The Duke’s Children: Chapters 56-60

There are a number of cuts restored in chapter fifty-six relating to the political events in Polpenno which leaven the story somewhat – the certainty of Mr Williams that the by-election marks a watershed in the turning of the tide against dissenting churches re-appears as light-relief from the serious business of the obstacles which beset the Tregear/Lady Mary relationship.

We see Tregear’s father add a postscript to his admonishment to Frank to avoid unnecessary expenditure in his now position, saying that he “did not like to stand in your way… when the offer came. And yet I felt I was hardly justified.” This is not exactly a resounding endorsement of the son’s ambitions.

There is, however, a crucial omission from Frank’s letter to Mabel which is corrected. He now says Mabel should tell Mary of his success “unless you feel you will be breaking confidence by doing so”. This now makes sense of the Duke’s subsequent remark in the original shorter text about “breaking confidence” which seems otherwise a strange choice of phrase under the circumstances. Indeed, there is a short exchange between Mabel and the Duke which precedes the Duke using this odd phrase which gives the context for him saying it and makes the whole concluding paragraph of the chapter flow much more smoothly.

The inclusion of the extra line in the letter also reveals that Tregear is acutely conscious of Mabel’s difficult position trying to retain the Duke’s support for her as a potential bride for Silverbridge and recognises that he should not ask her to do anything to jeopardise this. The cut removed this evidence of his sensitivity in this area.

There is also a short restration of a further part of Mabel’s reaction to Tregear’s obviously having moved on from her in writing to her about his new love – not the most sensitive thing to do – in which she determines “that a time should come when she would extract some penalty for his absolute desertion.” This all too human response shows Mabel in a more rounded light and also foreshadows a possible future action when she does not stick to her current policy of doing all she can to aid his cause. I can’t decide whether this is an example of Trollope eschewing tension by giving away future events or actually ratcheting up tension as a plot-device in a more conventional way.

An early restoration in chapter fifty-seven reiterates the explanation of the mysterious disappearing groom who, we are reminded, after aiding Tifto to nobble the horse promptly emigrated with his money from Captain Green. We also learn shortly afterwards that the timing and location of the meeting was decided so as to reduce the likely attendance by Tifto’s London-based supporters which suggests that the anti-Tifto party in the hunt was, with typical English desire to avoid a scene, seeking to rush the decision through with the minimum of fuss. A further lengthy restoration explains the steps taken by the anti-Tifto camp to exclude possible non-members that they feared Tifto might seek to bring to the meeting by the expedient of placing “two stout farmers” on the door though Trollope uses their actions for comic relief as the dignity of certain members who have failed to pay their subscriptions is somewhat wounded when they are excluded.

A short authorial comment that Mr Jawstock was too direct in his condemnation of Tifto and his alleged actions, comparing the need for the Master of the Hunt to be as free from rumour as Caesar’s wife,  noting “that this little studied peroration might have been spared” once again pokes fun at the English desire to avoid unseemly direct confrontations.

Finally, a paragraph is restored in which Mr Jawstock’s thinking on putting the matter to a vote sooner rather than later gives Trollope the chance to observe that although men like  to voice their own opinions in such meetings, “in an assembly of Britons who ever knew an opinion to be swayed by any amount of eloquence”. Trollope was ever the cynic in respect of such matters and not afraid to point them out to the English middle classes who were the worst culprits in this respect.

At the start of chapter fifty-eight we learn in a restoration that Tregear has more insight into Lady Mabel’s plans than Silverbridge who, we discover, thought she would be leaving Matching to go to Miss Cassewary’s brother’s home for Christmas. This indicates that the intimacy between Tregear and Lady Mabel continues to be deeper even now than Silverbridge’s stalled romance with her ever went. Tregear is once again seen to be a mature foil to reflect even more on the immaturity of Silverbridge.  The latter’s continued ducking of the difficult issue of his own making, meanwhile, reflects poorly on him. He even in a second short restoration continues to blame Mabel.  He thinks that although he couldn’t defend his own rapid change of heart, “neither could she have defended herself.  She had not blushed, and been soft and gentle to him, when he had said soft words to her.” True though this may be, it is an abdication of responsibility for his own actions on Silverbridge’s part.

In the middle of Tifto’s letter to Silverbridge there is an authorial interjection, explaining the meaning of M.F.H. for the uninitiated.  Trollope, as a keen hunter, would habitually use the jargon but recognised this would not necessarily be the case for his readership, but, correctly, was of the view that it was the authentic language which Tifto and his ilk would have used.

Perhaps most tellingly, there is a second paragraph restored in Silverbridge’s reply to Tifto, which says, “I am obliged to decline any further correspondence with you on this subject, – and perhaps I had better say, on any other.” This is a very hard line to take with a former companion and provides further explanation for why Tifto is then reluctant to show the letter, or even admit its existence, to his supporters. I cannot help but feel that Tifto, in spite of his faults, is hard done by.  No-one nowadays can blame him for trying to rise up in the world and Silverbridge’s friendship offered him an opportunity. But that was getting above himself in Victorian eyes.  Trollope, and society in general, frowned upon such blurring of the distinctions between the different classes, as we have seen in words he has put into the mouth of the Duke in chapter forty-eight and, more tellingly, in his thoughts and actions.

The chapter ends with a page long restoration which continues beyond the point at which the shorter version ends. It describes at length the practical difficulties the Runnymede hunt experienced as a result of the decision to remove Tifto as Master of the Hounds. This adds nothing to the key storylines of the novel but provides an amusing aside at the expense of those who fail to foresee the consequences of their self-righteous actions.  Trollope, again, has his joke, satirising the society in which he lived – making his readership laugh at themselves (or at least the caricatures of themselves).

Chapter fifty-nine finds Silverbridge somewhat perturbed that his father “must…be very blind to things around him” in keeping Lady Mabel as a house-guest over the Christmas period. Truly a case of “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” if I may quote the King James edition. While the criticism of his father is valid, he himself fails to recognise that by then continuing to wander around the grounds with Lady Mabel as just good friends, he is blind to the impact this will have on either her or Isabel eventually and flying in the face of Victorian convention – for which society will blame the woman rather than him.

There is a short paragraph restored which will amuse readers of Phineas Redux as Mrs Finn recounts a story of how she and her husband were brought together in a hunting incident (in which she plays the active part and Phineas the passive) from that novel. Such asides are typically Trollopian and lend greater substance to his fictional world sustained over more than a dozen novels (remembering that some series characters also feature in one off novels such as Miss Mackenzie  and The American Senator).

The first conversation in which Mabel tries to win round we learn from Silverbridge that “Tregear was always a little hard with him about Tifto…[and] To his father he had not dared to speak about that correspondence.” From which we may understand that Silverbridge remains in awe of his father, and a little also of Tregear, which suggests that he still has some growing up to do. At the end of this conversation Trollope makes clear in a restored extra paragraph that “there came up between the two something like a renewal of confidence, and this was done altogether without reference to the subject which was nearest to the hearts of each of them.” Such signalling on Trollope’s part is in keeping with his belief that there should exist between him and his readers no artificial barriers or constraints of the type used by most writers to build tension in a plot. Arguably Trollope is his own most reliable narrator.

Christmas Day, which passes wholly unremarked in the shortened version does merit a single sentence in the restored version, noting Silverbridge is forced by the ladies to attend two church services, much to his disgust. Trollope is, in so many ways, the antithesis of Dickens, who would always make the very most of any Christmas scene in his work.  For Trollope it is just another day passing in the service of his character-driven plot. We do learn however that as the days pass without any successful conclusion of the supposed romance, the Duke feels the strain because “It was a matter in which it was so hard for a father to interfere!”

Our sympathies for Mabel are raised by her admission to herself that should she fail as a result of her initial mishandling of Silverbridge it was because she was not “in some slight degree better acquainted with the game which she was playing.” Such self-awareness in Mabel, indeed in all the younger female characters, is notably absent in Silverbridge. He seems to lack the depth of character to attract the intelligent women yet he does so.  It must be attributable to a significant extent to his physical sex-appeal. Trollope several times calls him beautiful which is as close as a decent Victorian might go to describing his male character’s attractiveness to the opposite sex. Mabel certainly plays her hand better this time, convincing him “that she now, at least, respected him as a man.  It had been a ground of complaint with him that she had treated him like a boy.” Whereas, in fact, she is now playing him like an angler plays a fish. Poor deluded boy. She even manages to convince herself (albeit with more than half an eye on the pecuniary and social advantages of the match) so that “at this moment she did believe that she loved him”.

Chapter sixty sees Silverbridge, to my mind, turn a corner. A series of restored phrases in the opening paragraph show that he is genuinely affected by the impact his change of heart has had on Mabel and “that he had contributed anything to her unhappiness”.  Yet, even though “he was very, very sorry…but not on that account could he sever himself from Isabel Boncasson.” These suggest that he is at last growing up, showing strength of character and facing his responsibilities.

Silverbridge recognises that his father could resolve Gerald’s gambling debt as “That sure fount of love and assistance would certainly pour forth the needed waters at once” but decides to take responsibility for resolving his brothers problems himself. In this he is being unselfish for perhaps the first time on such a scale. It is a big step to take towards being a real man and one that Trollope himself must have recognised from his own life which he turned around after a feckless youthful hobbledehoy period.

He even shows, in his letter to Gerald, sufficient self-awareness now to recognise that his father makes allowances for him because he is “understood to be such a donkey” but wishes to spare his brother from a similar fate. In his final comment in the letter he also shows empathy with Lady Mabel for having such a brother.

At last I can start to feel warmer towards Silverbridge – it has taken long enough, as we have now reached the three-quarter way point through the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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