Saturday, April 18, 2015

Trollope judges people who are false and bad and selfish and prosperous to outward appearances

Poor Lizzie!  The world, in judging of people who are false and bad and selfish and prosperous to outward appearances, is apt to be hard upon them, and to forget the punishments which generally accompany such faults.  (Ch. 21)

One of Trollope’s more Thackeray-like pronouncements, an outrageous statement presented as if it is an ordinary novelistic insight.  Lizzie is the character who “liked lies, thinking them to be more beautiful than truth” (Ch. 79), much like many novelists, and many readers of novels.  Of course he, and I, sympathize with that terror Lizzie.

That last line, from the end of the novel, comes just as the romantic fate of Lady Eustace is resolved, as she deals with the novel’s final marriage proposal.  Her marriage plot is anti-romantic, since even a sympathetic reader can only hope that she escapes all of the horrible people, many even worse than her, who want to marry her.  The only decent candidate is already engaged to a traditional Trollope heroine, the kind of character who might be the romantic lead of a Barchester novel, another of the novel’s romances made unsatisfying by the behavior of at least one member of the couple.

The romantic prospects of a good person serve as one kind of foil to poor Lizzie’s trouble.  The other foil is a nightmare, wholly negative.  If you have ever wondered about the problems of the arranged and semi-arranged marriages of the Victorian upper classes, for example the sexual problems, Trollope hits the problem head-on in The Eustace Diamonds.  Whatever damage Lizzie and her husband might do to each other, her marriages will always be a kind of comedy, while the story of Lucinda Roanoke is the tragedy.

“He'll offer tomorrow, if you'll accept him.”

“Don't let him do that, Aunt Jane.  I couldn't say Yes.  As for loving him; – oh, laws!”

“It won't do to go on like this, you know.”

“I'm only eighteen; – and it's my money, aunt.”

“And how long will it last?  If you can't accept him, refuse him, and let somebody else come.”

“It seems to me,” said Lucinda, “that one is as bad as another.  I'd a deal sooner marry a shoemaker and help him to make shoes.”

“That's downright wickedness,” said Mrs. Carbuncle.  And then they went down to dinner.  (Ch. 37)

I guess at this point the plot still seems like comedy.  That line about making shoes looks like a joke.  The response – “wickedness” – cannot be meant seriously.  But the former is not, the latter is.  As the story moves along, the engagement continues only because Lucinda is too weak to be wicked, either by breaking off the engagement or worse.  “It was her lot to undergo misery, and as she had not chosen to take poison, the misery must be endured” (Ch. 62).  Her lover’s kiss is pollution – “[n]ever before had she been so polluted.”

And the cause of the tragedy is this, and only this: that the wealthy Lucinda wants to live at a higher level of comfort and status than her existing, substantial wealth allows.  She is rich, but in her imagination is very rich.  This is actually her wickedness.

See, as an aside,  the amazing paragraph in Chapter 9, which describes a household of “poor rich people – if such a term may be used” which consists of a mother and her “seven unmarried daughters” who must get by on an investment income of £3,000 (somewhere between $120,000 and $240,000 U.S. dollars), which only allows them a staff of fourteen, if I counted right.  No novelist understands money better than Trollope.

That is enough about The Eustace Diamonds, I suppose.


  1. " No novelist understands money better than Trollope."

    Perhaps because h had been poor as a child and seen his mother work her way to comparative wealth and had done the same thing himself. Dickens became rich quickly, so he could take a fairy-tale attitude to wealth when he chose; with Trollope it was a steady progress.

  2. Dickens notices more than Trollope, but on this subject, you are right, there is a lot Dickens does not seem to see.

    I like your idea, that Trollope saw the process of money, not just what it was like to have it or not have it. Lots of writers understood that.

  3. All that you have written about Trollope convinces me that I will need to have my irony radar activated and well-tuned before wading into his novels. So what is it about 19th novelists that makes irony such a dominant arrow in their quivers? But perhaps my question paints with too broad a brush. Damn, that is a lot of mixed metaphors for so few sentences! Shame on me!

  4. Yes, that is the way to read Trollope. For such a plush, overstuffed sofa of a novelist, he is quite uncomfortable.