The American Senator by Anthony Trollope

The American Senator cover

The American Senator by Anthony Trollope was first published in 1877 and this was my second attempt at reading it, which is strange as I ended up loving it. Obviously my brain just wasn’t in the right place when I lost interest in it first time around. What I love about Trollope’s writing is that he wears his heart on his sleeve and he chose to highlight different aspects of British culture that he found to be unfair and distasteful. In this book it’s the way young women were put on the marriage market at the age of 18 and often pressurised into being ‘settled’.

Arabella Trefoil is from an aristocratic family but is penniless and she has been chasing after various wealthy men for years and it has all come to nothing. She’s now getting on for 30 and is worn out with it all so she plumps for an engagement with an older man, John Morton, a diplomat, but she makes no attempt to even be pleasant to him, she thinks he’s mean with money and is having second thoughts. When another man who’s a wealthy young lord comes into view she’s tempted to try to manipulate him into a marriage proposal and lies her head off to everyone, including herself.

Mary Masters is a lot younger, just 18 or so and her step-mother is pressurising her to marry a local farmer. It would be a hard life for Mary who would be expected to do a lot of the farm/dairy work on her own, but apart from that Mary just doesn’t love the man. Her step-mother doesn’t see that as a problem.

Meanwhile Elias Gotobed is an American senator who is in England visiting John Morton and writing to a friend in America about his observations on British society and culture. He’s critical of the way the eldest male in any family inherits everything leaving the other children to make the best of it, usually by joining the army or the church.

The way the Church of England is organised is another thing that appalls him. This is a subject that obviously weighed on Trollope’s mind as his Barchester books are about the same thing.

He’s critical of fox-hunting, the cruel ‘sport’ which entails riders trampling crops and trespassing, ending with a fox being ripped apart.

He’s critical of the House of Lords as they’re unelected. The voting system is bizarre and basically corrupt.

Unfortunately the senator doesn’t keep his criticism for his American friend. While at a dinner party he’s keen to share his thoughts with the other guests. Mr Gotobed has no tact or sense of diplomacy whatsoever. Freedom of speech is more important to him, no matter how much he upsets his hosts. His bad manners shock the guests.

This was a great read although it’s slightly depressing that one of the things that obviously annoyed Trollope still hasn’t been improved as the House of Lords is still an unelected house. It’s a really ridiculous state of affairs but I read somewhere that in British politics things are usually spoken of for around 200 years before any change ever takes place, so there can’t be too long to go now surely!

An Eye for an Eye by Anthony Trollope

An Eye for an Eye by Anthony Trollope was published in 1879. That was a bit of a surprise to me as it read more like something which he would have written in his earlier years. It seems that it was actually written in 1870 but was held back from publication then. So far this is the Trollope which I’ve found to be the least enjoyable, but at least it is a slim volume.

The setting is Ireland and an English country estate called Scroope. Fred Neville is the heir to the estate and earldom after his uncle’s only son died prematurely, the son had been a bit of a waster who married a prostitute and broke his aristocratic parents’ hearts.

It’s expected that Fred will do the right thing and marry into the aristocracy, someone from his own class and religion, but Fred has a different idea. Whilst his regiment is in Ireland he starts up a liason with completely the wrong sort of girl. Kate O’Hara lives in a teeny cottage above a cliff, she lives there with her mother and their only friend is a Roman Catholic priest. Fred promises to marry her and on the strength of that promise Kate ends up in big trouble.

Trollope always has something to say in his novels, other than just the story, he was very much for women having equality with men and often wrote about prejudices and unfairness in society. Here are a few excerpts:

There are women, who in regard to such troubles as now existed at Ardkill Cottage, always think that the woman should be punished and that the man should be assisted to escape. The hardness of heart of such women, – who in all other views of life are perhaps tender and soft natured, – is one of the marvels of our social system.

and … in her heart of hearts she approved of a different code of morals for men and women. That which merited instant, and as regarded this world, perpetual condemnation in a woman, might in a man be easily forgiven.

Trollope was obviously aware of the prejudice against Irish people as his uncle and aunt are appalled at the thought of him being mixed up with a poor Irish Catholic. Mind you Trollope’s Irish blood doesn’t seem to have held him back in his very successful Post Office/Civil Service career.

I read this one for the Classics Club.

Guardian bookish links

Hatchards is the oldest bookshop in London and I was very agreeably surprised to read the outcome of a Hatchards poll of their customers as to their favourite book of the last 200 years.
You can read the Guardian article here.

I was also interested to read an article about the distinctive smell of old books, you can read it here if you’re interested.

I love the smell of books, old and new. I used to have a quick look around to see if anyone was looking in my direction when I was in bookshops, before burying my nose in whichever book I was looking at, but nowadays I don’t care if people think it’s a bit weird.

In the Guardian review some authors have chosen their favourite books of 2015. It seems like no time since they were doing that for 2014. It’ll come as no surprise to you that I haven’t read any of the books mentioned by any of them. I intend to read the Kate Atkinson and Ali Smith books at some point though.

Has anyone got any others from this list which they would recommend?

Linda Tressel by Anthony Trollope

Linda Tressel by Anthony Trollope was first published in 1868. The setting is Nurenberg in Bavaria, I think this is the first book by Trollope that I’ve read which wasn’t set in Britain or Ireland. I really enjoyed this one despite the fact that it was the third book on the trot I’d read which had extreme Presbyterianism/Calvinism as the theme. I’ve been to Bavaria a few times and it’s known for being mainly Roman Catholic (or it was in the past) but I had no idea that Nurenberg was a staunchly Calvinist city.

Linda Tressel is a young woman who sadly was orphaned at a very young age. Her father had had a very prominent position in Nurenberg and they lived in a much admired house in the city – the Red House. Linda inherited the house and her widowed childless aunt came to stay in it, to be Linda’s guardian. Aunt Staubach is a fanatic when it comes to Calvinism and like all such people she only reads the dictatorial and miserable bits of the Bible.

Money wasn’t plentiful so they had a lodger to help finance their life. The lodger Peter Stenimarc happened to have been Linda’s father’s deputy and he had fallen heir to the promoted position that Linda’s father had held. Peter was 52 and so was over 30 years older than Linda. He had an ambition to be the master of the Red House and so proposed marriage to the aunt. She had only been married for two years when her husband had died and she had no intention of remarrying but she thought it would be a good idea if Peter married Linda, and she decided that that was God’s will. Nothing could be better than Linda marrying the man who had been her father’s junior as far as Aunt Staubach was concerned.

Linda is appalled at the prospect of marriage to Peter who is not only 31 years older than her but is fat, bald, except for a few carefully arranged strands of hair and is very far from being love’s young dream.

Linda has a fancy for a young man she has seen from her window, Ludovic Valcarm happens to be a relative of Peter, but he is seen as being a bit of a rebel. He didn’t knuckle down and get on with work at the local council offices as his cousin Peter did, and preferred to work at a local brewery. Worse still he has got himself involved in liberal politics and has been arrested by the police in the past.

Linda’s aunt is horrified at the thought of her niece ending up losing the respect of the inhabitants of Nurenberg and she exerts incredible pressure on Linda to do as God (Aunt Staubach) wishes and marry the ghastly sleazebag that is Peter Stenimarc.

Linda ends up being imprisoned in her own house until she will accept Peter as her husband. Even when she runs away to Augsburg her aunt brings her back and will not relent.

I couldn’t help thinking – for goodness sake Linda tell your aunt where to go – it was Linda’s house after all. But of course Linda’s Calvinist upbringing (brainwashing) had been so strict that she really believed it was her duty to forego any joy in life and do as she was told by her elders.

Linda Tressel isn’t the first Trollope which I’ve read with the subject of young women being married off to much older men. It was obviously a procedure that he really disapproved of and as with all of his writing he was trying to point out social evils, no doubt in the hope that others would begin to see the problem in the same light. He always seemed to be on the side of decent women who got the bad end of a bargain in life. Who wouldn’t love his writing?

I read this one for the Classics Club Challenge.

Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope

This month I’ve managed to read two books by Anthony Trollope, Rachel Ray and Orley Farm. It’s the bicentennial of Trollope’s birth and I thought I would read 2 for that reason. Karen@ Books and Chocolate has been hosting the celebration.

I read Orley Farm because it was chosen by Philip Henscher in the Guardian article which asked ‘famous’ people to name their favourite Trollope book. I can’t say that I agree with the choice, although I enjoyed Orley Farm it’s definitely not my favourite, not even close.

I read the book on my Kindle and the storyline was sooo sloooow that I didn’t begin to enjoy it until I reached 40%. I have no idea how many pages Orley Farm has but it’s a chunkster and a half so that was probably about 400 pages which I trudged through before enjoyment.

Of course it was first published in serial form in 1862 and for that reason there’s quite a lot of repetition as Trollope reminds his readers of what occurred in the previous magazine and I’m sure he was being paid by the word so it was in his best interest to make it wordy, the bane of Victorian literature.

But as I said I did end up enjoying it, as is often the case with Trollope the storyline is mainly about a will.

Lady Mason had been young when she married the much older Sir Joseph Mason who had a family by his first wife. Lady Mason wanted her young son to inherit Orley Farm but Sir Joseph had promised it to his eldest son Joseph and refused to change his mind about it. Lady Mason is outraged by what she sees as the unfairness of it and is determined to look to her son’s best interests so she decides to forge a codicil to the original will, making Orley Farm over to her and her small son Lucius.

The will is contested by Joseph Mason but he loses the case. However 20 years on Lucius has decided that he wants to study agriculture and needs land for his experiments, so he evicts the tenant of Orley Farm Mr Dockwrath, much to his fury. Dockwrath remembers the original court case and goes to see Joseph Mason in the hope that he can persuade him to go to court again as he believes he has evidence of dodgy dealings.

This book is about the law in England and how unfair it can be (though that’s possibly the same everywhere.) Trollope seemed to want a complete overhaul of the system but that has never happened as the things he was complaining about are still problems. There is one firm of lawyers who have been hired to defend Lady Mason and they are famous for getting guilty people off the hook, to the detriment of the innocent party, everybody knows who is guilty but the smart arguments of the lawyers, Chaffanbrass and Aram, run rings around a jury. I suspect that everybody can name those lawyers nowadays who are well known for defending criminals. In Scotland that used to be Joe Beltrami; when it was reported that he was the defender in any court case everybody would immediately say – Guilty, but they usually got off.

Apart from that there are also a few love stories going on. Trollope was obviously against marriages where the young woman had been moulded by a much older man, groomed from childhood. The relationship between Felix Graham and Mary Snow is one such but the same must have been true of the marriage between Sir Joseph Mason and his second wife.

So in the end there are several interesting themes but it was in need of editing.

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope was first published in 1863.

Luke Rowan is a young man who has inherited a half share of a brewery in Baslehurst and when he goes to the town with the intention of playing a full part in the business he discovers that the other partner, a much older man, is antagonised by the thought of a youngster trying to tell him how to run his business. In fact Mr Tappitt is surprised that Luke Rowan even exists as he had been under the impression that when his partner died then the business would all be in his hands. Luke realises that the beer which is brewed there is truly ghastly stuff and knows he can make far more of a profit if he can take charge.

Mrs Tappitt expects to marry one of her daughters off to Luke but he falls in love with Rachel Ray who is the youngest daughter of a widow who has two daughters, the older one is a young widow called Mrs Prime and she is a miserable evangelical Christian who enjoys thinking the worst of everyone, including her sister. When Mrs Prime sees Rachel talking with Luke she concludes that there is an improper liaison between them and the ensuing gossip coupled with the Tappitts’ anger leads to him leaving the town.

Mrs Ray and Mrs Prime both have spiritual advisors. Mr Comfort is the old vicar from whom Mrs Ray asks for advice and Mr Prong fulfills the same duty for Mrs Prime. I just love the way Trollope names his characters leaving no doubt as to what he thinks of them himself.

Mr Prong is an evangelical minister who enjoys the adoration of a group of women called the Dorcas Society, they spend their spare time making small pieces of clothing for the deserving poor, and pulling the reputations of their neighbours apart. When Mr Prong asks Mrs Prime to marry him she is at first quite taken with the idea, it would mean that she would have the highest standing amongst the other women. But since her first husband’s early death she has been comfortably off and an independent woman, it’s a situation which she isn’t keen to give up.

Mrs Prime asks about to find out if she can hold on to her own money if she marries Mr Prong and when she discovers that her money would be legally his to do with as he wishes she asks him to allow her to have control of her money. It’s a situation which he is not willing to accept and he takes umbrage, feeling that his wife should trust him with her money. Mr Comfort thinks that Mr Prong is very likely to run off with the money the minute he is married, leaving his wife abandoned and destitute, apparently it was a common occurrence.

I really enjoyed this one which was originally supposed to be published as a serial in a Christian magazine but due to Trollope’s attitude to the clergy they declined to publish it. Mrs Prime and Mr Prong are similar to the characters of Mrs Proudie and Mr Slope from the Barchester series.

I’m quite surprised that Rachel Ray is not as popular as it should be, There’s quite a lot of comedy in it and I love that Trollope was fighting for the rights of middle-class women who by law were completely at their husbands’ mercy financially and had no right to own and control their own property. Trollope’s observations on humans are absolutely spot on, he could have been a psychologist, if such a being had existed in his day, we’re lucky that it wasn’t an option open to him otherwise we wouldn’t have had his books.

At the moment I’m half-way through Orley Farm which appeared as a favourite in the Guardian’s Trollope article recently which you can see here. So far though it isn’t getting close to being one of my favourites.

I read Rachel Ray as part of Karen @ Books and Chocolate’s Trollope Centennial Celebration.

Anthony Trollope – from the Guardian

To mark the 200th anniversary of Anthony Trollope’s birth the Guardian Review has asked some writers to select their favourite of his works. If you’re interested you can read the article here.

I’ve already read a lot of the books mentioned as favourites but I haven’t read Orley Farm so I think I’ll be choosing that one for my next Trollope read.

Reading Update and Anthony Trollope

I’ve been busy continuing my journey through Anthony Trollope’s long list of books, I’ve just finished reading Rachel Ray which I started to read as Karen @Books and Chocolate is having a bit of a Trollope bicentennial event next month. You can still sign up for it here. I surprised myself by romping through the book much faster than expected, I really liked it but I’ll write about it later, meanwhile I’m thinking about which Trollope to read next, any suggestions?

I’ve just begun to read Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. He’s in the south of England and so far everything which he is talking about is particularly English, so his observations are much like mine were when we moved down there. Why do English men talk constantly about roads and the best route to take from A to B? It’s a mystery. By coincidence there’s a Bill Bryson interview in Saturday’s Guardian review, you can read it here if you’re interested. A follow up to Notes from a Small Island is being published in the Autumn.

Single novels (the ones in bold are the ones I’ve read so I’ve still got a lot to go.)

The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847)
The Kellys and the O’Kellys (1848)
La Vendée: An Historical Romance (1850)
The Three Clerks (1858)
The Bertrams (1859)
Castle Richmond (1860)
Orley Farm (1862)
The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson (1862)
Rachel Ray (1863)
Miss Mackenzie (1865)
The Belton Estate (1866)
The Claverings (1867)
Nina Balatka (1867)
Linda Tressel (1868)
He Knew He Was Right (1869)
The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870)
Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite (1871)
Ralph the Heir (1871)
The Golden Lion of Granpère (1872)
Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874)
Lady Anna (1874)
The Way We Live Now (1875)
The American Senator (1877)
Is He Popenjoy? (1878)
John Caldigate (1879)
An Eye for an Eye (1879)
Cousin Henry (1879)
Ayala’s Angel (1881)
Doctor Wortle’s School (1881)
The Fixed Period (1882)
Kept in the Dark (1882)
Marion Fay (1882)
Mr. Scarborough’s Family (1883)
The Landleaguers (1883)
An Old Man’s Love (1884)

Chronicles of Barsetshire

The Warden (1855)
Barchester Towers (1857)
Doctor Thorne (1858)
Framley Parsonage (1861)
The Small House at Allington (1864)
The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

Palliser novels

Can You Forgive Her? (1865)
Phineas Finn (1869)
The Eustace Diamonds (1873)
Phineas Redux (1874)
The Prime Minister (1876)
The Duke’s Children (1880)

He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope

I can’t say that this is my favourite Trollope but it’s still well worth reading although as usual it was just too long. Those Victorian weekly instalment magazines have a lot to answer for.

Sir Marmaduke Rowley is governor of the Mandarin Islands, part of the British Empire and he and his wife have the misfortune to have a family of eight daughters, with very little hope of getting them married off to suitable husbands. There is hardly any money to spare with all those girls and no hopes of providing a dowry for any of them, so when the dashing, handsome and wealthy young Englishman Louis Trevelyan visits the islands in his yacht and falls for Emily the eldest Rowley girl, it seems like all their prayers have been answered.

There’s only one moment of disquiet when Lady Rowley, Emily’s mother points out that both the young people concerned are too fond of getting their own way. In Scots we would say that they are ‘thrawn’ which means obstinate and stubborn. It turns out that Lady Rowley was right to worry about it. Mothers often do know best you know!

After the wedding Emily and Louis sail back to England, setting up home in London with Emily’s nearest sister Nora accompanying them. When Colonel Osborne, an old friend of Sir Marmaduke keeps visiting Emily it sets tongues wagging. The colonel is a bachelor, well known for causing marital difficulties by his interest in young wives. He’s one of those men who love to stir things up with a big stick, mainly to feed his own vanity.

Louis Trevelyan doesn’t take at all well to Colonel Osborne’s attention to Emily, especially when he realises that they are being gossiped about at his club. When he tackles Emily about it she takes umbrage and matters go from bad to worse.

I could have clonked their two heads together. As often happens with Trollope novels the whole thing comes about because of lack of communication. Had Louis taken the time to tell Emily of the colonel’s reputation as a well known stirrer up of marital strife then Emily would probably have decided not to see him to spare her own reputation.

I’ve written about the main chracters but there are lots more of them and indeed this book could have been titled ‘Couples’ as it involves so many relationships.

I read this one as part of the Classics Club Challenge. Now it’s time to start Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman which is the one which I got in the last ‘spin’.

Miss MacKenzie by Anthony Trollope

Miss MacKenzie is a spinster in her 30s and when her father died he split his money up between his sons, leaving his daughter Margaret to the tender mercies of her brothers’ charity. One brother has used his share of the loot in trade, he is a partner in sailcloth manufacture, very downmarket as far as Victorian society is concerned. The other brother is unmarried but after living in the fast lane for some years he has withdrawn from high society due to illness and it falls to his sister Margaret to nurse him, spending years looking after him and reading to him. When he eventually dies it’s discovered that he has left his fortune to Margaret and she decides to move out of his dreary house in London and takes herself off to Littlehampton to live. Margaret has been a great reader of novels and through her reading she knows that there’s a big exciting world out there and she’s keen to participate.

Her sailcloth manufacturing brother and his wife are incensed because Margaret has been left the money, they are always in need because they have a big family and the brother is useless at business. To placate them Margaret takes their eldest girl with her as a companion and promises to send her to school and fund her future. Luckily Margaret becomes very fond of Susanna who is very like her with the high cheekbones which they have both inherited from their Scottish forebears. Susanna’s siblings all say she is so ‘Scotchy’ and it is mentioned that they come from the ‘land of cakes’!!

When Margaret reaches Littlehampton she unfortunately becomes involved in the local strict – no fun allowed – church, which has a minister who is very much under his wife’s thumb, the precursor to Bishop and Mrs Goldie characters of the Barchester novels.

As an obviously well off woman it isn’t long before Margaret has attracted the attentions of men who are more interested in her money than anything else. I really liked the characters of Margaret and her niece. The subject of wills is one which seems to pop up quite often in Trollope’s books and Victorian fiction in general I think.

I’m working my way through Trollope and it’s going to take some time as they say! But this one is definitely worth reading if you like his work. One of the reasons I like his writing is that he was so obviously a man before his time and was on the side of the underdog, and that was definitely the plight of women in Victorian society, middle class women were in an even worse position than their supposedly poorer working-class sisters, who at least had the ability to work and so become independent of men, in theory anyway, as long as they didn’t marry a brute, bully or drunkard and have troops of kids. Thinking about it – nothing much has changed really!