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A Trollope is not an immoral woman

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

Not sure why, but I have read a lot of Anthony Trollope this summer. I am 2/3 of the way through The Way We Live Now. It is brilliant. In his time he was very popular, then fell out of favor for a strange reason (he said he wrote to make money, and that was considered demeaning to art in the Victorian Age), but then in the 20th century he was "rediscovered."

His image, below, is not exactly alluring.

In some ways he doesn't reach Dickens, but it's still robust, rich storytelling with vivid characteristics. I think he lacks a certain sincerity or respect for humanity Dickens has, though, or at least displayed. Trollope is funny and sometimes wickedly ironic. I read Barchester Towers earlier in the summer and also couldn't stop. Now, I confess, it takes a few chapters to acclimate to the style, and it's not easy going at first, but soon you are quite involved.

The Way We Live Now could be written today, in some ways. Surely Augustus Melmotte seems awfully similar to a recent highest-ranking political figure who just won't go away--a person who made a lot of money, supposedly, then ran for office, but lacked any sense of depth on the issues that mattered and whose wealth was suspect:

There was one man who thoroughly believed that the thing at the present moment most essentially necessary to England's glory was the return of Mr. Melmotte for Westminster. This man was undoubtedly a very ignorant man. He knew nothing of any one political question which had vexed England for the last half century,—nothing whatever of the political history which had made England what it was at the beginning of that half century. Of such names as Hampden, Somers, and Pitt he had hardly ever heard. He had probably never read a book in his life. He knew nothing of the working of parliament, nothing of nationality,—had no preference whatever for one form of government over another, never having given his mind a moment's trouble on the subject. He had not even reflected how a despotic monarch or a federal republic might affect himself, and possibly did not comprehend the meaning of those terms. But yet he was fully confident that England did demand and ought to demand that Mr. Melmotte should be returned for Westminster. This man was Mr. Melmotte himself.

As Trollope writes previous to this passage: The hotter the opposition the keener will be the support.

I also found his portrayal of women richer than Dickens. In The Way We Live Now, we have Lady Carbury, Hetta Carbury, Georgiana Longestaffe, Maria Melmotte, Winifred Hurtle, and Ruby Ruggles as the main women--what an array. He seems to have a sympathy for the women of this society and their limitations and stifling expectations. The ones who rebel pay the price. I wish Winifred had gone through with her planned horse-whipping of Paul Montague. This doesn't mean the woman are all smart or virtuous, only that they are pretty real and relatable.

Of course, I am not finished, but I value the snatches of time when I can dig into the vivid and sly prose. Check it out, if you like 19th century literature. If you don't, well, there's plenty of other great stuff to read.

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