I’m still thinking about bad ideas, or at least one specific bad idea, which is to spend part of the week, or worse, all of it, writing about Anthony Trollope’s 1858 novel The Loves and Adventures of Francis Newbold Gresham the younger, the third of the six Barchester books. The reason this is a bad idea is that not so long ago I spent – what was it – four days on the previous Barchester book, Barchester Towers, and I would be hard pressed to argue that The Loves and Adventures etc. is much different.
At one point, for example, I thought I might write a post about Trollope as a gag-writer, as a joke-teller. This was while reading Chapter 12, in which two doctors spar over a patient. One of them, Dr. Fillgrave (get it, get it?), is round and short, and Trollope cannot keep from telling jokes about Dr. Fillgrave’s height. It’s pretty low humor, really, and darn funny. And Trollope is himself aware of the level of the humor:
Here was an aggravation to the already lacerated feelings of the injured man. He had been brought thither to be scoffed at and scorned at, that he might be a laughing-stock to his enemies, and food for mirth to the vile-minded. He swelled with noble anger till he would have burst, had it not been for the opportune padding of his frock-coat.
The vile-minded! Ha ha ha ha! That’s a bit strong. The joke here is about Fillgrave’s roundness, isn’t it, but the short jokes are more common – one follows three sentences later: Dr. Thorne “address[es] Lady Scatcherd over the head and across the hairs of the irritated man below him” and so on.
Anyway, that would be a good post, Anthony Trollope as sitcom writer, Trollope as Wodehouse. Something like this piece that I already wrote. Hmm. Well, never mind then. No point now in writing about Trollope the comedian.
I see another curious and edifying point to make, though. In my previous post on the subject, I singled out a scene in which a tipsy Mr. Slope is about to make a fool of himself, and a line which I called a good joke: “It was a pity that in such a state he could not have encountered Mrs. Proudie,” his arch-enemy. I interpreted this line as if it were the narrator, “Trollope,” who thought it was a pity etc. that the characters could not meet because of the foregone comic possibilities, . But the line is also Mr. Slope’s – he also thinks it is a pity etc., because he could really give Mrs. Proudie what for, tell her a thing or two, and on like that.
The line simultaneously belongs to the narrator and the character, but has a different meaning for each. In the passage about Dr. Fillgrave from Francis Newbold Gresham, particularly in that second sentence, the technique is the same. Dr. Fillgrave is fuming about why he was asked to see this patient, why he has encountered his enemy Dr. Thorne. “Vile-minded” is his language. He thinks there has been a conspiracy to make a fool of him.
He is right; there has been a plot against him. If I attribute the line to “Trollope,” to the narrator, the meaning changes. Dr. Fillgrave has, in fact, been brought into this scene, into this novel, to be a laughing-stock. His primary purpose in the novel is to be the object of jokes and laughter. The novel’s readers are his enemies. The doctor calls us “vile-minded” and means it; Trollope calls us, and himself, “vile-minded” so we can laugh at the doctor’s hyperbole and hysteria. Then he pokes the doctor in his big belly.
Maybe I should mention that this novel is more commonly known as Doctor Thorne. That’s something I could write about.