Mr Furnival introducing Lady Mason to his wife (J.E. Millais, from the original illustrations to the novel)
Dear friends and readers,
We’ve just finished reading Orley Farm on Trollope19thCStudies and I feel as if I’ve noticed all sorts of new things I hadn’t before. We said so much and talked of so many aspects in the book I can’t begin to write a coherent not-overlong blog on it (see Yahoo site, under “Orley Farm”). I know that for a long time The Last Chronicle of Barset was regarded as Trollope’s signature book; that which was most characteristic of him in his most brilliant phase. Nowadays the contemporary themes and perspectives (not to omit the influence of Davies’s film adaptations) have replaced it with The Way We Live Now for some, and He Knew He Was Right for others. There is an argument for “the Orley Farm case” too. I’ve included a few brief summaries and evaluations of some good critical essays in the comments.
For the first time I realized it can be read out of a feminist perspective at the same time as it’s a brilliant examination of how law operates in a court, and how the world outside the court impinges on that court and its rules of behavior so that when justice does emerge, it comes out of an interaction of social events and mores. We experience the powerlessness of women when it comes to law, office, property, and their own sexuality. We see their strength resides (alas for Lady Mason) in hiding, in watchful care of what they say or do, in quiet manipulation. Sophia Furnival is a mistress of this, but even she cannot overcome her lack of rank or status when she (at the close of the book) wants to enter the Noningsby circle (whose portrait by Trollope anticipates the Rostovs in War and Peace). As is so common, the illustrations emphasize these subplots.
Judge Staveley is all that Rostov is not; Madeline a kind of Natasha (Lily James and before her, Morag Hood fit the part). Pierre is transfigured by Trollope’s hard point of view into Felix Graham.
We experience the importance to women of another woman’s true friendship.
Mrs Orme and Mary, Lady Mason saying goodbye (Millais)
Millais drew pictures of Mary Snowe (treated as owned property for a while by Felix Graham), of Sophia Furnival (one towards the end when she realizes she has lost Augustus Staveley in a manner that anticipates Mabel Grex’s letting slip Lord Silverbridge), but none of Bridget Bolster nor Mrs Moulder. Yes the extant ones are all too pretty, but I would have liked to have a representation of the long-enduring Mrs Moulder.
Human relationships are seen as ever with Trollope seen as a see-sawing between dominance and submission, and Trollope shows the traits that leads a man to flourish in his career or ambition may enable him to dominate his spouse and household (though he need not) and how the impulse to power is a cruel one.
Mrs Dockwrath (Miriam that was) greeting Mr Kenneby come to see her husband (two characters who have made unwise choices in the book and suffer for these ever after, Millais)
It’s also novel centered on negotiation; the scenes repeatedly show us people in negotiating stances, and what Trollope focuses on is who dominates who, and why. How people to be safe need to hide themselves and much that they think or do from other people — even among those rare spirits who can love another individual fully and loyally, though never (it seems) unconditionally. During our discussion I argued that the hero and heroine of the book are Mary Lady Mason and Mr Furnival. The book’s tragic patterns end quietly, with Mary Lady Mason at last left in peace in Germany, and her disinherited son self-exiled.
Holding on, holding out after she has told her friends she forged the codicil and has lived according to its lie for 20 years …
We didn’t discuss how consciously autobiographical the book is; Trollope told Millais to draw Julians Hill, which his father lost, for Orley Farm:
nor how far the criminal (though Trollope does everything to justify her he can) Lady Mason might indirectly mirror Trollope’s own mother whose efforts to live a full life herself and rescue the family he could not accept and never quite forgave:
Lucius, the melancholy, socially awkward, perverse son
but that’s all there too.
Much has been written elsewhere on this book (and I wrote for conventional publication part of my chapter on the original illustrations on Millais’s pictures in Trollope on the ‘Net), but I do have one small allusion to elucidate, which I’ve not seen discussed, and which adds real depth to the book’s conception.
Mrs Furnival’s return: “Tom, I am come back” (Millais)
In the moving depiction of Mrs Furnival’s distress out of loneliness and desertion, where the text becomes dense with suggestivesness that Mr Furnival, bored with his unintellectual uncurious and now aging and unattractive wife has had casual liaisons during business trips, Trollope’s narrator quotes Horace’s Odes, Book 2, No 3 twice. Furnival practices the same kind of quiet brutality to his wife he does to his clerk, Crabwitz: if Crabwitz does not like the terms of their relationship, he can find another job; if Mrs F does not like the terms of their relationship and wants to leave, that’s fine. He will not admit to needing either. While Crabwitz might lose a good steady income, Mrs Furnival loses the very meaning of her existence. But power over her, independence from her means more to him than any corrosion of self-worth she might have to live with.
The allusion is made most visible when the narrator refers to “Delius” and says that Mr Furnival had never had time to read the classics and had he had this time when young it might have done his larger ethical sense of what is valuable in life some good. In context it reinforces the idea that Furnival is hurting himself — the way Mary Lady Mason was led to hurt herself when she was pressured into marrying an old man for status and survival. The larger meaning across the book bring in metaphysical grounds Trollope is rarely credited with registering in his books.
I wish I had a better translation; this is by Joseph Clancy:
Keep this in mind: a steady head on a steep
path; the same holds true when the going is good:
don’t let happiness go to your head,
friend Dellius, for you must die someday,
whether you spend all your time in sorrowing,
or keep yourself happy on festival days
stretched out on the grass in seclusion
with a jar of your best Falernian.
Why do the towering pine and white poplar
love to weave shady welcome by lacing their
branches? Why do the rushing waters
hurry on against the winding river?
Tell them to bring the wines and the perfumes and
sweet rose blossoms that live such a little while,
here, while it still is allowed by luck and
youth, and the dark threads of the three sisters.
You will leave the pastures you bought and your home
and your country place washed by yellow Tiber,
you will leave, and into the hands of
an heir go the riches you piled so high.
Rich, and descended from ancient Inachus,
or poor and from the lowest class, loitering
out in the open, it is all one:
an offering to Death, who has no tears.
All of us are being herded there, for all
lots are tossing in an urn: sooner, later,
out they will come and book our passage
on the boat for everlasting exile.
In this book the relative freedom of the men is consciously contrasted with the imprisoned condition of the women, and the men are trained to keep the ethical instincts of their hearts under control lest they are endangered by them in some way. So although pressured by Mrs Orme not to ask Lady Mason to marry him again, Sir Peregrine Orme does and is once again refused by Mary Lady Mason. And yet here is our promised end. It is through Horace we can see Sarah Gilead’s humanist perspective.
We are told Trollope loved Horace and late in life he makes Mr Whittlestaff (An Old Man’s Love) read Horace regularly. He was particularly fond of Millais’s illustrations for Orley Farm, as showing him aspects of his characters or book he had not thought about until seeing them, and he had a set made separately for himself.
Caroline Bowles Southey — her drawing of Robert Southey (her husband’s) window from which he wrote most of his poetry, journalism, letters (I like both Caroline and Southey’s poetry, his writing and this drawing of hers; Southey as a conservative Lake District poet turns up in Trollope’s Lady Anna to offer advice such as Mrs Orme would have approved)