Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The way to a woman's heart is through her library

I'm reading Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right (every blogger's secret motto) at the moment. I'm only 250 pages into this 900 page monster, but I'm enjoying it, despite Trollope's very reactionary approach to women's rights and personalities. He likes intelligent women. He just doesn't want them to work, vote or make any impact on public life. Jemima Stanbury is a magnificent creation: waspish, headstrong and determined, though also a reactionary bully. Mr and Mrs Trevelyan, the central protagonists, are vain, selfish and emotionally stunted, which drives the plot.

A couple of features amused me. The first is the identity of the home-wrecker: an aristocratic, rich Tory MP called Osborne… The second is Mr. Stansbury's didactic approach to romance:
When a man can tell a young lady what she ought to read, what she ought to do, and whom she ought to know, nothing can be easier than to assure her that, of all her duties, her first duty is to prefer himself to all the world. And any young lady who has consented to receive lessons from such a teacher, will generally be willing to received this special lesson among others. 
Ha! As my job is mostly teaching 'young ladies' (the English BA is at least 80% female), I spend rather a lot of time telling them what they 'ought' to read, though I wouldn't presume to dictate anything further, nor would I wish to found a Cult of Vole (though a Vole Regime/Junta is very much on the wider agenda), though some academics do cultivate such followings: and some students assume that this is part of the fun. I do recommend books a lot though - to family, friends, colleagues and students.

Poor Mr Stansbury, however, doesn't find it plain sailing: when the moment comes, the passing moods of both himself and Nora, his intended, prevent any declaration and they part with considerable annoyance on both sides. Will they get together? I'll let you know in 700 pages' time…

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