Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"The way we live now" Anthony Trollop

A book written by a master craftsman, but a mediocre artist. The plot is well handled, with a large cast of memorable characters. Trollope uses the same tricks as Dickens to help us remember these characters: giving them a tick which is repeated with each new appearance of the character. However, whereas Dickens reserves these ticks for minor characters, Trollope bizarrely uses them for the main characters of the story: Marie Melmotte’s “Cut me to pieces” is irrelevant: we don’t need to be helpd to remember who she is: she is one of the main characters in the book!

Where Trollope fails as an artist is in the sense of pattern, and in the sense of the relationships of the details to the whole. We are treated to pages of dialogue, which, while not wooden exactly, serve no real artistic purpose: they tell us nothing new about the characters, elaborate no theme, enact no philosophy, add no sense of beauty to the book. It is verisimilitude taken too far, and is ultimately, like life itself, rather boring. The book’s length is due to padding, the ending a disaster of misjudged pacing: a whole chapter is given to each of the main characters in which their stories are predictably rounded off with unnecessary length: and then the thing simply stops on the word …himself.
Trollope’s use of letters to tell the story, judged by the critics as a neat device for revealing character, is actually a trick to disguise the fact that Trollope is incapable of both psychological judgment and of describing it in free indirect discourse.
The discourse is totally empty of symbolism, of metaphor, of simile even. Trollope’ s London is strangely empty: the servants faceless, the middle classes and workers absent, the topology of the streets unseen. Such views as the narrator gives us are banal in their ordinariness. Where is the satire? I think I smiled once while reading this book, certainly I didn’t laugh out loud.

It’s as if Trollope was only conscious of one thing while he wrote this book: his daily word count. He has not stood back from it to see the whole, the pattern. He has not been swept away by the power of his own discoursive gift.

No wonder Trollope is the favorite writer of politicians: he lacks imagination.

If you were to take a man of moderate parts and make him Prime Minister out of hand, he might probably do as well as other prime ministers, the greatness of the work elevating the man to its own level.

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