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.

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!

The Three Clerks by Anthony Trollope

If you don’t know much about Anthony Trollope you can read about him here. I enjoyed this book which was first published in 1858 and if you fancy reading it too you can download it from Project Gutenberg here. The three clerks in the title are young men trying to get a foothold on the career ladder of the Civil Service, Harry Norman, Alaric Tudor and Charley Tudor. The Tudors are cousins and Harry is their friend and at the weekend they often accompany him on his visits to his aunt’s, Mrs Woodward. She has three young daughters, Gertrude, Linda and Katie and they provide the love interest in The Three Clerks.

The book seems to be very autobiographical with the character of Charley being based on Trollope as a young man in London. Alaric is full of confidence and it isn’t long before his career takes off, but it’s all bluff and bluster really and he is easily led into corruption and bribery. When Undecimus Scott a member of a Scottish aristocratic family (his father is Lord Gaberlunzie) takes interest in Alaric he is flattered and ends up being drawn into Undy Scott’s money making schemes, which are nothing more than dodgy speculation and gambling on being able to make money from buying and selling shares for constructions which don’t even exist – and may never get planning permission. Scott of course never uses his own money for speculating, as I mentioned in a previous post the Scottish word ‘gaberlunzie’ means beggar, if only Alaric had known it, he would have been forewarned.

There’s doomed love, scandal, greed, spectacular falls from grace, civil service re-organisation, plundering of private pension funds and insider dealing. In fact it’s all amazingly up to date, because human beings always have the same weaknesses and faults, no matter which century they’re living in. I’m surprised that this one hasn’t been dramatised for TV, I think it would be very popular.

If you look at the long list of books which Anthony Trollope wrote you can’t help thinking that he must have been so underemployed in his position as Postmaster General, and whatever jobs he had before he reached that dizzy height, that he was spending all of his time scribbling away at his novels. Not that I’m complaining mind you, I’m glad he found something to keep himself busy and the rest of us entertained.

Now my only problem is – which Trollope should I read next!

The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope

No one, probably, ever felt himself to be more alone in the world than our old friend the Duke of Omnium, when the Duchess died.

Those are the opening words of the book, and I could hardly believe them. I don’t normally ‘give away’ much of the plot or action of any book, for fear that I might spoil it for other potential readers, but lots of people seem to have watched the serialisation of the books so it’ll be no surprise for them.

Whether you love or hate Lady Glencora, and I swung between both, you have to admit that it’s an unusually sudden way to learn of a character’s death. No long dragged out will she, won’t she for him. He couldn’t be more different from Mr Popular Sentiment (Dickens), I actually thought to myself – ‘this reminds me of Psycho’ – because when that film was first released in cinemas the audiences were aghast that Janet Leigh had been done to death so early on in the film, as much as the way of her going.

Anyway, this book is about how the Duke of Omnium copes with his children now that their mother is dead. He has always been quite a remote father to his two sons and one daughter and Glencora kept a lot from him. So when he realises that his late wife had been encouraging a relationship between their daughter and what he regards as a very unsuitable young man, the Duke is not pleased. He plans to marry his daughter off to just about anyone else. The whole situation reminds him of the beginnings of his relationship with Glencora, and he wants a similar outcome for his daughter.

His sons are causing him even more worry through gambling but he manages to cope with that more easily and sees the loss of £70,000 as cheap at the price – if it cures his heir of gambling.

This is the last in the Palliser series and although Trollope is usually really good at tying up the loose ends of characters, he didn’t quite do it here, so I can see why Angela Thirkell decided to write about some of the same families, albeit a few generations ahead. The book didn’t end the way I expected it to because at one point the Duke is described surprisingly, as being a man who is susceptible to feminine frills and petticoats, and I thought that that was a bit of a clue that he would be replacing poor Glencora fast, as so many men seem to do, but I was wrong.

You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve been a bit vague on names here, that’s because I finished reading the book over a week ago and I read it on my Kindle and although I have a copy of the book – I can’t find it – the usual situation for me I’m afraid, I saw it recently! Anyway, I think the children are Silverbridge, the heir to the dukedom, Lady Mary, and was the ‘spare’ son called Gerald?

I did enjoy the book but Phineas Finn, Phineas Redux and The Prime Minister were my favourites in the series. Yes, they’re much more political, but not in a boring way and they are full of insights into human nature, an education in themselves.

The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

I enjoyed reading the previous book in the Palliser series so much that I couldn’t wait long to get stuck into this one. It’s all very topical as Trollope was writing about the 1870s Whig (Liberal)-Tory coalition and the problems it caused.

Poor Plantagenet Palliser or the Duke of Omnium as he is now has been given the job of Prime Minister and as the two political factions really hate each other like poison, just as they do now, he isn’t really the right man for the job. Planty is still hankering after decimalisation and reforming the weights and measures system, he doesn’t have the temperament which is needed to keep on the right side of everyone at Westminster. He doesn’t have the gift of being all things to all men (or women) in fact he snubs them inadvertently, and they don’t forget it.

Meanwhile, his wife the duchess aka Lady Glencora has become wildly ambitious, in fact she really thinks that she could run the government better than any of them (don’t we all!). She throws herself into becoming a great political hostess with the intention of making her husband very popular but she tries too hard and ends up being disappointed. Obviously nobody had told her that all political careers end in tears.

Again, Trollope has two very strong women characters, the other one being Emily Wharton. I had always thought that Trollope was very fair minded when it came to women and really ahead of the times regarding women’s freedom of thought and their rights but it didn’t stop him from writing two female characters who are really bad judges of character. Both Glencora and Emily are easily taken in by a handsome face and slick manners. Maybe that was Trollope’s experience of women. Anyway, disaster ensues. I’m fairly sure that my blood pressure took a battering from Ferdinand Lopez’s antics and his wife’s reactions to them!

Although this book was first published in 1876 the themes are all so similar to life at Westminster and in the ‘City’ of today. Ferdinand Lopez is a gambler on the stock exchange and buys and sells commodities which usually don’t even exist. It’s all a con and he uses other people’s money to gamble with. He would fit in well in the financial scene of today.

If you know anything about Victorian politics it’s easy to pick out Mr Gresham as being Gladstone and Daubeney is Disraeli. Topics such as suffrage and political reform are being discussed but as someone said recently, they discuss things in Westminster for 100 -150 years before anything actually happens, as proven by the decimalisation of the currency!

And here we are 150 or so years later in a Liberal-Tory coalition, they still hate each other like poison but it’s supposed to be for the good of the country but in reality they just want to hang on to power. We are back to being ruled by a bunch of old Etonians, just as they were in Trollope’s day, and they think that we (the people) are a bunch of oiks and plebs!

I have to say that it’s much better reading about Trollope’s Westminster rather than the politics of today. I’m going straight on to reading the last one in the series, The Duke’s Children.
I’m obviously not the only person to be reminded of the Victorian Whig/Tory coalition.

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

I’m steadily working my way through Trollope’s Pallisers, this being the fourth book in the series, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it all. In fact I’m having to make myself take a rest in between them and read something completely different (and less of a chunkster) otherwise it would be ages before I was ‘living’ outside 19th century Britain.

As you will realise from the title, Phineas Finn makes a comeback to Westminster via the constituency of Tankerville where he is eventually proclaimed as their MP after the vote was scrutinised and his opponent was found to have been bribing voters.

Although he doesn’t like the look of the place or its inhabitants he’s glad to be able to be part of the life of Westminster again, despite the fact that he is having to live off his savings as of course in those times MPs weren’t paid a wage, politics was really a rich man’s pastime. Phineas is hoping to gain a ministerial post as ministers were paid, but things don’t go well for him and he has such a quick temper and he takes offence so easily that it’s inevitable that he falls foul of enemies who are out to get him.

Well, that’s about as much as I’m going to say about the storyline, except to say that it did take a completely unexpected turn – for me anyway. I haven’t seen the Pallisers on TV so it’s all new to me.

In this book and the previous one there has been a lot written about Plantagenet Palliser, who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, trying to get decimalisation of the currency through the House of Commons. This was a huge surprise to me when I first read it because decimalisation didn’t take place in the UK until 1971, when I was in primary 7. We were all given dummy sets of the new coins in plastic so that we would be used to them when they were minted. You can see what the old coins looked like here.

I was quite amazed to discover through Trollope that decimalisation was mooted as far back as Victorian times. I had a bit of a search and discovered it being spoken of in Hansard on 12th,June 1855. So it took over 100 years from then for the system to be changed to what is definitely a simpler way of calculating things but I must admit that I’m one of the generation who still thinks of prices in ‘real’ money, so I still find myself saying occasionally something like: Flip! That cauliflower is 30 bob in real money! In other words 30 shillings – or £1.50 in decimal coinage.

Planty Palliser or the Duke as I must now call him was exasperated as he didn’t know what to do about the farthings as five farthings wouldn’t fit into an old penny. That was no problem in 1971 because farthings had been abolished by then as being too worthless to bother about. A certain person sitting not too far from me now can remember being charged tuppence three farthings for something, it must have been sweeties surely. I bet shop workers were glad to be rid of them, it’s such a lot to have to say – for so little.

Basil by Wilkie Collins

This is another book from my 2011 Reading List and it’s the fifth book which I’ve read by Wilkie Colllins. It was first published in 1852 and was the second book which he wrote. Although The Woman in White is his most famous book it isn’t my favourite, I think that that is still The Moonstone and I even enjoyed Basil more than TWIW.

Basil is the 24 year old younger son of a man of property and wealth. Basil’s father is in fact a terrible snob and the most important thing to him is his family name and its noble pedigree, he’s a very proud man and he likes everyone to know their place in society, and to stick to it.

So when Basil falls in love/lust at first sight with a beautiful young woman whom he meets on an omnibus, and he subsequently discovers that she is the daughter of a linen draper, he knows that his father would never approve of the situation. Such is Basil’s infatuation that he contacts the 17 year old Margaret Sherwin through one of her family servants and after only a few meetings with her Basil meets her father and agrees to a marriage with Margaret within a week. Mr Sherwin stipulates that the marriage must be kept a secret and, reading between the lines, unconsumated, for one year as Margaret is young and he hopes that Basil’s father will then accept the situation.

The book is just full of class snobbery with Mr Sherwin and his daughter being portrayed as vulgar gold-diggers, which is to be expected of someone in ‘trade’. Basil’s life falls apart and he eventually realises what a fool he has been.

If you enjoy Victorian melodrama and thrillers then you should give this one a go. There’s a lot more plot than I have written about.

I think it is quite funny that I was reading this book just before the William and Catherine wedding because I remember that James Whittaker commented quite recently that William wouldn’t marry Kate because her mother had been an air hostess (shock horror) and they were in trade, and we couldn’t have an heir to the throne marrying into that sort of family! Two fingers up to James Whittaker then!

A Christmas Tree by Charles Dickens

This is a short story by Charles Dickens and I must admit that it’s the only thing of his that I’ve ever actually got to the end of. That isn’t saying much because it’s only 40 pages long. It’s a very wee book with quite a lot of illustrations by HM Brock. You can read it here. I first read the story about 20 years ago, I wasn’t feeling at all Christmassy and when I saw this lovely wee book in a second-hand book shop I thought it might help me get into the spirit of it all. Ho Ho Ho! – and all that.

To begin with it did conjure up Victorian images of all the traditional decorations that could be found on a Christmas tree. But Dickens just couldn’t stop himself from adding Christmas ghost stories and dead children! I suppose it might have seemed uplifting to your average Victorian, given the child mortality rate in those days.

I don’t know if my attitude towards reading Dickens has been coloured by the fact that from an early age I knew that he was a bit of a swine to his wife. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a good thing to know a lot about the private lives of authors because it can be really off-putting. Quite a few of them seem to have been bad and dangerous to know – if not actually mad too.

Should I give Dickens another whirl sometime in the future?

The Belton Estate by Anthony Trollope

The Belton Estate was first published in serial form in 1865 and for some reason seems to have been quite neglected over the years. I have to say that I really enjoyed it and it was a very quick read for me.

It’s another story featuring that dastardly thing – an entailed estate. Belton Estate is owned by Mr Amedroz, a widower with a grown up son and daughter, so the entailment shouldn’t be a problem. However, the son Charles has been indulged and spoiled by his father and after spending all of his father’s money and leaving nothing for his sister Clara’s future – and being the selfish, self pitying swine that he is, he commits suicide.

Clara is now in dire straits with no money and an ailing elderly father. When her father dies she’ll be penniless and homeless as the estate passes on to a distant cousin Will Belton. Clara fancies herself to be in love with Captain Frederic Aylmer who is a relative by marriage and a Member of Parliament (usually a bad sign), so when Will Belton, an honest, shy and gentle chap falls in love with Clara she turns his offer of marriage down. Silly Clara, but it had to be done, for the sake of the book.

Clara’s father is sure that the wealthy Mrs Winterfield who is Clara’s aunt by marriage will provide for Clara in her will and so thinks that he has nothing to worry about but Clara knows that her aunt is going to leave her estate and money to Captain Aylmer.

Eventually Captain Aylmer proposes marriage to Clara and she accepts but it isn’t long before she is comparing him with Will Belton and as Frederic is a cold man who never seems to be able to behave the way a fiance should to her, things begin to cool.

When Clara’s father dies she goes to stay with her prospective in-laws, whom she hasn’t met before and it’s obvious that Frederic’s mother and sister are dead against him marrying Clara.

That’s as far as I’m going with the story, because I don’t want to spoil it for people who might want to read it. Previously I’ve read The Barchester Chronicles, and I loved those books, so funny. Trollope must have known a fair amount of ghastly women in his time because he writes them so well. Mrs Proudie, the bishop’s wife, is wonderful in her awfulness.

But what struck me about The Belton Estate is that my copy had originally belonged to my mother-in-law. We inherited it along with a bookcase full of books so I’m fairly sure that she read it. We’ve been married for over 34 years and it’s taken me till now to discover who my mother-in-law took as her role model. It was the tyrranical Lady Aylmer of course, Frederic’s mother!

Charles Dickens often wrote about the conditions that poor people had to suffer, because he had been there himself and presumably hoped that he could help by writing about the inequality of life. Trollope, who was of a different class seems to have been trying to do much the same thing for the women of his own class who were put in a difficult position by entails. He’s also very sympathetic to women who were often harshly judged for what would be seen as a small misdemeanour if committed by a man. It seems to have taken another 20 years for entails to be abolished, by the Reform Bill of 1885.

Anyway, I recommend The Belton Estate as a good read, especially if you’re a bit wary of Anthony Trollope’s work.

The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker

It was a dark and stormy day with the rain battering on the windows and wind howling down the chimneys, so when the gas man finally managed to fix our NEW boiler, (he’s been trying since Thursday) I thought it was the perfect atmosphere for finishing off The Jewel of Seven Stars.

I’m afraid it didn’t help matters though. It says on the cover of this book: STOKER’S CLASSIC TALE OF TERROR, the inspiration for today’s Mummy movies!

At the beginning Abel Trelawny, a keen collector of Egyptian artefacts, appears to have been attacked in his own home and has fallen into a comatose state. It is thought that the many Egyptian mummies which are in his room have caused his illness.

On page 104 one of the characters who has been relating past experiences in Egypt at great length said, “I dare say you find this tedious;” which was exactly what I HAD been thinking!

It didn’t do anything for me at all. I’ve always avoided horror movies and for that reason I didn’t really know much about Frankenstein, so when I actually got around to reading the book earlier in the year I was pleasantly surprised that I really enjoyed it. I thought that I might be missing out on something and as quite a few people have been mentioning Dracula recently I thought I would start off with one of Stoker’s shorter books first. Now I’m not sure if I will bother with Dracula because although this book was only 188 pages long, it did seem to drag.

First published in 1903 this was apparently Stoker’s eighth book, which is a surprise to me because I didn’t think it was very well written and I had been thinking that he must have improved over the years, maybe not then. It was re-written in 1912 and I think it is that version which I read. I suppose it’s because it’s Gothic, but it’s stilted beyond belief, and I say that as someone who reads more Classic books than modern.

Even reading it with tongue firmly in cheek I couldn’t get any enjoyment from it, however I ploughed on regardless to the end. This was a book which I borrowed from the library and the previous borrower had left their bookmark in it less than half-way through, so I can’t be the only person who wasn’t enamoured with it.

I’ll see what others think of Dracula before embarking on it.