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Trollopes in Bloomsbury

Last Sunday the Trollope Society arranged a walk through Bloomsbury led by experienced London Guide Paul Baker. Starting from the British Library, we wove our way through the literary heart of London, taking in Trollope’s birthplace in Keppel Street along the way.

En route we passed where his fictional characters stayed while in London: Judd Street, where stood the Macpherson’s hotel in which Mr Kennedy shot Phineas Finn, Burton Crescent where Johnny Eames lodged and got into trouble with the landlady’s daughter Amelia Roper, Bedford Square where Lady Anna Lovel was lodged with Sergeant Bluestone, Keppel Street (again) where Lady Anna stayed with her mother, the home of the Mackenzie family in Gower Street and Bloomsbury Square where Harry Clavering took lodgings.

Perhaps the most surprising feature of the walk was the way that Trollope described these locations as unfashionable compared to the modern impression of the area as distinctly upmarket.

Perhaps a reflection on both these takes on the area can be gleaned from the scattering of blue plaques (the English Heritage equivalent of the graffiti “Kilroy was here”) along the route.

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Trollopes go to Prague

Some 153 years after Trollope visited Prague and was so entranced by the city that he set a novel there – the story of Nina Balatka “a maiden of Prague”, which features his most searing portrayal of the racism/anti-Semitism so prevalent at the time – the Trollope Society followed in his footsteps. At a weekend conference focussing on Nina Balatka, delegates enjoyed a walking tour of the city, during which, owing to the diligence of Michael Williamson, we were able to locate a house which closely fits the description by Trollope of that in which Nina lived:

Balatka House 2

“The Balatka’s house stood in a small courtyard near the river, but altogether hidden from it, somewhat to the right of the main street of the Kleinseite as you pass over the bridge. A lane, for it is little more, turning from the main street between the side walls of what were once two palaces, comes suddenly into a small square, and from a corner of this square there is an open stone archway leading into a court…[the] Balatka’s house occupied two sides of the court…Immediately over the little square stood the palace of the Hradschin…So immediately did the imperial hill tower over the spot on which Balatka lived that it would seem…that the colonnades of the palace were the upper storeys of some enormous edifice, of which the broken merchant’s small courtyard formed a lower portion. The long rows of windows would glimmer in the sheen of the night, and Nina would stand in the gloom of the archway counting them…”

On Sunday delegates performed a reading of Henry Ong’s play, based on the novel, in the peaceful garden of the hotel where they were staying. It seemed a fitting tribute to Henry who had hoped to attend the conference and who, sadly, died only the week before. The power of Trollope’s original story and Henry’s adaptation of it was evident even in an unrehearsed amateur read through and it provided a fitting close to the conference.

 

 

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Henry Ong Interview

Earlier this year I interviewed L.A. based playwright Henry Ong for Trollopiana (the magazine of The Trollope Society) and the interview appears in the current edition, published last month. Henry was a delight to interview and I was hoping to meet him in Prague this coming weekend where the Trollope Society is running a conference focused on Trollope’s novel Nina Balatka, set in the city, which Henry adapted for the stage. A reading of the play is to be a focal point of the conference. Sadly, Henry’s recent death  has deprived his husband Matthew, his family and friends in the L.A. theatre world and friends across the globe, including those who shared his infectious enthusiasm for Trollope, of a warm and loving personality.

As a tribute to Henry, I reproduce below his interview with me, so that those outside the Trollope Society membership can also share his thoughts on Trollope, stage adaptations and writing for the theatre.

What was the first Trollope novel you read and what inspired you to read that and subsequent novels?
The first Trollope novel I read was Rachel Ray. I remember liking it—in particular the quality of the writing and the vividness of the characters (what I subsequently learned to describe as Trollopian) so much I decided I would read all 47 of his novels!
Reading his works gave me a great fondness for Anthony Trollope who, I think, is one of the greatest of Victorian writers. His writing exhibits a keen observation of human life. While many writers deal with absolutes, Trollope colors his characters in more complex shades of gray.

You adapted Rachel Ray for the stage. What was it about that novel which attracted you to the idea of adapting it?
Prior to Rachel Ray, I had not heard of Trollope! When I read it on a long trip high in the clouds, I kept seeing the story unfold as a stage adaptation. I loved the romance between Rachel and Luke and how these two characters interacted with each other. Luke, in particular; how he was so taken by this country girl, and the two in the churchyard looking at the sky and the clouds and the blood-red setting…it was enough to make one giddy. And then the secondary characters, Mrs. Prime, Mrs Ray, Reverend Prong…they were all so distinctive; such fun roles for actors! It had to be adapted!!! I was vain enough to think I could do it!

Describe the process you go through in adapting a novel or other pre-existing work for the stage.
Once I make a decision to adapt, I have to think of a structure in which to tell it. A play is different from a novel, so it has its own dramatic structure. Each story has to be told differently. In Rachel Ray, it has to take a leisurely approach, so I started with a scene between Rachel and her mother, in which the main conflicts are introduced. Dolly (Rachel’s sister, aka Mrs. Prime) appears in a quick light shift in which she demands that Rachel accompany her to the Dorcas Society, but Rachel refuses and decided to remain home with mamma. Mrs. Ray, burdened with a rumor Dolly told her, struggles to reconcile her distrust of young men on the prowl and to discover from Rachel the truth behind the gossip. And, of course, the subject of all this uneasiness—the man from the brewery, Luke Rowan, himself.

You more recently adapted Nina Balatka for the stage. What was it about that novel which made it attractive to you to adapt?
Instinctively, I found the novel, which is quite different from Trollope’s other works, both confronting and challenging due to its religious theme. My background is Catholic and, later in life, I married a Jewish man. Thus, inherently I was drawn to it. One difference between Nina Balatka and Trollope’s other novels is the setting. Nina takes place outside of England: Prague, in particular. Second, in most of Trollope’s novels, the lovers meet; they encounter numerous hurdles; in the end, they are happily united. In Nina, the hero and heroine are already in love and engaged to each other when the story begins. No details are given as to how they have fallen in love. But the third, and most significant difference, is succinctly stated by Trollope himself in the opening sentence which is as iconic and self-explanatory as any in English literature, and I knew I wanted to keep that in the play: “Nina Balatka was a maiden of Prague, born of Christian parent, and herself a Christian. But she loved a Jew, and this is her story.”
Also with Nina Balatka, when I read it, I was fascinated by the Victorian perspective of Jews. At first, I thought it was peculiar to the times, this obsession with Jews as “different.” Victorian England is different from contemporary England, and surely folks today are different. However, with other events happening in the world right now, I’m not so sure. What happened in Charlottesville here in the U.S. was a wakeup call for me. There’s a lot of racism and hatred that surfaced, and I’m sure throughout the world as well. All of which makes Nina Balatka quite relevant for modern contemplation. Also, my husband is Jewish (although non-practicing), so I have a personal connection to the topic.
I also found it interesting that, although Trollope was already a renowned and established novelist in 1866, Nina Balatka was initially published anonymously. Trollope claimed that it was because he wanted to test his work without the advantage of his fame. Still, the question remains, why test it with this particular work? Could it be because of its controversial subject? Marriages between Christians and Jews were considered taboo in the 19th century and anti-Semitism was certainly not uncommon. Trollope, however, was not known to shy away from controversial subjects. In discussing Nina Balatka, the question of whether or not Trollope himself was anti-Semitic is a likely consideration. The contrasting ways in which the families of Nina and Anton react to the issue of inter-faith marriage may provide a clue into Trollope’s own thinking and I wanted to explore this on the stage.
Ultimately, it is hard for me to pin-point one exact reason why I decide to adapt a piece of work; with me, it comes from the gut. If I’m moved by the story (or by a particular character), I make an impulsive choice.

How does dialogue on the page of a novel differ from dialogue for a scene on stage?
A playwright has to be much more concise than a novelist, and be able to convey the essence of a scene succinctly, or the play will be interminable. In a novel, the author is able to interrupt dialogue with a description of the character’s internal thoughts. In a play, this can be achieved through asides, but frequently, a look or a gesture on the part of the character can say it all.

How do you adapt dialogue from a novel to a stage production?
I personally try to get the gist of what the dialogue is from the main source. Often, I will transcribe the whole conversation, then edit. Or, if memory serves me, I will just write what I remember of the scene, then return to the source material to see if it matches with the original. There are times when, for continuity, I make up some of my own dialogue to allow the conversation to run more smoothly. It varies from playwright to playwright, but a play has its own structure, so to try and transplant the book to the stage is not a good idea. A play has to have its own rhythm.

How do you balance being true to the author’s original with your interpretation for the stage?
I suppose an adaptor cannot help but bring his or her own interpretation to any adaptation. I am careful, however, to ensure that the actions and the words of the characters that should come across as the author intended.

Can you give examples from your plays Rachel Ray and Nina Balatka?
In Rachel Ray, for instance, Rachel is a young woman, very inexperienced in the ways of the world. Her confusion and her first flush of romance must be captured as Trollope wrote it, or I would have failed as a playwright. Luke Rowan is a brash young man; yet, there is a tender side to him, despite his stubbornness. I hope I have conveyed that throughout the play.
I also remember being struck by one particular exchange between Dolly (Mrs. Prime) and Reverend Prong— when he proposed to her. The language was so wonderful that if I could, I would have transcribed the entire exchange! But I wrote the scene from memory and had to pick what was especially remarkable to me (as the adaptor). When I consulted the novel, I was happy to see that I did indeed include what I thought was the essence of that exchange. Ditto, the break-up scene –the whole argument about women being able to have an opinion and the Jewish prejudice that surfaced on the part of Dolly—it was the one time that I thought Prong showed some compassion; unlike Dolly, he didn’t condemn Jews because of their faith.
Nina Balatka was completely a different ball game (or different ball of wax, as the English would probably say) for me. I was engrossed by the Jewish element. The fact that Nina fell in love with a Jew is the main theme of the story. Therefore, that informed the rest of the play. Some readers (as noted in our Big Read) found Anton Trendellsohn a rather unsympathetic and unlikeable character, not because he’s a Jew, but because he seems very unbending. He is raised quite differently from Nina, and has had distinctly separate life experiences. While I didn’t want to change his character, I had to find some “softness” in Anton. I may have added additional dialogue (or a monologue) to show his internal conflict.
Many of your plays seem to focus on the issues faced by outsiders of society. Is this a deliberate choice and what responsibilities does this place on you as a playwright to express the outsiders’ perspectives?
That is true. I do not only write adaptations. I am also motivated by injustice and the plight of oppressed people, collectively or individually. For instance, when I read about a group of Thai garment workers locked up in an apartment building, held captive, some for as many as seven years, I was moved to write Fabric. My most recent play, Ascent,is based on the story of a Chinese aeronautical scientist involved in the Space program in its early development. He was charged with being a Communist during the McCarthy era without any shred of evidence and deported back to his native China. It was a monumental blunder of the United States, one that gave rise to China as a nuclear power. Irony also intrigues me; hence Sweet Karma about a Cambodian refugee, a doctor who fled the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, only to be fatally gunned down in the streets of Los Angeles. By the way, this doctor, Dr. Haing S. Ngo, was plucked out of obscurity to star in the movie, The Killing Fields, and it won him an Oscar as best supporting actor.
Deliberate? I guess it has to be deliberate, if it’s something I’m willing to commit months, even years in the development of the work. I do feel a responsibility to be as accurate as I can in telling stories of others. Hence, I do an inordinate amount of research in the topic to uncover the underlying truth behind the stories.

In your own life, living in the USA as a person who is not White, Anglo-Saxon, Straight Protestant, do you bring anything of your own experiences to the plays you write?
Every writer brings something of himself/herself in the story-telling. Especially in the choice of the work. But once one starts telling the tale, one has to be as objective as possible. There are other perspectives involved in a drama, and the closer one can get to express that differing perspectives, the more successful would be the playwright. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with those perspectives, but you have to show that others, besides the protagonist, also have views, and those views are as valid because they come from the person’s history. I never think of myself as non-White, non-Anglo-Saxon, non-straight Protestant; I think of myself as a human being and a person of the world. While I may carry a U.S. passport, I am really a citizen of the world. What I can say is, I believe, I have my own voice and perspective, but I hope that my experiences contribute to the overall understanding of the human condition.

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Rambles beyond railways

Anthony Trollope’s contemporary Wilkie Collins was, like his friend Charles Dickens, a great walker. The pair took themselves off on one occasion and hiked together round some of the remoter spots in Cornwall and Devon.

Wilkie recounted some of their adventures in a volume he entitled Rambles Beyond Railways, published in 1861. One place tbe pair visited was Minions, a tiny mining community on the edge of Bodmin Moor. Its most famous geological feature is the “cheesewring”, of which Wilkie said, “If a man dreamt of a great pile of stones in a nightmare, he would dream of such a pile as the cheesewring.”

Following in their footsteps in the 21st century I can record not only the cheesewring, pictured above, but also the passing of the mining industry. This engine house, below, sat atop a mine here and was constructed nearly two decades after Wilkie and Dickens passed through the village yet it was already abandoned and derelict before the middle of the last century, so brief was its heyday.

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Was Planty Pall named after an armour-piercing shell?

Plantagenet Palliser makes his entrance in The Small House at Allington, the fifth of the six Barchester Chronicles, where he makes a half-hearted play for Lady Dumbello  – Griselda Grantly as was. Published by Smith, Elder & Co in March 1864, this novel – perhaps uniquely even for Trollope, who notoriously cared little for the general prejudice against spoilers – summarises in three paragraphs at the end of chapter 55 the essentials of the plot of Can You Forgive Her? as it pertains to the marriage of Plantagenet and Glencora and the seeing off of the Burgo Fitzgerald risk to that marriage. Can You Forgive Her, also published later in 1864 by Chapman & Hall, is, of course, the opening salvo in the series of six political novels which succeeded the Barsetshire Chronicles as the cornerstone of Trollope’s writing for the remaining two decades of his life.

I was therefore struck by the date appended to an exhibit at the 100 ton Gun Museum in Gibraltar.

Palliser 3

Standing in an ill-lit corner of the museum was one of the shells which the gun was designed to fire. It was one of three types of shells used: high explosive, shrapnel and armour-piercing. It was an example of the last of these which stood 44 inches tall, and weighing a mighty 2,000 pounds (910 kilos), beneath an information board. This explained that the shell was an example of what was known as a Palliser shell, named after Captain William Palliser who had invented a radical new method of casting the shell with a point in an iron mould. This caused the point to cool more rapidly than the remainder of the shell giving it an extremely hard, though brittle, tip. This made it capable of penetrating more than two feet of wrought iron armour plating. Such a weapon was potentially devastating during an era in which the thickest armour on warships was no more than 18 inches thick.

And the year in which Captain Palliser devised this technique for the shell’s manufacture? It was 1863.

Is it too fanciful to speculate that Trollope might have heard discussion of this fantastic new weapon and its inventor and thought it an apt name for the character he was developing in his mind who would become the focal point and provider of continuity through the series of political novels he was about to embark upon?

Alas, of course, it is impossible to prove. And the fact that The Small House at Allington was already being serialised in the Cornhill magazine from September 1862 onwards, and was written earlier still, tends to weigh against the possibility. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, though, that Trollope might make a last minute amendment to change a character name to a new, more attractively puissant and alliterative alternative that was topical and associated with the burgeoning strength of the Royal Navy underpinning the growing British Empire.

It would be nice to think it possible, at least.

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Trollope’s Women: Matilda Carbury

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Cheryl Campbell as Matilda Carbury, flanked by Matthew Macfadyen as her son, Sir Felix, and Paloma Baeza as her daughter Hetta, in the 2001 BBC production of The Way We Live Now.

When Trollope created the character of Matilda Carbury, the writer of potboilers of negligible literary merit necessary to make ends meet after having been left insufficient funds on the death of her husband so that she might continue supporting herself and her children in the lifestyle to which they had been accustomed, it is tempting to think that he had in mind his own mother, Fanny Trollope, who had died some twelve years prior to the publication of The Way We Live Now, as his model for her character. This, intriguingly, leads to speculation whether the profligate older son, Felix, to whom Lady Carbury is devoted and upon whom she squanders most of the little money she has, might be a proxy for Trollope’s own older brother Thomas and the long-suffering, neglected younger daughter, Henrietta, or Hetta as everyone calls her, is a proxy for Anthony himself.

Matilda was born at the beginning of the 1830s and while she was still a young child, “Her mother had run away from her father, and she had been tossed to and fro between this and that protector, sometimes being in danger of wanting anyone to care for her, till she had been made sharp, incredulous, and untrustworthy by the difficulties of her position. But she was clever, and had picked up an education and good manners amidst the difficulties of her childhood – and had been beautiful to look at.”(1)

At the age of eighteen she escaped her unhappy situation by marrying Sir Patrick Carbury, an older man – then aged forty-four – but it transpired that she had leapt from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Her husband was “imperious, and often cruel”. He had been a soldier in India and after three years of marriage had been promoted to another position abroad. Matilda accompanied him and he “had occasionally spoilt his darling and occasionally ill used her. In doing each he had done it abundantly.” For the next dozen or so years, “things had gone tolerably well with her – by which it is intended that the reader should understand that they had so gone that she had been able to tolerate them…She could smile within five minutes of violent ill-usage. Her husband would even strike her – and the first effort of her mind would be given to conceal the fact from all the world. In latter years he drank too much, and she struggled hard first to prevent the evil, and then to prevent and hide the ill effects of the evil. But in doing all this she schemed, and lied, and lived a life of manoeuvres.”(1)

When Matilda was in her early 30s, she began to socialise more widely without the company of her husband. Her social acquaintances included men and though “she never allowed herself to flirt”, her husband “became jealous, spoke words which even she could not endure, did things which drove even her beyond the calculations of her prudence – and she left him. But even this she did in so guarded a way that, as to every step she took, she could prove her innocence.”(1)

It is not difficult to imagine that the provocation for her leaving included repeated beatings of, perhaps, increasing severity and verbal abuse of a sort that would not be tolerated in any modern relationship.

Of course, this being the 1860s, in spite of her precautions, far from being regarded by society as a victim of an abusive husband forced out of the family home by his behaviour, Matilda was “slandered. For a month or two all hard words had been said against her by her husband’s friends, and even by Sir Patrick himself. But gradually the truth was known, and after a year’s separation they came again together and she remained the mistress of his house till he died. She brought him home to England, but…the scandal of her great misfortune had followed her, and some people were never tired of reminding others that in the course of her married life Lady Carbury had run away from her husband, and had been taken back again by that kind-hearted old gentleman.”(1) How this injustice coloured her judgment is a matter for speculation but it must have led her to mistrust public opinion and to be wary of any future attachment.

When her husband died, in about 1870, Matilda Carbury was 40. “Now at length had come to her a period of relaxation – her reward, her freedom, her chance of happiness. She thought much about herself, and resolved on one or two things. The time for love had gone by, and she would have nothing to do with it. Nor would she marry again for convenience. But she would have friends – real friends; friends who could help her – and whom possibly she might help. She would, too, make some career for herself, so that life might not be without an interest to her. She would live in London, and would become somebody at any rate in some circle.”(1)

After what she had endured, this seems to be a positive outlook for her to take. It indicates a degree of fortitude and resolve that must have been sorely tested during the years of her marriage.

Of course her late husband left Matilda with little to live on. He bequeathed £1000 a year to his son, Felix, and the same to Matilda for her lifetime, with which she was required to support Hetta. “Accident at first rather than choice had thrown her among literary people, but that accident had, during the last two years, been supported and corroborated by the desire which had fallen upon her of earning money.”(1) It is here that parallels with Trollope’s own mother, Fanny, become apparent.

In his Autobiography, Trollope says that his mother “produced 114 volumes of which the first was not written till she was fifty.”(2) He describes how when her first attempt to save the family fortunes from the disastrous state to which his father had reduced them, a bazaar she set up in Cincinnati, had failed, “she looked about her, at her American cousins, and resolved to write a book about them. This book she brought back with her in 1831 and published early in 1832…When doing this she was aware that unless she could succeed in making money, there was no money for any of the family. She had never before earned a shilling.”(2) Clearly, her motives for writing were financial and not artistic. He describes how “book followed book immediately”(2). The industry with which she worked was a model for Trollope’s own approach. “She was at her table at four in the morning and finished her work before the world had begun to be aroused.”(2) But Trollope was aware of her limitations as a writer, saying “she was endowed too with much creative power, with considerable humour, and a genuine feeling for romance. But she was neither clear-sighted nor accurate; and in her attempts to describe morals, manners, and even facts, was unable to avoid the pitfalls of exaggeration.”(2)

When we first meet Matilda, in the opening chapter of the novel, she is engaged not in actual writing but in what, in modern parlance, might be considered marketing. She writes to three potential publishers for her forthcoming book including Mr Broune who was “the editor of the Morning Breakfast Table, a daily newspaper of high character…Mr Broune was a man powerful in his profession – and he was fond of ladies.”(1) Matilda is not unaware of her own attractiveness to the opposite sex and is more than willing to use her feminine charms to achieve her ends with the male editors whose goodwill she needed. “She was forty-three, but carried her years well, and had received such gifts from nature, that it was impossible to deny that she was still a beautiful woman. And she used her beauty not only to increase her influence…but also with a well-considered calculation that she could obtain material assistance in the procuring of bread and cheese, which was very necessary to her, by a prudent adaptation to her purposes of the good things with which providence had endowed her. She did not fall in love, she did not wilfully flirt, she did not commit herself; but she smiled and whispered and made confidences, and looked out of her own eyes into men’s eyes as though there might be some mysterious bond between her and them – if only mysterious circumstances would permit it. But the end of all was to induce someone to do something which would cause a publisher to give her good payment for indifferent writing, or an editor to be lenient when, upon the merits of the case, he should have been severe.”(1)

When Matilda had recently tried these tactics with Mr Broune in an interview about articles she had sent to him for publication, “she had looked into his eyes, and had left her soft, plump hand for a moment in his. A man in such circumstances is so often awkward, not knowing with any accuracy when to do one thing and when another! Mr Broune, in a moment of enthusiasm, had put his arm around Lady Carbury’s waist and had kissed her.”(1)

In our 21st Century, “#Metoo” world, Mr Broune’s behaviour would be seen as an abuse of his powerful position and sexual harassment. However, in the Victorian era, as Trollope describes, the position was less clear cut. Matilda is knowingly sailing close to the wind. In other social contexts, her behaviour might have been seen as leading Mr Broune on with a view to perhaps entrapping him into a proposal of marriage. This perspective would have been most strongly felt by other women, who would wish to set the parameters of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour – one assumes so that the ground-rules were clear for their own daughters entry into the high stakes marriage game. Thus, although Mr Broune’s behaviour required Matilda to rebuke him, she does so mildly “Without a flutter, and without a blush” and asks for an apology even though she “did not quite expect it” but rather hoped for, and obtained, “a promise…that the articles should be printed – and with generous remuneration.”(1) Who is the victim of whom in this transaction – the Victorian opinion may differ from the 21st century’s verdict.

Mr Broune’s subsequent support Matilda, both in her dealings with her spendthrift son, and personally, suggests that, while he might have been willing to take advantage of what appeared to be on offer in this early encounter, his intentions were, in the long term, honourable.

In contrast, Trollope describes Matilda Carbury’s approach to making a living through her writing as “Detestably false…absolutely and abominably foul as was the entire system by which she was endeavouring to achieve success, far away from honour and honesty as she had been carried by her ready subserviency to the dirty things among which she had lately fallen”.(1) Since Trollope had no problem with the concept of writing for money, and indeed his posthumous reputation suffered from his candid revelation of this in An Autobiography, it must be understood that Trollope here is critical of her marketing technique when used to further sales of second rate goods. While there is no suggestion that his mother employed similar tactics, given the criticism he voiced of the shortcomings of his mother’s writings, it is not inconceivable that Matilda Carbury is in some respects a portrait of his mother.

And here we come to the parallels with Trollope’s own mother and her relationship towards her favourite son, Thomas Adolphus, and her other surviving son Anthony.

It appears that although during the early years of Matilda Carbury’s marriage there had been little distinction between the children, “to whom both father and mother had been over indulgent”(1), this had been continued by the mother only in respect of her son.

“She had known from the first that economy would be necessary to her – not chiefly, or perhaps not at all from a feeling that she and her daughter could not live comfortably on a thousand a year – but on behalf of her son. She wanted no luxury but a house so placed that people might conceive of her that she lived in a proper part of town. Of her daughter’s prudence she was as well convinced as her own. She could trust Henrietta in everything. But her son, Sir Felix, was not very trustworthy. And yet Sit Felix was the darling of her heart.”(1)

Given the insecurity of her upbringing, and the difficulties she encountered in her own marriage, it is perhaps not surprising that Matilda should wish to see her daughter married to the prudent, safe cousin Roger Carbury. He has money. He has position. He is as far removed from the turbulent character of her own husband as can be. She fails to recognise that he is, to the young woman, a dull, boring and unromantic prospect. “Lady Carbury was very eager on his side. Though the Carbury Manor House did not exactly suit her, it would do admirably for Henrietta. And as for age, to her thinking, she being then over forty, a man of thirty-six was young enough for any girl. But Henrietta had an opinion of her own. She liked her cousin but did not love him.”(1) This conflict, a classic Trollopian mother-daughter struggle, is similar to that of Lady Lovel and her daughter in Lady Anna published only the year before. The mother is past romance and thinks the daughter should be equally cold-blooded. When Hetta does not give in to her mother’s scheme she is treated as ungrateful and unreasonably stubborn. Is this controlling mother figure again a reflection of Trollope’s own mother?

So, in typical Trollopian fashion, Matilda Carbury sets about driving her daughter into Sir Roger’s arms. She arranges for her and Hetta to stay with Roger, hoping that keeping them in proximity will weaken Hetta’s resistance.

Naturally, Matilda is appalled by her daughter’s choice of Paul Montague as the object of her affections. From a Victorian matriarch’s point of view she is quite right. Paul has no apparent means of support and moves in questionable company through his business dealings with Augustus Melmotte. Roger on the other hand is utterly respectable and financially sound. Yet Trollope carefully ensures that the reader’s sympathies are with the daughter and makes the mother appear unreasonable in her attempts to thwart the path of true love. When Matilda comes upon the pair together, “As soon as the door was closed behind them Lady Carbury attacked her daughter. ‘What brought him here?’ ‘He brought himself, mamma.’ ‘Don’t answer me in that way, Hetta. Of course he brought himself. That is insolent.’ ‘Insolent, mamma! How can you say such hard words? I meant that he came of his own accord.’ ‘How long was he here?’ ‘Two minutes before you came in. Why do you cross-question me like this?'” As the quarrel goes on Hetta says to her mother, “I think you are very cruel to me. You say things so hard that I cannot bear them.”(1)

When, eventually, her daughter insists she will not marry Roger and will persist with Paul even though it appears he is ruined by the failure of the railway venture, Matilda Carbury harangues Hetta. “It is hard upon me. I did think that you would try to comfort me after all this trouble with Felix. But you are as bad as he is – or worse, for you have not been thrown into temptation like that poor boy! And you will break your cousin’s heart. Poor Roger! I feel for him – he that has been so true to us! But you think nothing of that.’ ‘I think very much of my cousin Roger.’ [Hetta replies] ‘And how do you show it – or your love for me? There would have been a home for us all. Now we must starve. Hetta, you have been worse to me even than Felix.'”(1)

This, of course, is not only unreasonable but inconsistent and hypocritical of Matilda.   She has promoted the possibility of Felix marrying Melmotte’s daughter, Marie, believing her to be a wealthy heiress and now, after the collapse of the great financier’s railway scheme, berates Hetta for persisting in a relationship with Paul Montague because he is involved in that man’s business and is ruined thereby. In Trollope’s novels, it is often the lot of the sisters, wives and daughters to be called upon to sacrifice their wants to meet the monetary shortfalls caused by the impecunious behaviour of their brothers, husbands and fathers but the injustice of Matilda’s accusations on this occasion, however, do tend to alienate her from the reader’s sympathy.

Of course, Matilda Carbury’s best intentions for her daughter are not unalloyed. “If her daughter could be settled in the world, Lady Carbury said to herself, she could then devote herself to the interests of her son.”(1)

Whatever his failings, and Matilda is acutely aware of them and will even lie to cover them up – as when she hides the truth of his failed elopement with Marie from his sister Hetta – she will stop at nothing to support her wayward son, Felix.

It is in this unfairness and inequality of treatment between her two children by Matilda Carbury that I am tempted to speculate that Anthony, more than a decade after her death, works out through this novel the complex emotions and ambivalence he feels about his mother Fanny’s relationship with him and his older brother Thomas Adolphus.

I am also led to this by a description of the critical response to Matilda’s writing. When her book, Criminal Queens, is published, a reviewer had “set upon her book, and had pulled it to pieces with almost rabid malignity. One would have thought that so slight a thing could hardly have been worthy of such protracted attention. Error after error was laid bare with merciless prolixity. No doubt the writer of the article must have had all history at his finger ends, as in pointing out the various mistakes made he always spoke of the historical facts which had been misquoted, misdated, or misrepresented, as being familiar in all their bearings to every schoolboy of twelve years old.”(1)

This mention of schooldays will remind anyone familiar with Trollope’s own unhappy childhood of his description of his schooldays. “When I was twelve there came the vacancy at Winchester College that I was destined to fill…In accordance with the practice of the college, which submits, or did then submit, much of the tuition of the younger boys to the elder, [my brother, Thomas Adolphus] was my tutor; and in his capacity of teacher and ruler…as a part of his daily exercise, he thrashed me with a big stick.”(2)  He recalls of his brother that “in those school-days he was of all my foes the worst.”(2)

Trollope prefaces this description of their boyhood relationship with the statement that, “Over a period of forty years, since I began my manhood at a desk in the Post Office, I and my brother, Thomas Adolphus, have been fast friends. There have been hot words between us, for a perfect friendship bears and allows hot words. Few brothers have had more of brotherhood.”(2)

I think that in this prefatory statement, Trollope protests too much. It would be quite understandable if there were a lingering resentment of the abuse received at the hands of his brother when Anthony was the defenceless younger boy. And what better place to work out that resentment than in a public work of fiction. I contend that Felix Carbury, portrayed as a dreadful, selfish character in contrast to the selfless, long-suffering younger sister, Hetta, is a fictional retaliation, albeit probably subconsciously so, aimed at his older brother for that treatment while they were at Winchester together.

In accordance with this reading, Hetta is to be seen as representing Anthony in this triangular relationship with the mother. The depredations suffered by Hetta, when her mother gives to Felix money that was to have supported Hetta, are a fictional parallel of the sufferings and humiliations Anthony suffered during his childhood when his mother abandoned him in the UK. Fanny took the family off to America where she was then joined by her husband and Thomas Adolphus leaving Antony alone of all the children, while still a schoolboy.

The psychological damage that Anthony suffered as a child is palpable through all he writes of that time in An Autobiography. It should come as no surprise that he should find an outlet for this pain in later life, even one that he might have been reluctant to recognise even to himself. A Victorian man would, I think, not be consciously so oblique as to use a female character as his surrogate, to suffer in his stead the tribulations and injustice that Hetta endures at the hands of her mother and brother. But subconsciously her passive acceptance of all that is heaped upon her, for me, has uncomfortable echoes of young Anthony’s suffering.

If this is the case, then it is all the more remarkable that Trollope is able to provide Matilda Carbury with an unlooked for happy ending. Mr Broune proves to be not only honourable but persistent in his attempts to make her his wife. Indeed, when he makes his first hesitant proposal to her, “She thought so badly of men and women generally, and of Mr Broune and herself as a man and woman individually, that she was unable to conceive the possibility of such a sacrifice”. As a result she tells him that “I did not think that you would take advantage of the confidence I have placed in you to annoy me in this way” believing him to be declaring what she thought of as “an improper passion [that] would be inconvenient, and therefore to be avoided.”(1)

When he explains this is not at all his intention but that he wishes to make her his wife, “The word ‘wife’ came upon her like a thunder-clap. It at once changed all her feelings towards him. She did not dream of loving him. She felt sure that she could never love him. Had it been on the cards for her to love any man as a lover, it would have been some handsome spendthrift who would have hung from her neck like a nether millstone.”(1) In her mind, Matilda sees love on the part of a woman as an act of sacrifice. She will be brought down by it. Indeed, the husband she married and the son she brought up were both millstones around her neck. To love is to be destroyed by the object of that love. We can all find, I am sure, examples from among our own friends, those who go from one disastrous relationship to the next, making and re-making the same mistakes, picking the same type of unsuitable partners. In making Matilda thus, Trollope is recognising and accurately portraying an all too human trait.

Her view of Mr Broune is “a friend to be used…That a man – such a man should offer to take half her burdens, and to confer upon her half his blessings! What an idiot! But what a god! …now she found that he not only had a human heart in his bosom, but a heart that she could touch. How wonderfully sweet! How infinitely small!”(1) She has spent so long in transactional relationships that she is overwhelmed by the capacity for unreciprocated generosity on the part of another person. The cold intellectual part of her is astonished at his foolishness while the warm human part of her is moved by his offer.

At first she refuses him, but as he steps in with practical aid which relieves her of the burden of her son, and he becomes more dominant, she eventually gives in to him. She knows her son and that he will never come to any good while he is indulged but needs Mr Broune to force her into facing this. So she marries him and allows him to pack her son off to the continent where he cannot any longer be a drain on her depleted finances.

In giving her the happy ending though, Trollope exposes to the reader her deep-seated insecurity. “Her opinion of herself was so poor, she had become so sick of her own vanities and littlenesses and pretences, that she could not understand that such a man as this should want to make her his wife. At this moment she thought less of herself and more of Mr Broune than either perhaps deserved…The long vista of her past life appeared before her eyes. The ambition of her youth which had been taught to look only to a handsome maintenance, the cruelty of her husband which had driven her to run from him, the further cruelty of his forgiveness when she returned to him; the calumny which had made her miserable, though she had never confessed her misery; then her attempts at life in London, her literary successes and failures, and the wretchedness of her son’s career – there had never been happiness, or even comfort in any of it. Even when her smiles had been sweetest her heart had been heaviest. Could it be that now at last peace should be within her reach, and that tranquillity which comes from an anchor holding to a firm bottom?” That Trollope can give such a flawed character the strength to see her through to this point shows a remarkable insight, empathy and compassion in the author.

 

 

 

(1) The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope, (1875) Chapman and Hall
(2) An Autobiography, Anthony Trollope, (1883) William Blackwood and Sons

 

 

 

 

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It is with deep sadness…

that I must record the death of my friend Martin Chown.

I have known Martin for a more than twenty years through our shared enthusiasm for Anthony Trollope’s writing. In that time I have attended countless seminars that he has organised in London to discuss Trollope’s novels. In these discussions, Martin could always be relied upon to recall those esoteric details that so many of us miss and which lend Trollope his unparalleled air of verisimilitude in his representation of the middle class life of the Victorian era.

Martin was a tireless member of the Trollope Society committee and, in his role supporting the running of seminar groups around the country, contributed as much as anyone in bringing Trollope’s work to the attention of readers, which, of course, is the primary objective of the Society.

I shall also remember Martin, from my time with him on the committee, for his personal charm and the diffident air with which he would voice his opinions. He was ever one to defer to others, even those whose views might be less solidly grounded than his own, in order to achieve a compromise and reach a consensus decision.

There will be a Memorial Celebration for Martin on Thursday, August 30th 2018 at 12.00 noon at ARC St John’s Arts and Recreation Centre, Old Harlow CM17 0AJ. Refreshments will be provided and the event, which is intended to be a celebration of Martin’s life and work, will be followed by the burial of his ashes at Epping Forest Burial Park CM16 6AD (estimated time roughly 14.30pm).

It would be helpful, if you intend to go to Martin’s Memorial, if you could e-mail the Society (info@trollopesociety.org) in order that numbers can be known in advance for the catering and other arrangements.

For those coming by train, the nearest Station is HARLOW MILL which is on the line from Paddington. The HARLOW TOWN Station is in the New Town and will probably require a taxi journey.

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