Wednesday, 14 March 2012


I'm thirty pages away from finishing Trollope's He Knew He Was Right, the covert motto of all bloggers, in my experience. To be honest, it's been a mixed experience: hundreds of pages of beautifully written, thoughtful stuff, interspersed with rather dyspeptic bigotry and a plot which entirely depends on a psychological quirk.

Mrs. Trevelyan is friendly with an ageing Tory MP who likes to appear slightly scandalous. Mr. Trevelyan forbids further contact but keeps changing his mind. They battle over whether a promise to stay clear is a public affirmation that she's actually committed adultery. She won't compromise. He won't compromise. They separate, though they say they love each other. He goes mad. It's none too convincing, considering its driving the plot of a realist novel.

On the other hand, there are lots of other good things, particularly Jemima Stanbury, the ogreish aunt with a heart of gold, and Wallachia Petrie, the abrasive American nationalist and feminist who's repeatedly satirised as a bore, a termagant and a woman lacking emotional facility. Which is also one of the problems with Trollope. He clearly doesn't like independent women, opinionated women, Americans and feminists. OK - his privilege. But he can't stop editorialising and it gets a bit weary.

Which is why I like the Death of the Author theory. Trollope's dead. Even if you read the book in 1869, he wouldn't have been in the room with you. His opinions and the ways in which he communicates them, can be noted, then ignored. I can 'read against' Trollope's reactionary attitudes by preferring Wallachia to Caroline, who throws in her lot with the inherited peerage, much to the horror of Wallachia. Trollope's ideal woman is sensitive, intelligent and obedient:
He was so strong that he treated her almost as a child;– and yet she loved him infinitely the better for so treating her… she was powerless to contradict him in anything… "Be good to me, he said, "and tell me that I am right".
     "You must be master, I suppose, whether you are right or wrong". 

I do like Trollope's humour and the way in which his characters are minutely enunciated. Naive but nice Nora, for instance, fantasises about living alone (!) in lodgings (!) for a while before she gets married. It is, to her, the epitome of the 'Bohemian' life, in which dissipation reaches the extremes of 'making her own bed'. The rebel!

PS: Karl Marx died on this date in 1889, though he is of course undergoing a form of resurrection.

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