Saturday, 25 August 2012

THE WAY WE LIVE NOW by Anthony Trollope

I felt a powerful need of the infinite consolation of Trollope. And infinite is the word, as this, his longest novel, is a stonking 800+ words. They pass by in a minute. I can’t believe it’s already over.

Admittedly, it was a long, fairly complicated minute, with multiple plots and a huge swathe of London life all crammed in there. In a sign that THE WAY WE LIVE NOW is in fact the way we still live now, the central character, Mr Melmotte, is running a massive Ponzi scheme. His daughter, initially meek, falls in love with a useless chap Felix Carbury, and tries to run away to New York with him. Meanwhile Felix’s sister Hetta is loved by her forty-something cousin Roger, but she is unfortunately in love with Roger’s best friend, Paul, who is unfortunately engaged to an American, Winifred Hurtle, who once shot a man in Utah, who - you get the picture.

I don’t know what is about Trollope that is so soothing. I think it is in part that his stories are long, and neatly crafted, and you can rely on them to take you away from your long and apparently bad crafted life. It’s also his great moral surety, which I’m not sure anyone in our culture has been able to enjoy since the Somme.

Take this, where he is discussing Paul’s unwillingness to break up with Mrs Hurtle, when he realizes the engagement is a mistake:
In social life we hardly stop to consider how much of that daring spirit which gives mastery comes from hardness of heart rather than from high purpose, or true courage . . . The master who succumbs to his servant, is as often brought to servility by a continual aversion to the giving of pain, by a softness which causes the fretfulness of others to be an agony to himself . . . There is an inner softness, a thinness of the mind’s skin, an incapability of seeing or even thinking of the troubles of others with equanimity, which produces a feeling akin to fear; but which is compatible not only with courage, but with absolute firmness of purpose . .

I know I've mentioned this before, but I still can't get over that he wrote all these novels while working full time at the post office.

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