The title is from Chapter 36 of Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? (1864-5), the first of the six Palliser novels, and just the eighth Trollope novel I have read.
Curiously, in the last few days I have seen Trollope described as a “comfort” by two separate book bloggers, at Tony’s Reading List in a review of The American Senator and at The Age of Uncertainty in a squib about the very novel I was reading. The word struck me because although at first Can You Forgive Her? seemed like more of the same solidly built Trollope stuff, enjoyable, maybe material for a little overview kind of post, as I read more I became increasingly uncomfortable.
Mahogany-furnitured bedrooms assist one's comfort in this life; and heaps of manure, though they are not brilliant in romance, are very efficacious in farming. (Ch. 47)
The manure theme is, of course, one of Trollope’s fictional specialties.
As the novel progressed, the good-natured even temper of the omniscient narrator remained intact, often begging his readers not to judge a character too harshly for his, or her, obstinacy or idiocy or corruption. The narrator’s very protests, though, suggested that I should be disgusted or angry with what was going on the book. They suggested that the narrator was perhaps a bit angry, too.
“Perhaps it may be a comfort to you in your troubles to know that I am, at any rate, as badly off as you are?” (Ch. 71)
It has taken me a while, but I am beginning to think of Trollope as a great satirist, mild compared to Jonathan Swift or Evelyn Waugh, but at times as fierce as his mentor William Thackeray. Or Jane Austen, another writer with fangs and claws who is most frequently read for comfort, available by means of ignoring substantial portions of her writing.
He was a man who required to have such comfort backed by patés and curaçoa to a very large extent, and now it might be doubted whether the amount of patés and curaçoa at his command would last him much longer. (Ch. 47)
The satirist writes about fools. The ranks of fools include everyone. They include himself. Like Austen, Trollope holds out the possibility that a select, fortunate few are only fools part of their life, and can with luck and effort recover from their idiotic mistakes. The heroines of Can You Forgive Her?, as you might guess from the title, make some doozies.
Mr. Palliser, who may be regarded as the fox who had lost his tail, – the tail being, in this instance, the comfort of domestic privacy, – was eager in recommending his new friend to cut off his tail also. (Ch. 77)
Compared to Swift, Trollope is an optimist. He will forgive almost anyone. But he does so through a strong sympathy for folly, human and inevitable.
The word “comfort” comes up a lot in this novel.
“It is such a comfort that it is over,” said the mother.
“You are the most ungrateful of women.” (final chapter)
All week, Can You Forgive Her?