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The Way We Live Now (Wordsworth Classics) (edition 2004)

by Anthony Trollope

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1,929403,544 (4.19)4 / 207
Member:bslavin
Title:The Way We Live Now (Wordsworth Classics)
Authors:Anthony Trollope
Info:Wordsworth Editions (2004), Paperback, 800 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

  1. 00
    Money by Émile Zola (littlegreycloud)
    littlegreycloud: Augustus Melmotte, Aristide Saccard, Bernie Madoff: plus ça change...
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Trollope's entry in the Great Victorian Novel stakes, a vast, sprawling Vanity Fair for the 1870s, with far too many characters, far too many subplots, and far, far too many pages that pounds smoothly and steadily on over the waves of literary convention like one of the Transatlantic steamships that play such a large part in its plot. Despite all its self-indulgent predictability, it turns out to be a very satisfying and enjoyable book: Trollope is just so infuriatingly good at what he does, and this is Trollope at the top of his form.

Ostensibly, the book centres around the rise and fall of Mr Melmotte, a businessman who has appeared in London from no-one-knows-where with a tremendous reputation for wealth, power and influence, and is soon being courted by investors, politicians, diplomats and - since he has an unmarried daughter - impoverished aristocrats with sons to marry off. Trollope has a lot of fun with the notion that success in modern capitalism has far more to do with someone's reputation for being able to make money than with any actual profitable assets they control. Melmotte's fall is based on as little solid evidence as his initial success - it is not his actual crimes that undermine his credit, but the (false) rumours that he is about to be arrested for them.

But it's probably too narrow to think of this as just a satire of the financial sector - Trollope pulls in all sorts of different aspects of the ways that money, class and gender work together to undermine the moral values that we deceive ourselves into believing we use to guide our lives. Trollope - as usual - digs a bit deeper and cuts a bit sharper than his genial manner conveys, and gives us a little reminder that he was an almost exact contemporary of Karl Marx, whose Kapital had started to appear three or four years before The Way we live now. Not that Trollope was in any way a Marxist, but obviously, those were the ideas that were floating around London at that time.

If Vanity Fair was "a novel without a hero", Trollope also seems to be determined to make this a novel without a villain: neither Melmotte nor the Bad Baronet, Sir Felix Carbury, ever quite manage to dominate the story for more than a scene or two. Trollope keeps undermining their badness and showing us how engagingly weak they are underneath. None of the other men in the book really get out attention for long enough to stand out: there are lots of nice little scenes, but no-one you want to engage with. Even the bachelor squire Roger Carbury, who seems a rather engaging and sympathetic character in the opening chapters, is revealed to us later in the book as a well-intentioned but crashingly pompous bore.

The women do a bit better, but there's only one female character who really leaps off the page, and rather surprisingly that turns out to be the gun-toting American widow-query-divorcée Mrs Hurtle, who gets more grand set-piece scenes than anyone in the book. She breaks all the rules of Victorian fiction and doesn't care who knows it: she even manages to behave outrageously in Lowestoft, something I would not have thought feasible... Meanwhile, Hetta Carbury, who ought by rights to be the romantic heroine, is too feeble to be more than momentarily interesting (as with Thackeray's Amelia, this is probably intentional); the heiress Miss Melmotte shows a certain amount of wit and feminist determination in the later scenes, but Trollope keeps her rather quiet most of the time, perhaps simply because he doesn't want her to turn into a clone of Miss Dunstable. Ruby Ruggles is a one-trick-pony, an anachronistic refugee from a Thomas Hardy novel that hasn't been written yet, and Lady Carbury has potential but is so transparently an affectionate portrait of the author's mother that she has to be kept out of anything more sensational than a few gently comic scenes with editors and publishers. ( )
  thorold | Mar 3, 2017 |
This is my favorite Anthony Trollop novel. When I initially read it in the 1980's, I thought it would be a great companion to Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of Vanities since they both cover greed, social striving and financial chicanery - just 100 years apart.

Nor re-reading it in 2017, I see that nothing has changed and it is a great book in which to reflect on the 1% living in our world today. ( )
  etxgardener | Feb 27, 2017 |
Darker than the Barsetshire books, but with the same way of getting at the humanity of his characters. Delightfully complex, wickedly funny ... it may look like a long read, but the time just flies right by. ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Dec 10, 2016 |
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
???

Most of the characters here embody vices of the era, embroiled in dishonesty and immorality. If they bribe, lie, steal, gamble, swindle and sell their daughters off to the best bidder. If they are women, they have less power over money and land, but have their own set of rules to break. In the midst of this satire there are several virtuous individuals who live with honesty and integrity despite the egregious behavior of most of the other characters. There is no way to like people such as Melmotte, a coarse, apparently extremely wealthy man of uncertain origins (rumours abound) with a daughter of marriageable age who seems to have a mind of her own despite her father’s browbeating and physical beating.
Three stars means I liked this but didn’t love it or really like it. It’s hard to say how much of this is because I read it as a seasonal read, and so usually read five chapters per week unless I got behind a week and had to catch up, and how much of this is because it is difficult for me to truly love a novel so beset by such nefarious sorts. It wasn’t always easy to love even the most pristine, honest characters, but I do have to say that I quite enjoyed, well I don’t want to say who these are, but suffice to say that I did like at least one and grew to like a few others. Trollope certainly didn’t have a good opinion of Americans, and that colours some of this tale, which is set primarily in London, England (not to be confused with, for example, London, Ontario or New London, Ct, neither of which is in this satire.)

If satires are your thing, particularly Victorian ones, this may well be right up your alley. It’s long. In the Oxford University press paperback edition I borrowed from the library (Of course, after all this time, I had to borrow a second copy just like it on my daughter’s card as we can only renew once, so 8 weeks is the limit) each of the two volumes is paginated beginning with page 1, and they were each close to 500 pages.
( )
  Karin7 | Jan 20, 2016 |
A great book for our times. The nineteenth century did a great job with novels about scoundrels and money schemes. For some reason, I wasn't familiar with this Trollope book. I love Trollope, but he wrote so many novels, it's difficult to know where to land. This book was recommended in the top 40 by Susan Hill in another book I'm currently reading (listened on audiobook over a long, lazy weekend with lots of driving thrown in). One interesting story line in this sprawling novel is its American characters. Basically begins and ends with characters from America. I suppose there is something buried there about scoundrels. But basically the Americans aren't totally dished. And they end up surviving. And one of the emerging female characters ends up going to America in company with the strong and interesting American woman (and the American partner in the great raileway scheme in the story). I have to love the railway scheme--a railway from Salt Lake City to Vera Cruz in Mexico. The American woman killed a man and fought a duel in San Francisco. But is a sweetheart in England. But she's on her way back at the end. Definitely recommend. ( )
  idiotgirl | Dec 25, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anthony Trollopeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brooks, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Case, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Osborne, HughNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, TimothyNarratorsecondary 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.
Quotations
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)

(see all 7 descriptions)

"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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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