The Duke’s Children: Chapters 31-35

Unlike in many of the preceding chapters, the longest cut in chapter thirty-one falls in the first paragraph and is also the most significant.

Not only does it give more, and subtly different details, about the occasions when Silverbridge tried but failed to propose to Lady Mabel three times in a three week period over the end of June and beginning of July, but it also gives a blow by blow account of an argument between them about the other pair of lovers, Lady Mary and Frank Tregear. We learn first that Mabel “Was very sorry at first that he [Tregear] should have come in….But I was glad of it afterwards, because I could see what sort of a girl she was. Of course she will marry him. Cart-ropes won’t keep them apart. Then Silverbridge had become angry and had expressed an opinion that they would have to be kept apart, whether by cart-ropes or other means.  He had altogether taken his father’s part and had become rather violent. ‘It was monstrous,’ he had said, ‘that a girl like that should think that she was going to have her own way!'”

How would the Duke have felt had he known that his troublesome elder son was taking exactly the same stance on this matter as he was? Trollope is no doubt fully alive to the irony of Silverbridge’s own impending failure to do as his father would wish when he transfers his attentions from Lady Mabel to Isabel Boncasson, who will be regarded by the Duke as impossible to contemplate as a potential wife for his son because she is an American with no noble lineage. Both are, of course, taking a typical Victorian line regarding the female side of their family but, as he so often does, Trollope shows that feminine strategy is often able to achieve its ends and frustrate masculine designs.

In a short cut later, Mabel refers prophetically to the possibility of Silverbridge marrying Isabel saying that “It must come to that unless somebody stops him.” It seems that she is already resigned to this possibility yet with this cut, there is ambiguity left in the shorter version which may make for greater tension in the plot subsequently. Not that Trollope was overly concerned with maintaining such tensions, frequently reassuring readers that the hero and heroine of any love-story will eventually emerge together from the trials and tribulations they will endure through the pages of his novels.

In the succeeding chapter, a comic interlude, we nevertheless find some telling cuts restored. Trollope explicitly states, in case any reader was as dense on matters of the heart as Lord Silverbridge, that Isabel Boncasson “refused to dance with him because she thought too much of him.” And shortly afterwards Silverbridge even refers to her mother in less than flattering terms, “What a woman to have for a mother-in-law!” Evidently, having intended to marry Lady Mabel his affections have very quickly been transferred to Isabel, if he is using such terms when thinking to himself.

That Isabel has played Silverbridge expertly to bring about this change is left in no doubt by her equally expert handling of Dolly Longstaff here.  Even though she disingenuously claims to be unaware of Dolly’s intentions towards her, Trollope ironically notes in a short restored cut that she does so “looking as though she were, in truth, very much in the dark on the subject.”

Her sense of self-worth is also made clearer by another restoration that, though she would have to change her name on marrying (how times have changed since then), “but unless I could be something as having been Isabel Boncasson, I should be quite discontented with myself.”

Yet Trollope still allows an element of doubt as to her possible social snobbery to tease the reader as to her true motives.  Following what must surely qualify as an early Freudian Slip (before the term had been coined) when she refers to the possibility of her marrying a duke, Trollope qualifies what in the short version of the novel is a definite statement, that it had not occured to her that Silverbridge would eventually become a duke, with the caveat “or if she had heard it, she probably was too little acquainted with the intricacies of English rank to bear it in mind.” No experienced reader of Trollope would ever take such a statement by him at face value.

Her intentions in that direction are made clear by a subsequent cut referring to Isabel taking Dolly’s arm to return to the party but that she knew she would have to drop it before she came back within sight – in case she was observed by Silverbridge who might infer too much from such intimacy in a secluded part of the garden. This American has clearly read and understood the rules by which the game is to be played on English soil.

The rather bad-tempered chapter thirty-three gives Trollope the opportunity to do what few Victorian novelists would have dared to do, that is to show his heroine being rude and exhibiting a grumpy side to her character. Admittedly, in this instance, Isabel is provoked by Dolly Longstaff’s persistence with his suit after she has pointedly refused to hear him out but one exchange that is restored shows her being particularly sharp with him:

“‘If you go on, I will ring the bell and go upstairs.’

‘In that case I would only send the waiter after you.’

‘Then I should desire him to get you a cab and to see you off the premises.'”

She is, of course, waiting in for Silverbridge to call and takes out her disappointment on Dolly (although when Silverbridge does arrive she is similarly curt with him, I should point out). The lengths that she has gone to with this meeting with Silverbridge in mind are made clear in another lengthy restored cut; “perhaps it was this which induced her to decline going with her mother to Westminster Abbey…She pleaded that the heat and the general mugginess of the weather kept her in…but perhaps no injury will be done to her by the suggestion that when she thought of the weather she thought also of Lord Silverbridge. But it must not be supposed that she intended to deceive her mother in regard to the visit of a young man. She would have had no hesitation in saying he was coming to see her, had she been sure of the fact. Her mind and conscience in the matter were just as they might have been had she been a young man instead of a young woman.” From which we learn much, not only from Trollope’s deftly ironic use of “perhaps” twice within the paragraph, but also that Isabel, as an American, was both aware of but not constrained by the etiquette which tightly controlled the behaviour of young ladies of English society. Indeed, she has the self-assurance to rise above them.

Indeed, Isabel is acutely aware that her American heritage may be held against her and one restoration reveals that her voice lacked her “national nasal twang, to be free from which had been one of the great labours of her life.”  This indicates the extent to which she appears to have in fact premeditatedly set out to capture an English husband since, as another cut reveals, “…at her age, let her say what she might, the admiration of which she thought most was the admiration of young men. How can it be otherwise with a girl when she knows that it is to be her lot to marry some young man.”

There is, however, one restoration which gives me pause for thought. As the two men take their leave of Isabel, they both in succession wish her “Good morning.” Earlier in the chapter it is twice made clear that their calls upon her take place in the afternoon – Dolly arriving first “between three and four o’clock”. It would seem to me that Trollope’s decision to cut these words is attributable to him realising that he had made a mistake in the timing, making it a correction rather than a later edit to reduce length. It is clear that the wealthy young Victorians were not early risers, but would they have used the words “Good morning” to take their leave of someone at about four in the afternoon? And even if they did, is it wise for a 21st Century editor to risk confusing a contemporary readership by including this phrase when deciding which cuts and amendments to restore or replace?

The entire second paragraph of chapter thirty-four was cut and its restoration shows Trollope in an authorial aside speaking directly to the mothers and fathers of his readership about the gulf between theory and practice when applied to their own children’s budding love affairs as they grow up.  He does this to show that the Duke’s intransigence, with which the audience has little sympathy, being all on the side of Lady Mary, is in fact exactly what they, his readers would do, when faced with the same situation.  This holding up a mirror to people’s hypocrisy is one of Trollope’s strengths and never more so than when speaking directly to them in his own voice in such asides. He points out that both the Duke, and Lady Cantrip when assisting him in this interference “felt soiled by his or her share of the performance.” Such insight into the self-doubts which assail even the most strong minded characters is rarely found and adds much here to our understanding of their actions.

The extent of their misguidedness in their attempt at match-making with Lord Popplecourt is revealed in another lengthy restoration in which it is made clear that Lord Popplecourt “was made proud by the Duke’s notice, an began to think that it might be within the scope of his abilities to make a political figure in the country.” He has no interest in Lady Mary but only thinks of the possible political advantages to be gained by his association with the Duke. How ironic, but yet how inevitable, that the Duke should have selected such a man as the most suitable potential husband for his daughter. He truly has no idea of what will be attractive to her or would be most likely to make her happy, so obsessed is he with the parallel between Lady Mary’s infatuation, as he sees it, with a poor (and therefore unsuitable) man, Tregear, and her mother’s earlier infatuation with the poor (but also wastrel, though the Duke does not recognise this important additional fault is absent in the case of Tregear, who is quite the opposite of a wastrel) Burgo Fitzgerald.

The folly of their course of action is ultimately reinforced in the final sentence restored to the chapter in which Silverbridge, who is just as strong as his father against the marriage of Lady Mary to Tregear, ponders, “Why on earth should his father or Lady Cantrip want to have Lord Popplecourt down at Richmond?” So, we learn, that from a younger, and therefore in Trollopian matters romantic more accurate, perspective, Popplecourt is so far beyond the pale as a potential lover as to be not even considered in that light by one who might be expected to be anxious to find such a person to throw in his sister’s way.

Chapter thirty-five opens with a paragraph with Lady Mabel seeing clearly that the Duke “looked at [her as one] whom he was making welcome to his house and his heart as a future daughter.” With the clarity of vision of the young, she sees through the stratagems of the older generation, as when, in the middle of a lengthy cut now restored, we discover that “questions of rank enabled Lady Cantrip so to manage matters that Silverbridge should sit next to Lady Mabel, and Popplecourt to Lady Mary.”

However Popplecourt and Lady Mary are oblivious, the latter because she could not at this point conceive that any such stratagem might be applied in her case and the former because, as another cut reveals, he is still under the misapprehension that the Duke’s favouritism towards him is political rather than matrimonial. Thus, in an awkward and embarrassing conversation with Lady Mary, which is considerably lengthened by restored cuts, “He would not confess that he had himself ‘skipped’ church, not knowing whether the Duke had any strong opinions on the matter.”

There were also cuts in the conversation between Silverbridge and Lady Mabel. One restoration adds in a teasing reference by her to Silverbridge giving her his share of the horse the Prime Minister to which Silverbridge tellingly says he “would not introduce [her] to a partnership with such a man as my friend the Major”. Evidently he is now fully aware of the poor choice of companion he has made.

The political discussions in this chapter are somewhat curtailed in the shorter version, notably a paragraph on the home rule (for Ireland) debate, and the restorations show that the Duke “by the end of dinner had worked himself into a good humour, as he had done when he dined with his son at the club.”  This little touch reveals so much about the man – how he can unbend when he forgets himself and that he does so most easily when the talk is good-natured political banter. He is not so serious as he appears at first sight and can be good company – which perhaps explains why so many people genuinely like him rather than simply “suck up” to him for his money, power and influence. If he were the political automaton that some critics of the Palliser series suggest then this affection in which he is held would be inexplicable.






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