Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And Then I Turned to Anthony

To begin, a quote:

"Trollope's novels (are) solid, substantial, written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business and not suspecting that they were being made a show of."
-- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Now then. Does that make you want to read Anthony Trollope or not? If not, there's nothing I could do to persuade you, I'm sure. For me, that Hawthorne quote all but defines the pleasures of a Big Fat Victorian Novel. Nobody did them better than Trollope.

I am reading The Eustace Diamonds, the third in the Palliser novels, for the second time. (These are his political and high-society novels, rather than the more famous clerical novels set in Barsetshire.) But I'm not reading the series (6 novels) straight through this time. Whenever I need a break from grim modernity and or the thin substance of contemporary literature, I pick up Trollope. If it's been long enough, it may take me a few pages, but soon enough I know just where I am, who is who, and what is most definitely what.

Trollope, for me, is all about familiarity, but that isn't to say that his books aren't surprising still, and very funny. For example, this description of a rather difficult old lady:

"She was slow, or perhaps it might more properly be said she was stately in her movements. She was one of those old women who are undoubtedly old women, -- who in the remembrance of younger people seem always to have been old women, -- but on whom old age appears to have no debilitating effects. If the hand of Lady Linlithgow ever trembled, it trembled from anger; -- if her foot ever faltered, it faltered for effect. In her way Lady Linlithgow was a very powerful human being. She knew nothing of fear, nothing of charity, nothing of mercy, and nothing of the softness of love. She had no imagination. She was worldly, covetous, and not unfrequently cruel. But she meant to be true and honest, though she often failed in her meaning; -- and she had an idea of her duty in life. She was not self-indulgent. She was hard as an oak post, -- but then she was also trustworthy. No human being liked her; -- but she had the good word of a great many human beings."

Now that, to the life, describes any number of elderly ladies in my childhood, not least my paternal grandmother -- though I'd be scared to death to say so, had she not been safely dead these twenty years.

Anthony Trollope was one of the greatest English novelists. He is great good company on a cold Autumn evening still.

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