Monthly Archives: November 2016

He Knew He Was Right: a new Audible book

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Victorian consumption of novels often took the form of the father reading the story aloud to the gathered family. It seems that in our busy modern world, where being seated around the fireplace together is as rare an event as an apology from a waiter in a Parisian restaurant, that we have nevertheless found our way around a great circle to return to having books read to us. Now, however, instead of the bushy, grey-bearded paterfamilias serving as the narrator for the assembled wife and children, we enjoy the narration spoken confidentially into our ears through earbuds, earphones and headphones on the move as we hurry from one appointment to the next on crowded public transport.

Audible is one company which has sprung up to serve this new demand and I have just listened to the unabridged version of He Knew He Was Right, Trollope’s long, dark novel of the breakdown of a marriage, read by Nigel Patterson which is published through Listen2abook.com.

The first thing that strikes me as I listen to Patterson’s narration is how much younger he sounds than I expected. Surprisingly so. His voice does not conjure up that middle-aged, bearded father figure, lugubriously expounding for the benefit of his family, but instead comes across as a pleasant and lively conversationalist, relating the tale to you. Given the intensity of the subject matter and psychologically deep waters he negotiates, Patterson manages to propel you through the story so that the pace does not flag while doing more than adequate justice to the drama of the unfolding catastrophe.

A quick comparison with several of the other audiobooks I have experienced revealed that he reads some 20% quicker (more words per minute) than the narrators of “classics” than a random sample of alternatives – at least one of which I have listened to very happily only recently (and others that I have dipped into in advance, for the purposes of forming the comparison, from my “to be read (to me)” pile, if I may call it that. His pace is more akin to that I have found in audio versions of modern thrillers – indeed, his catalogue of audio books he has narrated comprises predominantly modern rather than classic novels.

He achieves this pace while maintaining absolute clarity of diction, which makes listening both pleasant and easy. Indeed, the sound quality of the download on my Kindle, with it’s tiny built in speaker is more than acceptable at the  volume necessary to listen while doing something else (cooking since you ask) across the room at the same time. And through earphones it is even better.

As with the best of other narrators to whom I have listened, he manages to maintain the sense of the convoluted, many-claused Victorian sentences for the listener with careful attention to the punctuation pauses to convey the impact of the meaning. He also handles the dialogue with a sure touch, whether it be male protagonists’ or females’ speech he is pronouncing. I never lost the thread of the conversations as he shifted from one speaker to another and back.

Overall, I found the Audible download experience very pleasant – I listened mainly at home in the evenings or during the day when the tasks in hand did not require full concentration. I did not try the online alternative, which avoids the clogging up of valuable memory space on your device by streaming the narration, though with a reasonable Wi-fi connection and broadband speed I have no reason to doubt it would be similar quality. In many respects it is easier to manage (whether by download or streaming) than a box of CDs – though you do then miss out on the more tangible sense of ownership that a physical product provides.  But that may be simply my middle-aged prejudice.

Certainly, there was never any problem with losing my place as the playback instantly restarted from the last location at which the narration was paused, and navigation from chapter to chapter in the menu could not be simpler.

Indeed, Audible offers options to bookmark locations within the novel, appending your own notes to these locations, to jump forward and backward through the novel in 30 minute (or other duration) leaps, to speed or slow the speed of narration (without creating the high-pitched novelty voice when speeded-up, or to set in advance a timer to switch off the narration after a pre-determined time period (up to an hour) or to a chapter end, enabling you to doze off to sleep with the comfort of the narrator reading you your bedtime story.

All this functionality has been thought through to enhance the user’s experience and to suit the varying requirements of those purchasing the books.

I can therefore only recommend trying out the experience to anyone who has not previously given audiobooks a go and, when doing so, can equally recommend Nigel Patterson’s reading of  He Knew He Was Right, as one of Trollope’s later, more  psychologically challenging, novels which, being a one-off rather than part of a series, can stand alone in its own right.

You can purchase He Knew He Was Right, read by Nigel Patterson, at:

http://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Classics/He-Knew-He-Was-Right-Audiobook/B01M6WQAY2/ref=a_search_c4_2_7_srTtl?qid=1479731027&sr=2-7

The UK price is currently £45.69 but the book is free with a 30 day free trial of Audible (membership is currently £7.99/month which entitles you to one book download per month – more can be purchased at additional cost).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hearing Secret Harmonies

In this final volume of Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time, the author argues, through the mouthpiece of his character X. Trapnel that “People think because a novel’s invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Because a novel’s invented, it is true. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they can’t include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. The novelist himself lays it down. His decision is binding…the novelist is a god, creating his man, making him breathe and walk. The man, created in his own image, provides information about the god. In a sense you know more about Balzac and Dickens from their novels, than Rouseau or Casanova from their Confessions.”

Some have taken Powell very literally when he wrote this and have seen the sequence of novels as being a thinly disguised autobiography. The career of the character Nick Jenkins does indeed closely imitate Powell’s own life and there has been much academic debate on precisely who in Powell’s circle has found their way onto the page. Widmerpool, as Powell himself confirmed, thereby adding to the credibility of these identifications more generally, was inspired by Denis Capel-Dunn, with whom Powell served in the Cabinet Office, with additional background based on Reginald Manningham-Buller and political aspects possibly based on Denis Nowell Pritt. Pamela Widmerpool is allegedly based on Barbara Skelton; Dr Trelawney on Aleister Crowley; X. Trapnel on Julian Maclaren-Ross; Sir Magnus Donners on Lord Beaverbrook; Max Pilgrim on Noel Coward and St John Clarke on John Galsworthy.

Bizarrely, given Widmerpool is essentially an unsympathetic character, Powell’s brother in law, Lord Longford, expressed the view that he might himself have been the inspiration for Widmerpool.

Amusing though these attempts to allocate roles of fictional characters to real people might be as diversions, they disregard Powell’s statement that any novel has its own separate truth which is true only in relation to itself, based on the decision of the author as sole arbiter.

Here, however, I part company with Powell. I would argue that the author is not the “god” whose “decision is binding”. Any novel is a co-creative effort on the part of the author and the reader. The latter is essential for, without their imaginative effort, the words on the page are mere squiggles of ink on paper. It is in the mind of the reader that the scenes, written by the author, come to life. And that mind may, in fact, be influenced by outside sources. In particular, if a reader has seen a television or film adaptation of the novel prior to reading it then the pictures they may conjure for themselves may be coloured by that prior experience. So much so that characters may undergo radical change of appearance. Ian Fleming described Pussy Galore in Goldfinger as having black hair in “an untidy urchin cut” but I defy any current reader of the novel to be different from me in imagining the blonde Honor Blackman in “nothing but a grey fisherman’s jersey that was decent by half an inch” when reading the closing scene. Similarly, Trollope described Mr Slope in Barchester Towers as having “hair [that] is lank, and of a dull pale reddish hue…[and] his face is nearly the same colour as his hair, though perhaps a little redder: it is not unlike beef” but whenever I read scenes in which he features, it is Alan Rickman, who portrayed him in the TV serial Barchester Chronicles, that I picture, even where the scenes from the novel were not reproduced in the TV adaptation. 

So if the author is not a god but a co-creator then his shortcomings may be accepted and covered for by the imagination of the reader. In this volume, I feel that Powell with his resort to the introduction of a hippy cult, goes beyond his own powers of imagination. Powell when writing the novel was approaching 70 and the conviction of his portrayal of the hippies is somewhat lacking. I am reminded of the criticism of Agatha Christie’s 1960s novel Third Girl, written when she too was in her seventies as, “One of Christie’s more embarrassing attempts to haul herself abreast of the swinging sixties.” 

Indeed, though the narrative arc of the entire sequence of novels is completed by Widmerpool first seen running hopelessly as a schoolboy in the opening chapter of the first book, forever failing to make the team, to end up collapsing in the final chapter of the last book while out running with other members of the hippy cult he has tried to lead but from which position he has been usurped by the stronger will of the younger Scorpio Murtlock, this seems contrived. Given the series was begun in 1951, the final act set at the end of the 1960s involving nude hippy cults could not have been foreseen, no matter how god-like the author.

While enjoying the intellectual game unfolding through the final book of the twelve in the series, picking up the hints and direct references to the cycle – the Dance to the Music of Time – I felt less convinced by it than the earlier novels. I feel Powell was more insightful a writer about the inter-war years and the immediate aftermath of the second world war, describing a world he lived through as a younger man forging his career, than the more recent past which he viewed more as an aged observer than an active participant.

In this, Powell’s world is to me less convincingly concluded than Trollope’s Barsetshire/Palliser sequence of a dozen novels which ends on a strong note with The Duke’s Children. Trollope succeeds in conveying the perspective of the aging widower, the Duke of Omnium, with power and relevance as an actor in the plot whereas Powell’s Jenkins, always a passive character throughout the sequence, is reduced to a mere detached spectator. For me, Trollope’s steadfast craftsmanship, allowing his characters to lead the story where they will, is ultimately more satisfying than the intellectual artifice of Powell’s more contrived structure.

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Illustrating Trollope: Framley Parsonage

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In 1987 the Trollope Society in conjunction with the Folio Society undertook the extraordinarily ambitious, self-imposed task of publishing a complete set of the novels of Anthony Trollope. However, the two organisations decided that rather than publish a single joint edition, they would produce and publish parallel editions. Although there were no doubt some synergies to be obtained from this approach,there was also significant duplication of cost.  The Trollope Society editions were uniformly bound in brown covers with gold lettering on black panels for the titles and author’s name on the spine; the Folio Society editions were bound in a wide variety of colours with the same lettering.

It was not just the colour of the covers which differed, however. A key difference between the two organisations was their approach to illustrating the books.

The policy of the Trollope Society was that original illustrations, whether from the first editions or from the serial publication in magazines, should be used. However, only thirteen of the 47 novels were illustrated in the Trollope Society edition.  Moreover, there was inconsistency in whether there should be all the original illustrations – 40 illustrations by Millais in the case of Orley Farm, for example; or a selection of the original illustrations – 12 of the original 32 illustrations in The Last Chronicle of Barset, for example; or merely the frontispiece – as in The Way We Live Now.

In contrast, the policy of the Folio Society was to commission complete sets of new original illustrations by contemporary artists – usually 16 illustrations per book though somewhat fewer for shorter novels and 20 for the longer The Way We Live Now.

The use of these two differing approaches gives opportunity to examine both the illustrations themselves, comparing and contrasting the form, styles and techniques used in the two editions, and also the editorial selection decisions of which scenes to illustrate. Would there be differences? Would there be duplication?

The earliest Barsetshire novel of the thirteen Trollope Society editions which features a set of illustrations is Framley Parsonage. I therefore propose to start my comparison with this novel.  It also has the virtue of being illustrated by John Everett Millais, thought to be Trollope’s favourite illustrator, and certainly the one whose artistic reputation, as a member of the pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, has survived to be the greatest in our own era. It also has the merit of including what is arguably one of the most famous illustrations of any Trollope novel – the image at the start of this article “Was it not a lie?” – famous primarily because it is understood that Trollope at first complained to his publisher of the excessive decoration of the skirt of Lucy’s dress. He only came round later after seeing a woman actually wearing a very similar dress with such a full crinoline.

Inevitably, the Folio Society edition elects to show the same scene but, interestingly, the skirt, although still very full, is less excessively decorated and has a smaller crinoline in Alexy Pendle’s illustration than in the Millais original. Both also, it may be noted, feature a dressing table and mirror in the young woman’s bedroom. Not an unusual item of furniture, to be sure, but interesting that it should appear in both illustrations. Is there some symbolism at work here? Questions of vanity, perhaps? Or the lack thereof in Lucy’s case since her face is turned decisively away from the mirror in both illustrations?

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The Trollope Society edition uses six of the Millais illustrations from the original serialisation in the Cornhill Magazine. These are:

“Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts” – page 110

“Was it not a lie?” – page 168

“The Crawley Family” – page 222

“Lady Lufton and the Duke of Omnium” – page 296

“Mrs Gresham and Miss Dunstable” – page 390

“Mark”, she said, “the men are here” – page 450

Only the illustration of the Crawley Family is also duplicated in the 16 illustrations of the Folio Society edition.

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Both the Millais illustration (above) and the illustration by Alexy Pendle (below) depict with meticulous accuracy the scene described by Trollope when Lucy and Mrs Robarts visit the Crawley family at Hogglestock vicarage. “Mrs Crawley…was sitting with one baby in her lap while she was rocking another who lay in a cradle at her feet. Mr Crawley …had risen from his seat with his finger between the leaves of an old grammar out of which he had been teaching his two elder children.”

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 A subtle, but, I think, important difference is that Millais includes Lucy entering the room at the edge of the picture – thus placing the reader in the role of detached spectator viewing the tableau through the distancing effect of the fourth wall – whereas Pendle gives what might be perceived as Lucy’s view of the scene as the family talk with Mrs Robarts who is also “out of shot”. This approach draws the viewer into the room and makes the poverty of Crawley family, Mr Crawley’s guarded reserve – note the arm holding the book, raised protectively across his chest – and Mrs Crawley’s humility – note her downcast face, with eyes looking upward at Mrs Robarts – more real.

The remaining illustrations by Millais, featured in the Trollope Society edition all picture key meetings or confrontations between two principal characters – either love scenes or moments of heightened drama or comedy in the plot. 

The Folio Society edition also features illustrations of key meetings but, interestingly, unlike the Trollope Society edition which includes an illustration of an early meeting of Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts, the love-story plot of the novel (Trollope held that love stories were essential to all novels), it includes no illustration featuring the lovers together. 

Indeed, although both editions feature emotional confrontations between Mark Robarts and his wife Fanny on the subject of the debts he has incurred, they choose different scenes. The Trollope Society edition elects to use the illustration (above) of the humiliating arrival of the bailiffs, “Mark”, she said, “the men are here”, whereas the Folio Society selects the earlier scene (below) when he actually tells her of their financial woes, “Do not turn from me. Tell me, Mark.”

The contrast in the approaches used is marked. Millais presents the couple full-length from a distance which creates again the sense that the reader is emotionally distanced – a dispassionate observer. There is a formal, stylised structure, as occurs in all of the Millais illustrations used. The reader must also “read” the illustration in accordance with conventions. Fanny’s arm through her husband’s arm indicates the love and support she is offering him at this moment in the plot. Conversely, Pendle presents a close up from a viewpoint below that of the wife who is on her knees before her husband. The reader therefore shares, is almost invited to participate in, her intense emotions. It is a more naturalistic, informal approach than used by Millais, and is therefore more immediately accessible without decoding.

Pendle is also given opportunity, over the course of the 16 illustrations, to use greater variety of approach. In addition to the intimate portraits already discussed, she is able to experiment with comic cameos – the appearance of the money-lender Tom Tozer perching on one of the griffins outside Chaldicotes determined to out-wait his quarry Sowerby – and to picture minor characters in sub-plots, such as Harold Smith commenting on parliamentary business in the lobby of the Houses of Parliament (below). 

Indeed, here she uses full length illustrations from a slightly distanced perspective which are reminiscent of the approach of Millais. This reflects, perhaps, that those pictured require less empathy or emotional engagement on the part of the reader. These differences in style are also, no doubt, a reflection of the different expectations brought to each by their respective contemporary audiences. It is intriguing therefore to find the modern artist most closely mimicking the earlier artist’s style to achieve an almost diametrically opposite effect.
 

 

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The Vicar of Bullhampton: New audiobook

I have not been a fan of audio books hitherto. Perhaps I have been unfortunate in previous choices, which have tended to be current thrillers. I have found them pedestrian when compared to the pace at which I read for myself. However, one thing that I have concluded from these past forays is that the narrator is critical to the success or failure of an audio book. A good reader can engage the listener and draw them into the novel.

This new unabridged audio version of The Vicar of Bullhampton is blessed with a very good reader in Peter Joyce. His voice is a melodious baritone which is well-suited to the leisurely exposition of Victorian literature and of Trollope in particular. He carries the reader with him, negotiating the maze  of  long, Victorian sentences, with their multiple clauses and sub-clauses, so unlike modern, soundbite prose, so that you never lose the sense of the author’s intention.

Joyce is notably strong in creating characters’ voices for the dialogue. He conveys something of the age, class and character of the protagonists and imbues them with appropriate emotion. Even where a conversation is between two women, he gives each a distinctive flavour without resorting to absurd falsetto. 

I have a couple of minor quibbles with Joyce’s pronunciation: he follows the American pronunciation of Trollope’s first name with a soft “th” rather than the hard sound (as in “Tony”) which Trollope actually used; and he does not use the local, west-country pronunciation of Trowbridge, rhyming with “blow” but instead has it rhyme with “how”. Neither of these is obtrusive and they do not interfere with the enjoyment of the story as it is read aloud.

The sound quality of the recording is clear (I played the CDs on both a home stereo and in the car). Indeed the whole packaging conveys a sense of attention to detail and quality control. The box in which the CDs are housed is robust and the sleeve is clearly printed. 

I did, however, wish that the tracks on the CDs reflected chapter breaks. Often a new chapter would start in mid-track and even new CDs may start in the middle of a chapter, which can make managing the listening experience a little more difficult than necessary. I would prefer to be able to break off listening at the end of a chapter and resume at the start of the next chapter by stopping the CD at the end of a track or the end of the CD. But this again is a minor quibble and did not diminish my enjoyment of the story.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to this novel in audio book format and would certainly recommend it both to fans of Trollope unfamiliar with the audio books and to those familiar with the format who are looking for an introduction to Trollope’s work beyond the Barchester and Palliser series. 

The Vicar of Bullhampton is available on 18 CDs (running time 22 hours 40 minutes) from Assembled Stories. The RRP is £39.99 but it can be ordered direct for a discounted price of £32.99 by contacting sales@assembledstories.com .

Other Trollope novels also available from Assembled Stories include:

Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite

Dr Wortle’s School

Harry Heathcote of Gangoil

Assembled Stories full catalogue can be seen at: http://assembledstories.com

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Temporary Kings

Pamela Widmerpool is Mrs Proudie.

The resemblance of Powell’s promiscuous character, the only truly significant female main character across several of the books in his Dance to the Music of Time series, and Trollope’s straight-laced Victorian character from his Barchester novels may not be at first obvious. To study the parallels between them it is necessary to consider each in the context of the series of books in which they appear.

That Powell was aware of the possible points of comparison between the twelve novel sequence of his Dance and Trollope’s  twelve novel Barchester and Palliser series is clear. In this eleventh volume, at a reunion of old army colleagues, the narrator Jenkins notes that his “former Divisional Commander, General Liddament (by then promoted to the Army Council) turned up as guest of honour, making a lively speech…ending with a recommendation that everyone present should read Trollope.” This reappearance of the Trollope enthusiast General, like references to Jenkins reading Proust while visiting locations from A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu on Army duty is an explicit invitation to the reader to draw comparisons with these earlier novelists’ works.

Powell’s fictional world is the exclusive realm of literary intelligentsia and publishing, notably focussing on fine art and politics, especially politics of the left with its pre-occupation with “fellow travellers”,  members of the Communist party. This world, with its restricted entry but links to the wider (real)  world in which politicians operate, might be seen as a twentieth century equivalent of the Victorian clergy, with their insular concerns but also outward facing responsibilities to the communities in which they lived, especially when the Barsetshire clergy are taken in conjunction with the politicians of the Palliser novels. What each might consider sacred – art or God – and profane may differ but that there are objects of worship is true in both cases.

More than half this eleventh volume of Powell’s sequence is set at a conference of the literary intelligentsia in Venice. This gathering is reminiscent of the gathering of the clergy at Barchester in conclave to debate what is to be done about Mr Slope early in Barchester Towers. The internecine struggles of Powell’s Party members echo the feud between advocates of low and high church practices in Trollope’s Church of England.

In this context, Mrs Proudie, the new Bishop of Barchester’s domineering wife, occupies a position very similar to Pamela Widmerpool, wife of the now Lord Widmerpool. Both are married to men with seats in the House of Lords. Both are aggressive and bullying towards their husband’s and to others in their social sphere. While in Mrs Proudie’s case the consistent logic of her low church position is the clear driving force for her repeated haranguing of her husband and others, the impetus for Pamela’s behaviour is more obscure. She seems driven by internal demons with no clear objective beyond shocking for its own sake – since she seems to derive only grim satisfaction from the results of her at times outrageous behaviour. Although promiscuous, she is described by various former lovers as frigid. One is reminded of the apocryphal remark attributed to Tony Curtis on having to kiss Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, that  “it was like kissing Hitler”. 

It is clear from various carefully worded phrases from Trollope in describing rows between Bishop Proudie and his wife that she uses the withdrawal of her favours as a weapon in her on going subjugation of her husband to her will. The flip side of this, implicitly, is that when he goes along with her, for example in banishing Mr Slope, then he will enjoy his rewards in the bedroom. Thus, I would suggest, Mrs Proudie, unlike Pamela Widmerpool, enjoys a fulfilling sex life and does so on her own (rigourous) terms.

There is a parallel between Pamela’s ruin of X. Trapnel and Mrs Proudie’s frustration of Mr Slope’s career-aspirations. However, Pamela subsequently talks of Trapnel’s novel, which she threw into the canal, as “being destroyed”. This use by her of the passive voice rather than acknowledging it was by her action, that she in fact destroyed it, implies a sense that she was in a sense driven to the act of destruction rather than willed it herself. Indeed, Pamela respectively adds “Poor X.” when talking of him in this context.

Both women die in the novels,Trollope notoriously killing off his creation after overhearing a conversation disparaging her in his club. Both on a bed. But Mrs Proudie dies of a heart attack seated on the marriage bed in her room whereas Pamela dies, we are led to understand, though it is less than explicitly described, of a drug overdose, naked in the bed of the man who has beaten her at her own game. He was more indifferent to her and therefore impenetrable to her usual modus operandi than she was to him. Ultimately she was left chasing after him rather than the reverse as was usually the case. 

Both ends are sad, though in their different ways. Yet both characters are strong women who make their way in their very different worlds on their own terms. Of the two, I find Mrs Proudie the more rounded character. Trollope understood her and created some empathy for her in his readers by exposing the workings of her mind and showing that at heart she was doing what she truly thought was for the best, however misguided that might be to the reader with their wider knowledge of all the facts. Pamela, despite being a pivotal character in the series, is never more clearly explained by Powell than when she meets Mrs Erdleigh, the clairvoyant, who foretells her doom as an inevitable outcome of her internal compulsions, telling her: “‘Court at your peril those spirits that dabble lascivious with primeval matter…’ Then Pamela began to scream with laughter again, shriller than before. ‘You know, you know, you know. You’re a wonderful old girl. You don’t have to be told…You know already…'”.

As is so often the case, Trollope is by far the more insightful writer of female characters, giving his harridan a convincing three dimensionality which humanists her, to which Powell is unable to rise.


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