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The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

The Way We Live Now

by Anthony Trollope

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1,774353,962 (4.21)4 / 183
  1. 00
    Money by Émile Zola (littlegreycloud)
    littlegreycloud: Augustus Melmotte, Aristide Saccard, Bernie Madoff: plus ça change...

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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.
3 vote rebeccanyc | Jan 21, 2015 |
"The Way We Live Now" is a victorian novel that takes place in the 1870s. Similar to many novels of that era, it is about the changing times… but with an added twist about financial corruption. A victorian “Bernie Madoff" shows up in London flaunting his wealth and creating as much gossip and intrigue as Jay Gatsby did in Fitzgerald’s novel of New York in the 1920s.

In this novel, the villain's name is Augustus Melmotte - a sociopath with a huge ego. His life goals are to be elected to Parliament, have his daughter marry a Lord, and of course, accumulate as much wealth as possible. He is a swindler and total fraud, wooing society with his ostentatious spending, extravagant entertaining, and arrogant demands for respect and acceptance.

Amidst the smoldering financial scandal, Trollope weaves a satirical tale of London’s upper class society. While the snobby landed gentry are breaking with tradition to fuss over the crude foreigner Mr. Melmotte - hoping that will enhance their own financial situation - the young women in London are having romantic trysts and rebelling against the conventional rule of marrying an appointed suitor. As the plot unfolds, each bold move away from tradition is explained away blithely with statements like the old cliche, “Everyone is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?”, and as though their actions could not be helped, “we belong to a newer and worse sort of world.”

After reading Trollope’s "The Eustace Diamonds” several years ago, I commented in my review that I doubted I would read any other Trollope novels. Despite the amusing plot, I was appalled at the blatant anti-semitism. It was difficult to determine if Trollope himself was anti-Semitic or was merely expressing the sentiments of the elite British society. Then I decided to give him another try with what has been referred to as Trollope’s “opus” - The Way We Live Now. Unfortunately, it was more of the same… distasteful descriptions of the Jewish characters who turn out to be the villains of the novel. There were however, equally disparaging remarks about the American characters as well. Perhaps the British elite were narrow-minded, despising anyone who was not from their own ethnic background.

Trollope did excel in character development and provides the reader with an assortment of richly drawn characters. They range from traditional conservative, stoic Roger Carbury… to his spoiled, rude, over-indulged nephew Felix Carbury who spent most of his time drinking, gambling, and chasing women. There is Ruby Ruggles - the vivacious working class orphan who wants adventure. And Paul Montague who gets entangled with an unscrupulous American widow “those crazy Americans” who is rumored to have killed a man.

Perhaps if I had read "The Way We Live Now" at an earlier time in life, I would have given it the highest rating, but after a while, many of the British period novels seem redundant, and my tolerance for the excessively wordy 800 page literary composition about stuffy Brits, untrustworthy greedy Jews, and suppressed women has pretty much waned for now. ( )
  LadyLo | Sep 13, 2014 |
Read during Summer 2004

I'm not sure I would have made it through the maze of characters unless I had seen the recent miniseries. A sprawling Victorian soap opera and social commentary, heavy handed at times and it was a bit depressing to have the only morally upright character be the priggish Roger Carbury, obessed with his cousin Hetta and intensely petty about his ward's love for her. I was intrigued to see that Paul Montague, Hetta's love was made much more 'good' in the miniseries, except for one glaring change in his trip to Lowestofe with Mrs. Hurtle. The miniseries pulled out the salient points but the depth in the novel made it a good read that might have been deadly on TV. I'm still not sure I'll dig into Barchester Towers in the near future, though.
  amyem58 | Jul 14, 2014 |
The change to Victorian/Edwardian England brought about through the amoral influence of new money. Vices turn virtues - the seven deadly sins are no longer deadly, nor considered evil where selfishness rules. A very long work worth reading. It is good as a retrospective to uncover the beginning of our current poor moral environment. It was meant as a wake-up call, but obviously went unheeded. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
I have been interested in Victorian novels for most of my reading life. Early in that life, before I knew what a Victorian novel was, I fell in love with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. The other early love of my reading life was for the novels of Charles Dickens that began with a reading of Oliver Twist that so enveloped my imagination that I brought it along in my backpack to Boy Scout Camp in the north woods of Wisconsin. Never mind that there were no merit badges to be had for reading Dickens, or any other nineteenth century author. My life-long infatuation with Bronte and Dickens and my interest in Victorian literature was continued in my teens with the discovery of the novels of Thomas Hardy, especially The Return of the Native. I fell in love with the intelligent Clym Yeobright and his difficult relations with the alluring Eustacia Vye (a love I more recently found that I shared with the fictional Holden Caulfield, perhaps the only thing I shared with him). The sensationalism of Hardy in his novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the education of Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations, and others satisfied my teenage reading desires and furthered me on the road of Victorian literature. It was not until my post-college years that I would come to appreciate the intelligent novels of George Eliot and the later Dickens along with those of Anthony Trollope. It has been during more recent decades that I have included reading and rereading Middlemarch, Bleak House, and the Barsetshire novels in my traversal of Victorian literature.

Most recently I have been reading Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, a novel written late in his career. Unlike his early novels, this was a critique of the England of his age, including a broad-based attack on Victorian class, finance, politics and culture. Set in the 1870s it tells a story of two families struggling to adapt to the changing times. The Carburys are one family with Roger Carbury, the squire of Carbury Manor, leading them both morally and financially. The other family is represented by a young Paul Montague who becomes entwined in the shady financial dealings of a confidence man named Augustus Melmotte. Financial collapse entraps all of the families in some way and provides a sense of realism as the story is based on real-life events. In some ways reminiscent of the later Dickens' social novels, Trollope's novel is presented as a more realistic slice of life, foreshadowing the turn toward naturalism near the end of the century. Most of the characters are quite unlikable and there is little incentive to sympathize with them when they are taken in by the vulgar predator Melmotte. While there is humor in The Way We Live Now, it is a sharper and darker humor than that which made Trollope's early novels such a delight to read. However, the novel retains a relevance for our own day when financial scandals are still in the headlines. ( )
  jwhenderson | May 24, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anthony Trollopeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brooks, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Osborne, HughNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Let the reader be introduced to Lady Carbury, upon whose character and doings much will depend of whatever interest these pages may have, as she sits at her writing-table in her own room in her own house in Welbeck Street.
In the City Mr. Melmotte's name was worth any money,-though his character was perhaps worth but little.
As for Felix,—he had grovelled in the gutters as to be dirt all over. Nothing short of the prolonged sufferings of half a life coild cleanse him.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140433929, Paperback)

Trollope's 1875 tale of a great financier's fraudulent machinations in the railway business, and his daughter's ill-use at the hands of a grasping lover (for whom she steals funds in order to elope) is a classic in the literature of money and a ripping good read as well.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:48 -0400)

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"Nothing escaped the satirist's whip: politics, finance, the aristocracy, the literary world, gambling, sex, and much else. In this world of bribes and vendettas, swindling and suicide, in which heiresses are won like gambling stakes, Trollope's characters embody all the vices: Lady Carbury, a 43-year-old coquette, 'false from head to foot'; her son Felix, with the 'instincts of a horse, not approaching the higher sympathies of a dog'; and Melmotte, the colossal figure who dominates the book, a 'horrid, big, rich scoundrel ... a bloated swindler ... a vile city ruffian'."--Publisher's website.… (more)

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