Tag Archives: Anthony Trollope

How the novelist helped his heroine

In May, 2018 my wife and I were on vacation in Spain. We took an easy side-trip to Gibraltar, to spend the day. I (momentarily) mastered my acrophobia to take a cable-car to the top of the storied Rock, which had great views … along with the famous monkey residents (barbary macaques).

Descended from the Top of the Rock, I also encountered the to-be-expected tourist items, but the inevitable fish-and-chips, accompanied with John Smith’s Ale, were really not so hard to endure. ūüôā There was also the iconic Veddy British “pillar box”:

Being the literary character that I am, I recalled the famous (in certain circles) linkage to one of my very fave novelists, Anthony Trollope.¬† Trollope’s day job was with the Post Office.¬† In 1854 he recommended that pillar boxes be installed in the Channel Islands.¬† They were the first mailboxes in Britain.¬† By the next year they had spread to London.¬† No longer need one make a trek to the post office to mail a letter.

I recently finished Trollope’s novel The Duke’s Children¬†(1880).¬† (I have now concluded my traversal of his “Palliser” novels.)¬†

One of the plot threads concerns Lady Mary, the Duke’s daughter, who is in love with a gentleman — Frank Tregear by name — whose station in life, the Duke feels, is beneath her.¬† He has forbidden the couple to see each other.¬† Lady Mary is, at one point, staying with the Countess, Lady Cantrip, who has been charged by the Duke with the challenging task of keeping an eye on her, where her romantic life is concerned.¬†¬†

Though she knows the practice would be frowned upon, Mary has not actually promised not to write to Tregear.  When he writes to her, she can not resist replying.  And, in Chapter XXIV:

The next morning Lady Mary showed [Lady Cantrip] a copy of the reply which she had already sent to her lover.

Dear Frank,
You may be quite sure that I shall never give you up. I will not write more at present because papa does not wish me to do so. I shall show papa your letter and my answer.
Your own most affectionate
Mary.

“Has it gone?” asked the Countess.
“I put it myself into the pillar letter-box.” Then Lady Cantrip felt that she had to deal with a very self-willed young lady indeed.

So … if Trollope had not (in so-called “real life”) advocated for the pillar-box, who knows what might — or might not — have happened?¬† Would Mary have been able to navigate her way to the actual brick-and-mortar post office, unescorted as she would likely have had to be?¬† Who knows?¬† They do¬†say “Amor vincit omnia” … but isn’t it nice that the Trollope with the day job was able to give Mary a helping hand?

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The history of goodbye

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For a while now, I have been reading Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Redux.¬† I will admit that it’s not the most engrossing book I’ve ever read.¬† But I am keeping at it for a couple of reasons.¬† Firstly, though its coverage of Victorian politics is (to me) mostly forgettable, its dialogue is sparkling.¬† Secondly, I am working my way through Trollope’s “Palliser” series, and I don’t want to disturb the continuity by aborting my reading of this volume.

Since my attention is not riveted, I find myself digressing at times, to think about particular words that Trollope makes use of, and possible differences in their meaning (or shades of meaning) between 1873 (when PR was published) and the present.  Take this letter embedded in the novel, from a young woman, to the man she is engaged to.  I will reproduce only the ending:

I shall send this to your club, and I hope that it will reach you.  I suppose that you are in London.

Good-bye, dearest Gerard.

Yours most affectionately,

Adelaide.

If there is anything that troubles you, pray tell me.  I ask you because I think it would be better for you that I should know.  I sometimes think that you would have written if there had not been some misfortune.

God bless you.

I started thinking about the “Good-bye” in “Good-bye, dearest Gerard”.¬† I had some inkling that “good-bye” came from “God be with you”, but wasn’t sure when or how that transition occurred.¬† As usual in such cases, I consulted the mighty (unabridged, of course), unique, and almost unfathomable … Oxford English Dictionary.

oxford_english_dictionary

Being “on historical principles”, its principal claim to greatness — for me at least — is that it provides examples of the usage of a word (or phrase) down through the hundreds (nay thousands) of years that the English language has existed.¬† The first such quotation represents the earliest known use of the given word.¬† (And in the case of obsolete terms,¬† the last quotation is from the period when the term was last in use.)

Before actually looking up “good-bye”, I tried to guess (as is my custom) when the word first appeared.¬† Or more precisely (in this case) when the first appearance of the modern “good-bye” — approximately so spelled — took place.¬† My guess was around the beginning of the 1700’s.¬† Here is the relevant part of the OED’s “good-bye” entry … which, as usual, clearly delineates the evolution of spelling, and meaning.¬† You will be able to see if I was correct in my “timing” guess, or not:

good-bye

. . . . . . .

1.1 As an exclamation:¬† A form of address at parting; farewell.¬† Also in”to bid”, “say good bye” (to).

1588 Shakes.  L.L.L. iii. i. 151, I thanke your worship, God be wy you.

1591 ? 1 Hen.¬† VI, iii. ii. 73 God b’uy my Lord.

1600 Heywood 2 Edw.  IV, Wks.  (1874) I. 141 Gallants, God buoye all.

1602 Shakes.¬† Ham. ii. ii. 575, I so, God buy’ ye [1604 Qo. 2 God buy to you].

1607 Middleton & Dekker Roaring Girl D j b, Farewell.¬† God b’y you Mistresse Gallipot.

a 1652 Brome City Wit i. ii.  Wks. 1873 I. 289 Heartily Godbuy, good Mr. Crasy.

a 1659 Cleveland Lond.¬† Lady 54 But mum for that, his strength will scarce supply His Back to the Balcona, so God b’ wy.

[1668 Pepys Diary 6 Aug., To Mr. Wren, to bid him ‘God be with you!’]

1694 Acc.¬† Sev.¬† Late Voy. ii. 152 He flings up his tail..and so bids us good-b’wy.

1707 E. Ward Hud.¬† Rediv.¬† II. ii. 6 So to a Feast should I invite ye You’d stuff your Guts, and cry, Good bwi’t’ye.

1719 D’Urfey Pills III. 135 Good B’ w’ ‘y! with all my Heart.

1811 W. R. Spencer Poems 141 When How-d’y-do has failed to move, Good-bye reveals the passion!¬† [emphasis mine]

1818 Byron Juan i. ccxxi, And so your humble servant, and good-b’ye!

1860 Tyndall Glac. i. xviii. 122 We then bade Ulrich good-bye, and went forward.

1874 F. C. Burnand My time x. 87 Then he said good-bye to me..and so left me.

As in the case of many other words, Shakespeare seems to be the first source.¬† (Though, to be sure, “God be wy you” still seems more like a phrase than an actual word.¬† Also note that the first given source of the NOUN “good-bye”, not shown here — as distinguished from the exclamation we are discussing — is a letter written by one G. Harvey in 1573.)¬† In any event, you will see that my guess about the 1700’s was wrong; in fact, “Good-bye”, so spelled, first arises in a poem by W.R. Spencer, in 1811!¬† (Note that this is NOT the same writer as the more celebrated Edmund Spenser, who along with spelling his last name differently, lived in the 16th century.)

Let us come back to the Trollope for a minute.¬† After I absorbed the OED information,¬† Adelaide’s¬† “Good-bye”, in her letter, seemed different than the plain “farewell” I had construed it to be at first.¬† I believe that there really still is an element of the “God be with you” sense here.¬† First of all, it seems a bit odd to bid a overt “farewell” to another person when you write to them (especially if you are attached to them); after all you have not been physically together with them.¬† Secondly, consider the “God bless you” at the letter’s very end.¬† It seems to resonate with the “God be with you” aspect of the “Good-bye”.

OK, so let us now bid Good-bye to that little digression … and let us march bravely forward with Phineas Redux!

*************

Update 16feb2016:¬† I am very glad that I stuck with Phineas Redux.¬† A bit more than halfway through, a dramatic event occurs … and the book catches fire!

 

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Lizzie the sociopath

Lizzie the sociopath

Wikipedia prefers “psychopath” to its equivalent, “sociopath”.¬† I like “sociopath” because it brings out that this disorder involves the relationship of the person with others … and also because it avoids sounding like the totally unrelated “psychotic” condition.¬† But whichever name you use, it is “a personality disorder characterized by enduring antisocial behavior, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behavior” (Wiki). You might know someone you think fills this bill. To be more sure, you might fill out the “Hare checklist” (Google it) and see how many points your friend accumulates!

The Eustace Diamonds is not one of the first Trollopes I would have someone read*, but in its main character, Lizzie Eustace, we have a high-fidelity rendering of the sociopathic type.¬† At the outset, Trollope confides in the reader that he can not bring himself to deliver an elaborate¬† “back story” on this character:

We will tell the story of Lizzie Greystock from the beginning, but we will not dwell over it at great length, as we might do if we loved her.

Here are several more quotations that address Lizzie’s sociopathic personality:

As she was utterly devoid of true tenderness, so also was she devoid of conscience.

She did like reading, and especially the reading of poetry,‚ÄĒthough even in this she was false and pretentious, skipping, pretending to have read, lying about books, and making up her market of literature for outside admiration at the easiest possible cost of trouble.

[T]he guiding motive of her conduct was the desire to make things seem to be other than they were. To be always acting a part rather than living her own life was to her everything.

¬†When there came to her any fair scope for acting, she was perfect. In the ordinary scenes of ordinary life, … she could not acquit herself well. There was no reality about her, and the want of it was strangely plain to most unobservant eyes. But give her a part to play that required exaggerated, strong action, and she hardly ever failed.

Could not she [Lizzie] be simple? Could not she act simplicity so well that the thing acted should be as powerful as the thing itself;‚ÄĒperhaps even more powerful?

This last quote recalls the famous (and often misattributed) remark that Celeste Holm recalled a fellow actor making:

“Honesty.¬† That‚Äôs the thing in the theater today.¬† Honesty ‚Ķ and¬†¬† just as soon as I can learn to fake that, I‚Äôll have it made.‚ÄĚ

¬†Lastly, let me insert perhaps my favorite of all Trollope’s remarks about Lizzie:

She liked lies, thinking them to be more beautiful than truth. To lie readily and cleverly, recklessly and yet successfully, was, according to the lessons which she had learned, a necessity in woman and an added grace in man.

Perhaps a novelist can get away with (and indeed thrive on) creating lies that are “more beautiful than truth”.¬† But for a human navigating real life, it would seem a slippery slope indeed …

If you feel drawn to read The Eustace Diamonds, do not worry that it is part of Trollope’s “Palliser” series, but not the first one in the series.¬†¬† These books are connected only by virtue of some common characters, but they play only minor roles in this novel.¬† I don’t think you will lose much by tackling this tome before having read the other Pallisers.**

I have up to now shied away from putting my “two cents” into the imposing online presence of Wikipedia, but I think I will shortly rectify a notable omission:¬† I will add The Eustace Diamonds, and Lizzie Eustace, to their article “Fictional portrayals of psychopaths”.

—–

* See my Trollope reviews, for some novels of his with perhaps more overall allure.

** I will admit that this opinion of mine is based only upon the first three of the Pallisers (Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, and The Eustace Diamonds).  I have not gotten to the other three in the series, as yet.

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July 1, 2014 · 11:51 am

W is for … Worrying about the end of the alphabet

W is for ... Worrying about the end of the alphabet

What is Sue Grafton gonna do when she runs out of letters? Use Greek ones, then Thai ones, or whatever … I hope. Skillful as always, she easily weaves two plots together here, in W IS FOR WASTED, her newest chronicle of female private-eye, Kinsey Millhone.

A nod to Ms Grafton for recognizing, via her writing, sectors of society not always brought to the fore. As always, there is Kinsey’s landlord Henry, a thriving elder in his 80’s. Special to this book: a warm & sympathetic look at some homeless people.

In math, if a=b and b=c, then a=c. But if I (call me A) like writer B, and writer B likes writer C, then do I (call me A) like writer C? ¬†Maybe, quite often, yes. ¬†Grafton works into her text, ¬†shoutouts to Dick Francis & Robert B. Parker, both fave crime writers of mine. ¬†(Being alert for author’s names in the course of a novel, ¬†can be a great way of expanding one’s reading repertoire.) ¬†I also happen to know (Wikipedia be thanked) that Grafton is — like yours truly — an Anthony Trollope fan. I rest my case!

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October 23, 2013 · 1:06 am