Morris and Martha Stanley (Ray Winstone and Emily Watson) attempting to celebrate Christmas as if they were still living in England on a searing hot day in the Australian outback (2004, The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat, screenplay & music by Nick Cave)
Dear friends and readers,
I’m going to attempt to use this blog in a way I haven’t for a while: to think about a topic I hope to write a paper on by mid-summer: right now the working title is “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depictions of Settler Colonialism,” and in order to keep the paper relatively brief enough to read in twenty minutes I thought I’d try to limit it to Trollope’s texts about Australia and New Zealand. I’ve been reading for about 6 weeks now, and got myself through his immense travel book on these two countries, his 20 letters to the Liverpool Mercury, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, John Caldigate and “Catherine Carmichael, or Three Years Running” (set on 3 successive Christmases in New Zealand). I’ve read some very good criticism on these and other of Trollope’s colonialist tales and travel books (North America) as well as on his relationship with his son, Fred, who moved to Australia and Fred’s life there. I didn’t reread but have been skimming and thinking about his brilliant short stories set in Latin America, “Returning Home” and “Aaron Trowe”, his “Journey to Panama,” as well as his Anglo-Irish novels, especially the first two, Macdermots of Ballycloran and The Kellys and the O’Kellys (after all what did the English do to the Irish but inflict settler colonialism on them).
I’ve found that rather consciously in the non-fiction Trollope explores, bears witness to, and analyzes the formation of a “new countries” and new national identity or identifications. He is concerned to show how the memories and norms of people from an “old country” interact with the geographical, new economic and evolving cultural and social circumstances the settlers find themselves in also to make a new environment. He contrasts this to processes of change he observes in the “old” country or culture — England and Scotland, France, Italy. There is a relentless conservatism in his conscious attitudes and he maintains a strong optimism about the overall outcome for the settlers and justifies the harsh injustices the settlers inflict on the natives of a country and the labor they hire or force to work hard for little or no money, take land from, or impose laws upon that deprive the people of their way of life and property. Much as I’d like to say Catherine Hall is reductive and hard on Trollope in her Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830-1867, there’s no getting away from his racism and how all his thought tends to justify or at least accept as what do you expect Eyre’s massacre and murder of black people in an infamous incident in Jamaica. It’s neither true that there is a clear progressive liberalization in his views as he grows older and travels and sees more, nor a retreat into conservatism either (in South Africa he sees that black people must take back their country and rule it for themselves). I found it painful to read the arguments he uses to distances himself from free public education at the end of his Australian travel book (he’s against it — we must ignore or pretend everyone can afford these schools). He is making fun of philanthropists from Castle Richmond (where he supports the gov’t callousness during the famine, justifies evicting people) to the the chapters on New Zealand.
In contrast, I’d say in his best fiction his emphasis falls on the tragic price, losses, and struggles and very occasional compromises and successes experienced by the characters involved.
One problem I have at the outset is some of those texts that make for my best arguments are not those set in Australia. I’ve read through a great deal of John McCourt’s Writing the Frontier: Anthony Trollope between Britain and Ireland, and find a lot of what he writes out of these Anglo-Irish texts is germane. I know at the close of Lady Anna, Trollope says Daniel Thwaite, his tailor hero and eponymous titled heroine will free themselves of the class-ridden life that might make their marriage unsuccessful in England and make a new life for themselves in Australia (as he felt or knew at some level of his mind he had done by moving from England to Ireland). He wrote the novel as he was sailing there, but I suspect once he arrived and experienced the startling demands of completely different climate (very hot), the rigors of actually trying to farm or graze animals successfully or run a business in this unruly environment he could not imagine how they would make it — as he could for example, Martin and Anty Kelly in Ireland, or Anton Trendellsohn and Nina Balatka (from Prague, a couple parallels to Daniel Thwaite and Lady Anna) in London.
Several recent essays published in the new-style Companions and the collection on the Politics of Gender, bring to bear on Trollope’s deeper ambivalences his Orwellian/Swiftian satire, The Fixed Period — set in a country which is a kind of surrogate for New Zealand; for example, Helen Lucy Blythe in a difficult (for me as it’s theoretical) book called The Victorian Colonial Romance in the Antipodes. Trollope is only one among several authors “upside down” (Nicholas Birns has an essay using that title) that she treats very suggestively. Trollope’s deeply dreaming imaginative identifications turns deeply pessimistic and offers ideas that enable us today to recognize the inevitable sources of and critique the horrors of the results of military imperialism we see all over the globe today, especially some remarkable comments on the wars of the English with the Maoris where the Maoris (he empathizes) continually win (I was rooting for them in the instances described myself too.) I read the New Zealander years ago and thought parts very insightful and implicitly grounded in an accurate bleak approach to what human beings do and feel (and think they think), but don’t remember much any more.
As I went on the subject became all over Trollope. There is a satire on imperial colonialism in Framley Parsonage: Mr Harold Smith gives a speech on islands in the Indian Ocean which slides over an Indian or Vietname situation (the British in India, the French and then the Americans in Vietnam) people from the developed country instead of trying to displace the original people, take positions of power, in effect hire and control proxies and persuade themselves they are there to Christianize the benighted people. As early as Framley Parsonage, Trollope disapproves of this and disbelieves in the efficacy, and usefulness (in fact he thinks it does harm) to try to force Christianity on other cultures — he brings this up and develops this at length in his later travel books. In Framley Parsonage he makes a joke out of how his hypocritical or self-deluded (Mr Smith) upper class characters know nothing and care less about these far away places, yet these influence behavior, careers, and politics of these characters (certainly Phineas’s as a Catholic Irish man in Parliament and even Frank Greystock and Lucy Morris’s fate are influenced by an obscure sultan if I remember correctly in Eustace Diamonds).
To follow the ins and outs of Trollope’s thought and movement is to see him mapping the globe where English-speaking people are found. People think that the norm for Trollope is what is today called the Hampstead novel, domestic themed fiction. Novels of manner are his forte, what he is writing primarily or consciously: Gopnik leaped on this as explanatory for Trollope in the New Yorker. But isn’t he rather anthropological, and he has a good gasp of different faces of battle, how they work, inward and intangible to be sure, but outward and using guns (whose rapidity and ease in causing death he immediately cities).
Apart from books by Australians where they moved to the UK or US and write about general issues or poetry (Germane Greer, Clive James), and a couple of important non-fictions (Robert Hughes’s very great The Fatal Shore, and Russel Ward’s indispensable The Australian Legend), what can I remember that I’ve read of Australian fiction: only one colonial novel: Henry Kinsgley’s The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn; two recent novels, Patrick White’s A Fringe of Leaves and Christina Stead’s The Man who Loved Children. Now first I’ll try First I’ll try my copy of Best Short Stories of Henry Lawson and The Portable Barbara Baynton and then choose a couple of 20th century Australian historical fiction novels (Peter Carey’s The Kelly Gang? not my usual sort of thing at all). For post-colonialism and imperialism beyond what I’ve read and skimmed, and articles on Trollope and these topics, see if I can understand books with scary titles like Border Dialogues: Journeys in Postmodernity.
It is for me perhaps going to be a question of identity and into imagined troubled journeys and hard experiences. I have a hunch I’d do better with that than imperialist politics. I’ll also remember and maybe rewatch or reread in the romance of post-colonial books and movies like Cameron and Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala’s City of Your Final Destination or the same crew filming stark disaster in The White Countess (Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson). Jumpa Lahiri’s books are also about this idea you can gouge out from yourself an identity that you feel is destroying you individually and make a new one by journeying to a new country or simply creating them out of books (The Namesake). The harder truth is found in Jhabvala’s A Backward Place, Mira Nair’s Mississippi Marsala, Paul Scott’s Staying on.
But now I’m rambling.