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Archive for December 12th, 2021


Donal McCann as Phineas Finn defending the Duke of Omnium in Parliament (1974 BBC Pallisers, scripted Simon Raven, Episode 23)


Dillsborough as drawn by the Geroulds; an alternative title for The American Senator (written 1875, serialized 1876) is A Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough

Dear Friends and readers,

Tempus fugit. It was mid-November when I finished teaching The Prime Minister (written 1874, serialized 1875) to two OLLIs classes; in both the book taught later in the day had proved a hard sell as I lost half the class, but with those who stayed, it was a resounding success. I don’t recall classes as involved, quoting passages at me, coming up with interesting interpretations, so engaged. It is one of several outstanding masterpieces by Trollope. A week or so later the London Society Trollope zoom group finished its reading and discussion of The American Senator.

As in the original publication of these two books written in close temporal proximity, The American Senator held far more people (once we got over the initial complicatedly laid-out place and geneaologies), was far more popular than The Prime Minister (well over 100 people stuck it out to the end of The American Senator), but by the end it was not clear that the mix of caricature, philosophical-political analysis, and ironic domestic story in AS had been as seriously probing, and ended as having the same large philosophical and anthropological (as a study of how politics works) application as PM. AS could still command a review in the 1940s Scrutiny, as a political fable well worth the perusal, but PM withstood (so to speak) the imaginative attention to transformed detail, psychologically complex characters, and politics (from angles like newspaper humiliation) we see in Raven’s adaptation. Taken together, both give the reader a sense of a realistic depiction the life of the average middle class to fabulously wealthy people in the UK at the time.

I here compare the two books here concisely with the aim of encouraging readers to read them, about them, and watch the film adaptation (Episodes 20 to 23 of the BBC 1974 Pallisers).


The two friends, Susan Hamilton as the Duchess and Barbara Murray, as Mrs Flynn plotting the coming ministry (Pallisers Episode 20)

The Prime Minister is the fifth Palliser, the final culminating story of the couple Lady Glen and Plantangenet Palliser that began in The Small House of Allington (the fifth Barsetshire book) and comes to the end on the first page of The Duke’s Children (Palliser 6) with the death of the Duchess in the novel’s first sentence. Arguably it’s the 11th novel in a vast roman fleuve comprised of 12 books (the 6 Pallisers coming out of the 6 Barsetshires’ landscape imaginary). A new angle of scrutiny is dramatized before us: what is meant by political work? where is it done? how do people go about it? how does this activity connect to what happens in Parliament? and how does what’s decided in Parliament impinge upon, shape, the lives of the people governed.

The American Senator is a singleton, a free standing book, but some of the characters and a place near Dillsborough recur in Ayala’s Angel (1880).

I’d like to focus on what seems original in Trollope, and peculiar to him, and then what is peculiar to each of these two novels. For both: An underlying paradigm of the Self versus Society once again holds Trollope’s multiplot patterns together in both novels. Long passages of interiority, interior views of characters show characters in search of their heart desires (or pocketbook’s needs). Characters are fiercely independent, guard their inner autonomy. They obstinately hold on and hold out.

As in Phineas Redux, in PM Trollope alludes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s meditative poem, “A Musical Instrument” the high cost to individuals of succeeding in life; how it is important to resist while conforming insofar as you need to, must, or want. In both books we have some panoramic sweep combined with precise detail. Never mind whether the character feels he or she is doing good, it’s the priority of their self’s conditions or terms of existence we see the working out, while all the while they know they cannot thrive unless they are embedded in their communities.


Barsetshire, East and West, with the railway to London at Silverbridge, and Matching Priory and Gatherum in the west (by Michael Sadleir, based on Trollope’s own map)

The Prime Minister has (like many of the twelve books) a second plot-pattern which in various ways contrasts to, parallels, ironically undermines and crucially intersects with the political matter. The story of the failure of the marriage of Ferdinand Lopez to Emily Wharton, of his attempt at a political career using the Duchess as patroness, and using egregious astonishing lying, a story of a rise to high respectability from nothing at all, and near momentary triumph, in corrupt stockbroking, familial, marital and sexual conflicts & violence. It includes a segment which brings in colonialist imperialism, in Latin American (Guatemala).

Trollope comes as close as he dares to portraying how a young woman beginning life as firm in herself, of high self-esteem, and under the strains of emotional manipulation, isolation, abuse, ending a shattered hammered-at easily distressed wife, then widow: it will take her a long while to come back to self-acceptance and a fate she perhaps mistook as one she didn’t want.  Lopez is the dark Hamlet of the book, the most fascinating and least (or perhaps most) knowable character of the book, given the most powerful scene in all Trollope. He is perhaps derived from a Jacobean play.


Sheila Ruskin as Emily, rueful, realizing how mistaken she was in the nature of the man she has married (Episode 22)


Stuart Wilson as Ferdinand Lopez, pained and humiliated before lashing out furiously (Episode 22)

Arguably each of the Palliser or Parliamentary novels deals with political behavior in different ways. In Can You Forgive Her? has a man without money try to stay in Parliament in a London district – finds he cannot afford it, even begin. It’s a book against the kind of patronage and bribery that were prevalent before the 1867 and 1872 acts. In the two Phineas books Trollope dramatizes issues fought out (important ones like the franchise, group representative, secret ballot) and we see Trollope’s hero trying to keep to his conscience, so vote against the gov’t which has given him a paid job because of what he promised and how he wants to serve his constituency.

In The Prime Minister we learn that politics is socializing, partying with people, that’s the way you build coalitions and get bills passed, but if you become indifferent to what is passed, lose all sense of boundaries or have no genuine political beliefs, meaningful action is erased away. Selling yourself, being willing to bend and tolerate all sorts of POVs not your own to the point that you become indifferent to what precisely you are voting for is to be there sheerly for power, money and high rank. In all four books the way these themes are worked out is through large groups of characters over long stretches of prose, many incidents coming to climaxes I for one am often riveted by. Glencora is on the side of looking at politics as a power game, as socializing as central to an individual triumph; Plantagenet wants to do useful things for his constituencies, and finds the triumphs a burden.

Here is but one scene faithfully transposed by Raven from a typical high conflict between Lady Glen (the Duchess) and Plantagenet (the Duke): From Trollope’s Prime Minister, II, Chapter 32.


The Duchess unpinning her elegant hat as the scene begins

Duke: “Cora!”
Duchess: “Yes” (looking in the mirror at herself). Mastershot shows us the configuration of the room, where they are in relation to one another, the maid. She is still humming.
He closes the door. Irritated dark look in his face.
Duke: “Why is it hard to kill an established evil?”
Duchess: “What evil have you failed to kill, Duke?”
He is standing looking at cork soled boots, picks one up, looks at soles. (We are to recall that when Lady Rosina talked about cork soled boots she meant nothing else, no subtext; the Duchess is endlesss subtext.)
Duke: “The people in Silverbridge (the maid comes over to where he is and he begins to help her pick up the basket by handing it to her), they’re still saying I want to return a candidate for ’em.”
Duchess: “Oh! (looks hesitant and smiles placatingly). So that’s the evil. It seems to me to be an admirable (maid quietly walks out the door, new mastershot of room from another angle) institution which for some reason you wish to murder.”
Duke (soft voice): “Well, I must do what I think is right. I’m sorry I don’t carry you with me in this matter, Cora.” (He turns round to face her). “But I think you’ll agree on this (piercing look at her, she looks down though not facing him, but us) that when I say a thing should be done, then it should be done.”
She sighs and with a wry expression on her face she puts on gloves.
He looks grim.
Duchess: “Any more suicidal thing than throwing away that borough was never done in all history.
Who will thank you? How will it help you? It is like King Lear throwing off his clothes in the storm because his daughters threw him out.”
Duke (deep voice) “Glencora. Cora.” (Bridling and he walks to the wide door and closes both sides of one facing us. He means to endure a scene.)
She sits, now gloveless and begins to take off her hat.
Duke turns round. “Now I have chosen that I shall know nothing about this election in Silverbridge because I think that that is right.”
Duchess. “Yes, Uncle Lear.”
Duke: “And I’ve chosen that you should know nothing about it. (Walks behind her and sits to her side, but nearby), and yet they’re saying at Silverbridge that you are canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Glencora (turns round, close up, concerned face). “Who says that?”
Duke: “I don’t think that it matters who said it so long as it is untrue. Now I trust that it is untrue.”
Duchess (look perturbed and worried). (Gulps.) “Of course I haven’t been canvassing for Mr Lopez.”
Camera on his dark face listening.
Duchess: “But I did just happen to mention to Mr Sprout the cork-sole man that I rather approve of Mr Lopez in a general social way.”
Duke (low voice): “Well, Mr Sprout is a very prominent citizen in Silverbridge. Well, I particularly asked you not to speak on this matter to anyone at all.”
Duchess: “But I only said that I thought .. think that he … ”
Duke (interrupts fiercely) “What business had you to say anything” (loud, emphatic, the feel of him hitting something without doing it).
She looks up at him. “Well, I suppose I may have my sympathies as well as another. You’ve become so autocratic (she gets up and walks over to the door, looks like she is about to open it) I shall have to go in for women’s rights.”
Duke (other side of the room). “Cora. Cora. Don’t separate yourself from me. Don’t disjoin yourself from me in all these troubles” (crying sound in his voice).
Duchess (high pitched and turns round) “What am I to do when you consistently scold me. ‘What right had you to say anything?’ No woman likes that sort of thing, and I do not know of any who like it less than Glencora (comes over to sofa and curtsies) Duchess of Omnium.”


The Duke’s listening face

******************************************

By contrast, in AS, you have a single figure, Senator Go-to-bed, who castigates with direct invective and rhetoric and subjects through sarcasm, his own acts, and continually irony all the characters of Dillsborough to an often hostile critical analysis of what they are doing. He is often literally accurate, if you take away the local culture (hunting), unfortunately offensive (even to those whose unfair circumstances he supposedly is aiming to ameliorate), and is himself the target of fleecing corruption by those he’s trying to help.

Gotobed is embedded, provides a sort of link for several intertwined stories. The mirror he holds up reflects multiple directions and perspectives within these groups of characters and stories, and on topics like the woman question (the problems of women finding a suitable partner whom she wants to marry and who wants to marry her in a world where the alternative seems destitution or humbling dependency), church incomes, the class-biased court system. The other characters are psychologically believable but are allowed to behave in (to contemporaries) bizarrely-taboo breaking ways to expose cracking systems (the aristocratic way of courtship and enforced marriage).

The concentration on “way out” behavior is meant to startle and sometimes sympathize with a character in desperation (Arabella Trefoil) even if they bring the destruction nearly down on themselves. It’s important that the highest titled person, the man the aristocratic women are panting to marry (especially Arabella Trefoil), Lord Rufford, is a weak cad, a drone, and eventually becomes the henpecked husband of a petty spiteful aristocratic woman.

To me it seems another quietly ironic attack on the British hierarchical systems; but Gotobed offers a problematic depiction of the US at the time. 1876, the year AS was published saw the bargain election of Rutherford Hayes and the abandonment of reconstruction by the US congress so that a reign of racial terror began to spread across the south; in an article Trollope himself wrote for St Paul’s Magazine, he shows himself against a universal equal franchise and especially against giving previously enslaved or any Negro the vote.  Gotobed holds the US up as an egalitarian and just world, one man one vote, and it’s not.

There is much comedy in The American Senator, so I’ll give an example of Trollope at his most tactful good-natured best in in Chapter 27, “Wonderful [or talkative] Bird!”:

An unnamed old lady and her parrot impinge on the semi-courting of one of the two heroines, Mary Masters, by my favorite among the gentlemen Mortons, Reginald (he prefers to read) as they travel by train from Dillsborough (not yet identified) to Cheltenham (a real place). It is a comic piece filled with good feeling, tactfully presented.

Reginald Morton has offered to accompany Mary Masters to his aunt, Lady Ushant’s house. It would seem it was still strongly preferable for a middle class girl to be accompanied on a long journey. He and she find themselves in a compartment for a journey of thirty miles — except for an old lady ‘who has a parrot in a cage, for which she had taken a first-class ticket’. The old lady is slightly anxious because as the couple come in, she says: ‘”I can’t offer you this seat . . . because it has been booked and paid for for my bird”‘. Our narrator assures us our young friends had no desire to separate themselves one from the other to sit near the old lady.

The idea is to undercut sentiment by the pragmatic presence of a wisely indifferent animal. Our parrot is, however, as indifferent to his mistress as he is to our romantic couple. Our old lady is also less obtrusive than the careless reader might think. Since Reginald and Mary regard the old lady sheerly in the light of an obstacle, her words are bathed in their sense of her; read more carefully, she emerges as somewhat more vulnerable and in need of her bird than one might think. Her bird is, however, like some force of nature. Sometimes his noise goes with her, and sometimes it goes against her. For example, she asks Mary, ‘”don’t you think you’d be less liable to cold with that window closed?” the old lady said, to Mary. ‘Cosed, — cosed, — cosed, ‘ said the bird, and Morton was of course constrained to shut the window.’ So the old lady gets her way. Towards the end of the chapter we discover that the old lady and her bird did not do so well when they went into another carriage:

Her bird had been ill-treated by some scurrilous, ill- conditioned travelers and she had therefore returned to the comparative kindness of her former companions. ‘They threatened to put him out of the window, sir’, said the old woman to Morton, as she was forcing her way in. ‘Windersir, — windersir’, said the parrot.
‘I hope he’ll behave himself here, ma’am’, said Morton.

‘Heremam, — hereman, — heremam’, said the parrot.

‘Now go to bed like a good bird’, said the old lady, putting her shawl over the cage, — whereupon the parrot made a more diabolical noise than ever under the curtain’.

In Gilbert and Sullivan songs the fun is sometimes in irrational mockery of nonsense syllables. Reginald apologizes for his behavior at Bragton, ‘”I always am a bear when I am not pleased’, “Peas, — peas, — peas”, said the parrot.’ Reginald is himself not keen on the parrot’s presence, ‘”I shall be a bear to that brute of a bird before long . . . He is a public nuisance”‘. Then he tries to speak of when he and Mary ‘were always together’, and the bird says, ‘”Gedder, — gedder, — gedder”‘. Morton gets angry and thinks to speak to the guard, and this wakes the apparently sleeping old lady. She is alive to the threat although she has paid for the first- class ticket, and says, ‘”Polly mustn’t talk”‘, to which the bird replies, ‘”Tok, — tok, — tok”‘ (p. 184). Ungrateful bird.

The scene is not wholly undercut in this manner. Reginald does manage to apologize for something he did, and Mary does manage to tell Reginald she is not engaged to Larry Twentyman. Reginald manages to tell Mary that he ‘”is glad to hear it”‘ and fill her mind once again with the sense that she is above Larry Twentyman, or ought to think herself so. In this scene Trollope conveys a deep sense of sincere loving emotions going on between this couple of which they themselves are not wholly aware. They are eager, anxious, at moments uncomfortable, but trying to reach one another somehow.

We might look upon the old lady and her bird as another pair of far more incongruous but equally unconscious potential partners for life.


Fred Walker, a novel illustrator, painter of the era: Spring: this could be Mary Masters as a younger girl or one of her sisters, say Kate who marries Larry Twentyman

I have written on both books elsewhere. Happily, on my website I gathered together a good deal that I wrote with a group of people who read The American Senator together and refer my reader there. You can also see what Trollope thought about American society in his travel book, North America. Here on the Net there is more on The Prime Minister as dramatized in Raven’s Pallisers than the book itself. See Phineas Finn into The Prime Minister and The Prime Minister into The Duke’s children here

Ellen

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