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Archive for May 5th, 2020


“Dogged as does it” — Giles Hoggett advising Josiah Crawley (Last Chronicle of Barset, Ch 61, F.A. Fraser)

Lock him up!! cries Mrs Proudie about Mr Crawley (well, words to this effect) (Last Chronicle, Ch 18)

‘I think that a girl who is going to be married has the best of it.’
‘And I think a girl who isn’t going to be married has the best of it’
Emily Dunstable v Lily Dale (Last Chronicle, Ch 77)

Friends and readers,

There is just no doubt in my mind that had the Rev Josiah Crawley’s story unfolded today, he would have become infected with the coronavirus, & perhaps died, compromised as his health was after years of arduous hard work on scarcely any food, of intense stress from grief, loss, and humiliation because his pay as perpetual curate was egregiously derisory, the nature of his work to go perpetually among the poorest to help them with the plainest tasks, to teach them, the poorest who of course would have been dying in large numbers. We all remember how his wife, Mrs Crawley, almost died in Framley Parsonage, having gotten sick from her nursing care of these people.

I maintain in this blog that Josiah Crawley is more of a hero for our time than Hugo’s man for Trollope’s theme is how inequality works: Like Jean Valjean, Crawley is accused of the smallest of crimes, he cannot remember where he got a £20 note, which seems to have been used to pay down a debt for desperately needed groceries; but unlike Hugo’s hero, the point our author makes is not that Crawley was driven to steal — neither our author or anyone in the book can believe Crawley could ever mean to do something said to be morally wrong; it’s rather that the pressure of living under such deprived conditions as he must daily endure has made him unable to pay attention to the most embittering of details of open charity. In the book’s first chapter we are shown on how Crawley is regarded with distaste and distrust by the males trusted to be magistrates and sit on juries.


Crawley before the magistrates (Last Chronicle, Ch 8, G. H. Thomas)

By the time of the grand jury trial it has been suggested there is no pity due this man: why did he take this position, when he knew the salary by itself would not provide enough money for him to live as a clergyman with a family. It’s his fault his family starves, live in embarrassingly worn-out clothes. Chapter 5 depicts the acute poverty of the Crawleys. Not one person challenges the establishment which has made such a position for a gentleman to work in. We discover any scene involving money is traumatic for Josiah Crawley and so he was vulnerable to those who might actually stole the check as a convenient cover for their own crimes. In this same book Trollope provides a set of characters who are much richer, & get away very crooked dealings, as stockbrokers with other people’s thousands of pounds; but no one arrests them. Crawley’s intense pride and sense of his own good character make him unable to cope with the scorn and indifference to him, he behaves reactively, masochistically, and when he refuses to give up his position and salary on the grounds there has been no conviction, Mrs Proudie, the ecclesiastical wife roars he ought to be prison. What is this but a mirror of the “advanced” economies of quite a number of nations in 2020?


The formidable Mrs Proudie about to intrude herself into her husband’s ecclesiastical business (modeled on one of Thomas’s vignettes for Last Chronicle; from the BBC 1983 Barchester Chronicles, played by Geraldine McEwan)

The solution to the book’s mystery (“Where did he get it?”) at book’s end is capable of being seen as having a peculiar anti-feminist and feminist twist. The origin of all the Crawley’s misery is (as is alas not uncommon with Crawley) partly unconsciously self-inflicted. A woman, Mrs Arabin, has inherited a legacy from her first husband (John Bold, way back in Barchester Towers) and she has the power to transfer bills she gets as rent on her property to other people; being a woman she either does not know the particulars of bill transmission or she is careless about it. Thus do we learn women should not be entrusted …. ), and simply slipped the bill into a folder of bills her husband was intent on giving Mr Crawley as charity. (To be fair, she was not to know this bill had come to the tenant from his brother who had gotten it from a crook who saw it fall from the hands of an aristocratic lord’s man of business, snatched it up, and put it forward as rent.) Now for the feminist twist: hitherto the Arabins had been slipping these sums of money and other gifts into the silent willing hands of Mrs Crawley, but the husband, indignant and irate that his wife should take it upon herself to accept such moneys and not tell him, demanded that people no longer give Mrs Crawley anything but rather make the offers to him. Now had it been Mrs Crawley whose mind is clearer, she would have been able to account for who gave her these bills in this folder. So his taking over the will of his wife, demanding her abject obedience backfired. I am not sure Trollope meant us to see or himself saw this whirligig of time taking its revenges (for Crawley is a merciless bully over his wife) POV.

We began a reading of this book as a group on Trollope & His Contemporaries (@groups.io) with the thought it had perhaps become dated because it is no longer the famous signature book Trollope’s go to first or are recommended to read as his masterpiece. It undoubtedly manifests some obsolete attitudes. We did discuss these and I digress from my central comparison of the parallel between Crawley and Lily Dale to show how they fit into the book.

There is a spectrum in this novel of social-psychological behavior and motives in the characters represented by the old-fashioned world of Barsetshire as we have come to experience it for 6 books, and the modern one of London as depicted here (and in say the world of Sowerby in Framley Parsonage. The two ends are represented by the saintly Mr Harding, on the one hand; and the unchaste morally imbecilic women and greedy money-lenders in London, on the other.

Mr Harding is the only person in the novel simply to guess how naturally and probably Mr Crawley happened to have the note: he was given it by Mrs Arabin, whom the novelist artificially keeps away from Barsetshire and her husband too by travels into Europe. He writes Eleanor to ask, thus himself initiating a bearable ending for Mr Crawley. He compounds this deus ex machina role by dying and asking the Archdeacon to give his suffciently remunerated position to Crawley. The Archdeacon still have to be pressured into it as Crawley is not the type the establishment will respect. Through Mr Harding Trollope also makes fun of the complicated explanatory plots of how things occur in a Wilkie Collins detection novel. We agreed Mrs Proudie has to be killed off or she would have prevented Mr Crawley from taking a decently paying position by persuading the Archdeacon (not hard to do) that Mr Crawley is surely unfit.

Trollope both jeers at and disdains the London women, showing no understanding or empathy for how a woman can come to sell sex and her body in the commercial hierarchical world of London. They must be sub-human in their stupidity and animal-like in their tastes. His problem is to link them in (perhaps the Broughton-Dalrymple plot is material he had worked up on its own) through John Eames and he cannot in this respectable novel show Eames is coming to Madalina Desmoulins to go to bed with her. He does show that Eames enjoys triumphing over her at some level. At least he cannot keep away unless threatened by marriage.

Trollope’s nasty misogyny reaches its height by having Conrad Dalrymple, a male artist (friend to Eames) paint the corrupt nasty wealthy woman’s daughter as Jael in the Jael-Sisera story of the Bible (see Judges 4-5, the Book of Judith). Jael kills Sisera by driving a nail into his head, a woman’s revenge story of the type Artemisia Gentileschi painted. Women painted this kind of thing from time to time, not men. In Trollope’s novel such a story is merely glamorous titillating sexy silliness. This is represented by having Dalryple tear his work, showing how little he thinks of it.


One of G. H. Thomas’s vignettes in the concluding London chapters of the book

In both cases — the height of cruel bullying and punitive values in Mrs Proudie is matched by the persuasive brilliance of the depiction of the complete collapse of her hold on her unfortunate and her subsequent death (what has she to live for if she cannot inflict her power through pain on other people — She is the Trump of the book insofar as there is one); the distastefulness and egregious stigmatizing of the London women matched by the depiction of real business dealings, and the collapse of Dobbs-Broughton’s business and his suicide.

Here too we have simulacrums of the modern world but mostly wholly out of spirit with what readers of contemporary novels and watchers of contemporary movie series accept as readable and watchable entertainment — not altogether unfortunately: you can find this kind of material on Fox TV and recent violent sexed-up mystery thrillers and fascistic fantasy action-adventure movies.

There is also a somewhat obsolete (not wholly as today many a wealthy parent will move heaven-and-earth to prevent an adult child from marrying down, which in our world means to people of less money and less prestige) perhaps cloying story in the novel brought into the more usual Trollope norms and materials we can find understandable from a perspective of individual liberty and humanity (I’ll call this secular humanism). The story of Major Grantly’s love and wooing of Grace Crawley; their engagement and marriage.  The theme covers a debate over the the obligation of an fully adult upper class male in the book Major Grantly, a widower with an adolescent daughter, to marry only with his parents’ full approval of his chosen bride, Josiah’s daughter, the lovely and highly educated (ever so genteel submissive) Grace.

The Archdeacon is as Major Grantly’s father, had persuaded his son to give up a good income in the military in order to live the life of a gentleman of leisure near his parents. Now he is wholly dependent on that father and the father is (an act of betrayal, of going back on his word) going to take the son’s income (an allowance) back if the Major marries the accused much despised impoverished non-networking curate’s daughter. He is put up to this by the malicious Griselda Grantley, now rewarded with one of the highest ranks for women in the book (Marchioness of Hartletop). Trollope empathizes with the Grantly’s parents’ idea they have the right to ask of their son he not lower their status in the world by his life choices.

But I  think Trollope also meant us to see at least how dangerous it is to give up one’s monetary independence based on a promise. What happens (however at moments cringeworthy the romance, especially the scene between the Archdeacon just about salivating over the docile Grace) is at least capable of a humane turn of interpretation. Trollope enables us to see that Grace need not be punished all her life for the way the community regards her father; nor Grantly’s possible experience of joy taken from him because his longing for a gentleman’s life tempted him to give his father such power over him. Grantly fils can in modern terms choose an authentic existence; Grace can live with someone who will appreciate her talents.


“She read the beginning, ‘Dearest Grace'” — we see to the left, Grace Crawley intently reading a love letter from the Major; on the right, Lily Dale more relaxed posture, reading her newly arrived letter, with Mrs Dale with the newspaper in hand, a middle class breakfast scene (Last Chronicle, Ch 36, G. H. Thomas)

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The book’s second traumatized character, Lily (pictured above, somehow appropriately from the back) is (I gather from group discussions) often attacked for refusing to marry. I cannot say Trollope is wholly on Lily’s side. The Last Chronicle in part rehashes a story told in The Small House of Allington where Lily Dale is stunned and her deepest private feelings violated (plus experiencing like Crawley public humiliation) when after not only engaging herself to Adolphus Crosbie, but making it plain to all she has given him her heart and soul (and perhaps body too), made herself abjectly his, is within less than a week of the engagement cast aside for a rich titled woman. A young man, Johnny Eames, has loved her as a boy and offers himself in marriage, but apart from her never having been attracted to Eames sexually, she is emotionally shattered in ways analogous to a raped girl. Crosbie, now a widower, of small but adequate means (his wife’s family having fleeced him) thinks to offer himself again.

The problem is Lily still loves the man who betrayed her. Lily’s idea that what is most painful is Crosbie’s notion he is making it up to her. In other words, he considers she cannot do with him. He is doing her a favor. And we are made to see that given his shallow nature, were she to marry him, he would soon act on the idea she needs him far more than he does her. He would let her know it, he would not appreciate her since she did not value herself enough. Her mother hates him & writes the cold distance rejection (Ch 23). It is very nervy of him to offer himself again to her and Lily’s pride is as strong as Crawley’s (and Major Grantly’s). Pride is important to people so they can have self-esteem.

In the later parts of the book, in London and Allington (Chs 45,52, 76), we trace Lily’s coming to choose an independent unmarried life. Except when she is directly confronted (it’s not Eames’s strategy to confront her with the demand she must marry to have a legitimate life), she will not admit her deepest impulse after her hurt is never to give any one (man or women) the opportunity to control and humiliate her again. She does say point blank to Emily Dunstable she thinks the better choice for all (it’s implied) is not to marry. Trollope insists Lily loves Eames, and that she was near saying yes until knowledge of Eames’s affair (in our period it would be sex) with another nasty women determined her to say no; the sense is MD’s letter informing Lily of the affair made Lily angry over being likened to this base person, made her distrust and regard Johnny Eames as shallow for being able to become involved with her. But Lily does escape the charge of snobbery, self-estrangement and thinking too much about what’s to come from having thought too much about the past.


Lily Dale and Johnny Eames, a last walk (Last Chronicle, G. H. Thomas)

Driven by Eames and then Mrs Arabin, she says 1) she “will not have myself planted out in the middle, for people to look at:” she feels Eames wants her as a trophy, symbol, his pride is what is driving him to want to show people after all she did prefer him; and 2) she is a shattered tree and once you axe the tree its fibers are never the same. It could be Johnny will be kind, generous, loyal, but that does not mean she is not maimed and will be able to respond to him. She cannot be what he wants. When I have said I was maimed as a teenager, I have gotten back the comment you should not be, something wrong with you, with sometimes the idea this person emerged stronger My father had an image he used of a piece of wood, strong fine piece of wood but then someone took a big axed and struck hard and the wood was never the same again, immeasurably shaky, un-sturdy, and to switch metaphors to people, the person needs to take care of him or herself in a different way. Keep herself intact. Modern readers could sympathize more were Lily to go traveling, write for the newspapers, have a vocation, but Trollope (profoundly against regarding women as having value individually, they must be wives & want to be mothers in his fiction to be seen as whole useful respectable) will not permit that.

I have omitted much that is enjoyable and beautifully done in the book. The slow gradual pace, as the pairs and trios of chapter unfold, reach emotional climaxes consonant with the action, occasionally parts of the London stories (especially brilliant, persuasive bitterness between characters over corrupt money dealings),  a host of minor characters well-observed, the pragmatic philosophy of that wonderful sleuth, Mr Toogood, and his goodness. Wonderfully realized believable types: Dr Temple, man of business as clergyman; Mark Robartes now grown older; Miss Dunstable is a disappointment but still herself.  To analyse Crawley & Lily & a number of these others (even the waiter at the tavern in Barchester) could take a small book in itself. We did feel maybe there was too much reiteration, so that what had been done with such freshness and subtlety was here reduced a bit — the romance from The Small House, and the thick ethnographic landscape of the Framley Parsonage world, though not Lady Lufton who again springs to complex life. A rare strong good and now at any rate a guardedly independent and forceful woman.


Lady Lufton meeting and besting the Duke of Omnium (Framley Parsonage, John Everett Millais)

The Last Chronicle of Barset is one of Trollope’s masterpieces in the novel way.

Ellen

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