Friday, 25 October 2013

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

published 1864/5  chapter 7





The next day was Sunday; and it was beautiful to see how Mrs. Greenow went to church in all the glory of widowhood. There had been a great unpacking…and all her funereal millinery had been displayed before Kate's wondering eyes. The charm of the woman was in this — that she was not in the least ashamed of anything that she did. She turned over all her wardrobe of mourning, showing the richness of each article, the stiffness of the crape, the fineness of the cambric, the breadth of the frills,— telling the price of each to a shilling, while she explained how the whole had been amassed without any consideration of expense. This she did with all the pride of a young bride when she shows the glories of her trousseau to the friend of her bosom. Jeannette [the maid] stood by the while, removing one thing and exhibiting another. Now and again through the performance, Mrs. Greenow would rest a while from her employment, and address the shade of the departed one in terms of most endearing affection.



observations: Almost any of Trollope’s women are a lot more entertaining and real than any of Charles Dickens’s. Can You Forgive Her? is long, but a very clever look at three different women and their love lives, and the three are portrayed beautifully. Not-as-silly-as-she seems Glencora, annoying Alice (the one we are asked to forgive), and here the smart and calculating widow Aunt Greenow.

In a previous Trollope entry – on The Way We Live Now – we noted how well he did women on the edge, and this is another example. He has an eye for Mrs Greenow's vanities and calculation, but clearly has a soft spot, and she comes over as a splendid character, great fun. She may be a widow, but not one who is going to be quite inconsolable. Hilariously, she keeps changing her mind about how long Mr Greenow has been dead, to suit. She has her little ways: she wants the house she rents to be the biggest, even if it's not,  and can use her widowhood to make life more comfortable -
Mrs. Greenow was never out of her room till half-past ten. "I like the morning for contemplation," she once said. "When a woman has gone through all that I have suffered she has a great deal to think of."

"And it is so much more comfortable to be a-thinking when one's in bed," said Jeannette.

Her potential romance with, and choice between, two potential suitors is a major thread in the book, and a highly enjoyable one, which will feature in a future entry. And at least she has money of her own – it’s an important business in the book, and you’d feel sorry for the women left with none, and even the lady of slender means who wants to go visiting ‘making both ends so far overlap each other as to give her the fifty pounds necessary for this purpose.’

For more Trollope, and more from this book, click on the label below.

The picture – somewhat later date than the book – is from the Texas State archives.

10 comments:

  1. The lovely lady in the photo was certainly not living in Saskatchewan when the photo was taken. The prairie wind would have sent that hat sailing. It is an impressive hat. It must be almost a meter in diameter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You made me laugh Bill! That is indeed some hat. But perhaps she had those very very long hatpins which feature in historical mystery stories.

      Delete
  2. Moira - I like the look this gives at those three different kinds of characters. And the wit comes through even in the short bits you've shared. I love that descriptions too, of ...'not being in the least bit ashamed of anything she did.'. I can definitely see the appeal.

    And on a side note, that's something you don't really see any more: millinery and therefore, milliners.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I'm fascinated by hats and the people who make and sell them, there've been a good few entries... And yes, Trollope has that generous but realistic view of his characters which makes for such good writing (and reading!).

      Delete
  3. I really had not paid attention to the hat until I saw the comments. I was more focused on the dress. I cannot imagine wearing such a hat. I have accepted I will not read Trollope... books too long. Although I have heard there are shorter ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Secretly, I would love to wear a hat like that - maybe just once and not for long, I like the drama and glamour of it. But still glad I live in an age where we don't have to... Trollope is long, but I do enjoy his books - I'm sure I won't read them all, but every so often I pick up one....

      Delete
  4. I can recall starting The Warden years ago, but I never finished. I think there was a TV series Barchester Chronicles which I enjoyed - most unlike me - which spurred me onto to buying the book. I was probably an impressionable teenager at the time. I still kind of regret not finishing though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Plenty of time to take up Trollope, Col. You implied you had a big birthday coming up - now's the time to start on his 8 million books, each 1000+ pages long. Or alternately, time to decide to read every single hard-boiled book ever written that has so far evaded your clutches.

      Delete
  5. I need to spend more time on Trollope. When I was younger and had time for luxuries like reading... I ploughed through most of Dickens, but didn't discover the "lesser" Victorians until much later. Mrs. Gaskill is another author worth reading for her settings and costumes as much as for her plots. Mrs. Greenow would, of course, have been wearing a bonnet that sat back on her head and tied under the chin. The photograph is from the early 1900's. Milliners had to be skillful to make those hats stiff enough to stand up to wind and movement while getting them balanced and light enough to wear. Even then, the lady needed long hair wound into a solid mass for those lethally long hat pins to skewer. Curiously, I have a picture of one of my great-aunts in just such a hat, taken at the time she was married and going to Saskatchewan as a homesteader.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We all think we should read more Trollope - perhaps he's the man for retirement days. I love this picture, I wish there were more details about it: but there was just a rough date and the place....

      Delete