• LibraryThing
  • Book discussions
  • Your LibraryThing
  • Join to start using.

Group read: He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope

75 Books Challenge for 2017

Join LibraryThing to post.

Jun 30, 7:09pm Top

He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope (1869)

    ...such a handsome, manly fellow, with short brown hair, a nose divinely chiselled, an Apollo's mouth, six feet high, with shoulders and legs and arms in proportion,---a pearl of pearls! Only, as Lady Rowley was the first to find out, he liked to have his own way.
    "But his way is such a good way," said Sir Marmaduke. "He will be such a good guide for the girls!"
    "But Emily likes her way too," said Lady Rowley.

Edited: Jun 30, 7:35pm Top

Welcome to the group read of Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right!

This long and complex novel was written at a pivotal point in Trollope's life: he had recently resigned from the post office after some thirty years, and become editor of the St Paul's Magazine, as well as beginning to work towards (as he hoped) becoming a Member of Parliament; although as it turned out, he would lose the disastrous Beverley election, an experience which killed both his political ambitions and his idealism about the British system of government.

Meanwhile, he had concluded his Barchester series, and was striking out in new directions---not always to the satisfaction of his critics and readers, who made it clear they wanted "more of the same". Trollope didn't listen, and his future writing career was rocky. In particular, He Knew He Was Right was poorly received: it was too bleak, too uncompromising, for many of Trollope's readers, still stubbornly associating him with the overt humour of Barchester Towers despite the incremental darkening of the Barchester books, which culminated in his magnificent psychological portraiture of the mentally unstable Reverend Josiah Crawley in The Last Chronicle Of Barset.

Trollope's increasing interest in the psychology of "difficult" people reached its climax in He Knew He was Right, which is a study in "monomania" (a term coined in the 1840s by the French psychiatrist, Jean-Etienne Esquirol). A secondary theme is the dissolution of a marriage, something he had tackled before (though only as a subplot) in his Palliser novels, with the breakdown of relations between Robert Kennedy and his wife, Lady Laura.

As usual with Trollope, the central plot comes surrounded by a series of subplots, some serious, some (though fewer than usual) comic, which provide a framework for, and commentary upon, the main action.

He Knew He Was Right was serialised between October 1868 - May 1869, before being reissued in book form. Though it was not widely popular at the time of its first release, it is one of those novels of Trollope that was "rediscovered" and reassessed during the 1960s, and is now considered by many critics to be one of his finest novels.

Edited: Jun 30, 7:42pm Top

He Knew He Was Right is a very long novel (over 900 pages in the recent Penguin reissue), so in order to make this group read work, I think we need to keep things ticking along.

The novel has 99 chapters (of course Trollope couldn't make it easy for us by making it a round 100!), so we should aim to cover the ground a little more quickly than usual, by reading a minimum of three chapters per day.

As for this thread, the normal rules apply: we ask that posters indicate what chapter they are referring to in any comment by using bold text, and if you do dash ahead (or have read this before), please be mindful of others and use spoiler tags as required.

And, of course, do not read the Introduction before you start!

Experience shows that these group reads are most rewarding when we get lots of comments and conversation, so please do post any remarks or questions that occur to you.

Edited: Jun 30, 7:43pm Top

So---who's in??

Jun 30, 7:59pm Top

I may say at the outset that one of the things I've always found most striking about this novel is how completely contradictory Trollope's views on "women's rights" seem to have been, which is something I hope we can discuss going forward.

Jun 30, 9:52pm Top

I'm in! I'm aiming for 4 chapters a day.

Jul 1, 3:18am Top

I have an audio version that I shall be starting tomorrow but I shall back it up with a print version if I start to fall behind.

Jul 1, 10:31am Top

I'm in! It's on my kindle, ready to go. This is my first stand-alone Trollope novel. I've read the Barsetshire and Palliser series previously. Looking forward to it!

Jul 1, 2:39pm Top

I'm going to join as well. I read this one a few years ago, and loved it. (The TV version was also very well done). I'd like to reread it and understand more about what I'm reading :-) It must be somewhere in my Kindle stash, so I will go and find it. Looking forward to the discussion!

Jul 1, 6:42pm Top

Welcome, Carrie, Kerry, Jennifer and Susan - great to have you here!

>8 japaul22:

Big step, Jennifer! - a lot of people never make the leap to the standalones, which I think is a great shame. :)

>9 susanj67:

Please don't hesitate to ask questions if there is anything you don't understand, Susan.

Jul 1, 7:12pm Top

Chapter I

He Knew He Was Right declares itself as a different kind of Trollope novel right from the start, not only beginning with a marriage but skipping over the first two, presumably happy (or happier) years of it and bringing us to the first moment of a developing crisis:

Louis Trevelyan having taken a strong dislike to Colonel Osborne, and having failed to make his wife understand that this dislike should have induced her to throw cold water upon the Colonel's friendship, had allowed himself to speak a word which probably he would have willingly recalled as soon as spoken. But words spoken cannot be recalled...

As soon as the word had been spoken Trevelyan had left the room, and had gone down among his books. But when he was alone, he knew that he had insulted his wife... But he was one to whose nature the giving of any apology was repulsive. He could not bear to have to own himself to have been wrong...

What "word" Louis Trevelyan spoke has been a matter of debate since this novel was first published. Most commentators seem to feel it was an insult of a sexual nature (John Sutherland suggests "harlot"). Trollope uses this oblique approach chiefly, I think, to make the situation between Louis and Emily more ambiguous, as we are unable to judge for ourselves whether Emily has indeed been insulted, and if so to what degree.

Immediately we are placed in a position of trying to decide who is the most at fault here---which is exactly the point upon which the quarrel develops. Both of them are in the wrong, but each feels that the other is "more wrong" and therefore neither will back down.

Jul 1, 7:34pm Top

In fact these first few chapters are fascinating, given Trollope's approach to marriage in his earlier novels.

One of the things I've always found infuriating about Trollope is that he could spend 600 pages depicting a young man as seriously and deeply flawed, only then to declare smugly that to the woman he married he was "a god to be worshipped".

However, he uses that language here to very different purpose---or does he?

Chapter V

He had found her in a remote corner of the world, with no fortune, with no advantages of family or social standing,---so circumstanced that any friend would have warned him against such a marriage; but he had given her his heart, and his hand, and his house, and had asked for nothing in return but that he should be all in all to her,---that he should be her one god upon earth. And he had done more even than this. "Bring your sister," he had said. "The house shall be big enough for her also, and she shall be my sister as well as yours." Who had ever done more for a woman, or shown a more absolute confidence? And now what was the return he received? She was not contented with her one god upon earth, but must make to herself other gods...

Usually Trollope's assertions about his young men being "gods" to their women come either from the narrator or from the women themselves; previously he has had the grace not to put such language in the mouths of his young men. So what are we to make of this? Is it showing Louis as absurd (and dangerously egotistical) because this is how he thinks of himself?---or does Trollope mean this straight, and is therefore showing us that Emily is a bad wife, because, "She was not contented with her one god upon earth"?

Jul 2, 2:40pm Top

I've read the first 8 chapters. As always, I approach Trollope with a little trepidation - his books are so long and I'm always afraid I'll find them boring. But again (when will I learn!) I'm sucked in right away and very interested in the characters presented.

>11 lyzard: Initially, I admit to thinking Trevelyan is more "in the right" here. Certainly, Col Osborne seems to enjoy pushing the boundaries and Emily seems to realize this. I think she has a legitimate complaint that her husband has overreacted, but then her extreme stubbornness within their argument strikes me as a bit petulant. Although, Trevelyan also admits to himself that he isn't handling this in the best way. I think I'm a bit influenced by the sister, who also seems to think that Emily is not reacting in the best way to her husband's criticism.

>12 lyzard: I hear sarcasm towards them both here. I think Trollope can be chiding both of them, Trevelyan for expecting to be regarded as a god, and Emily for not being willing to have "only one" god (there does seem to be the expectation that she would of course regard men as gods which I can only roll my eyes at).

I'm already very interested in Nora and Hugh Stanbury and Miss Stanbury seems like she'll be quite fun to read about as well.

I do have one question. Would readers at the time have understood a subcontext to the parliamentary hearings regarding the running of the colonies that Emily's father will be coming back for? I assume this will be discussed at length as we go, but I'm wondering if there is back story that I need first?

Edited: Jul 2, 6:41pm Top

Trollope does an excellent job in putting both Louis and Emily in the wrong, and showing how they cannot manage to get to the same place at the same moment.

From a broad, societal perspective, there is no doubt that Emily would be considered very much in the wrong: it was considered a wife's duty never to think - or at least, never to show that she thought - that her husband was in the wrong. Even if he was, she was supposed to be meek under it and just submit. The way in which Emily not only declares that it is Louis and not she who has done wrong, worse, that she makes it clear that she wants him to apologise to her, is a direct violation of some of the most cherished Victorian conventions.

(We can recognise Nora as the real heroine of He Knew He Was Right in that she is always counselling Emily to submit and apologise, even if she isn't the one in the wrong.)

The problem here is that Louis has not just overreacted (and I don't think there is any question that he *has* overreacted to the situation), but has gone so far as to speak "the word" at the outset---a word which he admits to himself is an insult to his wife. That is why Emily won't back down. It isn't merely a matter of Louis being unreasonable; he has done something really "ungentlemanly". (Something, had another man spoken that word to Emily, would have been grounds in a slightly earlier time for a duel.) At that point, he was thoroughly in the wrong. If he had admitted it and apologised, the situation would probably have been resolved; however, he let the moment pass, and what should have been nothing more than a marital spat becomes a major quarrel.

I have to admit I have more sympathy for Emily than Trollope intends because I'm rather that way myself: I'm not good at letting stuff go, or buying peace by putting up with crap, which is probably why I'm not married. :)

Jul 2, 6:58pm Top

The parliamentary inquiry ultimately recedes to a minor subplot, but I think you're right that there is a subtle subtext intended---misgovernment of the colonies being equated with Louis' husbandly mismanagement of his home.

Edited: Jul 3, 12:57am Top

Random thought #1: the dangerous ambiguity of language.

I am struck by how Trollope uses the words (and he uses them repeatedly) "lover" and "intimacy": what they have in common is that they could mean everything, or nothing. Louis falls back upon them whenever someone criticises his conduct.

Random thought #2: comedy / tragedy.

It occurs to me that Emily's situation is very like Eleanor's in Barchester Towers, driven into defending Mr Slope even against her own will, because of the stances taken by other people. But whereas in that comedy version of events we know that everything will work out at last, here we have the tragedy version and no such assurance.

Jul 3, 9:14am Top

I'm in - away on holiday this week so limited to posting on my phone though. Thank you for the background Liz!

Edited: Jul 3, 9:47am Top

>11 lyzard: I totally missed that there was a specific word Louis had spoken to his wife - I think I just thought it meant more generically 'an angry word. Your explanation makes a lot more sense though!

>12 lyzard: I read this as Louis' thoughts. Looking back at hat chapter again the next paragraph starts 'He should have nourished no such thoughts in his heart ' which I read as being Trollope the author's thoughts on Louis.

Edited: Jul 3, 10:00am Top

>13 japaul22: I have to admit I'm already more on Emily's side. I do agree she could have modified her response and been less stubborn but I'm not sure I would have managed to

I've just finished chapter 7 which gives the reader a well-timed break from the marital argument. I did feel for Emily in chapter 6 in the awkwardness of being asked to tell the servants not to admit Colonel O and then with Louis apparent about face. Maybe she would have been wiser to accept the latter and see Osborne but could she rely on Louis not to get jealous again at a later date?

Jul 3, 12:42pm Top

>19 souloftherose:, >14 lyzard: And now after reading farther I'm back on Emily's side too. I thought she was being overly-stubborn and sort of blind as to how the Col was sort of abusing his closeness, but seeing Trevelyan take it as far as he does and actually separating is ridiculous.

>18 souloftherose: I also missed the significance of the "one word" until Liz's comment. I think that especially for a modern reader, not seeing the actual word really makes it less impactful.

Jul 3, 1:41pm Top

I have to say that neither Emily nor Trevelyan are handling their disagreement well.

Chapter 9Emily should not have pulled Stanbury into it. Chapter 11And Trevelyan should have had more sense than to give his order to the cook.

And is there anything in the similarity of names to characters in Vanity Fair? I'm thinking of Osborne and Crawley/Rowley.

Jul 3, 2:09pm Top

Chapter 7

I'm intrigued by Miss Stanbury. And also confused by her history. So she wanted to marry a Mr. Burgess who presumably also wanted to marry her. Burgess quarrelled with the Stanbury family and Miss Stanbury left her family anyway to marry him. But then he wouldn't marry her but left her his fortune anyway? What??!

And then her reason for not leaving her fortune to her own relatives is that she feels it should go back to a Burgess even though she doesn't have any contact with them and never married into the family. I'm finding these details all farfetched.

Edited: Jul 3, 9:23pm Top

>17 souloftherose:

Thanks for checking in, Heather!

>18 souloftherose:

These are certainly Louis' thoughts, but when Trollope seems to criticise him for thinking in a way that he himself (as narrator) also thinks, it's a bit confusing! :)

Almost certainly Louis called Emily a bad name - "You----!" - but it is left to our imaginations just what that word was.

>19 souloftherose:

The short answer is 'no', as we shall see...

>20 japaul22:

You raise an important point, Emily, in that Colonel Osborne is very aware that he is causing trouble, and is doing so deliberately, to stroke his own ego.

This is both the silly and the tragic thing about the situation, that Emily certainly does think of the Colonel merely as "her father's old friend"; she isn't the least bit interested in him on a personal level, until Louis blows their interaction out of all proportion. Even then she isn't interested, let alone attracted, but she does allow herself to enter into a kind of "intimacy" (to use that deadly word) in the face of Louis' back-and-forthing.

>21 cbl_tn:

I have to say that neither Emily nor Trevelyan are handling their disagreement well.

I think that's an understatement. :D

Yes, they're both wrong, they're both doing things they'd regret in a cooler moment---but that cooler moment never arrives.

Trollope was a great admirer of Thackeray, who had died not long before, so I think it's very likely that the name 'Osborne' was intended as a reference, yes (as we saw with Jane Austen taking the name 'Willoughby' from Frances Burney).

>22 japaul22:

Well, we hear a lot more about it later in the novel, so hopefully things will become clearer.

Miss Stanbury is a fabulous character, though. :)

Jul 5, 2:46am Top

>20 japaul22:, >21 cbl_tn: And now after reading chapters 9 through 11 I have to agree with Carrie - neither of them are handling this well. I was particularly frustrated wìrh Emily for deliberately falling back into her old manner with Osborne after being allowed to see him again.

Edited: Jul 5, 7:07pm Top

>24 souloftherose:

That's true, and of course from a distance we can see how silly (and how dangerous) that is; though I can also appreciate her exasperation. We need always to keep in mind that to her, Colonel Osborne simply is "her father's old friend", and that most of her contact with him is an attempt to bring her parents home. The (to her mind) sheer absurdity of Louis' suspicions is insulting, and provokes her into rash behaviour.

Jul 5, 7:10pm Top

By the way - since it's such a vital part of the plot! :D - is everyone clear on what a chignon looks like?

Edited: Jul 5, 7:51pm Top

Chapter XI

The cause of the failure of them all lay probably in this,---that there was no decided point which, if conceded, would have brought about a reconciliation. Trevelyan asked for general submission, which he regarded as his right, and which in the existing circumstances he thought it necessary to claim, and though Mrs. Trevelyan did not refuse to be submissive she would make no promise on the subject. But the truth was that each desired that the other should acknowledge a fault, and that neither of them would make that acknowledgment. Emily Trevelyan felt acutely that she had been ill-used, not only by her husband's suspicion, but by the manner in which he had talked of his suspicion to others,---to Lady Milborough and the cook, and she was quite convinced that she was right herself, because he had been so vacillating in his conduct about Colonel Osborne. But Trevelyan was equally sure that justice was on his side. Emily must have known his real wishes about Colonel Osborne; but when she had found that he had rescinded his verbal orders about the admission of the man to the house,---which he had done to save himself and her from slander and gossip,---she had taken advantage of this and had thrown herself more entirely than ever into the intimacy of which he disapproved! When they met, each was so sore that no approach to terms was made by them...

Jul 5, 8:14pm Top

>26 lyzard: Something like the woman's hair on the cover in >1 lyzard:? (I know what a chignon is, but the cover doesn't give a full view of the woman's hair!)

Edited: Jul 5, 8:23pm Top

>26 lyzard: I know what a chignon looks like these days - where you twist the hair up from the neck fasten at the top. It looks very smooth on both sides and the twisted side sort of overlaps the other. Was it different then?

I've read quite a bit ahead (I'm on chapter 33). I have a couple things to say but I can wait til it's closer to the prescribed reading schedule!

Edited: Jul 7, 6:46pm Top

>28 cbl_tn:, >29 japaul22:

Yes and no: yes, a chignon was and is a knotted or twisted arrangement of the hair.

However, in the 19th century there was a fashion for fake chignons - hair extensions, basically - some of which were absurdly huge: this is what Miss Stanbury is so violently prejudiced against.

Here on the left is an ad from Harper's Bazaar (or 'Bazar' as it was spelled initially) showing the various hairstyle options, including a range of pieces for purchase; and on the right is a cartoon showing that Miss Stanbury wasn't alone in her feeling that the chignon had gotten out of hand! :D


Jul 5, 8:37pm Top

>29 japaul22:

Please make a note of your thoughts, Jennifer, so you remember when we get there! :)

Edited: Jul 6, 6:40pm Top

Chapter XIV

    ...when he began the conversation, he took the trouble of stating, in the first instance, that the separation was a thing fixed,---so that nothing might be urged on that subject. "It is to be. You will understand that," he said; "and if you think that your mother would agree to the arrangement, it would be satisfactory to me, and might, I think, be made pleasant to her. Of course, your mother would be made to understand that the only fault with which my wife is charged is that of indomitable disobedience to my wishes."
    "Incompatibility of temper," suggested Stanbury.

We should note that He Knew He Was Right was written in the wake of the overhaul of the British divorce laws, which led to the passing of the Matrimonial Causes Act in 1857. This took the hearing of divorce cases away from the ecclesiastical courts, making divorce a civil matter instead. Prior to that, divorce was almost impossible, as it required the passing of a private bill in the House of Commons, and was a lengthy, expensive process which, realistically, made divorce an option only for wealthy men.

Of course, when we say "overhaul", the laws were still completely weighted of behalf of the husband: adultery was sufficient for a man to get a divorce, whereas a woman had to prove various "aggravations" (and be willing to testify to them in open court). This remained the case until the British divorce laws were again revised in 1923, when they were altered to make the same grounds applicable to either sex.

However, there was no such thing as "no-fault divorce"---and, I believe (anyone?), England still does not accept "irreconcilable differences" as grounds for divorce, requiring instead the sterner "irremediable breakdown of marriage".

However, that Hugh Stanbury should use such a suggestive expression as "incompatibility of temperament" to describe the separation of the Trevelyans would indicate that there had been a lot of public debate surrounding the Matrimonial Causes Act, and that the idea of no-fault divorce had begun to be mooted, even if its acceptance was many decades away.

We should note, however, that the insanity of one party or the other was not (or not necessarily) grounds for divorce in Britain until 1938; in fact, sometimes insanity was used as an argument against divorce, because the other party couldn't defend themselves and/or were considered of "unsound mind" while committing adultery or assault.

Jul 7, 4:14am Top

>30 lyzard: Yesterday I was reading a magazine article about Empress Eugenie and her wardrobe, and there was a very similar ad from the same magazine for false hair! I did giggle. Jemima Stanbury is one of my top three favourite characters from Trollope (the others being Lizzie Eustace from The Eustace Diamonds and Dolly Longstaffe from The Way We Live Now) but I'm slightly concerned, on this reread, to find that I have equally trenchant opinions on other matters, despite them not being very important matters. Oh dear.

>32 lyzard: Liz, you're right about irreconcilable differences not being an option for divorce here. There was an alarming case recently in which the Court of Appeal said that a woman had to stay married to her husband because he wouldn't admit that the marriage had irremediably broken down. (A couple has to live apart for five years before a divorce can be granted if one of them does not agree to it, which meant that she would have to stay married until 2020). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/24/britains-top-family-judge-attacks-hyp...

Jul 7, 6:23am Top

>33 susanj67:

Probably we all do; I *know* I do! I'd be ashamed to tell you some of the things I get over-the-top fixated upon!

Thanks for your input on the divorce laws. I have to wonder, though, what good they expect of forcing people into that sort of situation. I'm pretty sure that, if it were me, I'd react in what I'm tempted to call "an Emily Trevelyan-like manner". :D

Jul 7, 11:30am Top

>30 lyzard: Oh my, I have to agree with Miss Stanbury. Those are hideous!

>31 lyzard:, >32 lyzard: interesting about the divorce laws. I read a nonfiction book about this a while back (Wild Romance - terrible title, but a good book) and was interested in how prohibitive the laws were back then regarding divorce. I'm surprised to hear that there is still a five year separation required in certain circumstances. As far as I understand, in the U.S. each state has different requirements, but I think the longest is 2 years and that is usually if there are children involved. I could be wrong about that though.

Jul 7, 11:34am Top

Chapter 24

I thought it was interesting that again we have a single word causing an argument between a couple (or "almost" couple in this case). Nora is so offended by being called "dainty" by Hugh. I wondered what the connotation of the word was back then? I can sort of tell by the context of the conversation but wonder if there's anything to expound upon.

Edited: Jul 7, 7:13pm Top

>36 japaul22:

This is related to a conversation which we've had in reference to several previous 19th century novels, about the expression "fine lady". Basically this was the contemporary equivalent of "trophy wife", a woman who was ornamental rather than useful, married because she was beautiful and dressed well and could wear the family jewellery properly, not for any personal qualities.

Additionally, "fine lady" was a pejorative term meaning a woman who considered herself above day-to-day tasks like running her household or raising her children.

In this context, "dainty" carries something of the same connotation: it mostly meant a woman who was fastidious about her clothes and appearance (so, a positive thing); but it could also mean one who needed to be surrounded by luxury, and who would never do anything to get her own hands dirty.

Nora takes offence at the term because, coming from Hugh, it seems to her his way of saying he doesn't consider her a fit wife for a working man---that she will want a luxurious home and expensive clothes and servants, all the things he won't be able to give her.

(Though what Hugh is really saying is that he doesn't feel he has the right to ask her to "lower" herself by marrying him.)

But there is a deeper implication to Nora's violent reaction to the word: she is very conscious that until she met Hugh that is exactly how she thought of herself, that did mean to marry for money---and that she did her best to convince herself to marry Charles Glascock without loving him, for his wealth and position. So the word touches her on a sore spot.

Jul 7, 8:31pm Top

The road to ruin, per Miss Jemima Stanbury:

Chapter XV

"When women can't keep themselves from idle talking with strange gentlemen, they are very far gone on the road to the devil. That's my notion. And that was everybody's notion a few years ago. But now, what with divorce bills, and women's rights, and penny papers, and false hair, and married women being just like giggling girls, and giggling girls knowing just as much as married women, when a woman has been married a year or two she begins to think whether she mayn't have more fun for her money by living apart from her husband..."

Edited: Jul 8, 7:51pm Top

While we were reading the Palliser novels in particular, we discussed how Trollope's works reflect the changing attitude to work which occurred across the 19th century---the shift from the idea that the need to earn a living meant that a man was not "a gentleman", to disapproval of idleness and the feeling that a man should have some work regardless of his financial circumstances; that he could work and yet be "a gentleman". (And Trollope himself was notoriously an almost ridiculously hard worker.)

It is evident that Trollope means us to see that part of Louis' problem is that he has nothing to do. He is wholly a gentleman of leisure, who dabbles in article writing (ironic, given the emphasis on Hugh as a 'penny-a-liner'), and goes occasionally to his club---but he doesn't seem to have any other way of filling his time. So when he loses - or pushes away - his family, he loses everything. He won't show himself in public because of his feeling that he is being talked about, and he can't concentrate on his reading or writing. Finally, he does nothing but brood on his situation.

Trollope handles the beginning of Louis' isolation with some subtlety, showing how he antagonises and then shuns even the people who are trying to help him, because they won't agree - or completely agree - that "he was right". Likewise his handling of the growth of Louis' obsession. There is always a note of absurdity in the presentation of Louis' state of mind, yet at the same time we can see a dangerous obsession taking root:

Chapter XIX

Trevelyan thought that if he went to Nuncombe Putney, his wife might perhaps jump into his arms; but what would come after that? How would he stand then in reference to his authority? Would she own that she had been wrong? Would she promise to behave better in future? He did not believe that she was yet sufficiently broken in spirit to make any such promise. And he told himself again and again that it would be absurd in him to allow her to return to him without such subjection, after all that he had gone through in defence of his marital rights. If he were to write to her a long letter, argumentative, affectionate, exhaustive, it might be better. He was inclined to believe of himself that he was good at writing long, affectionate, argumentative, and exhaustive letters. But he would not do even this as yet. He had broken up his house, and scattered all his domestic gods to the winds, because she had behaved badly to him; and the thing done was too important to allow of redress being found so easily...

Jul 8, 8:09pm Top

...and having shunned the people who are trying to help him, Louis takes the drastic step of hiring Mr Bozzle:

(NB: this is the first use in the text of the word 'madness'.)

Chapter XIX

Thinking it very possible that Colonel Osborne would follow his wife, he had a watch set upon the Colonel. He had found a retired policeman,---a most discreet man, as he was assured,---who, for a consideration, undertook the management of interesting jobs of this kind. The man was one Bozzle, who had not lived without a certain reputation in the police courts. In these days of his madness, therefore, he took Mr Bozzle into his pay...

It has been argued that Mr Bozzle was Trollope's rebuttal of the "romanticising" of detective work which was beginning to occur in English literature, thanks to characters such as Dickens' Inspector Bucket in Bleak House and Wilkie Collins' Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone. With Bozzle, Trollope makes the unpalatable point that the vast majority of "private detective" work involved (as indeed it does now) cheating spouses and ugly divorce cases:

It would be difficult to say whether the wit or the mystery disgusted Trevelyan the most. He had felt that he was defiling himself with dirt when he first went to Mr Bozzle. He knew that he was having recourse to means that were base and low,---which could not be other than base or low, let the circumstances be what they might...

But the real problem here is that Bozzle's idea of serving his employer's interests is proving his wife guilty; so that (perhaps not even consciously) he twists everything into the worst possible construction, and so feeds the flames of Louis' obsession:

Chapter XXXIII

Mr Bozzle was, of course, convinced that the lady whom he was employed to watch was---no better than she ought to be. That is the usual Bozzlian language for broken vows, secrecy, intrigue, dirt, and adultery. It was his business to obtain evidence of her guilt. There was no question to be solved as to her innocency. The Bozzlian mind would have regarded any such suggestion as the product of a green softness, the possession of which would have made him quite unfit for his profession. He was aware that ladies who are no better than they should be are often very clever,---so clever, as to make it necessary that the Bozzles who shall at last confound them should be first-rate Bozzles, Bozzles quite at the top of their profession,---and, therefore, he went about his work with great industry and much caution...

Jul 9, 3:27am Top

>39 lyzard: I always get cross at the fact that *none* of the characters can work because of their social position. These days, Emily Trevelyan would be a lawyer, or a doctor, or running an internet start-up. If the "word" that Louis spoke was so terrible, she could just have left, and supported herself with her own money. Instead, we have everyone sitting around brooding, which can never end well. (I appreciate that the book may have been considerably shorter in these circumstances, though!) There's another one (in the Palliser series, I think) in which a young couple will never be able to afford to get married because they will have no money, even though both are fit and well. Aaargh!

My favourite quotation from yesterday's reading was Jemima Stanbury to Brookes Burgess, about Hugh Stanbury:

"He has given up his profession as a barrister, - in which he might have lived like a gentleman," said Miss Stanbury, "and has taken to writing for a - penny newspaper."

"Everybody does that now, Miss Stanbury."

Jul 9, 7:26am Top

None of the women can, though we find several of them fantasising about working at various points in this novel, which is interesting. Trollope has made the point before, directly, that a man should have an occupation; Louis doesn't even have a hobby.

Miss Stanbury, being a product of the Regency, belongs to the generation that considered the only "gentlemanly" occupations to be the church or the law. (The army was usually included, although Colonel Osborne is hardly an advertisement!)

The fascinating thing, which Hugh points out repeatedly (though it falls on deaf ears), is that is he earning a higher income, faster, as a 'penny-a-liner' than he possibly could have if he'd stuck to his "gentlemanly" career as a barrister.

The point about Hugh's newspaper is that, since it only costs a penny, it might be read by the working-classes (gasp!); whereas those which cost three pennies or more (like The Times, or as Trollope might call it, "The Jupiter") were aimed at the upper classes and tended to be conservative and often pro-government.

I know The Bertrams has a couple that can't / won't get married---is that the novel you're thinking of?

Jul 9, 8:45am Top

Isn't there also an element of what being able to "afford" getting married means? If you expect to have a full complement of servants, horses and a carriage, to entertain, have a large house and nice furniture than that's a lot of money you need to have available. It is so frustratingly restrictive as a modern reader, to think that people "needed" all of these things but had few opportunities to earn the money for them on their own.

It seems like the thought of earning your earn money and living "like a gentleman" was so new that people (women especially - thinking of Nora here) couldn't trust it and wouldn't be willing to marry into it. I wonder if this was predominantly a practical issue for Nora or if she also has a bit of prejudice against marrying a man who was working and specifically working in a non-gentlemanly profession?

>37 lyzard: thanks for this clarification about the "dainty" conversation!

>39 lyzard: interesting

Jul 9, 1:26pm Top

I'm a little bit behind but hoping to catch up over the next few days.

Chapters XVI through XVIII - the mix up with Miss Stanbury and the Colonol/Mr Glascock really made me smile.

>33 susanj67: I also really like Jemima Stanbury as a character and am also feeling quite fond of Priscilla.

Edited: Jul 9, 6:39pm Top

>43 japaul22:

Absolutely! It depends very much on what kind of married life is being envisaged. As you say, if a big house and servants and horses and carriages are necessary, then obviously a LOT more money is required than if we're talking furnished rooms and a charwoman who helps with the dirty jobs.

And this is what lies behind Hugh's use of "dainty": Nora has led a "dainty" life, even in the Mandarin Islands (despite its isolation and inconvenience), where she has lived at Government House with all that entails; and since then she has shared the luxuries that come with Louis Trevelyan's wealth. If she married Hugh it would be a big step down - not nearly as big as her parents and Miss Stanbury imagine, based on his profession - but while he would be able to provide for her comfortably, there certainly wouldn't be luxuries. I don't think Nora is prejudiced, but she does need to adjust her ideas: she's been brought up to one particular idea of marriage (and it is very clear her mother does want her daughters to marry money), and has to let go of many things she has been taught to consider as essential.

BUT---in a broader sense we have to remember that this was a society without any safety-net: no welfare, no dole - and not much by way of birth control. If a man lost his job and couldn't get another, the ultimate end could be literal starvation for him and his dependents. So when calculating whether they could "afford" to get married, a couple had to take into consideration both future stability and current obligations. In many cases a man couldn't afford to marry not just because of a future wife and children, but because he would be supporting his mother and sisters (as we see Hugh doing).

The fact that such a situation could exist, and yet society as a whole could still resist the idea of women working for their own support, is completely infuriating. (And of course, one of the arguments that was always raised is that working women "took jobs away from men".)

Jul 9, 6:44pm Top

>44 souloftherose:

No hurry! :)

This is another of the novels in which Trollope indulges himself (and us!) with interpolated letters: the correspondence between Priscilla and Miss Stanbury is hilarious.

Jul 10, 6:31pm Top

Chapter XXVI

"As for the child,---if I approve of the place in which she lives, as I do at present,---he shall remain with her for nine months in the year till he is six years old. Then he must come to me. And he shall come to me altogether if she sees or hears from that man."

Trollope touches on any number of serious social issues in this novel, and another of them was the question of child custody. Broadly speaking, children were considered the property of their father, with mothers only having rights as far as their husbands chose to grant them.

Up until 1839, women could legally be denied any access at all to their children. That year saw the passing of the Custody of Infants Act, which at least granted a woman the right to petition for custody of any children of seven years or younger, and for access to older children, even if there had been a divorce in we she was "at fault". (The passing of the Act was largely due to the efforts of Caroline Norton: for those of you doing the chronological Virago reads, we will deal indirectly with her story when we get to George Meredith's Diana Of The Crossways.)

Here, of course, we have yet another ambiguous situation: we know that Emily hasn't done anything that would warrant a divorce, if Louis decided to go down that path, yet to society at large she must be "at fault", since she is separated from her husband.

In short, Louis has overriding legal right to custody at this point, with Emily having the option to fight for custody in the courts.

However, whether he is morally right is another matter. Clearly he is using this threat as a weapon to bring Emily into compliance, having failed to "break her spirit", as he puts it to himself, in any other way.

Jul 10, 7:01pm Top

>47 lyzard: Does he really have a legal right to custody considering he isn't providing a home for her (or the child) and probably couldn't prove grounds for a divorce? Several of the people speaking up for Emily seem to be saying that it's Trevelyan's duty to provide a home and "protection" for his wife. Is there no chance that the law could be on her side? Crazy.

I suppose it's a moot point since Emily seems pretty powerless either way. It's maddening. I'm up to Chapter 48 and it's just getting worse. At first they both just seemed stubborn, but now he's really seeming mentally unhinged.

Jul 10, 8:18pm Top

Yes; fathers had all the 'default' rights. Women gradually gained the legal right to fight back, but of course that took time---and money.

One of the most unsettling things in the book is the ongoing question of Louis' state of mind (which I'll be coming back to presently...)

Jul 11, 12:01pm Top

>48 japaul22: Yes, I was interested to see that in Ch XXVII Lady Millborough seems to think he's going too far.

I've just finished Ch XXX and I know this situation isn't unique to this book but I really felt for Dorothy having to decide whether she's willing to marry a man who (by her account) has never said more than "How do you do?" to her.

Jul 11, 12:34pm Top

Trevelyan is more and more reminding me of Casaubon in Middlemarch. Even if Emily was as saintly as Dorothy Casaubon, it might not make much difference in Trevelyan's behavior.

Edited: Jul 11, 6:35pm Top

>50 souloftherose:

Yes, Trollope takes care to include, as well as the 'inner circle' of people who get drawn into the conflict, an outside circle of observers and commentators to provide a more detached view of things. Lady Millborough is very important as she is both a friend of Louis, and an old-fashioned woman; and she doesn't much like Emily: if she thinks he's wrong in the exercise of his "rights", we can take it he is.

The other really interesting character is Mrs Outhouse. Given that she and her usband are stuck with one of Trollope's comic names, we might not expect much, but she emerges as one of the novel's real voices of reason.

>51 cbl_tn:

That's a very good point, Carrie: you do sometimes get the feeling that with Louis, there always would have been something.

Edited: Jul 11, 6:50pm Top

>50 souloftherose:

One of the things I find really frustrating about He Knew He Was Right is Trollope's ability to go so far and no further, when it comes to the question of marriage.

By the end of the book - despite his central plot - he's back to prescribing marriage and children as an all-purpose "cure" for all manner of female ills, most of which he clearly considers imaginary.

Yet at the same time, he goes further in this book than ever before in admitting, firstly, that many women, whether they want to or not, never will be married; and that making marriage the be-all and-end all of female existence can have very ugly consequences.

If you stop and count the unmarried women in He Knew He Was Right - and how few either marry, or seem to have any prospect of it - it gives a good snap-shot of how things really were: there just weren't enough men to go around. And this is accompanied (in the depiction of the way Mrs Stanbury and Priscilla live for most of the novel) by a stark reminder of how narrow and difficult life was for women with a tiny income and no way of increasing it.

There is a constant line of debate throughout the novel, even as we watch the Trevelyan marriage implode (a marriage which started as "a love-match", as we are ironically reminded from time to time, and where there is plenty of money), about how far a woman should go in securing a husband---and how very infrequently "the right sort of man" presents himself.

We see from both Nora's rejection of Charles Glascock and Dorothy's of Mr Gibson Trollope's romantic ideal, that a girl must love her husband, and not "sell herself"; but how practical was this?

Conversely, the subplot concerning the French sisters, with women going to desperate lengths to secure even as marital prospect as poor and inadequate as Gibson proves himself to be, gives us a case where any man is better than none (though only just, we might think!).

The other thing this novel touches upon is the humiliation of complete dependency, and how precarious a woman's life could be when her security depends upon male success, or male caprice, or both.

Yet Trollope never for a moment really contemplates women working for their own support: he recognises the problem but won't allow the only practical solution.

Edited: Jul 11, 7:59pm Top

I think it's also interesting that Miss Stanhope tries to set Dorothy up in marriage without considering love when she presumably left her family for a love-match that didn't end up working out. Except that in the end she did get the money! I'm still not sure what to make of her situation. Does she feel like it was a mistake to leave her family for love since the man then deserted her? Or would she do it all again?

>50 souloftherose: yes, this drives me crazy too. We've talked about with other books how women were expected to show no, or at least minimal, interest in a man until he had proposed. The whole courtship period seems almost non-existent and definitely confusing.
Chapter 50
It leads to situations like the French girls where they are surprised by which sister gets the proposal in the end.

Jul 11, 8:52pm Top

>52 lyzard: Outhouse is indeed a comic name, but it is also a real one. My parents and grandparents knew a family named Outhouse, and I think they were from Canada. Their name isn't pronounced the obvious way. It's pronounced Oo-thoos (same vowel sound as moon, June, etc.)

Jul 12, 10:50pm Top

I find myself in the unusual position of hoping that Miss Stanbury will die by the end of the book so that we'll know who ends up with her money.

Jul 13, 2:45am Top

>56 cbl_tn: Ha!

I'm further ahead now but going back to Ch XXX the repeated references to how 'godlike' Dorothy found her brother and possibly Mr Burgess reminded me of what you were saying in >12 lyzard: and I think I'm starting to agree with you about Trollope's views on this having read more of the book. It leaves me with a bit of an 'ick' feeling.

Jul 13, 8:57pm Top

>54 japaul22:

I think Miss Stanbury is a law unto herself: the rules don't apply to her as they do (very much so!) to others. We repeatedly see her not practising what she preaches. I particularly love this bit:

Chapter XXII

    "But, aunt,---if everybody did the best they could?"
    "Tush, my dear! you are getting beyond your depth. There are such things still, thank God! as spiritual pastors and masters. Entrust yourself to them. Do what they think right." Now if aught were known in Exeter of Miss Stanbury, this was known,---that if any clergyman volunteered to give to her, unasked and uninvited, counsel, either ghostly or bodily, that clergyman would be sent from her presence with a wigging which he would not soon forget. The thing had been tried more than once, and the wigging had been complete...

Dorothy's dependent state probably makes Miss Stanbury feel that she is providing the best support possible for her. Her own experience may have convinced her that love was unnecessary, a "weakness", or perhaps she is now just too distant from the emotion that inspired her to such a drastic step.

It is fascinating, however, that as a young woman she did exactly what Nora fantasises about doing but (some forty years later) can't bring to fruition---she left home and set up her own household.

>54 japaul22:

Where marriage is about birth and/or money for the man, and "security" for the woman, no more is needed. Plenty of cultures have arranged marriages (as England did, at one time) where the bride and groom meet at the altar.

Jul 13, 8:58pm Top

>55 cbl_tn:

That's interesting, Carrie. I guess we can't know which way Trollope meant us to read it.

>56 cbl_tn:

Oh, harsh! :D

Jul 13, 9:01pm Top

>57 souloftherose:

It seems that "good" women were supposed to "worship" their menfolk, but the men themselves weren't supposed to feel they deserved it.

But yeah...ick!

Edited: Jul 13, 9:44pm Top

Chapter XXIX

    "If Emily and Nora come here they must come as our guests," said Mrs Outhouse.
    "Certainly," said the clergyman. "And if I am told they are in want of a home they shall find one here till their father comes. But I am bound to say that as regards the elder I think her home should be elsewhere."
    "Of course it should," said Mrs Outhouse. "I don't know anything about the law, but it seems to me very odd that a young woman should be turned out in this way. You say she has done nothing?"
    "I will not argue the matter," said Trevelyan.
    "That's all very well, Mr Trevelyan," said the lady, "but she's my own niece, and if I don't stand up for her I don't know who will. I never heard such a thing in my life as a wife being sent away after such a fashion as that. We wouldn't treat a cookmaid so; that we wouldn't. As for coming here, she shall come if she pleases, but I shall always say that it's the greatest shame I ever heard of."

While we cheer Mrs Outhouse, the key phrase here is "I will not argue the matter". I think most brilliant aspect of Trollope's depiction of the growth of Louis' obsession is the way in which Louis increasingly twists whatever he can to support his own stance, and manages completely to ignore anything - and anyone - that doesn't.

This first becomes evident in the matter of the Clock House: when Hugh tells Louis that it can't be a permanent arrangement, he is talking in terms of months; yet the letter which reaches Emily as a consequence insists that Mrs Stanbury and Priscilla want her out of their house NOW; with of course the inference that they feel themselves "contaminated" by her presence. They said nothing of the kind; Hugh said nothing of the kind; yet somehow Louis' consciousness processes what is said to produce this---

Chapter XXVII

"I am greatly grieved to find from my friend Mr Stanbury that your conduct in reference to Colonel Osborne has been such as to make it necessary that you should leave Mrs Stanbury's house. I do not wonder that it should be so."

...but of course, this letter is followed by Trollope's commentary upon it:

When he had finished this he read it twice, and believed that he had written, if not an affectionate, at any rate a considerate letter. He had no bounds to the pity which he felt for himself in reference to the injury which was being done to him, and he thought that the offers which he was making, both in respect to his child and the money, were such as to entitle him to his wife's warmest gratitude. He hardly recognised the force of the language which he used when he told her that her conduct was disgraceful, and that she had disgraced his name. He was quite unable to look at the whole question between him and his wife from her point of view. He conceived it possible that such a woman as his wife should be told that her conduct would be watched, and that she should be threatened with the Divorce Court, with an effect that should, upon the whole, be salutary. There be men, and not bad men either, and men neither uneducated, or unintelligent, or irrational in ordinary matters, who seem to be absolutely unfitted by nature to have the custody or guardianship of others. A woman in the hands of such a man can hardly save herself or him from endless trouble... It was so now with this man. He loved his wife. To a certain extent he still trusted her. He did not believe that she would be faithless to him after the fashion of women who are faithless altogether. But he was jealous of authority, fearful of slights, self-conscious, afraid of the world, and utterly ignorant of the nature of a woman's mind...

Jul 14, 8:02pm Top

I read Chapter XLIX earlier today and was pleasantly surprised by the mention of one of our Barchester acquaintances!

Jul 14, 8:30pm Top

There's an oblique reference to Phineas Finn tucked in somewhere, too. :)

Jul 14, 9:07pm Top

I just had my favorite Palliser character make an appearance in Chapter 64!

Jul 17, 6:33pm Top

...so how is everyone going?

Jul 18, 1:12pm Top

I'm about to start Chapter LII and finding that I'm enjoying the Miss Stanbury episodes much more than the Trevelyn story.

Brief thoughts....

Chapter XLIII

Now even, Priscilla's doing it!

"Dear Hugh; you are such a god to me!"

But at least the follow-up made me smile

"You don't treat me like a divinity."

"But I think of you as one when you are absent. The gods were never obeyed when they showed themselves."

Otherwise I'm not seeing much in terms of theme to link the Stanbury's story with the Trevelyn's - very happy the former is there to add some levity but I'm not otherwise seeing any links. Possibly I'm missing something quite obvious though.

Jul 18, 1:51pm Top

I'm up to Chapter 83, so I've been holding back on commenting. Most of my comments are general in nature and I don't want to have any unintentional spoilers (I tend to forget exactly which chapters things happen).

>66 souloftherose: Generally, I think I'm getting the feeling that most of the other storylines are to contrast marriage (or not marrying) with the Trevelyan situation. The whole book feels like a commentary on the pros and cons of marriage.

spoiler about Mr. Gibson
I'm actually pretty shocked, even in this day and age, with his behavior toward the two sisters!!

Jul 18, 4:48pm Top

>66 souloftherose: The Stanburys are my favorite family in the story, especially Dorothy, Priscilla, and Miss S. Mrs. S doesn't seem to have much personality.

Jul 18, 7:15pm Top

>66 souloftherose:

Which brings me back to my original thought about whether we are supposed to consider Emily in the wrong because she doesn't feel like that about Louis? In light of the narrator's assertion that, with someone of Louis' temperament, if it hadn't been Colonel Osborne it would have been something else (as per >61 lyzard:), it is hard to think so; but the ubiquity of that usage by the novel's "good" women makes you wonder. And it wouldn't be as if that was the only place where Trollope seemed to contradict himself. :)

Jul 18, 7:20pm Top

>66 souloftherose:, >67 japaul22:

Yes, I think in an overarching sense we're offered as wide a view of marriage as possible---from Priscilla Stanbury to the French sisters, and all points in between, with both Nora and Dorothy navigating their way to a "proper" marriage surrounded by all the pros and cons.

And yet Mr Gibson was offered up in the first place as a suitable husband for Dorothy! As I say, this is one of the frustrating things about Trollope, that he can show with such clarity the awful consequences of a "marriage uber alles society and yet still push for marriage to the exclusion of all other options.

Edited: Jul 18, 7:22pm Top

>68 cbl_tn:

I think we can assume that the younger Stanburys got their backbone (and stubbornness) from their father---which also allows us to understand that a Stanbury family feud would be a *real* family feud, and in some way explains Miss Stanbury's obsessions.

Edited: Jul 21, 2:24am Top

Now up to Chapter LXXI. I think there may have been a glimpse of Phineas Finn in chapter LXVIII.

>69 lyzard: Yes, I am wondering about that now.

Jul 22, 3:23pm Top

I've finished. I have quite a few things to comment on once we're all done!

Jul 25, 5:33am Top

Up to Ch LXXIX - still hoping to finish before the end of the month....

A couple of points on gender that have been niggling at me (in addition to all the 'godlike' comments):

In Ch LXXVII we have the following passage about the unlikeable Miss Petrie:

The Miss Petries of the world have this advantage,—an advantage which rarely if ever falls to the lot of a man,—that they are never convinced of error. Men, let them be ever so much devoted to their closets, let them keep their work ever so closely veiled from public scrutiny, still find themselves subjected to criticism, and under the necessity of either defending themselves or of succumbing. If, indeed, a man neither speaks, nor writes,—if he be dumb as regards opinion,—he passes simply as one of the crowd, and is in the way neither of convincing nor of being convinced; but a woman may speak, and almost write, as she likes, without danger of being wounded by sustained conflict. Who would have the courage to begin with such a one as Miss Petrie, and endeavour to prove to her that she is wrong from the beginning? A little word of half-dissent, a smile, a shrug, and an ambiguous compliment which is misunderstood, are all the forms of argument which can be used against her. Wallachia Petrie, in her heart of hearts, conceived that she had fairly discussed her great projects from year to year with indomitable eloquence and unanswerable truth,—and that none of her opponents had had a leg to stand upon. And this she believed because the chivalry of men had given to her sex that protection against which her life was one continued protest.

And then a few sentences later Miss Petrie herself says:

"The so-called chivalry of man to woman is all begotten in the same spirit. I want no favour, but I claim to be your equal."

Now, Trollope has presented both sides of the argument I suppose but I find myself agreeing with Miss Petrie in this case. Chivalry, in the sense it is being used here, may be meant as a kindness but it is actually an insult. And I'm a bit concerned that given the way Trollope portrays Miss Petrie and Mr Glascock (the gentleman she's speaking to in this passage) we're supposed to see Miss Petrie as silly and strident and Mr Glascock as a reasonable, well-bred man. And that leaves me feeling very frustrated with Trollope.

In Ch LXXIX this one phrase struck me about Mr Trevelyan and seemed quite key to his character and the theme of the book:

He was quite sure that her father and mother had intended to bring a mad doctor down upon him, and he knew that his wife was in her mother's hands. Should he yield to her now,—should he make her any promise,—might not the result be that he would be shut up in dark rooms, robbed of his liberty, robbed of what he loved better than his liberty,—his power as a man.

The last phrase I've underlined seemed significant to me - implying that it's not just loss of liberty Louis fears (which I think would be understandable - as someone who has an ongoing mental illness the idea of being treated for one in the 19th century fills me with horror) but his loss of power as a man which I read as power over his wife and family to compel them to obey him. So his dispute with Emily is not so much any specific inappropriate behaviour with Col Osborne but her refusal to absolutely obey him without thought or question.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this. I would be interested to hear other people's thoughts!

Jul 25, 5:40am Top

Apologies for recent silences: I've been hunkered down trying to polish off a chunkster (a different, even bigger chunkster!) that has taken over my life recently.

>73 japaul22:

Well done, Jennifer! Please do add those comments at the right time.

Edited: Jul 25, 6:08am Top

>74 souloftherose:

Those are all excellent points, Heather. Before I address them directly, I just want to point out this odd moment:

Chapter LV

    "Your John S. Mill is a great man," said the minister.
    "They tell me so," said Mr. Glascock. "I don't read what he writes myself."

Trollope actually knew John Stuart Mill very well, and seems to have admired him---his passion, anyway, if not his beliefs.

This throwaway reference to the era's leading feminist is just one more oddity in this book, one more point where it's impossible to be sure exactly what Trollope is thinking.

There is a weird contradictory sense about this novel, as if Trollope is simultaneously recognising the justice in what the feminists were saying, while hating that they were saying it at all. My best guess is that he was all for "women's rights", at least up to a point---as long as the women themselves weren't demanding them. His ideal vision seems to have been women sitting quiet and passive, while men gradually doled out "rights" as it suited them (passing the Married Women's Property Act in Parliament, for example). What he couldn't stomach was woman not waiting to be given rights, but standing up and demanding them; taking action on their own, in terms of their legal status, their career opportunities, their political power---the dreaded "vote". And of course, as the most publicly vocal demanders of women's rights, Trollope despised the suffragettes.

Wallachia Petrie is an unkind caricature of a "public feminist", one of many found throughout 19th century and early 20th century novels; by no means one of the nastiest, but bad enough. The sense I take from the quoted passage is completely patronising---the implication that women like Wallachia only get to talk because well-mannered, long-suffering men are too polite - too "chivalrous" - to interrupt her nonsense.

(And yes, I agree with Heather's point about this sort of "chivalry"---women having doors opened for them, or seats on trains given up to them, token gestures in place of the real respect inherent in being treated as an equal.)

Note that the same passage (in addition to admitting that Mr Spalding hasn't actually read Mill; is the suggestion that no man, no sensible man, did read him?) ends like this:

    "He is a far-seeing man," continued the minister. "He is one of the few Europeans who can look forward, and see how the rivers of civilisation are running on. He has understood that women must at last be put upon an equality with men."
    "Can he manage that men shall have half the babies?" said Mr. Glascock.

And here we have men's final weapon against women, their biology---which tragically, some 150 years later is still the leading weapon of choice. Behind Mr Glascock's remark is the smug certainty that women will never be able to get out from under their own reproductive capacity. It is painfully clear that the idea that women might take control of their own lives, their own sexual behaviour, their own reproduction, had never crossed the mind of a man like Mr Glascock---or a man like Anthony Trollope.

Jul 25, 6:21am Top


Like I've said several times, this is a very contradictory novel!

Along with its full range of marriages and non-marriages, He Knew He Was Right offers up pretty much the whole spectrum of thinking on relations between the sexes and a wife's duty---from the hardcore Victorian vision of complete submission and complete obedience, to the fairly radical notion that wives should be allowed to look after themselves.

While Trollope certainly does not espouse the latter, he's clear that he doesn't hold with the former, either. Yet again, it's hard to know what he does think---for instance, if he doesn't agree with Louis in this passage, does that necessarily mean he agrees with Hugh?---

Chapter XIX

    "It makes a man almost feel that he had better not marry at all," said Trevelyan.
    "I don't see that. Of course there may come troubles. The tiles may fall on your head, you know, as you walk through the streets. As far as I can see, women go straight enough nineteen times out of twenty. But they don't like being,---what I call looked after."
    "And did I look after my wife more than I ought?"
    "I don't mean that; but if I were married,---which I never shall be, for I shall never attain to the respectability of a fixed income,---I fancy I shouldn't look after my wife at all. It seems to me that women hate to be told about their duties."

Of course, many Victorians would have agreed with Louis that if women didn't like to hear about their duties, that was just too bad for them.

Yet at the same time, the passage quoted by Heather makes it clear that this isn't simply a matter of "duty"---that for Louis, Emily's "disobedience" is much about his ego, his self-image, as anything else. This also ties into his morbid certainty that the whole of London is watching him and judging him.

Louis eventually goes down the path of depression, but to me his psychology isn't so far different from that we see in cases of men who murder their ex-wives: the need for control is paramount.

Jul 25, 11:00am Top

>74 souloftherose: So his dispute with Emily is not so much any specific inappropriate behavior with Col Osborne but her refusal to absolutely obey him without thought or question.

This is the conclusion I came to, and was a great reason for me to agree with her not returning to him. If he acted this way in this situation, who's to say he wouldn't keep seeing it with any man Emily interacted with?

>76 lyzard: I've been having a discussion with another Trollope reader in the 1001 books group about whether Trollope was at heart a sexist whose female characters are all either submissive to their husbands and deemed good or the opposite. Here is some of my response.

I would say in previous Trollope reading, I've seen Trollope less as trying to write women as strong vs. submissive and more as trying to explore women's limited options in upper society. Some of his women have strong personalities and some are swooning and submissive but all have to navigate the world of Victorian marriage. Many things come into this. Staying single and independent is only possible with income and a home. In marrying you lose your autonomy and legal rights but can gain a certain amount of freedom of movement and thought with the right husband. But how do you pick the right husband when there is very little room for courtship if you want to maintain a modest reputation? Some women chose a husband who they think they can work through or over - sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Some marry for money, some choose love, and some end up with both. Some reject a more profitable marriage for love and some do the opposite (often being influenced by family).

I like to think that Trollope wrote both/many versions of the women as you describe in an effort to explore womanhood and marriage in the time. So he was not trying to get to one "best woman", just writing many different stories and situations.

But then, in reading He Knew He Was Right, I did feel that he was saying something different. That women should submit to their husbands in God-like fashion to have a happy marriage. And that is intolerable to me. This book was written pretty much in the middle of his writing career, so luckily it is not as though it's a final thought on marriage or womanhood.

I can guarantee that in all subsequent Trollope reading I do, this will be on my mind.

Jul 25, 2:15pm Top

>77 lyzard: to me his psychology isn't so far different from that we see in cases of men who murder their ex-wives: the need for control is paramount.


>78 japaul22: I agree with your thoughts on the way Trollope writes about the subject in this book as opposed to his other books. I wonder if he was conflicted himself whilst he wrote HKHWR and finding his thoughts were leading him somewhere he wasn't yet fully comfortable with? Of his later novels I haven't read many that deal with men and women in marriage rather than trying to get married. The only one I can think of is Is He Popenjoy? which did make some further digs at women's rights activists. And there was a subplot involving a married couple where the wife wouldn't obey her husband... Oh dear - I'm starting to conclude he's sympathetic to women's predicament in that they have no other options than marriage but thinks that once they are married they should put up and shut up...

I do have a copy of Trollope and Women by Margaret Markwick which I may pick up after I've finished HKHWR to see if it sheds any light on any of this!

Edited: Jul 26, 7:42pm Top

Heather is right that Trollope has all sorts of women with all sorts of attitudes and desires and difficulties, delineated through many admirable and complex characterisations. The problem is that having set up this range of people, he still wants a one-size-fits-all solution.

My feeling is that by He Knew He Was Right he was fully aware of marriage as a minefield, but simply wasn't prepared to accept that there might be another option. He explores marriage thoroughly - so thoroughly that, as Jennifer points out, he has deliberately or inadvertently shown that under the prevailing conditions, the chances against happiness are significant - but cannot admit that women might be better off not taking the plunge.

At least---on the whole. It is curious that the same novel that mocks Wallachia Petrie can produce Priscilla Stanbury, who is allowed to be anti-man and anti-marriage and neither be mocked nor have her ideas changed by the end. On the contrary---


...something should be at least attempted for Priscilla Stanbury, who from the first has been intended to be the real heroine of these pages...

(Of course he then slips in that one remark about Hugh being "her god"...)

Jul 26, 7:49pm Top

We haven't yet addressed this critical passage, highlighting a problem no less difficult and complex today:


There is perhaps no great social question so imperfectly understood among us at the present day as that which refers to the line which divides sanity from insanity. That this man is sane and that other unfortunately mad we do know well enough; and we know also that one man may be subject to various hallucinations,---may fancy himself to be a teapot, or what not,---and yet be in such a condition of mind as to call for no intervention either on behalf of his friends, or of the law; while another may be in possession of intellectual faculties capable of lucid exertion for the highest purposes, and yet be so mad that bodily restraint upon him is indispensable. We know that the sane man is responsible for what he does, and that the insane man is irresponsible; but we do not know,---we only guess wildly, at the state of mind of those, who now and again act like madmen, though no court or council of experts has declared them to be mad. The bias of the public mind is to press heavily on such men till the law attempts to touch them, as though they were thoroughly responsible; and then, when the law interferes, to screen them as though they were altogether irresponsible.

Some of this novel's most painful passages rest on that grey area, with everyone acknowledging (internally, if not verbally) that the situation would be easier to handle if Louis were clearly legally insane. He isn't---which means they have no legal right to stop him doing anything, or to take the child away from him.

And yet, neither is he sane.

Though Trollope never suggests that Louis will harm the child, I find the passages where he interacts with his son very scary. We know too much these days about how parents suffering severe clinical depression can decide that their children are better off "out of it all". From the very first Louis has interpreted the baby's behaviour as a rejection of himself (ignoring, of course, Hugh's sensible arguments that a baby crying doesn't mean anything personal); it is impossible not to see a potential threat behind the situation, even though Louis does nothing.

Jul 29, 7:21pm Top

Well---we're nearly at the end of the month: who's finished, and who's still reading?

Jennifer, do you want to post your remarks now?

Jul 29, 8:14pm Top

I finished a few days ago, but haven't had time to post anything about it. I just got back from a conference.

Jul 29, 8:42pm Top

Well done, Carrie! No hurry about your comments, but please do post them when you have time.

Jul 29, 9:34pm Top

Well, one thought I can share now. I'm very glad that Miss Stanbury didn't have to die to satisfy my curiosity! ;-)

Jul 29, 9:39pm Top


One thing we haven't touched upon is the novel's tacit contrast of Louis and Miss Stanbury. For a good part of its length, He Knew He Was Right could be re-written from Miss Stanbury's point of view and titled "She Knew She Was Right", in that she is every bit as proud and thin-skinned, and as certain of her own correctness and everybody's else's failings, as Louis himself. However, Miss Stanbury gradually learns to admit when she is wrong---and that there are more important things in life than just being right.

Jul 30, 1:17pm Top

I'm finished too!

>81 lyzard: And even though Louis didn't physically harm the child, it seemed like he ended up almost ignoring him which can't have been good for the child either.

>86 lyzard: Good point re Miss Stanbury!

I thought the conversation between Priscilla and Dorothy in Ch XCVII was very sad.

Going back to the women question, the introduction to my edition (Oxford World's Classics) by John Sutherland seem to indicate that by the time of writing HKHWR Trollope was in favour of women's right to work (although I'm not sure I see any evidence of that in this book myself) but was strongly against political rights for women (voting and legal equality). But JS also goes on to say that Trollope 'resolves none of the vexatious problems connected with the woman question' and 'it is not clear that he even has a consistent view on the matter' which I think was broadly the conclusions we came to!

Jul 30, 3:10pm Top

Many of my thoughts centered around the ideas about marriage that we've already discussed. But there are still a few things on my mind.

>81 lyzard: I really thought that this would end with Louis killing himself. I thought killing the child too would be too gruesome for the era, but if this book was written now, I think that murder/suicide would be the path for someone like Trevelyan.

>86 lyzard: I did love Miss Stanbury. It was nice to see someone so set in their ways come around to a different way of thinking. I'm still a little confused about her love history though. I wonder why the man she left her family for deserted her until the very end of his life. And I think I missed what she did during that time since I don't think she went back to her family.
On a different note, I loved the chignon criticism that kept reappearing for moments of lightness. Very amusing.

chapter 98
In Emily and Louis's last conversation, I wondered if when Emily asks "I have not been a harlot to you, have I?" if that indicates strongly that harlot is the word Louis used at the beginning that so offended Emily?
It bothered me that Emily, even after seeing the results of Louis's obsession with her behavior, cannot let her obsession with his behavior towards her go either. Towards the end she says several times that she would say anything or admit anything to cure her husband, but she doesn't mean it. When it comes down to it, it's still important to her for him to admit he was wrong. I understand that, but to my modern sensibility, it's hard to watch - I wish she could just have cut her losses and left him. Of course, I understand why she couldn't in that particular era, but it's still frustrating.

- I was also curious about Hugh's income. I think I remember the book saying he was making 600 pounds a year. That strikes me as quite high - is that an accurate salary for a journalist?

- Mr. Glascock, Caroline, and Nora presented a contrast to the Trevelyans and Col Osborne for me. Caroline really had as much to be jealous of as Louis did and she chose to trust her husband and friend despite their previous relationship.

- the "love triangle" between Mr. Gibson, Camilla, and Arabella was pretty wild! I was shocked that the mother was so supportive of Gibson switching sisters. I guess she didn't care as long as he married one of them, but it seemed pretty cold. I suppose that since we weren't suppose to have believed that Camilla ever really loved Gibson and Arabella did (???) this was ok morally?

chapter 68
Was the young Irish Under-Secretary Phineas Finn?

Jul 30, 5:00pm Top

>88 japaul22: In Emily and Louis's last conversation, I wondered if when Emily asks "I have not been a harlot to you, have I?" if that indicates strongly that harlot is the word Louis used at the beginning that so offended Emily?

I had the same thought, and I think it probably was.

Edited: Jul 30, 5:55pm Top

Well done, everyone!

>87 souloftherose:

I think Trollope gets closer to the truth of Victorian womanhood in that passage that at any other time; particularly in conjunction with Dorothy's "nobody" speech in Chapter LI*; yet then, as we've said, he backs away from the full implications of what he's admitted, and is back to prescribing "marriage and half a dozen children"---as if that were even possible for all the women who wanted it!

(*I meant to quote that at the time; see below.)

As I suggested earlier, I think Trollope was offended by the thought of women fighting for their rights, instead of just taking what they were given. So he was okay with "women's rights" in theory but didn't like how things were shaping in reality.

It's important, too, to recognise that the more things began to change in the world, a greater tendency towards conservatism is to be found in the novels of the time: they don't necessarily depict what was happening, in fact many novelists were discouraged from tackling "the woman question" and were harshly criticised when they did it anyway.

So Trollope's banging on the drum of marriage regardless is probably a negative indication that opportunities for women other than marriage were opening up...

Jul 30, 5:51pm Top


Chapter LI

    "There are people who fancy that nobody cares for them," said Brooke.
    "Indeed there are, Mr. Burgess; and it is so natural."
    "Why natural?"
    "Just as it is natural that there should be dogs and cats that are petted and loved and made much of, and others that have to crawl through life as they can, cuffed and kicked and starved."
    "That depends on the accident of possession," said Brooke.
    "So does the other. How many people there are that don't seem to belong to anybody,---and if they do, they're no good to anybody. They're not cuffed exactly, or starved; but---"
    "You mean that they don't get their share of affection?"
    "They get perhaps as much as they deserve," said Dorothy.
    "Because they're cross-grained, or ill-tempered, or disagreeable?"
    "Not exactly that."
    "What then?" asked Brooke.
    "Because they're just nobodies. They are not anything particular to anybody, and so they go on living till they die. You know what I mean, Mr. Burgess. A man who is a nobody can perhaps make himself somebody,---or, at any rate, he can try; but a woman has no means of trying. She is a nobody, and a nobody she must remain. She has her clothes and her food, but she isn't wanted anywhere. People put up with her, and that is about the best of her luck. If she were to die somebody perhaps would be sorry for her, but nobody would be worse off. She doesn't earn anything or do any good. She is just there and that's all."

Jul 30, 6:11pm Top

>88 japaul22:

We don't know why Miss Stanbury's fiancé deserted her, only that he did so after she had taken the drastic step of leaving her family for him; and that he later felt himself to have been so much in the wrong, he left her his money by way of compensation.

I would suggest, though, that there was a quarrel in which neither would admit they were wrong. (Irony alert!)

Soon after Mr Burgess fell seriously ill, and Miss Stanbury went to him to nurse him in his final illness. After he died she found out he had willed all his property to her, and away from his family.

So having alienated her own family by separating herself from them, she was then alienated from the Burgesses because she inherited what they considered "theirs".

The family first tried to pressure her into giving it up, then sued her, but lost their case. This happened when Miss Stanbury was still quite a young woman, many years ago, since which time she has re-established what must have been a damaged reputation, and made herself something of a power in Exeter.

Edited: Jul 30, 6:25pm Top

>88 japaul22:

It is hard to know how Victorian readers may have felt about the situation between Louis and the child but yes, it's impossible now not to fear that eventuality.

Hugh's salary is about that which any successful professional man might earn. The problem is, or is perceived to be, that it isn't certain. Someone who had an inherited fortune, or who held a government position, had (as long as they didn't do anything stupid) a definite ongoing income. Hugh is fine as long as his paper succeeds---but if they paper folded (as many did) he would have no income at all.

Again we need to keep in mind that this was a society with no welfare, no dole. If a man lost his job, he (and his family) could lose everything.

Of course, as Hugh points out his income is as "certain" as it would be if he'd stayed in the law, and probably a lot more so; but the previous generation can't get their heads around journalism as a permanent profession (still less a "gentlemanly" profession), and all they see are the attendant dangers.

You're quite right about the Caroline / Nora / Mr Glascock triangle, though Hugh's existence made it a bit easier for all concerned.

If we assume that Arabella "loves" Mr Gibson, rather than it's just her desperation speaking. I think it's less that Mrs French sees that side of it and more that she and Arabella are in alliance because they're both terrified of Camilla (and rightly so!). I think Mrs French saw that Arabella was the one of the two most likely to get Mr Gibson to the altar, so therefore she was the one to support---anything to get a daughter married!

Was the young Irish Under-Secretary Phineas Finn?

Absolutely! The events of He Knew He Was Right run parallel to those of Phineas Finn, in which Phineas is Under-Secretary to Lord Cantrip (who gets name-checked).

Jul 30, 6:25pm Top

>88 japaul22:, >89 cbl_tn:

Emily says "harlot" because that's a word a woman might use; my own feeling is that Louis called her a whore---and that's why she won't, can't, back down - why even at the very end she's trying to make him take it back - because there was no worse word for a woman.

But we don't know, of course, and John Sutherland's suggestion is a reasonable one.

Aug 1, 1:35pm Top

>88 japaul22:, >93 lyzard: Re the French sisters and Mr Gibson, Sutherland (again) makes the point that there was considered to be a surplus of young women in England at the time (shown in the 1861 census but he doesn't give the figures) and a contemporary feminist article estimated 30% of Victorian women would die unmarried. I'm not sure we were supposed to think that Arabella deserved Mr Gibson but that Mrs French believed it was better to get one of her daughter's married whatever the cost.

>94 lyzard: Given the passage in one of the Barsetshire chronicles (Barchester Towers?) where Dr Grantly seems to use a word that rhymes with 'caw' for Mrs Proudie (whore) I'm more inclined to think that was the word Trollope expected his readers to imagine here too. I think I still struggle to get my head round the idea that Victorians knew those words even if they didn't print them in nice books like this.

Aug 1, 3:29pm Top

I've finished.

I read this in print and I think I would have found it easier to read and more enjoyable if I had been able to hear Timothy West's conversational tones. It was definitely too long for me: the plot wasn't twisted so much as repeated. As with the last two of the Palliser series I found my twenty-first century opinions made it hard to empathise with the characters, whereas in the earlier books I had been able to understand the characters' attitudes and feelings without sharing them.

Having said that it was worth the effort, and are we going to do another?

Edited: Aug 1, 5:09pm Top

>95 souloftherose:

That is exactly why these sorts of novels are so frustrating: numerically, thousands upon thousands of women would never marry because they *could not* - even if every single man in the country married (and a great many didn't) - so what is the point of telling them they must? Why be so resistant to alternative ways of finding an income?

I guess Arabella "deserved" him in that she was the gentler and more submissive of the two, and therefore better wife material, but this is the bottom line:

it was better to get one of her daughters married whatever the cost

But "whore" is a biblical word and not just a random obscenity; it was not a word that women used, but men certainly did (and still do, sigh). It was the worst "acceptable" word you could call a woman. ("Slut" had a different meaning at the time.)

Perhaps I should prescribe a course of Victorian pornography, so you can see for yourself what words the Victorians knew and used?? :D

>96 CDVicarage:

Well done, Kerry!

I guess the bottom line is that this is not a novel intended to leave the reader feeling good: the happy subplots offset but do not dominate the difficult, unpleasant main plot.

If it's hard to put ourselves in the characters' places these days, we should just be grateful!

Aug 1, 5:10pm Top

Up next?? :)

Well---theoretically we are returning to the restored edition of The Duke's Children in October. Are people still up for that?

Aug 2, 3:36pm Top

I have my copy of the restored edition of The Duke's Children. October doesn't work for me as I'll be traveling the entire month for work and I know from experience that I need light, short reads during this time. If you all read it in October, I'll probably read it in November and follow along on your discussion.

Aug 2, 4:57pm Top

We said October early in the year, but it isn't nailed down; perhaps we can get input from likely participants about when they would prefer? I'm booked for September but November is fine.

At the same time we need to decide exactly how we're going to approach this project: trying to address the novel as a whole or concentrating on the differences between the versions.

Since I have the Folio edition (did I say thank you for that?? THANK YOU!!), which I believe goes into a lot more detail than the Penguin edition about what was cut and why (and what was restored and why), I was thinking of posting about that material, but I'm open to suggestions.

Aug 3, 8:51am Top

>100 lyzard: I would prefer November if others are amenable, but obviously go with what is best for the whole group. I own the Everyman's Library edition. In glancing through it, I don't believe there are any indications of which parts of the text are restored which is unfortunate. I think it will involve a ton of flipping between an originally published version and this one to really figure out what is "new", especially since I've gathered that Trollope didn't just remove whole chapters, but removed paragraphs in the middle as well. I am interested in the differences between the two published versions - I find editing processes fascinating would love to compare the original content to the pared down version.

Edited: Aug 3, 6:01pm Top

That's pretty much what I was envisaging, Jennifer, and the reason I didn't want too much of a gap between the two readings: so that while our memories of the cut version are still clear, we can consider what was cut and what difference it made to the narrative.

From the Folio edition, I should be able to guide people to the most significant changes (hopefully negating some of the flipping!).

Aug 5, 6:04am Top

I think November would probably be better than October for me too.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2017

407 members

141,693 messages


This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.

You are using the new servers! | About | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 118,646,084 books! | Top bar: Always visible