Monthly Archives: January 2018

Trollope’s Women: Arabella Trefoil

In The American Senator, Trollope, as he often does, tells the story of two separate women’s fortunes in love and matrimony. The stories are intended to provide a commentary on each other through the contrasting fortunes of the two characters – think of the Dormer sisters in Ayala’s Angel or Emily Trevelyan and her sister Nora Rowley in He Knew He Was Right. Here, Trollope apparently pitches the tale of the virginal true love of Mary Masters, waiting patiently for Reginald Morton to recognise her true worth and realise he loves her, in contrast to the calculating manoeuvrings of Arabella Trefoil to secure the best possible match for herself in terms of title and wealth without regard to considerations of love.

Yet, Trollope cannot bring himself to write characters whose sole function is to serve as a plot device. Thus, almost the first thing we learn about Arabella when we meet her on her arrival with her mother at the ancestral home of her new fiancé, John Morton, is, “Now she was, after a certain fashion, engaged to marry John Morton and perhaps she was one of the most unhappy persons in England.” We quickly learn also the reason for this feeling. “She had had many lovers, and had been engaged to not a few, and perhaps liked John Morton as well as any of them – except one…There had been a young man, of immense wealth, and of great rank, whom at the time she really had fancied that she had loved; but just as she was landing her prey, the prey had been rescued from her by powerful friends, and she had been all but broken-hearted.”

As the novel progresses, it is easy for the reader to watch Arabella’s machinations and focus on the heartlessness of her behaviour but to do so is to forget its origin. She has loved and lost. In those circumstances is it so surprising that she should be so coldly matter of fact about the business of her life – to get a husband with a title and money – which she is bound to do because her father had squandered the money which his wife, Arabella’s mother had brought to their marriage. She is a victim of circumstances and, rather than roll over and submit to fate, she puts on a brave face and goes out into the world to obtain her fortune the only way that a woman of her social position is able, through contracting an advantageous marriage.

Trollope, of course, cannot allow her to enjoy unalloyed success in this endeavour. To do so would run counter to the over-riding expectations of his readership who demanded that true love should triumph in a romantic finale while mercenary seekers after gain and position should be condemned to fall short of their goals.

Being a keen rider to hounds himself, Trollope uses the hunting metaphor liberally for Arabella’s efforts to find a husband. “She had hunted him as a fox is hunted.”  A prospective husband is her “prey” (as above) and he is portrayed as a victim.  I will not pursue the line of thought that fox are hunted (ostensibly) as vermin to be exterminated.

Yet for Arabella it is not so much a sport as a business and she goes about it in a thoroughly business-like manner with the aid of her mother as a her manager or agent. “She had long known that it was her duty to marry, and especially her duty to marry well. Between her and her mother there had been no reticence on this subject. With worldly people in general, though the worldliness is manifest enough and is taught by plain lessons from parents to their children, yet there is generally some thin veil even among themselves, some transparent tissue of lies, which, though they never quite hope to deceive each other, does produce among them something of the comfort of deceit. But between Lady Augustus and her daughter there had for many years been nothing of the kind.” Arabella is too much of a realist to pretend to herself she is anything that she is not or that her motives are pure.

When her mother, who instigated the pursuit of John Morton has second thoughts (based on his relatively ill-maintained house (which Arabella attributes correctly to the fact that as a diplomat on foreign postings it would be a waste of money to maintain it to a standard that would have been necessary had he been permanently resident) and his reluctance to fall in with her negotiations for financial security for her daughter (Arabella believes, again probably rightly, that she will be able to manage him sufficiently well after any marriage to obtain that security for herself), they bicker over the way the mother interferes.

“‘Arabella, I think you’d better make up your mind that it won’t do.’
‘It must do,’ said Arabella.
‘You’re very fond of him, it seems.’
‘Mamma, how you do delight to torture me – as if my life weren’t bad enough without you making it worse.'”

Trollope has the worldly mother actually taunt her daughter about the possibility that she might care for a prospective husband and Arabella rises to the bait. She goes on to say:

“I’ve been at it till I’m nearly broken down. I must settle somewhere – or else die – or else run away. I can’t stand this any longer, and I won’t.”

Arabella is evidently reaching the end of her tether with little appetite to continue the endless pursuit of a suitable match for herself. She sees it as her job, one that has occupied her for more than a decade, and it is one that depresses her immeasurably.

“‘Talk of work – men’s work! What man ever has to work as I do?’ I wonder [interjects Trollope in authorial mode] which was the hardest part of the work, the hairdressing and painting and companionship of the lady’s maid, or the continual smiling upon unmarried men to whom she had nothing to say and for whom she did not in the least care! ‘I can’t do it any more, and I won’t.'”

Perhaps Trollope was being ironic in characterising what Arabella’s work consisted in as he did. But I feel for anyone who must keep up appearances in social settings, as Arabella must, when their heart is not in it. I suspect Trollope, as he outlined her life, became more sympathetic to her plight if he was not already so inclined at the outset.

Trollope seems to portray Arabella’s mother in a particularly unflattering light – she is the Machiavellian schemer after the prospective husbands behind her daughter’s actions – but pays scant regard to the true fault in this lying at the door of her father. (Spendthrift fathers abound in Trollope’s novels placing demands on both sons and daughters that they must marry money with little criticism in return for having caused the situation in the first place. One is tempted to see echoes of Trollope’s own father’s financial crises in these shadowy figures who are never truly held to account for their failings – the sins of the fathers invariably tending to fall on the younger generation.) However, he does allow Lady Augustus to tell her daughter “My dear, I had no mother to take care of me, or I shouldn’t have married your father.” This all too brief explanation is, to me ample justification for the actions of Arabella’s mother. Even if at times she is misguided in her beliefs as to the best course of action, she is always actuated by a desire that her daughter’s future should be secured.

Arabella is, however, enticed into the fray once more by the prospect of Lord Rufford, whose £40,000 a year (the equivalent of an income now of some £3.25 million a year) is nearly six times the income of £7,000 a year (still a more than respectable £565,000 p.a.)which John Morton earns.  Indeed, Arabella does see this now as a battle. Yet she “was sick of the dust of battle and conscious of fading strength.” As Margaret Markwick observes in Trollope and Women, “This changes the nature of the story. Images about hunting have themes of pleasure, excitement, exhilaration, the thrill of the chase. Trollope’s battle images are about danger, personal survival, exhausting effort.”

This is a courageous decision because Arabella is by 1875/6, when the story is set, already thirty and, unusually for the time, is older than her fiancé, John Morton, who is 27. As Dr Bruce Rosen (Honorary Research Associate in the School of History and Classics at the University of Tasmania) points out in his 2009 essay Coming Out, “For a marriageable young woman, the season was often the most important event of the year, for she knew that she had, at best, only two or three seasons in which to confirm her future through marriage. The first season would be her coming out [at or about age eighteen], but if she was not successful in the marriage race, she knew she still had one, or at most two, more seasons in which to find a mate.” Arabella has already endured a dozen years of failed attempts yet, with commendably business-like decisiveness, she calculates that she should run the risk of ignoring Madeline Neroni’s maxim with which she instructed Obadiah Slope some twenty five years earlier in Barchester Towers that “It’s gude to be off with the old love – Mr Slope – Before you are on with the new”. Looked at from her purely business perspective she is right to make the attempt – selling herself to the highest bidder – but, even though the engagement to John Morton is not yet a “done deal”, in romance this is frowned upon.  “This – this was the kind of thing for which she had been striving. As a girl of spirit was it not worth her while to make another effort even though there might be danger?”

It is interesting to note that Arabella goes to great lengths to avoid travelling to Lord Rufford’s home, Rufford Hall, alone in a carriage with John Morton, citing “there are convenances” – social rules which preclude such impropriety but, when she wishes to snare Lord Rufford, she does precisely this with him, travelling back from a hunt alone with him in his carriage, so that those self-same rules may be used to her advantage. Lord Rufford indeed does take advantage of the opportunity recognising that this is what Arabella intends him to do but, to her consternation, refuses then to follow up and do the only honourable thing and make her an offer of marriage after what has taken place.

In fairness to Arabella, John Morton’s own commitment to their putative engagement seems somewhat lacking in discernible passion. When he observes her first steps in the campaign to snare Lord Rufford, which perforce must be taken under his very nose, “He was very angry – though he hardly knew why or with whom. A girl when she is engaged is not supposed to talk to no one but her recognised lover in a mixed party of ladies and gentlemen, and she is especially absolved from such a duty when they chance to meet in the house of a comparative stranger…It was impossible to say that she flirted with the man – and yet Morton felt neglected…[but] He thought that he could put an end to the engagement without breaking his heart.” He is peeved at being ignored but can make no stronger claim to grounds for his anger although he, like others present, may sense that Arabella is doing rather more than merely keeping her options open while her mother and her mother’s lawyers conduct negotiations on her behalf.

Trollope, of course, takes a very conventional view of the proper behaviour of ladies under these circumstances and would classify Arabella as a serial jilt, by her own admission, which is, in his eyes, an unforgiveable crime – one that he spends the novel Can You Forgive Her? (and the play  based on the same plot, The Noble Jilt) exploring with a view to forcing the reader’s hand and having them concede yes, under certain circumstances, such as occur in the case of Alice Vavasor, an apparent jilt may be forgiven.

But Morton seems to have half an eye on the prospects that she will be an asset to him in his diplomatic career. She has, through much practice, become used to behaving in a manner that charms the men with whom she mixes and is, he observes, “handsome” which is also valuable in a diplomat’s wife.

Trollope, who must distinguish her from the virginal, young heroine type such as Mary Masters, to whom she provides the contrast in the novel, describes her as “a big, fair girl, whose copious hair was managed after such a fashion that no one could guess what was her own and what was purchased. She certainly had fine eyes, though I could never imagine how anyone could look at them and think it possible that she should be in love. They were very large, beautifully blue but never bright; and the eyebrows over them were perfect. Her cheeks were somewhat too long and the distance from her well-formed nose to her upper lip too great. Her mouth was small and her teeth excellent. But the charm of which men spoke the most was the brilliance of her complexion. Id, as ladies said, it was all paint, she, or her maid, must have been a great artist. It never betrayed itself to be paint. But the beauty on which she prided herself was the grace of her motion. Though she was tall and big she never allowed an awkward movement to escape her.”

Trollope’s emphasis on the artificiality of her looks and the artifice that contrives them is an indictment when compared with the modest simplicity which the virginal ideal demands.

He also makes fun of her in a way he rarely does with the females involved in genuine romances. When she comes down to breakfast prepared for a day’s hunting he puns outrageously, making the most of the scope for the double entendre, when he has her tell Lady Chiltern, who is married to Lord Chiltern a Master of Hounds obsessed with hunting matters, that “I do ride a little when I am well mounted.”

However, Arabella’s focus on the way she walks indicates the importance to her of rank and status because, as Emma McClendon, curator of the current exhibition, The Body: Fashion and Physique, at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York devoted to the use of corsetry in moulding the female form to conform with contemporary societal expectations, observes of Victorian women, “Being ensconced in stays created a uniquely rigid carriage. By mastering an elegant gait whilst constrained in such an uncomfortable garment was a sign of breeding.”

Indeed, as an aside here for a moment, when Trollope says that “No young woman could…manage a train with more perfect ease” he demonstrates that he (or perhaps his wife Rose, who proof read his drafts and was asked by Anthony to ensure accuracy on such matters) was up to the minute with ladies’ fashions – the 1870s had seen bustles with their accompanying trains replace vast crinolines as the fashionable shape for skirts. (I will refrain from expanding on this parallel with the 21st century obsession with a “big booty” as an ideal woman’s body shape.)

Arabella successfully strings Morton along with evasive replies to his increasingly terse letters until she can engineer the compromising scene alone in the carriage with Lord Rufford on the way back to her uncle the Duke of Mayfair’s family seat at Mistletoe after a day’s hunting. She has already taken advantage of an unfortunate accident that she has witnessed with Lord Rufford which left her “half-fainting” so that the Lord “put his hand round her waist to support her” and arranged an assignation in the conservatory where he again “got his arm around her waist”.

These incidents and flirtatious conversations were, Arabella realised, “evidently a joke to him, a pleasant joke no doubt.”  He privately “picture[d] himself on the cliff with his sister holding his coat tails” and doubtless Arabella sensed this in him.

Finally, in the privacy of the carriage she allowed him to kiss her. Then, as modesty required, she demanded, “‘Lord Rufford, what does this mean?’ ‘Don’t you know what it means?’ “Hardly.’ ‘It means that I think you the jolliest girl out.'”

This bantering tone continues as she says, “‘No – no. I will not have it. I have allowed too much to you already. Oh, I am so tired.’ Then she sank back almost into his arms – but recovered herself very quickly. ‘Lord Rufford, if you are a man of honour let there be an end of this. I am sure you do not wish to make me wretched.’ ‘I would do anything to make you happy.’ ‘Then tell me that you love me honestly, sincerely, with all your heart – and I shall be happy.’ ‘You know I do.’ ‘Do you? Do you?’ she said, and then she flung herself onto his shoulder, and for a while seemed to faint. For a few minutes she lay there, and as she was lying she calculated whether it would be better to try this moment to drive him to some clearer declaration, or to make use of what he had already said without giving him an opportunity of protesting that he had not meant to make her an offer of marriage…She was conscious, but hardly more than conscious, that he was kissing her – and yet her brain was at work. She felt that he would be startled, repelled, perhaps disgusted, were she absolutely to demand more from him now.”

Trollope is clearly of the view that Arabella is wrong to allow – nay encourage – Lord Rufford to take such liberties – viewing them as a snare to entrap him into an engagement. A 21st century reader might take the view that there is a significant power imbalance here – Arabella, as a woman, is ultimately dependent upon achieving marriage to some man and is effectively destitute if she fails to do so; whereas Lord Rufford is an unattached man with adequate means to indulge his every whim. Under such circumstances, to modern eyes, does Arabella have much choice in the matter? She must submit to the 19th century equivalent of the casting couch if she is to have a chance of securing her future career as a wife of a suitably rich and titled man. Trollope implies criticism of her because she can be kissed without passionate personal engagement in that kiss (as would be the case if she were properly in love with a man whom she allowed to kiss her). Her detachment indicates grounds for censure. To me it indicates she accepts this is an inevitable chore she must go through with a powerful man who feels entitled to take his pleasures from her compliant body (albeit there is no suggestion that he goes further than “petting” but to a prudish Victorian Society that is – to use the familiar baseball analogy – getting a long way past first base) with, she suspects, and we, the readers, from the insights we have been given into his state of mind, are certain, no intentions of doing the “decent thing” and marrying her unless she can absolutely force the issue by whatever means she is able to exploit afterwards.

Of course, Lord Rufford was trying to have his way without “paying the price”, as Arabella feared, and she has to resort to increasingly desperate measures to try to force him to marry her. To this end she galvanises the male members of her family into action on her behalf but to little avail. Lord Rufford stands firm and will not marry her.

During this period we are presented with another, hitherto unseen, facet of Arabella’s character. When John Morton is taken dangerously ill, he asks her to come to him, and, against her mother’s advice she does indeed go to Bragton. When her mother, who has previously told Arabella she is “the most ungrateful, hard-hearted creature that ever lived”, argues against this intention, Arabella responds, “I am heartless. I know that. But you are ten times worse. Think how I have treated him.” When she is there she reflects, “It was not the purport of her present visit to strengthen her position by making certain of the man’s hand should he live. When she said that she was not yet as hard-hearted as her mother, she spoke the truth. Something of regret, something of penitence, had at times crept over her in reference to her conduct to the man.” Faced with very real evidence of his (and by inference her own) mortality, she proves herself to have finer qualities. She admits the whole sorry tale to Morton, realising it will end any prospects of his being her safety net in the event that her tilt at Lord Rufford fails. Trollope, as ever, cannot bring himself to leave a character as a two dimensional caricature to suit a role required for his novel’s plot. He allows her to become a three dimensional character with light and shade, positive attributes as well as her failings. It is a remarkable episode in the novel. She tells her mother, “I do feel a little ashamed of myself when I am almost crying for him…I do own that it is foolish. Having listened to you on these subjects for a dozen years at least I ought to have got rid of all that.”

This insight she gains into herself then fuels her resolve when Lord Rufford, at the instigation of her mother, finally insults her by offering her £8,000 to buy her off. She responds to his lawyer’s offer saying, “I scorn your money. I cannot think where you found the audacity to make such a proposal, or how you have taught yourself to imagine I should listen to it.” She demands a face to face meeting and declares to Mounser Green who says, “I fear you are intending something rash” as she sets off to confront Lord Rufford, “Of course I am. How could it be otherwise with me? Don’t you think there are turns in a person’s life when she must do something rash.”

I sense it is at this point that Arabella, by throwing caution to the wind, becomes true to herself and, in so doing, becomes attractive to Mounser Green.

As she travels to Rufford she thinks, “Face to face she would tell him that he was a liar and a slanderer and no gentleman, though she should have to run round the world to catch him.” It is perhaps worth noting that although he is guilty of the third of these charges, and perhaps the second, he is, in truth, innocent of the first charge with which she mentally accuses him. When she does confront him with her scorn in his own grounds, “There was a moment in which he thought it was almost a pity that he had not married her. She was very beautiful in her present form – more beautiful, he thought, than ever.” Later he recalled her actions saying “She’s the pluckiest girl I ever came across in my life.”

The irony is not lost on the reader. Arabella has buried her true self under a façade which was designed to catch a mate, keeping her emotions in check in an effort to protect herself against hurt, when all along, had she revealed her natural passion she might have had one for the taking.

One, perhaps inevitable casualty of Arabella’s re-assessment of her values is her relationship with her mother which breaks down in acrimony. Arabella, of course, does not reflect, as her mother tells her, “I am willing to do everything for you, as I have always done – for so many years”, that her mother genuinely has Arabella’s best interests at heart but in guiding her she has been herself led to advise the courses of action she has by her own bitter experience at the hands of her husband. She had come to him with a decent fortune which he proceeded to squander and she wished to protect her daughter against this fate.

Another consequence is that she finds herself the object of attentions from Mounser Green, a civil servant who would have been beneath her contempt had she succeeded in her plans to secure Lord Rufford but who appears to be willing to take her as she is, even knowing her history (or at least the most recent parts). Indeed, he says nothing when she puts a somewhat biased spin on the events as she describes them though he knows it to be untrue. His view is that “it is not to be expected that a girl, before her marriage, should be exactly true about her old loves”, which is an exceedingly charitable interpretation. One thing which she does tell him truthfully is that Morton has left her £5,000 in his will. Mounser takes this as an indication that Morton cannot have regarded her treatment of him as too bad if he left her such a legacy, which encourages him in his intention to marry her.

Trollope also notes that the sum will handily pay off Mounser’s debts so that Arabella’s saviour is not an unalloyed saint. Indeed, he has the cheek to suggest that she ask her aunt and uncle if they may be married from their home at Mistletoe, recognising that this will show the couple in an advantageous light to society at large. Arabella who is used to more circuitous approaches is appalled at this effrontery but Mounser has his way and proves to be correct in his judgment that they will succeed. He is, it appears, more savvy than Arabella and there is no doubt who will wear the trousers in this relationship (contrary to the expectations the reader must have had for any other possible relationship into which Arabella would enter) – she even consults him about whether to accept a diamond ring from Lord Rufford as a wedding present. (For the record, Mounser says yes she should).

Mounser has taken up the appointment in Patagonia which had been destined for John Morton prior to his fatal illness and so, when she becomes engaged to him, Arabella is knowingly accepting that she will accompany him to this remote place which had seemed so dreadful and such a mark against Morton when he had been a prospective husband. Such is the change that has come over her.

After they were married and were about to embark for Patagonia, Mounser “preached her a sermon, expressing a hope, as  he went on, that as she was leaving the pleasures of life behind her, she would learn to like the work of life. ‘I have found the pleasures very hard.’ she said…She, as she listened to him, was almost stunned by the change in the world around her. She need never again seem to be gay in order that men might be attracted. She made her promises and made them with the intention of keeping them; but it may, we fear, be doubted whether he was justified in expecting that he could get a wife fit for his purpose out of the school in which Arabella Trefoil had been educated.”

Trollope, evidently, felt unable to be optimistic about their prospects of happiness, but I am more sanguine. Arabella has ever been a realist. When realism demanded a heartless endeavour to snare a husband, that was what she did. Her realism, when presented with a requirement to be a good hostess and wife of a rising star in the diplomatic service of the  Foreign Office, would prevail.  I therefore see no reason to suppose that she would shirk the task – especially in her new found honesty and openness with a man who is strong-willed and worldly-wise enough to see that by making her his partner in life he might well bring out the best in her.

Arabella is one of Trollope’s complex characters. Her superficial insincerity would make her unattractive as a character with whom readers might struggle to sympathise but Trollope never leaves a character as a mere projection of a Type required for the form of the plot. He adds depth – he can’t help himself, his characters are too real to him and write their own back-stories and flesh themselves out almost of their own accord to satisfy his demands of himself to present the world and those who populate it as realistically as he can – and thereby creates another fully developed character with unexpected hidden resources that had not been tapped by her life hitherto.




















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Barchester Course at Dillington House

Dillington House in Somerset is running a residential course on The Barchester Chronicles on the weekend of 9th to 11th March. The course information states that: “Considered by many as Trollope’s finest work, this course will consider the novels in this series and the social and political context in which they were written.”

The course will be run by Dr Greta Depledge who “has a BA (Hons) in English Literature, an MA in Victorian Studies and a PhD (Female maladies, medical practice and literary culture 1860-1900), awarded by Birkbeck College, University of London.”

For more information you can go to the Dillington House website:

There were only a few places remaining on the course when I booked so don’t delay or you may find they are gone.


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Susan Hampshire in New Year’s Honours


I was delighted to hear that Susan Hampshire, one of the Trollope Society’s Vice Presidents and best remembered by Trollopians for her starring roles as Lady Glencora in the BBC series The Pallisers and as Signora Madeline Neroni in the BBC series The Barchester Chronicles, has been made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the recent New Year’s Honours list for services to Drama and charity. Congratulations Susan!


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Trollope’s Women: Josephine Lovel

Caroline Langrishe as Countess Lovel with Edward Halsted as Mr Flick in the original 2015 production of Craig Baxter’s play  Lady Anna: All at Sea at the Park Theatre, London.

It is easy overlook that Lady Anna, although published in the high Victorian period of 1873, is actually set in the Regency era of the early 1830s and all the characters are of that period of Napoleon and Jane Austen. The intervening 40 years had seen more radical changes than we have experienced over the same length of time to the present day. Where we have seen since the 1980s the advent of the digital age, the internet and the mobile phone, they had seen a wholesale shift from a significantly rural, agricultural based economy to an urban industrial economy, a shift from horse drawn transport taking days to traverse the length of the country to an integrated national network of railways linking the great industrial cities with the metropolis in hours. Thus the characters of Trollope’s novel are more historic, from the perspective of contemporary readers when it was first published, than would be characters in a novel published now that was set in the 1980s. Their outlook would have been consistent with that agrarian era. Land was the tried and trusted source of wealth while money from the new industries that were developing was as yet too new to be trusted or to command respect.

Josephine Murray would have been born in 1790, at the time of the French Revolution (making her at least half a generation older than the likes of Mrs Proudie – to give her a Trollopian context). She was the daughter of Captain Murray – “a thorough gentleman, for [he] had come from the right Murrays” – and lived with him “in a pretty cottage, looking down on Derwentwater”. They were not well off. Her mother, we must presume, has died at some point during her childhood.

At the age of twenty-four she met Lord Lovel – a man then more than twice her age – who tried to get her to be his mistress but she was sufficiently strong-minded to hold out until in the end he married her as the only means for him to possess her – for such was his object with any woman who took his fancy. The wedding took place in 1815 which coincides with Trollope’s birth. The author frequently dates events to around this time – probably so as to give himself a convenient signpost when thinking back to describe social attitudes and scenes which can then be based on recollections from his early childhood.

On her side, she knew of her husband’s evil reputation but “she thought it very much to be the wife of a lord.” Her father had sought to dissuade her from hat he thought was a mistake “but the ambition of the daughter had prevailed.”

Trollope, who was always a romantic in his novels, even if his career as a writer demonstrated his thorough-going worldliness about the need for honest toil to make money, and so states from the outset: “She could not have thought Lord Lovel to be a good man when she married him, and it can hardly be said that she loved him.” For Trollope, the upholder of romantic conventions, this cannot go unpunished but he says, “It is hoped that her wrongs may be thought worthy of sympathy – and may be felt in some sort to atone for the ignoble motives of her marriage.”

Indeed, events very quickly punish the young Josephine for her mercenary motives and “She had not lived with him six months before he told her that the marriage was no marriage, and that she was  – his mistress.” His grounds for this assertion were that there was at the time of their wedding ceremony, already an existing wife, an Italian woman.

In fairness to the old lecher, he was willing to take her with him to live with him in Italy, where he was intent upon returning, as his mistress. In truth, he did love her, so far as he was capable of love, in as much as he had not grown tired of her in the six months they had been together. From which we must conclude that she was good company both in and out of bed (these being the criteria by which such  man’s interest might be sustained). She was, of course, physically attractive too, to have caught his eye at all. “She was very beautiful, dark, with large, bold, blue eyes, with hair almost black, tall, well made, almost robust” (robust being, in this context, indicative of a full figure rather than a very thin figure).

However, if she declined his terms, then he would discard her and let her have an allowance such as befitted her situation as a cast off mistress rather than a wife. He positively barred her from using the title Countess Lovel or living at the family home Lovel Grange (a sombre pile in the Lake District near where she had grown up) in his absence.

He also stated that the child she was carrying, though his, would be illegitimate and so “could not be the heir to his title, and could claim no heirship to his property.”

Placed in this invidious position by Lord Lovel, Josephine sought the assistance of her family to assert her rights. Her elderly father died and “the Murrays were not very generous in their succour” although one of them did fight a duel with the Earl (not something which would have been countenanced in England later in the century) in which neither party was injured – her relative missed and the Earl deliberately fired in the air to avoid the risk of prosecution for murder as he might have done had he fired at and fatally hit his opponent.

“In a moment of weakness”, Josephine irreparably damaged her cause with the Earl when she “fell at his feet and asked him to renew the ceremony”. With this action she lost his respect. Hitherto she had been his equal in her strength of character but now, “He stooped over her, kissed her, and smiled. ‘My pretty child,’ he said, ‘why should I do that?’ He never kissed her again.”

For some five years, while the Earl was out of the country, Josephine remained at Lovel Grange with her daughter, Anna. She was paid some alimony through the courts but it was less than she had been promised. As a result, she got into debt with both lawyers and tradesmen.

Finally, in about 1820, she settled on a radical, and potentially risky course of action. She instituted a prosecution against the Earl for bigamy under the Bigamy Act 1604 (crucially, under criminal law requiring proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt).

She was supported in this by Thomas Thwaite, a political radical and acquaintance of the poets Wordsworth and Southey who then lived in the Lake District and were also of a radical persuasion. Thwaite was a tailor (and it must be recorded a successful one to have accumulated sufficient wealth to back Josephine in her legal action). Thwaite also gave both Josephine and her daughter a place to live while the action went ahead.

As Trollope observes, “The Countess [then] ceased to call herself a countess, as she certainly would not be a countess should she succeed in proving the Earl to have been guilty. And had he been guilty of bigamy, the decree under which alimony was assigned to her would become void. Should she succeed she would be a penniless unmarried female with a daughter, her child would be unfathered and base…But in truth, she and her friend the tailor were not in quest of success. She and all her friends believed that the Earl had committed no such crime. But if he were acquitted, then would her claim to be called Lady Lovel, and to enjoy the appanages of her rank, would be substantiated…But during this time she called herself Mrs Murray, and the little Lady Anna was called Anna Murray.”

After four years, the Earl was indeed acquitted in 1825.  No proof was produced by Josephine and the tailor that the supposed former marriage in Sicily had even taken place (and why would they so damage Josephine’s best interests) so with minimal effort, the Attorney-General acting for the defence obtained the acquittal.

However, though she had now the full backing of the law to call herself Countess, public opinion “could not be made to do this by course of law.” And her financial difficulties continued as the alimony from the Earl was “dribbled out to her through various sieves”. Eight more years in the courts had failed to change this, a situation no doubt exacerbated by the repeal of the Bigamy Act under which the Earl had been prosecuted to be replaced by section 22 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1828 (one of a raft of new legislation introduced at that time by the then Home Secretary, Robert Peel, to consolidate and simplify English criminal law*). Josephine lived now “in a small cottage about a mile from Keswick, on the road to Grassmere and Ambleside, which she rented from quarter to quarter.”

These battles had hardened the “brave, [but] ambitious woman” leading some to say that she had become “violent, stiff-necked and vindictive. Had they said of her that it had become her one religion to assert her daughter’s right – per fas aut nefas – to assert it by right or wrong; to do justice to her child let what injustice be done to herself or others – then the truth would have been spoken.”

Here Trollope lays bare the monomania which now drove Josephine. It is not very different from the obsessive single-mindedness of Louis Trevelyan which was the cause of his ultimate madness and the tragedy of the breakdown of his marriage to Emily Rowley.

In 1833, the Earl returned to England and resumed residence at Lovel Grange with his current mistress, an Italian woman, Signorina Camilla Spondi. Shortly afterwards he died leaving a spiteful will that left all his wealth (excluding Lovel Grange which, as the family seat, was entailed to the heir to the title, a distant relative, the young Frederic Lovel) to his mistress and specifically declared that his purported marriage to Josephine was bigamous and their daughter, Anna, was therefore illegitimate. It also stated that, contrary to what he had originally told Josephine, the woman to whom he claimed to have been married at the time of their marriage was in fact still alive and that he had made adequate provision for her already before making the will. By this document he successively pitched all the would-be beneficiaries against each other. Josephine shared with the new, young Earl a need to have the will set aside (on the grounds that the late Earl had been insane when the will was executed) to ensure that Signora Spondi did not inherit the vast bulk of the estate and disappear with it to Italy but her interests were at the same time contrary to the Earl’s in order that her daughter should inherit that wealth, rather than the Earl.

Frederic Lovel, along with the rest of the Lovel family, contended that notwithstanding the late Earl being insane at the time of the execution of the will, his statement that Anna was illegitimate was true. A civil action on this point to determine who should inherit would turn on whether the marriage of the late Earl to Josephine was, or was not, bigamous but this would be on the more easily satisfied civil law test of the balance of probabilities rather than the more stringent criminal test of beyond all reasonable doubt. Thus, the earlier criminal court’s decision under the Bigamy Act was not conclusive for this purpose. So, now in her early forties, Josephine faced renewed legal battles  to protect the interests of her child.

Although the criminal verdict was not conclusive, it would, nevertheless, carry much weight in any subsequent civil case and the lawyers for Frederic Lovel recognising as much sought first to buy Josephine off with a sum of first £10,000, later raised to £20,000 (roughly equivalent to £900,000 then £1.8 million in today’s money). Josephine “repudiated it with bitter scorn…’Is it for that, that I have been fighting…not for that at all; but that my girl may have her birth allowed and her name acknowledged.'” For the record, though it is irrelevant to Josephine’s thinking, the actual estate is worth some £20,000 a year (which at the rate of return then available at comparatively low risk of 5% per annum represents an estimated total value of some £400,000 or £35 million in today’s money).

Even so, public opinion was against Josephine and her daughter and for the Earl.

But still the lawyers for Fredric Lovel, looked for a compromise, and came up with the suggestion that if they acknowledged Josephine’s marriage was valid and that Lady Anna was therefore legitimate, might the two parts of the estate be brought together if the two young people should marry?

Here we encounter a fatal flaw in this proposal for Lady Anna has fallen in love with Daniel Thwaite – the son of the tailor whose aid has supported Josephine and her daughter through the years of legal action and with whom she has been thrown together. Josephine it seems is the last to hear of their attachment. Indeed, she is so fixated on rank that it would not have occurred to her as a possibility. It has been common gossip in Keswick and when they move to cheaper lodgings off the New Road in London, Daniel, who had obtained a place at a tailors in London, had moved into the flat above them thereby spreading the cost between them. When she learns of the fondness of the pair for each other she demands that her daughter maintain what she considers a proper distance in her relations with the young man, appropriate to their very different stations in life but she has no idea that in truth her daughter is in love with Daniel.

So it is that Josephine hears the suggested compromise offered by the other side with triumph. Even though, “She was so far a loving, devoted mother that in all her battles she thought more of her daughter than herself…But she was not a woman likely to be dismayed at the idea of giving her girl in marriage to an absolute stranger, when that stranger was such a one as the young Earl Lovel…What better end could there be to her long struggles? Of course she would assent.” Unfortunately, she was measuring her daughter by her own lights. “She expected that her daughter would be ambitious, as she had been ambitious, and would rejoice greatly at such perfect success.” She is therefore almost dumbfounded when Anna says “That would be impossible, mamma.” Somewhat disingenuously giving as a reason that she and her distant cousin “have never seen each other”. In fairness to Josephine, when conveying the suggestion (I hesitate to use the word proposal here), she does so in the belief that “You need have no fear about the young man. Everyone tells me that he is just the man that a mother would welcome as a husband for her daughter.” In saying this, I do wonder if Josephine is as much trying to convince herself as her daughter.

When Anna continues to maintain this proposed solution is impossible it dawns on Josephine that “the daughter of one who had spent the very marrow of her life in fighting for the position that was due to her – should spoil all by preferring a journeyman tailor to a young nobleman of high rank, of ancient lineage”. Josephine on realising this “swore to herself that she would prefer to divest her bosom of all soft motherly feeling than be vanquished in this matter by her own child. Her daughter should find that she could be stern and rough enough if she were really thwarted.”

Here Josephine tips over the edge, placing her own blind ambition for her daughter over any thought of her daughter’s happiness. It is a trait we may observe in the pushy parents of talented children now that is, like their wish-fulfilment of frustrated personal ambitions through their children, loaded with potential for abuse of the child by the parent.

There are parallels between this story and the collapse of the relationship between Mary Bolton and her daughter Hester in which the mother, in her religious fanaticism, feels justified in imprisoning her daughter in the family home to “protect” her from John Caldigate, the eponymous central character in Trollope’s 1879 novel, when it is suspected that Caldigate may have married her daughter bigamously. In a strong foreshadowing of the later story, the mother’s monomania justifies in her own mind the mental and borderline physical abuse of her child in the belief it is for her own good. It is notable though, and an important distinction, that while in Lady Anna it is the other side, whose religious scruples are held up for quizzical examination, in John Caldigate it is the mother whose extreme religiosity is the object of censure from Trollope as lacking in true Christian compassion and charity. Thus, when, as is inevitable in  Trollope novel, young love triumphs over parental opposition, Josephine clear-mindedly boycotts the wedding ceremony of her daughter and the suitor of whom she disapproves whereas Mary Bolton makes an almost spectral appearance at the contentious wedding of Hester and Caldigate in practically mourning attire “sat apart in a dark distant pew, dressed in black and deeply veiled”(1) in a manner wholly unsuitable for the mother of the bride. I cannot help but think that Josephine would have despised such a theatrical show of opposition as ineffectual in the final analysis, preferring direct confrontation, and would therefore have approved of Mrs Bolton’s incarceration of the erring daughter as a means to break her will.

Anna agrees to meet Frederic and as a prelude to this meeting, Josephine meets her prospective son-in-law at his lawyer’s office. During the meeting the contrast between her self-assurance and his bashfulness is marked. But when Anna expresses reservations, Josephine has no compunctions about resorting to emotional blackmail to sway her seemingly now obdurate daughter, telling her, “It will be for you, tomorrow, to make or to mar all that I have been doing since the day on which you were born…would you throw away from you in some childish fantasy all that I have been struggling to win for you during my whole life? Have you ever thought of what my life has been, Anna?…Would you have the heart to disappoint me, now that the victory is won”. Josephine fails to recognise that her daughter is different from herself even when Anna says, “I do not think, mamma, that I care much about rank.” As a result, her efforts to browbeat her daughter into submission result in the opposite effect. Though Anna does meet the Earl, “there was a fixed, determined hardness in her face which made her mother fear that the Earl might be dismayed.” She in truth underestimates the strength of her daughter’s resolve. In the ensuing battle of wills, when Josephine demands of her daughter, “Will you give me your word of honour that you will never see him again?”, Anna knew that “With that one word spoken her mother would be kind to her , and wait upon her; would bring her tea, and would sit by her bedside, and caress her. But she too was a Lovel, and she was, moreover, the daughter of her who had once been Josephine Murray.” And so finds the strength to refuse. Had Josephine but reckoned that Anna’s inner strength had been inherited from herself and might match her own then she might have taken a different and potentially more successful approach.

Josephine’s obsessive regard for rank and blood over all other considerations means that even though “[s]he not only loved her daughter – but loved no other human being on the face of the earth…But she declared to herself again and again that it would be better that her daughter should die than live and be married to the tailor.” That this is tantamount to a religious fervour is evident when she asks her daughter, “Do you not constantly pray to God to keep you in the state of life to which it has pleased Him to call you – and are you not departing from it wilfully and sinfully by such an act as this?”

To this end, Josephine endeavours to separate the two lovers by any means possible. She moves to better lodgings in Keppel Street (where Trollope was born, incidentally, which would make for some interesting Freudian analysis of the author, I think) and then has Anna lodged with Sergeant Bluestone, effectively kept there “a prisoner with gilded chains”.

Throughout this period, when Josephine is at her sternest towards her daughter, Trollope reveals her innermost suffering at the separation from her daughter. “She now found that those old days had been happier than these later days. Her girl had been with her and had been – or had at any rate seemed to be- true to her. She had something then to hope, something to expect, some happiness if glory to which she could look forward.”

Trollope also shows Josephine reduced to tears at the death of her long, standing supporter Thomas Thwaite, even though his son is now her “bitterest enemy” as Anna’s would be lover. But she has no truck with sentimentality. “Love, indeed, and romance! What was the love of one individual, what was the romance of a childish girl, to the honour and well-being of an ancient and noble family?” She thinks this even though that noble family had produced the husband who had so cruelly and publicly humiliated and maltreated her and had whose remaining members had actively sought to perpetuate that maltreatment through the courts.

It is therefore wholly consistent of Josephine, when Daniel forwards the evidence of a paltry £500 or so due from her to his father’s estate, that she should determine from her own meticulously maintained records that a sum of £9,000 including interest is in fact due to the estate and ensure that this sum is settled now she has access to money. She does not wish to be beholden to anyone, least of all her enemy.

So, when Anna holds firm to her betrothal to Daniel in a dramatic three way confrontation, Lady Lovel declares, “You shall never marry him; never. With my own hands I will kill him first – or you.”  She is so used to moulding other people to her view that she is unable to cope with her failure in this, the most vital of all issues.

And when Frederic takes Anna at her word that she will never marry him, Josephine chides him, “Are you so poor a creature? … Your duty and mine are the same – as should be hers. We must forget ourselves while we save the family.” It is a view with which Victorian readers would have been sympathetic –  Trollope records in his Autobiography  that “she marries the tailor. It was my wish  of course to justify her in doing so, and to carry my readers along with me in my sympathy with her. But everyone found fault with me for marrying her to the tailor.”(2) – but it is one that is alien to modern readers who value personal fulfilment and in particular emotional fulfilment over such an abstract notion.

Then when her plans to take her daughter abroad are thwarted by Anna’s refusal and her legal advisers tell her that, since Anna will be of age in two months, they will not help her to enforce her technical legal rights as the parent of a minor to force her to accompany her, Josephine cold-bloodedly and with “malice aforethought” plans to carry out her threat against Daniel. She has hitherto placed her faith in the support of the law in what she thoroughly believes to be the justness of her cause but now it has let her down and so she takes the law into her own hands.

Trollope says, “Then there came upon her a mad idea – an idea which was itself evidence of insanity” but unlike Mr Kennedy who attempted to murder Phineas Finn in the novel Phineas Redux, which was being serialised simultaneously in a different publication**, by the exact same method of decoying him to his rooms and attempting to shoot him with a pistol, Josephine was not mad. Obsessive, yes. Single-minded to the point beyond reasonable, yes. But not insane as legally defined or, in fact, as conventionally understood.

Yet this is indeed what she attempts. Daniel is summoned twice to Keppel Street where each time Josephine confronts him instead of Anna whom he had expected to meet. On the first occasion Josephine threatens “if you do not leave this [house], the blood which will be shed shall rest on your head”. On the second morning she had “walked nearly into the mid city so that she might not be watched, and had bought her pistol and powder and bullets, and had then with patience gone to work and taught herself how to prepare the weapon for use”. No clearer statement of premeditation could be given than Trollope does here. Her act is justified in her own mind by the creed she spits at him when she confronts him this second time. “Do you think  I will stand by, after such a struggle, and see you rob me of it all – you- you, who were one of the tools which came to my hand to work with?” An appalling doctrine to modern ears but one that prevailed in Victorian times, when the novel was published, and prevailed to an even greater extent in the Regency era in which the novel is set.

She seizes the pistol and fires off a single shot at him. The pistol she had procured was double barrelled but “had she held in her hand a six-barrelled revolver, as of thepresent day, she could have done no more with it. She,was overwhelmed with so great a tremor at her own violence that she was almost incapable of moving…Had all the Lovels depended upon it, she could not have drawn that other trigger.”

Having failed in this, her final great attempt to force the world to conform to her wishes, Josephine’s will collapses. “She had been utterly vanquished by the awe inspired by her own deed…She spoke no more if what she had done and what she had suffered, but seemed to submit to the inevitable.”

After her daughter’s marriage, to which she was invited but declined to attend, she asks the new Earl if she might reside once more at Lovel Grange. There, in the county where she had been born, grown up, and married, she lived and “too often with ill-directed generosity, she gave away her money, and became loved of the poor around her.” It is a lonely existence but perhaps inevitable for one who flew in the face of the conventions of true love on the part of the young with which Trollope, the romantic story-teller, felt bound to conform.

But Trollope is at least as much a realist as a romantic and he allows Josephine the self-knowledge to recognise, as she tells Daniel in a brief meeting before the wedding. “It is not my nature to be soft. All this has not tended to make me soft.”

*The 1828 Act was itself repealed and replaced by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – the relevant section under which bigamy remained a criminal offence being secion 57 – which remained in force at the time of the publication of Trollope’s Lady Anna in 1873.

** Lady Anna was serialised in the  Fortnightly Review between April 1873 and April 1874 while Phineas Redux was serialised between July 1873 and January 1874 in the Graphic. 

All quotations are taken from Lady Anna except:

(1) John Caldigate, published 1879.

(2) An Autobiography, published 1883.









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