Mr. Hamilton K. Fisker, the cigar chomping, smooth-talking, scheming and swindling American businessman in The Way We Live Now, could easily fit into the shoes of Jonathan, in this cartoon from the May 11, 1872 edition of Punch. Just as Jonathan maintains shady business intentions from the getgo ("guess its jist what we meant to dew--straight thre-ew!"), so does Mr. Fisker with his great railway designs.
Americans may have had the reputation of being dishonest, underhanded and the source of sketchy business ventures, yet despite Fisker's corruption, he is not the most terrible character in Trollope's novel. In fact, he garners a certain amount of strange respect, even from those whom he manipulates most, such as Paul Montague. Montague finds himself "talked into agreeing with any project which Mr. Fisker might have in hand. It was altogether against the grain with him, and yet by his own consent, that the flour-mill had been opened at Fiskerville. He trembled for his money and never wished to see Fisker again; but still, when Fisker came to England, he was proud to remember that Fisker was his partner, and he obeyed the order and went down to Liverpool" (I, 77). Fisker is also egalitarian in his corruption and graft. Despite how he takes advantage of Paul, among others, and prevents him from having any real voice in the affairs of the company, Fisker ensures that he is "well provided with money himself, and took care that his partner should be in the same position"(I, 86). Montague apparently shares several other business-related benefits with Fisker as well. This somewhat democratic distribution of the wealth generated by Fisker's railway endeavor does not overshadow his overall underhandedness, but with it, Trollope provides new perspective on the American businessman.
In general, Trollope does not condemn all Americans, despite what the popular sentiment may have been in England at the time. Mrs. Hurtle, for example, emerges from the novel an admirable character. Due to her hopes of marrying Paul Montague, she often resorts to manipulative tactics. In the chapter "Mrs. Hurtle Goes to the Play", she exercises tremendous skill in the art of courtship, at which she is "a perfect master" to cause Montague to forget, for an evening, his pending decision about their engagement (I, 260). The causes of this behavioral tendency almost justify it, as Mrs. Hurtle, searching for some stability in her life, is the victim of vicious rumors in the United States and of Paul Montague's weakness and indecisiveness. In no way, however, is Mrs. Hurtle herself weak. Quite strong-willed and independent, she fended for herself both in America and abroad. This strength of character is another endearing quality of this "wildcat" American women. The most important factor contributing to the favorable light in which Trollope portrays Winnifred Hurtle comes when she sacrifices her own happiness for Montague's, denying their relationship to salvage his with Hetta Carbury.
The Punch cartoon portrays an American businessman, unmistakable in his Uncle Sam attire, as the source of questionable business ventures. Mr. Fisker from San Francisco, in many ways fits this description, as he is decidedly American in his mannerisms and attitudes, and is certainly the executor of the railroad scam. As far as being slave to his vices, (as the cartoon, with Jonathan's enthusiastic appeal, " let' s liquor up!" , implies Americans might be) Fisker gambles and drinks, but in the good company of the English gentlemen from the Beargarden. In short, The Way We Live Now does contain a certain American stereotype, but within the same text, it is refuted due sometimes to Mr. Fisker' s behavior, and certainly because of Mrs. Hurtle's. America itself becomes a refuge for some characters, such as Mrs. Hurtle and Marie Melmotte, as well. Perhaps Trollope' s view of America stems from the relationship he fostered with an American women, Kate Field, with whom he became good friends.
Last modified 1996