Trollope can be a slack writer. Repetitive. What’s the fancy word for wordy – prolix. I always laugh when I see someone describe a piece of writing as “wordy.” Come on, that’s funny, right? ‘Cause it’s made of words? Hey, speaking of wordy.
The repetition is the literary sin that I take most seriously. Such as. The exotic Signora Neroni is an inspired creation of Trollope’s, essential for the plot of Barchester Towers, such as it is. Idle and useless, she spends her time toying with men:
Such matters were her playthings, her billiard table, her hounds and hunters, her waltzes and polkas, her picnics and summer-day excursions. She had little else to amuse her, and therefore played at love-making in all its forms. (Ch. 38)
Nothing too serious, since this is a family novel. We are, at this point, three-quarters of the way through the novel, and Trollope has told us these defining facts about the character at least four times. The reader who does not have this association pretty well fixed is in trouble. By chapter 38, it’s filler.
Nice filler, though, isn’t it? The sentence with the list, I mean, truly elegant variation, and with just a bit of a sting in the first few items, which belong exclusively to men, and maybe another sting in the innocent picnics at the end. Even the filler is clever and well-made. But then what should I make of this:
But we must go back a little, and it shall be but a little, for a difficulty begins to make itself manifest in the necessity of disposing of all our friends in the small remainder of this one volume. Oh, that Mr. Longman would allow me a fourth! It should transcend the other three as the seventh heaven transcends all the lower stages of celestial bliss. (Ch. 43)
Look, if that fourth volume was going to be so good, maybe you should have gotten out the shears a little earlier, yes? But no, it’s the publisher’s fault for limiting Trollope to a three volume novel.
Not so much later, though, in Chapter 51, something has changed. Trollope has too much room!
These leave-takings in novels are as disagreeable as they are in real life; not so sad, indeed, for they want the reality of sadness; but quite as perplexing, and generally less satisfactory. What novelist, what Fielding, what Scott, what George Sand, or Sue, or Dumas, can impart an interest to the last chapter of is fictitious history?... And who can apportion out and dovetail his incidents, dialogues, characters, and descriptive morsels so as to fit them all exactly into 439 pages, without either compressing them unnaturally, or extending them artificially at the end of his labour? Do I not myself know that I am at this moment in want of a dozen pages, and that I am sick with cudgelling my brains to find them?
Those ellipses cover some real goodies. Who is at fault now? I am afraid I, the reader, am at fault: “When we become dull, we offend your intellect; and we must become dull or we should offend your taste.” Poor, poor novelist! His readers are so unforgiving. Why won’t they just let those last dozen pages go?
Trollope invokes Fielding purposefully (Scott, too – see the end of Old Mortality). Chapter 1 of Book XVIII of Tom Jones (1749) is “A Farewel [sic] to the Reader.” Fielding apologizes for any offence and warns that in the remaining twelve chapters – his farewell is a bit early! – he will have to abandon “those ludicrous Observations which I have elsewhere made,” and “any Pleasantry for thy Entertainment,” because he “shall be obliged to cram into this Book” all of the tedious plotty stuff that still has to be covered.
Fielding is lying, since the last book of Tom Jones has the same character as the previous seventeen. Trollope is lying, too, since the last dozen pages seem to be just the correct length for this remaining business. Perhaps I should replace "lying" with "joking." This is how novelists have their fun. Trollope lets me watch him laugh at me. Laughter is infectious, so I laugh, too.