TROLLOPEs

TROLLOPES

I’ve been reading, mostly in the early hours of morning over  the last few months, the entire works of Anthony Trollope, and now alas I’ve come to the end of them.   Forty seven of his novels I’ve enjoyed, plus some travel writing, some criticism and an autobiography.

Now I’ve passed on to Thomas Hardy, and I loathe the man personally as much as I loved Trollope.   It’s not that there aren’t good things about Hardy.   His power of conveying in all its transient beauty the short period where England passed from being an agricultural community to an industrial one, is second to none, and his use of metaphor is superb.    ‘Curls nestled under her bonnet like swallows’ nests under the eaves of a house’ …    But skilled writing  should flow across your consciousness as though it were a stream slipping past your hand as you dabbled it in the water, whereas Hardy’s is  laboured and creaks from the effort.   His women are insufferable – stupid, ignorant, weak, inferior creatures – and his men are arrogant on the one hand  – they know so much more than the women! – and needful and self conscious on the other.

Whereas Trollope knows the value of money and understands at a glance the exact nuances of the English class system (which though to a lesser extent still functions down to this day) – he also understands what it is to be a lady or gentleman (although even he himself cannot define that precisely in words) – he knows that the real value of people has nothing to do with either wealth or rank.

Hardy on the other hand wasn’t a gentleman in either the class sense or in any other sense, and his view of the class system was distorted because he resented his place in it and sought to improve it.   You trust Trollope’s judgement, absolutely, whereas Hardy’s is you feel, highly subjective and unreliable.

Finally, you care about Trollope’s characters and want them to come to a happy ending, which, Trollope being a fine and truthful novelist, is not always guaranteed.    Hardy’s characters are not entirely believable;  you don’t like them and you couldn’t care less what happens to them.

I had previously subscribed to the criticism levelled at Trollope: that his plots rolled along without much planning by him, just episodic as it were, and in support of this is cited the alleged story that Trollope killed off the dreadful Mrs Proudie, the Bishop’s overbearing wife who ran the diocese with a feeble and acquiescent husband, when dared to do so by someone at his club.    It is true that viewing only external events, Mrs Proudie’s death is entirely unexpected.   But re-reading that novel recently, I do not think the criticism is  fair, for Mrs Proudie is undone by the refusal of a man she despises, poor and in danger of being (unfairly) disgraced, to bow down before her spurious authority.   He dismisses her from the Bishop’s study and addresses her as ‘Woman’ and she finds herself with no alternative but to leave.    She is powerless before his virtue and incorruptibility and so she dies (of a heart attack shortly afterwards.)      On reflection I do not think this is evidence of a haphazard  approach to his plots, but indicates his power and subtlety.

So, I can’t decide whether to abandon Hardy now and save myself annoyance, or to read on and hope I come to appreciate his merits more?   After all, I can’t just keep re-reading Trollope for the rest of my life.   Can I?

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