Thursday, 14 April 2016

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope–part 2


published 1858


Doctor Thorne 2



[Louis Scatcherd makes his entrance. He and Mary are first cousins, though they do not realize that]

The doctor was saved the trouble of answering by the entrance of the baronet. He was dressed in what he considered the most fashionable style of the day. He had on a new dress-coat lined with satin, new dress-trousers, a silk waistcoat covered with chains, a white cravat, polished pumps, and silk stockings, and he carried a scented handkerchief in his hand; he had rings on his fingers, and carbuncle studs in his shirt, and he smelt as sweet as patchouli could make him. But he could hardly do more than shuffle into the room, and seemed almost to drag one of his legs behind him. Mary, in spite of her aversion, was shocked and distressed when she saw him. He, however, seemed to think himself perfect, and was no whit abashed by the unfavourable reception which twelve months since had been paid to his suit. Mary came up and shook hands with him.

 
commentary: I tried to keep my thoughts on Doctor Thorne down to one entry, but there was too much to say. See the earlier post for more explanation of the plot.

Trollope has a light, and quite modern, touch with many aspects of his plot. One of his main points is that people’s snobbery and uppishness is easily challenged by money: wealth wipes away scandal and low origins in an almost absurd way. But then, there is a lot of talk about good birth, and breeding, and blood, and Trollope seems unsure whether he believes in it or not. For all Mary’s goodness, her killer uncle and his son - the drunken cousin shown above - are rather to be sneered at for a lack of social skills and in the son’s case his attempts to mix with his betters. For them, money has not achieved anything – perhaps you have to be a beautiful young woman for it to work.

There has recently been a TV mini-series of the book, written by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame. One of the things I noticed in the book was that although inheritance, the male line, and entails are vital here, there was a lot less talk about the estate being in trust, and the male heirs having any obligation to their ancestors and descendants, than there is at Downton – although the issues are somewhat similar. Trollope was less precious about it, even if he is disposing of Mary’s property in a cheeky manner (see earlier entry). On the other hand, there is the sad tale of the romantic life of one of Frank’s sisters: played for laughs by Trollope and right up Fellowes’ street - you could easily imagine the whole plot in Downton Abbey, with its women doing each other down.

But he is somewhat even-handed - he does also have a go at the awful Lady Arabella, who is an Earl’s daughter, and controlling, snobbish, bossy and vindictive. When some of her daughters die, this is described as going to ‘that bourne from whence no further journey could be made under the Lady Arabella's directions’. (I have said before, Trollope’s women are so much more real than Dickens’s – Dickens would surely never have said that about the death of young women.)

And there’s a modern-sounding attack on her for not breast-feeding:
Of course Lady Arabella could not suckle the young heir herself. Ladies Arabella never can. They are gifted with the powers of being mothers, but not nursing-mothers. Nature gives them bosoms for show, but not for use.
There is a lovely Trollop-ian and very funny detail when the Lady Arabella goes to have an important and emotional talk with the good Doctor Thorne:
She was no whit dismayed by the pair of human thigh-bones which lay close to his hand, and which, when he was talking in that den of his own, he was in the constant habit of handling with much energy; nor was she frightened out of her propriety even by the little child's skull which grinned at her from off the chimney-piece.
Throughout their highly-strung discussion he brandishes the bones, uses them as dumb-bells and rubs them together; it’s an unnecessary detail, and in one sense it adds nothing - but it makes the scene very visual and memorable.

Late on in the book an important letter gets delayed, and the complaints about this are absolutely the same as modern moans – it was being sent somewhere nearby, but had to go via the distant central town. Trollope would have known all about this, as he was a Post Office inspector. In fact the late letter has almost no effect on the plot, while Thomas Hardy would have made much more of it, and betrayal, destruction and death would surely have resulted. In this book, someone ends up being worried a bit longer than necessary. Feeble.

The dandy-ish fellow above is the right era, from the NYPL – not perhaps quite as fancy as Louis Scatcherd, but described as a Brummell of his times.










10 comments:

  1. It is interesting, Moira, how contemporary some of the elements in this novel are. And I'm especially interested in the nature/nurture debate, which Trollope doesn't really seem to have settled in his own mind. Or perhaps it's a critique at people's attitudes towards money? Either way, it sounds as though he really was, in his way, forward-thinking.

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    1. I think he was Margot - he certainly seems to have had an open mind about many thinks, and perhaps asked more questions than some of his contemporaries.

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  2. One of the things about Trollope is that his stuff has the rather contradictory, uncertain feel of the real world. He would like to tell you that money either does or does not buy you happiness, but he can't make up his own mind. Dickens really lived his characters, portraying them on stage, but Trollope sits on high, viewing them with a distant, rather detached affection. He is sort of the Anti-Dickens in that he's not really interested in whipping up drama, such as using the late letter to drive the plot. He's Mr Spock to Dickens' Captain Kirk.

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    1. That's a brilliant description of the difference between them. I always find it hard to define what it is that is so compelling about Dickens - if you look at his chief characteristics (eg sentiment, unable to stand back) you can make him sound dire. Which of course he isn't - he is a brilliant and unique writer. I really like your perception on this.

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  3. Nothing terrible admission - never actually read any Trollope except to dip in and out of when I got a bit interested in the Palliser saga - is this the right one to really start with in earnest?

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    1. My reco would be either Can You Forgive Her? Or The Way We Live Now. Neither is the start of a series, but they can stand alone. Or The WArden because it is short. I liked Dr Thorne, but didn't think I was his best. Chrissie, above, whose judgement I trust, says American Senator...

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  4. For the time being, I am still not seeing Trollope in my future. But I never say never.

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    1. Something might grab you one deay....

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    2. Well, I am working on coming up with a "classics list" to work on (very slowly), and of course Trollope shows up on a lot of those, so I may put one on there knowing I may never get to it.

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    3. In fact I wouldn't read this one first if you want just one - look at my reco's for Sergio above.

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