Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It is astonishing how much difference the point of view makes in the aspect of all that we look at!

I want to be careful not to overgeneralize about Anthony Trollope.  Trollope did this; Trollope is that.  I’ve read nothing but the six Barchester novels, plus, for no literary reason, his travel book about the United States.  I am currently re-reading the second Barchester book, Barchester Towers (1857).

So, faced with the monumental bulk of Trollope, I feel decidedly un-authoritative, although I have written before about the absurdity of this, to have read seven books by a writer and not find that entirely sufficient. I have read seven books by so few writers.  In 1993, Penguin published an attractive edition of Trollope, little orange paperbacks with no introduction or notes, modestly priced ($4.95!), each one enclosing a bookmark inviting me to Join the Trollope Society for just £15, which I never did.  The chronological ordering of the books is printed on the spine.  Barchester Towers – this is a bit discouraging – is number 5 in the series.  Five of fifty-three!

The Victorian Geek has read half of the 47 novels, and plans to read the rest this year.  So far, she has read five of them.  "So far" means "in eleven days," a pretty slick pace, yes?  She has discovered, just as an example, that Trollope’s last novel, An Old Man’s Love (1884) is “one of his finest.”  If that is one of his finest, then I grossly underestimated when, in that post I linked above, I thought there were sixteen Trollopes worth a reader’s attention.

Trollope may be like Vladimir Nabokov in this way – novels are not good or bad, but major or minor.  He is very much not like Nabokov in a host of other ways, but the key Trollopian pleasures - his small insights into character, his thick description of little societies, his gentle wit that usually stops just short of sarcasm - may very well be available in most or all of his books.  Perhaps the Victorian Geek, upon completing her trek through Trollope, will kindly provide a Trollope Roundup for us.

Having said all this, is there a clearer single-sentence Trollopian statement of purpose than the quotation I put in the title of the post?  Let’s have the context:

Thus, while the outer world was accusing Mr. Quiverful of rapacity for promotion and of disregard to his honour, the inner world of his own household was falling foul of him, with equal vehemence, for his willingness to sacrifice their interests to a false feeling of sentimental pride.  It is astonishing how much difference the point of view makes in the aspect of all that we look at! (Ch. 24)

A lot of true Trollope is packed into this passage:  the Pythonesque love of silly names, the misunderstood fellow with a conscience who can’t simply explain himself, the very fact that the Quiverfuls are minor characters who could easily have been trimmed down to nothing for length, if Trollope were the sort of writer who trimmed his books for length.  And  then there's the final line, from Trollope himself, the author, I mean, who I suspect is feigning astonishment, or perhaps he really is continually astonished, since looking at a problem from as many points of view as he can imagine is exactly what he does in all of the paltry six novels of his I have read.

The rest of the week, more Barchester Towers, and many grandiose generalizations about Anthony Trollope.  Kindly, knowledgeable readers will, I hope, let me know when I have gone too far.


  1. I'm generally not a big Trollope fan, but I've only two: Framley Parsonage and The Bertrams (both 1859-60ish). I enjoyed the Bertrams, but disliked Framley Parsonage so much that I'm not jumping back into a Trallope tome anytime soon. Your title is especially appropriate for my experience.

  2. I think you're right that the basic pleasures of Trollope are the same but come in large or small doses. I finished up 2010 with a little one called Alice Dugdale, so obscure, apparently, that it's not in the list of Trollope's complete works that my father checked--my father, btw, did have a membership in the Trollope Society for a while as years ago I gave it to him for his birthday! Anyway, Alice Dugdale could easily have been expanded into a full-scale Trollope, or condensed into a subplot in something like He Knew He Was Right (which has some beautiful subplots, and one paragraph in particular that is like a miniature Trollope novel just waiting to be expanded, like those children's toys you put in water and they turn into mermaids or sea horses!).

    I love that astonished narratorial comment. Trollope has a very sly sense of humor, doesn't he?

  3. Anna - such a strong reaction to Framley Parsonage? But it's so, so - what word do I want - so mild? Do you remember what got your goat? There's a hatchet job I would love to read - The Case Against Trollope.

    By contrast, Ford Madox Ford "in his private preferences places [FP] higher than any other English novel" (The March of Literature, p. 789), which seems not just perverse but almost nuts.

    Different points of view, all right! I've got a crack or two to take at Trollope myself, but there was nothing that made me say "No more of this!" Quite the contrary.

    I'll write a bit about narrator-Trollope, Rohan, and try to get at his sense of humor. I tell you, reading Trollope with Thackeray under my belt is a whole 'nother experience.

    And I'll try not to simply pillage your outstanding Open Letters essay.

    You know, that flexibility of scale you identify may be part of the Case Against as much as the Case For. Shouldn't a perfect story be exactly the right length? But that's an aesthetic difference - Trollope would laugh at "perfect."

  4. I just finished reading _Framley Parsonage_ a few hours ago, so it's quite fresh in my mind. Our book group is doing all of the Barsetshire novels.

    While it's not my favorite Trollope work, I still thought it an enjoyable read.

    According to the intro, "More than any of his earlier novels, _Framley Parsonage_ made Trollope's name a household word; it also played a crucial part in the spectacular success of the _Cornhill_ (a monthly magazine in which FP was serialized), which within a few months reached a sale of 100,000 copies."

  5. Why, Fred, you have the Oxford World's Classics edition. I was just looking at that very sentence. And at Ronald Knox's map of Barsetshire, which is a hoot.

  6. Yep, that's the one.

    At the lower left of the map, I see _To Guestwick & Allington.

    That caught my eye because we will be reading _The Small House at Allington_ in a few months. (also in the Oxford World's Classics edition).

  7. I've only read one Trollope so far but it left me hungry for more. The narrator-Trollope was fascinating and I can't wait to hear you talk more about him. In the book I read, he wrote almost as a kindly uncle telling his nieces about his neighbors, laughing gently at both the neighbors and the nieces.

  8. The more I read (and consequently the better reader, I hope, I become) the more I like Trollope. Rohan called it the "multitudinousness of human experience and stories," and that's just exactly it. Exactly!

  9. I've just finished Trollope's 'An Autobiography' (pushing my total to 15!), and that's an intriguing read for any Trollope fan (review in a few days).

    I disagree with Anna - I think 'Framley Parsonage' is a very good book (much better than 'Doctor Thorne', which preceded it in the Barchester set), and the debt storyline is even more interesting when viewed through knowledge of Trollope's life.

    I'm hoping to get a Kindle soon, and that should allow me to push that 15 up a lot closer to 53 ;)

  10. Now I'll definitely have to complete the Trollope Challenge! My efforts have been boosted after a bout of gastric 'flu confined me to the sofa for some time.

    I'm currently reading 'Dr Thorne', so the controversial 'Framley Parsonage' will be next.

    I'll be interested to hear what you think of 'Barchester Towers.

  11. "By contrast, Ford Madox Ford "in his private preferences places [FP] higher than any other English novel" (The March of Literature, p. 789), which seems not just perverse but almost nuts"-sometimes in The March of Literature it seems Ford develops "crushes" with his latest reading infatuation (I know I for sure do!)-I have read only one Trollope-Cousin Henry -I really liked it-my next one will be Orley Farm-according to the introduction to the Oxford World Classics Trollope thought it was his best work though history has not seen it that way

  12. Ah, come on! Someone make a rousing defense of Framley Parsonage. Nothing anyone has written here will convince a skeptic. No length limit in comments!

    Dr. Thorne will be next for me, but I don't want to say when. The Thornes are a great highlight of Barchester Towers. They are developed at unnecessary length, but Trollope can then reuse them. Thus, the multitudinous quality Jenny mentions. Trollope is world-building, like, I don't know, J.R.R. Tolkien.

    mel - that's the connection you'll see with Ford, as you read more Trollope, I think, the illusion of a "complete" setting. It feels full, and the more you read, the fuller it feels.

    And then that narrator keeps popping in, joking and complaining and tsk tsking. Ford, a true Modernist, strips out every hint of that sort of thing. I suppose I'll mention that some time, the premodernist postmodernist anti-Modernist literary crimes of Trollope.

    I'm joking, but I tell you, there's a lot to be said for that omnisicient "third" person narrator.

    A question for Catherine, or Tony, or anyone - does Trollope use the first person somewhere? Does he ever do without the Trollope persona?

  13. I know that you've posted again on Trollope (I'll spell it right this time!) but there was such a great conversation that I missed I feel I should join back in. I agree with you that Trollope can be very witty-there was evidence of that in The Bertrams-but I was so irritated with Mark Robarts that I wanted to throw the book at the wall after nearly every chapter.

    On the one hand, this is a huge compliment to Trollope that he could write such a convincing character. I could see someone making the kinds of mistakes that Robarts repeatedly makes (in love, religionish, business). On the other hand, I didn't feel particularly drawn to any of the other characters, so I never had a reprieve from my continued annoyance with the main character.

    I agree that reading Trollope against Thackery is perhaps unfair (or at least puts Trollope in a different light). Perhaps I wanted something Trollope just couldn't give me. Since I have read only two, and they were both mid-career, perhaps I owe it to the man to try something else. I'll be checking the resource you posted to find a comedic one.

  14. It feels a little ridiculous to ask, but what exactly do you mean by first person narrator? Does the use of "I" count, even when it is an omniscient narrator in other ways? In Rachel Ray, when Trollope uses "I" it seems most like he is just giving the author the first (which is not uncommon in Victorian lit, no?). In other words, not a true first person character. A fine line. Having read only one Trollope, I'm unsure what he does normally.

  15. I do not think I've read seven books by any other (unless you count children's and YA series) but I can see how Trollope is one I'm going to eventually. Definitely interesting the perspective having read more of his work makes. They are so darn LONG though, it's going to take a while.

  16. The beauty of 'Framley Parsonage' lies in Mark Robarts' slow, agonising, inexorable slide into disgrace. As a clergyman, he knows that he is to set an example - as one used to living in gentlemanly circles, he can't resist being a little more wordly than he should. It's also the first appearance of Josiah Crawley, the key character in 'The Last Chronicle of Barset' (and one of Trollope's most famous and successful characters). Enough?!

    Regarding his writing viewpoint, everything I've read has been third-person omniscient; I quite like it when he comments, assuring the reader that this rogue won't get the girl, or that he will get his comeuppance. It's not what happens, but how, that's important

  17. P.S. 'Doctor Thorne' concentrates on a different branch of the Thorne family. Just thought you should know...

  18. Tony - Outstanding! A rousing defense, indeed!

    Anna, I am a committed anti-Sympathizer, but Trollope's books seem to depend on some level of sympathy. I suspect that's actually the Trollopian Project. If the reader, like you, can't find an entry into that sympathy, the book ain't gonna work. Absolutely.

    Back to the point of view. Good question, Lifetime Reader - the terms get slippery here. I'm calling Trollope's usual mode omnis 3rd, like you are. When I ask if he uses first person, I mean real first person - did he ever write a novel that pretends to be a memoir, or an as-told-to? How many voices does Trollope have? Tony reinforces my suspicions that Trollope really only has one, although it must change over time.

    Now, Dr. Thorne - that, Tony, is the best part of the world-building. The Thornes of Barchester Towers are repeatedly mentioned in DT without actually appearing (maybe at the very end?). To the reader of the earlier novel, these offstage characters are then just as real or present in Trollope's world as the onstage characters.

    Rebecca - I share your dismay about the sheer number of pages.

  19. I've read somewhere between 10-15 of his novels, and I fairly sure that all were 3rd person omniscient.

  20. Like Fred, I've found all the Trollope novels thus far (25 of 'em) have used the third person omniscient.

  21. As I suspected. This is very helpful in placing Trollope, seeing what kind of writer he is.

  22. First time I've commented - great blog, by the way.

    I've read 5 Trollopes (the first 3 Barset novels), The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right. It seems to me that Trollope only ever writes in his own voice, but the difference in tone between The Warden (1855) and The Way We Live Now (1875) is huge. Trollope seems extremely world-weary in the latter, but the novel's all the better for it. I was surprised on finishing it that it's not regarded as highly as some of the other 'big' Victorian books, like Middlemarch or Bleak House.

    I'm planning to read Framley Parsonage soon - the Oxford World Classics edition is sitting on the shelf at home! - and am even more interested in doing so after seeing the discussion here!

  23. CJ - that makes sense to me. Even the Barset books were written over twelve years or so. The basic mode may not change, but Trollope himself must. Even within the Barset books, he experiments with form - one volume, three volume, serials.