An Autobiography and other writings – Anthony Trollope

I was very pleased to be sent a review copy of this new edition of Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography, as I loved it when I read it a few years ago. Trollope is one of my favourite authors & his autobiography is a portrait of a lovable man who survived a miserable childhood & created a happy life for himself, both personally & professionally as a novelist. He was also a very practical man, who kept working in the Post Office for many years while writing his novels. He didn’t wait for inspiration to strike but was woken by a servant with a cup of coffee early every morning & wrote his quota before breakfast & heading off to work. This matter of fact attitude to writing & his descriptions of finishing one book on Monday & starting the next on Tuesday, dismayed some early reviewers of the book. His reputation didn’t suffer any lasting damage though, as his novels have stayed in print & were among the most popular books (alongside detective novels) read in air raid shelters during the Blitz.

I’ve linked to my review above but I can’t resist quoting this passage again where Trollope answers those critics who think that a writer should live a rarefied life of the mind. Practical & level-headed indeed.

I am well aware that there are many who think that an author in his authorship should not regard money,- nor a painter, or sculptor, or composer in his art. I do not know that this unnatural self-sacrifice is supposed to extend itself further. A barrister, a clergyman, a doctor, an engineer, even actors and architects, may without disgrace follow the bent of human nature, and endeavour to fill their bellies and clothe their backs, and also those of their wives and children, as comfortably as they can by the exercise of their abilities and their crafts.

This new edition also includes some of Trollope’s literary criticism, principally a lecture that he gave called On English Prose Fiction as a Rational Amusement. In the lecture, Trollope surveys English novels from the Elizabethan beginnings, through the giants of the 18th century to the present day, although he doesn’t mention any living novelists. He divides fiction writers into two camps – before & after Sir Walter Scott, whose work he sees as a high water mark for the art. Trollope declares that novel reading can not be bad for young people, one of the debates that had gone on for as long as novels had been published. Although he is dismissive of the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe & the even earlier work of Defoe, after Scott, there can be no hesitation in allowing the young to read fiction.

And I will begin by suggesting that if novel-reading be bad for young people, it is bad also for the old. I am disposed to think that the distinction which so many of us make in this matter is similar in its nature to that which we have instituted between the one-o’clock and the seven o’clock dinner. We who are the elders have the richer puddings and the more piquant sauces,- not because they agree with us better than with our children, but because we are able to get them. When I hear of ladies beginning to read French novels after they are married, I always think of the privilege which grown-up people have in spoiling their digestive organs. … If novels, or any classes of novels, be bad for young women, than they are also bad for young men.

Trollope also refuses to denounce Sensation novels in preference to the Realist novel. He believes that novels should be a combination of both sensation & realism. A novel with no sensational elements in the plot would be boring. His own novels contain forgery, thefts, violent death & real wickedness but just piling on the tragedy will not hold the reader if the characters are not alive to the reader so that the reader cares about them. He gives examples from Scott, Thackeray & Charlotte Brontë,

Truth let there be;- truth of description, truth of character, human truth as to men and women. If there be such truth I do not know that a novel can be too sensational.

Other articles include an extract from his writings on Nathaniel Hawthorne & a few pages on the critical biography on Thackeray that he wrote for a Men and Letters series. I can’t finish without quoting his opinions on Jane Austen. Trollope admired Austen & these comments were written in the his copy of Emma & in the travel book he wrote, The New Zealander, where he said,

With Mr and Mrs Bennet and Lady Catherine de Burgh we are quite at home. With the Mansfields and the Crofts we have our sympathies and antipathies with the surrounding families in our own village or our own circle. The return of Sir Thomas is as when our own father came upon us in our juvenile delinquencies; and we can hardly help believing that we ourselves received Mr Collins’ letters each with one of Rowland Hill’s penny stamps in the corner of the envelope.

Even here, Trollope can’t resist a mention of the Post Office.

He wasn’t quite so fond of Emma.

Her conduct to her friend Harriet,- her assumed experience and real ignorance of human nature – are terribly true; but nowadays we dare not make our heroines so little. Her weaknesses are all plain to us, but of her strengths we are only told; and even at the last we hardly know why Mr Knightley loves her.

The Introduction by Nicholas Shrimpton discusses the reception of the Autobiography, which was published after Trollope’s death, & the way that Trollope’s revelations about his working habits & his almost entire effacement of his personal life affected his reputation among critics.

Oxford University Press kindly sent me a review copy of An Autobiography and other writings.

Doctor Thorne – Anthony Trollope

Doctor Thorne opens with the events of twenty years before. Henry Thorne seduces Mary Scatcherd, sister of the local stonemason. When she becomes pregnant, her brother, Roger, beats Thorne so badly that he dies. Tried for murder, he is convicted of manslaughter when the facts of the case became known, & serves six months in jail. Henry Thorne’s brother, Thomas, is the local doctor, a steady, sober man in comparison with his wicked brother. Dr Thorne pities poor Mary Scatcherd in her sad situation. When Mary’s former suitor still wants to marry her & emigrate to America, he does so on the condition that she leaves her daughter behind. Dr Thorne pledges to bring up baby Mary & care for her & Mary Scatcherd agrees.

Twenty years later, Mary Thorne has grown up beautiful, kind & the apple of her uncle’s eye. She was sent off as a little girl to be educated but has lived with her uncle since she was 13. She is on terms of friendship with the local squire’s family, the Greshams of Greshamsbury. Doctor Thorne is a friend of the Squire & is tolerated by his haughty wife, Lady Arabella, who never forgets that she is a member of the De Courcy family of Courcy Castle. Squire Gresham has squandered the fortune left him by his father. His daughters will have tiny dowries & his only son, Frank, will have to marry well to hold on to what’s left of the estate. Marrying well means marrying money & Lady Arabella is soon scheming with her sister-in-law, Lady de Courcy, to bring this about. Lady de Courcy has invited Miss Dunstable, heiress of an ointment fortune, to Courcy Castle, & wants Frank to marry her.

Frank Gresham is a nice boy, that’s the only way I can describe him. Fond of his family, conscious of his father’s perilous financial position, loyal to his friends & eager to do the right thing. Frank is also in love with Mary Thorne. Lady Arabella has always disapproved of Mary’s intimacy with her children, not only because she has no money. Her ambiguous social position is also a problem. The sad story of her parents has been forgotten by many & the young Greshams & Mary herself have no idea that she’s illegitimate. However, once Mary is of an age to marry, she begins to ask her uncle questions about her origins.

Roger Scatcherd, the stonemason, has prospered. He is now a rich man, a baronet, living at Boxall Hill, land that once belonged to Squire Gresham, but was sold to pay debts. Scatcherd has been a friend of Doctor Thorne’s ever since the terrible events of twenty years before. Doctor Thorne helped Scatcherd’s wife & child while he was in jail but the Scatcherds know nothing about Mary. Sir Roger’s health is poor because he’s an alcoholic. His drinking bouts & irrational rages are undermining his constitution & he refuses to listen to Doctor Thorne’s advice. Doctor Thorne has never told Sir Roger about Mary because he fears that the Scatcherds would want to take her away from him. He knows how unhappy Mary would be with Sir Roger & his wife & so he says nothing. However, when Sir Roger, after another bout of illness, makes a new will, leaving a fortune to his sister Mary’s eldest child, but without naming the child, Doctor Thorne, as executor of the will, must tell Sir Roger the truth. The will leaves this eldest child the money if he or she outlives Sir Roger & his dissolute only child, Louis Philippe, who will inherit when he turns twenty-five.

Doctor Thorne is faced with a terrible dilemma. He knows that Mary & Frank are in love. He believes it is probable that Sir Roger will soon be dead as he refuses to stop drinking. Louis Philippe is well on the way to emulating his father & could very well die young, leaving Mary a considerable heiress. Sir Roger refuses to amend the ambiguous wording of the will. Should Doctor Thorne tell the Greshams of Mary’s possible inheritance in the hope that they will allow Frank to marry her? What if Louis Philippe reforms & lives to a ripe old age? Frank & Mary would be left with nothing.

I loved this book. This was actually a reread as I read the Barsetshire novels over 30 years ago. I was prompted to reread it because OUP kindly sent me a review copy of the new edition. We haven’t seen the new TV series here yet but I’ll be interested to see it when it makes an appearance. After 30 years, it was like reading a brand new novel anyway. I was especially taken with the good humour of the narrator. I thought of him as Trollope just as I think of the narrator of A Christmas Carol as Dickens & I kept thinking of Trollope standing in the spirit at my elbow (as Dickens writes when the Ghost of Christmas Past visits Scrooge). Doctor Thorne is also a very funny book. Whether it’s the satire of Lady Arabella & Lady de Courcy’s attempts to find a rich bride for Frank & his attempts to evade them or Augusta Gresham’s miserable engagement to Mr Moffat which ends with Frank horsewhipping him, much to the Squire’s approval, the tone is amused & genial.

Trollope’s descriptions are also pithy & very amusing. He describes Mr Winterbones, Sir Roger’s confidential secretary as “a little, withered, dissipated, broken-down man, whom gin and poverty had nearly burnt to a cinder, and dried to an ash.” He still tries too hard with some of his character’s  names, Dr Fillgrave, Miss Gushing, the easily bribed publican Mr Reddypalm & the political agents Mr Nearthewinde & Mr Closerstil. Doctor Thorne himself can be as prickly as his name when he feels he’s being slighted & Mary had spirit & wit, she’s no simpering young miss. I especially enjoyed her encounter with Lady Arabella where her pertness is on a par with Elizabeth Bennet’s when she is confronted by Lady Catherine.There’s also a very funny & satirical chapter consisting of letters between Augusta Gresham & her cousin, Lady Amelia. I don’t think I remember another Trollope novel where the narrator is so very present with comments & asides.

There are some implausibilities in the plot. I can only think that Sir Roger’s brain had been scrambled by drink for Mary’s identity to be such a surprise to him. Doctor Thorne had only one sibling, Henry, & Scatcherd knew his sister was pregnant when Henry died. Even though he was told the child was dead, where did he think the doctor’s niece had sprung from? Also, I would think that Mary’s illegitimacy might invalidate the terms of Sir Roger’s will without all the agonising that the Doctor goes through about what to tell the Greshams. Actually Trollope amusingly heads off any legal quibbling by boldly stating that if the terms of the will are incorrect, they’ve just been wrongly described! The critics had been scathing about the legal detail of his previous novel, The Three Clerks, so he was getting in first in Doctor Thorne. Still, surely Mary Scatcherd’s legitimate American children would have challenged the will? Anyway, it’s Trollope’s story & he tells us in so many words that it’s his world & he’ll do what he pleases with his characters.

I couldn’t help wondering what Wilkie Collins would have done with the same material. Trollope lays everything out for us so that by about Chapter 10 we know all about Mary’s parentage, the terms of Sir Roger’s will & the potential implications for Mary & her marriage to Frank. We then have another 35 chapters where Doctor Thorne works through every possible moral implication of these circumstances. His scruples won’t allow him to neglect Louis when he’s made an unwilling trustee of the estate, or raise Mary’s hopes by telling her of her possible inheritance.Wilkie would have made a mystery of every part of it with cliffhangers galore & I would have been on the edge of my seat. However, I was surprised how suspenseful the book was, considering that I already knew all the secrets & had a good idea of the ending. I read it over Easter & was glued to my chair for hours at a time.

2015 Anniversaries

This is a great year for anniversaries, both historical & literary. I plan to read something about all of these anniversaries this year. I’ve already mentioned the 200th anniversary of Anthony Trollope’s birth & I’ve already read two Trollopes this year, Cousin Henry & John Caldigate.

The 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta has been in the news lately, with an exhibition at the British Library & a number of books about the charter & about King John. Is John the one irredeemably bad king in English history? Richard III used to hold the title but he’s been almost completely rehabilitated now. I suppose John, Ethelred the Unready, & Edward II are seen as wicked or incompetent, with Henry VI & Charles I not far behind. I’ve borrowed Stephen Church’s new book from work & look forward to learning more about 1215. I’m afraid I can’t get the picture of Claude Rains as Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood out of my mind…

The Battle of Waterloo was 200 years ago. I’m not a big fan of military history so I’m going to read Georgette Heyer instead. However, in my defence, An Infamous Army was recommended reading at several British military colleges because of the accuracy of Heyer’s research. I may as well get some romance & sparkling dialogue with my military history. I’m listening to the audio book read by Clare Higgins &, so far, it’s living up to the romance & sparkling dialogue of the best Heyer. I don’t know about Lady Barbara but I’m in love with Charles Audley already (half way through).

2015 is also the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Victory in Europe was an occasion for rejoicing & sadness as the toll the war took on everyone, in the services or on the Home Front, was enormous. I have plenty of books on WWII on the tbr shelves to choose from, but I think I’ll be reading one of the new Persephones, London War-Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes.

It’s the 80th anniversary of the birth of Carol Shields. I had great plans to reread all her books this year but, it’s June & I haven’t started so I’ve decided to regroup. Where has the year gone? I don’t know why I thought I’d start any kind of reading challenge at the beginning of the year, in summer, my least favourite season of the year. Winter is a much better time for me to settle down to a reading plan. A warm house, lots of tea & a cat or two on my lap – perfect. I’ve started rereading Mary Swann & next, I plan to read the Letters I bought last year.

It’s also 80 years since the death of Winifred Holtby. After recently rereading Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I want to reread her biography of Winifred, Testament of Friendship, as well as at least one more of Winifred’s novels from the tbr shelves.

Any other anniversaries I should be aware of? On second thoughts, maybe I’d rather not know, the reading year is filling up quite fast enough…

Cousin Henry – Anthony Trollope

April marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Anthony Trollope & there have been articles galore (just google Anthony Trollope 200 if you don’t believe me). I even found a checklist to count how many of Trollope’s novels I’ve read (22 out of 47 so not quite halfway). To celebrate the anniversary, I’m rereading Miss Mackenzie with my online reading group & I also took Cousin Henry off the tbr shelves.

Cousin Henry is one of Trollope’s standalone novels. It’s not part of the famous Palliser or Barsetshire series & it’s not a blockbuster like The Way We Live Now or He Knew He Was Right. It’s short by Trollopian standards (under 300pp), has no subplots & is an acute psychological study of guilt & indecision.

The plot is easily told. Mr Indefer Jones, owner of Llanfeare on the coast of Carmarthenshire, is an old man. He has no children & is undecided as to what he should do with his estate. He has made many wills as he dithers between leaving the property to Henry Jones, the next male heir, or to his niece, Isabel Brodrick. Henry Jones is a clerk in London, a very unprepossessing young man with no real vices but he just fails to please. On the other hand, Isabel is the darling of her uncle’s eye. She has lived at Llanfeare for some years, mostly to get away from her unsympathetic stepmother. She is loved & admired by all the tenants on the estate & she loves them & the estate in return. However, Uncle Indefer’s conscience inclines him to leaving the property to Henry & to leave £4000 to Isabel. Isabel is a noble, proud girl who would scorn to try to influence her uncle in any way. She leaves him to wrestle with his own conscience & never reproaches him. His lawyer, Mr Apjohn, has remonstrated with Uncle Indefer about disinheriting Isabel but to no avail. The only result has been a breach between lawyer & client which contributes to the misery that follows.

The final will seems to be the one leaving Llanfeare to Henry. He has been brought down to visit his uncle in the last months of his life & introduced to the servants & tenants, all of whom take an instant dislike to him. When Uncle Indefer dies, there’s talk of a later will, favouring Isabel, having been written & witnessed by two of the tenants. Isabel was with her uncle when he died & he told her that he had made such a will. Mr Apjohn knows nothing of it because Uncle Indefer refused to consult him about it. However, he had told Henry of the will & showed Henry where he had hidden it, in a volume of sermons in the library. After the funeral, the tenants tell their story of witnessing a new will but Henry stays silent. As no later will can be found, the will favouring Henry is read & must stand.

Isabel immediately makes plans to return to her father’s house in Hereford. Unfortunately the £4000 her uncle bequeathed her doesn’t exist because the old man sold the land that was meant to provide the cash. So, she returns home with nothing. Henry is persuaded by Mr Apjohn to offer Isabel the money as soon as he can get it but she scornfully refuses him. She suspects that Henry knows the whereabouts of the later will. She despises him & has no reservations about telling him so to his face. Isabel is in love with William Owen, but her uncle didn’t think a poor clergyman was good enough to marry his heir so Isabel has refused him. Now that she’s poor, she refuses to marry him because she’s too proud to go to him with nothing. Isabel’s father & stepmother don’t see why she shouldn’t accept Cousin Henry’s offer of the £4000 & marry Mr Owen but she refuses. She hates living with her family but her father won’t allow her to earn her own living.

Henry, meanwhile, is at Llanfeare. He is tortured by guilt & paralysed by indecision. He knows where the will is hidden, & he can’t bring himself to leave the library in case the will is discovered. He knows he should confess & produce the will but he can’t. He vacillates between planning to tell all & wallowing in self-pity about his treatment & his dislike for Isabel. He’s despised by the servants, who all give notice, & he’s too cowardly to go about the estate because he fears the wrath of the Cantors, the tenants who witnessed the will. So he skulks around the house, afraid to leave the library in case the will is discovered but wishing someone would find the will to extricate him from the torment he’s suffering.

Mr Apjohn suspects Henry of knowing about the will but can’t prove anything. Without the will, nothing can be done. Then, as rumours spread about the will & about the injustice suffered by Isabel, the local newspaper, the Carmarthenshire Herald, prints a series of articles questioning Henry’s honesty & his right to the estate. The editor hopes to provoke Henry into a libel action that would see him cross examined in court about the will & exactly what he knows about it. Could Henry commit perjury by lying in court or the even more serious crime of destroying the will? Mr Apjohn enlists Isabel’s father & the two men decide to confront Henry & try to prove Mr Apjohn’s theory about the will.

Cousin Henry is such an interesting character study. Henry is a coward, snivelling & self-justifying. He spends most of his time cowering from imaginary blows, vacillating between opposite courses of action, avoiding the servants & tenants & crying with self-pity over his situation. However, he’s not altogether an unsympathetic character. Uncle Indefer doesn’t help by openly disliking him & preferring Isabel. The tenants take their cue from him &, of course, Henry has never had an opportunity to get to know the estate. He’s bullied by everyone from Mr Apjohn to the Cantors, despised by Isabel, but he’s not evil. He could have destroyed the will & brazened it out but he doesn’t do that. He does have a conscience but his fear of the consequences of almost any course of action leave him doing precisely nothing.

Isabel is an even more interesting character. Proud & prickly with a streak of masochism (she plans to work as a housemaid or starve herself rather than accept Henry’s offer of money), Isabel prides herself on her moral rectitude. She refuses to blame Henry publicly, even though she is sure that he knows of the later will. She declares her love passionately to Mr Owen but then refuses to marry him. She drives her stepmother mad by standing on the moral high ground, refusing Henry’s money, refuses to marry Mr Owen while she can bring him nothing &, as Mrs Brodrick puts it, taking the boots from her own daughters’ feet as her husband has to provide for his ungrateful daughter. I sympathized with Henry & Isabel but was furious with Uncle Indefer for being such an old ditherer & creating such a mess. As Mr Apjohn says, the danger in owning property is in leaving heirs & tenants in ignorance of what is to come afterwards. I enjoyed Cousin Henry & I’m looking forward to reading more Trollope in this anniversary year.

Bookish ramblings

I thought I’d highlight a few bookish links & some news about one of my favourite series. The British Library Crime Classics have been one of the publishing successes of the last couple of years. I love them. I’ve always enjoyed Golden Age mysteries & these books are so beautifully produced & attractively presented. It’s a real treat to be discovering new authors from this period. After all, what do we do when we’ve read all of Christie, Sayers, Tey, Marsh & Allingham? I’ve bought nearly all of the Crime Classics & have reviewed several of them here, here & here. Martin Edwards has become the consultant for the series which means that future titles will be interesting, sometimes surprising & always well worth reprinting. I’ve just started reading Capital Crimes, a collection of short stories set in London & I was very excited to read on Martin’s blog that there are another half dozen books in the series to be published before the end of the year. The British Library also have another series of Spy Classics which I haven’t investigated as yet.

The latest edition of Shiny New Books is available to read here. I’ve just finished reading a gorgeous book about the artists Rex Whistler so I was very interested to read the review of A Curious Friendship by Anna Thomasson, about the friendship between Whistler & Edith Olivier. There’s also an article by Anna Thomasson about her research for the book, which I always find fascinating. I was also interested to read Desperate Reader’s review of George Gissing’s The Whirlpool, just reprinted by Penguin. I love Gissing & I’ve only read a couple of his books. There are lots of other reviews & interviews, including a review of Capital Crimes & an interview with Robert Davies, the publisher of the British Library Crime Classics. There’s another interview with Davies here, on a blog I’ve just discovered, Past Offences.

Margin Notes Books have just reprinted one of my favourite books, Mara Kay’s The Youngest Lady In Waiting. This is the book that first interested me in Russian history. It’s about a young girl who becomes lady in waiting to Grand Duchess Alexandra, wife of the future Nicholas I. It’s set at the time of the Decembrist revolt in 1825. I borrowed it from my school library so often that they should have just let me keep it. I’d never seen a copy since (the cover above is the edition I read) so I was beside myself when I read than it was to be reprinted. I’ve bought the first book, Masha (also just reprinted by Margin Notes Books) which, funnily enough, I only read once all those years ago

& The Youngest Lady In Waiting arrived yesterday! I’ve been dipping in & reading bits & pieces & I can’t believe it’s 35 years since I last read it, it’s all so familiar. I have a feeling I’ll be dropping everything to read this next.

Bill Bryson is one of the funniest writers in the world. I know that’s quite a bold statement but he makes me laugh so I’m prepared to go out on a limb. One of my favourite Bryson books was Notes from a Small Island, about the UK. Well, after many years & a diversion into books on science & his childhood, Bill Bryson has written another travel book about Britain, The Road to Little Dribbling which will be published later this year. If I’d been keeping up with reading The Bookseller at work, I’d have known about this weeks ago. I’d also have known that Bryson has sold 8,648,774 books in the UK (exactly). As it is, I read about it on Elaine’s blog & this article in The Guardian.

Also in The Guardian was an article celebrating the 200th anniversary of Anthony Trollope’s birth. Writers nominated their favourite Trollope novel. I’m currently rereading Miss Mackenzie with my 19th century book group & I started reading Cousin Henry at the weekend after reading about it here as it was the only Trollope in the list I hadn’t yet read. Books and Chocolate is celebrating Trollope’s anniversary with giveaways & reviews here.

Has anyone read The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu? I enjoyed reading about Japanese history so much in Judith Gautier’s The Usurper that I’ve just ordered this lovely Penguin Deluxe edition on a whim. All 1,216 pages of it… I could have dipped my toe in with the abridged edition but I couldn’t resist a Penguin Deluxe. However, I feel completely justified in buying yet another book because I’ve read this article where Umberto Eco tells us why unread books are more valuable in our lives than read ones. Thank you Rose for sending me the link. Eco calls these books the antilibrary & describes them as the repository of all the knowledge that we don’t yet have. So buying a huge novel about 11th century Japan is completely justified because I know absolutely nothing about the subject. This theory may not justify the purchase of my 100th book about Richard III (The Bones of a King by the Greyfriars Research Team, ordered this week) or the 3rd or 4th copy of a favourite book because I love the cover (Testament of Youth, Cold Comfort Farm, The Return of the Soldier…) or it’s a Folio Society edition (Possession, Lord Peter Wimsey novels, The Daughter of Time, Excellent Women), but it justifies a lot of my other book buying decisions & I’m adopting it immediately!

John Caldigate – Anthony Trollope

In this 200th anniversary year of the birth of Anthony Trollope, I plan to read at least a few more of his books. I’ve begun with John Caldigate (picture from here), one of Catherine Pope’s Top 10 Trollopes & I think it’s now one of mine as well.

John Caldigate has a fractious relationship with his father. Young John has gone to Cambridge & racked up gambling debts with an unscrupulous character called Davis. His father doesn’t consider him worthy to inherit his estate &, even though the estate is entailed, he now favours a nephew instead. John has no feelings of family pride & readily accepts his father’s offer to buy his reversion to the title. John can then pay his debts & make a new start. He decides to go to Australia with a friend, Dick Shand, & try his luck at gold mining. Before leaving England, John finds himself mildly entangled with two young ladies – Dick Shand’s sister, Maria & his cousin Julia Babington. John, however, is attracted to Hester Bolton, the daughter of his father’s legal advisor, a man who disapproves of John’s flippant disregard for his family name & fortune.

John & Dick travel to Australia second class to save money which excites quite a bit of comment among the first class passengers. John becomes friendly with a pretty young widow, Mrs Smith. Mrs Smith’s antecedents are obscure – she claims to have made a living on the stage before marrying unwisely – & everyone warns John against the intimacy. However, by the time they reach Melbourne, John has become entangled with Mrs Smith & they are engaged “unless something happens to part us” as John ungallantly adds. John realises his mistake as soon as he goes ashore but feels obliged to regard himself as engaged, although Mrs Smith has left him free to pursue his gold mining plans without the burden of taking her along.

The two young men travel to New South Wales with a letter of introduction to a friend of a friend, Tom Crinkett. They set themselves up with a claim with the help of another miner & they prosper. Well, John prospers. Dick takes to drink & ends up as a shepherd in the Queensland outback, helped out with money from John from time to time. Mrs Smith, meanwhile, has gone back on the stage in Melbourne & then goes to Sydney with her show, performing under the name of Mademoiselle Cettini.  John hears of her from a former shipboard acquaintance & goes to Sydney to see her. She returns to the goldfields with him & they live together for a time before parting.

Over the next few years, John’s fortunes rise & he eventually returns to England with a handsome fortune & a new appreciation of his family estate. John & his father have been corresponding & their relations have thawed so that by the time he returns home, his father is proud & happy to see him. Old Mr Caldigate has become disillusioned with the nephew whom he once favoured over his son & decides to reinstate John as his heir. John marries Hester Bolton, despite the disapproval of her father & her intensely religious mother. Just after their first child is born, John receives a letter from Mrs Smith, signing herself Euphemia Caldigate & demanding to be recognized as his wife. Mrs Smith had bought shares in John’s mine along with Tom Crinkett when John sold out & returned home. After John had left Australia, the mine petered out & the unlucky partners asked John to refund some of their money. He refused & the two travelled to England, hoping to convince him in person. As a result of the information they lay against him, John is charged with bigamy & committed to stand trial. Is John really a bigamist or are Crinkett & Mrs Smith trying to blackmail him using circumstantial evidence?

John Caldigate is an unusual Victorian novel because it shows a rather weak-willed young man as a hero. John starts off as an easily-led spendthrift who is sent out to the colonies almost in disgrace. He flirts with a young woman on board ship, makes her promises, lives with her unmarried & then tires of her. He works hard & is good to Dick Shand when he goes off the rails but returns to England with his fortune. He only offers to refund some of the money paid by Crinkett & Smith when he fears a scandal. The fact that he pays them the money tells against him at his trial although his motive, in the end, was honourable. There is genuine doubt as to whether or not he has married Mrs Smith because he has been such a slippery character.

The unravelling of the evidence against Caldigate by a Post Office worker called Bagwax (one of Trollope’s silliest names, along with his colleague, Mr Curlydown) makes good use of Trollope’s own expertise as a Post Office employee. Unfortunately Bagwax is fond of explaining his theories in minute detail & this part of the narrative drags a little. Our heroine, Hester Bolton, is also a wishy washy character, a very conventional heroine. She does have her moment of glory when she sits in the hall of her parents house for several days, refusing to move when they lock her in to prevent her living with a man who they believe has tricked her into a bigamous marriage. Hester’s mother is a wonderful character, her religious convictions so strong that I wondered why she married at all. Maybe her religious leanings came on after her marriage? She doesn’t approve of John even before the bigamy allegation & does everything she can to prevent the marriage. When she’s overruled by her husband & her stepsons, she almost seems glad to be vindicated, even though it means her daughter’s ruin. On the whole, though, this was a great story with enough ambiguity in the storytelling & in the character of John Caldigate to make the trial & its aftermath very suspenseful.

Blogging, rereading, catching up

My blogging has slowed down since the New Year as I find I’m in the mood for rereading & trying to catch up with some of the many magazines & journals I subscribe to but never seem to read. I reread Gaudy Night last weekend for at least the tenth time but I’ve already blogged about it here. I’ve also reread Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time which I posted about here. I’m also planning to reread Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth as I’ve been reading lots of reviews & articles about the new movie version & I’d like to read the book again before the movie is released. I especially enjoyed this article about Brittain & two other novelists who were profoundly affected by the War – Naomi Mitchison & Rebecca West. I’m much more enthusiastic about West’s novel, The Return of the Soldier, than the author of the article although I haven’t read much more of her work. I think it’s a remarkable novel about a man suffering from shell shock & the women in his life. It was made into a movie in the 80s with Glenda Jackson, Julie Christie & Alan Bates.

I’m reading Fortunata and Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós for my 19th century bookgroup. I’m enjoying it very much but we’re reading 100pp instalments every week & the print in this Penguin edition is very small… Galdos was the Spanish Dickens or Balzac. If I’d grown up in Spain I would no doubt have read one of his novels instead of Great Expectations but he’s barely known in the English speaking world & only a few of his novels are in print. Dani at A Work in Progress recently reviewed another of his novels, Tristana.

I love magazines & my library subscribes to Zinio so I have access to lots of wonderful magazines. The only trouble is finding time to read them. Here’s just some of my 2014 magazines yet unread.

And here are this year’s already piling up. Well, they’re piling up in a digital way. Is there a word for that?

At least they’re invisible. Here are the physical magazines & journals weighing down the coffee table.

I’d like to do some reading around a couple of anniversaries this year. I’ve already mentioned my Year of Carol Shields but it’s also the 200th anniversary of Anthony Trollope’s birth & the 75th anniversary of John Buchan’s death. I’ve started on Trollope by reading John Caldigate & I have lots of books by both authors on the tbr shelves.

I’ve started the year well in terms of not buying books. As I’m rereading, I don’t need to buy books, do I? Well, that’s the theory & so far it’s working. I do still have a few preorders that will arrive over the next few months & there are some very tempting books published this year so I may find myself putting in an order around my birthday. How else would I celebrate? The Penguin Monarchs series is very tempting – short biographies of every British monarch from Athelstan to Elizabeth II. The first six titles have just been published. I’m especially looking forward to John Guy on Henry VIII (one of the first six), Rosemary Horrox on Richard III, Helen Castor on Elizabeth I, Clare Jackson on Charles II & Jane Ridley on Queen Victoria.

The next Crime Writers Association anthology, edited by Martin Edwards, looks fascinating as it’s true crime written by the Golden Age authors & in May, Martin’s book about the Golden Age authors will be published (I confess, I’ve already preordered this one). Also in April is John Ashdown-Hill’s book on the reputation of Richard III. Alison Weir’s next subject is Margaret Douglas, mother of Lord Darnley & at one time, heir to the throne when her uncle, Henry VIII, had disinherited his own daughters. The Brontë Cabinet by Deborah Lutz is a biography of the family through the objects they owned. Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Brontë is due in October, just in time for the 200th anniversary celebrations next year. Lucasta Miller (author of The Brontë Myth) is writing a biography of Victorian poet, LEL, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, & I read somewhere that it may be published this year as well. That’s probably enough to be going on with!

So, I may be blogging less than usual but I’ll still be reading just as much.

Christmas at Thompson Hall – Anthony Trollope

Christmas at Thompson Hall is one of a set of five Christmas Classics published by Penguin this year. This is the only one I bought but they all have variations on the same elegant cover with snow & cardinals on a pine tree. The other authors are Charles Dickens, Nikolai Gogol, Louisa May Alcott & E T A Hoffmann. Series like this are one of the reasons that, however much I love my ereaders, I will always want real books as well. I have these Trollope stories in my Delphi Classics ebook edition of Trollope but this little hardback was just irresistible.

The title story is about a couple traveling from the south of France to the woman’s home in England. The Thompson family love getting together at Christmas but, since their marriage some years before, Mrs Mary Brown & her husband, Charles (their names have been changed to spare them embarrassment) have stayed in France rather than travel back to England for the holiday. Mrs Brown’s family have become more & more upset about their defection & so, this year, even though Mr Brown has a terrible head cold, she convinces him to make the journey. When they arrive in Paris, Charles is so ill & so irritable that he almost refuses to go on. However, his wife proposes to make him a mustard plaster, having seen a jar of mustard in the dining room. So, late at night, & in her nightclothes, she begins wandering the endless corridors of the hotel.

Discovered by a porter, she is too embarrassed to admit her real errand & pretends she has lost a handkerchief. The porter insists on accompanying her to the dining room & back to her room so she then has to retrace her steps once he’s gone to find the mustard & make up the plaster. Unfortunately, she gets lost on her way back to her room, enters another man’s room & applies the mustard plaster to him instead. Mortified by the impropriety of this, Mary rushes back to her room & prepares to brazen it out next morning when the hotel is in uproar over the assault on a defenceless guest & the very strange behaviour of an English matron. I have to admit that this story, at almost 60pp, was too long & a bit tedious. Mary’s wanderings through the hotel were interminable & the identity of the man with the mustard plaster is not difficult to work out. It’s a very English story of embarrassment & a level of refinement that prevents poor Mary from just telling the truth.

Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage is the story of a young girl, in love with a boy but unable to get past her pride & a silly quarrel when he declares that Christmas is a bore. There are many tears & misunderstandings before the happy ending. In The Mistletoe Bough, Elizabeth Garrow has broken off her engagement to Godfrey Holmes & has ever since been miserable. It takes a Christmas visit from Godfrey & his sister, Isabella, to reveal the true story of why Elizabeth broke the engagement.  The Two Generals is set during the American Civil War & concerns two brothers, each a general but one fights for the North & the other for the South. They both love the same woman & their rivalry in every area of their lives leads to the potential for betrayal one Christmas. Not If I Know It concerns a quarrel between brothers-in-law, George & Wilfred, at Christmas time & the efforts of the exasperated woman who loves them both to make them see sense.These are slight but charming stories, all set at Christmas & just right for reading at the end of a busy day.

My Christmas reading seems to have started later than usual this year. I’m reading several books at the moment & still listening to the sublime Moby-Dick but I do hope to get to these two Christmas mysteries, Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer & Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon, as well as my annual reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I haven’t even started watching Christmas movies yet although I have them all lined up – several versions of A Christmas Carol, including the Muppets, The Holly & the Ivy, Miracle on 34th Street & The Bishop’s Wife. I have been listening to carols for several weeks though as I cook & wrap presents. Christmas seems to have crept up on me this year although I’m organised, even though I’m working until Christmas Eve, & now don’t need to go near a shop until it’s all over, thank goodness. Plenty of time for all this Christmas reading, watching & listening.

The Duke’s Children – Anthony Trollope

The Duke’s Children is the final book in Trollope’s Palliser series of novels. It begins with a shock on the very first page, because Glencora, Duchess of Omnium, is dead. Her husband, Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium, is devastated & the novel describes how he copes with his bereavement & with his three very determined children.

The Duke is a reserved man, consumed by his political career. He loved Glencora very much, after the difficult start to their marriage, but he barely knows his children at all. He has provided for them in a material sense but doesn’t understand them. Eldest son, Plantagenet (but always called Silverbridge after his title), has been sent down from Oxford & declares that he wants to enter Parliament as a Conservative. As the Pallisers have always been Liberals, this wounds his father deeply. The Duke blames Silverbridge’s closest friend, Frank Tregear, for his decision. Tregear is from a Cornish gentry family but has no money. Unfortunately, he has fallen in love with Silverbridge’s sister, Lady Mary Palliser, & she with him, a match that the Duke absolutely forbids. Middle son, Gerald, is at Cambridge but is caught up in a gambling scandal while still in his teens.

Silverbridge falls in love with Lady Mabel Grex, a distant cousin of both his & Frank Tregear’s. Frank & Mabel had been in love but both realised they could not marry as neither had any money. Mabel’s father may be a Lord, but he has gambled & squandered his estate so she is practically penniless, although well-bred, beautiful & witty. Mabel is still in love with Frank but determines to marry Silverbridge if he makes her an offer. Unfortunately, her own worst (or maybe best) instincts lead her to let him off the hook when he makes a tentative declaration. He feels slighted &, soon after, falls under the spell of a beautiful American, Isabel Boncassen. However, the Duke has given his approval to Silverbridge’s pursuit of Mabel so Silverbridge finds himself avoiding one girl while he pursues another. The Duke, meantime, is favouring Mabel & wondering when Silverbridge will announce their engagement.

Mary, meanwhile, is devastated when her father forbids her marriage to Frank. She agrees to do nothing without her father’s permission, but is determined to marry no one else. The Duke can’t help but remember Glencora’s own passion for Burgo Fitzgerald, & wonder if she would have been happier if she had not been forced into a marriage with a man she didn’t love. Mary’s situation leads to a rift between the Duke & Marie Finn (formerly Madame Goesler), Glencora’s greatest friend, as she treads a fine line between her loyalty to the Duke & helping Mary without becoming estranged from her.

Silverbridge’s troubles aren’t confined to romance. He becomes involved with a racing set that includes Major Tifto, a man who knows a lot about horses but isn’t quite respectable or honest. Silverbridge is led into huge losses at the race track, & scandal when a horse he part owns with the Major is nobbled just before a big race. Silverbridge is also becoming dissatisfied with his political career as he despises the leader of his party, Sir Timothy Beeswax, & finds himself reluctant to support him. The Duke, meanwhile, is in despair. His heir has shown himself to be flighty in love, a gambler who consorts with undesirable people & a Conservative in politics, although he doesn’t seem very serious about that. His daughter is stubbornly continuing to love a penniless man while ignoring any eligible suitor who comes her way. He loves his children & wants them to be happy but he comes to realise that the old standards that he has lived by are changing & he must change too.

The Duke’s Children is a wonderful book. The Duke is such a lovable man & his bewilderment as his children get into one predicament after another is very poignant. He misses Glencora but also realises that she has contributed to the problems as she approved of Frank Tregear’s suit & he sees her wilfulness intensified in Mary. There are painful scenes between the Duke & Mary as she remains resolute & also many comic scenes between the Duke & his sons as they almost seem to speak different languages & almost wilfully misunderstand each other. Silverbridge is a very silly, immature young man but all his difficulties seem to come upon him unawares. He loves & respects his father but is also afraid of disappointing him. He is full of good intentions but doesn’t have the strength of character to follow through. He finds himself entangled without knowing how it happened.

Mabel & Isabel are both fascinating characters & much more mature & self-aware than Silverbridge. Mabel knows how much her future depends on a “good” marriage but she is not mercenary enough to take a man she doesn’t love. Even as she decides to accept Silverbridge when he asks her, she is determined to be a good wife to him & try to love him. She knows she can be a good wife & can behave as a Countess (& eventually a Duchess) should but her honesty looks set to ruin her chances. Isabel is very aware of her position as an outsider & has enough good sense not to accept Silverbridge’s proposal until she is accepted by his family. The Duke may be a Liberal politically but his feelings about family & nobility are very conservative. The Duke’s Children is an involving family saga that rounds off the Palliser series in a very satisfying way. And, now that I’ve finished reading the books, I can get back to the TV series & watch the last three episodes.

The Prime Minister – Anthony Trollope

A few weeks ago, I started watching The Pallisers, the 1970’s series based on Trollope’s Palliser series of novels. I’ve had the boxset on my shelves for a very long time but it was a comment by a friend in my online book group that inspired me to make a start. I’m absolutely loving it. I read the first four books in the series a very long time ago & was keeping the final two books, The Prime Minister & The Duke’s Children, for best. Not sure why, I probably just wanted them in reserve for that day when I have absolutely nothing to read.

Watching the series brought it all back to me. I remembered all the characters & was surprised how much of the story I remembered. Phineas Finn has always been a favorite of mine & I was always very annoyed by silly Lizzie Eustace & watching the series just reinforced my feelings. It’s always a joy to watch a British series from this era & seeing so many favourite actors at an earlier stage of their career. I’ve especially enjoyed Derek Jacobi as Lord Fawn & Penelope Keith as his bossy sister, Mrs Hittaway. Has she always played bossy characters (Margot in The Good Life, Agatha Raisin on the radio)? Must be that very decisive voice that brooks no argument.

I decided that I didn’t want to watch the whole series without having read those final two books so I started reading The Prime Minister when I was only up to Episode 4 or 5. I’m guessing that the episodes based on The Prime Minister begin at Episode 20 so, although I’m now up to Episode 15, I’ve slowed down my watching & got on with my reading.

As well as being a story of social & political machinations, The Prime Minister is the story of two marriages. One couple we know well, Plantagenet Palliser, now the Duke of Omnium & his wife, the former Lady Glencora MCluskie. From shaky beginnings, the marriage has become one of love & great happiness although it’s not without its problems. Glencora is delighted when Plantagenet becomes Prime Minister, even though he heads a coalition government with all the compromises that entails. As Duke of Omnium, Plantagenet sits in the House of Lords & he misses the more robust debate of the House of Commons. He especially misses his former post as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

To be the Prime Minister’s wife is the height of Glencora’s ambitions & she has fostered his career by becoming a hostess whose parties attract politicians as well as others with influence. Unfortunately Glencora is still as impulsive as ever &, after many years of marriage, still does not understand the deeply strict moral code of her husband. This causes problems when she encourages Ferdinand Lopez to stand for Parliament in the Palliser family seat of Silverbridge against her husband’s wishes. Plantagenet is a difficult man & doesn’t always appreciate her efforts on his behalf. He dislikes parties & receptions & has to be pushed into making even a token appearance at Glencora’s parties. He’s not a natural politician & doesn’t have the knack of making himself agreeable to his colleagues. He also doubts that he is the right man to be leader & feels that his social standing has given him opportunities that he’s unworthy of. Sir Orlando Drought, who is the Leader of the Government in the Commons, is not sympathetic to Plantagenet & this causes a certain paralysis in the Government.

Glencora does finally begin to understand her husband after the scandal she inadvertently causes puts him in a very difficult position as Prime Minister but his love for her never wavers. I love this conversation between Glencora & her closest friend, Marie Finn (formerly Madame Max Goesler).

“If you and I were hatching treason against him in the dark, and chance had brought him there, he would stop his ears with his fingers. He is all trust, even when he knows that he is being deceived. He is honour complete from head to foot. Ah, it was before you knew me that i tried him the hardest. I never could quite tell you that story, and I won’t try it now, but he behaved like a god. I could never tell him what I felt, – but I felt it.”
“You ought to love him.”
“I do; – but what’s the use of it? He is a god, but I am not a goddess; – and then, though he is a god, he is a dry, silent, uncongenial and uncomfortable god. It would have suited me much better to have married a sinner. But then the sinner that I would have married was so irredeemably a scapegrace.”

Emily Wharton is the daughter of a wealthy lawyer with family connections to the landed gentry in Herefordshire. She has fallen in love with Ferdinand Lopez, a financial speculator of unknown family & obscure origins. Emily’s father does not approve of Lopez & wants Emily to marry a family friend, Arthur Fletcher. Arthur loves Emily but she is determined to marry Lopez although she will not disobey her father. Mr Fletcher’s objections to Lopez centre on his background which may be Jewish or may be Portuguese but which boil down to a prejudice against him that may be unreasonable but can’t be overcome. Eventually, however, he is forced to give way & Emily marries Lopez.

Almost immediately, Emily realises that she has made a dreadful mistake. Lopez loves her but he also needs her fortune to prop up his very speculative business dealings. He was too careful to antagonise Mr Wharton by asking for a settlement before the marriage but, on their honeymoon, he begins to press Emily to ask her father for money. Emily realises that her husband’s moral values are very different to her own. As Lopez’s speculations become more entangled, he realises that no matter how rich he becomes or if he succeeds in entering Parliament, he will never be accepted in Society because of his origins.

In a sense he was what is called a gentleman. He knew how to speak, and how to look, how to use a knife and fork, how to dress himself and how to walk. But he had not the faintest notion of the feelings of a gentleman.

The Lopez marriage is the most compelling part of the story. The feints & stratagems that Lopez goes through to keep up appearances while Emily becomes more & more unhappy & frightened of the future are fascinating to watch. Mrs Parker, the wife of Lopez’s partner, is one of Trollope’s most sympathetic minor characters. She is fierce in her determination to keep her family together as it becomes obvious that her husband has been Lopez’s dupe. She visits Emily at her father’s house when the bubble has burst & her dignity is heartbreaking as she is forced to ask for help.

Emily is a pitiable but also a very frustrating woman. As her relationship with her husband fractures, she finds herself thinking guiltily about her old love, Arthur Fletcher. When her marriage ends in tragedy, she blames herself for the trouble & scandal brought on her father. She drapes herself in black & seems determined to spend the rest of her life in gloomy atonement for her mistake in marrying Lopez when everyone advised her not to. As her brother Everett says to her, “you make us all unhappy when we look at you.” & I could only agree with him. I admit I was very tired of Emily by the end of the book but Trollope brings her story to a very satisfactory ending.

Well, on to the final book in the Palliser series, The Duke’s Children. I’m looking forward to watching more of the TV series now that I’ve finished reading The Prime Minister as Stuart Wilson, one of my favourite actors, plays Ferdinand Lopez. Do you remember him as Vronsky in the 1970s series of Anna Karenina? Another favourite book & favourite TV series.