperfect people around us and for our very imperfect selves. Even when our imaginations are quite weak we benefit, very much as does Mrs. Wortle who, bewildered by her husband's charity towards the erring Mrs. Peacocke, tries to put herself in that poor woman's place: she finds it 'extremely difficult to imagine herself to be in such a position.' But she does as well as she can: 'It was terrible to think of,—so terrible that she could not quite think of it; but in struggling to think of it her heart was softened towards this other woman' (Dr. Wortle's School iv. 7). This is the paradigm for Trollope's rhetorical strategy: just as James said, an artist creates his readers just as he creates his characters.
The moral heart-softening is a task undertaken jointly by the narrative itself and the commenting narrator. The end in view is to make us active, not contemplative, and it is principally up to the narrator to get us in motion, to force us into final collaboration27 with the artist. He must make us willing to undergo the terrible difficulty of imagining and forging the work. To force us into this most taxing and dangerous endeavour, the narrator must be as sly and as devious as possible. James's notion that Trollope 'never played with a subject, never juggled with the sympathies or the credulity of his reader' (Partial Portraits 103) could not be more wrong; in fact many of the early objections to Trollope's use of point of view seem to stem from some vague sense that the narrator is far too devious, asking the reader for far too much. Such deviousness is 'extra-professional'; it violates 'the contract of the writer with the reader.'29 It does indeed, and we are often so battered by this rhetoric and its great demands that we might feel like joining in the protest. Sometimes a single passage is so vigorously sentimentalized and then so jokingly desentimentalized, it all seems unfair. The lonely and supersensitive Duke of Omnium, for instance, forms a warm friendship with the impoverished Lady Rosina De Courcy, even though she has nothing at all to give: 'But nevertheless he liked Lady Rosina, and was never bored by her. She was natural, and she [43/44] wanted nothing from him. When she talked about cork soles she meant cork soles. And then she did not tread on any of his numerous corns' (The Prime Minister, 27). A cartoon caption that could measure a reader's response might read, 'Sigh—Ahh—Biff—Oof—Grunt.' The attack on convention is made in order finally to support it in a renewed, revitalized form; and the attack on the reader is conducted in order to make him finally into the artist. So it is all worth it.
There are the two official chronicles, of course, but in a sense all of Trollope's writing is together a chronicle. Any particular novel may, we feel, suddenly invade the territory of another, and we are therefore not surprised when Lord Rufford, Larry Twentyman, and other friends from The American Senator turn up in the hunting field in Ayala's Angel four years later; Bishop Proudie seems the natural candidate for the new Commissioner in He Knew He Was Right. We sometimes do get the feeling that each novel is just a different slice of the same world. Extend the boundaries and, sure enough, there will be the Duke of Omnium or Quintus Slide or Mr. Gresham or Mrs. Quiverful. All this tends to establish an illusion of continuance, whereby the limits of the individual novel are no longer absolute. J. Hillis Miller cites this illusion as the main source of the 'open-endedness' of Trollope's novels; those recurrent characters suggest 'that the life of the individual and of the community is a continuing process' (The Form of Victorian Fiction 138. True enough, certainly, but my own feeling is that, even here, the suggestion of recurrence and continuation acts only to suspend the full completion of the spatial pattern. The novels are not so much open as opened—caught, really, in the process of being opened.
Even the characters who recur both are and are not the same. They are called by the same names, but they also serve the special and unique demands of the novel in which they appear. They bring with them some prior associations, but these associations may be modified or even transformed. There is, then, both a continuity and a discontinuity in recurring characters, just as the novels in which they appear manifest both an open and closed form. The most prominent illustration is Lady Glencora. In Can You Forgive Her? she is seen very largely as a victim, whose wit is sharpened principally as a weapon, as an external sign of her inward resolution never to [44/45] give way entirely, to preserve something of the dignity of her being. Though she feels herself humiliated by this marriage, a victim of brute, unfeeling force, she finds a partial adjustment in a pattern of witty attack, which allows her a measure of vengeance and self-assurance. In the next novel, Phineas Finn, however, she is not only far less central but has a very different part to play, a part, moreover, which demands a different character. She is now praised for her capacity to change, to find ease in her position; 'she adapts herself,' the old Duke says fondly (57). She is now the fidgety, class-conscious aristocrat. She wants to exercise all the power she can muster to persuade either Marie or the Duke not to marry the other one and upset the smooth running of things: 'Nobody had felt the injustice of such coercion when applied to herself more sharply than had Lady Glencora. But she had lived to acknowledge that such coercion might be proper, and was now prepared to use it in any shape in which it might be made available' (62). The narrator is aware of the irony here, of course, but the explanation for Lady Glencora's change—her 'education' and her selfishness—is very lame. The fact is that she is now asked not only to do different things but really to be someone slightly different. The Glencora of Can You Forgive Her? would never have calculated the costs so closely; she would have felt sympathetic to the recklessness of a marriage between Marie and the Duke and would have seen in it a chance to punish both her husband and, in a deeper way, herself for her own submission. Such psychology, central in the opening novel of the chronicle, is not continued in Phineas Finn, however, so Glencora no longer manifests all the same traits. The character both is and is not the same. As the series goes on, we can trace further shifts. In the seamy world of The Eustace Diamonds, Lady Glencora becomes seamy herself, acting as a shadow character to Lizzie Eustace, some of whose features she adopts. In the last novels, Lady Glencora, now Duchess of Omnium, becomes more central, duplicating in The Prime Minister her husband's search for an escape from nothing. In The Duke's Children, the Duchess, though now dead, figures again in the Duke's memory as the rebel lover of Burgo Fitzgerald. Lady Glencora, like all the other chronicle characters, is made to conform both to the demands made by the previous novels and to the more particular demands of the novel at hand. As these demands conflict, we are made aware of the fact that the novel both does and does not have its individual integrity. Its [45/46] form is both dependent on the other novels and also independent of them—both opened and closed.
When asking, then, just how old-fashioned or how modern Trollope is, one must attend fully to both fields of assumptions and methods that come together in his novels. But this does not mean that the only answer we can justly give to important questions about Trollope and his tradition are of the infuriating 'yes-and-no' sort. His affinities are clear enough: his ties are to Jane Austen and Thackeray, not to Charlotte Brontë and Dickens; and there clearly are traditions to which he can either be connected or disconnected. He is, broadly speaking, a realist, and he generally writes comic novels. So much has been commonly agreed upon, and one can proceed from there.
Trollope's adoption of the standards of formal realism appears to be wholehearted. Not only did he openly reject all the conventional patterns of idealization and wish-fulfilment, but he even made repeated and very pointed jokes in his novels about the artiticiality of any 'literary' convention. He proclaims his devotion to 'real life' with an insistent sincerity that is hard to ignore. Early reviewers generally took him at his word, certainly; the Nation called him 'the last of the realists' ('Mr. Trollope's Last Novel' 139). William Dean Howells apparently recognized in Trollope a close approximation of his own practices and therefore gave very high praise: 'In all time the most artistic, that is to say the most truthful Englisli novelist was Anthony Trollope.'" Trollope himself, like virtually every other artist since time began, claimed that his model was life itself: 'It has always been my object to draw my little pictures as like to life as possible' ('The Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne' 204). There was nothing he hated so much as 'exaggeration'; that was the fault of Dickens, of the 'abominable' novels of Mrs. Stowe, of Rhoda Broughton—even his own mother 'was unable to avoid the pitfalls of exaggeration.'34 [46/47] Without underrating Trollope's reluctance to depend much on plot and sensational incident or his reliance on the quiet subtlety of revealing dialogue, one should still not be taken in too completely by his claims. Trollope was not taken in himself. In a famous passage in the Autobiography, he protests against the crudity of the distinction between realist and sensationalist, arguing that every good novel should not just mix the two but be both realistic and sensational, 'and both in the highest degree' (pp. 226-27). He saw very clearly that 'realism' was itself a convention, referring to 'life' no more or no less than stories about giants and dragons: 'And yet in very truth the realistic must not be true—but just so far removed from truth as to suit the erroneous idea of truth which the reader may be supposed to entertain.' Realism is defined as 'that which shall seem to be real' (Thackeray 9). This seeming, of course, will be governed by the expectations of the reader, expectations which, in turn, are controlled by the tradition and the rhetorical ability of the novelist.
This 'seeming-to-be-real' realism was to be obtained, Trollope argued, primarily through a careful use of language. One must not, as Scott so often did, 'leave on the mind of the most unpractised reader a sensation of made up words' (qtd. in Booth, 'Trollope on Scott' 226). The style must achieve simulation of truth, no easy task certainly: the novelist must 'steer between absolute accuracy of language—which would give to his conversation an air of pedantry, and the slovenly inaccuracy of ordinary talkers,—which if closely followed would offend by an appearance of grimace, as to produce upon the ear of his readers a sense of reality' (Autobiography 240). Trollope is speaking here of dialogue, but we can recognize the basic formula for his plain, nondescript style: a language so carefully constructed around the reader's idea of reality that the language itself will seem to become transparent.36 At its best, the style will be so artfully developed that not only the evidence of art but the style itself will disappear, creating the illusion of a direct participation with reality, not with 'made up words' but with actual 'talk.' The idea of clarity is [47/48] inseparable, then, from ideas of rhetoric: when Bell, in The Small House at Allington, tells her mother, 'I like a book to be clear as running water, so that the whole meaning may be seen at once,' Mrs. Dale answers, 'The quick seeing of the meaning must depend a little on the reader, must it not?' (44). One man's clarity may be another's murkiness, but the reader is the final judge. He must be convinced of the reality of the art, whatever reality in fact may be. In this sense, Trollope's style works effectively in the service of pure realism.
When we think of how often artists like Dickens asked their language to do what it could not, it is astonishing how seldom Trollope's style fails to provide for him just the transparency he wants. There are times in La Vendée—'female beauty and female worth will be made to suffer ten thousand deaths from the ruthless atrocities of republican foes' (14)—and in Nina Balatka—'She is to me my cup of water when I am hot and athirst' (6)—when Trollope depends on style to give a certain foreign flavour, and the results are ludicrous enough. Trollope mastered a disappearing style and generally knew better than to ask it to appear and to work for him. He achieves his effects very largely through a uniform and plain style, a liberal use, for instance, of 'imprecise, multi-purpose words' like 'pretty'37 that appear to make no special demands on the reader and thus claim no special attention. The style is so unmetaphoric that the very rare bursts—'the air was as soft as a mother's kiss to her sleeping child' (The Vicar of Bullhampton 2)—are very startling. Even passages of analysis tend to mask their art by leading us, at their climax, to the styleless comfort of a proverbial saying about touching pitch and being defiled, the wind being tempered to the shorn lamb, and the like. Very often the simple, unpretentious diction allows for and hides a syntax that is repetitious and thus obviously arranged, artificial: '"Because you have been bad," say they who are not bad to those who are bad . . .' (The Vicar of Bullhampton 52). The bald repetitions alert us to the simple-mindedness of what is to come. This deceptively plain language can be used to make the most intricate artistic manoeuvrings unobtrusive—psychological probing and analysis, for instance: [48/49] 'And though, after a fashion, [Lizzie] knew herself to be false and bad she was thoroughly convinced that she was ill-used by everybody about her' (The Eustace Diamonds 21). The easy-going 'after a fashion' tells us, without seeming to, how Lizzie can hold contradictory notions in her mind; it indicates levels of consciousness with quiet delicacy. In a similar way, the Duke's anger at his wife's vulgar transformation of Gatherum is analysed: 'It angered him to think that there was so little of simplicity left in the world that a man could not entertain his friends without such a fuss as this. His mind applied itself frequently to the consideration of the money, not that he grudged the loss of it, but the spending of it in such a cause. And then perhaps there occurred to him an idea that all this should not have been done without a word of consent from himself (The Prime Minister 19). As the Duke's thoughts proceed from the blandly general to the intensely personal, the sentences become more roundabout, circumlocutionary. The first motive stated is easy, flattering, and directly available to his mind: 'It angered him.' The second is more difficult, brings up troubled associations (since some of the money was originally Glencora's): 'His mind applied itself frequently to the consideration.' The last issue, the inner circle, is at the heart of his dilemma and the secret power struggle he is having with his wife: 'And then perhaps there occurred to him an idea.' The layers of the Duke's mind, from the outer shell of public morality to the inner doubts of his own position, are exposed with great suggestiveness. And with fine indirectness: the 'perhaps' in the last sentence does an enormous amount of work. A writer more self-consciously 'psychological' would have required a few sentences at least to do what Trollope's 'perhaps' does.
Style is seen by Trollope, then, as a means for creating an illusion, particularly the illusion that there is no style.38 Language does not so much create as serve; in The Duke's Children style is spoken of as a mere 'vehicle' for the important wares (26). The wares in this case are the details of the pure story: 'Now among us plain English,' Trollope said, 'a plain narrative, whether in verse or prose, is everything' (Rev. of Henry Taylor's Poems 130). The idea is that the style should clear the way for the [49/50] narrative, providing maximum power to the hypnotic spell of the story, to the force of the traditional narrative pattern. Style, thus, serves the closed form and is, on the whole, a means by which Trollope makes the ancient patterns of comedy seem modern and real. This 'old-fashioned' style stands against such opening devices as those employed by the dramatized narrator and the subplots, thus ensuring one part of the tension. To this extent the style does tie Trollope to the tradition of realism.
But the typically realistic world is one which is very sharply seen. It is a crowded, materialistic world which convinces us of its total reality generally by convincing us of the reality of the objects in it. It is a world of things, a visual world. Trollope's world, however, is much more aural than visual. There is often a sense of a crowd but very seldom a sense of a scene. A less cinematic art would be difficult to imagine. There is rarely much sense of setting—'I myself cannot describe places' ('Henry Wadsworth Longfellow' 390), Trollope lamented—and even less of physical objects. People are there, of course, but they are defined by their talk. Talk becomes about the only objective correlative in Trollope. That is why the narrator, the best talker of all, is such an important character.
Trollope does seem materialistic in a certain sense, as in his war on abstractions and his hilarious means for refuting Ruskin's attack on English taste by citing 'the market value of a Titian in England at the present day' (Rev. of Sesames and Lilies 634). Trollope's admiration for money is really an admiration for getting money, for ambition, that is, and for the power and comfort it can secure. His materialism, in other words, is really non-objective. With important objects like Gatherum Castle, the symbolism is made to work psychologically and not physically. The Castle is the cluster of associations it calls forth: fear, worship, awe, envy, hatred, discomfort. None of these has any compelling reference to its physical being.
Trollope's frequent joke about the necessity for providing descriptions for his characters is to the point here. Even more than the usual reminders of artifice inserted throughout, these comments direct us away from an illusion of real life to a sense of artificiality so extreme it finally has no visual shape. The implication is that reality is entirely divorced from our usual modes of perception; it exists only in pure art, outside of nature altogether. In An Old [50/51] Man's Love he admits to having misgivings about providing descriptions at all but agrees finally to give one of his heroine: 'But the attempt must be made, if only for fashion sake' (3). He tries to proceed but soon interrupts the attempt: 'But yet I am not describing her after the accepted fashion.' At the end of the description he is dissatisfied and annoyed, particularly annoyed with the stupid reader who has forced him to such useless labour: 'All the power of language which the writer possesses has been used in thus reproducing [her features]. But now, when this portion of his work is done, he feels sure that no reader of his novel will have the slightest idea of what Mary Lawrie was like.' What Mary Lawrie 'was like' has nothing at all to do with how she appeared. So we may as well close our eyes entirely.
Trollope is, then, both tied to and separated from the realist tradition. He admired Jane Austen and Thackeray, had problems liking the work of his friend George Eliot, was equivocal about Scott and quite unequivocal about Dickens. He had little in common with his great contemporaries: the real ties are backwards to Jane Austen and forwards to the late James and Virginia Woolf. Trollope felt totally estranged from Dickens, whose views and methods could not be more distant. Granting a certain power to Dickens, Trollope still felt that there was something monstrous about that power, something brutal and coarse about the method: 'ignorant, and thick-skinned' was the way he described him to George Eliot.42 With Eliot herself he had scarcely more in common. Though sharing many of the same ironic perceptions and the same biases toward realism, George Eliot's intellectualized fiction and her rhetoric of contemplation were alien to Trollope. Try as he might, he could not believe fully in her method: Daniel Deronda is 'all wrong in art': 'She lacks ease'; 'She is sometimes heavy—sometimes abstruse, sometimes almost dull,—but always like an egg, full of meat.'43 Both Trollope and George Eliot believed in the novel as an effective moral agency, both were realists, both used a narrator as a strong rhetorical weapon. The fact that Trollope felt so distant from [51/52] her art suggests how central to him was his own particular rhetoric of deceptive ease and relaxation. This brilliant rhetorical narrator is doubtless a legacy from Trollope's acknowledged master, Thackeray, and there is a strong critical tradition linking the two. Actually, though, the correspondence is easily exaggerated. The melancholy tone, a conservative sense of loss and bitterness, and the rhetorical tricks available to the narrator are sometimes similar. These are important ties, but the dissimilarities are very great. Despite his veneration for Henry Esmond, Trollope looked on Thackeray mostly as a satirist, an occupation for which he felt very little respect.44 He thought that satire was an easy oversimplification and that Thackeray's 'zeal was at last greater than his discrimination' (Thackeray 2). Thackeray's rhetoric, correspondingly, urges the reader to judge just where Trollope wants to suspend or to complicate judgement. Thackeray, finally, is a moralist whose ties to the eighteenth century are far stronger than Trollope could understand or sympathize with. As a result, Trollope's book on Thackeray is so grumbling and so often harsh that, as with George Eliot, the good will seems a little forced. It should not surprise us that Thackeray's family was upset by Trollope's efforts.
The strongest and most revealing connection, in any event, is not with Thackeray but with Jane Austen. Kathleen Tillotson points out that of the great novelists of the period only Trollope speaks of reading her in his youth (144). The other major novelists seem to have been far more influenced by Scott, about whom Trollope spoke with very restrained enthusiasm.46 Jane Austen was 'my chief favourite among novelists' (Letters 250), and she provided Trollope with a method and an aesthetic. Not that their novels are identical, of course. R. H. Hutton, in one of those rare and quite brilliant flashes of nineteenth-century criticism, says about all there is to say on the essential differences between Jane Austen's pastoral world, where one has a sense of 'perfect seclusion, ample opportunity, plenty of space, and plenty of time' and the invaded world of Trollope, where everyone 'is more or less under pressure' and where [52/53] 'everywhere time is short.' There is, he says, 'a sense of the aggressiveness of the outer world' in Trollope that Jane Austen's world is without. Because of this, while Austen's characters are purely and always themselves, 'Trollope's people are themselves so far as the circumstances of the day will allow them to be themselves'; 'very often' however, they 'are much distorted from their most natural selves' (1609-11). But despite these differences, despite the fact that in Trollope Jane Austen's methods and assumptions are being tested under new conditions, Trollope received from Austen what he most needed: a confirmation of the wonderful potential in the comedy of manners tradition for exploring human life with delicacy and profundity.
Bradford Booth lamented that 'Trollope rarely attempts more than the comedy of manners.'49 That is true enough, though it hardly carries with it the penalties Booth imagined. Trollope's attachment to the tradition of the comedy of manners is, however, as deceptive as his realism. While he accepts many of the values and assumptions dear to the comedy of manners, he does not accept fully the comedy of manners form. The morality and the grounds for behaviour are traditional, but there is a sense that the world at large no longer gives support to these assumptions and that they are, therefore, detached, sometimes even absurd. They seem no longer to provide the source for community, and the establishment of community, after all, is the basis of comedy. Unlike the novels of Jane Austen, a Trollope novel cannot merely test and confirm these values. In each novel they must be redefined, remade, and reinstituted. As with the tradition of realism, then, Trollope works in the comedy of manners tradition without having any of the comforts of a tradition. There is a complex of values, positions, and beliefs there ready-made, but where is that sort of life now manifest? Who will accept these values to the point of being guided by them? Who, even, will understand? There is an implicit sense of opposition to the comedy of manners values, then, that is made clear in the disruption of form. All the old confidence is gone and with it the patterned symmetry. [53/54]
But the values themselves are there as they always were. The standards of enlightened and sophisticated civilization are central. The stability provided allows for understanding, for the expression of warmth and kindness through wit. The central discovery of the comedy of manners is perhaps that the confidence that allows for indirection also allows for far more radiance than simple, blunt openness. Trollope writes to his brother, for instance, on hearing that they expect a child: 'The pleasures of paternity have been considerably abridged, since the good old Roman privilege of slaying their offspring at pleasure, has been taken from fathers. But the delights of flagellation, though less keen, are more enduring. One can kill but once; but one may flog daily' (Letters 17). Often the civilized standards are supported by attacks on the naïveté of alternate modes, particularly on modes of simplicity like the romance or pastoral: 'Robinson Crusoe could hardly have been particular about his bed; and though in fiction many comforts have been attributed to him, the thoughtful reader, reading between the lines, will have recognised his many deficiencies' (How the 'Mastiffs' went to Iceland 7). This tone, though prissier than usual in Trollope, does suggest the judicious coolness of the undeluded, the sense that one's own being and one's civilization are so firmly rooted and secure that they can do very well without excitement. Excessive zeal is seen as immature, potentially dangerous, since it exhibits a distrust of the basic security and thus threatens it: 'I am no Puritan myself, and fancy that had I lived in the day of the Puritans, I should have been anti-Puritan to the full extent of my capabilities' (North America 3).51
One naturally strives, therefore, for command and understanding of the self, not for radical transformations.52 Thus the great importance of the motif of education. Despite Trollope's distrust of rationalism—Robespierre, he says, 'seems almost to have been sent into the world to prove the inefficacy of human reason to effect human happiness' (La Vendée 22)—the emphasis on education does tie him to certain rational notions of progressive development and logical training. Trollope's novels manage, however, to [54/55] accept the belief in education and the trust in maturity while rejecting the rationalistic premisses. He was consistently strong on the superiority of age to youth, claiming that youth had no advantage whatever for any real work; in fact age 'is so much better [than youth] that it may be doubted whether youth is justified in making public its work by any other consideration than that of the doubt whether maturity may come' (Letters 266). The means for reaching this maturity, however, were to Trollope much more simple than they were to rationalists. In the place of deliberate, careful training, Trollope put his trust in time and experience. The absolute opposite of James Mill, Trollope would have regarded a child of five who knew Greek and Latin as a freak, probably less mature, in his sense, than one who had banged about, in a miscellaneous, unplanned way in the nursery and in schools. Over and over, his novels define education in terms of the training of the imagination through a complex and gradual battle with experience, not as a development of the intellect through a planned immersion in recognized holds of knowledge (a point also discussed in Polhemus 240). Arithmetic may perhaps be taught in this way but nothing important: 'The simple teaching of religion has never brought large numbers of Natives to live in European habits; but I have no doubt that European habits will bring about religion' (South Africa ii. 188). The subtle 'habits' of a civilization are equivalent to its spiritual life, and one must develop the sensitivity to recognize that.
Trollope's works are neither sentimental nor naïve about civilization. His considerations on the spread of the glories of Western civilization through colonization contain many sarcastic references to the improvement of other cultures by extinguishing them, the great difficulty of making 'a wretched savage understand that you intend to do good to him, when he clearly does perceive that you intend to take away from him everything that he calls his own' (The Tireless Traveler 133). There is very often present a Hobbesian view of man and of the uses of civilization: 'Mankind in general take pleasure in cruelty, though those who are civilized abstain from it on principle' (The Three Clerks 40). Despite all this, Trollope's tough view of civilization is never cynical. His basic myth is one of wholeness, of home [54/55] and family; he had a 'feeling for the vast integrity of civilization' (More 124). Despite the defects of that civilization, then, he understands that the stability of the myth requires continuity and that those who would 'improve' the civilization are therefore those who do not understand it, who have never been educated to full citizenship. Idealists and Utopian reformers in Trollope are usually, like Mr. Turnbull in the political novels, men with no private being, hollowed-out people with no imagination, unfortunate outcasts from the very civilization they seek to transform. Like Dickens, Trollope often uses America as a symbol for the rubbish heap where all the uncivilized reformers are piled; the capital, Washington, 'raised up with all imaginable perfections and in accordance with high-flown theories,' is unfit for comfortable life (Four Lectures 52). The theoretical man is, finally, dead, divorced from life.
But the theoretical man, more exactly the unconscious man, seems in most Trollope novels to be everywhere. He can no longer be symbolically contained in America. As a result there is in Trollope no less than in Matthew Arnold a characteristic tone of lost-cause melancholy. The values are there, as always, clear and firm, but they seem to have no currency. As a result we often get the sense that the narrator is defining values that nowhere really exist, that he is using the world of the narrative to plead hopelessly tor another world. 'What is there which damaging time does not diminish?' Trollope quotes from Horace [The New Zealander 4), and we recognize in this tone his essential conservatism.58 Trollope does not sentimentalize the past, and in fact often pokes fun at that sort of sentimentality, that feeling for 'the sweet mediaeval flavour of old English corruption' (Clergymen of the Church of England 28). His conservatism is rather a feeling for a greater wholeness that could be found in values more purely instinctual and traditional than modern man can recognize. The pressures modern man feels and creates for himself in Trollope's world build up layers of defences, a cover of insensitivity that makes impossible the delicate, [56/57] imaginative behaviour that is at the heart of the moral life of the comedy of manners. Men are so hidden from themselves and from one another that mere blindness has replaced a confident, if equally thoughtless, instinct. Hence, the appeal for openness, the recurrence of the expressed desire for simple honesty. The feeling is exactly the same as that in Tennyson's Idylls of the King, where an equally desperate appeal is made for honesty. Tennyson's Arthur is not at all unlike such Trollope characters as Roger Carbury,59 equally displaced and absurd.
One must finally accept things as they are: 'Things are very far from being perfect. Things are always very far from being perfect' (Four Lectures 77). But the acceptance of an untransformed world is a brave act in Trollope's novels. Though absolutely central to the comedy of manners form, the rejection of illusion is far more dangerous in Trollope than in Jane Austen. It is an act necessary for maturity and the full moral life, but it is both triumphant and desolating: 'It is sad to say it, and sad to think of it, but failure is the ordinary lot of man' (Clergymen of the Church of England 74). The liberation found when delusions are cast away is often matched by a strong sense that the real world's freedom may not amount to much. An imaginative and fully mature physician in He Knew He Was Right says, 'The truth is, Mr. Burgess . . . a doctor doesn't know so very much more about these things than other people' (51). This is a fine and moral statement, reassuring in its affirmation of a union of all men. But it doesn't give us much hope against disease. On one hand, the joys of the small things to be realized now are exalted, but there is a price to pay. As Lady Chiltern says, 'We all profess to believe when we're told that this world should be used merely as a preparation for the next; and yet there is something so cold and comfortless in the theory that we do not relish the prospect even for our children' (Phineas Redux 2). This is heady and exhilarating; it allows us to escape from futurism and to live fully now. But it removes our prop against death. And Trollope is resolute in rejecting the myths of sacrifice and redemption.
Aware as Trollope is of the price one pays for this bleak awareness, he protects us against the full desolation of this view by [57/58] insisting over and over again on a distinction between men and the abstractions they seem to need: 'In my days I have written something about clergymen but never a word about religion' (South Africa i. 258). The distinction becomes even finer: man as a social being is sharply separated from man as a private person; the former might be guilty of all sorts of stupidity and cruelty, but the individual as he really is is generally seen as well-meaning, if not quite innocent.61 People in Trollope do not become objectified as they do in Dickens; they never quite become their occupations. This protection of the essential private self makes for a dislocated world, but it can also make for comedy. Collective vices are intolerable, but any individual frailty can not only be tolerated but welcomed: 'Readers will also find that by devoting an hour or two on Saturday to the criticisms of the week, they will enable themselves to have an opinion about the books of the day. The knowledge so acquired will not be great, nor will that little be lasting; but it adds something to the pleasure of life to be able to talk on subjects of which others are speaking' (Autobiography 269).
This essential division explains many contradictions. It explains, for instance, why Trollope could, on the one hand, express approval for making money—'we know that the more a man earns the more useful he is to his fellow-men' (Autobiography 106); he became furious with Ruskin's attack on the Goddess of Getting On, who, to Trollope, was a goddess to be respected (see his review of Ruskin's Crown of Wild Olives, 381-84). On the other hand, he attacks rigorously the corrosive effects of a system which is based on the very drive he praises. The vile effects of capitalism on fox hunts, on club life, on the customs of courtship, on married life, on the spiritual being of the age are pitilessly scourged. Properly seen, though, there is no contradiction. Because the social fabric has been nearly dissolved by the shifty and incoherent power of money, people in Trollope are far more free to move, but they are faced with far greater dangers than in the old stratified world. Because women are invested with a great symbolic stability, their position in a fluid society is even more tenuous. There is, then, one genuine ambiguity in Trollope, taken as a whole: approval is given both to those who strive, who make money, who do, who achieve power, [58/59] and to those who are humble, passive, and retiring. The two irreconcilables are finally combined in the brilliantly ironic position of the Duke of Omnium as Prime Minister. He advances to the very heart of power and finds there nothing at all.
All these points really represent a cluster of values, of course, a rich and integrated network of assumptions modified from the original convention but modified as a whole and not sporadically. As such, they represent an artistic source far deeper than an 'idea.' I suppose it is true that Trollope had no real ideas as such, a fact that has disturbed many.63 In areas where ideas are necessary, he was weak: his journalism is tiresome; his travel books are very thin; and his literary criticism is surely among the poorest ever written. In place of ideas he has only a few crotchets. But ideas seem so unnecessary to literature, at least to the tradition of the comedy of manners, that Trollope's defect in this regard seems a positive virtue. His crotchets are transformed by his engulfing imagination out of the bare, pitiful world of thought into his fictional world as rich symbols. Even the opinions he held most firmly, say on fox-hunting, civil service examinations, and politics, have no chance to make it as ideas in his fiction. We know from Trollope's letters, his journalism, and his Autobiography that he was a passionate, almost manic, defender of fox-hunting, that he hated competitive examinations deeply, and that he had very strong views on the importance of being in the House of Commons, even if he strikes us as cynical on the subject of what one does when one gets there.
Though Trollope doubted whether he had not dragged fox-hunting into too many novels (Autobiography 64), he need not have worried. Fox-hunting may be used for a million fictional purposes, but it usually stands as a very effective symbol for community and for joy, whose ends—well, never mind the ends, since the means are so satisfying. It is the process of hunting that is crucial, let the results be as asinine, even as cruel, as they may be. It gets people together, and 'a man in a hunting county who opposes the county hunt must be a misanthrope, willing to live in seclusion, fond of being in Coventry, and in love with the enmity of his fellow-creatures' (Castle Richmond 24). It also provides some joy in the [59/60] doing, and the experiencing of joy is something 'in which we Englishmen most signally fail'; 'there are so many of us who have nothing that we like' (The New Zealander 10). The hunt is justified in terms of what it does, not in terms of what it is, and what it does must be understood psychologically, in the complex experience, not abstractly in the sterile area of generalized morality or 'ideas.' Thus Trollope's idea is shaped by the fiction into something like an anti-idea.
The same thing happens with competitive examinations. Though the commentary here is admittedly somewhat sharper, again the protest leaves the realm of ideas and enters the fabric of the novel. Competitive exams are dangerous not only because the abstract theories of equality they imply are abstractly bad but also because they demonstrate a disregard for the traditional values being promoted by the novel. Exams are crude just where delicacy is needed. They are, further, enemies of community and, thus, of the comic form being promoted: 'The world . . . will soon lie like a fishpond, very full of fish, but with very little food for them. Every one is scrambling for the others' prey, and they will end at last by eating one another' (The Three Clerks 11). Finally, such exams are completely heartless: 'With us, let the race be ever to the swift, the victory always to the strong. And let us always be racing, so that the swift and strong shall ever be known among us. But what, then, for those who are not swift, not strong?' (The Bertrams 1). None of these values is imported into the novels for the purpose really of condemning the operation of the civil service; they are intrinsic to these novels and thus are welcome as compact and clear symbols for a cluster of values which is forward-looking, self-centred, contemptuous of tradition, and thus, finally, anti-comic. Because the examination system is based on the judgement of results, its utility as a symbol for the simple-minded belief in ordered, patterned life is obvious. Trollope loves to attack the platitude, 'Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well,' since the whole point in his comic novels is in the doing, not in displaying the final product. Thus he hates excellence and promotes the simple value of 'competence.' His one absolutism is the pure value of work. Thus in his book on Thackeray he is obsessed with his subject's 'idleness' and, despite his best intentions, cannot pay much attention to the fine novels. Thus, too, he could not stop for a moment to contemplate a finished novel before starting to write the next. Contemplation is to Trollope the erecting of a tombstone; endings are a kind of death. [60/61]
Politics, therefore, is exactly like fox-hunting, or the civil service (without exams), or whist, or writing novels. It is the greatest work of man in process, and an Englishman's greatest ambition should be to serve in Parliament. But he should never mistake the life-giving greatness of politics with getting things done. And so it is with all life. Marrying is wonderfully joyous, but marriage itself can easily turn empty. And love, the heart of Trollope's world, is finally defined in this way: 'The beauty of it all was not so much in the thing loved, as in the loving' (He Knew He Was Right 25).
We can see, then, why Trollope is so little interested in ideas, in reforms, in alternatives or changes. In part, he is the traditionalist, holding to the values of the past; in part he is, as Rebecca West says, akin to the modern existentialist in seeing life as absurd, alternatives as ludicrous (157).
So Trollope is both tied to the comedy of manners and the realist traditions and liberated from them. He is both the most conventional and most modern of writers, and his formal patterns both adhere to convention with great and sensitive determination and at the same time force convention to abandon all its old reliances. It is no wonder, then, that it is not easy to perceive the form of one novel, let alon[e] to describe a clear and symmetrical shape in the career of an artist who made war on symmetry. There are so many difficult questions: why did Trollope begin his career with a novel which calls into question the very values he was later to propound? What does one do with the late novels, which often are dark but which also can be mellow or even very light, as is Ayala's Angel? What about novels that are ambiguous—The American Senator or Cousin Henry? And how does one handle bizarre things like The Fixed Period or An Old Man's Love? Perhaps it would be most reasonable to abandon a search for pattern and discuss the novels, say, alphabetically by title.
Patterns have, of course, been perceived, most notably by Cockshut in his strong polemic on behalf of Trollope's late novels. They are, he says, darker, more 'satiric,' more profound. Some support has been given to this position both by Robert Polhemus, who says that after Doctor Thorne Trollope's 'vision of life grows darker' and [61/62] that 'after Phineas Redux Trollope gave up on his society,'65 and by James Pope Hennessy, who finds in 'his later novels a tone of murky pessimism' (145). At least Pope Hennessy seems not to equate pessimism with the sublime, a problem, surely, with many such views of a writer's progress. And most readers will probably grant that, on the whole, the late novels do seem to reflect a world with fewer possibilities. Still, an insistence on a regular pattern that leads downhill is likely to result, as it does in Cockshut, in some highly arbitrary rearrangements of the novels' emphases: this section is declared to be perfunctory, that one profound; some plots and indeed some novels are disregarded altogether. Strange value judgements must be smuggled in, and dismal novels like Kept in the Dark elevated over brilliant ones like Ayala's Angel. Psychological emphases must be played up and social ones played down, in direct defiance of the novels, which generally see even the most bizarre psychological phenomena in social terms. Here, for instance, is the narrator of He Knew He Was Right on insanity: 'There is perhaps no great social question so imperfectly understood among us at the present day as that which refers to the line which divides sanity from insanity' (38).
Most important, rigid views of pattern are usually based on some fallacious connections between art and 'belief,' whereby the tone of novels can be traced to changes in the author's opinions or general outlook. But everywhere we look in Trollope we find 'opinions' being altered to suit the demands of the novel. In The Last Chronicle, The Way We Live Now, or The Eustace Diamonds, art and artistry are equated generally with falseness and lies; in Ayala's Angel with life itself. The prominent conflict between youth and age in The Prime Minister is equally prominent in the next chronicle novel, The Duke's Children, but the terms are exactly reversed. Examining the novels to find Trollope's view of America, to take an obvious instance, one is met with dizzying inconsistency. In He Knew He Was Right (1869) there are the conventional portraits of the bombastic bore and the feminist poet, but the Spalding girls are all one could hope for and the treatment on the whole is good-natured and positive. In The Way We Live Now (1875) America is seen through [62/63] both Mrs. Hurtle and Hamilton K. Fisker as a violent and terribly friehtening place. In The American Senator (1877) it is not frightening at all but childishly rationalistic, not a jungle but one large, earnest cramming establishment. There is a harsh use of American feminists in Is He Popenjoy? (1878), but the view in The Duke's Children (1880) is so warmly positive it has led some to speak of Trollope's recantation or apology. What, then, do we make of Dr. Wortle's School (1881), which simply reiterates the America of Martin Chuzzlewit, or of the bitter anti-Americanism of The Landleaguers (1833)?
The answer surely is that the form of great novels has little, if anything, to do with 'opinions.' 'Like most novelists, Trollope had a repertoire of shapes and themes to meet his fictional aims,' says William Cadbury.67 Exactly, and the narrative patterns chosen for novels work together with themes to form a whole. The integrity of any novel or any group of novels cannot, then, be referred outside the system to anything as simple as the writer's views. Trollope used to joke about the writing of novels being related to the efficiency of digestion, which may have more truth in it than the views-and-opinions notion. All this is not to deny the existence of pattern or that the later novels are often different from the early ones. But different is not better,68 and all change is not a change of mind.
What consistency there is in Trollope is most apparent to me in terms of his tendency to work with the narrative myth of comedy69 [63/64] in its full range, from understated romantic comedy to highly ironic comedy of accommodation. The basic goal here is fulfilment through integration. The most important variation comes about when the myth of integration is parodied. The result is a pattern whereby comic educations are conducted but without comic knowledge being gained or comic rewards being bestowed—what Northrop Frye terms the mythos of winter, irony,70 where the central images are of isolation, motion without purpose, meaningless frustration. The rhetoric is made to deceive us, to make us expect a resolution which, when it comes, is turned on its head.
Within these broad ranges of comedy and irony one can see a pattern, I suppose, but only if one squints hard enough to blur all the irregularities. It seems to me more useful for my purposes to place the novels according to rough groupings tied loosely to their dominant narrative patterns and to their chronology. I propose the following as a convenient grouping of this sort: The Early Comedies (1847-67), The Barsetshire Series, Variations in Irony (1867-75), The Palliser Scries, The Late Experimental Novels. The last category is admittedly particularly lame, but it expresses a sense that Trollope's late novels, from The American Senator to An Old Man's Love, have about nothing in common other than the fact that each seems to challenge in very different ways the bases of the forms it operates in. The 'experiments' have about them a similar confidence and a sense of freedom in their expansion of this or that element of comedy or irony, their challenge to the limits of those patterns. This order may reveal little about Trollope's progress toward anything at all, but it will allow for an examination of novels both in terms of their individual forms and in relation to other novels which adopt similar strategies. The chronicle novels are isolated both in order to emphasize their uniqueness and to show their collective tie to the novels which were interspersed with them. [64/65] The hope is to demonstrate relationships, but more important to illustrate Trollope's formal sophistication and variety, the astonishing dexterity he showed in both confirming and radically modifying tradition, opening the same form he was shaping, looking backward and forward at once.
Last modified 10 October 2014