Dear friends and readers,
A full week has gone by since I posted my first report on the recent Trollope Conference held in Leuven, Belgium, at the Irish college. I covered somewhat less than half the papers given on Thursday, 17 September. As in my last report, I am giving the just gist of what was said in the talk itself. I will bring together what was said afterward the talks in a final general summary plus give some sense of what the general experience was like outside the sessions. I now conclude that first day of session; we are in mid-afternoon.
Panel 3: Psychological/Epistemological Trollope (cont’d). Robert Polhemus spoke last and on “Trollope’s Picturesque Chroniclette and John Millais’s Portrait of Sophie [Grey]” Artists as Young Swains.”
Prof Polhemus covered one of the subplots of Last Chronicle of Barset; the story of the nandsome Conway Dalrymple, a stand-in for a Pre-Raphaelite painter, and the beautiful Clara Van Siever, who is in love with him and whom Dalrymple paints in a tableau as Sisera: among others Artemisia Gentileschi painted as a dramatic vignette of Jael, a married woman driving a nail into the head of a warlord, Sisera. He had fled the successful Israelite armies of Barak and Deborah and thought found refuge in the tent of her tent. She was seen as a type of treacherous women because she did not inform her husband of what she intended to do; in Gentileschi we see a feminist reading of her as anticipating Judith, as someone killing a warlord to save her own people.
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) Jael and Sisera
Prof Polhemus placed this pictorial allusion in the context of the story in the novel where Clara is seeking liberty from a tyrant mother to marry Dalrymple, an artist whom her mother disapproves of, and whom Clara is in love with, and to Millais’s portrait of his wife’s sister presented as a deeply sensuous woman looking for a sexually fulfilled life. Millais had himself married Effie after she freed herself from the control of her first husband, Ruskin (previously a good friend to Millais) whom she claimed was impotent. Prof Polhemus found in this story as seen through these two paintings “an explosion of femininity:” although the novel’s painting is destroyed
the process of painting brings Clara and Dalrymple together and enables her to enact her desire. In this parable we find Trollope transcending the usual stereotypes to defend hedonistic art. Trollope and Millais were close friends, and Trollope wrote in Orley Farm that Millais’s illustrations enabled Trollope to understand his art and characters better.
Panel 4: Technoscience Trollope. Richard Menke chaired and his paper, “Trollope, Mimesis, and Media Archeaology,” began with Trollope’s relationship (what he did) to the literal printing aspects of his books. He then turned to the how at the close of John Caldigate, a postal clerk, Samuel Bagwax, using the impression of a postal stamp proves that Eugenia Smith perjured herself in her testimony on the stand when she said that she had sent a letter to John Caldigate on a certain date as his wife. Trollope understand the importance of the physical book as well as metadata. Jay Clayton discussed how the technological apparatuses or incremental improvements to obtain any kind of Utopia in The Fixed Period were satirized. The novella testifies to a dream of liberty through geography, through being far away from the center of power. Mr Clayton moved to how characters in other novels, specifically Adolphus Crosbie The Small House of Allington, attempts to use technology’s ability to help him manipulate time to his advantage. But what matters for people remains love, life itself, fear of death, aging.
Tamara Ketabgian’s talk on “Sport, Technique and Late Trollope,” brought together Trollope’s drive to fox-hunt with the way cricket is presented in The Fixed Period. Both are (she said) strategic games, but hunting is not susceptible to systematizing and highly competitive play the way cricket is. Cricket links people across countries, but fox-hunting is local (it’s debatable whether it unites different classes of people as Trollope claimed). Susan Ziegler’s paper was on Trollope’s logistical subjects: she talked of how Trollope uses the ways a letter in the novels moves from place to place; how difficult it is for an intimate act in a letter to bypass or overcome impersonal systems in which commodities move. We experience Mary Thorne’s deep pain when her letter is not answered quickly; how Trollope shows us characters dwelling over when they should send a letter; the delight someone may feel in writing one, but the novels show how the logistics of our everyday life trumps our desires and takes over.
Panel 5: Printed Trollope. David Skilton chaired this panel and how many people read and quote from Trollope’s An Autobiography, but often neglect to pay close attention to Trollope’s words. Prof Skilton suggested the book is about how Trollope came to choose his profession and his successes and failures as a professional writer. He looks to see how critics and readers reacted to his books); it’s filled with professional advice. Marysa Demoor’s talk was for me revelatory as I had not considered the effect on Trollope of his time in Bruges: she asked where did Trollope’s sense of his identity come from, and answered that for Anthony Trollope this may have been Bruges where the family fled to escape the father’s creditors, and where his brother and father died and are buried, and his mother took up seriously and continuously a money-making career as a novelist. She became Trollope’s model and introduced him to a publisher. It was after this when they returned to England (and Julians Hill) that their destinies began to form. She understood how important Ireland was, but felt we were underestimating the effect of this early first experience for Anthony outside England. The Noble Jilt, the first attempt at Alice Vavasour’s story is set in Bruges. The sad story of the family’s desperate experiences in Bruges are not retold in the novels but the effect lingered in his mind. She remarked the Trollope Society has spent money improving the gravesites at the chateau (still standing). She also mentioned Trollope’s trips to Jerusalem and many autobiographical connections of The Bertrams to Trollope.
The day ended with Simon Grennan’s talk about his book, with a little help from Skilton (who chimed in as someone who had been on the committee to commission the book and participated in some of the shaping decisions). The team chose this novel as a less familiar one, one never adapted before. They cut the post office sections of the novel as they felt a graphic novel could not make these appealing Grennan decided he would try for pictures that projected what he thought were the aesthetic emphases of the novel. He wanted to visual equivocation, to keep readers and viewers at a distance from the characters in the way Trollope does: there would be no close-ups and even few middle distance shots and the point of view would be of a camera low-down. He was seeking a rhythmic roundtable of points of view; all the costumes reflect the way 19th century people of that decade dressed, the kinds of rooms they lived in. He did not want to use styles associated with classic comic; he wanted to capture this previous time as something strange. He developed a story of aborigines, practiced historical verisimilitude.
Grennan later told me he dressed Mrs Smith so she would have been recognizable in the era as a “Dolly Varden:” she is a character in Barnaby Rudge whose coy highly-sexualized self-presentation (Dickens just salivates over her) was taken up by music hall performers — after all Mrs Smith has been and returns to the stage (though the reader never see her do this). (I admit I prefer to imagine Mrs Smith in her more somber outfits as a mature woman who confronts life and men frankly as their equal.) Simon chose dark deep rich colors (purples and browns) whereever appropriate, and reserved yellows and golden browns and greens for suggesting seasons and landscapes. There is an French edition if anyone is interested, but be warned there are very few words.