The Duke’s Children: Chapters 51-55

Something of the Duke’s uncertainty about his own position, about which he would be thought to be most sure, is betrayed in a little cut early in chapter fifty-one. He half-writes the letter of explanation to Tregear that we know he has been contemplating but then destroys it and sends the original.  He does so not because he feels it contains errors in its line of thought as to why the marriage to Lady Mary is unsuitable, but because, “It behoved him, above all things, to be secure.” The very existence of a letter in which he puts forwards these arguments might, he feel be capable of subsequent use against him, of arguments to refute those he had given, and thereby threaten his security and that of his family in their privileged position. This indicates a degree of insecurity in the Duke which is otherwise carefully hidden.

In another short restoration we learn that the Duke has an “easy heart” on the risk of Silverbridge being tempted by Isabel’s beauty because Silverbridge had “but the other day” told him of his intention to propose to Lady Mabel. He fails to understand how changeable could be that young man’s heart – demonstrating the gulf of misunderstanding and incomprehension of one another that remains between father and son.

Lady Mary takes after her father in reading more into people’s words than they intend to imply when she takes her fathers statement that Silverbridge knows what is expected of him to imply that she has failed to adhere to the same standard herself in her choice of suitor. Yet a restoration confirms that “The Duke had been innocent of any such intention.” Evidence of a similar gulf of misunderstanding between father and daughter even though both are more mature than the brother so it cannot be explained away by the age difference alone. Mary must have learned to read much between the lines of what her father says to glean the true meaning of his words, including the unstated words. That she sometimes over-interprets is a sad indication of the hyper-sensitivity she has, in fact, inherited from her father.

The difference between sister and brother is clearly shown in another restoration at the end of the letter she writes to her brother which, “Mary as she read this over thought that it must be effective” in indicating to her brother that he should not come. Yet, much to her surprise he says he will come to Matching.  She would have understood the meaning she implied in her letter and cannot understand that he does not – or interprets it differently.

The chapter also includes a restoration of nearly a page of public comment, largely hostile from The People’s Banner, on the gathering of guests proposed by the Duke.  This includes an aside to the reader which assumes familiarity with the previous novel in the series The Prime Minister, saying the animosity of the newspaper need not be explained because those familiar with the back-story will know of that paper’s anti-Omnium position.

We also see from Lady Mary’s musings on Isabel’s letter that Isabel in accepting the invitation has grounds for believing that Silverbridge has done what she asked of him and talked over with his father and family the possibility of their marrying.  In this Isabel mistakes her man. He is too diffident and wishes to be more sure of her before committing himself definitely with his family. (If only he had so hedged his bets on the horse!)

We see more of the workings of Silverbridge’s mind in a restoration in the final paragraph in which he concludes of Lady Mabel that “It might be that his father would have ground of complaint, but surely she would have none. This says more about his naivety and lack of insight into women in general and Mabel in particular than it does about her.

Silverbridge’s lack of insight continues in the next chapter when he tells Mabel that the romance between his sister Mary and his friend Tregear “never can come to any good; I am sure of that.” In contrast with his almost hobbledehoy-like character, Mabel, though suffering at his desertion, is immediately able to turn from Silverbridge during dinner to speak with “Mr Erle [who] was sitting on the other side of her, and her endeavours soon seemed to be crowned with perfect success.”

The maturity of the young woman, in such contrast to Silverbridge, is perhaps attributable to their need to see marriage as the only viable career option for a girl in their social position. So Isabel can determine that “If he never said another word, neither would she.”

Trollope takes the opportunity at this point to excise another paragraph of political gossip which when restored lends greater depth to the reader’s understanding of the machinations of Victorian political life and, with a sly nod to readers of previous novels in the series, how the press, in the shape of The People’s Banner, was just as much of a nefarious influence then as it is now.

I am intrigued by an amendment in this chapter which changes the reference to “especially that duke whose good-will would be imperative” to use a capital “D” for the title. I am of the view that this is incorrect as although this is clearly referring to the Duke of Omnium, it does so using the word  “duke” as a noun rather than as a title. The Duke of Omnium is, of course, a duke but the noun “duke” needs no capital “D”. I fear I am labouring the point now!

Chapter fifty-three begins with a near full page restoration of detail of the political agreements on the composition of a future Liberal cabinet. This is most interesting not for the actual make up of the cabinet but by the small aside it contains in which Trollope reveals that it was the making of these arrangements which so fascinated Phineas Finn and Barrington Earle while the Duke of Omnium  and Mr Monk were more pre-occupied with policy matters. As ever, the Duke is more concerned with substance than style.

We are also given further insight into the impact on Lady Mary of the prolonged separation from her suitor. “During all those five months she had not heard his name mentioned…It might be for years, – or it might be for ever!” Clearly she is edging closer to despair as time passes.

Trollope also expressly comments that the Duke “was not crafty in managing either his family or his political adherents” drawing a  direct parallel between his failure (to come) in this novel with his family and his previous failure to hold the coalition cabinet together in the previous novel The Prime Minister. Trollope makes frequent allusions of this kind which take the readers into his confidence as trusted friends with whom his relationship goes back over many past stories.

Trollope also shows us that Mabel knows in her heart of hearts that she has lost the battle for Silverbridge in the short restoration that when comparing the need for both Duke, as father, and Silverbridge, as son, to consent to a marriage by Silverbridge to either her or Isabel, it was her own need for the son’s consent that “she feared would be the more difficult to attain.” This in spite of the fact, as we learn from another brief restoration that “they were often together”. Silverbridge, it seems, can give up his habit of keeping Lady Mabel dangling now he has secured Isabel, which is not a very pleasant trait.

Conversely, we learn that Isabel – as clear-eyed as Mabel –  “never deluded herself into feeling that she was overcoming the one difficulty that stood in her way” namely the consent of the Duke.

There is a moment of Trollopian irony restored when he observes that Silverbridge, in invoking the argument that Mr Boncasson’s objections to a mechanic would be unsuitable as a potential suitor on the grounds that the mechanic failed the “gentleman” test, is “using the argument with which his sister had always supported her cause.” The brother and sister share the same fundamental beliefs but each apply them in their own favour for what they wish to do while being inconsistent by failing to follow the same principle in respect of each others’ choices.

We also see in another restoration how much wiser Mr Boncasson is in respect of his daughter and her happiness than is the Duke. “Mr Boncasson listened to his daughter without rebuke.  It was her affair and not his. When asked his advice he could give it, but that was all.” If only the Duke could see the wisdom of following this approach – but then there would be no tension and no novel to write. And the Duke has two children who are determined to marry whomsoever they choose whereas Mr Boncasson’s daughter, however deeply she is in love – and she is truly in love as much as either of the Duke’s children – she retains sufficient sense and objectivity to realise that though this may be the be all and end all for her happiness at the moment, if it cannot be then she must get on with her life without her chosen love (which does make me wonder what she sees in the comparatively shallow character, Silverbridge, apart from him being devastatingly handsome and suitably modest about his own worth). We also see in a brief final sentence restored to the chapter that she is even aware of the possibility of gossip since they were seen walking alone together into a private and secluded part of the gardens.

All of which brings us to the end of the second volume of the shortened three volume version of the novel. Will Silverbridge ever summon the courage to tackle his father even now after he has been reassured by Isabel that she loves him?

Chapter fifty-four shows a little more of the suffering Mabel undergoes, not just at Silverbridge’s change of heart, from whom “she must put up with things now which she had once thought she could never have endured” but, in another short restoration, that of Tregear whose shift of affections to Lady Mary was both swift and “with a sincerity which was hardly gratifying to her.” Trollope here shows masterly understatement to achieve his poignant effect.

Mabel hopes Silverbridge may “as a bee strays from one flower to another… be prone to change, so that in his vacillations he might come back to her.” This shows the desperate straits to which she is now reduced. Is the love of a man, whom she describes to herself as a “boy”, and who is so easily swayed, worth the having? In her heart her answer is surely “no” but her hard financial calculating head says “yes” as Trollope so skillfully draws out.

Mabel naturally feels enmity towards her rival though she admits “I have not a word to say against her character.” Trollope here cannot help but present a balanced perspective which ensures we, as readers, are not left too much against her if our attachment is more towards Isabel. Both are sympathetically portrayed. Yet we also learn that Mabel can be manipulative as when she blushes “with a purposed blush” at the Duke’s very obvious statement that he would like to see Mabel as a sister to Mary.

A small restoration sees the Duke question how Tregear can afford to stand for the vacant seat at Polpenno and Silverbridge saying that Tregear’s father will meet the costs.  This short exchange reveals that the Duke has at some point closely scrutinised Tregear’s financial position and to a great extent it justifies the Duke in his disdain for a young man who chooses to follow paths in life for which he has no finance and simply expects others to come up with the necessary financial support. The Duke, for once, is more in line with the thinking of a 21st century reader than the arch-conservative of the nineteenth century he might otherwise appear.

We also see the first hint,  in the restored version, to the Duke that all is not as it seems regarding the Duke’s support for a marriage to Mabel when Silverbridge makes his excuses and rushes away rather than answer his father’s question, “leaving the Duke altogether in doubt as to what there might be to be explained.”

And in a hurried exchange at the end of the chapter, Mabel must once again suffer the torments of discussing her old love Tregear with Silverbridge who has also abandoned her, during which she wisely foretells that if Tregear enters Parliament, “He will do well there, and that will force your father to respect him.”  Trollope, again, giving readers an accurate assessment of the situation from the mouth of one of the women involved while the men persist in misunderstanding the position.

The entire first page of chapter fifty-five is restored giving detailed background on the constituency, its past MPs and introducing Mr Carbottle who will be Tregear’s rival in the election. It is the sort of trivia which endears Trollope to his readers but exasperates his critics who accuse him of padding. Trollope’s own brand of social politics – Liberal with conservative tendencies (note the capitalisations and lack thereof) is revealed in a brief restoration in which the rival is falsely accused of being “in favour of women’s rights and republican tendencies” worse views than which it is not possible to hold. Much can be learned about the times in which they lived that another conservative (and also Conservative) voice should with heavy irony suggest that “A Turk or a Mohammedan if he had made money enough to be called an enlightened man would be just the member for Polpenno.” This anti-Islamic feeling, here ironic since the prospect was then so remote, is still found today, little changed and, if anything, more deeply felt.

Tregear goes on to describe himself – after outlining his political creed – as a “philanthropic patriot”. However, his arguments are anything but philanthropic and are not well thought through. I wonder whether Trollope, who at this point is using the discussion to drive Silverbridge to the realisation that he is, in fact, a Liberal like his father, is deliberately showing the poor arguments for the Conservative cause because he, as a staunch Liberal, cannot himself believe them. If so he does an injustice to his political rivals and to his character, Tregear, who appears in a poor light through these discussions as a somewhat unthinking and prejudiced in a way that is inconsistent with the picture we have of him to date, based on Mary’s perspective. I am left wondering if he is he actually worthy of her.

The upshot of this conversation, revealed in a paragraph now restored is that Silverbridge thinking that if Tregear were to become an MP “the Duke’s opposition might be in some degree softened”. This suggests for the first time that Silverbridge is now at least partly sympathetic to his friend’s ongoing suit for his sister’s hand. This change may be attributable to the dilemma he faces in his own choice of bride, contrary to the wishes of his father. Maybe Silverbridge has more empathy than his actions and words to date would imply? Indeed, this may also account for the phrase used later that Silverbridge “had ideas of his own”. Perhaps this is only now starting to be true – even though his own ideas in this case are now actually shifting from those of his friend to those of his father.

Another restoration may speak of Trollope’s personal experience when standing unsuccessfully at Beverley. In an authorial aside he notes that though the blows of his enemies must be endured it is the inadvertent blows of his friends that “are sometimes excruciating.” How true. Did Trollope too suffer the unhelpful support of the kind that Tregear received from the rector, Mr Williams? Indeed, another paragraph cut in the original and now restored is a further extended comic “joke” at the expense of this rector on whether Scottish Presbyterians are or are not Dissenters while their English cousins clearly are. Such moments of levity brighten Trollope’s novels and add to the overall enjoyment through the greater light and shade they bring to the tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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