Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Way We Live Now

Trollope, Anthony. 1875. The Way We Live Now. 776 pages. (Wordsworth Editions)

Let the reader be introduced to Lady Carbury, upon whose character and doings much will depend of whatever interest these pages may have, as she sits at her writing-table in her own room in her own house in Welbeck Street.

I'd like you to meet a good friend of mine: Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now. This wonderfully thick novel was a little treat I picked up last year around this time for my birthday. It had high priority this past month because I volunteered to read it for Amy's little project. Her, "Newsweek, You're On! The Fifty Books for Our Times Reading Project." You can see a list of all fifty books here. Topping the list is my choice, The Way We Live Now.

This dramatic novel is all about men and women living beyond their means. Taking risks here and there trying to outrun the bill collectors. Wanting so much to live the good life, the high life, that they lose all sense of being realistic and practical. If they want it, they want it then and there. They feel like they deserve to have the best of everything. Sir Felix Carbury, for example, wants everything now, now, now. He thinks nothing of asking his mother (Lady Carbury) for her very last coin just so he can go out to his club and gamble and drink all night. He thinks nothing of asking his good old sister (Henrietta) to sacrifice so that he can have a new coat or hat. He's heartless and selfish among other things.

Is this Felix's story? Not really! He's just one of a dozen or so characters. Most of these characters revolve around the oh-so-wealthy Augustus Melmotte. Who is Melmotte? Where did he come from? Is he as wealthy as he claims? What about his wife and daughter? Is it true that she's to bring a fortune when she marries?

Some dislike him socially but don't mind doing business with such a man. He's affluent. He's powerful. He knows how to carry himself. But is he honest? Is he trustworthy? Does that even matter so long as he's on the rise? So long as his schemes are always successful?

The Way We Live Now has a little bit of everything for readers: business, politics, love and romance, humor, and social commentary.

This book had me almost from hello. It begins off by introducing Lady Carbury. Of showing readers three different letters she'd written to newspapermen that day. She's hoping that her new book, her first book I believe, will be favorably reviewed. As she is asking these three men to go above and beyond--in a way--I found myself smiling with the inappropriateness of it all. This character gave Trollope a great way to talk about writing, publishing, and reviewing.

Soon I found myself caring about all the characters, and all the stories. Paul Montague's confused love life--torn between the woman he really loves and respects and the American woman (supposedly divorced) whom he hastily agreed to marry in his travels. Maria Melmotte's dysfunctional home life. Her wanting so badly to be loved for herself, to matter to somebody. Poor Maria throwing away her affections on that jerk Sir Felix! Roger Carbury hopelessly doomed affair. One of the only men with common sense in the whole book. His big heart that wants only the best for Miss Henrietta. How he loves her! Even knowing that love will never be returned! Mr. Broune who despite it all finds a way to love and appreciate the crazy Lady Carbury! There was just so much to love and appreciate in this one!

Why do I love Anthony Trollope? He's a great writer. He tells a great story. He really captures so many different aspects of being human. His characters are always well-developed and above all else interesting or fascinating. They may not all be likable, or all be good. And all the better if they're not. (A world full of Roger Carbury's might be a bit boring or safe.) He creates multi-dimensional characters that become part of you. He creates unforgettable characters that stick with you. I also really love his narrative style.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Barchester Towers

Trollope, Anthony. 1857. Barchester Towers. 528 pages.

In the latter days of July in the year 185--, a most important question was for ten days hourly asked in the cathedral city of Barchester, and answered every hour in various ways. Who was to be the new Bishop?

Barchester Towers is the second novel in Trollope's Barset series. The first in the series, The Warden, I reviewed several months ago. What characters carry over to the second one? Mr. Harding, the former warden, and his two daughters: Susan, married to Dr. Grantly, the archdeacon, the son of the very recently deceased Bishop, and Eleanor Bold, a (somewhat-recent) widow and the mother of young Johnny Bold.

Barchester Towers is about how complicated and convoluted relationships can become. It's not just about church politics. It's about social relationships as well. Though church politics does capture much of it. Who will be the new Bishop? Who will be the new warden of Hiram's Hospital? Who will be the new Dean?

The novel is a romantic comedy of sorts. Eleanor, a widow, is quite the catch and there are plenty of men in the neighborhood who would do almost anything to win her heart. But not all of them are worthy of it. And some of them are more interested in her money than in her. Her three suitors are Mr. Obadiah Slope (boo, hiss if you like, trust me he deserves it!), Mr. Bertie Stanhope, and Mr. Francis Arabin. Two of the three are church men. Mr. Slope is chaplain and in the employ of the new bishop, Mr. Proudie. And Mr. Arabin is the vicar of St. Ewold. Mr. Stanhope is a gambler mostly, an idle man who thinks only of living in the moment. Does Eleanor want to be courted? Is she looking for a second husband? A step-father for young Johnny? Whether or not this is the case, it can't be denied that the men in the neighborhood are looking at her.

I said Barchester Towers is a comedy, and that is very much the case. Comical characters abound in Barchester Towers! Mr. Slope. Dr. Proudie. Mrs. Proudie. Those three can get into so much trouble all on their own! I feel a bit sorry for Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful and their fourteen (living) children, a family that gets caught in this tug-of-war power play. Will he or won't he be named the new warden? And those are just a handful of the characters we meet in this second novel. There are the Stanhopes (including the married and attention-grabbing Madame Neroni), the Thornes, and the lower-class sort including the Lookalofts and the Greenacres. I believe Miss Thorne's party is the delight of the novel--spanning about eight chapters.

The order of the day was to be as follows. The quality, as the upper classes in rural districts are designated by the lower with so much true discrimination, were to eat a breakfast, and the non-quality were to eat a dinner. Two marquees had been erected for these two banquets: that for the quality on the esoteric or garden side of a certain deep ha-ha; and that for the non-quality on the exoteric or paddock side of the same. Both were of huge dimensions—that on the outer side was, one may say, on an egregious scale—but Mr. Plomacy declared that neither would be sufficient. To remedy this, an auxiliary banquet was prepared in the dining-room, and a subsidiary board was to be spread sub dio for the accommodation of the lower class of yokels on the Ullathorne property.

No one who has not had a hand in the preparation of such an affair can understand the manifold difficulties which Miss Thorne encountered in her project. Had she not been made throughout of the very finest whalebone, riveted with the best Yorkshire steel, she must have sunk under them. Had not Mr. Plomacy felt how much was justly expected from a man who at one time carried the destinies of Europe in his boot, he would have given way, and his mistress, so deserted, must have perished among her poles and canvas.

In the first place there was a dreadful line to be drawn. Who were to dispose themselves within the ha-ha, and who without? To this the unthinking will give an off-hand answer, as they will to every ponderous question. Oh, the bishop and such-like within the ha-ha, and Farmer Greenacre and such-like without. True, my unthinking friend, but who shall define these such-likes? It is in such definitions that the whole difficulty of society consists. To seat the bishop on an arm-chair on the lawn and place Farmer Greenacre at the end of a long table in the paddock is easy enough, but where will you put Mrs. Lookaloft, whose husband, though a tenant on the estate, hunts in a red coat, whose daughters go to a fashionable seminary in Barchester, who calls her farm-house Rosebank, and who has a pianoforte in her drawing-room? The Misses Lookaloft, as they call themselves, won't sit contented among the bumpkins. Mrs. Lookaloft won't squeeze her fine clothes on a bench and talk familiarly about cream and ducklings to good Mrs. Greenacre. And yet Mrs. Lookaloft is no fit companion and never has been the associate of the Thornes and the Grantlys. And if Mrs. Lookaloft be admitted within the sanctum of fashionable life, if she be allowed with her three daughters to leap the ha-ha, why not the wives and daughters of other families also? Mrs. Greenacre is at present well contented with the paddock, but she might cease to be so if she saw Mrs. Lookaloft on the lawn. And thus poor Miss Thorne had a hard time of it.

And how was she to divide her guests between the marquee and the parlour? She had a countess coming, an Honourable John and an Honourable George, and a whole bevy of Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta, &c; she had a leash of baronets with their baronnettes; and, as we all know, she had a bishop. If she put them on the lawn, no one would go into the parlour; if she put them into the parlour, no one would go into the tent. She thought of keeping the old people in the house and leaving the lawn to the lovers. She might as well have seated herself at once in a hornet's nest.
Anthony Trollope is fast-becoming one of my favorite authors. I am just falling in love with him. His style, his wit, his humor, his characterizations. The way he can talk about anything (and everything) and make me care. Even the bad guys. Trollope develops these scummy characters with such grace and charm that even though you know they're no good, you enjoy spending time with them.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Warden

Trollope, Anthony. 1855. The Warden. Oxford World's Classics. 294 pages.

The Rev. Septimus Harding was, a few years since, a beneficed clergyman residing in the cathedral town of -----; let us call it Barchester.

This is a charming little classic concerning ethics. While that, strictly speaking, is true, it's not really the half of it. It's about one man, Mr. Harding, and his family: two daughters, one married, the other quite single. It's also about Harding's neighborhood and circle of friends. It's about the necessity of having a good reputation and a clean conscience.

Eleanor is the apple of her daddy's eye. Susan is married to an Archdeacon. (I *believe* his name is Grantley). Because of his eldest daughters good fortune in marriage, Mr. Harding, has been named warden of Hiram's Hospital (alms house). The 'enemy' of Mr. Harding (and the suitor of Eleanor) is a young man named John Bold. When we are first introduced to these characters, we are learning that Bold is encouraging a law suit against Mr. Harding. He feels that Mr. Harding is in violation of the will. (Way, way, way back when (several centuries past), a man left his (quite wealthy) estate to the church. The church followed the will for the most part, but as times changed, they changed the way they carried it out. They were following it through in spirit in a way: still seeking to take care of twelve poor men (bedesman) but over time the salary of the warden increased.) Bold has stirred up the twelve bedesmen into signing a petition demanding justice, demanding more money, demanding 'fairer' distribution of funds.

The book presents this case through multiple perspectives: through two Grantleys (father and son), a few lawyers, Mr. Harding and Mr. Bold, of course, and through a handful of the twelve men involved that would profit from the change. There is one man whose voice seems louder than all the rest. And that voice comes from the newspaper, the Jupiter, one journalist writes harsh, condemning words directed at Mr. Harding--he assumes much having never met Harding personally. These words weigh heavy on the heart and soul of Mr. Harding. (And they don't sit easy on Mr. Bold either.)

Can Mr. Harding get his reputation back? What is the right thing to do? Is he in violation of the will? Is the church? What is his moral responsibility in caring for these twelve poor-and-retired men? What is his responsibility to the community?

The Warden is a charming little book. In part because of the language and style. There's an easiness and rightness about it. It was one of those cases where I knew almost from the start that Trollope and I would come to be good friends. Though I'd never read any Trollope before, never seen a movie based on one of his books, reading Trollope felt like coming home. Trollope was good at characterization and equally good at storytelling.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Challenge

Name: Let's Trollope (A Perpetual Reading Challenge for reading the works of Anthony Trollope)
Host: Becky of Becky's Book Reviews
Dates: Perpetual; OR you can set your own start/stop times.
Books required: 2 or more books. (Or 1 book + 1 Film)

Rereads are allowed.
Audio books allowed.
Films allowed.
Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.
A biography of Trollope can count if you want.
As do literary-criticisms. (But neither are required).

Do come back to the blog and share what you've read, what you're reading, and what you plan to read.

Sign up by leaving a comment.

List of Trollope's Books

Novels unless otherwise noted:

* The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847)
* The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848)
* La Vendée:An Historical Romance (1850)
* The Warden (1855) Chronicles of Barsetshire #1
* Barchester Towers (1857) Chronicles of Barsetshire #2
* The Three Clerks (1858)
* Doctor Thorne (1858) Chronicles of Barsetshire #3
* The West Indies and the Spanish Main (travel) (1859)
* The Bertrams (1859)
* Castle Richmond (1860)
* Framley Parsonage (1861) Chronicles of Barsetshire #4
* Tales of All Countries--1st Series (stories) (1861)
* Tales of All Countries--2nd Series (stories) (1863)
* Tales of All Countries--3rd Series (stories) (1870)
* Orley Farm (1862)
* North America (travel) (1862)
* The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson (1862)
* Rachel Ray (1863)
* The Small House at Allington (1864) Chronicles of Barsetshire #5
* Can You Forgive Her? (1865) Palliser Novel #1
* Miss Mackenzie (1865)
* Hunting Sketches (sketches) (1865)
* Travelling Sketches (sketches) (1866)
* Clergymen of the Church of England (sketches) (1866)
* The Belton Estate (1866)
* The Claverings (1867)
* Nina Balatka (1867)
* Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) Chronicles of Barsetshire #6
* Lotta Schmidt & Other Stories (1867)
* Linda Tressel (1868)
* Phineas Finn (1869) Palliser Novel #2
* He Knew He Was Right (1869)
* Did He Steal It? (play) (1869)
* The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870)
* An Editor's Tales (stories) (1870)
* The Commentaries of Caesar (school textbook) (1870)
* Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite (1871)
* Ralph the Heir (1871)
* The Golden Lion of Granpère (1872)
* Australia and New Zealand (travel) (1873)
* The Eustace Diamonds (1873) Palliser Novel #3
* Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874)
* Lady Anna (1874)
* Phineas Redux (1874) Palliser Novel #4
* The Way We Live Now (1875)
* The Prime Minister (1876) Palliser Novel #5
* The American Senator (1877)
* Is He Popenjoy? (1878)
* South Africa (travel) (1878)
* How the 'Mastiffs' Went to Iceland (travel) (1878)
* John Caldigate (1879)
* An Eye for an Eye (1879)
* Cousin Henry (1879)
* Thackeray (criticism) (1879) English Men of Letters Series #11
* The Duke's Children (1880) Palliser Novel #6
* Life of Cicero (biography) (1880)
* Ayala's Angel (1881)
* Doctor Wortle's School (1881)
* Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and other Stories (stories) (1882)
* Lord Palmerston (biography) (1882)
* The Fixed Period (1882)
* Kept in the Dark (1882)
* Marion Fay (1882)
* Mr. Scarborough's Family (1883)
* An Autobiography (autobiography) (1883)
* The Landleaguers (unfinished novel) (1883)
* An Old Man's Love (1884)
* The Noble Jilt (play) (1923)
* London Tradesmen (sketches) (1927)
* The New Zealander (essay) (1972)