Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Debt = bad, love = good

Let's talk about another Trollope novel! I know how you don't love those, and I don't care.

This is another pleasant little Barsetshire book, with lots going on. There's some politics, there's some love, there's some social awkwardness, a little of everything. Plenty of characters, and a few of those awful political chapters where Trollope just spins himself into a satirical tizzy about Victorian politicians that no one really cares that much about anymore. Boo, back to the romance.

One of the main plotlines has to do with the dangers of credit and debt. Trollope goes into great detail about the emotional consequences as well and material and social when a young clergyman, Mark Robarts, foolishly helps a friend borrow money from a shady lender (anti-Semitism, ahoy) and then ends up on the hook for more money than he makes in a year. I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction (like, any) but a plot that warns about the dangers of debt seems sort of old-fashioned, and yet -- let's get topical -- it seems almost timely. Maybe our society would benefit from a little more horror of owing money. It is a little eerie that the dissolute spendthrift friend, who doesn't much care about who gets ruined along with him, is the one who sees borrowing money as completely normal and unproblematic.

The storyline raises a lot of questions about the proper lifestyles of clergy, and the specific customs and remuneration of Anglican clergy, but ultimately this is a rather uncomfortable corner for Trollope, I think, and nothing is really resolved. Trollope likes to see his clergy living genteel, comfortable lives and being jolly with their genteel neighbors, and on the whole I think he likes the inconsistencies that come with an old system of parishes and livings; but this doesn't do much for those who get the wrong end of the stick -- and it doesn't provide any disincentive whatsoever for men to become "sporting parsons". The debt plot lets him hold forth on the proper distance a man of the cloth ought to have from Worldly Ways, but I don't think he really solves all the problems he raises.

Miss Dunstable returns in this book, which is exciting except her character has been modified since the last book. Trollope makes her older by about a decade, and whereas the last time we saw her she was very shrewd and capable, here she's more bowed down and jaded and Trollope marries her off in a sort of tying-up-loose-ends way. It's not impossible for her character to have evolved along these lines, but Trollope doesn't (I don't think) have her change so much as he just retroactively retools the character.

And so I haven't really said anything about Lucy Robarts and Lord Lufton. This is one of those relationships like Frank Gresham and Mary Thorne, or Luke Whatever and Rachel Ray, where you know they're going to end up together from fairly early on but it's just a matter of working out the details. Trollope's heroes and heroines don't have to do much changing to win their loves; mostly the men just have to be persistent. My inclination is to say that this is more evidence of Jane Austen's superiority, as I think she likes to have her heroes and heroines learn and change and grow, rather than having their parents learn and change and grow enough to stop opposing the match (or just having a big bag o' money fall from the sky to make things possible). If I'm wrong about this don't tell me. I like Trollope but Austen is a god(ess).

1 comment:

  1. I've not read this book, but I read Tooth & Claw by Jo Walton which is a loose adaptation of this book (but with dragons!). If you've not read it, I highly suggested you give it a try!