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.