Archive for the ‘women’s lives’ Category

The Studio, Vanessa Bell’s Charleston Farmhouse, Sussex

Dear friends and readers,

I know I told of how on one of my listservs, we are reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a group with each of us reading different other related works or watching films; on the other, WWta (Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo) we’ve started a similar project (far few people alas) around Virginia Woolf. Our central focus is a slow read through another massive volume: Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf, and have talked at length about the art of biography, Woolf’s own life writings and writing about biography (her Memoirs of a Novelist, her “Sketch of the Past” in Moments of Being). One of us read To the Lighthouse; we’ve discussed Gaston Bachelard’s perhaps now-dated Poetics of Space; I’ve watched the remarkably complex )(novel-like? biography-like) Carrington and am now determined to make Dora Carrington my next woman artist in that blog series.

First impression:

From Christopher Hampton’s Carrington: this is based on an actual photo of the house (Emma Thompson who is made to look like Carrington as Jonathan Pryce looks like Strachey in the photos of him)

Strachey asked Woolf to marry him at one point; they were close. Strachey was much older than Carrington and I was thinking about the extraordinary convoluted tortured sexual and marital relationships in this wider group. Leonard and Virginia look conventional from the outside, but look in and you see her several deep lesbian relationships.

Jonathan Pryce who was such a wonderful Wolsey, is perfect for Strachey, and Emma Thompson takes on her stout boyish persona to play Carrington. I’ve only got half-way through: it’s a very long movie. What I wanted to say is that in a way it’s lacking:  Hampton wrote and directed it, and he is following Holroyd’s book and therein is the problem. Carrington is such a painful spectacle. The whole menagerie at her and Lytton’s home are wholly outside the mainstream. She loved Strachey because his homosexuality took the form of no sexual intercourse with a woman, so he was not aggressive at all. For someone who wants safety I am now puzzled (not rereading Holroyd) why she ever went to Mark Gertler (played by the then spectacularly handsome Rufus Sewell) who demanded rough sex as central to the relationship (not painful but agressive) and Sewell plays him as a man driven wild by her. The audience is allowed to see this clearly and Gertler’s attack on Lytton when it becomes obvious Carrington loves Lytton. But to keep Lytton she had to allow this reactionary hulk, Reginald Patridge (renamed Rafe by Strachey) to live with them and to keep him she had to have sex with him; in turn he’d have sex with Strachey.  This is not shown clearly in the film. Gerald Brennan (the young excellent actor Samuel West) who left for Spain and wrote two wonderful travel-memoirs of his life in Spain is brought in; but as I’ve not read Holroyd in a while I forget the bargain, but think Carrington was also required to have sex with Brennan to please someone.

Thompson says over and over this is an abject love. Hampton together with these remarkable actors conveyed something different than I’ve read before. Hitherto it was see how abject this woman was, what a mystery but it was Lytton’s kindness, gentleness and their shared love of art that made her invest her very life in his life.

This film shows him a cool egoist who uses her; he may not admit it to himself but he does. All the sex scenes after Mark are her degenerating, allowing her body to be used by man after man to get them for Strachey. That is what the film shows. She goes so far even to marry Partridge who in the film she sees as a macho male reactionary horror though fun as a man to dance with, handsome to draw. She endures his ugly jealousy and infidelities. She leads Gerald Brennan to lie in ways that violate his character — all for this Lytton. It gets to the point she wants to validate her body and gets involved with a man (Jeremy Northam turns up to do it) who just takes her cruelly for sex, getting pregnant by him she gets an abortion. Thee’s a dialogue where Lytton says why not have the baby.I think the film suggests had she, she might have had something else to live for. But she only wants his baby and he never fucks her it seems.

Pryce plays Strachey as realizing how he is using her, but being unable to resist it and enjoying her company, now and again guilty — as when he will advise her to leave off a man, or have a baby, or makes his will to leave her a pension. A very young Alex Kingston as Patridge’s partner after he tires of Carrington plus Strachey. A younger Penelope Wilton does Ottoline so well. The men in the film do seem attached to Carrington and enduring Strachey for the sake of Carrington except the stud last played by Northam. Thompson and Pryce impeccably involving. I grieved over Carrington’s death yet understood. It ends with a series of images of those of her paintings she did not destroy.

It’s a deeply searing portrait of a on the surface beautiful love but just below deeply destructive of her. We are told nothing of her family or childhood. She turns up sui generis and all film long she is without any group but this Bloomsbury one attached to Strachey and her art school. She goes off to London where she finds characters like Patridge and brings him back as a trophy or fodder for Lytton. Was she promiscuous in London somewhere. Patridge’s questioning of her in fact is understandable.

I want to read the screenplay, watch again and have now bought a book (natch) recent, Gerzina’s Carrington (who wrote on FrancesHodgson Burnett if I’m not mistaken).

As a result of the debate on the art of biography and novels (peel them off and you have an autobiography), we debated (a bit) Tim Parks’s iconoclastic theses about novel writing and reading in yet another thinking book from him, The Novel: A Survival Skill on both listservs.

Bondarchuk’s War and Peace: Kutusov after defying everyone and ordering a retreat so as to save as many men and as much of Moscow as he can (1966)

Let me say upfront there is no woman author in Parks’s universe in this book who counts, who he discusses at length. He might mention a woman now and again. He focuses on five males and when he has any examples they are all males. He has a history of Italian literature organized by great authors. Apparently in Italy since the Renaissance there has been but one woman writer of note. Something like 25 authors, one is a woman.

I wonder what women do with themselves when I read Parks. It’s important to the man’s outlook, tells us what he reads, how he reads. So by no means is he a guru when he leaves out half the human race; women do write differently, they make art differently — from social life and from innate elements.

Parks’s idea that novels threaten us has some powerful explanatory force; this is why people talk (and perhaps) think consciously about novels so moralistically. They inveigh against characters who do not obey social norms because they don’t want to articulate why those who don’t don’t, nor admit to identification. He follows this up with the iconoclastic idea we love books which are substitutes for the presence and sense of real person they contain, stand for. This a complete refutation of the “biographical fallacy.” Kraggsby says she becomes so emotional when she has to write or feel about Woolf after a bout with a book. This helps explain that. I so agree with it.

With Parks I really feel a mind thinking, not just putting together the platitudes and nouns referring to theoretical positions which the author then aligns him or herself with. He offers this possible description of what’s meant by creativity: “the ability to produce …. The emotional tone and the play of forces in whch the narrator lives, the particular mental world in which he moves …. “ Parks doesn’t need to have Coetzee in front of him, in fact the Coetzee we meet (as Proust would say) is the partial social man, not the man who counts. The greatness of such works, the triumph “we find their work drenched with their personalities, supreme expressionof theirmanner and character and behavior, each absolutely recognizable, triumphantly unmistakable … He does cite Woolf a little way down; her understanding is just so to the point, and what she does. Paradoxically l’ecriture-femme (women’s texts) exemplify much more centrally than men’s what he begins with.

When you say that a novel threatens the reader, and that therefore we need to learn actually how to survive them (really taken into consciousness what they can show) and that the author’s identity (I’ll call it) is everywhere there in different ways, you are set on a very different road than most books on the novel. I just love how he does not repeat cant and situate himself next to it or with it — not that a great books don’t do this: Jerome de Troot’s two books on historical fiction do it, but he examines these theories often to show their fallacies, not always.

Tim Parks is consistent with his view that the great writer conveys an authentic specific self across his or her work, asks about the writer’s tension when he or she thinks of who is reading this text. Parks says the novel is “officially addressed to everyone,but in reality they are not thinking of today’s Ph D student in say Korea addressing scholarly conversations in 2016; the actual circumstances the writer writes in frames his or her perception of what is being written; relatives do often complain and are hurt, as well as friends; t often he or she is thinking of some subgroup of readers alive at the time, “the implicit reader”. He proposes we think of ourselves as overhearing the author’s address to his or her audience at the time. Park then goes over specific details in a Becket text and they come so much more alive when you nail who specific savage ironies are aimed at. Lee quotes Woolf’s life-writing a lot and Woolf assumes her readership knows what the life of the upper class at the time was; her tales of childhood assume familiarity.

Parks says it is not a retreat from the text to be interested in the author’s patterns of behavior, relationships at the time of a text writtten, but rather it can increase our engagement. He then goes on to Gregory Bateson who argues that personality differentation ,how we establish our identities to ourselves are in relation to others aroud us which often are binaries and are reactions against. he is not talking about one-on-one equivalencies but a general presence surrounded by particulars then transposed but often more transparently than we like to allow.

helen mirren the last station
Helen Mirren as Sonya in Jay Parini’s The Last Station (which is part of our Tolstoy matter)

Now to apply Parks’s thesis to The Last Station, for example, you have to know about Hoffman and his life and relationship to the film (which he does bring in in the feature to the film, also Parini, not to forget Tolstoy, Cherthov, the various actors who inhabit the roles.

It is a complex film and now I’ve got to find time to read the book. A good performance can make a character come alive: In the screenplay Hoffman worked to condense, make a coherent POV (Valentine, the most invented of the characters) and in general sort of gave more meaning to what’s in the book and made me wonder if a movie because of its form often does simplify. It’s hard to fight it as successful as Bergman did. He didn’t care if his films made money when he started out. I thought I’d mention that the train was to be much much more important: it was to open with Valentine on the train; the deleted scenes are of Tolstoy fleeing on the train, Sofya following. It now only ends with the train. Hoffman says he wanted it to be a symbol but as he proceeded he decided the characters and their relationships were what he should spend time on. More practically I have watched enough honest features to have heard directors say you have to cut and you have to choose, and many he saw this skein or thread one he could eliminate neatly — to make the movie marketable. This was to be an allusion to Anna Karenina, with Sofya as our Anna who survives. I suspect so.

Also from our Tolstoy group: I am finding A. N. Wilson’s biography on Tolstoy without bothering to argue this in effect bases his biography and assessment of Tolstoy’s novels on a perspective like Parks; Lee is more reticent but then we’ve hardly gotten Virginia born. Wilson thinks Tolstoy is addressing other Russian writers, how he conceives of the cultural and political situation in Russia, but deeply by the time of Anna Karenina moved inward and dealing with his own many layered psyche through her.

Lastly (since I’m going away for a week — to Cornwall, where Woolf spent summer holidays for years on end — and have little time) I thought I’d just briefly call attention to an excellent review essay in TLS by Francesca Wade on the rebuilding of all sorts of house space the various Bloomsbury people had in different sites and museusm: “Interior Designs, Interior Desires: examing the inside of Bloomsbury homes as a guide to their owners’ artistry and personality.”

Wade begins with Bachelard and then goes on to show how the Bloomsbury group utterly defied conventions not just in painting happy pictures of what they were doing on their walls, and but in scattering all the things they used over a day freely around the house, making rooms serve real and different functions peculiar to the people living there all at once. In the movie Carrington we see the house Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) and Carrington (Emma Thompson) live in have her paintings on the wall, and a couple of the rooms are clearly shown to be reflective of how they live. Outsiders thought the decorations were lascivious or salacious because of the unconventional sexual relationships people who came and lived there had, but not at all. Nudes were not sexy nudes — as in the film. They were gay (old use of word), defying the colors, atmosphere of the homes these people had been brought up in.

Most houses today and apartments too are set up in conventional ways with several rooms sometimes given over “to making a show.” More time and energy making the room a symbol of the expected social life and status than the comfort of people living in it. The purpose of the US family room is to have a place where people can do their own thing but even there I’ve seen status and money the criteria for decorations — how many Xs you did of this or that.

Jim and my house was and today mine alone with his presence as memory and filling the objects is not like that. There is no room for show, the rooms have — or had (he’s gone now) several functions. I have been told if I wanted to sell it and/or sell it for a high priceI would have to empty it out and make it a soulless display. So that’s what the average person wants: plus and a soulless display. No thank you I said. Either it’s sold the way it looks or not sold. So Bloomsbury space is still iconoclastic.

Ellen off for a week on holiday in Cornwall

Charles Camoin, Cat before the Open Window — from Sixtine, one of the lights of my existence

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Emma Thompson, a study of her as Carrington in the film of that name — for me a suggestive 20th century image of Lily Dale as conceived by Trollope

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not followed up on the first lecture for this summer’s course on Trollope’s Small House at Allington because for much of the sessions that followed I offered only introductory perspectives, after which for an hour or so we worked our way through the text for the day, in other words, the give-and-take of discussion. This does not lend itself to the blog form, although it is he way this novel yields its rich insights and pleasures. Although hardly ever out of print, and by all impressionistic accounts, a memorable favorite among Trollope readers, the novel has not garnered much recent published writing, I surmise because it is rare among Trollope novels not to have an election, to remain steadily and (even) fiercely within an erotic (and marital) purview. All the more reason to offer up some thoughts out of the perspectives and close readings I and my class (mostly older retired adults) reveled in for some five weeks.

Lady Julia and Johnny Eames near close of novel (Millais illustrations)

For summaries of the story and plot design, consult these records of an on-line reading and discussion of the novel in 2000.

From the second and third session:

Ellen Gosse, Torcos, Devonshire — I have only a black-and-white image of this painting but it seems to be suggestive of what Trollope wants to convey about the small house, that it is cut off from the corrupting worlds attached to London

I began with a summary of Juliet McMasters’ essay on his novel (and by extension other novels of romance and marriage in Trollope), “The Unfortunate Moth: The Unifying Theme of The Small House at Allington, Nineteenth Century Fiction, 26:2 (1962):127-44

What McMasters takes to be the unifying theme of the book explicitly stated in a long passage thtat you might think it about Lily Dale, or Adolphus when he goes to Courcy Castle, or Johnny Eames, but it’s about Cradell who we are told “never found of happiness” from the “intimacy” (that’s the word and to Victorians “intimacy” suggested sex, actions like petting and the like at least) he had with Mrs Lupex.

When the unfortunate moth in his semi-blindness whisks himself and his wings within the flame of the candle, and finds himself mutilated and tortured, he even then will not take the lesson, but returns again and again till he is destroyed. Such a moth was poor Cradell. There was no warmth to be got by him from that flame. There was no beauty in the light,—not even the false brilliance of unhallowed love. Injury might come to him,—a pernicious clipping of the wings, which might destroy all power of future flight; injury, and not improbably destruction, if he should persevere. But one may say that no single hour of happiness could accrue to him from his intimacy with Mrs. Lupex. He felt for her no love. He was afraid of her, and, in many respects, disliked her. But to him, in his moth-like weakness, ignorance, and blindness, it seemed to be a great thing that he should be allowed to fly near the candle. Oh! my friends, if you will but think of it, how many of you have been moths, and are now going about ungracefully with wings more or less burnt off, and with bodies sadly scorched!

People don’t tend to identity Trollope with Dostoevsky; but a unifying motif is the perversity of our desires, how we go after what will poison us, especially in erotic entanglements. We are told Craddell cannot have “another dip into the flame of the candle” because Miss Spruce is in the room. If you want you can pay attention to when Craddell is said to be “in the room” with Mrs Lupex and no one else there. Whose room? What room? McMasters makes a convincing case and writes beautifully clearly.

The chapter on the Widow Dale a very moving one: she has given up any chance to have a life of her own – not that she had much, by after her husband died, leaving the city, putting herself in a place where she does not meet anyone but those who come to this great estate. It’s been infinitely easier financially, and as we shall see when the Dale family prepares to leave the Small House and go to Guestwick it’s a big step down. Third person indirect discourse allows Trollope to go in an out of her mind as well as comment: she has been made to feel if she were out of the way the Squire would be more generous. He did not approve of who his brother married; she did not bring anything with her, money or connections.

The theory of her life one may say was this—that she should bury herself in order that her daughters might live well above ground. And in order to carry out this theory, it was necessary that she should abstain from all complaint or show of uneasiness before her girls. Their life above ground would not be well if they understood that their mother, in this underground life of hers, was enduring any sacrifice on their behalf. It was needful that they should think that the picking of peas in a sun-bonnet, or long readings by her own fire-side, and solitary hours spent in thinking, were specially to her mind. “Mamma doesn’t like going out.” “I don’t think mamma is happy anywhere out of her own drawing-room.” I do not say that the girls were taught to say such words, but they were taught to have thoughts which led to such words, and in the early days of their going out into the world used so to speak of their mother. But a time came to them before long,—to one first and then to the other, in which they knew that it was not so, and knew also all that their mother had suffered for their sakes.

Trollope does all he can to indicate that once engaged to Crosbie Lily gives herself utterly to him (i.e., they have full sexual intercourse). Lily and Crosbie are allowed to go roaming at night by themselves. The most striking passage is the height of the party by which point Crosbie has begun to regret his proposal, to think he’s doing Lily a great favor, and alas, she reinforces this

They were standing in the narrow pathway of the gate leading from the bridge into the gardens of the Great House, and the shadow of the thick-spreading laurels was around them. But the moonlight still pierced brightly through the little avenue, and she, as she looked up to him, could see the form of his face and the loving softness of his eye.
    “Because- —,” said he; and then he stooped over her and pressed her closely, while she put up her lips to his, standing on tip-toe that she might reach to his face.
    “Oh, my love!” she said. “My love! my love!”
    As Crosbie walked back to the Great House that night, he made a firm resolution that no consideration of worldly welfare should ever induce him to break his engagement with Lily Dale. He went somewhat further also, and determined that he would not put off the marriage for more than six or eight months, or, at the most, ten, if he could possibly get his affairs arranged in that time. To be sure, he must give up everything, —- all the aspirations and ambition of his life; but then, as he declared to himself somewhat mournfully, he was prepared to do that. Such were his resolutions, and, as he thought of them in bed, he came to the conclusion that few men were less selfish than he was.

That break or gap between “My love, my love” – what literally happened is the equivalent of a chapter in a 1950s novel where the couple go into a bedroom and the chapter ends; or a TV show where they are passionately kissing and the camera focuses on a nearby fire. Note also Crosbie’s thoughts directly after: firmly he will marry and soon, 6 to 8, at the most 10 months. It takes 9 months. Now had he kept coming but as we all know (and Trollope is writing for adults) it takes a little time. Markwick compares other heroines: Alice Grey of Can You Forgive her? Shudders and others, but we have to be content with what we have. Lily is referred to as “the impassioned girl” during a walk. Lily finally wins her mother to acquiesce in Lily’s decision not to marry when she explains

I gave myself to him, and loved him, and rejoiced in his love. When he kissed me I kissed him again, and I longed for his kisses. I seemed to live only that he might caress me. All that time I never felt myself to be wrong,—because he was all in all to me. I was his own. … I cannot be the girl I was before he came here.

Trollope is exploring variations on sex life and marriage in different classes of people, types, situations. He means us to see the boarding house as sordid and squalid; that’s really the tone. In this era young women who worked as milliners went to bars after work and were seen as promiscuous, fair game especially to gentlemen. Now I hope you’ll agree that with all its riches and luxuries, the tone of mind, thoughts everything about Courcy castle is sordid and ultimately squalid too but they can keep up a front, Amelia can’t. Trollope has some sympathy for her, none for Mrs Lupex (a kind of wolf, lupus means wolf), and he doesn’t respect Cradell. We are to suppose Cradell doesn’t get very far: he is so fatuous as to want the credit for what he doesn’t quite do and not want to take the consequences (but then Crosbie doesn’t either). More than once we are told Mrs Lupex’s nose is no straight, it has an odd curve: her husband has hit her

Nonetheless, there are parallels between Cradell and say the young Courcy men, and interestingly between Johnny and Lily more than Johnny and Crosbie. They refer to an incident where he went up to her room and she looked at him through a chink (repeated over the over) in the door, and then there’s a break, and after he keeps referring to her long black hair. It makes him write the note (p 41) where he tells her he loves her and this is her handle for her threatening letter. She implies he promised to marry her, and he says he never did. She never does say he did. For the Victorian reader does it make the incident any less reprehensible, probably not. If it does, it’s because the reader might look down on Amelia. The notes Skilton provides in his edition of SHA explicating some of Trollope’s references to places and use of phrases whose hum and buzz he expects us to know (but we can’t living so much after him) turn Amelia Roper into someone who has given sex for money, jobs, or simply had it for fun casually.

McMaster mentions A.O. Cockshut who wrote what is still one of the best books on Trollope; he studies Trollope’s books as about delusion, self-destruction, obsession, but he also has a chapter where he says a central them in Trollope’s novels is loneliness. For novels where the characters are so embedded in groups, he offers us dramas of loneliness. Who lonelier than Mr Harding? Does anyone understand? Who lonelier than Mary Thorne? Even the Rev Mr Slope is cut off from others. What Crosbie throws away when he gets to Courcy Castle is something rare and precious which we feel alive in his letter to Lily. If Alexandrina could have provided sexual passion and satisfaction the way Lily did or seemed to, he still would have been miserable: she provides no companionship, nothing congenial, no thoughts and feelings that count to share. We are made to feel that Dr Crofts and Bell will eventually have that.

The irony of Lily’s antagonism to Lady Julia (“hard on the poor old spinster”) is Lady Julia who does all she can for Lily at Courcy Castle but fails. There’s an old optimistic tale by Hans Christian Anderson. The emperor’s new clothes: you may recall it’s about how this emperor is deluded by two crooks into thinking they are making him a super-rich garment which is invisible to stupid people. No one in tale will see they can’t see anything; then he parades down the street and a young boy comes up and shouts Oh he’s wearing nothing. And all the people suddenly admit he’s wearing nothing. Great fable in many ways about using a naif in a story. People often refer to this as having great truth. But what if the stakes are too high. What if shouting the truth at the top of your voice gets you nowhere and that is what happens to Lady Julia: she gets no respect as a spinster. She is put there so Trollope can show us the fallacy of the emperor’s new clothes.


From the fourth session:

ElizabethShippenGreen (Medium)
Elizabeth Shippen Green (later 19th century American illustrator)

We had read Mark Turner’s. “Gendered Issues: Intertextuality and The Small House at Allington in Cornhill Magazine, Victorian Periodicals Review, 26:4 (1993):228-34. If you read what is produced in a given issue of a magazine you will find revealing thematic parallels among the articles which have a great deal to tell you about how the magazine editors envision their audience, and if the magazine is popular or long-lasting probably rightly. On top of that if you know what is the context elsewhere for each of the articles, you understand how they are intervening in some hot topic of the day.

SHA lacks overt politics, or any parliamentary elections. What Thackeray, the editor explicitly said, and statistical analysis shows, is that the Cornhill also avoided politics and parliamentary subjects. Thackeray said this was inappropriate for women. After all they were not elected, couldn’t hold office, what would they want to know about such things? What did Trollope think of this policy: in 1867 when he quit the post office and a group of friends and funders started St Paul’s whose remit was specifically politics and for it he wrote one of his masterpiece Palliser or Parliamentary books, Phineas Finn, a great hit.

Instalment No 3, November 1862 contains Chapters 7, 8, and 9 and anti-feminist, maybe misogynistic articles. Now you might think, how odd, a magazine for women who promulgates anti-feminist ideas. But maybe you would not. By feminist I mean something very fundamental: they assume women are inferior in understanding and moral strength, belong in the home; magazines and TV shows can function as forms of social policing. In Trollope’s chapters we find Crosbie’s deep reluctance to marry at all; he longs to escape. A couple of the articles in the Cornhill around that time either take on board W.W. Gregg’s discernment of a problem in society written about elsewhere and talked much about in the period and especially the Cornhill: Greg presents himself as showing us “sound common sense:” there were all these “redundant” (i.e., unmarried) women who had no income or means; his solution, more women need to work at getting married, and men are not doing their duty: they are shirking. The reality was the problem for middle class women is there were no jobs for them to support themselves as middle class unless they married. The Cornhill for that number also includes “Professional Thieves,” something middle class people worry about: not only are women alone a standing target, but the article talks about women who vicious thieves and sneaky and get away with it, and that they the ones who train children to become thieves. Forget Fagin. It’s not Jews, it’s women. Last article about the first women to have been executed in 40 years. Makes her an absolute sinister horror, says it’s only because she was a woman that she was able to “penetrate” the home. There is this idea that home is this sacred place where people are happy, a haven, that is unreal and reinforced.

So this is the local context for SHA. Were there many unmarried women and men in the Victorian era? yes, as there always have been. It’s very hard to get at firm figures because the rate of death and when someone dies is what is measured and it was different for different classes. I did a paper on widowhood in England between the 18th and 19th century and how this was reflected in Jane Austen’s novels. Those who read them may not be aware of how many widows and widowers she had: quite a number of widows, less widowers as Trollope has quite a number of widows, tends to have unmarried men rather than widowers. Widowhood was not associated with old age as people died like flies at all ages, women in childbirth regularly. Statistically it may be shown that in general women do not remarry after 50 because it’s said men are not willing to marry an older woman, while men remarry in large numbers until 70. What we are talking about is women living alone – like Miss Spruce. There is little material on men living alone until very recently in comparison with women. They are embarrassed about living alone; until recently there was this suspicion of homosexuality, so a man could be blackmailed – laws against buggery were draconian. It’s so much easier for them to find a partner; both sexes. but especially women if they had children wanted a partner. Widows come with children: witness Mrs Rope, Mrs Eames, Mrs Dale. The first study of suicide from a secular statistic humane scientific-speak point of view – is by Emile Durkhiem a long chapter on why single old men living alone are most susceptible to suicide (according to him).  To cut to the chase, the problem is women at the time couldn’t get a good job, they were excluded from professional training to start with.

Lily is on her way to being a redundant woman. This is a sort of introduction to next week’s story, “Journey to Panama.” It is the background to Small House at Allington, to its deeper sexual politics. In later life Trollope wrote sympathetic articles about women getting jobs (The Telegraph Girls which I put online), he wrote stories for Emily Faithful. Why do the De Courcys overlook Lady Julia’s telling everyone Adolphus is engaged: the stakes are too high, they want an acceptable willing men for their daughters, someone who will fit in. And this week we found Lady Amelia and Gazebee policing Adolphus lest he get away.

What’s Trollope’s position? Later in life he grew very irritated with all the sympathy extended Lily as well as the complaints: he felt readers were sentimentalizing and called her a prig in his Autobiography. But in this text we he embeds lots of references to the sex that had happened between them, how this affected her, how everyone knew. She could litigate, this would only shame her more. Women were without a weapon. A coward and as Johnny keeps shouting “scoundrel”. The exchange of letters no matter how brief: he to her “I know that you will hate me and will never forgive me,” to which her pride will not listen, Trollope’s narrator as the mother “he left her maimed and mutilated for life” (Ch 30), and this last to me the most strong, “Who can describe the thoughts that were passing through Lily’s mind as she remembered the hours she had passed with Crosbie, of his warm assurance of love, of his accepted caresses, of her uncontrolled and acknowledged joy in his affection” (Ch 30) Johnny who assumes Crosbie will no litigate tells Cradell Lily would never because already “all this will about kill her” (Ch 32). Now I’m not so sure everyone would have been so disapproving of Crosbie as is presented.

We discussed how Trollope just takes this flying leap into making the human psyche, how it works inwardly and where people most often don’t like to look and haven’t got meaningful concise words for even now: he makes that continually the upfront subject whether through letters, through meditation, or through comic scenes. Scenes like the one in the railway car, and when Johnny Eames attacks Crosbie are especially remarkable for their further inclusion of depictions of how people often actually behave in social life, what we respect (like the superintendant on the train station whose prestige and therefore power reminds me of General Kutusov in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, only Tolstoy does not also make a joke of it. I think Trollope is as acute as Tolstoy even if his perspective is narrower, he is also more continually ironic about the way we behave outwardly.

Marvelously well written chapters, “The combat, “Woe to the conquered,” and “See, the conquering hero comes.” They are a trio: they all three appeared in the same issue. Instalment No 12, August 1863. I made an effort to download the November 1863 issue of the magazine in several places and failed utterly.
    The topic of whether someone should punish Crosbie and how has been introduced several times, and Trollope seems to feel it is part of Bernard Dale’s selfishness that he does nothing because it’s no longer socially required. And if we think Squire Dale has changed, note his immediate response to De Guest’s suggestion, he contribute regularly to Johnny and Lily’s household (Ch 32). Any comments about how you feel about this resort to violence? It stems from the idea of honor killing: the idea is the family honor is besmirched. By the 18th century Europe had gone beyond murdering the woman, but macho maleness had not gone beyond the duel and by the 19th century the fight. It’s inward, outwardly accurate and funny. The chapter opens with the Earl telling Johnny this is not his affair: he is not related and was not the person concerned.
    Both young men are getting on at the Barchester station (not yet named Silverbridge). Very vividly described. Johnny’s class is signaled by for the first time going first class. He does so because he has a servant, a groom. So it’s not fitting for him to sit in a second class carriage. Adolphus sat there before he involved himself with the De Courcys.
    Trollope comically accosts us if we affect to despise Johnny for wanting to come up in the world: “My friend … [to]… foolish thing.”
    Then we get this real scene of people entering such a carriage. They still have these separate carriages with a corridor in English and European trains – you see them in English films. Old lady and old man who is irritable.
    Adolphus has not been having a good time – and yet he is part of this noble family.
    Then the marvelous inward qualities continually attended to: Adolphus opens his book and we are told: “I will not say his mind … “
    We are are made privy to Johnny’s ‘wretched thoughts” as he sits there with his book: very intense. He does not strike out then because there is a lady in the car.
    But when it’s time to leave, Johnny cannot let go and leaps on Crosbie. He has the advantage of surprise: “you confounded scroundrel”
    Trollope takes the time to describe a real stand at the time, complete with yellow shilling number novel instalments. Just like the one the reader might be reading.
Crosbie falls among the wares, clumsy and Johnny lands a real blow at his eye. He’s already distinguished     himself over bulls.
    And then the Victorian middle class world – these are people taking the train so that means money, traveling, and they side with the police officer. Trollope is very sympathetic to police officers but also uses them for comedy – which still happens on TV today. Johnny is too determined and too strong in his feeling of rightness to care. The dialogue is believable enough.
    Crosbie has lost in the encounter: he is disgraced. Blackness signifies inward bleeding around his eye, plus red streaks. So it’s not innocent – in Dr Thorne Frank Gresham whips Moffat and Moffat is put out of public view for weeks. The police are on his side because of who he is too, but he wants to escape and have no publicity. They won’t listen to that because it’s their job to take this pair of men in unless no one presses charges. Which is what happens.
    We seem to go through layers of Crosbie’s mind: not on the surface but deep in some inward thoughts he curses himself.
    The aftermath: much worse than the physical experience is the social response. People who are disabled often say (rightly) it’s not their disability that hurts them so badly so much as the society’s way of reacting to a disabled person and a disability they don’t understand. It”s in this one Crosbie realizes he has lost points in the world’s respect for him. Maybe they would not have been so condemning as I suggest but perhaps there is a sense of what is just and right in people.
    The scene of Butterwell, Optimist, Major Fiasco; each character acts in character; they couldn’t care less really about Crosbie but are reacting as they see themselves. Fiasco gives everyone a hard time.
    The Gazebees: De Courcy is beginning to have had it. Gazebee I’m afraid deserves Amelia. Crosbie’s story mocks them. False etymologies still popular, so false stories about family’s origins. Will he stick it? We see a hope come into his mind that they will throw him out if he is insolent enough and he can return to Lily. There will be no return to her – for a long time to come.
    For the rest of the novel Trollope will not tire of punishing Crosbie though his ending may be what he wanted if only he could have seen this without the intervening engagements and marriage. He could not get beyond the hegemonic demand he marry. He found himself in situations where erotic feeling was the whole point of the exercise. What’s a guy to do?
    Johnny’s great triumph: a Handel rousing song. Eames is rising in the world because like Crosbie he can do the work and well. Trollope take out time to tell another story: this one of the bags. It’s intermixed with the Amelia matter: she too has been misused in effect. Raffle Buffle cannot punish Johnny because custom is not against it. So he flails away.
    And we end where we began: the earl and Johnny’s correspondence and Johnny knows he has not hurt himself with the earl.

Lily Going Mad Counting the Figures in the Wallpaper:

“(Lily speaking to her mother, about getting out of her sickbed, which is in her mother’s room) ‘I am so tired of looking always at the same paper. It is such a tiresome paper. It makes one count the pattern over and over again. I wonder how you ever can live here.’
‘I’ve got used to it, you see.’
‘I can never get used to that sort of thing; but go on counting, and counting, and counting.'”

Bruce reminds us of how Lily feels herself going mad when she is prostrate in bed, having retreated from a world which in the person of Adolphus Crosbie has betrayed, abused and would now, she fears, either quietly ridicule or look down on her. She has no options beyond living out the bourgeois myth. There’s a famous later 19th century American short story, the Yellow Wallpaper about a deeply repressed woman, who has been having babies endlessly. Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Finally the direct roman a clef here: Sir Raffle Buffle, also called Huffle Scuffle who Trollope cannot resist portraying so he has him transferred from the General Committee Office in Whitehall as the ultimate boss of Adolphus Crosbie to a supposedly much lower rank office, Taxes where he presides over Johnny Eames, without bothering for an explanation of this demotion. It’s a remariable coincidence, no? He is Trollope’s irritated portrait of a person much admired at one time: Sir Rowland Hill, who executed important reforms in the post office, some with Trollope’s help. He is said to have been “a brilliant but difficult man,” and I’ve read that “Huffle Scuffle” was actually a derisory nickname for him. When in 1867 Trollope was overlooked for a deserved promotion and took retirement in order to devote himself to his writing career fully – he was angry and surprised. Did he not think Hill knew of Huffle Scuffle? Trollope’s books are roman a cles (books where people are recognizable) and he tells aspects of his own life directly and indirectly. Apparently once as a young postal clerk he misdirected a bag of mail. Not only is Johnny him, but aspects of Dr Crofts with Crosbie a release valve for himself.

One of my papers I called Trollope’s Comfort Romances for Men; this is a romance novel written from a male point of view tempered by insight into and compassion for women.


From the fifth and last sessions:

Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding walking away from the hospital and his position as Warden (final shots of The Warden from BBC 1983 Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

Like The Warden, The Small House at Allington has a strong underlying tragic pattern. It presents itself as comedy, and the whole realistic stance of the narrator, the structure, and the presence of this ironic narrator whose importance in this and other of Trollope’s novels cannot be underestimated deflects us from seeing the nadir, the loss of aspiration, hope, dreams just about all of our major characters end up with – or without. Pair of chapters to end on: showing how Mr Crosbie again became a happy man deeply ironic: so quiet and so intense; we hear of quarrels; how she did break down asking for a carriage. She does not break down now. He is glad to make do with little money to get rid of the burden of her existence. Lily vanquishes her mother. Johnny moves out of the boarding house, lives alone, takes to eating mutton chops at a public house. Soon Johnny will get into a better place with Earl’s help.

And then very like a Mozart’s Don Giovanni especially, onto the stage come the ordinary prosaic characters to carry on: here Mrs Dale chooses to Remain not Leave; we get a miniature re-prise of Hopkins’ coming near to utter destruction but the Squire who has now learn to give in, gives in. The squire tells Lily the pain is that Hopkins did it before everyone, so this incident also refers to the Earl’s advice that if you live with a fox gnawing at your entrails, you stand there and smile. In the Spartan story the boy allows the fox to gnaw him to death under his undergarments rather than show his pain to anyone. The story thus undermines itself. The great joke of the concluding incident (let’s say before the curtain) is about a pile of shit: don’t underestimate the importance of shit in making beautiful gardens.

A central subject matter of this set of chapters is our deep usual disappointments in how we end up on the social spectrum in life, whether it be at our remunerative jobs and in this week’s chapters this includes characters from Mr Lupex with his yearning to be a painter of canvasses and sense he had talent, better at color with a truer eye for drawing than people who make thousands to Mr Butterwell who doesn’t want Crosbie over-reaching himself to dominate the board, to people like Dr Crofts who presumably acts out of some altruistic motives yet wants to live not in debt, with pride of face before others. We discover a bunch of characters living out their lives – at least some of them, those with the capacity for dreams of something beyond the pragmatic, who reject in part what are the common goals and norms of ordinary life – in quiet desperation.

The depiction of careers in this novel is more subtle than the analysis of the results of ambition in Framley Parsonage: the way Mark Robarts is treated may be read as “learning a lesson not to overreach beyond his income; Mr Sowerby is more complicated but he is made a semi-sinister kind of villain and he loses all. Crosbie doesn’t lose all; he gains what he thought he was after; maybe Mr Lupex is right and the kind of success he feels he had it in him was not in the cards he was handed from birth. I’d say we cannot attribute to Johnny’s wonderful qualities his success: there he is sexually jealous of Cradell because Cradell is now having sex with Amelia, Cradell in a remarkable scene of social insight is shown not to understand how pride should control his language before the man he envies and wants to butter up and fears is dropping him. He does not realize if someone is determined to drop you, you must endure it and work very slowly to counter that, silently.

The inkstand missing for three years (Millais’s illustration)

There are seemingly irretrievable decisions or words you can’t recall the other person is not going to forget as they seared some part of their mind and feeling. There is a whole sub-motiv or secondary set of stories about the pains and disillusionments and fear of moving. For women alone in this book it’s traumatic, whether done comically or not. Mrs Roper is likely to lose her livelihood (and a friend, Miss Spruce). Moving depictions. A central one for plot-design: the dramatic confrontations of Squire Dale and Mrs Dale. She is rightly very hurt and angry at his bullying and accusations and says she cannot live in that house on these terms any more. So off she goes to tell him she’s moving (Ch 37). Does she get to say what she wants? Why not? He refuses to recognize she has any justice in moving; he refuses to agree to her priorities: her feelings not her pocketbook and status.

The Squire feels he should be obeyed, should have some say in who Bell marries, against Mrs Dale’s resentment of his attempt to interfere with her role. He accuses her of teaching the girls to look at him with suspicion; she accuses him of trying to take her place and come in-between her and her daughters. The emotions here are real enough, hard. The Squire tries unconsciously to needle his sister-in-law into doing what he wants by insinuating she’s afraid to tell her daughter to marry Bernard:

“‘You mean that you are afraid to tell her so?’
    ‘I am afraid to do what I think wrong, if you mean that.
    ‘I don’t think it would be wrong, and therefore I shall speak to her myself’
    ‘You must do as you like about that, Mr Dale; I can’t prevent you. I shall think you wrong to harass her on such a matter’

Each puts his or her spin on what’s happening. The dialogue turns and twists as they accuse, counter-accuse, reinterpret, at each point ending up in the stasis or positions from which they started. She goes home very unsatisfied because she left without making it clear she means it; she does not need to think about it – as Bell does not need to think about saying no to Bernard. She is recharged by Bell and Lily and returns to the battlefield (Ch 38). Each of them tries to take advantage of the other. All right she is giving rent-free house, status, luxuries. He gets her on the axiom of duty: somehow it’s her duty yet again to mortify her own feelings so as to keep others behaving towards her girls as if they were the daughters of the squire. She loses ground for a moment when he says “‘your duty is to think of them.” Since she buys into his conservative values, she has no grounds from which to fight him on the score of violated individual feelings.

Lily’s insistence they are not to say anything adverse about Crosbie is a form of punishing her sister and mother because she can’t punish Crosbie. There’s a line where she remembers being in the field with him and responding to his caresses (as Crosbie remembers those days or early evenings as he sits across the way from Lady Alexandrina) which may be intended to excuse her (ch 40): during preparations he remembers her passion as he caressed her. She gave up so much and was just thrown away. It’s a form of self-tormenting too.
Some might find it hard to believe that Lily Dale does not show more anger toward Crosbie. Her remarking that she would like to be the godmother of Crosbie’s child is especially difficult to believe. The chapter is saved only by her breaking down an crying at the end, revealing how brave she is trying to be but still how much she is hurting.

One could get very Freudian and admire Trollope for suggesting that Lily feels that the child she would have had with Crosbie is going to emerge from the wrong womb, and her desire to be the godmother is Trollope’s way of hinting to us that her deepest pain is she is replaced as a sex partner and the woman who will therefore bear Crosbie’s children. Trollope saw himself as interested in perversities of behavior. People often quote his comment in He Knew He Was Right on the jealous Louis Trevelyan’s desire to gather proof his wife has betrayed him sexually: anyone who is surprised or incredulous “do not understand that a man may be brought to hope that which of all things is the most grievous to him;” they “have not observed with sufficient closeness the perversity of the human mind.” In this sequence Crosbie has chosen a self-tormenting path, Johnny, Mr Lupex, Mr Cradell. We have comic analogues for the grave anguish of Lily and Crosbie.

Adolphus’s actual experience of marriage: the preparations for the wedding. Money has to be arranged, a flat rented or house bought. At the last moment we see maybe Alexandrina is not so sure when she says she will not marry if not given the right clothes for the day, the right trousseau. The carpet, the correct locality – status, status, status. Lady Alexandrina will not go for a walk lest it be seen as a come-down. She would not enjoy walking because of this. She gives as much trouble to the store clerks as she can. Adolphus’s brilliantly mocking fable of the cook: mock on how rich like to present themselves, a home-y source of income; in fact it was often hard exploitation, Henry VIII making followers out of taking over church’s property and rents. Alexandrina knows she’s cold-shouldering Crosbie: she doesn’t want babies; her sister did. I’ll give it to Lady Amelia when she took Gazebee from Augusta Gresham she wanted him – or she wanted the marriage she could turn life with him into. He’s learning to hate them all. Gazebee and Amelia have long seen that Crosbie is bitter in heart now and has repented of his bargain. Crosbie meant to make his life a success we are told. That’s what seems to hurt most of all. Lily wanted love; he wanted to be successful in the world’s eyes and his own.

Trollope’s depiction of men in this novel: taking into account Johnny Eames, Cradell, Lupex, the De Courcy males. They are seen as people under pressure: to support others, to be seen to do well and they may not have the resources (skill or connections) for this. He undermines stereotypes for male experience.

Mary Lady Mason and Mrs Orme part at the close of Orley Farm (Millais)

Our last essay was Sarah Gilead’s “Trollope’s Orphans and ‘the Power of Adequate Performance,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 27:1 (1985):86-105.

It is very common in 19th century novels to have this long-suffering pathetic orphan children, or half-crazed beggars. Trollope has very few children in his novels and not one presents a child’s subjective mind as the nexus of the book. The typical Dickens character sweeping the streets is not here. But repeatedly in his novels characters come close to disaster or they walk right into calamity (as Juliet McMasters says moths to the flame, or Trollope himself about how we don’t sufficiently study the perversity of the human mind or pay attention to what is going on around us), but most of the they are left appearing to cope. Some do throw themselves under on-coming trains, or take some agonizing poison, but it’s not common. I would have preferred Phineas Finn as an example because all novel long he is a political compromiser in order to rise, putting aside his conscience which only comes to the fore unexpectedly in the denouement of his book.

I like Gilead’s explanation: they are made to feel culturally abandoned or betrayed as a result of the norms of the society they live in. They are expected to accept the story of their lives that the public listens to and carry on. So Mr Harding is supposed to accept that he is this corrupt man who devours incomes belonging to others and carry on regardless. Lady Mason that she’s a crook (not that in her case after having accepted an arranged marriage with a hard old man he refused to leave even a small farm to their son, all of it to go to his eldest to make this big splash). Lily that she lost this toy and ought to give over. The people in this novel are hypocrites about women’s sexuality – which by the way makes Johnny Eames’s behavior to Amelia explicable: he couldn’t give a shit who she fucks not really. Not when more important things like class, standing in the world, promotion at his job are at stake: maybe they do matter more.

What they do – Mr Harding, Lily, Mary Lady Mason is they invent a different story, a different identity, one which indicts the society, and live it out. To do this they must retreat or they will endlessly be bothered by the story society wants to impose on them. Lily does not want to risk her psyche again. They are not parentless and not without small resources – -which people often do have or they’d have vanished well before the crisis. They strike bargains with a hostile reality. In Phineas’s case, light is shone on the deplorable condition of the Irish which the English fed off of. They make a bargain; they will keep quiet if they are left alone. To achieve this safety they have to give up society’s prizes including society’s approval

Mr Harding retreats to the smallest possible parish; he does end up living with his daughter. As Gilead remarks he throws overboard the 12 old men he was supposed to care about. Most are dead by the time Barchester Towers begins. Lily has 3000 pounds so a small income, the Small House and her mother. She rejects time, she rejects change. Funeral formality to it; in Last Chronicle Trollope has her quote a latin saying: who goes softly, goes safely. Gilead misrepresents how Lady Mason ends up because she and her son part; she ends up alone writing letters to her one friend, Mrs Orme.

This is not the only essays that tries to account for this depth in Trollope – for this is part of what makes rereading his books worth while. There’s a another point of view I more inclined to – it’s more autobiographical or personal to Trollope. Many of Trollope’s central figures do vacillate, are paralysed and never make up their minds, go off a deep end or allow others to make up their minds for them. Once Mr Harding sticks to his guns, or decision, it’s curious how the other characters’ power over him seems to fade. Alas that’s not true for Lily or Mary Lady Mason. Women are not as respected; people think they are obliged to give themselves over (to children for example)

Why does he do this continually, have his most sympathetic characters perform an escape maneuver, sometimes while winning, act out a reluctant withdrawal? I see in the process self-flagellation on Trollope’s part. The person, Mr Harding, Lily, Mary Lady Mason, Phineas, is under “joint attack.” Everyone around the characters agrees to insist our hero or heroine act out what the world admires and wants (marry the lord not the tailor in Lady Anna), no matter what the personal cost or gyrations this demands. They nag the person, and we are treated to these scenes as when Johnny comes to ask Lily to marry him. She can’t get rid of him.

Trollope is persuading himself he is doing the right thing to compromise in life, stay with his wife no matter if restless, write novels that sell and release himself through irony; through Mr Harding, Phineas, Mary Lady Mason he lives out vicariously the act of integrity and the escape. He’s Miss Viner, Patience Woolsworthy. One of his greatest fictions is “The Spotted Dog” — he said it was his finest story. It’s a later short story; and online. The “spotted dog” is the name of a an inn where a gifted man has sabotaged his life; he has married the wrong woman and become a drunkard. Now that he must find some employments, presents himself openly as a shameful creature no one in their right mind would interview, much less hire to deal with fragile paper indexes and scholarship. Julius Mackenzie unable to cope ends up drunk rolling in the streets, his talents utterly thrown away. We see him struggle hard to emerge and fail. Trollope is teaching himself; there but for compromise go I.

His characters who are punished often make their strongest arguments on the side of utter integrity, of refusal, they get to walk away and display courage doing it. It’s the others’ joint attacks which speak the world’s cant wisdom, prudence and the like. Mr Harding is not supposed to be a saint, but has the courage to walk away. It’s a great release for most – not so much in the case of Lily Dale because the crux issue is a woman’s sexuality, her sexual awakening (the issue in Sense and Sensibility, one of the novel’s probable “sources”) and Trollope is not deeply empathetic with her refusal to compromise the way he is with Mr Harding, Mary Lady Mason, Phineas.

And so the sessions ended.


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CornhillMagazine (Medium)
The Cornhill Magazine opened to the place where installments of Trollope’s Framley Parsonage was appearing, prefaced by an illustration by John Everett Millais

Dear friends and readers,

Since I’ve had an unusual number of people subscribing to my blog as followers since I put up the summer syllabus for reading Trollope Small House at Allington together, and a couple of people have said they look forward to it, or compliment me by saying they wish they were in the class, and the opening lecture of the term was (for me) unusually coherent, I thought I would share it here.

I reviewed Trollope’s life and career up to the success of the Barsetshire books, and his move to London, the first four Barsetshire books, and we discussed “The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne” as an introduction or framing of one of the central issues in The Small House. I find knowing the author’s life and experience central to understanding his art: Trollope’s books emerge from his imagination and experience and abilities of their author. What I call seeing them as lamps. They reflect, rework and comment on the era they are written in. Books as mirrors. (From Abrams’s famous The Mirror and the Lamp). The Small House has another kind of source: a previous literary work: I’ll show that SMA is a re-working, a more realistic and full and frank maturation of the characters and situation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and how Trollope’s art relates to Austen’s.

The sisters: Lily Dale as a re-worked Marianne Dashwood, Bell Dale, Eleanor (Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett)

lonewidow (1)
The lone widow: Trollope brings out Mrs Dale’s loneliness, sacrifice of herself (1995 S&S, scripted Emma Thompson, directed Ang Lee)

Authors and what they write are also constrained by the place they are published in, the imagined audience that is to be pleased — and, in the case of a periodical, buy again. I’ve discovered ordinary readers don’t think of that enough; they remember it in the case of movies — but books are a commodity too, paper, ink, printers, costs of distribution, stores to place books in matter.

Lilies, illustration in Good Words (from The Victorian Web, scanned in and text by Simon Cooke)

I’m just now reading on line with a group of people Trollope’s two volume somewhat idyllic novel, Rachel Ray. “The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne” (1861) is one of two short stories written just around this time that dwell on love, sex, marriage — as The Small House does (begun 1862) and Rachel Ray, the novel he wrote next (1862). He had a contract or understanding from Good Words, a magazine intended for evangelically-minded readers run by a Rev Dr Norman Macleod; Trollope submitted for Macleod’s perusal about half the first volume, and Macleod was shocked, wrote back, how could you write this for my audience? Trollope had warned Macleod that he thought the kind of novel he wrote and his outlook might not be suitable to an evangelical audience. It appeared Macleod thought that Trollope would alter himself almost radically. In the event, Trollope had to find another publisher: happily, he was doing so well by that time that Chapman and Hall, a very respectable publisher took the novel on. But there was a 2 year hiatus between the time of writing Rachel Ray and its publication.

It was intended that Millais would illustrate Rachel Ray; he did but one: Rachel meditating

In the case of The Small House, the Cornhill started to serialize it before Trollope was finished so the ending was not written until well after readers had begun to read and react to the book. In the fourth week of this course I will send along another essay on the connection of the Cornhill to The Small House. I sent one last summer on the Cornhill and Framley Parsonage. The Cornhill I remind those who were here and tell newcomers was the New Yorker of its day. Framley Parsonage helped make it. It was a central text for an imagined community aimed at mostly middle class financially well-off or genteel at any rate (like the Dale women) people, many complacent about their world. They like a little intelligent criticism but don’t want to be too disturbed or disquieted. The New Yorker has articles which ought to disturb and disquiet (say conditions in prisons in a May essay, how we treated mentally distressed people), the drone killing program. But you don’t have to read those. It’s upbeat entertainment. It puts you in the swing of things: the first article in the Talk of the Town tells you what was this week’s important story to “everyone:” everyone in a narrow group who can afford to, reads, and enjoys this magazine.

The Cornhill was perhaps more intellectual, hard to say. It was a different time: but the Crimean war was not a central topic for the Cornhill, nor workers strikes in Manchester. That was for Dickens’s Household Words. Happily and I’m going to say this there was no vocal social media on the Internet to object this or that, and reviewers first wrote about The Small House in 1864, 2 years later. So Trollope had no vocal interference. But he was writing for his audience and making himself a career precisely through this series, and his success in this endeavour may be seen: these six books are those most readers who know Trollope know first — or at least. Last summer when I read Framley Parsonage with many of the people I made the point several times that FP was shaped, its tone, what Trollope could present by a mostly middle class financially fine audience and that it differed considerably from some other novels he wrote at that time. Trollope’s others were much franker, one questioned religion centrally, another autobiographical, included Dickensian attacks on institutions. Nonetheless within its limits So too SHA.

It matters that “The Parson’s Daughter” was printed in the London Review: Captain Broughton is a Londoner, a man about town with whom male readers might identity.

For example, maybe this will whet appetites as you might feel yourself wading through the minute description of Squire Dale’s house and the roads around Allington and Guestwick, with the sentimentality of the love of the mother and her daughters in the book’s opening: a few modern critics argue that Lily Dale lost her virginity well before Adolphus Crosbie took off. It’s presented very discreetly but I agree it’s there and it explains a lot of what happens and understanding this shapes how we see Crosbie, at least ought to. In 1862 when a couple engaged it was understood they might indulge sexually, even going (that old fashioned) phrase “all the way;” that’s why when a man jilts a girl her family can litigate. But the pressure to remain a virgin was strong and in some circles (doubtless the evangelical readers of Good Words) this would be utterly unacceptable. For all the novel is so fat it’s a set of simple stories that delve very deeply young love in all its varieties, sex, and what marriage is in their and today too our society — for the very deep feeling, to the shallow, from the socially conventional to transgessors. Trollope questions marriage as a solution to anyone’s desire for happiness given how it’s conducted: this book offers no (blessed relief to me) no wedding. We watch people haggle irritatedly over the price of carpets as what’s necessary for a marriage. An indirect presentation. “Parson Daughter” printed in the London Review, so city people is a lot more downright. Only one story where in The Small House we have at least 7 couples, 8 if you include Plantagenet Palliser, Lady Griselda and her Dumbello as one triangle with Lady Glencora and Burgo Fitzgerald just introduced as the engaged couple made to break it off, the core opening of the Pallisers.

John Millais, “Christmas Story-Telling,” “Christmas Supplement,” for the London News, 20 December 1862

So Trollope’s inner self his experience, the era, and its ways of doing things, and the magazine will form our context for this book. If you look at our online syllabus you’ll find I’ve added the Barsetshire map drawn by Trollope himself late in the series. It includes where Allington is. I’ve also offered a choice at the end, instead of the hard-to-read article on the Cornhill I’ve linked in the second short story on love and marriage written immediately before Small House, “A Journey to Panama,” a colonialist story, in my view one of his greatest – as is “Parson’s Daughter” so fine. As with “Parson’s Daughter” “A Journey to Panama” is short, on the Net, and about how marriage is practiced in the era, the pressures to do it, and an escape.

Contemporary illustration of a story about emigration


So an abbreviated version of Trollope’s life up to the time of Barset and a little after this time to remind some some – people need more to be reminded than informed – and to situate others, with a brief resume of the four Barsetshire books before The Small House .If you’ve seen the mini-series called Barchester Chronicles (1983, Nigel Hawthorne, Alan Rickman, Susan Hampshire) you will at least have been introduced into a close enough version of what is in the first two. Fellowes’s Dr Thorne is a travesty, but it sort of gives the essentials of the outline of the story, and most of the characters — leaving out alas the doctors (Fillgrave, Reerchild, Century, and there has never been a film adaptation of FP. There was a BBC mini-series of Small House in 1960 but it was wiped out. Video tape was expensive then, and the BBC simply wiped out or recorded over brilliant dramas, hard-worked earnest mini-series with popular junk (sports shows).

A photo of Anthony Trollope (age around 40?)

So Trollope’s life quickly told.

Born April 24, 1815.  He was the fourth son, in a age of primogeniture that’s not a good number; the fifth child of six children, four of whom barely lived into adulthood, ie., all but two died near young adulthood, one after she married, all of TB a terrible disease. When Trollope was in his later teens Frances Trollope began to support them as best she could — because the father was incompetent to do this – by writing. So Trollope had her example before him, and she got him his first publisher as she did his first job, in the post office. He did not go to university, and identifies as both in insider and outsider

Trollope’s father failed at everything he tried, not because he was stupid or lazy, or not well connected: he was very bad at social life, obstinate and eventually violent and half-mad. He is seen again and again in Trollope’s fiction, beginning with Larry MacDermot in the Macdermots of Ballycloran; Joshua Crawley is a deep seeing of this ravaged man. His parents married late, at first a love match too, but when they went downhill (literally from grand house to nearby farm in a dump) she fled to America, with a French book illustrator, Auguste Hervieu, 4 children in tow. Not including Trollope; he was left behind with said father and Tom, his older brother by right of primogeniture sent to college for a while. He had very ambivalent feelings about his mother – these are part of the background of his animus against controlling worldly women.

Anthony Trollope’s writing career came out (he tells us) out of his compensatory habit of building daydreams, stories in which he was the hero. He escaped to these and they mirrored his inner and outer life again and again. He was academically gifted at school but the social life at a public school for a poor boy who clearly couldn’t afford it was not fun: he just couldn’t hold up his head – very snobbish hierarchical place.  His brother Tom bullied him by whipping him. 

Frances Trollope by Auguste Hervieu

Fanny Trollope pulled herself out by traveling one might say, and so did Anthony. When Frances escaped with an Hervieu she was hoping to build a new life for herself with the help of a radical political friend, Frances Wright who had set up a idealistic communitarian camp or community which included free slaves. It failed, abysmally. Fanny just had no idea what America was like. She was astonished at the Mississippi; where she thought the rural world would accept her bohemianism it didn’t. She had to turn to her husband for money (he sent some) and head north to try to survive and joined a bazaar in a mall in Cincinnati, inventing a mountebank act for her son, Henry, to act out  She needed to return, and wrote a searing kind of ethnographic account of the US she saw, The Domestic Manners of the Americans, much as the satire of America in Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit English people gobbled this put-down up. It’s not so much inaccurate as distorted by Frances’s values – the US had these uppity servants: she saw some things very clearly, like the strong stream of religious  emotionalism in US life and its hypocrisies.

She came back to debt at Julians, the farm house the family had sunk into, and she had to flee creditors or her husband would be put in debtors’ prison (Trollope in his Autobiography remembers driving the carriage with his father in it, the family passing things over a fence to a house next door); so there was a desperate flit. Imprisonment for debt has made something of a comeback in parts of the US lately. They went to Belgium a terrible time, Emily down with TB and dying, father too, and Fanny held the family together by writing in the nighttime into dawn readable radical novels – condition of England like Gaskell’s North and South: Jessie Philips about a girl who has a baby outside marriage and goes to one of these punitive institutions meant for such girls; Michael Armstrong, Factory Boy. She took time out to nag connections she had into giving Anthony a job at the post office at age 19 and left him in London. she was a courageous and gallant women and determined, individual in thought and action. She and Tom eventually moved to Italy where they did make a successful life for themselves: Tom married well.

Recent photograph (relatively) of one of the large country houses the Anglo-Irish built for themselves: Moore Hall, burnt down by the IRA and then abandoned

How did Anthony life himself up. He suffered bad depression from the time of his early teens until he moved to Ireland. Ireland was not known for cheering people up at the time. But he was freed of being looked down on, of his family, of the disgrace, of the pain and hurt, and of the humiliation of being a low level post office clerk. We will meet some low tax office clerks in The Small House: Johnny Eames is in some ways an idealized version of Trollope himself. Where in London he was despised, in Ireland he was in charge. He was incorruptible and worked hard to de-corrupt the post office, helped set up pillar posts or mailboxes as we call them. He loved the physical life of riding on his hourse as a surveyor. Fox-hunting. He married a woman just that much lower than he not to abuse his image, and began to write himself. It was natural to start with novels set in Ireland and by the end of his career he had written 5 set in Ireland, with the two Phineas Finn Palliser books having an Anglo-Irish Catholic hero. The Irish novels, dark, about colonialism, the famine, were not commercial successes at all, but he was noticed, gained respect through a ten year slog of working 10 hours a day and writing from 4 to 9:30 or so in the morning and in interstices of time while on his job (say when he was traveling on a train).

Donald Pleasance as Mr Harding, absorbed in his violin (1983 Barchester Chronicles, scripted Alan Plater)

What made the change were what one might say a combination of three Barsetshire books. One of the things he was doing was mapping Ireland, he rode all over and saw much misery, much injustice, but he did it so well, he was invited to do this for southwestern England – Devonshire, Dorsetshire. The story he told goes that while walking one evening ijn the beautiful purlieus of Salisbury Cathedral, the story of Mr Harding, The Warden just came to him. This conveniently leaves out the themes of this book: it’s a political satire on church caste systems. Trollope told his friend and first biographer, T.H. Escott more fully that he had been reading in the Times about egregious cases in he church where a man was paid a huge sum for doing nothing, a sinecure; the money was supposed to go to support aging poor people; while another a curate starved on money not enough to live. He was also grated upon by the newspapers way of reporting the Crimea. All three came together: he attacks the Times as the Jupiter, exposes church injustices. The combination of his characters and these themes and the milieu of Barsetshire as you have it provided a success d’estime. The upper class has never wanted its secrets to be revealed, and Trollope was against anonymity which he regarded as allowing for non-accountability; but otherwise perhaps we have especially today in the US to deplore Trollope’s lack of apprciation of a free press (where a man is running for president who makes it clear he will do all he can to censor and take revenge on revelations about himself which are true). The Times was becoming a daily imagined community device. He said he still would have made more breaking stones, but when he went on in effect to repeat the story in a 3 volume Victorianization, Barchester Towers, there was a commercial success. BT has a love story, flamboyant Stanhope characters with scintillating satire: I describe Madeline Neroni (subversive yet crippled), Bertie (anti-work ethic exposes others as cheerful jokes), and the ambitious driven Mr Slope.

Trollope did not immediately write Barsetshire 3: he did not see himself as writing a series, but when he wrote Dr Thorne, he got 700£. Dr Thorne is set in Barsetshire but it has characters in another area: a strong and passionate rather like The Small House at Allington. Dr Thorne is a deeply dramatic about issues of class and status or rank; about a clash of a county hierarchy with new money people; it has a brilliant portrait of a wealthy industrialist banker who had been a cement worker, he’s an alcoholic. The heroine is an illegitimate dowerless girl. The hero, her uncle, a country doctor – like our Dr Crofts in Small House. Trollope seems to favor doctors. (Excursis on medicine in the era in answer to questions). Both Dr Thorne and Small House are about characters off to the side of the main characters of Barsetshire. When Trollope came to collect the novels, he had thoughts not to include The Small House but as we shall see it is so rooted in Barsetshire that he relented. To me it’s interesting he never doubted Dr Thorne belonged.

Nor did Thackeray; the break came from the Cornhill. Thackeray was chief editor of this new magazine which was aiming for big success and they wanted a central novel as the piece de resistance, to set them off. He was at the time writing Castle Richmond, about the famine in Ireland, and if English people didn’t want to hear about it, the rest of Europe did, it was published separately around the time of FP and quickly translated into 5 languages. Thackeray told him, my dear Trollope what we want is another of those Barsetshire books. Think of Trollope working for the post office, and writing two novels. One critic said Mr Trollope has taken to having twins. But it was FP that made him, and on the strength of his new income, he moved to just outside London to be part of the literary world at last. 

How sum up Framley Parsonage: very hard, it’s a very rich, more varied book than Small House. Gaskell said she wished Mr Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage forever. She didn’t see why he should ever stop. I’ll come back to that comment. There is a great increase in intimacy of characterization from Dr Thorne which is yet further subtilized in Small House. In PF Trolliope fills his imagined space out, maps carefully for the fist time; it bifurcated so it can be politicized into East and West Barsetshire. The story of Mark Roberts the hero, is the about the problem of how to go about a career, who succeeds and who fails and encompasses parliament, the problem of making ends meet as you spend money to reach that success so debt, how someone can become corrupted, what we might call the price of the ticket – not just in the church, but in ordinary social life where you want to shine, what relationships you desire to have and with whom. It’s most fascinating character becomes Mr Sowerby, brilliant, but weak; in his effort to secure his comfortable life and rise, he loses everything. Another female festive subversive character: Miss Dunstable. It’s about what ambition does to you and we will see that theme in spades not in electoral politics but sexual politics in Adolphus Crosbie.

Trollope’s own map of Barsetshire

How do you tell a series: there are recurring characters and it’s set in the same imagined space. Both are important and it is true that we have hardly any glimpse of characters from the previous novels: one important one I put a vignette of on the syllabus. When Adolphus Crosbie leaves the Small House and goes to Courcy Castle, he meets Mr Harding in Barchester cathedrale and they talk. But all the characters in Small House then recur in the last Barsetshire book, The Last Chronicle includes plus most of the characters we’ve had in the four previous. It’s a long book. The imagined continuous space — or imaginary matters. Characters can drift away, move and yet not be lost sight of in the minds of the characters still on stage, sometimes for years, and then be brought back. Central ritual parties are moments of transition, connection, epitomizing and occur throughout.


I chose “Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne” as it rehearses in little conflicting attitudes of mind towards marriage and the nature of love we are going to find in Small House at Allington.

Joseph Wright, Landscape with Rainbow (very late 18th century) — Trollope insists on the beauty of Devonshire

What happens in the story? The way you tell it will probably show something of your response – One neutral way of putting it is the story is an exploration of the nature of marriage. We may say we marry for love or because we desire the personally physically (that’s not so common nowadays as the taboo on sex outside marriage for most of us is gone – not all) but that’s not what this story shows – nor will The Small House. What does Captain Broughton want from marriage? Something far more than love and sex. How does he judge Patience as a wife? For me Trollope is leading us to ask, Why is it better to marry? Not necessarily is the idea or in all or some cases? What do we give up if we don’t?

Another way of looking at it, this is a story about the cost of pride, about the cost of holding onto one’s self-esteem, subtle or intangible as Patience’s concept of this reality may seem to someone who can measure such things only by the clothes she gets to wear and furniture she can wander among. And it gets to where the matter gnaws at the heart. Before we condemn the captain as the only person to whom status matters, let us recall Patience refuses the farmer first. But she does not play with him; she does not try to tell him he is inferior and must be grateful to her for marrying him – of course in the convention she would go down, and the Captain thinks he is bringing Patience. To which the aunt, Miss Le Smyrger objects. Note she never married.

May be the words pride and self-esteem may perhaps not be strong enough to convey all of what Patience would have to give up to marry Captain Broughton; she would lose her soul by marrying the man. She would either have to consent to being his slave or try to dominate him by pretending coldness and aloofness for him to marry her. The latter strategy, even if it resulted in marriage, would backfire on her, as Broughton would doubtless take his revenge once they were safely married. Patience, of course, has no intention of becoming either a slave or a slavemaster. She does not want a relationship where one is dominant and the other submits. Is that possible?

Patience refuses to allow herself to be bullied, to be drawn into a relationship in which she would have to act the part of the inferior person, the person who has to be grateful, who has so much to learn about “what counts” and “how to behave” in the world where powerful “connections” may be garnered, meaning how to please, I had almost said cater to people with access to money, positions.

George Bellowes (1882-1925), Geraldine Lee (1914) — much later, but the expression on her face seems to me to fit that of the bearing-up guarded Patience at the close of the story

The whole story is in fact a piece of subtle psychology — the psychology of disillusionment and quiet despair. She chooses to stay alone. We delve into the sexual longings of Patience in the most delicate and pictorial manner:

“There she would sit, with the beautiful view down the winding river below her, watching the setting sun, and thinking, thinking, thinking– thinking of something of which she had never spoken. Often would Miss Le Smryger come upon her there, and sometimes would pass her by even without a word; but never–never once did she hdare to ask her of the matter of her thoughts. But she knew the matter well enough. No confession was necessary to inform her that Patience Woolsworthy was in love with John Broughton–ay, in love, to the full and entire loss of her heart” (p 236).

The poignancy of this is contrasted to the “hot” desires the Captain had pressed upon her during his stay:

“On the day before he left Oxney Colne, he had in set terms proposed to the parson’s daughter, and indeed the words, the hot and frequent words, which had previously fallen like sweetest honey into the ears of Patience had made it imperative on him to do so” (p 238).

But let’s look at it from the Captain’s point of view. Trollope offers a very back-handed summing up: he never said the man was not a “brute;” at another point when the Captain seizes Patience’s giving of herself in some way to manipulate her, he has “base thoughts,” a base mind when he thinks of how to manipulate Patience because she is of lower status – so he thinks. Aunt disagrees.

He’s young man from London who is at first attracted to Patience simply by virtue of their propinquity, and then because she holds out. Austen’s Willoughby is a son of Lovelace, and as such can be dismissed ever so slightly as “shaped,” as not quite what we meet in life. Captain Broughton is someone I have met many times; he is himself unaware that he is attracted to Patience because of the challenge she presents; he only feels bored and then letdown because he has, as he sees himself, bought goods which are not quite serviceable for his ambition, goods which are “inferior” as the world would have it, to what he could have gotten–“that great heiress with whom his name was once before connected.”

I have put it too strongly because Trollope’s close is enigmatic; when we are told the Captain is “now a useful member of Parliament, working on committees three or four days a week with a zeal that is indefatible,” we cannot be sure whether he is not happier with his heiress. What do you make of that “gratified” smile that crosses his face when he thinks of the unmarried Patience in the last line of the story. I took it  the man is glad he didn’t marry her, and glad he that far triumphed over her and glad she did not marry too

Anyone want to argue for compromise? An abstract way of putting it is it’s a clash between what we could call the mercantile and romantic understandings of marriage. Is the primary nature of marriage companionate and emotional, or is marriage an institution by which economic welfare is secured or increased? It looked as though we had in Patience (and note that given name) an example of the romantic point of view, whereas the young man from London emphatically had his eyes on worldly advantage. Worldly advantage, of course, is something the parson’s daughter will not give him, despite Miss Le Smyrger’s intention to make her at least a moderate heiress. Money aside, she brings no useful connections, and lacks the social deftness, the polish that will impress his associates back home. Would she have been unhappy? We must not write a fan fiction and imagine children — we don’t know that she would have had them, she could die.

A final level: the story is a look at the plight of women on the fringe of middle-class life in England, where pride can come at a painful price. Not everyone has a dowry of 30,000 pounds; not everyone has influential relatives, or dwells in an area where plenty of suitable partners are on offer. Patience has the education and self-image of a member of the gentry, who will bring no shame on any family into which she marries. She cannot agree that it would need condescension for a gentleman to have her in marriage. This puts her above the touch of the men in her sparse neighborhood, but she cannot offer much to attract men of her own caste. Her sense of self places her above the station of a neighborhood farmer. And yet, from the viewpoint of the fashionable young man from London, Patience lies as much below him socially as she felt the farmer to be below her. Here lies the central tension in the story, when a social gulf that didn’t exist for her mattered too much for him.

Trollope does cheat or make it easy for us to see Patience left alone. She is an heiress after all; the Captain is punished by his hopes for a legacy going to her. They could make her unhappy. The ending is made easier because her aunt leaves her the fortune the Captain came down to try to wedge from the aunt. In real life the plight of most spinsters was poverty, dependence on others whom you had to please and serve. Yes much is left out: for example, we don’t know the inner life of the Captain’s new marriage, only that in a worldly way it worked. In The Small House, we are going to see that the other choice for the high born and well-connected might turn out even worse.

John Singer Sergeant (1856-1925), anonymous gentleman (1880s), man about town: is he too dark for Crosbie as later met in The Last Chronicle?


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Dear friends and readers,

A major 19th century woman novelist, travel writer, Woolson depicts the south after the civil war, writes visionary landscape of the great lakes (ice and snow), realistic novels, with (in effect) feminist stance, very enjoyable travel writing. Anne Boyd Rioux has written a fine biography showing what the career of a women of letters in America was like — obstacles many. Woolson moved to Europe. And of course the deep friendship with Henry James. She situates herself among the major women novelists of her generation, knew quite a number of them, translated George Sand, never forgot Jane Eyre. She even liked Anthony Trollope, his autobiography, admired his relentless traveling:

“Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography, yes, I have read it. It gave me such a feeling! Naturally I noticed more especially his way of working. What could he have been made of! What would I not give for the hundredth part of his robust vitality. I never can do anything by lamplight, nothing when I am tired, nothing–it almost seems sometimes–at any time! . . . And here was this great English Trollope hauled out of bed long before daylight every morning for years, writing by lamplight three hours before he began the “regular” work (post office and hunting!) of the day. Well, he was English and therefore had no nerves, fortunate man ….

I have no less than five or six books to recommend (!), or to make this sound less like a task of too many pages, an author you might not have heard of, or only heard of as a rejected mistress of Henry James, now known to have been if not actively homosexual (he probably quietly was), at least as regards heterosexuality celibate: Constance Fenimore Woolson wrote splendid novels, novellas, short stories and travel books in the post-reconstruction era of the US, from her escape sites in Europe, mostly Italy. Over the past couple of months, I’ve read her powerful first novel, Anne (which ought to have a title that gives some sense of its content, e.g, An Internal Exile) in an edition, which included the original touching and expressive illustrations:

The heroine’s aunt, Miss Lois,

A striking minor male character ….

a few remarkable short stories and gothic landscape fantasies, in Castle Nowhere, and her depictions of the bitterness of the defeated southerners, immersed in death, near bankruptcy (those who had been wealthy had been so off the bodies and minds of their slaves), and destructive self-thwarting norms, best read as a group in Rayburn S. Moore’s old-fashioned “masterworks of literature series, For the Major and other Stories, though a couple are reprinted in Rioux’s Miss Grief and Other Stories. Anne Boyd Rioux’s Portrait of a Novelist (the title modeled on Gorra’s) also depicts the norms and prejudices that marginalized and erased American women fiction writers of the 19th century (see her Bluestocking Bulletin). Woolson is a major American voice of the second half of the 19th century. Try her.

Unfortunately, Woolson is best known for either having accidentally died or killed herself at age 54 by falling out a window in Venice, probably (it’s thought) because she was rejected as a romantic partner by Henry James (see Ruth Bernard Yeazell, “In what sense did she love him?”, LRB, 36:9, 8 May 2014). Often this event which Rioux presents carefully is treated as a ridiculous joke because Henry James, so upset at what happened, came to help with her effects, and distressed attempted to drown Woolson’s dresses in the Venice lagoon and they all floated up around him. What happened is a combination of life-long depression, and some serious illness in her early fifties (not uncommon before there was an understanding of various human organs) led to a decline, too much medicine, bad pain, and a half-willed suicide. Woolson is a major character in Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel, a psycho-biography of Henry James’s creation of the story of Isabel Archer, and not overlooked altogether by Colm Toibin in The Master. That she has at long last arrived may be seen in a volume of critical essays devoted to her:


It’s said though that the shared or mutual hidden or inner lives of James and Woolson is portrayed best by Lyndall Gordon in her biography of Henry James.



I’m going to differ from most accounts by my emphasis and what I recommend to start with: the travel books, say The Benedicts Abroad (a family effort) or better yet, her own Mentone, Cairo, and Corfu, which, like Anne, comes accompanied by lovely appropriate illustrations:


It’s a perfect summer book; perhaps you can’t afford to go to the Riveria this year; it’s the closest thing as a read I’ve come across to the once wonderfully evocative Miramax movies of lonely sensitive reading people traveling to some dream place, e.g., A Month by the Lake (Venessa Redgrave and Edward Fox in an H.E. Bates’s short story). A group of variously witty, desperate, amused, and knowledgable (about the undersides of history, geology, biography, tourist sites) have awakening adventures together.

Then instead of plunging into a longer novel, read some of her short stories. In the US the fiction writer did not have to produce three-volume tomes for Mudie’s Library, or the Cornhill or other similar venues. You won’t forget “Rodman the Keeper” or For the Major. Rodman is one of Woolson’s many solitary souls, a caretaker for a national cemetery of the union (pro-Northern) dead; like most of the central characters of Woolson’s stories I’ve read, he tries to retreat from society insofar as he can, but is dragged back in by his conscience and need. He comes across an impoverished dying ex-confederate soldier who is not at all reconciled to defeat and nurses this man through his last illness. This is centrally about the devastation of the civil war and the complex hatreds in the aftermath, the beauty of black people’s magnanimity, generosity of feeling, living down south still. Again the illustrations are remarkable:



For the Major is about intensely repressed lives where the gradually emerging white heroine has misrepresented everything about herself for years. There is insight, some degree of self-acceptance and fulfillment by breaking through taboos but no false redemption. Woolson provides the source of the hatred of the south for the north well into the 20th century and even the 21st. I hadn’t thought about how the conquered might feel in a situation: a woman’s apparently non-political fiction gives us the inner life of the impotent rage then turned against black people who since they represented a large percentage of the population would have had to be given real freedom for the region to thrive; the southern characters refuse to stop pretending they are rich aristocrats. They will not admit to having disabled people in their families. They will not permit women to live independent lives apart from marriage (now more or less out of the question as so many had died. There are flaws: while she does depicts black people with real empathy and dignity, she also portrays them as helplessly loyal to their ex-owners as if they cannot make their own lives.


The title story of Castle Nowhere reads like a distillation of the opening sequence of Anne. It’s set in a region of Michigan, the islands of the Great Lakes of Michigan, Woolson spent formative years in: like the opening of Anne, it reminded me of Daphnis and Chloe, or Paul et Virginie: an intensely solitary group of people live a quietly ecstatic existence in a dangerously cold, ice, snow and lake place. They succour one another and are deeply fulfilled. Tyler Tichelaar suggests this particular story focuses on a aging male solitary wanderer, but there is also a fairy tale element as the loving heterosexual couple who emerge (as in Anne) end up with a deeply contented life together. It can also recall the 1790s Radcliffe-like gothics, only the “machinery” or furniture is that of the wild landscape and hardships of mid-America. The bleak yet exalted (in Woolson’s curiously postive way of writing gothic) landscape of a spiritual lighthouse existence in St Clair Flats contains the same beauty as Woolf’s novel of creativity and aspiration.

I don’t know if “Miss Grief,” possibly the best-known story by Woolson was first published among her Italian stories; it has been interpreted (like Jupiter Lights, a late novel) as feminist. It is the one story I’ve read that directly concerns her life as a novelist. Like For the Major the narrative voice is that of implied sardonic irony: a fatuous complacent money-making successful male author finds himself besieged by a Miss Crief whose name he hears as Miss Grief. No one will publish her work, but when under intense pressure he begins to read one of her stories, he finds it has passion, strength, sincerity his lacks. Woolson wants us to feel precisely where and when this man is shallow his work is popular. Miss Grief reads aloud precisely the passage from the author’s work that he knows he is most authentic in, and he is riveted by her and her writing. But she will not temper it, will not eliminate half-crazed elements, will not change the plot to be acceptable story so the work can’t be sold. She has a great play but in order to get it performed, she must compromise. (This sounds like her sympathetic account of James’s own theatrical failures.) The story ends melodramatically with her happy death. She has had the fulfillment of his approbation. Some have read the story as about James and Woolson, though it was Edith Wharton who made the huge success, and during her life Woolson made a great deal of money on Anne and was well-known, respected and reviewed (if not favorably by Howells, who, like Hawthorne, seems to have wanted to marginalize women).


Another illustration for Anne

Of the longer works I read but two but liked them both. Anne was Woolson’s first long novel, and it’s very strong until near the end when it collapses into melodrama. People have written about her books to place them alongside Henry James; it’s more accurate to see them in the context of other women’s books, women’s writing, and visionary landscapes. The book opens on Mackinak Island in the straits of Mackinac where the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan meet, near the top of Lake Huron. the descriptions of ice, snow, waters are visionary. The story is of a highly intelligent young woman living a semi-solitary (again) impoverished life on a frontier who is willing to sacrifice all to the needs of her desperate family; she finds herself deeply congenial with a young man, Rasta.

The motif of the boy and girl growing up together in a world of snow and lakes repeats itself

Woolson has affinities with the work of Willa Cather: Woolson is even drawn to ethnic French people. As the novel progresses, Anne is forced to leave the island – for money, for schooling, to grow up — and she gains female mentors along the way. In this and the love affair that Anne flees from to avoid transgressive sex recall Jane Eyre. The first is the loving spinster who lives on the island near her family, Miss Lois, quietly in love with Anne’s half-philandering self-indulgent father; she is taken in by a hard mean aunt but finds friendship with an older generous and sophisticated friend, Helen Lorrington; when later in the book she becomes desperate for employment she is hired and kept going by a French teacher, Jean-Armande. Anne is betrayed by her French half-sister, by the educational system which develops the more shallow aspects of Rasta’s character, and finds the upper class mercenary social life of her rich aunt appalling, unlivable in. This anticipates Ellen Glasgow. In fact except that there are powerful depictions of the civil war (which the book’s time frame crosses), Woolson’s book could fit into he (dismissive) chapter on women writers in Alfred Kazin’s book On Native Grounds. She is not interested in socialism, not a political muck-raker; instead she writes l’ecriture-femme about women’s lives. Anne’s continual flights are from the situations women are put in to push them into narrow schooling, marriage, and motherhood. The men in the book are wastrels, weak, and (alas) all of them at some point in love with Anne, but here the psychology of courtship, the rivalries, are astutely depicted. I believed in the characters.

A depiction of Anne towards the end of the novel

Another worthwhile novel is East Angels. It’s about how woman as a woman spends her life hiding her inner self, and has been likened to Turgenev’s novels. She threw a great deal of ambition and adult emotion from within her artist’s life into the book. Rioux suggests the only way this heroine can “maintain her self worth” is to “maintain her self control.” Male critics, espeically Howells panned it (they didn’t believe in this heroine), but a number of reviewers an readers too felt it showed “her remarkable powers of observation,” great art (see Rioux, pp 174-178, 200-202). East Angels sold much better than James’s work at the time, if not as well as Anne, and is in print as an ebook


Rioux’s excellent biography is very good from the angle of revealing what life was like for a woman who might aspire to be a serious writer in the US in the 19th century. I have read a few lives of and some fiction by 19th century American women writers, but and until this book my knowledge of what American women specifically were up against was minimal. Rioux cites Kate Field, the woman Trollope loved who lived as a modern woman writer, traveling, lecturing; the life and work of Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe are part of Rioux’s earlier context — as well as finishing schools for upper class girls. The depiction of the way sacrifice was inculcated, the way motherhood and wife-hood was used to leave no room whatsoever for individual development, what was one of the best schools, which Woolson went to, but how it had no goal for the woman to use her knowledge — all bring home to me that it was much more difficult in the US than the UK to become a woman of letters. No wonder Woolson fled to Europe. While she loved the elite and old Spanish cities of the south and Florida, and dutiful as she was to her mother, and finding deep companionship with her father, Woolson could not get herself to publish a large major adult novel until she went to Europe.

Rioux’s depiction of Woolson’s career as a journalist is again a story of a woman up against exclusionary practices and a demand she not have a mind of her own. In her stories what was wanted was pious moralizing and she resisted that. She was pushed into imitating Alcott for her first novel, The Old Stone House, a children’s novel. She translated Sand’s La Mare au Diable but it was not published! Alas. Someone else had translated it. I wish hers had been published too: She is also a strong reader of George Eliot, admires Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She is a little too earl for Edith Wharton. She tries poetry, but discouraged by others’ responses gives it up with the argument novels are as important.

I found a house, at Florence, on the hill
Of Bellosguardo. ‘Tis a tower that keeps
A post of double-observation o’er
The valley of Arno (holding as a hand
The outspread city) straight towards Fiesole
and Mount Morello and the setting sun, —
The Vallombrosan mountains to the right, …
No sun could die, nor yet be born,
unseen by dwellers at my villa: morn and eve
Were magnified before us in the pure
Illimitable space and pause of sky
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh — Woolson told friends in letters to understand how she felt about her home in Florence, read this passage( the 200 year old Villa Bichieri is photographed by Rioux in her book)

She had been responsible for her mother from the time of her father’s death, the loss a sympathetic brother-in-law also makes her sister more broke and dependent: she lived where her mother lived, with her, in elite, old (a Florida city founded in mid-16th century) moving “north” in summer (Asheville, North Carolina). But as she would ever be, she felt (and was) isolated and Rioux says of her she was a solitary author writing columns from afar. Depression was common in her family and her brother killed himself eventually because he could not cope with the demands made on him to live a commercially successful life. She had some great good luck: she had an income from investments her family set up for her; she had connections with the powerful and intelligent in the US and then Europe, especially male critics, diplomats (John Hay), and educated critics, literary friendships with men (Edmund Clarence Stedman). When her mother died, she could afford to go to Europe to cultured cities. She never came back. She found herself there — as did Henry James. Her attitude towards Europe reminded me of my own: as an American who has read so much of British literature, you feel you are nostalgically coming home.

Palazzo Semitecolo, the last of Woolson’s homes, this in Venice

This is not the place to attempt to go into the twists and turns of her life nearby, with and apart from Henry James (but communicating by reading one another and letters); suffice to say Florence was central to her, and that at times they lived in the same house together, writing on different floors, in different apartments. Her deafness has been insufficiently emphasized. It began early and became much much worse. Harriet Martineau, far franker than Woolson, said the worst experiences for deaf people were dinner parties. Her work was widely reviewed. She was known to many people, including Margaret Oliphant (who did not stay in Italy, did not like travel). Woolson’s sister and her niece visited and traveled with her. She wrote sensitively of the cruelties she saw in her own nand other cultures. She lived for a time in Oxford too — and found Cheltanham dull. She chose to be alone to work, to think, because she felt unlike many people, but she experienced despair from loneliness too. She and Alice James recognized one another. She eventually became close to an American family living in Italy: Francis Boott, a highly cultured wealth gentleman, his daughter, Lizzie Duvnack, and her husband, lived near her in Bellosguardo. Lizzie’s death was one of the devastating blows late in life that led to Woolson’s own death. She kept up an extensive correspondence with Boott where she revealed more of herself openly than anywhere else (says Rioux). In her last illness, Woolson was often doubled over with pain (diverticulitis? or gripping gut as they called it in the 18th century).

The last chapter on Woolson’s after life is moving, especially her burial in the Protestant cemetery in Rome. I probably have walked by her grave. Jim and I spent over an hour or so in that cemetery one afternoon in August 1994. It is a haven, a beautiful quiet place, if your corpse is going to be buried and you remembered that way, it’s not a bad place to have your grave stone. If I ever get to go there again (unlikely) I will be sure and stand by her gravestone too.

A drawing of Woolson by Lizzie Duveneck

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Margaret (Daniela Denby- Ashby) first making friends with Nicholas (Brendan Coyle) and Bessy Higgins (Anna Maxwell Martin) (Sandy Welch’s 2004 North and South, Part 2)

yet men set me down in their fool’s books as a wise man, an independent character, strong-minded and all that cant — Mr Bell, North and South

Dear friends and readers,

This past spring I taught a course I called “Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South in context.” Although I had spent over a year with a group of friends reading Gaskell’s short stories and a couple of novellas together on Women Writers through the Ages @ Yahoo, and had before read and responded intensely to Mary Barton, North and South and Wives and Daughters, I’d never really studied a Gaskell text the way I do when I teach it, and experience (as I do at the OLLIs at Mason and AU) true dialogue in a class room give-and-take. I listened to brilliant readings aloud on CD of Cranford, Mary Barton (Juliet Stevenson for Cover-to-cover), North and South itself (Clare Wille for Naxos) and Wives and Daughters. I wish there were a good one available for the Life of Charlotte Bronte. I could not find one. As with Fielding’s Tom Jones the fall before I also assigned some good essays which I’d never read before either, as we went along. I read Felicia Bonaparte’s half-mad biography too — the more I read Gaskell, the more I came to agree with her, to the point that I agreed Molly had in effect killed herself when she decided to follow Roger’s advice and accept and subdue herself to her new stepmother. The result of this immersion: I feel I got closer to Gaskell than I ever did before.

Paradoxically since North and South is a book that is doing so many different things and has a wide range of topics or subject matters, often but not always from the perspective of someone questioning authority, it’s the kind of book that you need a book to write about adequately. This blog is a series of notes towards such chapters.

To begin with, the book often takes unexpected turns. For example, it opens unexpectedly for a condition of England novel, partly based on the Preston cotton strike and the locks-out. Gaskell first creates lovingly the atmosphere of a sheltered home in an elegant London, where Margaret Hale, our heroine, her sleeping beauty rich cousin, Edith, and the shallow Aunt Shaw, and most of the women around them (it’s a household of women) seem ignorant of the hard realities of life — like the need to make or have access to money to support yourself. We are intent on beautiful shawls and clothes, a coming extravaganza of a wedding, and subtle controlling codes of manners.

When we move to Helstone which our heroine declared was idyllic, we find a pair of parents who hardly share an interest, the father a depressive, anxious, and seeking to throw off his job as a vicar and responsibilities because he has lost his belief in the Anglican system of thought and gov’t, a mother who is incompetent when it comes to anything practical and deeply dissatisfied with her life as affording her no companionship with people like herself; the neighbors around them are desperately poor. When Mr Hale allows his crisis of conscience to become public and insists on moving to the North to an uncertain precarious future as a tutor, what Gaskell emphasizes is how he need not explain himself. What he says goes, no matter how weak a man he is. They repine, but they obey.

Bessy in the factory when first seen (North and South, Part 2)

In Milton (Manchester), we meet a strange (unexpected) secondary heroine, a dream-figure alter-ego for Margaret, Bessy Higgins, a desperately poor factory worker, dying of a lung disease, and learn the reason her father, Nicholas, Higgins put Betsy in the factory (where she contracted a fatal lung disease), did not leave her where she was in a household sewing was he worried she would be sexually harassed. The gender ideology and practices throughout limit all the women’s choices. The first thing our heroine did in the early phase of the book is refuse an offer of marriage from Henry Lennox, an intelligent sharp lawyer, sceptical, cold (who comes from that hard world and is clearly successful). She found the wedding otiose, but she finds her friendship with Bessy fulfilling. We see her and her mother’s life-long maid cope together over the course of the rest of the book. Dixon is not invisible; where she sleeps, what she thinks and feels shape the novel too. There’s a servant in Mrs Thornton’s household who affects the action, so too Thornton’s sister who marries a stock speculator whose offer of saving himself from bankruptcy Thornton will refuse. The private worlds of women are also the public worlds of men. but we are not simply given a gendered female world as well as the class, industrial/agricultural, economic and religious worlds and conflicts; at each turn the plot-design is set up to thwart the usual expectations.

In each phase of this early part of the book room is left to dramatize experiences of life that don’t usually come up as important in the conventional plot-design. Gaskell here, and again later concentrates on what it’s like to move from one home or place to another, how traumatic this can be. The family will have to live on a small income and find aplace to live they can be comfortable in and afford. Margaret has bad dreams the night before they go off to Milton: these are partly sexual in nature and show that she refused Henry Lennox out of an inability to face her sensuality and sexuality. Late in the book when so many deaths have occurred as to make Margaret’s place and life in Milton no longer viable, she has a similar hard time moving back to London.

Thornton (Richard Armitage) arguing his side (North and South, Part 2)

Then the book is organized as a series of conversations or debates on ideas that control the character’s behavior and the options their society allows everyone. There is no climax but ideas are debated and we are left to think for ourselves, comparing the ideas the characters have to the dramatic scenes in which the debate occurs and placed nearby. One is about the responsibilities of owners to workmen: these are dialogues about power, about recognizing obligation, about how people regard one another when they are part of groups in conflict. When the book’s romance hero, Mr Thornton, stands up for rigid “political economy” (laissez-faire ideas) and denies he has anything to do with the time allowed his workers when they are not working for him, we see that he is not admitting to his power, but neither he or Margaret, or the workman, Nicholas Higgins, who presents the chartist and burgeoning socialistic point of view of the union, take into account Bessy who we meet in the next chapter. Beyond how ill she is, why she became ill, how she spends her life, there are her religious mystical visions from the Bible which give her what comfort she has. These so irritate Higgins as they are presented as making lived life unimportant, that he produces an atheistic vision of the world, one pessimistic, cynical, grim: how could any good God or rational consciousness have produced this world? The book may be read as a series of tableaux, debates, dialogues, dramatic scenes – or dream thoughts as in the presentation of Bessy, a kind of deep or hidden self for impulses and feelings in Gaskell herself in debate with the scepticism and disillusion of her father, Nicholas.

Matty (Judi Dench) and Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon) read Matty’s brother, Peter’s letters together (Heidi Thomas’s 2007 Cranford Chronicles)

It also drives towards primal scenes that repeat across Gaskell’s oeuvre. For example, the way the theme of injustice in the military, specifically naval world, is brought forward is through primal memeory dream scenes. First, letter-reading — just as in Gaskell’s Cranford where Gaskell’s Matty and her niece, Mary, are enacting Gaskell’s own loss of her brother when he went to sea as a young man. He was the only member of her nuclear family who remained loyal and alive and wrote her letters from far away, encouraging her, a deeply congenial spirit; when he died at sea, the loss was profound. In North and South, Margaret and her mother go over Frederick’s sea-stained letters to introduce why Frederick cannot come home to England ever again. There is another letter scene in he film where Margaret is remembering when they first got news of the mutiny: through her memory’s eye (flashback), we see Mrs Hale frantically tear up the newspaper.

Margaret’s father who himself felt he must buck church authority and lost his position now has to persuade Margaret that Frederick cannot go to court to explain why the men aboard ship mutinied and he deserted (a cruel captain who needled and risked his men’s lives, causing one of them to nearly become crippled, flogged mercilessly for minor infractions): the authorities will support their tyrannical control by never admitting to any wrong. There is no debate here, only another primal scene where Margaret is standing on a train station, attempting to help Frederick flee to London, and they are accosted by an angry embittered man who thinks to turn Frederick in for a ransom. Frederick sees him as insulting Margaret and as drunk, hits him back and the man falls down the steps, hurting himself sufficiently so that he dies soon after. Meanwhile Frederick vanishes into the dark night of the train. The scene at the train station is deep with longing – Gaskell’s dream thoughts well up. No film adaptation of North and South could leave out Frederick, the train scene.

Margaret’s terror as she realizes she and Frederick are seen and are about to be accosted (North and South, Part 3)

For the rest of the novel Gaskell has Margaret brood over this scene ostensibly because she tells a lie to a police magistrate that she was not there and knows nothing about this man to protect Frederick (“strange, wild, miserable feelings”). She is suspected of a sexually clandestine relationship with a strange man by a possessive Thornton who has asked her to marry him — she refused him too. She is deeply attracted to Thornton and intensely regrets that she seems to have lost his respect. Hated by Mrs Thornton, the mother, for having rejected her son at the same time as Mrs Thornton is bitterly possessively jealousy, Mrs Thornton takes the opportunity of supposedly warning her to frame Margaret to her face as possibly unchaste. What an extraordinary way to present the idea give people power and they abuse it – it’s understood how desertion is bad, and discipline needs to be maintained but it should not be disproportionate, not torture (which flogging was). And how vulnerable Frederick is to someone who wants a bribe. We see how vulnerable women are to perpetual sexual suspicion.

Osborne Hamley’s death, Squire Hamley (Michael Gambon) and Molly (Justine Waddell) (Andrew Davies’s 1999 Wives and Daughters, Part 4 of 75 minute episodes)

Everyone who reads Gaskell knows that many of her character die. She once joked the best title for her book (North and South was Dickens’s choice) would be Variations on Death. The characters learn about life through their encounters with death. All the deaths are linked to depression too. Margaret’s mother dies of cancer — brought on by stress; Bessy of her illness and wild dreams; Mr Hale of grief after his wife’s death and a sense that he has lost all occupation and meaning when he begins to lose his pupils; Mr Hale’s mentor, friend, and a third man attracted to Margaret (who Gaskell meant to make an older suitor), Mr Bell of an inexplicable but real depression. Early in the novel we are told Mr Thornton’s father killed himself when he became a bankrupt failure from gambling and alcohol. Shortly after the strike is over, one of the workers, Mr Boucher, kills himself, driven by his wife’s grief over her children’s “clemming” during the strike, and his own despair. Gaskell’s belief that death brings people together, makes their individual humanity plain to one another is shown over and over. I tried to get at some of this material by explicating a few of Gaskell’s epigraphs.

Gaskell quotes from the 4th chapter of Job. “Man that is born of women is of few days and full of trouble.” First half insists that all nature renews itself, but the individual person does not come back. “A tree may sprout again, a flower. Question is where does his “ghost” go? Job wishes to hide himself, everything washes away, ends on how man grieves and mourns. No answer given. She quotes Wordsworth. People tend to remember these things how they want to. Traditional one would be from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (Book 5)

What though the sea with waves continuall
Does eate the earth, it is nor more at all:
Nor is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto an other brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.

Margaret in mourning (North and South, Part 4)

But Gaskell’s references are to sceptical works. At one point she alludes to Byron’s poem called The Island; or Christian and his comrades. It’s a satire on Pilgrim’s progress and Robinson Crusoe rolled into one. I read aloud the whole of the epigraph for the chapter (33) from the poem by Henry King is one of the most moving poems in the English language I know of where a spouse mourns the death of another. Exequy is a funeral rite or ceremony. There’s a stanza where he says he will soon overtake her and that’s what he lives for

Stay for me there, I will not fail
To meet thee in that hollow vale.
And think not much of my delay;
I am already on the way,
And follow thee with all the speed
Desire can make, or sorrows breed.
Each minute is a short degree,
And every hour a step towards thee.
At night when I betake to rest,
Next morn I rise nearer my west …

I loved the ending of the book. Yes Gaskell was forced to cut and probably would have given us far more of a courtship for Thornton and Margaret. But look at what she didn’t cut, what she took out time to dramatize. There are the debates between Mr Thornton and Mr Bell, with Mr Thornton emerging sympathetically as the person openly taking life seriously. The second is the development of a relationship of respect and friendship (for what else is it) between Thornton and Higgins, however improbable. Gaskell shows how comforting Margaret finds it to be alone, not to have to answer to anyone, she finds herself growing firmer and she can tell herself if only Thornton weren’t so cold and they could be friends, she could live with his not knowing – what she can’t see is he feels he must be cold or he will allow his feelings for her to surface and he’s had enough too. She reads Francois de St Sale, the passage is French is from one of these religious meditative books people, especially women read before their were novels. Disguised as religious exhortations, they are often about coping with depression and seek to help someone all alone, no one to talk to, they had no language with with to discuss depression without blaming someone as having done wrong. She sits on the beach at Cromer looking out at the sea and thinks again. When she returns to London, she refuses to give up all her time to the rituals of shallow social life, and instead becomes a female visitor Gaskell writes: “she had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it and she tried to settle that difficult problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority, and how much might be set apart for freedom in working.” I daresay for the modern reader the first idea (utterly merged) will get a strong “none,” and the second seem to lack enough sense of pleasure. In one of her letters on the ending of the novel in swift romance, Gaskell suggests that the relationship could easily “go smash,” and has the last words of the novel Margaret’s remembering she will have to deal with Mr Thornton’s mother.

A dream-like moment of Margaret in Helstone (North and South, Part 4)

Lest we read the book too hopefully there is more primal matter: Gaskell also brings us back to Helstone (to show how it’s again changed), also a re-enactment of her childhood brought up in county by her single aunt Lumb and disabled cousin. Gaskell takes out time to tell the story of how Margaret discovers that the neighbor of one woman she visits boiled a living cat until it died in an agon of pain while drowning. Why: the neighbor was afraid her husband would be angry as she gave his clothes to a fortune teller. The story is even worse in this sense: the woman telling it is not indignant and horrified for the cat, no she’s just bothered that it was her cat. Gaskell sees the horror that people are too – what they are capable of. She puts it down to ‘a want of imagination … and therefore of any sympathy with the suffering animal.” When one attributes the vast evils people do or tolerate to a failure of the imagination it seems so mild a thing to say, but this failure is central.

I hope this series of notes on the novel has conveyed something of its nature (the kinds of texts it offers), the sources of its power and content too. I strongly recommend watching Sandy Welch’s film too. North and South is, as are all Gaskell’s texts, deep l’ecriture-femme, whose forms, motivations, and greatness are not well understood. Feminist criticism talks generally about this faultline in books, but hesitates before specific examples. I’ve presented a specific 19th century example which passes muster in the male worlds of publishing and respectable books as a condition of England novel about a series of outwardly objective themes.


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A moment from the production — the distancing and then the

close up: Kristine Opolais

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I saw a re-transmission of the Met HD movie broadcast of the now ten year old production by Anthony Minghella (he directed, influenced the design, costumes) of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly movingly acted and sung by its principals, Kristine Opolais (who I’ve now watched and heard as an equally extraordinarily acted utterly different Manon Lescaut and Mimi in La Boheme) as Cio-cio San, and Maria Zifchak as Suzuki, Cio-cio San’s one loving friend, servant, companion. They were mesmerizing in their earnestness, long-waiting irony, bitterness, and finally absolute pursuit of death:


We are nowadays used to these pared-down minimalist productions where the inward life of the protagonists is the central action focused upon, so it could not seem as astonishing it is must’ve done 10 years ago. Since I remember one other Madame Butterfly I saw in the 1970s at the City Opera (the usual intricate production design, fussy sets, distracting stage business, objects), I can say this is not a split-second dated. Indeed Minghella’s production is moving to a London theater this summer and I expect will produce several DVDs before the production sees its last performance.

The pared down production and what is left on the stage makes the opera into his utterly inward exploration of a single woman who is deluded into thinking this man loves her:

Women who were themselves geishas deliver her


Between Act 1 and 2 three years have gone by. We discover he abandoned her and see what these three years have done to her and her friend-companion. During this act she is pressured to marry a rigid male from her culture. Quietly — and alas not emphasized in this production — we see at core she has rejected the roles her society gave her: to be an obedient geisha and then one woman in a harem of a polygamous man. Who would want that? For a short while she thought she found an alternative in Pinkerton. He turns out to be just such a shit towards women as the men in Japan. When he returns early in Act 3, he discovers what has happened and what is his reaction? to flee, leaving his wife to take her child or his son away from Cio-cio San. He refuses to see her or allow her to see him. There are a few slats on stage to suggest Asian walls and doors, a high stairway wide as the stage, and above a screen for light.


Flowers are used — the place is littered with petals the way the air is filled with stars and a kind of fluff.

Roberto Alagna as Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”  Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
After this rare meditative moment towards the end of Act 3, Pinkerton flees the stage

Although Gary Halverson is again listed as film director (how he works with Carolyn Chaos, Minghella’s widow who listed as director we are not told).

I was just overwhelmed by emotions which the acting and the music projected. These while rooted in this particular story could be exaltation, love, grief, anger, despair over many other experiences. This suggestiveness is deliberate. For example at the end of Act 2 when the Cio-Cio-San thinks Pinkerton’s ship is coming into harbor, she, her friend-servant, Suzuki and the puppet for her boy, the three sit in kneeling way ever so quiet, just sit there and the darkness falls. This after the stark grief, anger at the attempt to get her to marry someone else, and other emotions have made the stage seem so noisy.


The bunraku puppetry was part of the mesmerizing effect. It’s a form of traditional Japanese puppetry, strange, expressive, plangent. Probably what was used connects to an American version. Butterfly turns into a small fragile puppet buffeted about:


I would have said well that won’t compare with a real child. I would have been wrong.

Another incarnation where a photo caught the depth of the art

The child puppet is just so expressive and so yearning and so needy and so loving and eager; the people using sticks and dressed in black make his body and fact aching with emotion. His bald head on this wobbling neck made him all the more poignant. There is something so touching about the puppet’s fragile dignity:


The puppeteers also danced and manipulated lovely blue paper birds when Cio-cio San is hopeful at the opening of act 3.

Robert Alagno was Pinkerton and the actor showed himself embarrassed or dull when he denied Pinkerton is to be judged (!) and asserted how the character is innocent and needs to be forgiven. He did seem singularly bland in Act 1 but by the time you are into Act 3 and he turns up only to flee. Anything he does in context seems fatuous. He seems to be an ass, and especially an American ass. The music standing for him is American. When the puppet is last seen it has an American flag, waving at us, as on the other side of the stage Cio-Cio-San more than half crazed, stabs herself to death repeatedly. It is a symbolic indictment of the stupidity and cruelty of US colonialist policy far more effective in its starkness than Miss Saigon (thought the explicit connection of the recent production is important and I do not deny its power and detailed stronger relevance).

opera sets_madame butterfly
The penultimate savage death scene

Since the production is older, there are few reviews of this 2016 staging, which differs significantly only in having Kristine Opolais for the first time, and to her credit, this decade long exposure is said to be revivified because of her presence. The New York Times also reviewed her performance more than anything else. I have the highest respect for Minghella since I read and studied with a class his screenplay out of Michael Ondjaate’s English Patient, which screenplay and film were among several fine works he wrote, directed, created his vision of life through (Truly, Madly, Deeply is another). This older review from 2006 is the best I’ve come across.



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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)


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