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Archive for the ‘Anthony Trollope’ Category

Ayala's AngelI knew it was coming.  A writer cannot be prolific and profitable without sometimes sacrificing quality.  Even so, I was disappointed when Ayala’s Angel by Anthony Trollope failed to delight me the way his other books have done.  It is a fun comedy but at times the reading of it felt a bit too much like hard work.

When their beloved but feckless father dies, Lucy and Ayala Dormer are left orphaned and “utterly penniless”.  But, as befits penniless orphaned girls in a novel, they are both young enough to be considered likely heroine material – though one is perhaps more likely than the other:

…Lucy, who was twenty-one, was supposed to be simple and comparatively unattractive, whereas Ayala was credited, – as her somewhat romantic name might show, – with poetic charm and a taste for romance.

Wo betide the reader who dare confuse the girls after that!  Trollope could not have been clearer, which, for me, is a sign of one of the problems with this book; I appreciate an upfront author but here Trollope’s characteristic frankness dips far too often into artlessness.

With no money of their own, the girls are split up: Lucy goes to live with her hardworking uncle, who has no children and lives shabbily but genteelly in Notting Hill, and Ayala goes to their wealthy aunt, Lady Tringle.  There is little overlap between the modest Dossett household and the wealthy Tringle one and for the sisters, used to their artistic father’s extravagant bohemianism, neither house proves a welcoming home.  Lucy struggles with the domestic chores that fall to her at the Dossetts while at the Tringles Ayala is horrified to find herself the object of her cousin Tom’s determined affections.

The girls run about – Ayala especially, travelling both around the country and overseas – and even switch places, Lucy going to the Tringles and Ayala to the Dossetts as the family tries to figure out what to do with them.  Meanwhile, the girls deal with affairs of the heart.  Lucy’s romance is very neat: there is a young artist, Isadore Hamel, who used to be friends with Mr Dormer and is still very much attached to Lucy.  That is all well and good and very unexciting.  Ayala, on the other hand, makes trouble for herself and everyone else but stubbornly clinging to the belief that an ideal man exists.  Her angel, as she terms him, is quite out of the ordinary and beyond the reach of most mortals and she will know him when she sees him.  Her faith in this fantasy helps her rebuff her cousin Tom but also confuses her as to the state of her feelings for Colonel Jonathan Stubbs, whose unheroic name and appearance mask an affectionate, humorous, and, at times, heroic personality.  Of course, all comes right in the end.  But that end takes far too long in coming.

The book is much, much too long.  The Dormer sisters are busy enough to have provided sufficient material for a good-sized novel.  Trollope, however, felt the need to pad out their adventures with the romantic entanglements of many other couples: there are five marriages in total, all of which encounter some sort of barrier along the way that must be detailed.  I usually love Trollope’s colourful supporting casts and their subplots but not here.  I could not care about the marriages of Lucy and Ayala’s two spoiled Tringle cousins or the messy entanglements of a young man who sets about courting the younger Miss Tringle though he is really in love with another woman.  Trollope concludes “If marriage be the proper ending for a novel,  – the only ending, as this writer takes it to be, which is not discordant, – surely no tale was ever so properly ended, or with so full a concord, as this one.”  I can’t quarrel with the way he ended things, just that it took so very long to get there! 

One of the real tragedies of this novel is the lack of authorial asides.  Trollope’s frivolous musings in his other books have delighted me; here they are remarkably few.  There was one entertaining bit about the propriety of young women walking alone in London though:

It is generally understood that there are raging lions about the metropolis, who would certainly eat up young ladies whole if young ladies were to walk about the streets or even about the parks by themselves.  There is, however, beginning to be some vacillation as to the received belief on this subject as regards London.  In large continental towns, such as Paris and Vienna, young ladies would be devoured certainly.  Such, at least, is the creed.  In New York and Washington there are supposed to be no lions, so that young ladies go about free as air.  In London there is a rising doubt, under which before long, probably, the lions will succumb altogether.

When Trollope is like this, there is no author I like more.  Sadly, this sort of playfulness was in short supply in Ayala’s Angel, presumably because Trollope’s concentration was engaged in arranging all those unnecessary marriages.

Though it was difficult to care too much for the emotional struggles of either Ayala or Lucy, or any of the other soon to be married young people, I did find myself touched by young Tom Tringle’s plight.  To Ayala, he is an ogre, an unattractive young man who is deeply, foolishly and embarrassingly publically in love with her.  In reality, he is just an honest and rather gauche young man who has fallen deeply in love for the first time and does not know how to handle the rejection he receives from his cousin.  At the end of the novel, still in love with Ayala, he is setting out on a round the world trip, which his parents hope will give him enough time to recover from his disappointment and mature a little.  The final scene between father and son was the most honest and touching in the entire book, as Sir Thomas, hurt by what he has seen his son go through, tries to encourage Tom to heal his pain without becoming cold or jaded:

Then his father, who had been speaking aloud to him, whispered a word in his ear.  “Shake yourself, Tom; shake yourself and get over it.”

“I am trying,” said Tom.

“Love is a very good thing, Tom, when a man can enjoy it, and make himself warm with it, and protect himself by it from selfishness and hardness of heart.  But when it knocks a man’s courage out of him, and makes him unfit for work, and leaves him to bemoan himself, there’s nothing good in it.  It’s as bad as drink.”

As much as I missed the warmth and cohesiveness that distinguish Trollope’s better books, this was entertaining.  It wasn’t perfect and I doubt I will reread it as often as I will the Barsetshire books but it does have some excellent moments and, in the end, it is Trollope.  Trollope off his game is still better than most authors at their very best.

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Doctor ThorneThis review is a definite case of better late than never: I read Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope at the end of April 2012.  I loved it but, busy with my reviews for A Century of Books, this one fell through the cracks.  Now, almost a year after finishing it, here is that long-awaited review.  Thank goodness I still keep up my reading journals – without the notes I made while reading this would certainly not have been possible!

In Doctor Thorne, we move to a new corner of Barsetshire, away from the cathedral town that hosted the action of The Warden and Barchester Towers to the more rural setting of Greshamsbury, a village presided over by the popular squire, Mr Francis Gresham.  As the novel begins, the family and all its friends are celebrating the coming of age of the squire’s only son, Frank.  Frank is handsome and cheerful, honest and steadfast – a man any father (or author) can be proud of.  He also fancies himself in love with Mary Thorne, the charming, beloved niece of the local doctor, who has grown up alongside Frank and his sisters.  Though Dr Thorne is the novel’s real hero, Trollope generously allows – in one of his very charming authorial asides – that some readers might prefer Frank:

He would have been the hero of our tale had not that place been pre-occupied by the village doctor.  As it is, those who please may regard him.  It is he who is to be our favourite young man, to do the love scenes, to have his trails and his difficulties, and to win through them or not, as the case may be.  I am too old now to be a hard-hearted author, and so it is probable that he may not die of a broken heart.  Those who don’t approve of a middle-aged bachelor country doctor as a hero, may take the heir to Greshamsbury in his stead, and call the book, if it so please them, ‘The Loves and Adventures of Francis Newbold Gresham the Younger.’

When Frank declares himself, Mary Thorne rebuffs his advances.  Though she loves him (far more, in fact, than he loves her at this point) she has just discovered that she is illegitimate.  It is not so much that she worries about his family’s disapproval but that she, very nobly and naïvely, does not want to lower her lover, who is so proud of his family’s pedigree.

When Lady Arabella Gresham discovers her son’s interest in Mary Thorne, she is horrified.  The present squire, good fellow though he is, has not managed the estate well.  Land has been sold off and the rest mortgaged.  While snobbishness may demand young Frank choose a wife of good stock, practicality demands he choose an heiress.  Mary is neither and so Frank is, after being firmly reminded that “there is no road to wealth so easy and respectable as that of matrimony”, sent off in pursuit of the marvellous Miss Dunstable, who is possession of a very large fortune and an excellent sense of humour.  Miss Dunstable is some years older than Frank and, after easily discouraging his half-hearted attempts at lovemaking, becomes his staunch supporter in his pursuit of Mary Thorne.

The book chronicles more than two years in the lives of its characters, seeing Frank and Mary through from the age of twenty-one to twenty-three; a period which sees them both mature – considerably in Frank’s case.  One of the greatest delights of Trollope’s writing is how weak his male characters can be, in the best possible way.  Framley Parsonage, the next book in the Barsetshire Chronicles, is an even better example of this but both Doctor Throne and Frank struggle in the most credible manner with the difficult choices lain before them.  In the doctor’s case, the ethical crisis he faces would test most men.  For Frank, much of his struggle has to do with his youth.  If he had not come under the excellent influence of Miss Dunstable, he might have allowed himself to be persuaded into changing his mind about Mary before he was mature enough to understand the full consequences of his actions and the worth of the woman he was rejecting.  However, with time on his side, he ages into himself and is able to take full control of actions as the book progresses:

Frank had become legally of age, legally a man, when he was twenty-one.  Nature, it seems, had postponed the ceremony till he was twenty-two.  Nature often does postpone the ceremony even to a much later age; – sometimes, altogether forgets to accomplish it.

I love everything about this book.  I’ve read the first four Barsetshire books now and there is no question that this is my favourite.  Doctor Thorne is as worthy a hero as anyone could hope for but, really, all of the characters are wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed every scene involving the female members of the Gresham family.  Lady Arabella is no friend of Doctor Thorne’s (and therefore she is no friend of the reader’s) but, despite her best efforts, she can never seem to get the best of him: “it was not easy to be condescending to the doctor: she had been trying all her life, and had never succeeded.”  Her frustrated conversations with her willful children were also perfection, especially the back-chat she received from the daughter who was closest to Mary.  Anyone who thinks Victorian novels or even just Victorians themselves are stuffy should read Trollope to be reminded of how very little people change. 

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On Christmas Eve, after the festivities of the day had drawn to a close, I curled up in the living room amidst the shreds of papers and bows that had had flown when a few hours earlier gifts were being unwrapped, cracked open Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope and immediately found myself with Dr Grantly and Mr Harding at the deathbed of Bishop Grantly.  I had enjoyed my introduction to Trollope’s Barsetshire with The Warden but it was immediately clear I was going to enjoy this much, much more.

The problem of who to appoint as the warden of Hiram’s Hospital continues but that appointment pales in comparison to some of the more august clerical vacancies that come up during the course of this novel, beginning with the greatest position of all in Barsetshire: the bishop.  Bishop Grantly times his death poorly, waiting just long enough for the government that would have favoured replacing him with his son to pass out of power.  Instead, the unknown Dr. Proudie, whose greatest accomplishment is as the conduit for church reformers and the forceful Mrs. Proudie, is awarded the position.  The bishop is masterfully aided in his work by his eloquent chaplain, Mr Slope, who, in combination with Mrs Proudie in particular, hopes to pursue an agenda completely counter to everything Dr Grantly and Mr Harding believe.

Dr Grantly’s outrage on meeting this offensive trio only made me love him more (and I was wildly fond of him after reading The Warden).  The entire sixth chapter (entitled “War”) details the beginnings of the conflict between the Grantlyite and Proudieite forces and is a masterpiece.  But the rift also brings about some very good things and not just in terms of comedic value: to me, there is nothing so delightful as watching Dr Grantly and Mr Harding being drawn closer together in understanding and friendship as their battle against the palace continues and they become co-conspirators against their bishop, wading deep into ecclesiastical politics.  Even Mrs Grantly eventually takes to the conflict with as much gusto as her husband, despite usually being the very picture of amiability.  But what mortal can remain amiable when confronted with Mrs Proudie and her reaching, grasping ways?  Truly, we should pity rather than revile Dr Proudie, who knows there is no escape from her:

If he ever thought of freedom, he did so as men think of the millennium, as of a good time which may be coming, but which nobody expects to come in their day.

But there is also the other main concern of the novel: who should the widow Eleanor Bold marry? Yes, ‘joy!’ cries the reader, the tiresome, insufferably noble but thoughtless Bold is dead, leaving his young widow and son comfortably provided for.  A trio of potential suitors, each with their own motivations, present themselves and though two are obviously unthinkable and only there for comedic effect (so Trollope assures us early on), they serve their purpose admirably.  Will she marry the odious Mr Slope, so charming in female company yet the sworn enemy of all true Grantlyites?  Or perhaps the feckless young Mr Stanhope, a charming but thoughtless member of that delightful, self-centred family, newly returned from Italy?  Or will the intelligent, respected, admirable Mr Arabin, brought to Barsetshire to shore up the Grantlyites, carry the day?  From his first introduction it is obvious that only Arabin could appeal to Eleanor and so it comes to pass but there is much fun had along the way.  The lovers do not make things easy for themselves, but that seems to suit the author quite well:

As she spoke she with difficulty restrained her tears; but she did restrain them.  Had she given way and sobbed aloud, as in such cases a woman should do, he would have melted at once, implored her pardon, perhaps knelt at her feet and declared his love.  Everything would have been explained, and Eleanor would have gone back to Barchester with a contented mind.  How easily would she have forgiven and forgotten the archdeacon’s suspicions had she but heard the whole truth from Mr Arabin.  But then where would have been my novel?  She did not cry, and Mr Arabin did not melt.

I already have the next book in the series (Doctor Thorne) out from the library and I am eager to get reading and to return once more to beloved Barsetshire.

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Oh, the excruciating pain of making this list!  I am very pleased with the end result but how cruel to have spent the last few days playing off my favourite books against one another to get down to the ten you see here (and ten it must be for when I attempted to make a list of fifteen things got wildly out of hand).  What I did realise quickly was what an excellent reading year I’ve had, full of wonderful, memorable books.  May 2012 bring more of the same!

10. The Unlikely Disciple (2009) – Kevin Roose
The best books are the ones that get you so excited that you cannot stop talking about them, so that soon all your friends and family know exactly what you’re reading.  That is what happened while I was reading The Unlikely Disciple.  Roose, then an undergraduate at Brown, went ‘undercover’ for a semester at an evangelical Christian university.  His insightful, respectful, and very detailed chronicle of his time there left me highly entertained and incredibly engaged, pondering some of the issues he touched on (the influence of religious groups in politics, evangelical Christianity’s attitudes towards women, and journalistic ethics, to name a few) for weeks after I had finished reading.

9. Skylark (1924) – Dezső Kosztolányi
Set in 1899 in a small town in Austria-Hungary, this is the story of Skylark’s mother and father and the joyous week they spend enjoying themselves while their spinster daughter is away visiting family.  Mother and Father’s excitement at their outings to the restaurant and the theatre (and, in Father’s case, a meeting of the local drinking club) is humourously and heartwarmingly told but it is the return of the pathetic, pitiable Skylark (and Father’s outburst in anticipation of her return) that truly makes this a brilliant novel.  A wonderful and sympathetic view of the burden faced by parents with beloved but unmarriageable daughters. 

8. An Appetite for Life (1977) – Charles Ritchie
Ritchie, though he was a prominent diplomat, is now best remembered for his skill as a diarist and rightly so.  This, the earliest published volume of his diaries, covers the years 1924-1927, as Ritchie was finishing off his studies in Halifax and then experiencing the delightful distractions on offer at Oxford during his first year there.  Ritchie is marvellously candid and his daily ponderings – here, unsurprisingly given his youth, focused on women, sex, and school – manage to be both amusing and touching.

7. Christopher and Columbus (1919) – Elizabeth von Arnim
I took the longest time to decide which von Arnim novel was going to make the list but this beat out The Pastor’s Wife by the sheer force of its charm.  A light, fanciful escape from reality, Christopher and Columbus tells the story of two orphaned teenage German-English twins and their exploits once shipped off to neutral America by their uncle during WWI.  While sailing, Anna-Rose and Anna-Felicitas befriend the delightful, doting Mr Twist, an American millionaire who made his fortune by designing a no-drip tea pot.  The adventures of this trio make for enchanting reading, with von Arnim’s witty narrator saving it from descending into anything too saccharine.

6. Earth and High Heaven (1944) – Gwethalyn Graham
Without question, this was the biggest reading surprise of the year.  My first reaction upon finishing was that it was the most Persephone-like non-Persephone book I’ve ever read.  Set in Montreal in 1942, the novel revolves around the challenges faced by Erica Drake, an editor at a newspaper, and Marc Reiser, a lawyer, when they meet and fall in love.  Anti-Semitism and family relationships are at the heart of this novel but it is also full of comments on the war, whether it be French-speaking Canada’s reluctance to be involved or the deadening effect of the destruction of the London Blitz, experienced first-hand by Erica’s sister.  It is an absolutely amazing novel that deserves a much wider audience.

5. Hostages to Fortune (1933) – Elizabeth Cambridge
My love for this quiet novel has come on slowly.  I enjoyed it when I read it, yes, but with each passing month I find myself loving it more.  I remain particularly impressed with Cambridge’s portrait of Catherine and William’s marriage and how it evolves, through separation during the war, the arrivals of babies, and the numbingly chaotic years spent scrambling to raise ( and afford to raise) their three children.

4. The American Senator (1877) – Anthony Trollope
My first encounter with Trollope was an unqualified success.  Since then, I’ve read The Warden and Barchester Towers and enjoyed both but neither came close to equaling my delight with The American Senator.  Was it Mr Elias Gotobed’s comically offensive but generally true statements that charmed me so?  The love story of the gentle, deserving Mary Masters?  Or was it the magnificent anti-heroine, Arabella Trefoil, whose single-minded pursuit of a husband  is awesome to behold?  The combination of these stories makes for an eventful, always fascinating, deeply satisfying novel that quite rightly convinced me that Trollope was an author after my own heart.

3. Wives and Daughters (1866) – Elizabeth Gaskell
I feel a bit of a cheat to place a reread so high on my list but…This book is absolutely perfect and fully earned its spot.  I don’t think I will ever tire of Molly Gibson, Cynthia Kirkpatrick, Squire Hamley or, that most magnificent creation, Mrs. Hyacinth Kirkpatrick Gibson.

2. Howards End is on the Landing (2009) – Susan Hill
In any other year, this book would have probably garnered top spot.  Hill’s memoir of a lifetime spent in the company of books and other authors delighted me from the first page to the last.  Everything about this book was perfect for me.  There was enough of the familiar in Hill’s reading to comfort me (because one of the delights of reading about books is coming across opinions on books you know well) and enough of the new to excite me and make me eager to track down those unknown titles.  Even before I had finished reading my library edition, I rushed out to buy a copy of my very own.

1. Summer Half (1937) – Angela Thirkell
Anyone who has been following my blog this year could have probably predicted that Thirkell would take the top spot.  Since my first encounter with Thirkell last January, I have fallen completely in love with her Barsetshire novels and, of the twelve I’ve now read, I think Summer Half is the most perfectly formed.  It centers on the masters and students of Southbridge School and their interactions with some of the local families.  As with all good Thirkell novels, romance is in the air and the narrator’s sharp wit is there to comment on both the comically disastrous pairings and the ideal but bumbled ones.  Most importantly, Summer Half introduces my favourite Thirkell character, the astounding Lydia Keith.  Of all the books I read this year, not only is this the one that I am most eager to return to, it is the one I most wish I owned countless copies of so I could pass it on to everyone I meet.

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I feel like I should have more to say about The Warden by Anthony Trollope.  When I read The American Senator earlier this year, I was stupidly ecstatic the entire time, delighted by every character, amused by every turn of phrase.  I had been warned that The Warden, the first of Trollope’s six Barsetshire novels, was the least impressive of the lot.  Well, I didn’t adore it but I did enjoy it.  If this entertaining, amusing, affectionate novel is the least impressive of the series, I am very excited to read on.

The book is concerned with the trials of one Septimus Harding, a respected, well-liked clergyman in the cathedral town of Barchester, who is also the warden of Hiram’s Hospital, an alms-house for a dozen aged and infirm local men.  Mr Bold, an earnest young reformer, is convinced that the hospital funds are being unfairly allocated and that the warden’s income of £800 is overcompensation for the minimal duties he is expected to perform.   Poor Mr Harding, who had never questioned his income before, had in fact used his personal funds to increase the allowance given to the hospital’s residents, is placed at the center of the controversy and the book focuses on his struggle to decide his opinion on the matter.  His claim to the money is supported by the clerical community, most especially by the forceful archdeacon Dr Grantly, the son of the Bishop and the husband of Mr Harding’s eldest daughter, while John Bold, having brought the issue to public attention, is clearly of the opposing faction, though he counts Mr. Harding as one of his dearest friends and is in love with Harding’s youngest daughter Eleanor.  A fine mess, indeed, though from the start there are clearly so many satisfactory outcomes available that there is no real sense of tension.

What I particularly loved about The Warden were Trollope’s descriptive passages.  Most of these were mere tangents to the main plot, with Trollope poking fun at newspaper men, politicians, clergymen, lovers, spouses…really anyone and everyone who could possibly be woven into the story however remotely, but they had me giggling away throughout the book.  It is these passages that allow the observant, witty narrator to establish himself as the most entertaining character of all.  Trollope is particularly excellent when introducing new characters: the introduction of the Grantly sons, and the narrator’s blunt remarks on their virtues and failings, seemed to be unnecessarily lengthy and yet, for me, it was one of the most entertaining parts of the book.  Much time is devoted to studying each character, however insignificant, and none is without his or her virtues but they all have some human foibles, as befits the cast of a comedy.

But of all the excellent characters here, one stands out as being particularly well-suited to comedy.  The archdeacon Dr. Theophilus Grantly is wonderful.  So rigid, so decisive, his happily bullies Mr. Harding along, confident that the law, morality, and God are on their side and he joyously sets forth, eager to smite those who would question the church’s internal accounting:

He was about to defend the holy of holies from the touch of the profane; to guard the citadel of his church from the most rampant of its enemies; to put on his good armour in the best of fights; and secure, if possible, the comforts of his creed for coming generations of ecclesiastical dignitaries.  Such a work required no ordinary vigour; and the archdeacon was, therefore, extraordinarily vigorous.  It demanded a buoyant courage, and a heart happy in its toil; and the archdeacon’s heart was happy, and his courage was buoyant.

Honestly, the plot of The Warden is not terribly well formed.  Even as the scandal is escalating, it was difficult to feel much concern when the narrator clearly didn’t, happily contenting himself with making amusing remarks about all the actors involved and the complications of their home lives.  But it is these amusing asides and these excellent, flawed, essentially good characters that make the novel so entertaining and which make me so excited to read on.  I already have my copy of Barchester Towers pulled out, ready to commence reading as soon as I begin my Christmas holidays at the end of this week.

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After reading The American Senator by Anthony Trollope, I am now certain that Trollope will become one of my favourite authors.  I had suspected as much before but, now that I have finally read him, I know.  So chatty, so funny, so detailed, so entertaining – this book was everything that a book should be!

The plot of The American Senator has very little to do with that gentleman, a Mr Elias Gotobed, who takes great delight in insulting his hosts in the name of education (for surely they must be made to see how flawed their ways are), and much to do with those who reside in or pass through the country town of Dillsborough one winter.  When have I ever been able to resist a novel about English country life?  The novel is comprised of three main, interconnected stories: the Senator’s fumblings about society, the romantic life of the unassuming Mary Masters, and the attempts by the dazzling Arabella Trefoil to catch the wealthy Lord Rufford (though she is already engaged to the diplomat, and local squire, John Morton). 

I have to admit, the novel does begin slowly with several chapters devoted to the histories of Dillsborough’s local families, explaining long-standing feuds and giving character descriptions of the neighbourhood’s eligible males.  It’s important information but presented in a very tedious way.  However, as soon as the narrator’s explanations are concluded and the characters appear and begin to speak for themselves, the fun begins.

John Morton has just returned home from a diplomat posting in America, where he came across and became engaged to Arabella Trefoil, an Englishwoman travelling abroad with her mother, and made the acquaintance of Mr Gotobed.  These characters quickly join him in the country; Arabella and her mother with the purpose of surveying Morton’s home and evaluating his worth as a prospective spouse and Mr Gotobed with a view to educating himself about the English people and their customs.  At a local hunt, Mr Gotobed has much to critique and Arabella much to consider, as she meets the wealthy, eligible and possibly attainable Lord Rufford.     

Arabella is a magnificently unsentimental anti-heroine.  She is not a keen sportswoman but, in pursuit of the huntsman Rufford, is quite the huntress, plotting out and adapting her strategy over the course of several months in an attempt to snare her prey.  There is no sentiment about Arabella, just level-headed practicality supported by a dash of ruthlessness:

She herself did not care much for pleasure.  But she did care to be a great lady, – one who would be allowed to swim out of rooms before others, one who could snub others, one who could show real diamonds when others wore paste, one who might be sure to be asked everywhere, even by the people who hated her.  She rather liked being hated by women, and did not want any man to be in love with her, – except as far as might be sufficient for the purpose of marriage.  (p. 81)

With effort, she is beautiful but she is getting older and there is little money.  She accepts Morton when they meet in America but, when she meets Rufford and recognizes him as the greater prize, quickly shifts her focus without ever quite sacrificing the security offered by Morton.  And she handles it marvelously, it must be said, though she’s not quite so clever as to actually pull it off. 

The level of work that Arabella puts into running Rufford to ground is immense and though I was struck with admiration of her for her strategic brilliance and perseverance (because, really, she leaves nothing on the table in her bid to win Rufford), Trollope’s purpose here is not to glorify the huntress but to win sympathy for the hunted.  Rufford is almost powerless against Arabella’s machinations and blatant lies, the publicity campaign she wages in effort to coerce him into marriage after blackening his reputation and making herself appear as the wronged party, a man more sinned against than sinning:

He was being hunted and run down, and, with the instinct of all animals that are hunted, he prepared himself for escape.  It might be said, no doubt would be said, that he behaved badly.  That would be said because it would not be open to him to tell the truth.  The lady in such a case can always tell her story with what exaggeration she may choose to give, and can complain.  The man can never do so.  When inquired into, he cannot say that he has been pursued.  He cannot tell her friends that she began it, and, in point of fact, did it all.  ‘She would fall into my arms; she would embrace me; she persisted in asking me whether I loved her!’  Though a man have to be shot for it, or kicked for it, or even though he have to endure perpetual scorn for it, he cannot say that let it be ever so true.  And yet is a man to be forced into a marriage which he despises?  (p. 307)

And yet Rufford’s fate, having slipped Arabella’s grasp, is perhaps less pleasant than it would have been had he yielded and married her.  There is no love match waiting for him, just a more subtle huntress, favoured by his family, who bides her time until he is exhausted by the hunt and too weak to give flight.  Arabella, having lost both Rufford and John Morton, makes a surprisingly suitable match to a young man as clever, hard-working, and calculating as she, an intriguing end to an eventful career.  She is certainly not good but then neither does Trollope cast her as entirely bad, musing that “there was something even in her hard callous heart softer than the love of money, and more human than the dream of an advantageous settlement in life.”  She is an endlessly intriguing character and certainly the most memorable one in the novel. 

What to say about the Senator?  Comically frank, Mr Gotobed makes many good and valid observations about England and the English – questioning fox hunts, decrying the powers of the landed gentry over the peasants, ridiculing the apathetic members of the House of Lords – for the edification of his less than appreciative English audience.  But who could really respond well to a man who believes “the want of reason among Britishers was so great, that no one ought to treat them as wholly responsible beings”?  The greatest amusement comes from seeing how other characters react to his grandiloquent statements, fighting to stay polite to the foreigner as he insults their country and their ways (rightly or wrongly – the Senator does not always let facts get in the way of that which he and his American values knows to be right).  But for all his comic appeal, he does speak a great deal of truth and it is remarkable how many of the English customs he quibbles over are still issues today.  Watching him struggle with his New World ideals of equality as he is charmed by the gentry and scammed by the lower classes is also rather delightful:    

There is a reality about them [‘those here of the highest rank’], and a desire to live up to their principles, which is very grand.  Their principles are no doubt very bad, utterly antagonistic to all progress, unconscious altogether of the demand for progressive equality which is made by the united voices of suffering mankind.  The man who is born a lord, and who sees a dozen serfs around him who have been born to he half- starved ploughmen, thinks that Good arranged it all, and that he is bound to maintain a state of thing so comfortable to himself, as being God’s vicegerent here on earth.  But they do their work as vicegerents with an easy grace, and with sweet pleasant voices and soft movements, which almost make a man doubt whether the Almighty has not, in truth, intended that such injustice should be permanent.  That one man should be rich and another poor is a necessity in the present imperfect state of civilization; – but that one man should be born to be a legislator, born to have everything, born to be a tyrant, – and should think it all right, is to me miraculous.  But the greatest miracle of all is that they who are not so born, – who have been born to suffer the reverse side, – should also think it to be all right. (p. 195)

And then we have the final thread of the story, the romance thrown in to entertain soft-hearted female readers (that would be me).  Mary Masters is the daughter of a country lawyer who, after her mother’s death, was essentially raised by Lady Ushant until that lady was forced to remove from the area after her great nephew John Morton inherited Bragton, where she had been living (this is one of those messy family relationships explained at the beginning of the novel).  As the novel begins, Mary is in her early twenties and has been living with her father, step-mother, and half sisters for some time. Mary is content with her family but perhaps a little more refined than her sisters.  A well-off local farmer – not quite a gentleman, to his dismay – Larry Twentyman is desperately in love with her.  Larry is everything that a lover should be.  He is earnest, constant, respectful, and passionate.  He cannot conceal his love for Mary, nor his disappointment each time she rejects his advances.  He is handsome, young, in possession of a good house, a good fortune, and a good temper.  He is ideal.  Everyone around Mary certainly seems to think so, from her step-mother to Lady Ushant.  The townsfolk are in universal agreement that the match would be a good thing.  The only ones who disagree are Reginald Morton, a local gentleman now in his late thirties who has been friends with Mary since her childhood, who thinks her too fine, too cultured for the countryman Larry, and Mary herself, who knows even before she realises her love for another, that she cannot return Larry’s affection.

Larry is everything that is good-humoured and generous but, after hearing Reginald describe his quiet daily life to Mary, was there ever really a chance I was going to favour Larry?: ‘I rush in and out of the garden, and spend my time between my books and my flowers and my tobacco pipe.’  Alright, not a terribly heroic schedule but clearly that of a man after my own heart.  Larry suffers greatly when the true lovers get their happy ending, which I did so appreciate (however cruel that may sound).  I hate novels where there is obviously one good lover and one bad one, or where the enthusiastic lover proves comically unfaithful when rejected.  Larry is constant and endures – though not quietly – the pain of unrequited love, lending him a certain air of nobility.  Besides, his future is not so bleak: there is promise of future happiness with Kate Masters, Mary’s younger half-sister, a friend and hunting partner of Larry’s, who possesses a jolly spirit that matches his own.

I purposely started my Trollope reading with a comic, stand alone novel and I am so glad that I did.  It was a wonderful way to test the waters, as it were, and I’m thrilled to know I have his series to look forward to as well as his many other independent novels.  Isn’t it wonderful to discover a favourite author who was also shockingly prolific?

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