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Wilkie Collins in Penzance

the-lightbouse-2

I am looking forward to seeing the first full reading in 146 years of The Lighthouse by Trollope’s contemporary, Wilkie Collins, which is taking place tomorrow evening at The Acorn Theatre in Penzance.

Written in 1855, Wilkie Collins presented Charles Dickens with his first original drama, The Lighthouse, which was inspired by his sighting of the Eddystone Lighthouse, while on his travels in Cornwall. Collins created a tense, psychological drama employing elements of crime and the supernatural, familiar to readers of Collins’s fiction.

The plays opening night was the18th June at Tavistock House, with Collins and Dicken’s taking the lead parts and their family and friends making up the rest of the cast, it was a very hot ticket of its time.

The play will be preceded by what is billed as “a lively performance lecture” by Wilkie Collins expert Jak Stringer, followed by a reading of the play by the Speakeasy Players.
This event will be the first FULL reading of The Lighthouse for 146 years and aims to recreate its opening night in the nursery of Charles Dickens’s home, where the audience can immerse themselves in a very Victorian evening.

I understand that a few tickets remain so if you fancy a trip to Cornwall in the footsteps of Wilkie Collins then go to the theatre’s online box office: Acorn Theatre Penzance Box Office

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Trollope’s Women: Madeline Neroni

La Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni – nata Stanhope, played by Susan Hampshire in the 1982 BBC production The Barchester Chronicles.

Madeline Neroni’s role in Barchester Towers is rather like that of Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western: the stranger with the mysterious past who rides into town and, when the gun-smoke clears, the bad guy lies vanquished at his feet, the good guy has got the girl, and law and order has been restored to the town. Then, with the job done, he rides out into the sunset, disappearing forever from the townsfolks’ lives.

So Madeline Neroni is brought into Barchester as part of her father’s household when he is summoned from the shores of Lake Como in Italy by Bishop Proudie to resume his clerical duties which he had abandoned some twelve years earlier on the pretext of requiring the sunnier climes for his health, though as we learn in Framley Parsonage this is mere diplomatic cover for financial difficulties which led to him fleeing creditors for a cheaper place to live. By the end of the novel, Madeline has exposed to the world the conniving Obadiah Slope for the hypocrite he is – effectively running him out of town as a result – and been instrumental in engineering the match between Eleanor Bold and the Reverend Francis Arabin. She then departs with her father and the Stanhope family once more to the distant shores of Lake Como.

In fulfilling this function, Madeline is also yin to Eleanor Bold’s yang; a complementary mirror image providing a shady, manipulative alter-ego to Eleanor’s open, transparent straightforwardness.

It can be no coincidence that they are much the same age – Madeline is 28 at the time when Barchester Towers is set in about 1850 and Eleanor is perhaps a couple of years older. The reader is invited to see parallels in the two characters. Indeed, Arabin is trapped by Madeline into making a direct comparison of the two of them. When he tells her that “Mrs Bold is a very beautiful woman, and as intelligent as beautiful.” She turns this upon him as a veiled slight to herself, “‘And you really have the effrontery to tell me this,’ she said, ‘to tell me, who, as you very well know, set up to be a beauty myself, and who am at this very moment taking such an interest in your affairs, you really have the effrontery to tell me that Mrs Bold is the most beautiful woman you know.’ ‘I did not say so,’ said Mr Arabin; ‘you are more beautiful -‘ ‘Ah, come now, that is something like. I thought you could not be so unfeeling.’ ‘You are more beautiful, perhaps more clever.’  Arabin is about to go on further about Eleanor but Madeline shuts him down and will not hear it. She has achieved her objective.

Kate Lawson, in her paper, Abject and Defiled: Signora Neroni’s Body and the Question of Domestic Violence in Barchester Towers, for the Victorian Review draws attention to the contrast between the past marriages of the two women. “Madeline Stanhope Neroni’s married life is represented as antithetical to Eleanor Bold’s lost domestic paradise.” The Neroni marriage is, by implication, the setting for domestic violence which is cut short by the husband’s attempts to desert the wife and, ultimately by her own subsequent fleeing from the husband to return to the shelter of her father’s house. The Bold marriage was happy and ended by his premature death. Both women are, therefore, in a post-married state albeit, when it suits her, Madeline invokes her continued married state to frustrate would be suitors who are in danger of getting too close to her (physically or psychologically).

An obvious similarity between the two women is that both are pursued by Mr Slope, though for very different reasons. Eleanor is still grieving for her first husband and is less worldly than Madeline, so remains blissfully unaware of Mr Slope’s intentions until late in the story, whereby hangs much of the plot’s tension and humour, whereas Madeline is very consciously seeking to entrap the clergyman whose double standards she has, with her finely tuned street-wise senses, quickly identified.

Madeline has acquired this worldly wisdom through a series of romantic escapades in Italy from the age of seventeen to twenty-one. In these she has “become famous for adventures in which her character was just not lost, and had destroyed the hearts of a dozen cavaliers without once being touched in her own. Blood had flowed in quarrels about her charms, and she heard of these encounters with pleasurable excitement. It had been told of her that on one occasion she had stood by in disguise of a page, and had seen her lover fall.” These thrill-seeking endeavours have left her cynical, particularly about the willingness of men to lie and flatter in pursuit of female conquests, and cold-hearted. So much so, that I would attribute this callousness to a fear of being hurt again, if she actually were to commit herself to a relationship, given that the last of these adventures was her relationship with the ne-er-do-well Paulo Neroni who bedded her, wed her when she was too obviously pregnant by him, then promptly abandoned her and his responsibilities to his child.

Trollope says that “she married the very worst of those who sought her hand…When the moment came for doing so she probably had no alternative.” Given that she turns up on her family’s doorstep with her daughter six months after the date of the marriage there is little doubt left in the reader’s mind that Madeline had flouted convention and indulged in pre-marital sex.

For this breach of acceptable norms of society, she suffers her punishment in the form of a physical disability. Melanie Moore in her article on Barchester Towers for 19th Century Disability Cultures and Contexts notes that “As with many nineteenth century novels, Madeline’s physical defect is linked to her transgressive sexuality – a physical manifestation of dubious morality… and the novel seems to frame the injury as due punishment for succumbing to pre-marital sex.”  Such divine retribution is frequently found in Victorian novels for women who sin against society’s rules in this way. Indeed, it is almost a convention of 19th century literature that they should (even though men suffer no such punishment for their indiscretions). No doubt this is partly to preserve the morals of the young, impressionable, female readers.

However, Madeline also, notably, displays contempt for society norms in her lack of respect for those who normally commanded respect from inferiors. She alone of all those present, laughs out loud at Mrs Proudie’s humiliation owing to the accident with her dress caused by Madeline’s brother Bertie moving the sofa on which Madeline is reclining. She also laughs audibly – specifically within the hearing of Lady de Courcy – when she gets the better of her in a confrontation at the Ullathorne Sports Day.

There is also a sense that Madeline’s malicious attempts to seduce all the men who come within her orbit is revenge for the treatment she received at the hands of her husband – a determination that in future no man shall ever get the better of her again.

Trollope refers to Madeline as both a “siren” and a “basilisk” – a mythical creature whose mere glance is sufficient to kill. Certainly, she is notable for her meaningful looks. When Lady de Courcy attempts to stare her down, “she stared hard at the occupant [of the couch]. The occupant in return stared hard at the countess. The countess who since her countess-ship had been accustomed to see all eyes, not royal, ducal or marquesal, fall before her own paused as she went on, raised her eyebrows , and stared even harder than before. But she had now to do with one who cared little for countesses. It was, one may say, impossible for mortal man to abash Madeline Neroni.  She opened her large bright lustrous eyes wider and wider, till she seemed to be all eyes. She gazed up into the lady’s face, not as though she did it with an effort, but as if she delighted in doing it…The faintest possible smile of derision played around her mouth, and her nostrils were slightly dilated, as if in sure anticipation of her triumph. And it was sure.” It is clear that Madeline is physically excited by the contest – Trollope’s description implies a state of arousal that is almost sexual in its intensity.

Madeline is, in fact, arguably Trollope’s most sexual character even though, conventionally, a “cripple” in Victorian literature is sexless (or reduced to that state for past sins of a sexual nature such as Madeline’s). They are, therefore, the objects of pity rather than lust. It is a master-stroke by Trollope to write against these expectations of his readership and to provide Madeline with her alluring “siren” quality.

Trollope introduces Madeline by saying she “had been a great beauty. We need not say had been, for she was never more beautiful than at the time of which we write, though her person had for many years been disfigured by an accident.” We then learn that “the beauty of her face was uninjured, and that beauty was of a peculiar kind. Her copious rich brown hair was worn in Grecian bandeaux round her head, displaying as much as possible of her forehead and cheeks. Her forehead, though rather low, was very beautiful from its perfect contour and pearly whiteness. Her eyes were long and large, and marvellously bright…The eyelashes were long and perfect…Her nose and mouth and teeth and chin and neck and bust were perfect, much more so at twenth-eight than they had been at eighteen.”

She was perfectly well aware of the effect she had on men, in spite of her injuries, and exploited it to the full. She was, however, equally adept at playing the trump card of her disabilities to invoke pity where she felt this might be a more suitable approach, as when she turned her attentions to Mr Thorne, who had set his mind against her from the outset based on what he had heard of her history. “Mr Thorne had heard perhaps more of the antecedents of his guest than his sister had done, and had not as yet undergone the power of the signora’s charms…She had contrived to detain him, to get him near to her on the sofa, and at last to make him seat himself on a chair close to her beautiful arm. The fish took the bait, was hooked, and caught, and landed. Within that ten minutes he had heard the whole of the signora’s history in such strains as she chose to use in telling it. He learnt from the lady’s own lips the whole of the mysterious tale…He discovered that the beautiful creature lying before him had been more sinned against than sinning. She owned to him that she had been weak, confiding and indifferent to the world’s opinion, and that she had therefore been ill-used deceived and evil spoken of.  She had spoken to him of her mutilated limb, her youth destroyed in its fullest bloom, her beauty robbed of its every charm, her life blighted, her hopes withered; and as she did so, a tear dropped from her eye to her cheek. She had told him of these things and asked for his sympathy. What could a good-natured genial Anglo-Saxon Squire Thorne do but promise to sympathise with her?”

It is likely that for many men who approaached her the twin impediments of her being married and disabled made her a “safe” object for their flirtations – Victorian thinking, in public at least, having not encompassed the possibility that a disability is in fact no bar to sexual feelings and to the expression of these drives. If only they knew what they were taking on.

Indeed, far from hiding her disability, Madeline positively flaunts it – albeit doing so by creating a public spectacle whenever she appears in such a way that all attention is drawn to her as she is carried in – often by up to four supporters, usually including servants or her current “slave” – Mr Slope feels obliged to attend to her though he is not privileged to actually support her entrance to the Proudie gathering. Naturally Madeline enters late in the proceedings whenever possible so as to make her grand entrance. “At last a carriage dashed up to the hall steps with a very different manner of approach from that of any other vehicle that had been there that evening. A perfect commotion took place.” Madeline indeed made great efforts in preparing for such occasions to maximise the impact even down to arranging where she is to be seated beforehand and, which way she will be facing so that she might dress accordingly to show off her assets to their best advantage – including not least among those assets, her disabled limb. Exquisitely covered from sight and so left to the imaginations of those present who invariably exaggerated. “She has got no legs, papa.” “Nonsense, she has legs, but she can’t use them.” “She has only one leg.” “She had two. But that Signor Neroni beat her, I believe, till she was obliged to have one amputated. At any rate she has entirely lost the use of it.”

This last, rather acid – one might describe it as “bitchy” – comment from Mrs Proudie, made to Lady De Courcy, causes the latter to reflect, “‘Unfortunate creature!’ said the countess, who herself knew something of matrimonial trials.” In this brief exchange Trollope hints that behind the rather malicious gossip there is a recognition that there may be a common thread of domestic violence inflicted on wives by their husbands that is experienced in even the most socially distinguished households. It is explored no further – to do so would be impossible in a novel written as ostensibly family entertainment but its very mention, even in passing, would not have been overlooked by the more attentive reader. Trollope, even at this relatively early stage in his career, appears willing to reflect in his work sides of the middle class life that other authors did not – or only dealt with in more polemical works for a more restricted audience.

As Suzanne Rintoul points out in her article The Mysterious Woman and Her Legs: Scrutinizing the Disabled Body in Barchester Towers in the journal of Nineteenth Century Gender Studies, Madeline’s “conspicuous refusal to use her legs, and her careful arrangement of her dress, emphasise both her deformities and the fact that they cannot be seen. Madeline’s attempts to conceal her body thus complement her efforts to draw attention to it.” In this, Madeline consciously or sub-consciously (and I suspect she is smart enough for it to be the former) makes use of the power of the unknown to exercise a fascinating effect on an audience. Her very immobility on a sofa in the centre (note – not in some corner) of any gathering makes her the focal point and centre of attention – which she craves.

This pose of immobility is an assertion or assumption by Madeline of high status. She is carried by servants rather as earlier generations of the wealthy were carried about in sedan chairs. Jennifer Janechek in her article Dombey and Son for 19th Century Disability Cultures and Contexts points out that “Patronized primarily by the wealthier classes of society, the sedan chair received much negative attention from the public….in part because the public viewed the technology as demeaning to the chairmen [who carried them].” There is thus a subtext of resentment against a disabled person who conflates her need for physical assistance with an element of showmanship which Trollope taps into in his readership. He explains that “She had still frequented the opera at Milan; she had still been seen occasionally in the salons of the noblesse; she had caused herself to be carried  in and out from her carriage, and that in such a manner as in no wise to disturb her charms, disarrange her dress, or expose her deformities.” In spite of being comparatively poor (and wholly dependent on her family) she gives the impression of status through the trappings of conspicuous consumption (in its modern not its Victorian sense) and achieves this through imposing upon those of lower status. This showing off for effect and attention seeking clearly embarrassed her father who when she arrived at the Proudie’s soiree “retired into the furthest corner, where he might not see her entrance.”

I would go further and suggest that Madeline is Trollope’s response to Mrs Skewton in Dombey and Son, published less than a decade before Barchester Towers in 1848. Dickens describes his character noting that, “The discrepancy between Mrs Skewton’s fresh enthusiasm of words and forlornly faded manner, was hardly less observable than that between her age, which was about seventy, and her dress, which would have been youthful for twenty-seven. Her attitude in the wheeled chair (which she never varied) was one in which she had been taken in a barouche, some fifty years before, by a then fashionable artist who had appended to his published sketch the name of Cleopatra…Mrs Skewton was a beauty then, and bucks threw wine-glasses over their heads by the dozens in her honour.” It is not difficult to imagine Madeline as that posing Cleopatra. And when you add in the presence of Mrs Skewton’s constant companion, her unmarried daughter, it is possible to see in this young woman’s fate a foreshadowing of what may also befall Madeline’s own daughter – “the last of the blood of the emperors”. Was Trollope inspired by the Dickens characters to re-imagine them in the guise of their younger selves transplanted into contemporary society?

Having described Madeline’s egoism, it cannot be ignored that by some caprice of her own she chooses to act against her own best financial interests and champion the cause of Francis Arabin as a rival to her own, worthless brother Bertie Stanhope, as potential suitor for the hand of the wealthy widow, Eleanor Bold.

Her motivation for this apparent altruism seems to stem from her response to his reaction when she turns her attentions to him after having “had almost enough of Mr Slope, though she could not quite resist the fun of driving a very sanctimonious clergyman to madness by a desperate and ruinous passion. Mr Thorne had fallen too easily to give much pleasure in the chase. His position as a man of wealth might make his alliance of value, but as a lover he was very second-rate…But Mr Arabin was game of another sort.” Her clear insight into the workings of his mind reveals to her an innocence about him which she is little accustomed to finding in men of the world. She toys with him and “She expected a compliment from her admirer, but she was rather grateful than otherwise by finding that he did not pay it.” He is incapable of the empty flirting that she normally received from men and so he interests her as a person. So much so that she determines to assist him in his rather diffident attempts to woo Eleanor. No doubt he would have refused her assistance had she offered it directly, though she does advise him to pursue Eleanor and points out to him that Eleanor is clearly interested in him (with insightful reading of Eleanor’s body language). Nevertheless, by subterfuge, she ensures that Eleanor learns from her, in no uncertain terms, how strong Arabin’s feelings are for Eleanor. She ends by telling Eleanor, “What I tell you is God’s own truth; and it is for you to use it as may be best for your own happiness. But you must not betray me. He knows nothing of this. He knows nothing of my knowing his inmost heart. He is simple as a child in these matters. He told me his secret in a thousand ways because he could not dissemble”.  Ultimately, Madeline, whose whole life has been a web of dissembling – whether her own or that of others – comes to care for Arabin and Eleanor because they neither of them dissemble. She is a paradox.

I am now going to turn, belatedly you might suggest, to the most important sentence in Barchester Towers concerning Madeline. All that has gone before, and all of the academic and literary commentary on Madeline and her role in the novel is predicated on the statements it contains which are accepted at face value, unquestioningly. Even the notable reader against the grain, Professor John Sutherland, the Lord Norcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at University College London, whose writings include Is Heathcliff a Murderer?  and Can Jane Eyre be Happy?, and whose careful trawlings through Victorian novels for quirks and anomalies which expose either carelessness on the part of the author or else hitherto overlooked and potentially subversive hidden meanings, has made no mention of the ramifications of this sentence in his own introduction to Barchester Towers for the British Library’s Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians series of articles.

“She had fallen, she said, in ascending a ruin, and had fatally injured the sinews of her knee; so fatally, that when she stood she lost eight inches of her accustomed height; so fatally, that when she essayed to move, she could only drag herself painfully along, with protruding hip and extended foot, in a manner less graceful than that of a hunchback.”

Now the Victorians in general, and Trollope in particular, did not go in for the concept of the unreliable narrator. So if Trollope says something is so, we, as readers, may take it as so. Provided, of course, that we are sufficiently in tune with his style to identify his extensive use of irony as a tool of his satire when writing of things of which he disapproved to any degree. He did not use the modern device of the inverted commas to flag his use of a word to mean its opposite – think of the irritating visual tic of drawing such inverted commas in the air in mid-conversation to emphasise when this is being done now. So when he refers to Madeline as “a cripple” (my inverted comes to indicate a quotation from the novel!) readers might be forgiven for taking him at his word.

But is that justified in this case? Sometimes Trollope highlights his use of irony by using such absurd exaggeration that it is nigh on impossible to overlook his intention for his readers to interpret what he means as the direct opposite of what he writes.

So I am going to take a leaf from Professor Sutherland’s book and examine that sentence closely.

Firstly, it begins with the words “she said”. Everything that comes after it is what Madeline has said. It could be argued that the later clauses, separated from the initial clause in which those words appear, could be regarded as separate sentences with full stops rather than semi-colons used for punctuation (though they would lack verbs and so would be unusual though not impossible as sentences). However, it would be a more reasonable interpretation to understand that all of those things said in that sentence were said, in more or less so many words, by Madeline.

From this, academics and literary critics have gone on to link this sentence with Madeline’s separation from her husband about which she refuses to give details and he is conveniently out of the way and can give no version of events himself and conclude that her claim that the injuries are the result of a fall is a lie to cover up the fact that she was beaten by her husband. Trollope gives further weight to this interpretation by citing precisely that possible cause amongst the many rumours and half-truths which float around Barchester society about Madeline.

This requires the reader to accept the first part of what she says as at best a euphemism (did her husband push her) or was it a downright lie (he did something worse and deliberately injuring her directly himself) but at the same time to accept as gospel truth the second part of the sentence, the precise nature of her injuries. It seems to me that such a reading is either selective or even a wilful mis-interpretation.

So what are we to make of a claim to have suffered soft tissue damage (sinews may be ligaments or tendons) in one knee (not both) which reduces her height by eight inches. In a woman of average height this represents a huge change. There is no mention of any skeletal damage (broken bones) which might account for such a loss in height. Indeed, it would require shattering of bones, followed by appalling post traumatic care – leaving the bones unset etc) in both legs to give rise to such a loss of height. Indeed, total amputation of one leg would give rise to no significant loss in height if she were to stand with the aid of a stick, for example, on her remaining leg.

Furthermore, any such catastrophic injury was sufficiently recovered for her to flee her husband and return to her family with her baby some six months after the couple went to Rome following their “prolonged honeymoon”.  It is difficult to conceive of her having sustained such injuries while pregnant and it not having put the baby’s life at risk so the timing of the “fall” would seem unlikely to have been at the very start of that six month period. She has therefore had to recover from her injuries, for which she has not received adequate care so that they remain permanent and disabling, sufficient to travel within a period of less than six months. This is stretching credulity.

Which begs the question: is Trollope stretching credulity here through carelessness or through deliberate choice to draw attention to the fact that Madeline’s testimony is unreliable (about either or both of the extent of her injuries and their consequences, or their cause)?

To me, it seems, if we are to accept that Madeline was not honest with her family about the cause of her injuries (and academics and literary critics universally do accept this) then we must also call into question how accurate is her description of those injuries. Otherwise, why did Trollope make them so incredible?

I can hear Professor Nick Shrimpton even as I write saying that such compressions of time are part of the writer of fictions art and quoting the dual timescales Shakespeare employs in Othello – events which would require weeks or months to pass if they were to unfold naturally are compressed into three days without any complaint from the audience which manages to hold both incompatible timescales in its head without suffering any cognitive dissonance. But Trollope had no need to require such mental juggling on the part of his readers. He could have inserted a longer, more credible time period for the events Madeline describes without any impact on the narrative of his novel. I must therefore conclude that he chose deliberately to describe an unfeasibly short period of six months so that Madeline’s testimony should be called into question.

Which leads us to wonder to what extent she exaggerated her injuries and why.

As we have seen no-one actually sees Madeline’s injured leg which is why there is so much ill-informed gossip and speculation about the extent of her injuries. However, Trollope does not qualify this by saying that no-one outside the family had seen her legs. In fact, it is not even clear whether Charlotte, Madeline’s older sister and the person in the family who takes care of all matters both practical and financial has seen Madeline’s injuries. Could Madeline have concealed her legs from everyone, including servants. It seems unlikely but we do not know from Trollope’s text.

However, we may speculate that there must be some form of physical abuse at the hands of her husband to have provoked her to leave him. This would be an admission of defeat in a contest of wills between the husband and wife. Madeline would be unlikely to tolerate being bested by a brute of a husband. If he were unfaithful then so too could she be unfaithful – and probably even more flagrantly (at least within the confines of their own knowledge of each other’s affairs) so as to put one over on him. So I conclude that she must have suffered intolerable physical abuse from her husband for Madeline to admit defeat and give up the fight. Therefore, it is probable that she had some injury though not, for the reasons outlined already, so great as she made out to her family.

Why then might she exaggerate the extent of her injuries?

Firstly, as the apparently injured party in a marital breakdown, who must throw herself upon the support of her family (even though we know with hindsight from Framley Parsonage that her father was struggling financially – and with three grown up children and a grand-daughter to support going forward this is understandable), it would help her cause to talk up the extent of the injuries done to her rather than talk them down.

Secondly, it would be consistent with her innate egoism to make much of her injuries so as to ensure that she is the centre of attention. At the age of twenty-two, as she would have then been, and with her thrill-seeking personality, it is to be expected that she would do so.

And once she set out on this line, what reason would she have for stopping or indeed even playing down her injuries later? Her family was too poor to re-launch her into the high society which she craved. She must therefore fall back on the use (abuse?) of people’s pity for her, as she did with Squire Thorne, to secure her comfort and needs.

There is also a third possible and very much contemporary reason, to which the desire to exaggerate her injuries might be attributed. Evidence of physical abuse might be necessary in support of any legal proceedings for divorce or custody of the child (see note 1). Although married in Italy, Madeline, as a British citizen, might have given consideration to the possibility of divorce under English law. In the 1840s, when the events of her marriage and separation took place, the law on divorce was very rigid and heavily biased in favour of the man. Marriage was regarded as a sacrament of the church and divorce was considered in the ecclesiastical courts rather than the main civil courts. For a man, the grounds for divorcing his wife could be based on her adultery alone, but for a wife, this was not of itself sufficient grounds. In order to obtain a divorce “a vinoulo matrimony” (what we would regard as a divorce permitting subsequent remarriage) rather than “a mensa et thoro” (which is more what we would call a legal separation and which did not allow for remarriage), required the woman to prove an “aggravated enormity” in addition to adultery on the part of the husband. Causing her permanent disability might satisfy this requirement and enable Madeline to obtain a divorce should she choose to seek one.

I am not suggesting that Madeline intended to seek a divorce, indeed she derived much room for manoeuvre with would-be admirers such as Mr Slope from her ambiguous position in this respect – living separately from her husband but still legally married to him. She would not, therefore, have need to incur the expense and potentially adverse public exposure that divorce proceedings (which at this time required an Act of Parliament to be concluded so that in 1857 for example there were only three divorces in the UK) would entail. Nevertheless, as a very intelligent and worldly woman, Madeline might, even at a young age, have seen the advantage of at least preparing the ground, just in case she might need to use it later. Such foresight on her part implies a high degree of Machiavellian planning ahead but it is not inconsistent with her behaviour in other aspects of her life and dealings with people.

 I am therefore of the view that Madeline’s injuries were not so catastrophic as she made out. I believe Trollope quite deliberately describes injuries so gross as to be incredible (in terms of their extent, their improbable nature, and impossible apparent recovery time) so that we are expected to understand that they cannot be as he explicitly states. Madeline, we are therefore supposed to understand, is exaggerating for her own ends and does so, with consummate expertise, to perfection throughout the events described.

She then, along with her daughter, disappears from Barsetshire at the end of the novel, never to return. We hear in Doctor Thorne that her father has died – which must have occurred not too long after the family removed itself once more to Italy. The surviving family members, Mrs Stanhope, Madeline and her older sister, the resourceful Charlotte, Madeline’s daughter and, if he is still sponging off his father as are the two grown up daughters, Madeline’s younger brother Bertie (whose artwork would never support him and whose attempts to woo the rich widow Eleanor Bold were ultimately undermined by Madeline), would then have been forced to survive on the small sum which Mrs Stanhope had independently of her husband. . This could not have sustained them in anything like the standard to which they would wish to be accustomed, even in Italy, so I suspect they would have been forced to live upon their wits.

In Madeline’s case, I do not think this would have proved too great a challenge. I am confident that it would not be long before she hooked another sucker like Squire Thorne who would provide for her and her daughter. Who knows, if he proved slightly more of a challenge than the old Squire, and maybe saw through her sufficiently to earn her respect, then she might even apply her wit and worldy wisdom so as to make both of them happy. For I am sure that she is acutely aware that her present state, as described in Barchester Towers, is not conducive to her self-respect and happiness. Her moral compass is not so far off kilter as that of her, on the surface, nicer, but actually more conniving, sister Charlotte. Why else would she have acted so apparently out of character, and against her own best financial interests and those of her family, by promoting Eleanor’s and Mr Arabin’s happiness over her brother Bertie’s self-serving needs?

References:

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son
Jennifer Janechek, Dombey and Son, 19th Century Disability Cultures and Contexts,(www.nineteenthcenturydisability.org)
Kate Lawson, Abject and Defiled: Signora Neroni’s Body and the Question of Domestic Violence in Barchester Towers, Victorian Review Vol 21 Issue 1 (Summer 1995) Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada
Melina Moore, Barchester Towers, 19th Century Disability Cultures and Contexts, (www.nineteenthcenturydisability.org)
Suzanne Rintoul, The Mysterious Woman and Her Legs: Scrutininzing the Disabled Body in Barchester Towers, Nineteenth Century Gender Studies Issue 7.1 (Spring 2011) (www.ncgsjournal.com)
John Sutherland, Barchester Towers, Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians (www.bl.uk)
Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers
Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne
Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage
The London Times, 23 May 1853 (www.victoriancontexts.pbworks.com)

Note 1: The Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes was set up in 1850 to look into the operation of the laws on divorce. Its findings were reported in 1853 (e.g. in The London Times of 23 May 1853) and led to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 which, inter alia, altered marriage from a religious sacrament to a legal contract between the husband and wife and provided statutory grounds for divorce which, while still, favouring the man, enshrined a number of grounds for divorce for a wife including cruelty by the husband even where he was not also committing adultery! These developments would have provided a backdrop to the state of marriage while Trollope was writing Barchester Towers which was, as John Sutherland does point out in his introduction, an explicitly contemporary novel of the 1850s unlike the work of many of his fellow authors of the time. Discussions of such matters may well, therefore, have subtly influenced Trollope’s writing and, it is conceivable, that discussions along similar lines foreshadowing these legal changes, would have been taking place for some time before the setting up of the Royal Commission – political will to make changes always following on some time later than the rise of the issue to be addressed in public discourse – and so would quite possibly have within the knowledge of the educated middle classes, such as Madeline, during the mid-1840s when her marital troubles took place.

 

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Nicholas Shrimpton on Editing Trollope

Dr Nicholas Shrimpton, editor of two Trollope novels for the new Oxford World’s Classics edition, spoke at the Reading Trollope Study Day on Saturday 23rd September. He began by explaining what prompted Oxford University Press to bring out a new edition.

Back in 2009 the Oxford editions in print were getting rather dated. They were brought out in 1982 to mark the centenary of Trollope’s death and were based on the earlier edition published between 1948 and 1954 under the guidance of Michael Sadleir. They did include some new material such as forewords and introductions and in 1991 a chronology had been added but it was felt that a fresh start was needed.

It was decided to commence with the Palliser series. Seven editors were recruited including Nicholas who was to be responsible for The Prime Minister. The first decision was that the text used would be that from the Sadleir Oxford edition with new introductions and footnotes. Nicholas wrote a chronology which was included as an appendix to all the books.

This chronology is necessary to address the apparent anomaly that Plantagenat first appears in The Small House at Allington aged 25 and is 46 in The Prime Minister published only twelve years later. There needs to be some judicious spreading of dates in the fictional Barsetshire world to accommodate this aging of its leading character. The novels cannot be treated as describing exactly contemporary scenes.

Trollope is actually quite specific on the passage of time in his novels and the chronology of each is internally consistent. Shrimpton, by pushing the earlier novels into the past a little, created sufficient room for the passage of time across the series to be just about tenable from The Small House at Allington which he placed in 1857/8 to The Duke’s Children which he placed in 1878/9 when it was published.

There is also a need to place Barsetshire politics in the timeline of real Victorian politics so that, for example, the Barsetshire whigs’ Reform Bill occurs in about 1865 to correspond with the actual Tory Reform Bill of 1867.

All of this relationship with the real world, which would have been known to Trollope’s contemporary readers has to be explained to the modern reader – especially to the millennial students at whom the OUP targets its editions (for use asset books for schools for example). This results in lots of footnotes to explain not just the politics but simple practical matters mentioned. For example, “a half a crown” has to be explained as being worth two shillings and sixpence (a crown being worth a five shillings – there being four crowns to the twenty shilling pound). And that in those pre-decimalisation (oh how Planty Pall must have rejoiced in 1971) days there were twelve pennies to the shilling so the half crown was equivalent to 12 1/2p in absolute terms – and due to inflation this is worth about £6 in real terms now).

When looking at the politics, for Trollope to discuss in details some half a dozen members of the cabinet might appear to be ignoring the majority of the people in the cabinet to a modern reader accustomed to UK government cabinets comprising perhaps 23 ministers plus 6  non-ministerial posts within the cabinet. But back in Victorian times there might have been only 12 to 20 members in total. So Trollope was not ignoring nearly so many people as might appear to be the case.

This greater need for explanatory footnotes resulted in the new editions of the novels having 400 or more footnotes each in place of the 15 to 20 in the original Sadleir editions on which they are based. This is largely a reflection that there was a great deal of continuity between the 1850s and the 1950s but there has been so much change since then.

Shrimpton was also concerned in his introduction to address aesthetic issues – to consider Trollope as an artist. He draws parallels with Shakespeare’s Othello when looking at the chronology issue. Trollope didn’t set out to write a series (unlike, say Zola with his Rougon Macquart series) so as he wrote more he was not unaware that he was compressing time and so he “fudged” it. But he did so in a way that we accept as readers, just as we accept that Shakespeare does in his plays. Othello, for example, as written takes place over about 3 days, which is hardly time for Desdemona to meet Cassio for the first time, conduct a full blown affair with him, be discovered by Iago and murdered by her husband after Iago tells him about it. Such a sequence of events must require a minimum of weeks if not months to take place. But we never question that – or rather we hold both clocks in our minds without troubling that they are running at different speeds.

After the success of the Palliser series, the OUP then moved on to the Barsetshire series and Shrimpton was allocated The Warden. He successfully argued that given its small size, this novel could have The Two Heroines of Plumplington included as an extra to complete the series – since having sworn off writing any more Barsetshire novels, Trollope returned to his beloved county one last time with this late short story.

The Barsetshire series required a fresh approach since the Sadleir Oxford editions of 1948 included only The Warden and Barchester Towers. The decision was taken that the most suitable text for a complete series was to take the texts published as a complete series by Chaman and Hall in 1878. These texts were revised by Anthony Trollope from the first published versions to correct errors (some, not all were spotted) and to tweak them here and there as he thought appropriate.

Trollope, who was a major share holder in Chapman and Hall (some suggest to give his son Henry a job at the publishers), wrote to Smith Elder, who held the copyright of Framley Parsonage and The Small House at Allington to ask for the rights to publish them in a complete series after the idea was first mooted in a review of The Last Chronicle of Barset published in 1867. It took the better part of a decade to reach all the necessary agreements and produce the series. On advice from Millais, whose opinion Trollope sought but who did not want to do the work himself, having moved on to bigger and better things than book illustrations, Francis Arthur Fraser was engaged to provide new frontispieces for the new edition to give it a consistent look and feel.

Most modern editors have the view that the first published texts are to be regarded as the most definitive. Sadleir himself used a composite of different editions depending on his personal view of what should be included. The Trollope Society edition has tended to use the original partworks or first book form but has on occasions used later editions.

Some editors have been critical of Trollope’s revisions for the 1878 edition but even if Trollope’s standards of updating and correcting were not so complete or so accurate as modern teams might achieve, the 1878 texts do stand as important in their own right as the last texts which Trollope personally signed off.

Once again, when working on The Warden there was much need for explanatory footnotes. The precise roles of all those church officials had to be explained. But there were also some intriguing little touches which give the modern reader the experience which would have been felt by Victorian readers. For example, when Mr Harding ends his recital on his cello for the beadsmen, it is with a “final little bit of Bishop’s”. This is more than likely to be a reference, which would be lost on a modern reader, to a piece by Henry Bishop and his most famous “hit”, which was published in 1852 and so was very much in the air at the time, “Home Sweet Home”, which seems absolutely appropriate.

Another footnote explains a topical reference in the choice of the name of the public house which is part of John Bold’s business interests. The name – The Dragon of Wantly – refers back to the Ballad of the Dragon of Wantly – a seventeenth century poem which was used to describe a then ongoing debate about the abuse by the landowner of financial privileges in respect of a hospital for women in Walkley, a part of my old home town Sheffield – just down the road from Rotherham, where Trollope’s wife Rose was brought up.

A third footnote reveals that Bold’s home – Pakenham  Villas – takes its name from General Packenham who was killed at the Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815. The irony of this being that the battle was fought after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814 which ended hostilities between Britain and the United States but before news reached the two sides. Trollope is no doubt slyly commenting on the futility at the heart of Bold’s actions in the novel.

Shrimpton’s latest work for the OUP has been on the new edition of Trollope’s An Autobiography.  Shrimpton felt it was important that a new edition be published as supplies of the old edition dwindled and a reprint was a cop out. He felt it had important content not just about Trollope’s life but also his views on literature generally, and literary criticism. He thought that it might be further enhanced by inclusion in the same volume selected other literary criticism by Trollope in particular on Jane Austen in whose tradition he was writing.

With any autobiography, and Trollope, no less than others, it is necessary to try to sift fact from fiction. Any writer of an autobiography is necessarily writing a subjective piece. They weill be selective in the material they include and will be personally biased in how it is presented. So, while autobiographies are not works of fiction (I shall only cast a passing mention that this comment need not be taken to refer to Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike) they are still products of artistic endeavour and should be treated as such.

There is perhaps even greater need for footnotes in an autobiography when the characters mentioned are real and their backgounds may need explanation for a full understanding by a modern reader. Shrimpton cited Trollope’s apparent division of his life into before I went to Ireland all was dreadful, after I went to Ireland all went swimmingly as an artistic balancing of the story which may not stand very close scrutiny. Was his life really so bad before? Was it really all plain sailing afterwards? Was his father really such a dreadful failure or was he just one of many who struggled financially in the difficult economic climate of the 1820s and 30s?

Shrimpton specifically cited the familiar tale of how Trollope overheard criticism of overusing Mrs Proudie in novel after novel and melodramatically announcing he would go away and kill her off. Great to read but did it really happen as Trollope describes it.

And was Trollope really woken every morning at 5:30am to write for three hours before breakfast? How, Shrimpton asked, was his groom able to do this from Waltham when Trollope, as he frequently did, stayed overnight at his London club? And was this really so extra-ordinary? Henry Millman, author and historian, made similar claims to have written an hour every day before breakfast. Tom Taylor a playwright and editor of Punch also claimed to rise daily at 5am to write for 3 hours.

After the talk, a question from the floor, asked whether foreign editions, particularly early foreign editions, might have also included footnotes to explain details of life in Victorian England for their readers, giving a contemporary perspective. Dr Shrimpton thought that few foreign editions offered more than straight translations. However, he added that Trollope himself appended some footnotes to the 1878 collected series republication to explain changes that had taken place since the 1850s.

To see the whole of Dr Shrimpton’s talk, click below:

 

 

 

 

 

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Talking about writing about reading

So here I am writing about talking about writing about reading.

Tomorrow I shall be one of the speakers at the Reading Trollope Study Day organised by the Trollope Society. It is taking place at St Columba’s Church of Scotland on Pont Street in London, starting at 10am.

The keynote speaker will be Dr Nicholas Shrimpton of the University of Oxford, who has recently edited three of Trollope’s works, published by Oxford University Press.

Things go downhill rapidly thereafter as I follow him to talk about blogging about Trollope. But they begin to look up again thereafter with lunch before we go on to the afternoon session.

I intend to cover in my session:

Why blogging is a real light-weight’s approach to writing as I have to write less in a week than Trollope used to write before breakfast every day.

How blogging in accordance with the BBC’s stated aim of informing, educating and entertaining has to be stood on its head if you want to keep your audience.

Why writing for a literate audience – fans of Trollope, who are the target readership, are, by definition, literate – means I can use long words in long sentences with multiple clauses without fear of losing my audience.

How writing about Trollope and, therefore, reading Trollope in a thematic way – e.g. the current series of articles on Trollope’s Women – helps me to re-read Trollope and somehow always find something fresh and new in his works.

If you are interested in attending the Study Day then you can still book tickets through the Trollope Society website.

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Trollope Society USA: 2017 Fall Lecture

Trollope’s Kindness is the title of the 2017 Fall lecture of the Trollope Society USA, to be delivered by Professor James R. Kincaid. This year’s Fall Lecture of the Society will be held on Monday, October 9, 2017, at St. Bartholomew’s Church, 109 East 50th Street, New York, NY. The reception will begin at 6:00 p.m., with the talk to start at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 per members and guests ($10 for students or faculty members).

JamesKincaidJames R. Kincaid is currently Adjunct Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Professor Emeritus of English and Aerol Arnold Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Southern California. His publications include Dickens and the Rhetoric of LaughterTennyson’s Major Poems, The Novels of Anthony Trollope, and Annoying the Victorians. He has also written four novels, including Lost.

Kincaid has been a Guggenheim Fellow, won teaching awards, and run two prestigious seminars for the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has published in many major scholarly journals and popular periodicals and newspapers, including Critical InquiryPMLANineteenth-Century LiteratureJEGPADE BulletinYale ReviewNew York Times Book Review, and the New Yorker. He has also served on the editorial boards of PMLAVictorian PoetryNineteenth Century StudiesDickens Studies Annual,Nineteenth-Century Literature, and the Journal of Narrative and Life History. He has been a consultant to the Guggenheim foundation and received USC’s Raubenheimer Outstanding Senior Faculty Award for Teaching and Scholarship.

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Trollope’s Women: Lily Dale

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“They were standing in the narrow pathway of the gate leading from the bridge into the gardens of the Great House, and the shadow of the thick-spreading laurels was around them. But the moonlight still pierced brightly through the little avenue, and she, as she looked up at him, could see the form of his face and the loving softness of his eye.” Illustration by Alexy Pendle from the Folio Society edition of The Small House at Allington

Lily Dale is like Marmite. She polarises opinions. Trollopians either love her or loathe her. Sir John Major, President of the Trollope Society and former UK Prime Minister is in the former camp. His Desert Island Discs book choice when he appeared on the show in 1994 was The Small House at Allington because “In Lily Dale there is my favourite heroine in all fiction.” Others find her irritating beyond measure and, it must be said, that Trollope himself seems to have ended up in the latter camp. “In the love with which she has been greeted, I have hardly joined with much enthusiasm, feeling that she is somewhat of a female prig. She became first engaged to a snob who jilted her, and then, though in truth she loved another man who was hardly good enough, she could not extricate herself from the collapse of her first great misfortune to be able to make up her mind to be the wife of one whom, though she loved him, she did not altogether reverence.”(7)

We first meet Lily aged nineteen in The Small House at Allington, set in the late 1850s, and she disappears from our view at the conclusion of The Last Chronicle of Barset in the the mid-1860s when she is still in her early twenties. There is, therefore, precious little time to see the longer lasting effects on her character which the emotional trials she has to undergo might have had on her character. She progresses rapidly from virgin to, in her own words, “widowed” (5) with very little time for us to observe the development.

Born about 1840, Lily is the younger daughter of Philip Dale and his wife Mary. Philip was the younger brother of Squire Christopher Dale who now lived in the Great House at Allington. Philip had quarrelled with his older brother over his choice of wife and had died relatively young, some fifteen years before the commencement of the story in The Small House at Allington leaving a widow and two young daughters, Bell and Lily. The family were poor, living largely upon the income derived from Mrs Dale’s wealth, but the Squire allowed them to move into the Small House after the death of his mother who had lived there previously. They had little income but there was speculation that the Squire would be generous to both girls on their marriages when the time came. In fact his intentions in that respect were confined to Bell, whom he wished his nephew Bernard, the son of a second of the his brothers Orlando, to marry. For Lily he intended to make no provision. This may in part be attributable to Lily’s habit of speaking her mind a little too freely on the subject of her uncle’s failure to treat her mother – his sister-in-law – as Lily felt she ought to be treated. The quieter Bell was therefore the Squire’s preferred niece.

Trollope has, through this back-story, set up one of his classic pairings of contrasting sisters. Lily is the headstrong, impulsive, outspoken younger sister to Bell’s more demure, considered, conforming to expectations of a nice young lady, elder sister. As Margaret Markwick points out in her book, Trollope and Women, Trollope frequently employs this device to illustrate the potential risks and rewards of each approach. Emily Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right is more forthright and unconventional than her more passive sister Nora Rowley and suffers in consequence the tribulations of her unhappy marriage to Louis Trevelyan whereas Nora enjoys the prospects of a blissful union with Hugh Stanbury. Similarly Ayala Dormer is much more lively and impulsive than her elder sister Lucy in Ayala’s Angel and must undergo a rather painful growing up process before she attains happiness with Colonel Stubbs.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the path of Lily’s story does not run smooth.

The absence of a dowry rankled with Adolphus, who proposed to Lily after a brief courtship on successive visits to Allington to stay with his friend Bernard. Having been at first in favour of setting an early date, he then prevaricates and seeks to put off the wedding before finally jilting Lily in favour of a more auspicious marriage to Lady Alexandrina de Courcy in the expectation that her family will be more generous in the money they will make forthcoming to their daughter and her new husband.

This clears the way for Johnny Eames, a more lowly government clerk than Crosbie, who has loved Lily from the first but Lily cannot get over her first romance and persistently refuses him through the remainder of The Small House at Allington  and on into The Last Chronicle of Barset.

As Lily’s story progresses through these two novels, the reader is faced with three questions:

  1. Will she or won’t she marry Johnny Eames?
  2. Did she or didn’t she with Adolphus Crosbie? (The slightly prurient “How far did she go?” question of burning interest to teenagers in the 1950s and beyond.)
  3. What is the psychology of her behaviour?

The three are of course inextricably linked with one another but for the purposes of untangling Lily’s character and development across the 1400 or so pages of the two novels I will address them in turn, starting with the second of them as it occurs very early in proceedings and all else follows from it as a consequence.

Given this is a nineteenth century novel, written for a family audience, Trollope is never going to be explicit. The reader is, therefore, left to fall back on their own judgment as to what might be inferred from the text.

The key scene, depicted in the illustration by Alexy Pendle, occurs at a small party given by Mrs Dale and her daughters. After some attempts at dancing on the lawn, Lily disappears into the garden followed by her fiancé Adolphus and there is a romantic scene in which Lily expounds on the delights of moonlight, poetry and romance and which Adolphus joins in, reluctantly at first, as he has recently learned that his must take Lily without any accompanying money from her uncle, but he is seduced by her mood and responds passionately. “He stooped over her and pressed her closely,  while she put up her lips to his, standing on tiptoe that she might reach his face. ‘Oh my love!’ she said. ‘My love! My love!'”(5)

How are we to interpret this? Are her words those of a young girl following romantic conventions in addressing her lover? Are they whispered as she finds expression to her state of dawning sexual arousal at the close physical presence of her “Apollo”(5).

Trollope now quite deliberately draws a veil over the following moments. The length of this gap is never made clear. It is certainly many minutes – since there was no social concern at two betrothed lovers being alone together for even quite long periods. Certainly time enough, in the privacy of the secluded part of the garden, for them to indulge in what might be coyly described as “heavy petting” but equally sufficient, should they have wished, for them to have full intercourse, if her words are taken by the reader to be an indication of arousal on her part.

The very next paragraph begins with Crosbie’s reaction afterwards: “As Crosbie walked back to the Great House that night, he made a firm resolution that no consideration of worldly welfare should ever induce him to break his engagement with Lily Dale. He went somewhat further also, and determined that he would not put off the marriage for more than six or eight months, or, at the most, ten, if he could possibly get his affairs arranged in that time.” Evidently he is now very much taken with Lily and whatever happened between them when they were alone together in the garden. Was his response due to wanting to have unrestricted love-making opportunities to repeat what he had just experienced, or to fulfil the tantalising promise to which he had enjoyed a foretaste only?

It becomes important at this point to consider how sensual Lily might be. Here we must refer to Trollope’s description of her for clues.

Trollope tells us that Lily and her sister “were fair-haired girls, very like each other…something below the usual height, being slight and slender in all tgeir proportions. Lily was the shorter of the two…[a]nd when I said that Bell was the prettier, I should, perhaps, have spoken more justly had I simply declared that her features were more regular than her sister’s. The two girls were very fair, so that the soft tint of colour which relieved the whiteness of their complexion was rather acknowledged than distinctly seen…The hair of the two girls…was not flaxen hair, yet it was very light. Nor did it approach to auburn; and yet there ran through it a golden tint that gave it a distinct brightness of its own. But with Bell it was more plentiful than with Lily, and therefore Lily would always talk of her own scanty locks…[n]evertheless Lily’s head was quite as lovely as her sister’s; for its form was perfect, and the simple braids in which they both wore their hair did not require any great exuberance in quantity. Their eyes were brightly blue; but Bell’s were long, and soft, and tender, often hardly daring to raise themselves to your face; while those of Lily were rounder, but brighter, and seldom kept by any want of courage from fixing themselves where they pleased. And Lily’s face was perhaps less oval in its form – less perfectly oval – than her sister’s. The shape of the forehead was, I think, the same, but with Bell the chin was something more slender and delicate. But Bell’s chin was unmarked, whereas on her sister’s there was a dimple which amply compensated for any other deficiency in its beauty. Bell’s teeth were more even than her sister’s; but then she showed her teeth more frequently. Her lips were thinner, and, as I cannot but think, less expressive. Her nose was decidedly more regular in its beauty, for Lily’s nose was somewhat broader than it should have been. It may, therefore, be understood that Bell would be considered the beauty by the family.”(5) But, as Trollope also points out, Lily “perhaps was more attractive”.(5)

Even though they are physically very similar, Trollope shows how on all points of detail Lily is more earthy and robust while her sister is refined and elegantly symmetrical. Bell has something of the distant reserve and glacially perfect beauty of Griselda Grantly (Lady Dumbello). Lily’s courage, in contrast to Bell’s passive timidity, implies she will be an active, uninhibited sexual partner. The key feature, though, is the dimple. This is Trollope’s code for a sensuous nature. Many of Trollope’s young heroines who go on to enjoy fulfilling physical sides to their marriages have this feature. On this evidence, Trollope may be implying that Lily would be ready to explore the physical side of their relationship with her husband-to-be when this opportunity presents itself.

We can also consider what Lily herself says later to her mother after Crosbie has broken off the relationship.

“I gave myself to him, and loved him, and rejoiced in his love. When he kissed me I kissed him again, and I longed for his kisses. I seemed to live only that he might caress me.”(5) This is a frank description of the physical desire she felt for him. Of ourse there is ambiguity in the words Trollope chooses to have her say. In what sense are we to understand she has given herself to him? It may be taken to mean an emotional commitment but might imply she has surrendered her virginity to him. And we are given no indication of precisely how intimate those caresses were so must infer what we will.

Lily goes on to say, “All that time I never felt myself to be wrong – because he was all in all to me. I was his own. That has been changed – to my great misfortune; but it cannot be undone or forgotten. I cannot be the girl I was before he came here…I am as you are, Mamma – widowed.”

Markwick asserts that this language is tantamount to a confession that she is no longer a virgin and that Lily does not feel ashamed of this even though she was not married and so was placing herself well outside acceptable conventions for a respectable young woman of the time. She suggests that Trollope here is equating girlhood with a state of virginity which, once lost, cannot be recovered so that now the daughter is a sexually experienced woman just as her mother is.

It is interesting that Lily chooses to call herself “widowed” in this discussion with her mother. She has by this stage passed through the phase of being ill – taking to her bed, prostrated with grief at the wreck of her marriage hopes. She has indeed “lost” a husband, but not to death but to another more glittering prospective partner. So her grief is in fact for her shattered dreams and the fall from grace of her “Apollo”.

To be confined to her bed when faced with an emotional upheaval was an accepted convention, if not of the actual lives but at least of the imagined lives as projected in works of fiction, of  a disappointed middle class woman of the period. But Lily had never seriously believed she might fade away and die, as convention might have permitted in the fairy tale world she had built for herself and Crosbie in her mind. So she duly recovered and went on with life. But her life choices indicate that she has not moved on, as we might now call it, from her first love.

She refuses the offer of marriage which Johnny Eames makes, arguing to herself, and to her mother when questioned on the point, “‘Why should you set yourself against him in so fixed a manner?’ ‘Because I love another man.’ Those words she spoke out loud in a steady, almost dogged tone”(5).

There seems to be a self-contradictory inconsistency here. She feels “widowed” but will not allow herself the privilege granted to widows to love again. Trollope’s choice of the word “dogged” here is interesting. Lily seems to be persevering in holding to a feeling that she could let go without it appearing to show a lack of constancy on her part. Yet it is this argument that she should not be inconstant that she uses in her internal debate, asking herself, “What can a heart be worth if it can be transferred hither and thither as circumstances and convenience and comfort may require?”(5)

Lily seems to have an almost pathological determination to adhere to the convention of romantic fiction, as written by Trollope and others at that time, that a woman, a romantic heroine, should give her heart but once in her lifetime if she be a true woman.

She intends to follow through with this single-minded course to the extent that she confesses to her mother that in this respect “I shall have my own way…That is all I want; to be a tyrant over you”(5). She says this as her mother “is weeping over her – whereas Lily’s eyes were dry.”(5)

This stern visage gives outward appearance of having overcome the emotional inner turmoil but this is not the case. “She had declared that she had conquered her unhappiness; but there were moments in which she was almost wild with misery. ‘Tell me to forget him!’ she said. ‘It is the one thing which will never be forgotten.'”(5) In fact Lily is determined to the point of monomania that she shall not let go of this brief period when she was engaged and it shall be the one great romance of her life. “She walked on eagerly, hardly remembering where she was, thinking over it all, as she did daily; remembering every little thought and word of those few eventful months in which she had learned to regard Crosbie as her husband and master.”(5)

However, perverse this might seem to the modern reader, who might regard it as wallowing in self-pity, it has the ring of psychological truth about it. It may be easier for the girl of scarcely twenty at this point to declare to herself that her life is over, at least so far as romance is concerned, than to accept that she is fallible and has made a dreadful mistake about what is arguably the most significant decision she was likely to make in her life at that time.

This certainly accounts for her refusal of Johnny Eames, even when his prospects have been improved by the sponsorship of the Lord de Guest following his brave rescue of the older man from the perils of the rampaging bull which had trapped the landowner in a field. Indeed, it is wholly consistent for Lily to regard such a change in Johnny’s prospects as irrelevant to the question of whether or not she should marry him. She has already mentally consigned herself to a life of genteel poverty with her mother. A change in Johnny’s financial circumstances is no more likely to make her love him than his own dogged devotion to her which has singularly failed to move her thus far. She cannot love him because she loves another – or at least her illusion of the other which she knows to be a false illusion but nevertheless one to which she can cling to avoid the cognitive dissonance of recognising that her own behaviour with Crosbie might give grounds for reproach (however far or not she allowed things to go physically).

This is more than simple embarrassment at being seen publicly to have been played for a fool – even if she did make what with hindsight might appear to be embarrassingly public displays of affection (such as that extravagant courtesy to him as he arrived for the party at the Small House). She is aware that all the people whom she meets around Allington will regard her as the innocent victim of a heartless jilt but even this may be hard to bear. To be pitied is difficult.

Her mother “was driven to acknowledge to herself that she must be silent. Years as they rolled on might make a change, but no reasoning could be of avail.”(5) But time heals only those who are determined to heal. Lily’s sense of self is so bound up in this being the wife of her supposed “Apollo” that she cannot allow this wound to heal for that would undermine her sense of who she is.

It is no surprise therefore, when we meet her four years later, offering shelter to her friend Grace Crawley when the latter’s father is accused of theft, she jokingly refers to herself and her mother, with whom she now lives alone following Bell’s marriage to Dr Crofts (rewarded for her compliance just as Lily has been punished for overstepping the boundaries), as “not mother and daughter, but two loving old ladies”(6). In spite of the amusing tone, this reveals an underlying truth. Lily has mentally transposed herself to the older generation and is prematurely middle-aged so that love and romance are no longer part of her expectations in life. This is a denial of the vitality and life force which she exhibited so strongly when we first met her. It is hard to reconcile this persistent change of state with one who is at this stage scarcely more than twenty-three.

If we listen to Lily’s exchanges with Mrs Boyce over the church Christmas decorations, they are the banter of equals – like two middle-aged members of the W.I. (Women’s Institute – an august institution whose membership comprises mainly women of a certain age, famed for their cakes and jam-making skills) rather than the cheekiness of a young girl even though Mrs Boyce initially addresses Lily and Grace as “Girls”(6). Indeed, Lily retains the spark of her wicked sense of humour in her amusing description to Grace of the shortcomings of the fat, lazy local vicar. This irreverent approach – so like her choice of the slang expression “a swell”(5) by which term she dismisses Crosbie from serious consideration in the opening conversation about him with Bell at the start of the events described in The Small House at Allington –  indicates that she has not given up on life as a whole but rather has chosen to close down that part of it to do with love and romance.

Thus, when Grace urges Lily to reconsider the possibility of marrying her cousin Johnny Eames, Lily says this is impossible because “when one thinks of going beyond friendship, even if one tries to do so, there are so many barriers!” One of these by this time is that Crosbie is now himself a widower, the wife he took in Lily’s stead, Alexandrina having (conveniently for the sake of the story) died prematurely in the intervening period (another example of Trollope’s absolute ruthlessness with characters both minor – Mary Flood Jones – and major – Glencora Palliser – who are removed to suit the needs of the plot of the next novel before its tale is even commenced). Johnny when he hears this phrase thinks Lily may be contemplating marrying Crosbie but in this, as in other aspects of Lily, he misjudges her. Lily is not in love with Crosbie as he is now but with her idealised Crosbie of the past – the “Apollo” who proposed to her.

Crosbie does, of course, write with a view to the possibility of resuming their relationship and Lily seriously entertains the possibility. she tells her mother “I would go to him as a gambler goes to the gaming-table, knowing that if I lost everything I could hardly be poorer than I was before. But I should have better hope than a gambler is justified in having.”(6) Once again, Trollope puts words in Lily’s mouth which reflect, perhaps Lily’s own sub-conscious understanding of her situation. She is addicted to him and feels pulled to him as a gambling addict is drawn to the table. Victorian understanding of the psychology of addiction was but little advanced compared to modern understanding but I do not believe Trollope’s choice of metaphor was accidental in this respect.

Lily after much reflection (a change from her impetuous teenage self) decides that if she were to allow him back into her life that he would eventually come to view this is weakness on her part and despise her for failing to rebuff him as he knew he really deserved. She cannot bear to live with the prospect of losing his respect – and with it what is left of her own self-respect. She therefore tells him, through her mother, that she does not wish to see him again. She acknowledges though to her mother that she still loves the man.

When they do eventually meet, it is by chance as Lily is out riding on Rotten Row in London as Crosbie happened to be walking in the park.  Then we see Lily through Crosbie’s eyes rather than the reverse. We are not privileged to see how she now views her “Apollo”. He, however, notices that “she was as pretty as ever, that she was but very little altered. She was, in truth, somewhat stouter than in the old days, but of that he took no special notice.” How much of that is the natural transition from a “slender”(5) teenager to young woman and how much might be attributable to comfort eating in her depression is impossible to determine but that he, with his eye for an attractive woman, should perceive the change suggests there is at least some element of the latter.

In presenting this complex psychology of Lily, so much more than the victim of a teenager’s broken heart but a woman deeply traumatised by the whole experience, Trollope shows insights which were ahead of the state of psychological thinking at the time. Such obsessive behaviour was not begun to be properly understood until the twentieth century study pf psychology. Trollope nevertheless portrays it. To do so, he shows an ability to depict behaviours, which he will have seen without perhaps fully comprehending the roots, and reproduce it accurately in his prose. As such, this portrayal should be considered alongside that of Louis Trevelyan in He Knew He Was Right or Countess Lovel in Lady Anna as a significant achievement in the depiction of psychologically damaged  characters. 

There is also, no doubt, a commercial as well as an artistic motive. Not only does he achieve a level  psychological verisimilitude that surpassed almost all of his peers, but used it in a way which undoubtedly reaped for him financial benefits. He was clearly aware that his readers were wrapped up in the story of Lily Dale and the repeatedly unsuccessful wooing of Johnny Eames – a popular character, a hobbledehoy who was making something of himself in the end (and not therefore unlike Trollope). He was even able to spin this story out into a second volume as a secondary-plot in The Last Chronicle of Barset. In his Autobigraphy, Trollope observed of his heroine and, with remarkable acumen, his audience, “Prig as she was, she made her way into the hearts of many readers – both young and old- so that, from that time to this, I have been continually honoured with letters the purport of which has always been to beg me to marry Lily Dale to Johnny Eames. Had I done so, however, Lily would never have so endeared herself to these people as to induce them to write letters to the author concerning her fate. It was because she could not get over her troubles that they loved her.”(7)

Numbered references in the text indicate the source of the quotation among the novels of the Barsetshire series.

(5) The Small House at Allington, published in 1862-64 in Cornhill Magazine
(6) The Last Chronicle of Barset, published in 1867 by Smith Elder.

Also cited is the non-series book which I have also numbered for ease of reference:

(7) An Autobiography, published posthumously in 1883 by William Blackwood and Sons.

Lily doesn’t appear in the earlier Barsetshire books and there are therefore no references to the first four books in the series.

 

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Zola Readers tackle Fortune of the Rougons

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I am a great fan of book groups. I love to discuss books I am reading with others who have read them (or are in the process of reading them – though this can lead to some cryptic conversations as each person tries to ascertain whether the other has reached a pivotal moment without giving anything away – the classic spoilers issue). Subject to that concern, I find I get so much more out of a collective read and discussion of a book than I do from reading the book alone. Other perspectives on a novel shed wholly new and different lights on the events described. They may spot things that I have missed; attribute different motives to characters; reveal my prejudices when approaching the text and how these impact on my understanding or insights into the book.

So it is with huge anticipation that I am embarking today with a group of intrepid souls on a group read of the entire twenty novel Rougon-Macquart cycle by Emile Zola. Our intention is to read the novels in the order suggested by Zola himself (not the order in which they were written) in his introduction to Le Docteur Pascal with which he closed the sequence. It has been pointed out by certain members of the group that this task may take us until 2035 unless we maintain a disciplined pace. However, every journey begins with a first step and it falls to me to take that first step on behalf of the group by summarising the first chapter of the first book, The Fortune of the Rougons.

You will note that I have already started to mix up the French and English titles. It seems to me that reading books in translation is of itself a fraught business. You are at the mercy of the translator when it comes to not only the choice of words but also the tone and feel of the text. I read Proust’s A la Recherch du Temps Perdu in a modern translation which calls it In Search of Lost Time  whereas I was brought up knowing it as Remembrance of Things Past. I wonder if I can connect more easily with a modern translation than an earlier translation. Reading a 19th century author is a very different experience from reading a 21st century author. They use different words, different punctuation, make different assumptions of the life experiences of the reader. In short, it would be remarkable if they were to describe the precise same scene in anything even remotely close to a similar fashion. And the same must apply to a translator. Would a modern translator into  English, such as Brian Nelson (who is responsible for the new OUP edition) use the same words to describe a scene as the Victorian E. A. Vizetelly (of Merton, Surrey! whose translation I am reading) chose in 1898 when he translated La Fortune des Rougon? I am therefore not one but two steps removed from Zola’s writing.

Indeed, Zola, writing for a 19th century French audience assumed an understanding of the events of the end of the second republic and the era of the second empire which was coming to its climactic disintegration in the Franco-Prussian War with the siege of Paris as he commenced his series. They had lived through these times. It was recent history that he was describing not a remote (in temporal terms) and foreign land.

So I am therefore doubly pleased to be embarking on this voyage in company. Together we may share and deepen our understanding of the works. We may also be able to compare notes on our different editions in translation and clarify the interpretations.

If you would care to join in the group read then you can find us on Facebook, for we are a virtual group. Our members are spread literally around the globe – we have members in Australia, USA, China, South Africa and UK. Hopefully these different perspectives will add to our collective enjoyment and understanding:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/161652547705426/

 

 

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