1815: Anthony Trollope - The Way We Live Now

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1815: Anthony Trollope - The Way We Live Now

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1edwinbcn
Fév 8, 2015, 9:18am



The Way We Live Now is a satirical novel by Anthony Trollope, published in London in 1875 after first appearing in serialised form. It is one of the last significant Victorian novels to have been published in monthly parts.

Comprising 100 chapters, The Way We Live Now was Trollope's longest novel, and is particularly rich in sub-plot. It was inspired by the financial scandals of the early 1870s; Trollope had just returned to England from abroad, and was appalled by the greed and dishonesty those scandals exposed. This novel was his rebuke. It dramatises how that greed and dishonesty pervaded the commercial, political, moral, and intellectual life of that era.

2rebeccanyc
Modifié : Fév 9, 2015, 12:27pm

Thanks for setting up these threads, Edwin. Here is my review.



This was my first Trollope, but it won't be my last. This novel, which is not part of either of Trollope's series, is wonderfully complex but intensely readable. It tells the interlocking tales of several individuals and families, all of whom find themselves connected in some way to the rich financier of the moment, Augustus Melmotte, who mysteriously appeared in London a year or two earlier, and whose wealth, while readily apparent, is equally mysterious in origin. Trollope's strength is in his characterizations of a dozen or more people, and in his ability to interweave the different threads of the plot. He also has a delightful talent for putting a character down in just a simple sentence.

The story starts out with Lady Carbury, a widow reduced in finances, who has just written a book entitled Criminal Queens and is writing to editors of London papers in the hopes they will review it favorably, leading to big sales and thus money for her. She needs money because her son, Sir Felix, is a hopeless wastrel, always getting drunk, gambling, and being irresponsible in every way possible -- but she loves him. She dreams of marrying him off to Marie Melmotte, the daughter of the financier, for her money. (However, Marie's father wants her to marry a lord, in particular Lord Nidderdale.) She also has a daughter, Hetta, who she has no interest in other than wanting her to marry her cousin, Roger Carbury, who lives in the country off the land that others farm for him in the conventional English way; however, Hetta loves another, Paul Montague.

Paul is also in love with Hetta, although they have not told each other of their love. He is in a way a protege and dear friend of Roger's and has been back and forth to the US where he has invested his small inheritance in a firm run by his uncle and a man named Fisker. Early in the novel, Fisker comes to London to enlist Paul in getting Melmotte to invest in, and run the London branch of a new enterprise, a railway to run from California to the eastern coast of Mexico. Paul is dubious both about the new enterprise and about approaching Melmotte, but gives in to Fisker. Under Melmotte's leadership, the railway thrives, although the reader is suspicious that he is just selling shares that have no basis in the actual ownership of the railroad. (In Zola's later Money, railroads and manipulated share prices also were a feature.) Partway through the book, an American, Mrs. Hurtle, who claims to be a widow and who was involved with Paul in the US, arrives in London to stake her claim to Paul, to whom she was engaged.

Another family important in the plot is the Longestaffes, a financially strapped old land-owning family that includes the ne'er-do-well son Dolly (for Adolphus) and the desperate to be married daughter, Georgianna, as well as a blustering father and a cowed mother. They enter into a financial arrangement with Melmotte that does not end well. There is also a strand of the plot involving Ruby Ruggles, the granddaughter of a tenant farmer of Roger's, who catches the eye of Sir Felix; despite being engaged to an extremely reliable (but apparently extremely boring) local man, she ends up running off to London so she can see Sir Felix, staying there with an aunt who is also, in one of the coincidences that seem to crop up in Victorian literature, renting a room to Mrs. Hurtle. There are many other minor characters and plots, but these are the main ones.

All these characters, and the plot, revolve around the remarkable character that is Melmotte: his meteoric rise, which includes hosting a party for the visiting emperor of China and getting elected to Parliament, and of course his inevitable fall. Throughout, Trollope is able to characterize (and satirize) much of English upper class society as it comes in contact with much that it disdains (merchants, bankers, people from other countries, Americans) but nonetheless is attracted to because of the money. The way they lived then is not so different from the way we live, or indeed how people have always lived, although Trollope seems to sense the downfall of the traditional English way of life (or at least the upper class part of it). The people most full of life in this book are the outcasts: Melmotte, Ruby, and Mrs. Hurtle.

In places, the plot seemed almost soap opera-like to me, with a complicated elopement plot, dissolute young men gambling at a club, a fight between Ruby's betrothed and Sir Felix, Mrs. Hurtle's rumored killing of a man who tried to rape her, and more. Despite this, I am very impressed by Trollope's ability to seamlessly weave together a multitude of plots, and to create mostly flawed characters, some of whom I came to appreciate and some of whom I wanted to slap. Unlike more modern novels, Trollope ties up all the loose ends at the conclusion of the book.

One aspect of this novel that I particularly appreciated was that the women are full-fledged human beings, and develop over the course of the book. Marie Melmotte, in particular, starts off seeming wishy-washy but grows into a strong, practical, young woman. Some people have commented on the antisemitism in this book, but it is clearly the antisemitism expressed by the characters, typical of England at the time, and not an expression of Trollope's feelings.

As a side note, the Modern Library edition that I read had notes at the back but they were referenced only by page numbers; this drives me crazy, because I don't know when to look for notes and miss some that are interesting and find there are none for items I wish were annotated.

3edwinbcn
Fév 9, 2015, 9:29pm

Thanks, Rebecca, for your detailed and excellent review.

The Way We Live Now is a stand-alone novel, not part of a series. While we propose to read Trollope as a bi-centennial author, born in 1815, The Way We Live Now was published in 1875, and the novel is set in the 1870s.

This is the same time period as Theodor Dreiser's novel The Financier (1912), which is also about a financier. It is the first volume in a trilogy, the second volume of which is The Titan (1914), read and reviewed last year by Barry.

Theodor Dreiser was born in 1871, but we read his novels as centennials, as they were published in 1912 and 1914, respectively.

It may be interesting to compare these novels. I am still reading The Financier and will then go on with The Titan and will also read The Way We Live Now.

All novels also bear on our own contemporary time, with its bank crises and scandals in the world of finance and banking.

4MissWatson
Fév 10, 2015, 5:04am

I've been lurking here for some weeks and finally joined because of the Trollope centenary. He's a recent discovery for me, I read The way we live now last year and enjoyed it enormously.

Rebecca, that's a wonderful review, my sentiments exactly!

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