Sarah Rees Brennan (sarahtales) wrote,
Sarah Rees Brennan

Ode to Anthony

Now, see, a lot of people guessed that Anthony Trollope was one of my top five favourite authors. And I was puzzled, for I have always thought that all besides me undervalued him, and it's not like I have talked about him on livejournal.

But then I thought to myself. 'Self' said I (to myself, you understand) 'why *have* you not talked about him on livejournal? Livejournal is where you can talk about all your crazy obsessions.'

Which is the problem. I have been trained not to speak of Anthony Trollope. Sheer yawning boredom is my only response. And that makes me cry, not that I don't provoke it often.
But in this case, people can simply skim! Whereas in real life, nobody can fast forward my conversations. No matter how much they pray to the dark gods to make it so.

Anyway. Anthony, baby! I know all about him, for I read his autobiography. So I will now give you a condensed version of his life.
FATHER: Argh, am povertystricken.
MOTHER: Not to worry, the kiddies and I will go to America to join a commune that has fairs!
MOTHER: Who could have predicted that wouldn't work out? Well, now I'm going to write a book mocking those dang Americans.
ENGLISH PEOPLE: Hee! She says Americans are rude! It's funny because we're so superior! *book becomes instant bestseller*
MOTHER: I will also write a book about a vicar who hypnotises villages with his uber sex appeal.
FATHER: Am I not satisfying you in some way, darling?
ENGLISH PEOPLE: Fanny, baby, why couldn't you write a book about how we're superior to the bog Irish?
WM THACKERAY (actual quote): Oh, if women would only make puddings and mend stockings!
YOUNG ANTHONY: Muuum, the other chaps are already beating me up at Harrow for being big and clumsy! *seethes* I will have vengeance when I am a famous postal clerk! VENGEANCE.

Well, yes, I also admit to being something of a fan of his mother. Because coolness runs in families, as everyone knows, which is why I am running away when I am 24, changing my name to Ubernecka Buick, and pretending I am a Bostonian orphan.
Mind you, Anthony's Cool Ass Mother has personally got me into a lot of trouble, but I don't blame her, I blame the illiterate assistants at Waterstone's.
SARAH: Sorry, do you have any books by Fanny Trollope?
CLERK: Shyeah, right, someone's called that. Next!
SARAH: No, seriously, Fanny Trollope.
CLERK: Buzz off.
SARAH: Look, she was quite famous in her day!
CLERK: Security, take her away!
CLERK: Fine... I... er. We have the... Vicar of Wrexhill. Miss.
SARAH (with hauteur): I already own it. Illiterate swine.

Once again, I must return strictly to the topic of my beloved Anthony. And on the topic, I should really hate him with the burning passion of a thousand thousand suns. He does author inserts, for which sin I poke Dickens with tiny toasting forks in my head every day. He tells you everything that's going to happen in the first two chapters because he didn't believe in Sensational Literature. (oh Anthony, you prig. Much love.) He does irrelevant little side plots, which always, always, always either bore me to tears or get me engaged to the point where I could not care less about the main plot and complain bitterly about the hero and heroine taking over their own book, god damn it.

Moreover, the man was one of those big, loud, hearty, uber-English men who make me edge away from them and remove the ale at my father's Swanky Club. He hunted like mad, and he wanted to be an M.P. He was obsessed with being a Postal Clerk (OMG, the stuffy ponciness of it all! So cute! He was all 'a good PUBLIC SERVITOR continues to SERVE through wind and rain, and those immoral lackeys of the public who doth not deliver letters in a timely fashion are immoral dogs who must be hounded into the howling wind, and getting up after SIX O'CLOCK is IMMORAL.' No words, Anthony, really, I have so much love.) He, and this bit is important, thought that women were totally inferior and was condescending about them and even thought being married to them wasn't so great and feminists were (actual quote) 'old maids gone crazy because no-one had married them.' And his books, apart from disastrous forays into the Irish famine and Jewish identity in Prague etc., were stodgy stories of English life set in the context of political ambition, or church hierarchy.

And I love them. More than that, I turn to them for comfort. They are my cup of tea, in that any day I am slightly ill, or just in a restful mood, one will find me unusually quiet, tucked up in an armchair with my fluffy socks on, a cup of tea in hand and a favourite Anthony Trollope on my lap. They are my cup of tea, even though they are so patently not my cup of tea at all. They are the reason that I know lots about the Church of England and Parliament two centuries ago, and I know hell all about them now so you can imagine my general lack of interest. And partly of course, this perverse love has no reasons or logic behind it. I do not like thee Dr Fell (I do love thee so much Anthony Trollope) the reason why I cannot tell. But of course, there are some partially explanatory reasons.

One, I just love me some of that era. The literaryness of it all! Take me back, please, please, please, to a world where crowds came shrieking to the docks to sight a ship bearing Dickens and still, spoiler hos that they were, just had to know 'DOES LITTLE NELL DIE?'
Take me back to a world where people wore 'The Woman In White' perfume. Oh, Wilkie Collins (who Trollope totally hated on, btw)! I will bear even the insanitary conditions for that.
But obviously, I don't love on everything from that era. I can take or leave Dickens, for a start. (aside from A Tale of Two Cities, which I am willing to have children by, but anyway.) Certainly I don't love everything in it to the extent I do my Anthony, but still. I mean. Great, great era. The mindset makes me so dorkishly happy.
Like, there's this one bit in Trollope which will totally explain my love for this society's quirks, and it's so - savage and yet Victorian and, so much love, no words. Okay.

So, in Trollope's 'Doctor Thorne' the hero's sister gets jilted. So the hero gets like a HUGE-ASS WHIP and goes to the Jilting Lover's swanky gentlemen's club. The hero himself being a swanky gentleman, he waits outside while his friend carries in his card, and walks the Jilting Lover out. So very Victorian. And then the hero leaps on him and horsewhips the hell out of him. And all the policemen are kind of like, All right, stop, but hee, good on you my son! Have some claret. And the Jilting Lover's like 'Glug. My bones are broken.'

Also, Anthony, bless his button boots, was a beautiful observer of human nature. These people get you. They're really, really contradictory, and you love them for it. Like, there's this clergyman Crawley in several of his books.
CRAWLEY: I am All-Knowing, and Gifted with Divine Inspiration. List to my words, unhappy clergyman, and turn to the path of virtue.
AUDIENCE: You rock, Crawley!
CRAWLEY: P.S. I am impoverished and bitter as lemons and my wife and children are starving in our shack and I have psychotic rages and lapses of memory and also, I am Krazee.
CRAWLEY: But I am hero of our tale! And also, hey, Latin is cool.
AUDIENCE: Why Trollope, you magnificent bastard.

This might be further explained by the fact that Anthony, stuffy society's bitch that he was, was of course a seething mass of contradictions himself. His total chauvinism was for the birds when he met this American feminist called Kate who he admired the hell out of. And despite inserting sexist bastardy authorially all over the place he consistently has strong, witty, cool-ass women in his books. His heroine Lucy Robarts in Framley Parsonage has a place on my Top Five Favourite Heroines List, which to give you an idea of my preferences is headed by Elizabeth Bennet. I shall now quote her in a scene where her sister-in-law is telling her not to fall in love with a lord.

LUCY: I suppose when young lords go about all the girls are cautioned as a matter of course. Why do they not label him dangerous?
FANNY: You will be safe, as you have been specially cautioned as to this particular bottle.
LUCY: It is no good telling me about it now, after the mischief is done, after I have had so many doses. Dear, dear, dear! And I regarded it as a mere commonplace powder, good for the complexion! I wonder if it's too late, or whether there's any antidote?
FANNY: I don't think there's much harm done.
LUCY: Ah! you don't know, Fanny. If I die - as I shall - I feel I shall - it ought to go very hard with Lady Lufton.
I love archly witty heroines to death. And there are not many to be had. *weeps melodramatically* I don't want nasty gay, I want truly cool women who convince me that the hero wants to sleep with them! To quote Pope Alexander, Bring me my dancing girls!

Then this inherent knowledge of human psychology which gave Trollope the wherewithal to make some truly great characters also gave him the capacity to write some bloody brilliant scenes. Oh my God, yes, swoon. Heartrending.
Like the scene of the dying drunkard in Doctor Thorne.

ROGER SCATCHERD: (with bottle) Where are my friends? Here! Where are my amusements? Here! Where is my one resource, my one gratification, my only comfort after all my toils? Here, doctor, here, here, here!
DR THORNE: Surely you would not die for such a passion as that?
ROGER SCATCHERD: Die for it? Aye, would I. Live for it, while I can live, and die for it when I can live no longer. Die for it! What is that for a man to do? Do not men die for a shilling a day? What is a man the worse for dying? What can I be the worse for dying? A man can die but once, you said just now. I'd die ten times for this.

This is emotionally powerful stuff, and I love me some dramatic scene that's *really* pulled off. Anthony, for a couple of scenes like that you can authorially insert all you like. And he can do love scenes just as well, only I can't pick one. They are VERY VERY GOOD. Every time I read one, I understand the mystery of Trollopian allure. The blasted man has me by the heartstrings.

One more word, and then all is done. What is it that I will love a man for? The thing passing all others? Yes, you know it. Snark. And Anthony can snark until he drops. During love, death, torment scenes, there's always some leaven of humour, and I love him for it. He can do sheer physical comedy - see Barchester Towers, and the Proposal of the Odious Clergyman Mr Slope, for a classic example of this.
And then he can just present you with some Pure Snark, which I will close this unimaginably long Trollopian Ode with. He's talking very seriously about how he doesn't like before-dinner graces, because they are lacking in sanctity because everyone just wants to eat, and then he calmly adds:

It is, I know, alleged that graces are said before dinner because our saviour uttered a blessing before his last supper. I cannot say that the idea of such an analogy is pleasing to me.

Ah, Ye Old Victorian Snark. Nothing like it. Consider this my love letter to Anthony Trollope.

Yes, the study's going fine, why do you ask?
Tags: essays


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