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Posts Tagged ‘Trollope

doctor-thorne It’s only by reading War and Peace all the way through without skipping a few chapters or throwing large chunks away that you can appreciate the towering genius of Anthony Trollope. He did what Tolstoy refused to do. He shaped life to make it fit neatly into a novel. He crafted a cunning plot, fleshed it out with all-too-human characters, spiced it up with scandal and plenty of jokes and served it up as a frothy concoction entirely for our pleasure and amusement.

It’s fiction, of course, but it’s also, as Nathaniel Hawthorne observed, “just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were being made a show of.”

Doctor Thorne has one of Trollope’s best plots. It’s the plot he was most proud of. It’s neat. It serves his purpose well. For his purpose, of course, is not simply to tell a story but to dish up some situations that can entertain us, make us laugh and make us think.

There are one or two old-fashioned moral dilemmas in the novel. I say old-fashioned because these days anything goes. Whoever heard of a modern politician with a conscience or a doctor with a qualm? What banker or businessman would balk at profit? Self-interest is these days synonymous with commonsense. We put ourselves first in everything, “because we’re worth it.”

But if you can rise above our contemporary moral landscape and imagine a world where people have a burning desire to do the right thing, then there is nothing at all old-fashioned about the pleasure you will get from reading this superbly crafted and highly readable book.

You don’t have to digest indigestible sentences or wrestle with intrusive philosophical tracts. Trollope writes beautifully and simply. He sums up moral dilemmas with admirable concision. He is a genius at putting things in a nutshell. He lets his characters speak freely but he makes sure they always speak to the point.

Frank is told almost every day that he must marry for money. Frank knows he has a duty to his family and doesn’t want to see it go to ruin. But he is in love with a woman who has no money and no social status. What should he do?

It’s a straightforward quandary and no other novelist could spin it out so delightfully for over 600 pages without making us conscious of the novel’s length. Trollope is never a chore to read, unlike Henry James who accused him of “a complete appreciation of the usual.” There are no murders here, no shoot-outs, no car chases, no weird drug problems, no psychopaths. Instead there is a delightful lightness of touch, a mastery of motive and character, and an elegance of expression that makes us see everything with absolute clarity.

This will not get stretched beyond credulity the way the plot of Downton Abbey was. But it is getting the same exposure, on prime time Sunday night television, with a script by Downton’s creator, Julian Fellowes. I hope the script does the novel justice and the exposure gives Trollope the audience he deserves.

Can You Forgive Her? (Palliser, #1)Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recommend the Kindle version of this for two reasons.

1. It’s free.

2. You won’t realise how long it is until you start reading, after which it won’t matter because you’ll be hooked. Although the little percent sign at the bottom of the page will stay in demoralisingly low single figures for so long that you might think your device is broken.

There’s a third reason for recommending it. It’s awesome!

It’s not erotic but, on the other hand, it’s hardly decent. At least, it doesn’t seem decent to me that a middle-aged Victorian gentleman (he was just the right side of 50 when he wrote it) should be able to get so effortlessly into the heart and mind of an excitable young maiden in the first flush of youth and dissect her vacillating intentions with the precision of a modern micro surgeon.

How dare he! Yes, and make us love her! And love him too for his audacious charm!

Trollope is sometimes looked down on by arbiters of quality in Victorian fiction. I often hear people apologising for liking him. The trouble with Trollope, you see, is that his books are so hugely enjoyable; and they are without a scar or a blemish so there is nothing for the critics to critique.

Sometimes his works are not even looked on as fiction but as social history. Why? Because his plots are not fanciful. They are robust. And his characters are intensely alive. So when you read him, it is like looking at real life.

Except it isn’t. Everything is much simpler and clearer and funnier than real life because Trollope is so sharp, so witty, so light. He has the driest sense of humour of any Englishman I’ve met and, believe me, I’ve met some very dry Englishmen in my time. Yet you take in every word and nothing is above your head. It just falls into place beautifully.

And there I should end because the book is quite long enough; you don’t want to delay starting it a moment longer.


Books by Vanessa Wu

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