Happy New Year: Read Harder Challenge 2018

We are all guilty a lot of the time of reading within our comfort zone – familiar titles, familiar authors, familiar genres. I was recently introduced by a friend (thank you Kathy Halvorsen) to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This deliberately seeks to push us outside our reading comfort zones to tackle books we would otherwise never even consider. So here is the Book Riot 2018 Challenge with suggestions from Trollope’s catalogue which might encourage those amongst his many fans who have never ventured beyond Barsetshire and the Palliser sequence of novels to perhaps try an unfamiliar Trollope.

1. A book published posthumously
Mr Scarborough’s Family
The Landleaguers
An Old Man’s Love
– An Autobiography
– London Tradesmen
– The New Zealander

2. A book of true crime

3. A classic of genre fiction (e.g. mystery, sci fi, fantasy etc)
– The Fixed Period

4. A comic written and illustrated by the same person
– Dispossession by Simon Grennan (based on John Caldigate)

5. A book set on or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China or South Africa
– South Africa

6. A book about nature

7. A western

8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of colour

9. A book of colonial or post-colonial literature
– The Bertrams
– Harry Heathcote of Gangoil
– John Caldigate
– Australia and New Zealand
– South Africa

10. A romance novel by or about a person of colour

11. A children’s classic published before 1980

12. A celebrity memoir
– An Autobiography

13. An Oprah Book Club selection

14. A book of social science

15. A one-sitting book
– Nina Balatka
– Linda Tressel
– Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite
– The Golden Lion of Granpere
– Harry Hethcote of Gangoil
– An Eye For An Eye
– Cousin Henry
The Fixed Period 
– Kept In The Dark

16. The first book in a new to you Young Adult or Middle Grade series

17. A Sci fi novel with a femal protagonist by a female author

18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC or Image
– Dispossession  by Simon Grennan (based on John Caldigate)

19. A book of genre fiction in translation

20. A book with a cover you hate
– any of the free downloadable Project Gutenburg editions with the dreadfully bland covers ;-D

21. A mystery by a person of colour or LGBTQ+ author

22. An essay anthology
– Hunting Sketches
– Travelling Sketches
– Clergymen of The Church of England
– London Tradesmen

23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

24. An assigned book you hated or never finished
– La Vendee

For those who wish to learn more about the 2018 Challenge you can visit the Book Riot website:



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Trollope at Christmas

Trollope did not join the general enthusiasm of his contemporaries for writing Christmas Stories extolling the virtues of family life, charity and good cheer as cure alls for sociey’s ills on one day of the year at least. I have a certain admiration for his determinedly obtuse take on Christmas in Harry Heathcote of Gangoil which, though it ends with romance and a Christmas Dinner, does so amid the smoke and flames of bushfires in the heat of an Australian summer.

Indeed, Trollope, ever commercial, dutifully brought out books for the Christmas market but he only managed eight short stories which might be properly described as Christmas Stories. However, these still, like Harry Heathcote, do not conform to the snowy scenes we have come to expect of our Victorian writers ar Christmas. Instead they feature a variety of settings, both in the UK and abroad. 

Fortunately for those of us who like to include a little reading to escape the onslaught of others binge-watching the latest blockbuster series the eight stories have been collected together in a handy single volume by The Trollope Society. So if you are ever wondering where I might be over the festive season, you might do worse than to start the search in the vicinity of my Trollope bookshelf where I might be found hiding myself away amongst the pages of this volume.

Have a very Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

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Trollope’s Women: Carry Brattle

Found, unfinished painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1865).

When Trollope wrote The Vicar of Bullhampton in 1869, he felt constrained to write, for the only time in his career, a preface to the novel to justify the inclusion of the character Carry Brattle in which he explained that “There arises, of course, the question whether a novelist, who professes to write for the amusement of the young of both sexes, should allow himself to bring upon his stage such a character as that of Carry Brattle. It is not long since – it is well within the memory of the author – that the very existence of such a condition of life, as was hers, was supposed to be unknown to our sisters and daughters, and was, in truth, unknown to many of them. Whether that ignorance was good may be questioned; but that it exists no longer is beyond question.”

By including Carry in his novel, Trollope was joining a trend in literature and art, which gave rise, for example, to Rossetti’s unfinished painting Found of 1865, showing the scene when a countryman discovers his former sweetheart, now a degraded prostitute, in the city. These depictions reflected heightened concerns in society generally about the issue of prostitution and what might be done about it. In writing of her though, it seems that all his daring went into the very fact of her inclusion at all, leaving none for the creation of the type of rounded, three-dimensional female character which he gave to the respectable ladies of the middle and upper classes about whom he wrote with such insight. Carry, unfortunately, remains a thin caricature by comparison who conforms to conventional stereotypes of the “fallen woman” who is desperate in her anguish and repentance of that fall and we learn little of her time as a prostitute.

Carry is the youngest daughter (one of six children still living of the twelve or fourteen born) of the miller Jacob Brattle in the small town of Bullhampton in the middle of vast countryside of Wiltshire. “Of all the flock Carry had been her father’s darling. She had not been brown or hard-visaged [like her older sister Fanny, still living at home]. She was such a morsel of fruit as men do choose, when allowed to range and pick through the whole length of the garden wall. Fair she had been, with laughing eyes, and floating curls; strong in health, generous in temper, though now and again with something of her father’s humour. To her mother’s eye she had never been as sweet as Fanny; but to her father she had been as bright and beautiful as the harvest moon. Now she was a thing, somewhere, never to be mentioned! Any man who would have named her to her father’s ears would have encountered instantly the force of his wrath. This was so well known in Bullhampton that there was not one who would dare to suggest to him even that she might be saved. But her mother prayed for her daily, and her father thought of her always. It was a great lump upon him, which he must bear to his grave, and for which there could be no release.”

We learn that the old miller, who was at the time of the story, over age sixty five “had beaten a miscreant to death’s door – that he, with his old hands, had nearly torn the wretch limb from limb – that he had left him all but lifeless, and had walked off scatheless, nobody daring to put a finger on him[.] The man had been pieced up by some doctor, and was away in Asia, in Africa, in America – soldiering somewhere. He had been a lieutenant  in those days, and was probably a lieutenant still.”

It is a conventional fall. Carry has been in love with a man who abandoned her after he lost interest – by implication, once she had lost her virginity with him. Her father has thrown her out because she was no longer decent or fit, by the double standards of the day, to remain in a respectable household.

Trollope scarcely mentions Carry’s time in London. He puts in the mouth of her sanctimonious sister-in-law, the wife of her older brother George Brattle, a conventional summary of the life of a “fallen woman” from the perspective of a respectable woman: “Such as her don’t starve. As long as it lasts, they’ve the best of eating and drinking – only too much of it. There’s prisons. Let ’em go there if they means repentance. But they never does – never, till there ain’t nobody to notice ’em any longer; and by that time they’re mostly thieves and pickpockets.”

It is perhaps germane, therefore, to refer to other sources* to give some indication of the type of life she might have led. It is estimated that there were in excess of 80,000 prostitutes working, whether full-time, part-time or occasionally, in London. Then, as now, there were gradations in the type of prostitution in which women might become involved. For the higher class prostitute with a rich clientele – or indeed a single client who supported her – it would be possible to maintain a lifestyle, when not working, not dissimilar to that of the middle class women of the time (albeit she would never be accepted into their company). Other women supplemented their incomes from other sources and operated independently, able to be more selective about their clients and when and where they worked – which may have been in their own apartments. It is unlikely, however, that Carry, a relatively uneducated country girl, would have been either of these. She would almost certainly have been in the lowest, most desperate class, who comprised the majority of prostitutes, working for a pimp, who would take half or more of her earnings, and sleeping with whoever the pimp required her to go with. She might have been working on the streets or in a brothel.

Trollope describes how this lifestyle affected her when the vicar, Frank Fenwick, tracks her down to the small cottage off the Devizes road (some twenty miles from her home in Bullhampton) to which she has returned in an effort to leave the life of prostitution behind.

“She was a poor, sickly-looking thing now, but there were the remains of great beauty in the face – or rather, the presence of beauty, but of beauty obscured by flushes of riotous living and periods of want, by ill-health, harsh usage, and, worst of all, by the sharp agonies of an intermittent conscience. It was a pale, gentle face, on which there were still streaks of pink – a soft, laughing face it had been once, and still there was a gleam of light in the eyes that told of past merriment, and almost promised of mirth to come, if only some great evil might be cured. Her long flaxen curls still hung down her face, but they were larger, and as Fenwick thought, more tawdry than of yore; and her cheeks were thin, and her eyes were hollow; and then there had come across her mouth that look of boldness which the use of bad, sharp words, half wicked and half witty, will always give. …And yet, though vice had laid its heavy hand upon her, the glory and the brightness had not altogether departed from her. Though her mouth was bold, her eyes were soft and womanly”.

Carry at this time regards herself in the terms that society regards “fallen women”. She says to the vicar when he meets her and attempts to shake her hand, “I ain’t fit for the likes of you to touch”. She then repeated says that she would be better dead. “I have just got one thing to do, and that’s all…To die and have done with it…I know I’d drown myself in the mill-stream. I wish I had. I wish it was done. I’ve seed an old poem in which they thought much of a poor girl after she was drowned, though nobody wouldn’t think nothing at all about her before.”

She is also understandably fearful of facing her father. “Father would kill me…I wouldn’t dare to stand before his eye for a minute. The sound of his voice would kill me straight.” This is perhaps more significant if taken in the context of the vicar also confessing to his wife, “he is the only person in the world of whom I believe myself afraid” and the miller’s wife who says of her husband, “He’s very good; to me he’s ever been good as gold. But…he is so hard.” When his wife summons up the courage to attempt to visit her daughter, she does so by subterfuge without her husband’s knowledge. This indicates to me that Jacob Brattle is a domineering husband and father, even by the standards of the time, which were admittedly very different from our own.

This is important because Brattle tells the vicar that he has marred the upbringing of his son by making him a favourite. “The lad’d have been well enough if other folks would have let him be…If nobody hadn’t a meddled with the lad, he’d a been a good lad. But they did, and he ain’t.”  The vicar also took an interest in Carry, and when they meet he tells her, “Do you remember how we loved you when you were young, Carry? Do you remember my wife and how you used to come and play with the children on the lawn? Do you remember, Carry, where you sat in church, and the singing, and what trouble we had together with the chaunts?” The implication of Brattle’s argument is that, whatever his motives, good or bad, (and some readers have identified the relationship of the vicar with the teenage Sam Brattle as sexual grooming) the vicar’s interference has in effect turned the heads of his two youngest children and is the cause of their both going astray. However, while it must be admitted that the vicar’s position in nineteenth century rural England was of much greater influence than his equivalent now, this is a disingenuous and self-serving line of argument for their father to take. Effectively he is abdicating responsibility for how they have turned out. I think that for both of them, as relatively sensitive and cultured youngsters, especially in contrast to the old miller, their father’s baleful influence cannot be discounted in how they grew up, ultimately rebelling against his power and authority, each in the ways available to them. Surely their relationship with their father, the state of fear in which he kept his family by the prospect of his outbursts of wrath, would be more significant in their development than the vicar who only came into the parish six years previously when both were in their late teens.

When she meets the vicar at the cottage of Mrs Burrows, she has become accustomed to providing the police – authority figures like her father – with evasive answers when they ask her about her brother’s whereabouts. At first she is similarly evasive with the vicar until reassured that he believes her brother innocent and is not seeking to track him down. Then she reveals to the vicar the strain of maintaining this front to the police, telling him, “Ain’t the police coming here after me a’most every day? And when they hauls about the place, and me too, what can I say to ’em? I have got so low that a’most everybody can say what they please to me.”

In fact, Carry is able, through her position as an outsider to exercise a greater degree of self-determination than a woman subject to the normal boundaries of society. She decides that she should no longer stay at the home of Mrs Burrows, mother of John Burrows, known as “The Grinder”, having spent some time there apparently under the name of Mrs Burrows though when asked about this by the vicar she denies living in sin with him. In fact, she has previously been attached to Burrows’s companion in crime, Lawrence Acorn – they had been engaged, she said, but never married. She decides to return to London but not to the life of prostitution and so she finds herself short of money.

Persuaded by her brother Sam, she returns to the West Country, staying in Salisbury. The vicar supports her there. He contemplates sending her to a reformatory but knows these places are run along very harsh lines which will be a cruelty to the young woman.

However, the life in Salisbury is very oppressive for Carry and when she is summoned to appear in court to give evidence, she once again takes back control of her life and runs away. This time, however, she does not return to London – knowing that would be “going to the devil at once” – but decides to walk to Bullhampton to see her old home at the mill, perhaps, she thinks, for the last time. Trollope, with great insight, recognises that under the circumstances, the young woman is more likely to be concerned with her immediate wants than the longer term. “Carry Brattle had already become accustomed to misery, and as she walked she thought more of the wretchedness of the present hour, of her weary feet, of her hunger, and of the nature of the rest which she might purchase for herself at some poor wayside inn, than she did of her future life.”

However, when she reaches the mill after dark, almost on impulse, on seeing her mother and sister alone she makes herself known to them. This action, braving the risk of being seen by her father who, Carry persists in thinking will kill her, serves as the catalyst for action on the part of her sister, primarily, but also her mother, to have Carry back with her family in the mill house and to face down the wrath of her father. Thus, Carry inadvertently sets in train a sequence of events which shifts the balance of power within the family so that the father, while still the undisputed master of the household, is gradually brought round to the daughter Fanny and his wife’s point of view.

At first reluctantly he allows Carry to stay, treating her almost like a servant, but when confronted by the local constable who is seeking Carry to force her to attend the court as a witness against Burrows and Acorn, the old miller refuses him entry to protect his daughter. So we see him gradually coming round – although he continues to avoid speaking to Carry so that she despairs and again talks of throwing herself in the mill-stream to relieve the family of the burden she has become to them – while Carry rehabilitates herself step by step in the community, attending church with her sister Fanny albeit that she feels terribly exposed to the public gaze while doing so and wears a thick veil.

However, it is only when Carry attends the court in Salisbury that her father finally relents completely and talks to her as his daughter, telling her “Child, …I will forgive thee, and trust thou may’st be a better girl than thou hast been.” even addressing her by her name.

Carry finds the process of giving evidence at the trial an ordeal and can barely speak to answer the questions put to her as a witness. The defence counsel seeks to discredit her by referring to her bad character but the sympathy of the court is with her as she is so obviously distressed by this line of cross-examination. Describing it afterwards to her sister, Carry said, “They asked me if I was bad…and I thought I should a’ died, and I never answered them a word – and at last they let me go.” But the jury believed her evidence and Burrows, the Grinder, was convicted of the murder.

Once this is done, Trollope then allows Carry to pass into obscurity. We are told that she remains at the mill with her father, mother and sister Fanny and that neither of them marry. Evidently, Trollope did not feel it was politic to give Carry a happier ending, with marriage and children as the reward for her reform.

In his Autobiography, Trollope writes that the entire novel “was written chiefly with the object of exciting not only pity but sympathy for a fallen woman, and of raising a feeling of forgiveness for such in the minds of other women. I could not venture to make this female the heroine of my story. To have made her a heroine at all would have been directly opposed to my purpose. It was necessary therefore that she should be a second rate personage in the tale; but it was with reference to her life that the tale was written, and the hero and heroine with all their belongings are all subordinate.”

Another writer, in another genre, might have felt less constrained by the requirements of not stepping too far outside the expectations of his audience. Trollope’s contemporary Wilkie Collins wrote the more sensational, gothic melodrama The New Magdalen in 1873 (as has been noted already, it was a popular theme at the time) in which he not only allowed the fallen woman to be the central character but even allowed her to be so rehabilitated at the conclusion that she married the clergyman with whom she has fallen in love.

By this stage in his career, Trollope was very well established and successful. Financially he was secure. He had already begun to experiment with more difficult subjects in He Knew He Was Right  and The Vicar of Bullhampton continues in this vein but by his decision to focus elsewhere for his heroine, and relegating the potentially more interesting character of Carry to a secondary story-line, he does not give himself space to develop her character fully. She has a constant refrain of wishing she were drowned that is not substantiated by supporting developments in her characterisation. She certainly does gain the sympathy of the reader, in this Trollope succeeds, but there is insufficient depth to sustain that interest in her as Trollope might have done had he gone about his task differently – perhaps with the courage of his convictions that Wilkie Collins displayed.

*William Acton M.R.C.S., Prostitution Considered in its Moral, Social  and Sanitary Aspects (second edition 1870) 






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Trollope’s Librivox Recordings

I am currently “re-reading” two of Trollope’s novels as part of group reads for discussion between virtual friends on Facebook – Phineas Redux through the Anthony Trollope Society Facebook group and The Way We Live Now with an offshoot group formed expressly for the purpose. However, though I have both novels in Folio Society hardback editions and in ebook format in a Delphi Complete Works of Trollope edition plus an Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition of Phineas Redux, my “reading” is, in fact, listening to Librivox recordings.


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No Spoilers!

I know (based on anecdotal evidence) that many readers of Trollope are also fans of Golden Age Detective Fiction. I fall into that camp myself. I am not sure I can pin down what common factors are to be found in both to explain the phenomenon. The nearest I can get to an explanation is nostalgia – whether it be for an earlier, simpler time, possibly in an English country setting. Now there’s a thought. Is St Mary Mead near Plumstead Episcopi in Barsetshire but mysteriously omitted from the maps of the county? Or perhaps it is the absence of mobile phones and psychopathic serial killers that is comforting?

However, in the belief that some Trollopians will, like me, be fans of the four Queens of Crime (Christie, Sayers, Marsh and Allingham for the uninitiated) and their contemporaries, I write not only The Trollope Jupiter but also another blog Bodies From The Library

Just as I have in the past collected together articles I have written here and published them together in book form (available as paperback or on Kindle) as The Trollope Jupiter Essays and Illustrating Trollope I have now collected together some of the essays on Golden Age Detective Fiction for publication.

A statistical and critical literary analysis of Golden Age Detective Fiction. Collects together:
– a statistical analysis of the solutions to Agatha Christie’s short stories, identifying favoured solutions (without giving away any plots!), comparing and contrasting the Poirot and Miss Marple stories.
– analysis of the “fogginess” of the various members of the Detection Club writing the collaborative novels published in the Golden Age.
– analysis of trends in locked room mysteries, identifying the different types of solution, when they were popular and gender differences in the genre.
– analysing Golden Age Detective Fiction as popular culture revealing facets of life and society between the two world wars


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Trollope’s Women: Emily Trevelyan

Laura Fraser as Emily Trevelyan and Bill Nighy as Colonel Osborne in the 2004 BBC production of He Knew He Was Right. 

If Louis Trevelyan was so convinced that He Knew He Was Right then he was equally convinced of its corollary and He Knew She Was Wrong. To modern readers the position is nowhere near as clear cut as Louis viewed it but Trollope knew his contemporary nineteenth century audience was still coming to terms with the legal changes that were taking place and would regard Emily’s actions at the start of the novel, which trigger the ensuing drama as being questionable and, for many, she would be in the wrong. It was necessary, therefore, for Trollope to build in an excuse for her failure to behave as a nice, middle-class English young lady might be expected to behave. This he did by giving her a background as the daughter of a diplomat whose postings had been overseas for the duration of her childhood thereby depriving her of the proper influences which would account for her behaviour. Early in the quarrel, Louis thinks to himself, “And then this poor wife of his, who knew so little of English life, who had lived in the Mandarin Islands almost since she was a child, who had lived in one colony or another almost since she had been born, who had had so few of those advantages for which he should have looked in marrying a wife, how was the poor girl to conduct herself properly when subjected to the arts and practised villainies of this viper? And yet the poor girl was of so stiff a temper, had picked up such a trick of obstinacy in those tropical regions, that Louis Trevelyan felt that he did not know how to manage her.” Having thus made his excuses for her in chapter two of the book, Trollope felt able to proceed with his tale confident that he had not alienated his audience from the sympathy for Emily which would be so necessary for them to go along with the plot he envisaged.

Emily Rowley was born in the mid-1840s. She is therefore, unlike the women of Barchester (with the exception of Lily Dale) whom we have considered thus far, a truly Victorian woman, having been born and grown up under Victoria’s reign rather than during the Regency/late-Georgian period. This may also be reflected in her more advanced views on the rights of women than Trollope’s own generation born at or about the time of Waterloo. Certainly her mother observes that, “Emily likes her way too”, when her husband says that Louis Trevelyan will be “a good guide for the girls!” This assertiveness on Emily’s part brings her closer to the modern era and to the sympathies of modern readers rather than the reverse as Trollope feared might be the case for his contemporary readership.

Emily is the oldest of eight daughters and no doubt this position gave her further cause to be assertive – she would no doubt have been expected to assist her mother in controlling her younger sisters as they grew up. It is no wonder then that she should know her mind and be prepared to speak it.

Emily, Trollope tells us, “was a very handsome young woman, tall, with a bust rather full for her age, with dark eyes – eyes that looked to be dark because her eyebrows and eyelashes were nearly black, but which were in truth so varying in colour, that you could not tell their hue. Her brown hair was very dark and very soft; and the tint of her cheeks was often so bright as to induce her enemies to say falsely of her that she painted them. And she was very strong, as are some girls from the tropics, and whom a tropical climate has suited. She could sit on her horse the whole day long, and would never be weary with dancing at the Government House balls.”

It is interesting that in this first description of her that Trollope should mention Emily having enemies – it is a warning shot across the reader’s bow that all will not be plain sailing for this character.

She is barely twenty-three when we first meet her in London. She has been married three years and has a son – named Louis after his father – who is just a toddler. It is here that she has been introduced to Colonel Osborne – or should I say, been re-introduced to him for Trollope relates that, “When Colonel Osborne was introduced to her as the baby whom he had known, he thought it would be very pleasant to be intimate with so pleasant a friend – meaning no harm indeed, as but few men do mean harm on such occasions – but still, not regarding the beautiful young woman, whom he had seen as one of a generation succeeding to that of his own, to whom it would be his duty to make himself useful on account of the old friendship which he bore to her father.”

Emily, no doubt, from her twenty-something perspective, regarded him as old enough to be her father (indeed, she points out to her sister that he is “A man older than my father, who has known me since I was a baby!”). She would naturally consider any suggestion of a romantic attachment to him as ludicrous, indeed laughable.

Had he been aware that such was her view of him, the Colonel’s ego would have been severely pricked because, while past fifty, he did not consider himself middle-aged in the way that a man with family responsibilities such as Emily’s father bore might regard himself. He was, though, in truth a lecherous older man whose pleasures in life were derived from flirting with younger women. In this respect, no doubt, Emily’s “bust rather full for her age” would no doubt feature highly in the list of her attractions for him. As Trollope makes clear, he does not see himself as too old for her at all even though he has no intentions of doing anything more than pass his time amusing himself by flirting with her.

Unfortunately, Emily’s husband Louis is by no means as aware of the age gap making any suggestion of romance as ridiculous as it appears to Emily and his jealousy becomes intensified into a monomania as the novel progresses.

Her legal position at this point is precarious. She is the property of her husband – a situation which would not change until the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882. So too is the child, little Louis. The Custody of Infants Act 1839 provided that a woman could petition the courts for custody of the child up to the age of seven but thereafter she could only seek a court order for access to the child. The later Infant Custody Act of 1873 would amend this to introduce the principle that the interests of the child would be considered paramount up to the age of sixteen.

The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 applied at the time the events of the novel take place. It was biased in favour of men, who had only to prove a single instance of adultery to obtain a divorce. This determines the course of action which Emily’s husband takes in employing the private detective Bozzle to seek the necessary evidence of adultery on her part. He would then be able to divorce her, should he wish, and, unless she went to court (and won, which would by no means be a foregone conclusion if she was held to have been the guilty party in the divorce), he would have custody of the child and could decide whether or not she had access.

Emily must face this crisis alone, since her parents are inaccessible in the distant Mandarins, at the age of only twenty-three. Not forgetting, of course, that she still loves her husband, as she repeats throughout the novel. It is this enduring love which is perhaps hardest for a modern reader to understand. A modern woman, treated as she is by her husband, would be forgiven – almost expected, in fact – to stop loving the man who so abused her. That she does not is, I think, necessary for Trollope because in this way she remains in the right in the eyes of his contemporary readership who were predisposed by society’s expectations of the time to regard her as breaching the norms of the time which expected obedience of the husband by the wife.

Indeed, Emily is at pains to point out during the early stages of the quarrel that if her husband were to give her a direct order to stop seeing Colonel Osborne she would obey him. As I have observed previously (Illustrating Trollope: He Knew He Was Right), Emily’s response is rather like that of the army private who responds to orders with which he does not agree by dumb insolence (though Emily is far from dumb, indeed, she is most eloquent in expressing her objections to her husband’s instructions). She makes clear that she would regard such an order as unreasonable but would obey. Louis never actually issues her a direct order but thinks that his expressions that he does not wish Emily to meet Osborne, should have the power of an order without requiring him to be explicit in making it an order. It is on this semantic point that the couple fall out.

Emily is contrasted with her younger, and more malleable, sister Nora. Nora waits patiently for her would be lover Hugh Stanbury to propose to her and is even willing to sacrifice her happiness to his good name by refusing to marry him while she is potentially tainted by association with her sister during the scandal of the breakdown of the Trevelyans’ marriage. This is a regular trick of Trollope’s to provide his readers with two women whose approaches to life are different so that each provides a commentary on and reference point for comparison with the other – Ayala and Lucy Dormer are another such example.

It may be argued that Emily is almost perverse in accepting Colonel Osborne’s transparently self-serving excuse for travelling to Devon on the pretext of visiting the church at Cockchaffington and following that with a slightly inconvenient detour to see her at Nuncombe Putney. She tells her sister, “He happens to have a friend in the neighbourhood whom he has long promised to visit; and as he must be in Leesboro’, he does not choose to go away without the compliment of a call. It will be as much to you as to me.” Emily is being disingenuous here. She must be aware that the Colonel is truly interested in her alone rather than both of them. It is, after all, to her alone that he writes.

However, since her grounds for quarrelling with Louis are that it is insulting to her to regard the relationship with the man old enough to be her father as in any way improper, she cannot refuse a visit from Colonel Osborne without conceding that there may indeed be something improper in the relationship even if it is a fault on his side which she should discourage. This unwillingness to concede the point is a rather masculine strength of purpose which might be seen as stubborn by readers who are not inherently sympathetic to Emily’s position. She tells Nora, “I will not be frightened by bugbears. And I will not be driven to confess to any man on earth that I am afraid to see him. Why should I be afraid of Colonel Osborne? I will not submit to acknowledge that there could be aby danger in Colonel Osborne. Were I to do so I should be repeating the insult against myself. If my husband wished to guide me in such matters, why did he not stay with me?”

Indeed, Trollope emphasises her strength when her husband subsequently writes to her in most unreasonable terms. “In her general mode of carrying herself, and of enduring the troubles of her life, Mrs Trevelyan was a strong woman; but now her grief was too much for her, and she burst into tears.” But she recovers herself and resolves to cease being financially dependent on her husband by transporting herself and her sister to live with relatives, Mr and Mrs Outhouse, where he was rector in the poor parish of St Diddulph’s-in-the-East in London’s East End until such time as their parents return to England. She realises this is only a short term solution to their difficulties but it is the only practical step to take under the circumstances. She does not collapse, as a middle-class lady of the period might conventionally have been expected to do, but remains pragmatic and active in trying to work out her own fate.

When the increasingly irrational Louis then contrives to kidnap her son – for this is how it must feel to her in spite of the prevailing legal view at the time that he was acting within his rights to take possession of little Louis as his father – and does so by a trick which surely betrays the moral uncertainty of that course of action, Emily still does not break.

In the immediate aftermath she is quite naturally distraught, “Mrs Trevelyan had staggered against the railings, and was soon screaming in her wretchedness…Mrs Trevelyan was hardly in possession of her senses when she reached her mother, and could not be induced to be tranquil even when she was assured by her father that her son would suffer no immediate evil by being transferred to his father’s hands. She in her frenzy declared that she would never see her little one again, and seemed to think that the father might not improbably destroy the child.” With these harrowing scenes, Trollope perfectly captures the response of the bereft young mother and, her imagination is not overrunning the possibilities of what an unbalanced father might do as any number of tragic cases in real life will confirm.

But after the initial shock, Emily recovers and becomes once more practical in seeking a resolution to the appalling situation in which she finds herself. When she is able to ascertain the whereabouts of her child she goes and negotiates with Louis to obtain access to him, albeit briefly. She refuses, however, to acknowledge that she has “sinned” as her husband accuses her and tells her “You must repent – repent – repent.” Trollope makes clear, and Emily must have sensed this to be true when talking to Louis, that “Who can say how long the tenderness of his heart would have saved him from further outbreak – and whether such prevailing on her part would have been of permanent service?” We, as readers, and she, now know that he can never be relied upon not to find some future cause for dissatisfaction with her behaviour, however much it is beyond reproach. She knows that, in the long run, it will be necessary to establish that her husband is unfit to care for the child by reason of his insanity.

When Louis goes to Italy, Emily, in a step which must have taken much self-belief to undertake, when women were not generally independent, moves herself to Italy too to be close to her child and persuades her father to support her in this. What seems most strange to the modern reader is that she persists in regarding him with love and telling her father when Louis continues to forward money to keep her that “though his mind is distracted on this horrible business, he is not a bad man. No one is more liberal or more just about money.”  This is an extremely rational perspective for a young woman in her mid-twenties to take of a husband who treats her as Louis does. Indeed, her own mental health, under such trying conditions, holds up remarkably well. As they travel over the Alps she joins her sister in rambles through the mountains  and “would for moments almost forget that she had been robbed of her child.” (How much nuance of meaning can Trollope pack into that single word “almost”?) She can still enjoy life and does not fall prey to depression as she so easily might in the circumstances.

When, with the help of her father and Mr Glascock, she tracks her husband down to the villa Casalunga outside Siena, she then very bravely agrees to visit him alone as he stipulates she must if she is to see her child. She, probably rightly, judges that he is not likely to be a threat to her but the risk of physical violence at the hands of a man when she is alone with him at such an isolated spot is nevertheless a possibility she must consider.

When she does finally meet her husband “she threw her arms round his neck, and before he could repulse her – before he could reflect whether it would be well that he should repulse her or not – she had covered his brow and cheeks and lips with kisses.”

She evidently, as she has insisted all along, continues to love the man and is solicitous for his welfare as well as that of her child. He still persists though with the view that it is for him to forgive and for her to repent her actions in order to merit that forgiveness while she speaks of forgiving and forgetting on her part the wrongs he has done to her. They remain poles apart but now Trollope is clear that the readers should side with the wife’s view of the matter. Trollope reveals her thoughts at this point. “That she could be happy again as other women are happy, she did not expect; but if it could be conceded between them that bygones should be bygones, she might live with him and do her duty, and, at least, have her child with her. Her father had told her that her husband was mad; but she was willing to put up with his madness on such terms as these. What could her husband do to her in his madness that he could not do also to the child.”

Trollope conveys her perspective so accurately. Her child is her hostage to fate. And she recognises that her only means of attaining even partial satisfaction in life is to care for her child and her husband who is, effectively, becoming a second child under her care – albeit with the legal powers of the tyrant such as no toddler might ever achieve. Her compassion for her husband is extraordinary to the modern reader.

In the end, Louis’s physical and mental decline is complete and he finally surrenders little Louis to Emily’s care. “It was open to her to go with [her family back to England], and to take her boy with her. But a few days since how happy she would have been could she have been made to believe that such a mode of returning would be within her power! But now she felt that she might not return and leave that poor, suffering wretch behind her. As she thought of him she tried to interrogate her feelings. Was it love, or duty, or compassion which stirred her? She had loved him as fondly as any bright young woman loves the man who is to take her away from everything else, and make her a part of his house and of himself…Emily Trevelyan was forced to tell herself that all that was over with her…that she could never know what his thoughts of her might be…though she could not dare to look forward to happiness in living with him, she could understand that no comfort would be possible to her were she to return to England and leave him to perish alone at Casalunga.” She therefore decides that she will remain in alone in Italy to care for the broken man as best she might after her family departs.

Finally, when he consents to return to England and is clearly dying, “she was down on her knees before him instantly. ‘Oh, Louis! Oh, Louis! say that you forgive me!’ What could a woman do more than that in her mercy to a man.”

Emily’s tremendous humanity, even to the extent of confessing to a fault that was no fault except in the eye of a man whose judgment is shown to be palpably wrong, which is so galling for the modern reader to endure, reflects that “Her mind towards him had changed altogether since she had been so indignant, because he had set a policeman to watch over her. All feeling of anger was over with her now. There is nothing a woman will not forgive a man, when he is weaker than she is herself.”

I still find this hard to stomach – even with the deathbed confirmation that Louis accepts she was not actually an adulteress. But she has sufficient self-respect to accept the blow to her own pride and grant him a final victory so that he might have the peace of mind at his death that he needed – the ultimate confirmation that He Knew He Was Right. When her sister Nora questions this, Emily with maturity beyond her years, tells her “Do none confess but the guilty? What is all that we have read about the Inquisition and the old tortures? I have had to learn that torturing has not gone out of the world – that is all.”

It is no wonder that Trollope, at the conclusion of the novel, when Emily passes out of our sight once more, confirms that though many widows remarry, it is expected that Emily will keep to her avowed intention not to remarry.

It would have been easy for Trollope to write a novel exploring the nervous breakdown of a man which focused solely on the man. One could imagine such a novel with a ministering angel of the hearth tending to him as he declined. But instead he gives us not one but two characters of depth and realism to hold our attention as their relationship collapses under the strain of the husband’s depression. Both are equally the subjects of his authorial gaze and deserve our attention in equal measure.

That Emily’s inner strength should be both her fatal flaw that precipitates the crisis and her means to overcome it and not succumb to despair is worthy of a Greek tragedy. She is indeed a flawed heroine but she is the more real for it. Her flaw, if it is a flaw, which in a woman might be labelled “stubbornness” or “obstinacy”, would in a man be called “strength of purpose”, “determination” or “self-assurance”. Yet Trollope does not label her in this way – even if many of his contemporary readers might have done. He shows greater understanding of her which leads him to avoid this trap. That he tries to have his cake and eat it with the ultimate reconciliation(s), vacillating between Emily’s confession and the final deathbed acknowledgment by Louis that she had not sinned, indicates his desire to bring his more conservative, conventional audience with him. Nevertheless, Emily Trevelyan stands out as a young woman with real emotions but a core strength and willingness to take the initiative in direct contrast to the passive, supporting roles expected of middle class women whose husbands are the ostensible principal subject of the novel.






















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Online reading groups

The Anthony Trollope Society Facebook Group is currently reading Phineas Redux. We have reached Chapter 16 – reading a chapter a day – but the chapters are very short (sometimes only 5 pages) so anyone who wants to join in can easily catch up. The daily chapter discussion enables us to swap thoughts on what we have just read and I always find that I learn something new, or gain greater insights, from the input of everyone reading along.

For those for whom one Trollope is never enough, there will be another group read starting at the beginning of December which will run in parallel with the first. This will be of The Way We Live Now. This seems timely given its subject matter and the state current state of affairs in the world. Trollope’s satire has never been more relevant. This read will, by common consent, include more topical discussion than is normally found in a Trollope group read but in all other respects it will follow the same sort of approach.

To join the read of Phineas Redux you will need to join the Anthony Trollope Society Facebook group. You can contact the group at:


If you want to join the group read of The Way We Live Now please use the Contact Us link above and we will send you an invitation.


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