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