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He Knew He Was Right (1869)

by Anthony Trollope

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
8532217,780 (3.92)2 / 187
Widely regarded as one of Trollope's most successful later novels,He Knew He Was Right is a study of marriage and of sexual relationships cast against a background of agitation for women's rights.
  1. 20
    The Way We Live Now (Wordsworth Classics) by Anthony Trollope (CVBell)
  2. 10
    The Marriage of Elinor by Mrs. Oliphant (cmcarpenter)
    cmcarpenter: One of Mrs. Oliphant's finest - portrait of a marriage in crisis.
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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
After reading both the Barsetshire and Palliser series, this was my first foray into one of Trollope's standalone novels. It left me a little unsatisfied, I think because of the main topic, marriage.

The main storyline here involves the marriage of Louis and Emily Trevelyan who have been happily married for about 5 years and have a young son. Trevelyan becomes jealous of Emily's relationship with a friend of her father's, Colonel Osbourne and forbids her to see him anymore. She believes he is overreacting (which he is) but also can't see that Col Osborne is certainly flirting with her and sort of enjoying making the situation worse. At first I felt they were equally at fault, but then Trevelyan descends farther and farther into obsession and madness to the extent of banishing Emily from his house and hiring a private detective to watch her.

Contrasted with this portrait of marriage is Emily's sister's love for Hugh Stanbury. Stanbury works as a journalist for his income and here is another theme. Should a woman tie herself to a husband who doesn't have inherited income and has to work for a living - and not just work, but work in journalism instead of something like the clergy, a doctor, or a lawyer? And then there are a host of other women who treat marriage and love in different ways, but always the question is what is more important, love or financial security or independence. It doesn't seem possible to achieve all three of these things. In fact, Trollope seems intent on saying that women really need to worship their husbands (a troubling word and concept to me) for a marriage to be happy. Certainly this has come up before in his work, but I found it more pervasive here and harder to gloss over or accept.

Then again, I really loved some of the characters, particularly Miss Stanbury, and thought there were some really funny moments (especially the running "chignon" joke). I enjoyed this, but it wasn't my favorite of his novels. ( )
  japaul22 | Jul 7, 2019 |
Listened to the LibriVox audiobook. Decent narration but not one of Trollope's better novels. Despite the fact that this novel didn't appeal to me as much as others by this author, I found its exploration of the differing ways people try to control others (both successful and unsuccessful) thought-provoking. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 18, 2019 |
I had fallen in love with Trollope's writing with his 'Chronicles of Barsetshire', particularly 'Barchester Towers' which had all of the social comedy I wanted from a period novel and a broader portrait of life in England in the mid-19th century. Trollope wore his prejudices proudly and his biases were as informative for me as a historian as any impartial work of the era could have been. As I read further into the series I was impressed further with the depth of his characters, particularly his occasional nuanced characterization of women in his era. There were always one or two at least who were rewarded even for bucking the conventions of society, and even those who were caricatures of female vanity or shrewish are excused by the narrator, because of the narrow confines they as women must inhabit to avoid ridicule.

I was talking about this to a customer, perhaps about a year ago, who asked if I had read 'He Knew He Was Right." I said I hadn't and she said she'd be very interested in hearing what I had to say about it. Well, a year or so later I've finished it and I'm not sure what to say.

The central plot is the deterioration of the marriage of Louis and Emily Trevelyon. They are a happy, prosperous couple with a healthy young boy when Louis has a seed of doubt about Emily being visited so often by an old friend of her father's, a man with a lingering rakish reputation despite his age. Louis tries to maneuver Emily away from this acquaintance, and even orders it to stop, but her resistance to the suggestion and scorn at the order - obeying it only to the letter - leads to open distrust and eventual separation.

This disagreement and refusal to compromise ruins both of their lives and almost certainly the life of their son. Houses are given up, scandal is spread through London and wherever either Trevelyon or his wife go. Emily's stubborness rests much on her pride and her Victorian refusal to even touch on the subject of impropriety in conversation until its too late. Trevelyon's insistence becomes more and more adamant and leads to madness. Tied into this mess are Emily's sister Nora, who must make her own decisions about love in the shadow of the terrible example of her sister and brother-in-law, and their whole family who must endeavor to fix this situation or make the best of it.

Nora's two beaus are Charles Glascock and Hugh Stanpole, the former the heir to a peerage and grand estate, the latter a gentleman who makes comparatively thin means writing for a radical newspaper. Each of these gentlemen connect the Trevelyon's marriage plot to happier plots involving young ladies making happy marriages. Hugh's sister Dorothy in going to live with a wealthy maiden aunt inhabits practically her own novel full of botched proposals, village gossip, and just desserts.

There is a lot going on in this lengthy book and it is full of the period detail and social commentary I adore from Trollope, but plot-wise it runs out steam about halfway through. The rift between the Trevelyons is intractable and ends up covering the same ground repeatedly. The marriage plots of Nora and Dorothy are finalized so quickly there is little to do but wait for the wedding, which, on the page, isn't as compelling as you'd like. Other marriages and character arcs are also wrapped up while the reader still has hundreds of pages to go to hear the same loops of conversations and social necessities pass by.

It frankly baffled me. Trollope has never stinted on words in the novels I've read, but there was never this feeling that much of it was so...unnecessary. In doing some reading I found a reference to the novel in Trollope's 'Autobiography' that shows that Trollope was disappointed in the novel:

"I do not know that in any literary effort I ever fell more completely short of my own intention than in this story. It was my purpose to create sympathy for the unfortunate man who, while endeavouring to do his duty to all around him, should be led constantly astray by his unwillingness to submit his own judgment to the opinion of others. The man is made to be unfortunate enough, and the evil which he does is apparent. So far I did not fail, but the sympathy has not been created yet. I look upon the story as being nearly altogether bad. It is in part redeemed by certain scenes in the house and vicinity of an old maid in Exeter. But a novel which in its main parts is bad cannot, in truth, be redeemed by the vitality of subordinate characters."

I appreciate his honesty there. I would go further than saying it is only sympathy for Trevelyon that is lacking. This novel tries to tackle a heavy issue and doesn't quite manage it. Trollope didn't have the vocabulary to dismantle the toxic masculinity that led Trevelyon to becoming unhinged in the way he did. There are some other commentaries about women that I read as thin satire, but was still distasteful to read. Without the fun or interest of other subplots to shore up the devastating weight of the central arc, I would have been unable to finish this novel if I hadn't read 80% in airport terminals last week. I will read more Trollope, but I don't think I can recommend this one to anyone except diehard fans. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 23, 2019 |
On a visit to the Mandarin islands, Louis Trevelyan is charmed by Emily Rowley, the Governor's eldest daughter. Louis and Emily are married, and the Trevelyans return to England with Emily's next youngest sister, Nora. Early in their marriage, Louis and Emily have a disagreement so sharp that they are unable to continue living together. Both Louis and Emily believe they have been wronged and are unwilling to admit fault. Emily is stubborn and is unwilling to view the situation from any perspective other than her own. Louis has a deeper psychological problem that intensifies with time. The secondary plots also revolve around marriage. Nora Rowley must choose between two suitors, the eccentric Miss Stanbury plays matchmaker to a poor relative, and an American young woman weighs whether or not she should accept an offer of marriage from an English peer. The older generation still views marriage as a business transaction, but most of the young people in the novel are repelled by the thought of marriage without love. The relationships in the novel illustrate the results of the choices different characters make regarding love and marriage. ( )
  cbl_tn | Jul 30, 2017 |
... Trollope has done no one any favours by distracting from what could have been an important novel.

Trollope’s story of a marriage and a life destroyed by the jealousy of a husband could have been a vivid portrayal of how delicately married life can be balanced. Instead, Trollope watered down a potentially powerful narrative with sub-plots and minor characters that only serve to underline Trollope’s trademark verbosity.

When Louis Trevelyan suspects his wife Emily of emotional adultery with Colonel Osbourne, an old family friend, the situation quickly gets out of hand. Louis’ lack of trust is met with Emily’s equal lack of humility. Despite there being nothing untoward in the initial exchanges, she undermines her position by going against her husband’s wishes and meeting Osbourne behind Louis’ back. Each spouse, when given the opportunity to pour water on the flames, decides instead to pour aviation fuel. The resulting conflagration not only costs them their marital harmony, it drives one of them out of their mind.

Trollope could have developed so much around this storyline. There’s the change in contemporary attitudes towards the role of women in marriage in Victorian England, there are the timeless issues faced by married couples from every era of humanity, there are great themes of jealousy, neglect, humility and of choosing others over yourself. All of these he deals with, but without plumbing the depths of any of them.

Instead, we’re whisked away to watch minor characters spar with each other and decide whether or not they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between their commitment to lifelong matrimony and the rapidly unravelling Trevelyan household. It’s as if no one else realises how likely they too could find themselves in the mire of marital misunderstanding. Again, I feel Trollope missed an opportunity here.

So, while I welcome this rare glimpse into the reality of a disintegrating marriage in Victorian literature, Trollope has done no one any favours by distracting from what could have been an important novel.

( )
  arukiyomi | Jul 15, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anthony Trollopeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kermode, FrankIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When Louis Trevelyan was twenty-four years old, he had all the world before him where to choose; and, among other things, he chose to go to the Mandarin Islands, and there fell in love with Emily Rowley, the daughter of Sir Marmaduke, the governor.
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