BoundedRationality100x151
The Edge of Chaos
Machines Who Think
Aaron's Code
Email
Anthony Trollope

 

line1

I have been an enthusiastic member of the Century Trollopians in New York City for several years. This group, organized by George Newlin, is slowly working its way through all of Trollope's fiction (some forty-odd novels) and perhaps we'll turn to his nonfiction in time. We drink, we dine, and then one of us presents a talk about the book under discussion. We are all amateurs in the literal sense: we love the work. These two papers on The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset have been my contributions.

 

line1

Anthony Trollope's

The Small House at Allington

Presented to the Trollopians at the Century Association

New York City

January 30, 2008

 

Pamela McCorduck

When George Newlin first suggested that I make a presentation to you on The Small House at Allington, I was struck by how many of Anthony Trollope's novels are named for structures: Orley Farm, Barchester Towers, Framley Parsonage, and on and on. Then I did an actual count, and discovered that less than a quarter of them have such titles. I was responding, I realize, to the concreteness of Trollope's writing, the palpable sense we have of being someplace real, definite, a place we could probably find our way around, using the little maps in most of the novels, or by asking directions from friendly locals.

 This sense of place is one of Trollope's great strengths as a novelist, although we understand that it's a subordinate strength: it serves as a setting for beautifully realized characters who will encounter each other and act out human behavior that we instantly recognize more than a century and a half later. We can climb those stiles, walk those country lanes, settle down beside the fire in country comfort or ride the train to the bewitching city called London, with all its lures and marvels.

 What isn't so evident in The Small House at Allingtonthough it is in some of his other novels—is the greater world. The London we visit in the company of Trollope's characters in The Small House, or the countryside where we make sociable visits, is an abstraction, a quite deliberate abstraction. It leaves things out. Why this is so I propose to explore a little with you tonight. Eventually, I hope, I'll persuade you all over again that, as a sensitive observer of human psychology, and of the world, Anthony Trollope was as good as they come. 

 First, let's look at the real outside world that surrounds this novel. Most critics place the novel in the year 1861, which is reasonable, given what we know. These were interesting times in every way.

 A year and a half earlier, in late 1859, Darwin had published his Origin of Species. Explosive then; explosive now: a major scientific and cultural shock, calling into question the very foundations of religious belief.

 Moreover, this book's characters stand sixty years into the beginning of one of the most radical economic changes in human history. If you were to plot the graph, the sum of human wealth, flat for millennia, suddenly makes an upward, almost vertical turn at the start of the 19th century. A division opens between the rich nations and the poor nations, and Trollope's England is one of the rich nations, the richest then, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, and its astonishing rise in efficiencies of production. After the Napoleonic Wars, wealth can be diverted from warfare to manufacturing: for example, the new Bessemer process for mass production of high-grade steel cheaply and reliably has an immediate effect on ship building, bridge building, railway rolling stock. The first transatlantic cable has just been laid, allowing fast—well, relatively fast—communication between America and Great Britain.

 An American invention, the mechanical reaper, has made its way to England in the 1850s, and will upend the system we still see here in The Small House, of wealthy landowners who live on the rents paid by their tenant farmers. The mechanical reaper halves the cost of wheat, a boon for bread-eaters in the city, but devastating for agricultural workers and their landlords, the landed gentry. This is also the moment when we begin to pump massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because it's when we first use fossil fuels—coal, and then petroleum—on an industrial scale.

 The London of 1861 is a city of great contrasts, dazzling and grinding. In 1858, Parliament has been driven into recess by what's known as The Big Stink: the Thames is so clogged with raw sewage that, even with special draperies dipped in lime, the smell assaults and overcomes the distinguished members. When the Big Stink abates enough so that Parliament can reconvene, it commissions for London the most up-to-date sewage treatment in the world, a system more or less in place by 1865. The new sewer system ends threats of further Big Stinks, but its most dramatic effect is upon public health.

 It's a boom time. Everyone's standard of living is rising (except for poor Mrs. Dale). Of course the rich are doing better than the poor, but the term "middle class" has just come into use in the decade prior to our novel, and that middle class is catered to by a bazaar of luxuries that come from all over the Empire.

 The Empire, a quarter of the globe, and in 1861 only approaching its peak. At the London docks, goods arrive by the ton, but the Empire also offers employment for thousands of otherwise unemployable younger sons; gives poor boys opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have; it's an escape, voluntary or involuntary, for those who need an escape. Meanwhile, the Empire stuffs the treasuries of firms and government alike. In The Small House, we hear of the Empire when Bernard Dale, rejected as a suitor by his cousin Bell, Lily's sister, decides to go to what the gardener, Hopkins, calls "The Hingies," which might be India, and might be the West Indies.

 The Dales, mother and daughters, are only poor in a relative way. They have at least one servant, and a pleasant place to live, that Small House (though they live there thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Dale's brother-in-law, the Squire) and some, though not much, disposable income. The three of them live on three hundred a year—no wonder Adolphus Crosbie's eight hundred per annum looks so princely. 1 We see Mrs. Dale doing the kinds of wardrobe maintenance that only poor but genteel women must do. Really poor women don't bother. 

For the poor suffer mightily in the England of this time, particularly in London. Despite the growth of private wealth, the farfetched notion of government responsibility to alleviate poverty is only a gleam in the eye of certain Continental radicals. The Lancet says that more than 6,000 brothels exist in London, staffed largely by poor girls with no alternative. Amelia Roper escapes this fate by the skin of her teeth. 

 Medicine, and its sister, hygiene, are primitive. Dr. Crofts, Bell's sweetheart, must have read an editorial in The Times which says that having medical students actually take exams is a waste of time, since diagnoses are a matter of good guesswork, and no one has ever devised an exam to test intuition. In our particular year of 1861, Florence Nightingale establishes in London the first school for nursing—ever. But it's a good sewer system, not medicine, that makes the dramatic difference in public health.

 A literary footnote: In 1861, a young architect's assistant by the name of Thomas Hardy is just leaving the provincial town of Dorchester to try his luck as an architect in London.

 In short, The Small House at Allington is set in a historically charged moment. Profound changes are already underway; more profound changes will follow. All this seems largely absent from the novel, an absence worth pondering.

 The great engine that drives the Trollopian novel is money. Money, the getting of it; money, the losing of it; money that buys not just the creature comforts, but that buys status and security.

 So in this book, the plot is set in motion when Adolphus Crosbie falls in love with penniless Lily Dale. He hears from his good friend, Lily's cousin Bernard (who indeed has introduced Adolphus into the Dale household) that Lily's uncle (Bernard's also) will surely settle something on her, and so proposes. Lily, having fallen wildly in love, says yes. All this occurs within a month.

 Life in the small house has seen some struggle, so at one level Lily's aware that money makes the world go round. Crosbie's annual income of £800 must seem just one more marvel about him. He even looks as if he'll make something of himself, being the up and coming civil servant and young man of fashion that he is in London. 

 But Lily's uncle refuses to settle money on her. Crosbie has a dark night of the soul—in fact, several dark nights of the soul--as he considers what he must now give up to keep his betrothal pledge. He leaves Allington for Courcy Castle, where he promptly gets himself engaged simultaneously to Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, whose sell-by date has come and gone. Lady Alexandrina doesn't have any money either, but she has status as the daughter of an earl, and Crosbie imagines that this status will propel his career.

 When Lily learns of his duplicity, she doesn't think good riddance to thoroughly bad rubbish, but forbids anyone to say a harsh word about him. She dedicates herself to a perfervid and impossible love whose martyrdom has perplexed many a reader. On the day of Crosbie's wedding to Lady Alexandrina, Lily recites aloud to her horrified mother and sister what he must be doing hour by hour—there at the church, the altar, the wedding feast, the wedding journey: all a kind of mortification that gives the reader shivers.  Crosbie is nothing less than Lily's demon lover, and more about that in a moment. (This is such a rich novel that I must resist exploring the meaning of Lily Dale's name, or that Lily's story is a retelling of the Daphne myth, not tonight!)

The question arises—actually George Newlin raised it with me—whether the relationship between Lily and Crosbie is in fact consummated, and if it is, whether this accounts for Lily's morbid attachment to Crosbie long after she should have turned her back. The novel is deliciously, playfully ambiguous about such a consummation, for Anthony Trollope knew his Victorian reader, and knew just how far he might go. Here's a sample of some of that playfulness, using croquet as a metaphor. We know that Mr. Crosbie isn't quite as clumsy a croquet player as he first pretends, but the metaphor takes on more and more meanings—'"Apollo can't get through the hoops," Lily said afterwards to her sister; "but then how gracefully he fails to do it!" Lily, however, had been beaten, and may therefore be excused for a little spite against her partner. But it so turned out that before Mr. Crosbie took his final departure from Allington, he could get through the hoops; and Lily, though she was still queen of the croquet ground, had to acknowledge a male sovereign in that dominion.' I don't need to remind you that women wore enormous hoop skirts at this time.          

Once alert to the possibility, you begin to see more literal allusions to it:  "I think there is nothing in the world so pretty as the conscious little tricks of love played off by a girl towards the man she loves, when she has made up her mind boldly that all the world may know that she has given herself away to him. I am not sure that Crosbie liked it all as much as he should have done. The bold assurance of her love when they two were alone together he did like." Again, "…And Crosbie went away with Lily into the field where they had first learned to know each other in those haymaking days." When Lily recognizes that her uncle will give them no financial help, she offers to break the engagement off. "Though I have given myself to you as your wife, I can bear to be divorced from you now—now."  And still later: "Yes, your own, to take when you please and as much your own in one way as the other." So—persuasive, but of course not a certainty. 

Now Lily is also adored from afar by a local boy who himself has gone to London to make good, a clerk called Johnny Eames. Johnny is in an odd spot too because in his London boarding house, he has begun, or been bullied into, a flirtation with his landlady's daughter, Amelia Roper. (Trollope doesn't succumb to the cartoonish names of his contemporary, Charles Dickens, but he has his fun.) Johnny has written a compromising note which the calculating Amelia often reminds him of, for she considers herself engaged to him, while he can only think he'd rather go to the colonies than marry Amelia—another small sign that a world exists outside.

 In short, the usual Trollopian structure obtains in this novel: the parallel love affairs, the comparisons we are left to make among them; the question of how it will all resolve itself; the ever-vexing problem of money. Those who have money do not wish to part from it; those who do not have it need it--and find it mighty elusive.

 As you read The Small House, you must be struck by the fact that while Trollope lavishes detailed descriptions upon the Great House at Allington, even down to the windowpanes (and equally as much description upon the new and thoroughly awful house Crosbie and his bride Lady Alexandrina occupy after their wedding) the small house is left oddly vague. We know there's a fertile garden, and we know there's a fine lawn, where, when the story has barely begun, the young couples play croquet, and where, a bit later, a country dance is staged. We know that the small house has windows, where the occupants can gaze out and others can look in.

 Why is Trollope quiet here? Can it be that the small house is as much a state of mind as a real place? If this is so, what state of mind does it represent?

 When Squire Dale, uncle to Lily and Bell, and uncle also to Bernard, takes it badly that Bell will not have Bernard, preferring instead a country doctor, the three inhabitants of the small house understand that Squire Dale wants the privileges and authority of a father without the responsibilities.  They agree to give up the small house, a leave-taking that wrenches each of them, the Squire included.

 What are they leaving? It isn't just the home they have kept together for nearly fifteen years, comfortable, friendly, and not incidentally, rent-free. I sense that the Small House could be a state of mind, the golden home of childhood before adult responsibilities press down, before the outside world makes its demands. With its cozy warmth, its gardens, the Small House is an Eden, though more for the daughters than the mother. It might even stand for that sentimental Anglo-Saxon preference for the country over the city, quiet comforts over the hubbub, and even the risks, of the great outside.

 It might stand, in other words, for the place we must leave as we mature, as we make the transition from childhood to adulthood, a persistent theme in this novel, particularly with Johnny Eames's eventual shedding of his hobbledehoyhood, his boy in a man's body becoming at last a man altogether.

 Bell accepts Dr. Crofts as her husband, and so leaves the small house at the appropriate time. But Lily and her mother do not leave the small house after all. For Lily it seems a strange choice. If the Small House is the state of mind I've suggested, then it seems Lily is refusing to step out of girlhood and out of her puzzling, quite disproportionate infatuation—I said martyrdom a moment ago—with a man who has betrayed her, a man unworthy of such devotion. She refuses the man who loves her truly; in a later novel, The Last Chronicle of Barset, she will even turn down the man she has martyred herself for, Adolphus, Apollo, the rascal who betrayed her, by then widowed and all too aware of his error. It seems she prefers to linger instead in the small house of girlhood, refusing, perhaps afraid, to engage with the greater world outside, which is to say, adulthood.

 Maybe this is why the outside world and its dramatic events are so shadowy in this novel. Yes, of course, artistic economy pushes all this into the background, but I also think it works symbolically.

 Poor Lily. She's certainly had bad luck with men and hasn't much reason to trust them. We learn she's about four when her father dies, plunging the family not only into deep grief, but simultaneously into want. Lily is taken to live in a home provided by her uncle who can barely be civil to his sister-in-law, Lily's mother; though in his gruff way, he's fond of his nieces, and gives them gifts from time to time. Her cousin Bernard, who should surely have known his friend better, permits the fatal engagement to take place without a word of warning. Johnny is more or less true to her, but he's a man, and has more than a few serious flirtations with other women, which Lily will hear about, and in the subsequent novel, use as an excuse to keep from marrying him. But Lily's greatest betrayer is Adolphus Crosbie, her demon-lover, an attachment that pitches her toward destruction. Between the early grief over her father's death, Crosbie's cruel betrayal, and then grief for her own shattered hopes, we can't wonder if Lily immures herself in the small house, whatever it stands for.

Still, Lily is no moping drama queen. Her banter is ever bright and funny; she's very good company and much welcomed for that wherever she goes. She tries to keep her sorrows to herself, but sorrows they are, deep and mysterious. We, the readers, know about them; her mother also knows; she confides in a close friend. Meanwhile, all the world presses her to take John Eames as her husband. 

Yet Lily Dale persists in attaching herself, at least symbolically, to a man who has done grave damage to her; continues to claim she loves him. After their brief month's acquaintance and courtship, which ends in their engagement, she sends him ardent love letters; he barely bothers to reply. What kind of love is this? Is he just not that into her, as a later generation will say? But as we know, he does love her. He simply has other priorities. 

From a common-sense perspective, Lily's behavior is inexplicable, nor can we account for the novel's popularity. So let's consider a psychological perspective instead.  

Freudians have declared unambiguously that Lily is afraid of sexual love. Frankly, this is implausible. Her behavior with Crosbie when they're engaged is more than flirtatious; within the bounds of propriety, it's quite sexual. You've heard some evidence that it goes beyond the bounds of propriety. Had the marriage taken place, we can believe that she'd have been an ardent and happy wife.

Meanwhile, she keeps turning down Johnny Eames's proposals. Maybe she refuses him at first because in some ways he is what the Jungians call her shadow: he represents what she likes least in herself, a child--or at least an adolescent--in a grownup's body. But then Johnny comes to her again, as a man in a man's body, and still she refuses him. The reasons she gives are almost morbid—she feels herself as married to Adolphus Crosbie as if she had actually wed him, even though he has married another and wickedly humiliated her to do so. (In an odd parallel, Johnny Eames uses almost the same phrase to describe his relationship with Lily—he feels himself as good as married to her, even though she refuses him and there's no sign at all that any relationship was ever consummated between them.) When, in The Last Chronicle, the possibility of marriage to Adolphus is raised, Lily confesses to a friend: "I love him, but I do not trust his love." 

Is Lily's behavior a tardy example of Continental Romanticism? In The Sorrows of Young Werther, published nearly a century earlier, its hero commits suicide from unrequited love, and some 2000 suicides all over Europe are said to have been committed in sympathy. Lily seems to be committing a kind of suicide.

Or, is Lily one of those nice girls who just finds bad boys irresistible? This to the consternation, the frustration, of nice boys everywhere?

Or, can it be that Adolphus Crosbie stands as an emissary from the outside world—really, the first from that outside world that Lily has ever met, living, as she has, only among the relatives and friends of Allington? Can it be that Crosbie's reprehensible behavior has convinced her to have nothing to do with that outside world ever again? Hence her permanent retreat to the Small House? 

Or, is Crosbie Lily's demon lover? In psychological terms, this phrase stands for an erotic struggle that can and often does destroy a woman—the near fatal union between a maid and a demon, which echoes through classical and European folklore. Bluebeard is the canonical example; some versions of Don Juan; several lives of the saints. The demon lover seduces and then destroys. But if a woman survives and triumphs in that struggle, she will make herself whole, seize genuine autonomy.

Very early in the novel, we have a possible foreshadowing of Lily's future. Mrs. Dale, a widow of fifteen years' standing, Trollope tells us, has decided "she must bury herself that her daughters might live well above ground." She could have been "as young in heart as her daughters, listened to little nothings from this and that Apollo, had she thought that things had been conformable thereto. Women at forty do not become ancient misanthropes, or stern Rhadamanthine moralists, indifferent to the world's pleasures—no, not even though they be widows." A moment later the author adds, "I think that Mrs. Dale was wrong….She had resolved, as she herself had said often, to put away childish things, and now she pined for those things which she so put away from her." This self-effacement seems to suggest an eerie parallel to the path Lily will choose. In The Last Chronicle of Barset, Lily writes the words Old Maid in her journal, a future she is consciously willing, a vow she deliberately makes. Lily admits to herself, to her friend, at last to John Eames, that something has gone wrong in her life. She is, she confesses, a shattered tree.  The demon lover has destroyed her.

Or has he? 

The actual outside world—in the form of Victorian readers—loved Lily Dale. Trollope tells us she was one of his most popular heroines: readers wrote to beg that a marriage take place; in the real world, two ships were named for her. How can this be, when she behaves so inexplicably? What appeal did such a pathetic creature have for her contemporaries?

In her first infatuation with Crosbie, Lily fits the Victorian image of "the angel in the house," an idea that comes from a poem of that title, a poem of revolting sentimentality, and wildly popular with the middle class at just this time, the late 1850s, early 1860s and even later. The ideal woman, the angel in the house, is held to be meek, passive, obedient and submissive in all things to her husband; her concern is only his well-being and the well-being of their children; and on and on. This cult of angel in the house would have been impossible without that rise in private wealth mentioned earlier: angels being, of course, a class that requires subsidies. Early in their courtship, Crosbie refers to Lily explicitly as an angel. And Lily concurs, will be such an angel for him, herself effaced: she looks forward joyfully. The angel in the house, Virginia Woolf would later say, is a figure that women writers must murder.

Here, among the Century Trollopians, we have come across this kind of woman before—please recall the intelligent Alice Vavasor of Can You Forgive Her? passionate about politics, but who finally chooses a passive life married to John Grey, member from Silverbridge, the "cause" she can serve. More sadly, recall Phineas Finn's first love, Lady Laura Standish, who foolishly marries Mr. Kennedy—not because she loves him, but because her brother needs money--Mr. Robert Kennedy, whose ambitions for women are no more generous or imaginative than "the angel in the house." Phineas and Can You Forgive Her? were written after The Small House at Allington, and I wonder if writing about Lily Dale had pushed Trollope to explore more explicitly how impossible the situation was of intelligent women in Victorian times, at least if they weren't independently wealthy, like Madame Max.

Does this dispose of Lily Dale? Has the demon lover succeeded in destroying her? Not quite. Forgive me for looking ahead to the sequel once more. In The Last Chronicle of Barset, which takes place three years after The Small House, we meet an older, wiser Lily. She encounters the man she once hoped to marry, and discovers that he is not a god, Apollo, but only a man after all.  She is fond of John Eames, but has always understood that he too is a mortal, no god. 

In a very telling late passage in The Last Chronicle, we enter her mind: she loves John Eames dearly, but—but. "…She could not say to herself that he should be her lord and master, the head of her house, the owner of herself, the ruler of her life. The shipwreck to which she had once come, and the fierce doubts that had thence arisen, had forced her to think too much of these things." A younger, more naïve Lily would willingly have sacrificed herself to become an angel of the house for a man she worshipped as a god. But now she understands that she cannot destroy herself for any mere mortal.

A wiser, more mature Lily understands that, as a respectable woman of modest means, Victorian society offers her only two choices: she can marry, and submit to the utter self-sacrifice demanded of angels of the house. Or she can decline to marry, and thus decline to submit and serve. In this reading, the Small House is no longer a perverse step backward into girlhood, but an evasive maneuver sideways—the only way to seize and secure her human autonomy. It will cost her dearly--companionship, children, a loving home. For the older, wiser Lily Dale, it is worth the cost. This is real world that we have missed in these novels—it is there and ineluctable after all. 

Trollope does not say all this explicitly. For all I know, he didn't know it himself consciously. But he knew it as an artist, as one of subtlest observers of the human psyche who ever put pen to paper in the English language. It's left to us, the readers, to choose how to interpret Lily's behavior.  One astute reader, Virginia Woolf, admired the book and its heroine immensely. By coincidence or not, Woolf named one of her own most interesting heroines Lily: Lily Briscoe, in To the Lighthouse. Without my last reading—that Lily refuses to give up her autonomy to a husband, and chooses instead a room of her own—Woolf's admiration would perplex me.

Thus I leave you with questions I have only suggested answers to:

What is the mystery at the heart of Lily Dale's behavior, and hence at the heart of The Small House at AllingtonIs she Romantic victim? Or merely unhinged?

Does Lily's choice to remain in the Small House symbolize her fear of moving from girlhood into adulthood, into the larger world? If so, can we blame her, given her experience with the larger world?

Or is the choice she makes to remain single--an old maid--the only rational one left to her, if she wants her autonomy, wants to remain whole, wants to avoid sacrificing herself to the common expectations of Victorian marriage?  If this is so, then isn't Lily Dale a harbinger of the coming revolution in the status of women, one part of the outside world that, for centuries to come, will force itself upon both private and public domains all over the planet? 

I welcome your thoughts, and thank you.


[return to top]

1 To convert those £800 into today's dollars is problematical, depending on how you calculate. In buying power, it probably translates to about $100,000 a year, adequate for frugal people, not quite enough for a man of fashion living high in the big city.

 

line1

The Last Chronicle of Barset

by Anthony Trollope

A talk presented to the Trollopians

at the Century Association

May 11, 2009

Pamela McCorduck

The Last Chronicle of Barset is the final act of a cycle of richly imagined novels set in the mythical county of Barsetshire. It centers on the fate of a clergyman, Josiah Crawley, a minutely observed character who, by modern standards, is depressive, emotionally abusive, controlling, fanatically puritanical, and without so much as a soupçon of humor. Trollope describes him: "an unhappy, moody, disappointed man, upon whom the troubles of the world always seemed to come with a double weight." Trollope took a mighty chance that he could make us care what happens to this pathetic creature, and in the chancing, wrote what many consider to be his greatest novel. Tonight, I'll talk about the structure, the themes, and the characters in this book, but I'll also argue that the novel can claim further significance, that its implications go far beyond the fate of a particular clergyman.

I thought to begin with a synopsis of all six Barsetshire novels, to put this grand summit of a book into context, to remind you that when we encounter many of these characters in The Last Chronicle, they're old acquaintances with full stories of their own. But that synopsis began to sound in my own ears like the late Anna Russell recounting the story of the Ring of the Nibelung—only not so funny.

The Ring isn't a farfetched comparison. Great panoramic works of art were very much the fashion just then: Wagner wrote his Ring Cycle from 1848 to 1874, virtually the same time Trollope was writing first, his Barsetshire cycle, and then his overlapping Palliser cycle: composer and author were contemporaries. (Such epics haven't yet gone out of fashion. What else is The Sopranos, ER, Six Feet Under, or any other series that revolves around a continuing set of characters that fascinate us?)

As you well know, Trollope's two great epics address somewhat different levels of English society. The Palliser novels, of course, are set for the most part in London, and take up some of the political issues that bedeviled Victorian England. Their characters are at the top of the social pyramid, dukes and duchesses, earls and countesses, plus those plucky few like Phineas Finn and the marvelous Madame Max who find their way into such society. The Barsetshire books, however, are country novels, their settings the sweet and slow—the idealized—provincial towns outside London, their aristocracy country folk. From time to time, the spheres overlap: Barsetshire characters appear in Palliser books, and vice versa.

Some eighteen months ago, I spoke to you about the fifth book in the Barsetshire series, The Small House at Allington. To make sense of its main character, Lily Dale, I often had to refer to The Last Chronicle, where her story concludes. I felt a bit uneasy, as if I were poaching on the talk of whoever would speak about The Last Chronicle. George Newlin fixed that problem nicely by suggesting that I do it, and here I am. Thus I won't say much about Lily Dale and her adventures tonight, but if you wish to read, or even re-read, what I said eighteen months ago, you can find that talk on my website.

To the novel: We first meet the clergyman Josiah Crawley by name in Framley Parsonage, the fourth novel in the series. That book offers almost geometrically parallel stories of Crawley, who has been given too little too often, and Mark Robarts, also a clergyman, who has been given too much too soon. Trollope shows how either extreme can corrupt, and the portrait of Crawley as a depressive is nearly too painful to read—a man with such financial burdens, such existential disappointments and setbacks, that sometimes he cannot get out of bed for days on end. His pride is toxic, both to him and his family. Crawley and Robarts each have loving, supportive, blameless wives. Both wives suffer grievously nevertheless.

From the moment we meet him, then, Crawley is described to us as mad, strange, dark, unstable, fanatic. At the same time, we know that he's a conscientious clergyman, held in high regard by that "lawless, drunken, terribly rough lot of humanity, " his parishioners in Hogglestock, not only because he lives in difficulties and works hard, but also because "he does his duty in spite of the world's ill-usage." He does indeed, but he's hardly uncomplaining. Listen to this:

      "Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
      I will speak in the anguish of my spirit
;
      I will complain in the bitterness of my soul"

This is Job, but it could just as easily be Josiah Crawley.

The major difference between them is that while Job is the innocent victim of a sporting God, Crawley has been much the agent of his own downfall. Crawley is a well-educated (an expensively educated, he tells his wife more than once) gentleman. At Oxford he's been the intimate friend of Francis Arabin, who will become the dean of Barchester. Earlier, when Arabin suffers a spiritual crisis, tempted to go over from the Church of England to the Church of Rome (like his famous colleague John Henry Newman) it's Crawley, unnamed, in Barchester Towers, the second novel in the series, who sees him through it. Arabin, we learn in that novel, will visit Crawley in Cornwall annually after that, and eventually secures for Crawley a somewhat better paid post at Hogglestock, which is where we finally meet him.

In The Last Chronicle, hints soon emerge about Crawley's excessive nature. Consider the Greek books that Trollope names, read and loved in the Crawley household: Euripides, whose most famous plays are about extremes of human behavior such as Medea and The Bacchae; the poems of Anacreon, famous for praising wine, women and song. When Crawley bests and banishes the ineffectual Mr. Thumble, messenger of Mrs. Bishop Proudie, he summons his daughter to come and read aloud in triumph with him Seven Against Thebes. These are not the readings of a moderate man.

I say that Crawley is the agent of his own destruction, and here's what I mean. Crawley's original sin is that he has married too soon. Pressed by the need to support his wife and children, he's forced to take a precarious living in the wilds of Cornwall. He's had "many children," most who have ended in the grave. Please stop for a moment and consider this. Unlike his friends and colleagues, who defer marriage, contain themselves until the proper situation is obtained, the right woman met, Crawley has impetuously, passionately married a genteel but poor woman; and to add insult to injury, has had too many children for his slender means. One of his fellow clergymen, commenting on Crawley's poverty, says he shouldn't have married on that small income, unaware, as Trollope points out, that Crawley originally married on an even smaller income. (You might argue that the Reverend Quiverful is also blessed with too many children, and no one seems to hold that against him, but Quiverful is a tertiary and comic figure, as his name implies, whereas we are meant to take Crawley altogether seriously.)

So I contend that Crawley's original sin is erotic, an ardor that has warmed yet blighted his life. He has violated not only the canons of the English gentleman he was bred up to be; he has also violated the decorum of the classics he reveres: restraint, rationality, pondered thought, self-control, and continence. To put it into Judeo-Christian terms, of the Seven Deadly Sins, we see Josiah Crawley wallowing in four of them: Lust, Wrath, Envy and Pride. No sign of Sloth (unless you count those occasional days when, in the grip of the deepest depression, he cannot get out of bed), no sign of Greed or Gluttony. But still! Four out of seven! Bear this in mind, for I'll come back to it.

Let me say again what an enormous artistic chance Trollope took by putting at the center of his novel such a desperate, depressive, abusive man as Crawley. How can we feel sympathy for this prickly man, who has been forced to crawl through life? He knows very well—he prides himself on it—that his learning is better, deeper than that of other men. He knows his faith before his God is truer, and much more profoundly tried. He works harder than other men in his class do; in return, he sees nothing but grinding misery, while they seem to work not at all, and live in luxury. (You might gather from these novels that the Church of England was a splendidly lavish welfare scheme for refined English gentlemen.) As Crawley's children go hungry and his beloved wife threadbare, self-pity is irresistible, and who can really blame him? In both Framley Parsonage and in The Last Chronicle, his pride, which seems to grow directly in proportion to his misery—and his abusive, controlling nature—is a staggering burden not only to himself, but also to his family and to those who would reach out to help them all.

He's not a lovable man, or for that matter, a lovable character. Yet in a novelist's act of bravura, Trollope puts him at the center of his greatest novel, for The Last Chronicle hinges on the final degradation, and the ultimate redemption, of this most unfortunate creature—indeed, that degradation opens the book.

That degradation is, of course, the terrible event of the twenty-pound check. Where has it come from? How did Josiah Crawley come by it? Mr. Soames, Lord Lufton's man of business, has accused Josiah Crawley of theft, and so the Silverbridge magistrates, laymen all, must meet to decide whether, on the evidence, he is to be committed to the assizes, a real trial. The early scene where the magistrates gather, most of them so very eager to exonerate Mr. Crawley, is poignant. A reader of the previous Barsetshire novels will recognize that most of these men have themselves been gravely tested, tempted—and only triumphed by the skin of their teeth. They are good and generous men, who carry the memories of their own tests and lapses in their hearts. But the lawyer Mr. Walker puts it to the magistrates in no uncertain terms: Mr. Crawley must, if sane, be locked up as a thief, and if mad, locked up as a madman. They sigh, these well meaning, oh so very human English gentlemen, and concede that Mr. Walker is right.

But if Josiah Crawley's story is the engine of the novel, a half dozen other plots revolve around it, some of them dependent on the outcome of Crawley's trial, and some of them simply reflective of the novel's great themes.

For example, Grace Crawley refuses to marry Major Henry Grantly until her father is found innocent, though she, of course, has nothing to do with the twenty-pound check. Major Grantly's parents have strong feelings about this possible marriage too, which leads to a painful rupture between parents and son.

Lily Dale and her London encounter with her former Apollo, Adolphus Crosbie, changes not only her life, but the life of her suitor Johnny Eames, and of course Crosbie's life too.

We meet again Lily's cousin Bernard who will finally marry Emily Dunstable, the niece of the richest woman in England, the Ointment of Lebanon Queen. Emily Dunstable has been the woman whom the Grantlys had picked out for their son, Henry, before they understood he would defy them by marrying Grace Crawley.

The conflict between Bishop Proudie and his wife is a gripping business—often written as delectable comedy, but serious nevertheless—that must end badly.

Mirroring these from below is the courtship between the painter Conway Dalrymple and Clara van Siever, a kind of low-life burlesque, with Clara posing as Jael murdering Cisera; Clara's friend Mrs. Dobbs Broughton, who pines only for an interest in life; and Adolphus Crosbie, whose financial calamities echo those of Josiah Crawley. A cat's cradle of filaments ties these London characters to those in Barsetshire, the cat's cradle embodied in old Mr. Harding's slow and sweet games with his granddaughter Posy.

These plots and subplots, which reflect and play off each other in a brilliant hall of literary mirrors, comprise the structure of this novel, elegant in its symmetries, elegant in its constant combination of anticipation and surprise. For what is structure except how the story is told?

Now to the novel's themes. Early in the book, a dramatic scene summarizes the greatest theme of The Last Chronicle, and possibly the entire Barsetshire series. Josiah Crawley has been called to the bishop's palace to explain why he refuses to follow the bishop's orders —really, Mrs. Bishop Proudie's orders—that he give up his parish duties under the circumstances of his indictment. "I was most unwilling, my lord. Submission to authority is at times a duty—and at times opposition to authority is a duty also" "Opposition to just authority cannot be a duty, Mr. Crawley." "Opposition to usurped authority is an imperative duty," Crawley replies.

Opposition to usurped authority recurs throughout the novel. Mad, suspect Josiah Crawley stands up to the usurped authority of Mrs. Bishop Proudie in scenes that crackle with drama—we nearly want to cheer aloud for his backbone, so lamentably absent from her henpecked husband, Mr. Bishop Proudie.

Again: Archdeacon Grantly threatens his son, Major Henry Grantly, with cutting off his fortune if the young man marries the woman he loves, Grace Crawley. Blameless she might be, but in the archdeacon's eyes, she is unspeakably tainted by her father's possible crime. We wish Major Grantly, who has served heroically in India (a Victoria Cross, no less) would stand up to his own father with half the brio Mr. Crawley shows in defying Mrs. Bishop Proudie, but the major's way is to resist quietly, for he too must oppose his father's presumptuous, usurped authority. Even Grace Crawley, who seems to be the epitome of the sweet, unformed, and innocuous fair maiden, resists the usurped authority of the same Archdeacon Grantly, a man far above her in station and wealth, when he tries to squash the marriage, and this she does by a firm, preemptive strike. 

Though I treated this in my last talk, recall that Lily Dale resists all the expectations that her family, her friends, and society have for her, that she should marry the deserving Johnny Eames and become his obedient wife. Or marry anyone, and become anyone's obedient wife. She chooses to remain independent—as she puts it, an Old Maid, but as she, and we, finally understand, an autonomous human being.

Finally, Mrs. Crawley herself—as saintly a character as Trollope has ever written, because she is saintly in the face of great, great trials—Mary Crawley herself stands up to her husband and his usurped authority, sometimes to his face, more often by subterfuge, indirection, and omission.

This resistance to usurped authority appears among the minor characters, where the old harridan Mrs. van Siever demands her daughter Clara marry the odious financial goon Mr. Musselboro, else go penniless. But Clara defies her mother and marries—perhaps to her future sorrow—the painter Conway Dalrymple.

I think these are not miniature acts of bravery but genuine and great ones. These characters risk everything dear to them to stand up for what their conscience tells them is right. The aggregate of these confrontations is a major source of the novel's great psychological energy. 

A second mighty theme of this mighty novel is marriage. In this book—indeed, in the whole Barsetshire series—Trollope presents an array of different marriages for our examination. Some marriages fulfill and nourish a couple; some marriages are ghastly prisons; some marriages simply fail; some marriages succeed against great odds. (I have in mind here the improbable marriage of the reclusive and thoughtful Dr. Thorne and his wife, the richest woman in England, the Ointment of Lebanon Queen. Mrs. Thorne appears in this novel only as a hostess of abundant generosity, but you must read Dr. Thorne to know what an odd but happy match this is.)

Some marriages cannot take place—as between Lily and John Eames—and some should never have taken place, as the near burlesque of a marriage between Maria Clutterbuck and her terrible husband Bernie Madoff—no, I mean Dobbs Broughton. We see that Lily Dale's Apollo, Adolphus Crosbie, has not only contracted a horribly failed marriage, but as a consequence, he's on the hook at Hook Court for money to Mr. Dobbs Broughton and his silent partners. When Mrs. Bishop Proudie is dying, she acknowledges to herself, perhaps for the first time, how her husband loathes her; in fact, how loathsome she is to everyone.

We've considered structure and themes; now let me say something about character, another source of the novel's great strength. There's Lily Dale who will not submit to the conventional happy ending all of England seemed to want for her. Lily, I said last time, is no tragic drama queen, but instead the harbinger of the New Woman, independent, self-sufficient, submitting to no man, but choosing contentment in a room of her own. Her rejected suitor, John Eames, may be tied to this love of his youth, yet is ever susceptible to the charms of later and lesser women; he's a thorn in the side of his pompous employer, Sir Raffle-Buffle, yet genuinely heroic—it's he, you remember, who in a magnificent mad dash across Europe, winkles out the actual origin of the infamous twenty-pound check.

There's the preposterous Mrs. Bishop Proudie—Bishop! God love her because nobody else does—although that's not quite true because readers know that some of the richest comic scenes that Trollope ever wrote concern Mrs. Bishop Proudie: we do love it when she's on the scene. The clerical sycophants who surround the bishop's palace are each a little sketch, gorgeous in its economy, of opportunism and poltroonery, beautifully mirrored by the lowlifes at Hook Court. There's the Bishop, more cowed by his wife than by his God, and, at the end, paying a terrible price in his own self-respect. He creeps forth (he crawls, an intended parallel with the least of his charges, Mr. Crawley) from his study at his wife's summons, with distressed face and shaking hands, hurrying steps, not venturing to assume an air of masterdom even if he only meets a housemaid on the stairs. There's Archdeacon Grantly, disappointed in his churchly ambitions, who takes far too much prideful pleasure in the marriage of his marmoreal daughter Griselda to the Marquis of Hartletop, the possible elevation of another son to a bishopric, even an archbishopric.

Then there are the Crawleys themselves. You might first see Mary Crawley as one of Trollope's stereotypical long-suffering angels: uncomplaining, self-effacing, a ladies-magazine version of the perfect wife. Her own husband abuses her for what he calls her lack of pride, "for she stooped to receive from others on his behalf and on behalf of their children, things which were needful, but which she could not buy. He had told her that she was a beggar, and that it was better to starve than to beg. She had borne the rebuke without a word in reply and had then begged again for him, and had endured the starvation herself." But a closer reading of Mary Crawley shows a deeper, more interesting personality. Listen to her when, after the magistrates commit him to stand trial, Crawley is in despair, up in the dark before the dawn. She found him standing with his hat on and with his old cloak, as though he were prepared to go out. "Why do you do this?" she said. "You will make yourself ill with the cold and the night air; and then you, and I too, will be worse than we are now." "We cannot be worse. You cannot be worse, and for me it does not signify. Let me pass." "I will not let you pass, Josiah. Be a man and bear it. Ask God for strength, instead of seeking it in an over-indulgence of your own sorrow." "Indulgence!" "Yes, love—indulgence. It is indulgence. You will allow your mind to dwell on nothing for a moment but your own wrongs." "What else have I that I can think of? Is not all the world against me?" "Am I against you?" "Sometimes I think you are. When you accuse me of self-indulgence, you are against me—me who for myself have desired nothing but to be allowed to do my duty, and to have bread enough to keep me alive, and clothes to make me decent." "Is it not self-indulgence, this giving way to grief? Who would know so well as you how to teach the lesson of endurance to others? Come, love. Lay down your hat. It cannot be fitting that you should go out into the wet and cold of the raw morning." Tough love, but love nonetheless; Mary Crawley's voice from the whirlwind, not God's. Her words urging him to stand up and be a man will be echoed by Mrs. Bishop Proudie to her own husband much later in the book, when the bishop hesitates to persecute Crawley any more than he already suffers.

Without Mary Crawley, there would not only be no food on the Crawley table, but there would be no effective help from the community. She's known much better times than her husband has ever provided for her, yet she never complains, nor does she ever falter. We know it costs her a great effort, but she pays that cost silently and with discretion. She never undermines him except in his own best interests. Finally, it's Mary Crawley who remembers correctly where the twenty-pound check has come from, but no one, least of all her husband, believes her. Paradoxically, the angelic Mary Crawley is also the object of her husband's original sin.

Finally, Crawley himself. Last year, the Metropolitan Museum had a dramatic retrospective of the work of Gustave Courbet, and its signature image was a painting called "Desperate Man," perhaps the artist's self-portrait. I often looked at that "Desperate Man," his eyes wide open in horror, his lips just parting to cry out, both hands tearing at his wild hair. I saw Josiah Crawley, another deeply desperate man, at one moment proud, at another obsequious, raging with envy, puffed up with pride, wrathful against fate, dashed down in his utter helplessness, his diction growing ever more pompous and Latinate, ever more seventeenth-century Miltonic, as his fate presses down on him; yet a pillar of strength to his parishioners, who admire him so much that they actually get up a collection for him out of their pittances.

Four of the Seven Deadly Sins, I said: Lust, Wrath, Envy and Pride. His pride not only extends to so loathing to take charity that he'd watch his beloved family go hungry, but he's intellectually vain—he consoles himself for his humble place in life with the certain knowledge that, poor as he is, his Hebrew is better than the dean's, his Greek better than the bishop's, his trigonometry better than Dr. Tempest's, and he urges his daughters to compete with each other in their Greek verbs and aim always to be the best.

His pride sometimes takes the form of naïveté. He won't engage a lawyer for his appearance before the assizes— he's an honest man, he protests, so why does he need a lawyer? Anyway, he can't afford legal representation, so won't engage a man when he cannot pay him. Luckily, Mary Crawley has appealed to her cousin Mr. Toogood, a lawyer in London, and Toogood—whose own marriage is as full of fun and happiness as Crawley's is not—takes on the case pro bono and very nearly sub rosa.

Crawley's despair is profound. He refuses to say grace at a midday meal, and when his wife presses him to, for the sake of his child, he replies bitterly: "Shall I say that I thank God when my heart is thankless? Shall I serve my child by a lie?" Job again.

Yet, when Mark Robarts, the neighboring vicar, visits with advice that Crawley put his case into the hands of a lawyer, Crawley affects a mock humility that Robarts detects and understands at once, "for behind the humility there was a crushing pride." And Robarts wonders at it all. "There were many clergymen in the country with incomes as small as that which had fallen to the lot of Mr. Crawley, but they managed to get on without displaying their sores as Mr. Crawley displayed his. They did not wear their old rusty cloaks with all that ostentatious bitterness of poverty which seemed to belong to that garment when displayed on Mr. Crawley's shoulders. Such for a moment, were Mr. Robarts' thoughts." And such, Trollope suggests, might be ours.

The passages that describe Crawley's despair, his humiliation in his poverty, the temptation of suicide in such a state, are surely written out of Trollope's deepest heart, and sadly, as we know, his deepest experience: "the taunt of the poor servant who wants her wages; the gradual relinquishment of habits which the soft nurture of earlier, kinder years had made second nature; the wan cheeks of the wife whose malady demands wine; the rags of the husband whose outward occupations demand decency…" The passage goes on in heartbreaking detail, ending with the observation that this is why the Crawleys of the world entertain suicide.

Crawley's wife sees truly that he has succumbed to reveling in his afflictions, in "the sense of the injustice done to him." He dwells obsessively on how successful his education was; how his vocation was genuine; he recalls the short sweet days of his early love, in which he had devoted himself again—thinking nothing of self, he argues to himself pridefully, but everything of her; his diligent labor, in which he had ever done his utmost, and always his best for the poorest. But he dwells too with wrath and envy on the success of other men whose charity he must now take. He thinks of his children, who have been carried off from his love to the churchyard, and then, perhaps most terrible of all, he knows that his still living children love their mother much better than they love him. 

Lesser people laugh at him, because Crawley "persisted in walking ten miles through the mud instead of being conveyed in the dean's carriage—and yet, after that, he had been driven to accept the dean's charity! No one respected him. No one! His very wife thought that he was a lunatic. And now he had been publicly branded as a thief; and in all likelihood would end his days in a gaol!" Unlike many a man, Crawley understands, and in his heart of hearts, acknowledges, his failings. He proudly congratulates himself that his wife "did not know that he knew all this of himself also."

Toward the end of the book, Crawley compares himself to Polyphemus, the giant whose only eye has been put out by Odysseus; and to Belisarius, the brilliant general said to have been blinded by his ungrateful emperor, Justinian. When Crawley muses that great power reduced to impotence, great glory reduced to misery by the hand of fate, is tragedy, we don't read these words as vainglorious but as all too true. The grandeur of the Last Chronicle is largely the paradoxical grandeur of this strange man, a character so large and beautifully imagined that we can never forget him.

Let's return to the dilemma that Crawley faces. In his distraction, he cannot remember how he came by the twenty-pound check. Is he a common thief, driven to theft by overwhelming need? Then he must no longer be a clergyman, for even in overwhelming need, clergymen must not steal. Is he so forgetful that he picked the twenty-pound check up who knows where, held on to it for a while, and then, in direst need, used it? This is both lunacy and theft, and either one disqualifies him from being a clergyman.

Around this dilemma, this dreadful fate, the novel turns.

Structure, themes, character—the novel rewards many approaches, and I can only begin to suggest them tonight. But there's one further point I'd like to make, and that is the possible larger symbolism of Josiah Crawley. Trollope has sometimes been criticized for how hermetic his novels are—you'd hardly believe that anything exists outside the idealized English villages he so lovingly depicts.

But perhaps this is an incomplete reading. Let me propose that the figure of Josiah Crawley also evokes a fundamental tension in English society in the second part of the nineteenth century. It's a tension that will advance into contradiction, and at last into destruction. If Trollope doesn't explicitly name the monstrous elephant in the room that generates such tension, he has nevertheless introduced it, and all his characters are deeply affected by it.

This elephant is, of course, the British Empire. In the so-called Imperial Century, 1814 – 1914, Britain adds ten million square miles and 400 million people to its Empire. The Last Chronicle appears at just about the midpoint of the Imperial Century, and already tensions have emerged—British colonialism has become imperialism. What else is imperialism but usurped authority, a usurped authority that begs to be resisted?

Some examples: At about the time of this novel, Great Britain is engaged in serial wars with China for the right—the right, mind you!—to force India's opium upon the Celestial Kingdom. The Chinese desperately do not want this poisonous trade, but the British Raj needs the income, and might makes right. Ten years before the novel's publication, the Indian mutiny has erupted against the Raj itself, unsuccessful then, but success will come. In Africa, trading relationships are transforming themselves into wars, occupations, annexations, and seized territories. By the mid-1860s, the time of this novel, Empire is overtaking industry and agriculture as the source of national wealth, since other countries, especially Germany, and the United States, are successfully industrializing in more modern ways, soon to surpass British industry. To be blunt, one indirect source of that handsome wealth we see the clergymen enjoy here is derived from Empire.

Englishmen rationalize this aggressive imperialism, this usurped authority, with the grotesque claim that they are out in the Empire to enlighten and raise up the heathen, save them from themselves—what Rudyard Kipling will later call the White Man's Burden, though whether he means it seriously or satirically is to this day a matter of debate.

What has this got to do with Josiah Crawley? To repeat myself, Crawley's life, until his late university days, is that of a typical young English gentleman and scholar: learned and well within bounds. This is how his friendship with Francis Arabin begins. 

But at a crucial moment, his life is deformed by a hasty and premature marriage, the very sign of an uncontrolled libido. What an unseemly lapse for a Victorian gentleman, a future clergyman; what an affront to the classics he so honors. Add to that the begetting of more than a couple of children—another sign of sexual excess—and Josiah Crawley is a marked man. 

Now where, in the mythology of Victorian England, is the fetid swamp of uncontrolled libidos to be found? To put it another way, who or what might Mr. Crawley stand for?

By abandoning the responsibilities of sexual discipline and continence, he has of course become part of the undeserving poor, who always have more children than they can afford. But more important to my point here, and perhaps more telling, scholars have shown that in Victorian England, a myth prevailed that luxuriant sexual excess was always to be found in the subjugated peoples of the Empire. That's why they must be subjugated! It's a breathtaking psychological projection upon the subjects of Empire, but it serves a very practical economic purpose. As a consequence, English literature at this time abounds with inflammatory fictions about the sexual excesses of the savages, excesses that respectable Englishmen have a duty to suppress, not only among the unwashed of the Empire, but that they must suppress in themselves as well. 1

Here is Josiah Crawley's tragic failure. His overheated libido has not only deformed the circumstances of his personal life, but it has put him on a symbolic level with the heathen abroad. Of course Crawley himself is contradictory—while he's indulged his own earthiness, so to speak, he is utterly and to the end intolerant of the earthiness of others, whether they take a glass of port wine or hunt foxes.

Josiah Crawley rages against those whose lives are so much better materially: he believes he deserves such comforts more. He sees men enjoying worldly success whose intellectual superior he is; he envies their carriages, their tables, their fine clothes; he feels undeservedly abused by life.

Is it so very farfetched to imagine that this rage, this frustration, this envy and self-pity, might also be found in the hearts of men of the ancient civilizations of India, China, and Africa, who must walk ten miles through the mud while the sahibs pass them by in their fine carriages? Is it so hard to imagine those men suffering and raging against the usurped authority of English imperialism the same way Crawley suffers and rages against the Bishop of Barchester? Against fate itself?

If Trollope intended such a reading, he knew that only by indirection could he safely criticize, and foretell the inevitable catastrophe. To state outright that imperialism must bring disaster upon its two parties, the perpetrators and the victims, would've been a very great heresy in 1860s London. No reason why he needed to be so obvious. He could practice plausible deniability a century before American politicians re-invented it

Consider another set of possible symbols. Death is an unusual event in a Trollopian novel except to enrich a struggling and deserving hero—so perhaps the three deaths in The Last Chronicle function only as plot devices. But suppose they're also symbols, with deeper resonances?

Is Dobbs Broughton's suicide a novelistic convenience? Or is it an artist's judgment upon the vulgarity, speculation and financial fraud that was then rife in London? In fact, a large-scale financial collapse will take place in London in the decade following this novel's publication.

Sweet natured Septimus Harding, whom everyone loves, who can barely drag himself to his cherished cathedral as the end comes near, seems to have what we might think of as a good death, full of years, surrounded by his loving family, mourned by all of Barsetshire. But could his death also symbolize the end of a kind of literal religious faith that Trollope's contemporary, Charles Darwin, has finished forever?

Is Mrs. Bishop Proudie's death—in the writing, far sadder in its human desolation than any other Trollopian death I can think of—symbolic of the lonely and despised end that any tyrant can expect, any tyrant deserves, another prophetic allusion to usurped authority, to British imperialism?

Perhaps Trollope had no such ideas, conscious or unconscious: we can never know what the artist intends. It hardly matters. The power of a great work of art lies not in the artist's intentions, but in the ideas and feelings that his art evokes from the reader.

At last Crawley is redeemed—although he nearly blows it yet again with his wretched pride, and not a little self-righteousness—and his daughter Grace may, with clear conscience, marry her Major Grantly. At last the Bishop of Barchester is emancipated from his terrifying wife. At last things are tying up nicely for nearly everyone except a few disappointed lovers, most prominently our old friend Johnny Eames, who will never marry the independent Lily Dale. So all seems well in Barsetshire, at least on the surface.

But we know that the contradictory, difficult character of Josiah Crawley will never be at peace. All things in his nature conspire against his tranquility. Whether Josiah Crawley is an ominous symbol of the already troubled relationship between England and the subjugated people of its Empire, cannot be said for certain. Ultimately, it doesn't matter.

What matters is that Anthony Trollope has given us a novel—a series of novels—of extraordinary depth and breadth, that go well beyond their manifest concerns with country clergymen. It's an imagined world that takes us in, makes us laugh, vexes us, involves us intimately in as glorious a group of characters, as finely wrought a structure, as deeply engaging a set of themes, as anything else in English literature.

The Last Chronicle of Barset is a radiant achievement.

*****

Addendum: In the Q&A period after my presentation, someone wanted to know why I hadn't mentioned that the key to this work is Anthony Trollope's forgiving his father for all the father's bad behavior to his family. Didn't I realize this was the key to understanding this book? If I didn't, this analysis can be found in the psychoanalytic literature. It leapt to my mouth that, yes, I knew about the psychoanalytic approach, and for my taste, it was a tediously reductionist way of looking at a mighty work of art. But instead I politely nodded, said that such an aspect was surely to be found in there, and moved on to the next questioner. My first questioner was not at all satisfied, and found me afterwards, repeated the questions more obdurately: didn't I realize that this was the key? That this is what the book was about? Again, I mumbled something about it surely playing a role, and my questioner dismissed me impatiently, convinced I was a dolt.

I'm aware that many people want to make the psychoanalytic case, but I'm not among them. Genius is not equivalent to pathology. To say that the character of Crawley is all about Trollope's coming to terms with his father, and therefore the key to the novel, seems to me to confuse source with oeuvre, as if the key to Shakespeare is the Holinshed Chronicles. To put it another way, all over Manhattan's psychoanalytic couches, every day of the week, people come to epiphanies about their parents. Forgiveness is extended, reconciliation made, personal tranquility found. Worthy stuff, but we don't call it art.

Whatever psychological pain Trollope suffered (and suffer he surely did) he transcended that pain and left it far behind in The Last Chronicle of Barset. With brilliant powers of observation and representation, with careful attention to structure, with a subtle absorption and judgment of the Zeitgeist, and finally, with his mastery of the English language, Anthony Trollope created great art.


[return to top]

1 I am grateful to Deirdre David's Rule Britannia: Women, Empire, and Victorian Writing, which lays out the connection in the Victorian mind between sexual excess and the subjugated peoples of the Empire.

 

[Home] [Bounded Rationality] [The Singularity] [Machine Intelligence] [The Edge of Chaos] [Alan Turing's Centenial] [Inkwell Interview] [YouTube Video] [Machines Who Think] [The Futures Of Women] [Aaron's Code] [Anthony Trollope] [Cuba, October 2010] [Tiananmen Square] [Marconi  Talk] [Where are the  Women in IT?] [Women in Design A Different Gaze]

Copyright © 2005 - 2012 by Pamela McCorduck. All rights reserved.
Modified: July 03, 2012