The original Tom and Jerry, and a Victorian classic

the book:

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

published 1875    Chapter 43



[Ruby, a country girl, has come up to London in pursuit of Sir Felix Carbury, hoping he will marry her]

[Ruby and Sir Felix] were sitting together at a music-hall,—half music-hall, half theatre, which pleasantly combined the allurements of the gin-palace, the theatre, and the ball-room, trenching hard on those of other places. Sir Felix was smoking, dressed, as he himself called it, "incognito," with a Tom-and-Jerry hat, and a blue silk cravat, and a green coat. Ruby thought it was charming. Felix entertained an idea that were his West End friends to see him in this attire they would not know him. He was smoking, and had before him a glass of hot brandy and water, which was common to himself and Ruby. He was enjoying life. Poor Ruby! She was half-ashamed of herself, half-frightened, and yet supported by a feeling that it was a grand thing to have got rid of restraints, and be able to be with her young man. Why not? The Miss Longestaffes [local gentry] were allowed to sit and dance and walk about with their young men… But yet, as she sat sipping her lover's brandy and water between eleven and twelve at the music-hall in the City Road, she was not altogether comfortable. She saw things which she did not like to see. And she heard things which she did not like to hear. And her lover, though he was beautiful,—oh, so beautiful!—was not all that a lover should be. …




observations:



This book is very long, and something of a disappointment, not as entertaining or riveting as reputed, and certainly not, as often claimed, full of resonances with modern life, nor yet modern financial practices. But the characters – while not exactly changing and developing during the book (with one exception– a blog entry to come) are interesting enough, and the reader cares what happens to them, so the final hundred pages or so (did we say it is loooong?) are very involving.

Trollope is snobbish, class-ridden, and makes appalling comments throughout the book about Jews – but on the other side of the scales he has a very straightforward, and very modern, view of the double standards applying to men and women, and how unfair they are. It’s not exactly a surprise or a spoiler to say that Sir Felix is not going to marry Ruby. More interesting is his hat.

Tom and Jerry were popular fictional characters of the first half of the 19th century: invented by Pierce Egan, a sports journalist, they featured in a magazine, books, pictures and plays, their stories – tales of highlife and lowlife - the precursors of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. In the picture above, Tom and Jerry are on either side of the central pillar, blue coat black hat, green coat white hat. These hats appear fairly normal, and it is in no way obvious why Sir Felix thinks he won’t be recognized in the outfit described above. The picture is called ‘Tom and Jerry sporting their Blunt on the phenomenon monkey Jacco Macacco’. Blunt, as all readers of Georgette Heyer know, is slang for money. Jacco Macacco (which has to be the best monkey name ever) was a real animal, famed for fighting and defeating dogs.


Links up with: Nicholas Nickelby, this blog entry, for posh boys and lower-class girls - Dickens not nearly as feminist as Trollope.


The original illustration is by George Cruikshank a leading satirical cartoonist of his day, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

  1. Hi there - stumbled across your page in search of research material around Trollope and Tom and Jerry hats - just want to be a bit interfering - Trollope is not simplistically anti-semitic in this book. He is satirizing a wide variety of social attitudes and this comes to a peak in Mr Longestaffe's wretched and self-defeating snobbery about Brehgert, one of the few consistently sympathetic characters in a book about moral conduct and personal weakness. What makes us as modern readers startle is the separate habit (all but universal at the time) to refer to someone who was Jewish as "the Jew" or "a Jew", and the use of speech mannerisms (which are also used for German characters such as Kroll). The one difficulty we have in making a case for Trollope's liberalism is the character Cohenlupe (literally "wolf Jew"), where there is a painful ambiguity between a wolf-like character who happens to be Jewish, and a character whose wolflike behaviour arises from his Jewishness. Bearing in mind the wider reading context, it's hard not to conclude Trollope means the latter.

    Thank you for Jacco Macacco!

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    Replies
    1. James: thanks so much for stopping by, and for your absolutely fascinating comments on Trollope and anti-Semitism. It's always so hard to judge the standards of a different time, and I sometimes simply don't know what to make of phrases from Victorian times - they do make us wince, but are we right to judge? Anyway, I found your remarks very helpful.

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