Group Read/Discussion - Nov/Dec 07 - Dr Wortle's School
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Feel free to start discussing Dr Wortle's School here.
Although most of us can probably guess how Trollope's novels will end, it might be worthwhile noting any potential spoilers within posts.
To set the scene, here's a preface (courtesy of 'Assembled Stories'):
When Dr. Wortle, in good faith, hires a couple as teacher and matron at his school, scandal about their marriage is subsequently brought to light. Will the doctor submit to the social pressures brought to bear on him by the gossip, the local newspaper and the bishop or hold true to his humanism, perhaps losing his respect, school and livelihood as a result?
In this story Trollope invites discussion of the prevailing doctrines of English society in the late 19th century. It is one of his best works, truly a classic of literature.
>3 Indeed, lg! I'm curious to know why he made it so short, or rather, how he managed to keep it so brief (I recently read The Way We Live Now and while it was great, the first half just seemed to go on forever... so, this is a welcome and refreshing change!)
I'm about a third of the way in with Dr Wortle's School and its fascinating to see how some of the characters are behaving. The story is quite delicious...
I'm about two thirds of the way through and just pausing to say I am glad that my town does not have a newspaper like "Everybody's Business!"
Where'd everybody go?
I agree, poor Mrs. Wortle. But we do have an Everybody's Business! It's called People magazine. EB was a London paper, not local.
I'm always amazed when reading Trollope just how little has really changed. Technology, yes, mores, yes, but people are the same. I keep thinking what would happen if, for instance, a gay teacher were being defended by his principal instead of being fired.
(Still here! :)
Yeah, I was being sarcastic. Dr Wortle should've known better than to visit the pretty Mrs Peacocke on his own while her husband was away. He wasn't setting a very good example! As if there wasn't enough for people like Mrs Stantiloup to gossip about as it was!
Before the chapter on EB, I loved the precursor to the revelation of 'the mystery' in Chapter 3, i.e. "...put the book down if the revelation of some future secret be necessary for your enjoyment. Our mystery is going to be revealed in the next paragraph..."
Another thing I keep wondering is why doesn't anyone question sending Mr. Peacock off to find out what happened to Mrs. Peacock's husband? I mean, shouldn't someone go with him who could corraborate? Even though Dr. Wortle is going to believe him, why would anyone else in town?
Maybe it gets explained. I'm still only about 2/3 done.
eta: ok, never mind. They had photography in the 1800's--duh.
It does seem to me that it should be a "disinterested" party who investigates what happened to the husband. Logically, I would think everyone, including Dr. Wortle and the Peacocks would want that.
Why wouldn't they write to the authorities in the American towns instead of Mr. Peacock traveling there?
As for Dr. Wortle courting gossip by visiting pretty Mrs. Peacock when her husband was not there, in the introduction to my edition (Penguin Classics) it says that Dr. Wortle resembles Trollope himself in several regards, including this one. "Through two decades of his life prededing the writing of Dr. Wortle's School, Trollope was sentimentally attached to a beautiful, vivacious and outspoken young woman from Boston, Kate Field. They had met...when he was forty-five and she twenty-two...Though there is no evidence, and little likelihood, of actual impropriety, there was certainly unaccustomed sweetness for Trollope in the intimacy; and many a scene, to judge from his surveving letters to Kate Field, like the one in Dr. Wortle's School, Chapter XIII, where 'Then, and not till then, he dropped her hand.'"
It goes on to say that the nearest he came to an actual portrait of Kate was in the story Miss Ophelia Gledd, and that he did write about her in his autobiography, but not by name. His biographer is quoted as saying that Trollope's wife knew about his infatuation and was upset.
So, it seems to me that Trollope was perhaps trying to justify himself in a way.
But imagine how Mrs. Trollope must have felt about his writing about it! Did the gentleman protest too much?
Justify himself? Between Trollope's remark about the hand not dropped and the tabloid's witticism about 'amo' in the evening, Trollope seems to be the meanest of the two. At this point of the book, I am surprised at how much has been done to discredit Dr. Wortle in so few pages.
But maybe I am assuming too much about what is to come.
True, I meant that perhaps he was trying to defend himself that nothing more than hand holding had occured. :)
Yes, I found the Kate Field info interesting. I doubt the novel made Trollope's wife feel any better. Perhaps the way Mrs. Wortle eventually comes around to befriend Mrs. Peacocke, and to sympathize, was some wish fulfillment for Trollope?
Finished it last night. The Mary/Carstairs thing seems really tacked on, and according to the preface it was. Trollope was still trying to sell his novels.
I was surprised that there was as much "action" in the US sections. I would have like to see that part expanded. I wonder how much time Trollope ever spent in the States?
As usual, the best parts are the subtle gradations of human emotion, rationalization and behaviour that Trollope excels in illuminating. For instance, the relationship between Dr. Wortle and Mr. Puddicome--their friendship is shaken, yet they agree to disagree, they still value and respect each other. Most novelists give you undying friendship or enmity, not the reality of how our friends may disappoint or surprise us, yet we remain loyal.
Again according to the introduction of the Penguin edition, Trollope visited the US five times, including Washington College - now University - in St. Louis, Missouri where he was hosted by T.S. Eliot's grandfather! St. Louis was still considered a western city then and he thought the people there "lacking in culture, discipline and grace," a place where men stand in bars drinking and smoking and reading newspapers.
a place where men stand in bars drinking and smoking and reading newspapers.
As if this is so different from the Englishman in his club or pub! ;-)
This isn't the first book of Trollope's that I've read where there is a villainous character from the US. In The Way We Live Now, Mrs Hurtle, is a rather troubled stalker with a shady past (? tried to shoot her ex-husband). So when Robert Lefroy turns up in Dr Wortle's School I thought 'here we go again', another troublemaker ;-)
Agree that parts of the novel could have been extended. There could have been more about how the scandal was affecting the school, the pupils, other teachers etc. And I didn't feel I knew much about Mary Wortle.
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