La Vendee – Cambridge seminar group 27 July

With apologies for the technical glitch which prevents me putting the acute accent over the second “e” in La Vendee!

While it was agreedthat this was not everybody’s favourite Trollope novel, the good weather and the pleasant garden party atmosphere in Pamela’s beautiul Cambridge garden helped us apreciate some of the positive aspects of Anthony’s first and last venture into historical fiction.

Several participants had brought detailed maps of the Bocage and Tom Rawcliffe’s usual detailed cast list helped to focus our minds while we also had the opportunity to compare the fiction with the lively Memoirs of the Marchioness de la Rochejaquelein on which it was loosely based. It was interesting to compare the treatment of the real historical characters with the fictional ones and we wondered why Anthony had chosen to keep the Marchioness herself well in the background when her own story had been so heroic.  Of course, to the Victorians, this was still relatively recent history.

It was accepted that there were many exciting and compelling scenes within the plot and that Anthony’s developing skill at characterisation was apparent even in a novel which, in commercial terms, was right at the bottom of the list.  The depressing fact that many of the characters, fictional and otherwise, eventually died and that there were few positive points about the ending affected the ultimate judgement of many.  However, there were many strong moments and aspects of the story such as the Stein family, the changing Denot/Agatha relationship and the beautiful scene between Agatha and Cathelineau’s mother.

The good weather combined with a magnificent tea perhaps helped to make the group more sympathetic towards a novel that has had more than its fair share of criticism.  Anthony, of course, was just about to embark on The Warden and to become finally both a successful and popular novelist. All the indications can be found within La Vendee.

– report by Michael Williamson



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