Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I will only be reading "like bricks" from now on

I'm supposed to be writing a one-page proposal so I can present a dissertation chapter at a seminar, but that doesn't seem to be happening, so I figured I could at least be useful and post something over here.

Doctor Thorne is another Trollope book, which I downloaded for freeee and therefore don't have a cover to show you. So here's some ladies from an 1858 fashion plate, which is the year the book was published! Yaaaay dresses.

PS, of course there's a Trollope Society. I like that literature people have all these Societies; it seems very convivial of them. It seems like the offline predecessor of liking things on Facebook. (Shhh, shhh, don't tell me about Serious Academic things, I don't want to hear it.)

Doctor Thorne is a delightful slice of Trollopey goodness. I would say there are two "current affairs" themes running through the book -- one is the evils of alcoholism. The second is the overly stringent laws against electoral fraud. You could probably describe that one as hostility toward the hypocrisy of politicians on the issue of electoral fraud, but no, I choose to take the man at his word.

The main plot of the book is a bit... un-plot-like. Mary Thorne is an illegitimate child being brought up by her uncle (the eponymous Doctor) in close company with the local squire's children; unsurprisingly, she and the heir (Frank Gresham) fall in love. He has to marry a rich woman in order to save his family's property which is entirely mortgaged, but is determined to have Mary despite his snobby mother waging a social war against the Thornes. Meanwhile, as only the Doctor is aware, the nouveau riche alcoholic who lent the money to the Greshams is actually Mary's uncle also, and his will is worded vaguely enough to leave the whole shebang to her. So you know, from maybe halfway in, that Mary stands to become that very rich woman whom Frank needs to marry. And so indeed she does and happily ever after. There are a handful of ways this conclusion could be screwed up, but really none of them even come close to happening. Which makes this only a nice novel, rather than a really good one.

But, c'mon, we're here not for genius plotlines; we're here for delightful wording and characterization! Did you know that "Trichy" is a nickname for Beatrice? Or that "read like bricks" means something like "put your nose to the grindstone? Love it! Little things like this:
It would not be right that I should say anything against your father to you; but it is impossible for any of us not to see that all through life he has thrown away every advantage, and sacrificed his family.
Of course there's a good clergyman character, even though he's very minor:
He delighted in lecterns and credence-tables, in services at dark hours of winter mornings when no one would attend, in high waistcoats and narrow white neckties, in chanted services and intoned prayers, and in all the paraphernalia of Anglican formalities which have given such offence to those of our brethren who live in daily fear of the scarlet lady.
It's interesting to note that in this book, it's the young unmarried men who are the problem; Frank, of course, urgently needs to marry money; the vicar above arrives set against marrying and the women set out to change this; and there is some fretting over the dissolute drunken son of Mary's alcoholic baronet uncle, who, various characters consider, really only needs a good wife. None of the women characters are worrying about being "on the shelf".

And then there is this; prepare to "awww":
     We are inclined to think that these matters are not always discussed by mortal lovers in the poetically passionate phraseology which is generally thought to be appropriate for their description. A man cannot well describe that which he has never seen nor heard; but the absolute words and acts of one such scene did once come to the author's knowledge. The couple were by no means plebeian, or below the proper standard of high bearing and high breeding; they were a handsome pair, living among educated people, sufficiently given to mental pursuits, and in every way what a pair of polite lovers ought to be. The all-important conversation passed in this wise. The site of the passionate scene was the sea-shore, on which they were walking, in autumn.
     Gentleman. "Well, Miss ––––, the long and short of it is this: here I am; you can take me or leave me."
     Lady—scratching a gutter on the sand with her parasol, so as to allow a little salt water to run out of one hole into another. "Of course, I know that's all nonsense."
     Gentleman. "Nonsense! By Jove, it isn't nonsense at all: come, Jane; here I am: come, at any rate you can say something."
     Lady. "Yes, I suppose I can say something."
     Gentleman. "Well, which is it to be; take me or leave me?"
     Lady—very slowly, and with a voice perhaps hardly articulate, carrying on, at the same time, her engineering works on a wider scale. "Well, I don't exactly want to leave you."
     And so the matter was settled: settled with much propriety and satisfaction; and both the lady and gentleman would have thought, had they ever thought about the matter at all, that this, the sweetest moment of their lives, had been graced by all the poetry by which such moments ought to be hallowed.

I haven't even mentioned what great characters Frank Gresham and Miss Dunstable are. With someone like Frank, Trollope has the ability to show you what a dope he is, even though his heart is in the right place. Miss Dunstable, on the other hand, is a woman with an enormous fortune from trade, who is well aware of the score and parries mercenary marriage proposals like a pro. I loved the detail about her wearing her hair in unflattering and unfashionable curls.

I gather that Miss Dunstable will be back in at least one of the next books in the series. THIS is why a series is awesome.

1 comment:


    Also, OMG that proposal scene. And yea, there was much inner flailage.

    So, 'Trichy' like...maybe from the Italian Beatrice? Since the ending there is "tree-chay"? Or more like 'Trish'? Sigh, pronunciation.