Sunday, February 18, 2018

`Helped the Heart of Man to Know Itself'

A friend has read all of Dickens and all of George Eliot – the former several times over – and asks whose novels she ought to read next. Commendably, her favorite among Eliot’s books is Daniel Deronda. She is a stalwart reader with varied tastes. Someone else had suggested Elizabeth Gaskell, whom I have never read. I suggested Anthony Trollope. Of his forty-seven novels I have read perhaps eight, most memorably The Way We Live Now, which I recommended. If she finds Trollope to her taste, I told her, she could spend the next several years luxuriating in his fictional bounty.

The only time I met my late friend David Myers was here in Houston in March 2012. He gave me a copy of Henry James’ criticism of American and English writers in the Library of America edition, which includes the five reviews and essays James devoted to Trollope. In 1883, some months after Trollope’s death, James wrote a carefully admiring tribute to the novelist. Read it for the account of crossing the Atlantic in Trollope’s company. Also, read it to appreciate the amount of irony and insight James could pack into a sentence or passage, as in this: “His great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual.” More straightforward is the sweeping final paragraph, which begins:

“Trollope will remain one of the most trustworthy, though not one of the most eloquent, of the writers who have helped the heart of man to know itself. The heart of man does not always desire this knowledge; it prefers sometimes to look at history in another way—to look at the manifestations without troubling about the motives. There are two kinds of taste in the appreciation of imaginative literature: the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition. It is the latter that Trollope gratifies, and he gratifies it the more that the medium of his own mind, through which we see what he shows us, gives a confident direction to our sympathy.”

1 comment:

Nigel PJ said...

You've a fortunate friend if she does embark on reading Trollope. I sometimes feel that the Barchester Chronicles have given me more pleasure than any of the more celebrated great novels.
Mrs Proudie, the reverend Slope...how we enjoy such awful characters. Yet the humane and beautifully drawn Septimus Harding, the eponymous "hero" of The Warden shows Trollope as one of the warmest and most generous of the Victorians.
Of course, if Barchester is not long enough there is always Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time.