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The Way We Live Now

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(1875)

This sweeping epic, a scathing satire of the Victorian age, is considered by many to be Trollope's masterpiece.


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Accents in TWWLN

Although the young gentlemen of the Beargarden sounded spot on (imagine a young Harold Macmillan), I suspected Ruby Ruggles and John Crumb spoke generic yokel, only how would I know what East Anglian peasants sound like? So I was pretty smug to to read in the Chronology, Topography, and Dialect section of my book that I was right :coolgleamA: John Sutherland says the Norfolk-Suffolk speech of Ruggles and Crumb was abysmal. He says Dickens reproduced those speech patterns much better in David Copperfield, which, coincidentally, was the previous classic I read.

detracting coincidences in TWWLN

The Way We Live Now is my first Trollope book. It is pretty good so far. Like every other author of this era, he has his own style, which reminds me more of W.M. Thackeray's than anyone else's. One thing that weakens the story is that there are some whopping coincidences that push the plot along. There is an American woman who possibly committed an act of violence in Oregon, yet a fellow passenger on the ship to Liverpool remembered her name and the incident and thought she might be the same woman. I suppose her photograph may have been in the paper, but America is a pretty big place. Worse, she just happens to rent a room in a house at which another young woman has run away from home to. Both these young women are known to another character who comes to the house. Out of all the hundreds' of thousands of London houses why would these two women stay at the same house? In a Dickens book it would not matter so much because he does not really pretend to write realistic plots, but up to the point these women show up, TWWLN had seemed quite realistic.

Gambling and the stock exchange - possible analogy?

I am nearly a third through. The bit that amuses me most is that Lady Carbury and her son, Sir Felix, remind me of a friend and her grown up son (who gets up late and indulges his vices till the early hours, makes her despair, but is very attractive to women). Sir Felix's vices are gambling and spending money he has not got. He and his gambling friends pass around IOUs in the absence of ready money, but the creditworthiness of some of these IOUs becomes increasingly doubtful. I don't know, do you think there might be some analogy with the goings-on in the City of London, Wall Street and other financial districts, as exemplified by Mr Melmotte and the board of the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway investment opportunity?

Maddening

I've never been a Trollope fan--his treatment of gender issues has always driven me nuts. I find Dickens much easier to take when it comes to gender, which is a feeling that--when I stop to analyze it--I really can't justify. Because Trollope's women are actually wonderfully complex, nuanced, powerful, and believable. And yet--it's as though he can summon these beautifully elaborated characters, but he can't quite figure out how to integrate them into a harmonious conclusion. In Can You Forgive Her, we spend much of the novel pondering the (to us) absurd non-question of whether it's an indelible stain on a girl's character to have broken her engagement with a not-very-interesting older man whom she didn't love (NO! It's not! Duh.)--only to have her changing her mind and marrying him after all. In TWWLN, he gives us Marie Melmotte, one of the most unusual and interesting heroines I can think of in 19c lit--and perfunctorily marries her off to a vulgar, unscrupulous financial schemer. All of the marriages that spring up like mushrooms after rain at the end of the novel are slightly to exceedingly bizarre, and most seem like punishment for the bride. Georgiana (who probably deserves a little punishment) and a curate for heaven's sake? How is that ever going to work out? Hetta and Paul--all very well and good; but living in a menage a trois with the stalkerish and obsessive Roger, who now proposes himself as a father figure? Yeah, that's not at all creepy. Poor, deluded Ruby and that awful lunk Crumb--are we really supposed to believe that Ruby had exactly two choices in the entire length and breadth of England? A kindly but mentally deficient miller or a megalomaniacal cad? Only Mrs Carbury, who is about 2/3 awful and 1/3 sympathetic, is rewarded with a union that seems built on solid foundations--except that it's a little hard to see why the stalwart and astute Mr Broune is so drawn to this disaster-prone, daughter-abusing woman. But the worst is Marie--wonderful, resourceful, plain-speaking Marie, who has articulated awful truths about her society's marriage market with as much integrity and strength of mind as she can summon. Not only has she survived her physically abusive father, preserved her fortune, and renounced her unworthy lover, but by the end of the novel she has become an adroit business woman, familiarizing herself with her father's affairs and making level-headed plans for the future. The most excellent thing about her is that when everyone else is swindling, lying, and speculating, she speaks the truth and acts accordingly. And yet, she ends up with the opprobrious and unprincipled Fisker. I suppose Trollope couldn't forgive her for her indiscretions (her attempted elopement), her unfilial retention of the money in her control, her ultimate lack of optimism about love & marriage, and, of course, her dubious birth. So he banishes her from the continent and marries her to a huckster. Trollope! You are infuriating!

The sociopath next door?

Well, I finished the book last week. What made the book difficult was the number of characters appearing in it, which leaves the reader unsure about who should claim our attention. This is the way reality is. People come in and out of our daily lives. Nevertheless, the sheer number of persons involved makes it difficult to go much deeper into the psyche of any of them. Actually, none of the characters gets as deep a treatment as I would have wished. In favor of Trollope's vision are his inspiring statements scattered along the novel. For example, I found the perfect explanation of sociopathic reasoning, the reasoning precisely of Melmotte when his world is falling apart, on page 623: "No idea ever crossed his mind of what might have been the result had he lived the life of an honest man. Though he was inquiring into himself as closely as he could, he never even told himself that he had been dishonest. Fraud and dishonesty had been the very principle of his life, and had so become a part of his blood and bones that even in this extremity of his misery he made no question within himself as to his right judgement in regard to them." The sociopath has been treated in other famous novels, as the title character of Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, and in Persuasion by Jane Austin with the character of William Walter Elliot. In each of these two novels the sociopath is not discovered as such until the end of the story. This has a dramatic effect which reminds us of real life: the con-artist only later on is confirmed as such. With the character of Melmotte, we judge him as a rogue, but there always remains some measure of a doubt in our minds because his personality is never treated in depth. We wonder, as the story proceeds, what his motives might be. Without knowing motives, it's difficult to judge the value of actions. For example, in the novel, The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, it is only at the end when we realize our "sociopath" actually is endowed with the soul of a tender child, more to be pitied than to be condemned. One of the greatest values of reading Trollope's novels is that we gain experience of life, of "the way we live" (i.e., the way people always are) without having to live 300 years or more to gain such wisdom on our own. How deeply grateful we can be to Anthony Trollope.

The Perfect Enabler

This book is 767 pages long in the Penguin Classics paperback edition. I am only 579 pages in, and definitely recommend this book. As I go along I wish to point out some traits in the characters. Lady Carbury is the the perfect enabler for her son Felix. Those of you who have been into 12-step programs already know what this means. Perhaps without Lady Carbury her son might have become a responsible and successful person. Two young women also love him blindly as their hopeful future husband, thus adding to all the destructive enabling. He is a real loser, and all his natural qualities, like exceptionally good looks, will never help him overcome his wretched fate (addiction to gambling and alcohol). His mother has made this impossible because she loves him too much. How many "mama's boys" are their among us, whose lives have been totally ruined because of the well-meaning but self-serving love lavished on them by mothers or other relatives and "friends"? At the same time, Lady Carbury ignores and even despises her daughter Hetta, who appears the most admirable woman in the book. Her mother always places the worst interpretation on whatever Hetta does. Hetta reminds me of other women heroes in Trollop's novels, for example, Lillian Dale and Mary Thorne in the Chronicle of Barsetshire series, who were victims of circumstances, but who made the best of it anyway. The other character who stands out in bold type is Melmotte. The problem with Melmotte is that he seems one-dimensional, in spite of all the attention given him by the author. The only thing we learn from him is that socially important people can get away with murder. I'll wait and see what happens at the end to find out if he receives what's coming to him. Then I'll get back to you.

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