Monday, February 6, 2012

my trollope galop*

After reading twelve Trollope novels in less than six months, I have made a cleansing foray into Nabokov (Laughter in the Dark) and greatly enjoyed the economy of language and tightness of plot. Trollope, writing for serialization and with three volumes to fill for each title, describes every detail of a major character's face, figure, financial status, family heritage, and marital status before s/he is allowed to step into the action. Nabokov, who personally translated Laughter into English, lets these details emerge on a 'need-to-know' basis. Googling Laughter just now, I learned that Tony Richardson made it into a French-British film in 1969. I wonder what Nabokov thought of the movie but will postpone further researches for the time being.

For some reason I feel that I must write more about Trollope before getting back to Nabokov or Doctorow. Maybe there's an ideal balance between input and output, and I must restore it before reading more.

The Barchester and Palliser series provide a very thick slice of life in mid-Victorian England. Politics (both secular and ecclesiastical), architecture, communications, economics, and social mores are treated in great detail, as they must be to develop Trollope's story lines, invariably chronicling the rise and fall of a character's status.

I will admit to being bored by Trollope's long descriptions of fox hunts and parliamentary debates, but I love his ornate vocabulary and am fascinated by his treatment of marriage. From the 'childhood sweetheart' theme, through courtship, wedding ceremonies, honeymoons, everyday intercourse (hey! it meant communication and/or business in those days), obligatory entertaining, and finally widowhood, the reader follows every step.

While the subject of sex is carefully avoided, a reader steeped in political correctness may still feel the guilty frisson that comes from forbidden subject matter, when Trollope descends into the substratum of bigotry underlying his fictional world. Mr. Levy, Mr. Lopez, and the Reverend Mr. Emilius, a bigamous Pole, are treated with broad stereotypes and intense contumely. Italians and Germans fare better unless they are devoted to Roman Catholicism or Judaism, respectively. English people of the better classes can actually live in Italy, Germany, or Switzerland without becoming tainted, but they must return home periodically. Giving birth or dying abroad is to be avoided at all costs.

Trollope wrote 47 novels, some travel books and other nonfiction, some short stories, and an autobiography -- stashed on my Kindle, of course.
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*Spelled this way, galop refers to a lively dance popular during Trollope's lifetime.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License