The Duke’s Children: Chapters 71 to 75

Chapter seventy-one has a full page restoration after the first paragraph. This describes how an elder son may manipulate his father by threats to the smooth succession under primogeniture – even though Silverbridge never contemplates anything more drastic than temporarily removing himself to the United States. We also learn the whereabouts of the Duke, whose absence on political business delays Silverbridge’s plans.

When they eventually meet, there is a moment of dry Trollopian wit when the Duke’s  good humour is described as being “as it might have been had he heard that Sir Timothy had been banished into private life forever.” Everything about the Duke is measured in political terms – even his happy mood. He is political to his fingertips. It is surprising therefore that Silverbridge when he learns that his father has met Mr Boncasson and has come away from that meeting in anything but a stern frame of mind still “could form no judgment from his father’s manner of the result of that conversation.” He must be either a remarkably poor judge of his father’s character or have so rarely seen him so relaxed that he is unsure of what to make of it. Perhaps he is fooled by the Duke’s almost reflex response to use debating techniques honed in the House for this conversation with his son when, for example, he makes a telling pause in which it becomes clear that “the Duke seemed to think that it was now his son’s turn to make some remark.” These twists and turns in the conversation are lost in the shortened version which skips straight to the meat of the dialogue without these preliminary skirmishes.

Much can turn on a single word. Previous versions have had the Duke at this point describe the prospective marriage of his son to Isabel as “unwise”. The revised text has him describe it as “unfortunate”.  This has less of a tone of criticism than the previous adjective, which implied a lapse of judgement that should have been overcome whereas the tone is now more accepting of the inevitable power of the heart to overrule the head – which it is wise of the Duke to recognise.

We find the Duke realising that not only must he yield to his son but also to his daughter’s will. He thinks to himself that, “In all that he had done he had been tender-hearted, honest and forebearing.  In what had he ever consulted pleasures or even tastes of his own.” Here he is being a little less than frank with himself – he has exercised his judgment based on his personal prejudices on matters of rank with which his children are out of sympathy – largely because it suits them to be in their particular cases rather than on any specific principle.

There is a restoration in which, for one last time, the Duke presses Silverbridge on his rapid change of heart over Lady Mabel. This is a timely reminder, at the moment of his triumph, that Silverbridge has in truth hurt Mabel deeply in spite of her prior love for Tregear by dashing her hopes for a fulfilling and successful, secure future life.

And so the chapter ends on a puzzling note with a restoration in which Silverbridge “as he went away to dine at his club was not quite contented with the results of the evening.”

Chapter seventy-two has almost a full page restored at the start as Trollope waxes lyrical on the importance to the woman of the house which is to be her home once she is married, contrasting the woman’s perspective with the man’s view that its appearance is of as little importance “as a kennel to a dog.”

In a short restoration we learn that Isabel “had so wickedly taken herself off to the theatre with Mrs Montacute Jones” thereby frustrating Silverbridge when he wished to tell her personally that his father had come round to the prospect of their marriage. It appears that Isabel’s absence was deliberate – a coquettish trick to play on Silverbridge to treat him mean so as to keep him keen. In truth, Isabel has been far more clear-sighted and sensible about their romance throughout, to the point where I wonder that he should have felt that Mabel treated him as if she were the older and more experienced of them and was put off by this condescension when, in fact, Isabel was, if anything, even more mature than either of them in her dealings with Silverbridge. Perhaps she was sufficiently skillful that she was able to disguise even this from him.

When Silverbridge “led her away to her destiny” to meet the Duke as his acknowledged future daughter-in-law we are reminded how great a step Isabel has achieved in winning around the opinion of the Duke, whose formidable intellectual strength was diametrically opposed to her achieving that goal at the outset. She even foresees that Silverbridge, contrary to his own personal expectations may mature to be as great a statesman as his father, and half-persuades him of this possibility in a light-hearted, yet deep-down serious exchange. When he says that this he will never achieve it she says, “Why not? Or is it only because you are younger?” leading him to consider the point and concede “There is something in that I suppose.” The way is clearly being paved for Silverbridge to finally grow up into his responsibilities.

Chapter seventy-three resolves the rather difficult position between Silverbridge and Lady Mabel, of which, in a short passage reinserted into the opening paragraph, Trollope reminds us that “they certainly had not parted as enemies, though their last interview had been of such a nature as hardly to admit of an immediate renewal of friendship.” He clearly wishes the reader to understand their respective perspectives before moving their relationship forward.

Trollope, in his authorial preamble to their conversation, also deliberate obfuscates as to whether Mabel had really thought that Silverbridge had mistreated her or was merely saying so for effect because “at any rate [she] had not scrupled to say that she thought so.” In a short restoration he notes that though Silverbridge, as he has done throughout the novel when faced with a difficult emotional confrontation, wants to duck the issue as there is nothing more that he wishes to say, “But she thought differently, – so differently” and, of course, being the more socially adept of the two, manoeuvres him into accepting an invitation to meet.

The letter she writes is edited for the shorter version, removing a very strong line she writes that “nor will you hurt me.” This, I take to be a positive statement that it is not in his power to be able to hurt her feelings rather than a softer statement that he would not be so unkind as to hurt her even though it is in his power still to do so. I believe this interpretation is more consistent with her approach to the conversation in which she runs verbal rings around him and reduces him to conceding that he behaved badly when his original stance, that by rejecting him she released him from any obligation to continue his suit, is still tenable.

Trollope makes clear that after he receives the letter, Silverbridge is not just reluctant to go but that “he was also angry with her” because she was implicitly critical of not only Isabel (without proper justification) but also him because he had “in his own fashion” as usual persuaded himself that what he wanted to do – tell the world that he was engaged – was also the right and proper thing to do. But he decides to go and be civil “so long as no word was said imputing fault to Isabel.”

In the ensuing discussion a small phrase of Mabel’s is restored which says much about her true state of mind when she says that her conscience “is – no, not clear, but clear from that soil with which you think it should be smirched.” This is a subtly different wording to that which appears in previous versions where the all important caveat is missing. So Mabel acknowledges not only to herself but out loud to Silverbridge that her conscience is not as clear as the shorter version of the novel would have us believe it to be.

This is a more nuanced picture of Mabel’s complex character who can then go on to berate him for leaving her “abandoned” a pejorative term which his behaviour, in the light of her initial response, scarcely merits. Her selective attention to key parts of the past meetings is used to justify this and Silverbridge is too carried along by her arguments to hold onto the strong points of his own. She had, in accordance with the rules of the Victorian society mating game, misplayed her hand and now, because she is the quicker witted of the two, she is able to have a final, pyrrhic victory over him, so that “He did not know what to say to her…He could not assert that he had not given her the warrant of which she spoke.” Eventually she is able to goad him “are you not man enough to answer that for me?” To which the poor young man was “struck dumb by the question, but his face gave a true reply.”

Once she has thus cut him down to size she finally relents and says that she has never loved him so he need have no regrets, explicitly saying, “I am telling you this in order that you should have none.” So thoroughly does she understand him that she can pull off this emotional trick – that is to her still “so poor a triumph!”

She then reveals her true love is Tregear and exposes the hurt that “he broke himself from me so easily, just in compliance with the first word spoken.” How bitter she is still at that betrayal.  Maybe this is why she can be so objective in her manipulation of Silverbridge. He is soft enough to be hurt by her barbs in a way that the stronger Tregear is not.

Silverbridge’s stunned response continues into chapter seventy-four. He is appalled “that she should have tried her hand upon him and that she had confessed that she must now seek another victim, while she was conscious that her heart had been altogether given to Frank Tregear!” Trollope, of course, is not so naive as his protagonist and recognises that marriage is the only game available to women by which they might improve their lot in live. It is the be all and end all and their heart’s inclinations must be subservient to their head’s wiser counsel.

He bumps into Tregear on his father’s doorstep and the latter tells him, with more accuracy than charity, that “the Duke has yielded, – not with the very best grace.” Perhaps there is something after all in the Duke’s opinion that Tregear is arrogant. A rather dreadful pun is restored by which the Tregear’s reports that the Duke told him his suit has “not a leg to stand upon…but [I] simply stood there, as conclusive evidence that I had a leg.” Tregear, at this point, having got his way, is less than magnanimous in victory though he does admit, “I feel, you know, now, the disgrace of being a pauper.” Perhaps he too should take heed of the words the suddenly more mature Silverbridge uses as he advises his sister, “the conqueror always ought to be good-humoured…If you are gentle with him now, he will very soon be gentle with you, – and with Tregear.”

Almost by way of contrast with the triumphalism of Tregear, Silverbridge returns to his horror at the fate of Mabel Grex in a lengthy passage of nearly a page now restored. His genuine sympathy for her, in spite of her rather spiteful words in the preceding chapter, mark him out as one of Trollope’s thoroughly decent men, however irritating his behaviour has been at times. We are encouraged to forgive him the follies of his youth because he is at heart a good man.

The Duke, in contrast, is decidedly tetchy when Silverbridge goes to see him. It is a measure of how far the relationship between them has developed that the Duke allows his guard to drop and reveal his thoughts, perhaps to the surprise of his son, asking him “Well; – what you have me say?” This is all too human and the reader warms to the character of the Duke whose icy calm has finally thawed, allowing him to be himself in front of his son.

The Duke’s discomfiture continues during dinner so that “had he not felt himself compelled to acknowledge by the man’s presence that the man had overcome him, he would have succeeded much better in talking easily with poor Mrs Boncasson.” It is indeed an excruciating evening fraught with embarrassment for all concerned. Details of the conversation are restored which provide further evidence of this, including the Duke’s heavy-handed attempts at wit as he tries, and fails, to put his guests at ease and is conscious of his own failure. “It was not till afterwards that he could comfort himself by the reflection that though he had been perhaps almost ridiculous, still he had been honest and true to his purpose.” If readers did not feel for the Duke before when he was obdurate and distressed at being so towards his children, surely they must do so now when he has capitulated and tried to do so with all the grace he can muster under such, for him, unusual circumstances.

Chapter seventy-five begins with a restored paragraph in which we learn that Isabel went off to Paris because, “She had thought that a short separation from her lover before her wedding would be good for him, and had insisted on absenting herself.  He had rebelled and had threatened to follow her; but she at last had had her way, arguing, as she often did, that his time, his unlimited time for having his way, was fast coming.” Clearly she recognises that her husband to be still has some growing up to do and, I suspect, she will manage him equally effectively after their marriage, such is the disparity in social wiles between them. Trollope, here, no doubt, humourously reflecting what he saw all around him, all the time, in Victorian Society.

After Silverbridge agrees to meet the Major, a short restoration shows that, “He repented himself that he had done so as soon as he was alone.” He still prefers to duck difficult conversations but now has begun, like his brother, to tackle them rather than put them off.  He is growing up. He then has the wisdom to hold his tongue when Tifto says he has lost all his money, “not liking to say out loud that thieves can never make a good use of their plunder.” He then tells him that, “If I can forgive you, you can forgive the other man, and so let it go round.” Another indication of his growing maturity – although it is also a way of avoiding a conflict at a time when he would prefer to focus on enjoyable things.  So it is perhaps another example of where, for Silverbridge, doing the right thing and doing what suits him are remarkably aligned, at least in his mind.

The chapter concludes with a newly restored paragraph which reveals that Silverbridge kept quiet about the arrangement with Tifto for some time before admitting to his brother that he did so out of a sense of guilt.  We also learn that, unlike the implication in the shorter version of the novel that Tifto continued to receive the annuity permanently, in fact Tifto eventually became a successful publican and “lived to be able to tell his noble patron that the pension was no longer needed.” Trollope, thereby, allowed this rogue the dignity of redeeming himself – a truly Trollopian touch of faith in humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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