Trollope Conference 2006

I have decided that although my old blog ( will remain in a read-only format I will transfer a few posts here before the end of February. The selection is fairly arbitrary but there aren’t many ‘amateur’ reports on this Conference around!


>>Way back in the heatwave of last July (2006) I attended a Conference about Trollope at the University of Exeter. This was a big step for me as social contact is always difficult and I knew that there were only 2 people I knew – from Trollope-l – attending; I say knew but I only knew them through the net prior to the Conference – although I have come to the conclusion that one can get to ‘know’ someone through the net just as much , if not more than, in physical space. Neither of those people – Ellen and Clare – was to be resident. But I found the whole experience a great pleasure. Meeting Ellen and Clare was a highlight, but all the people I talked to were kind and pleasant and delightful. It was an odd experience in that the majority of those attending were women, the majority were American and the majority were academics – I think I was in a minority of one as an English, non-academic male! (which is probably a salutary experience). I have no doubt that there was networking going on but I was happily oblivious to it – I would have been an irrelevance in any case! So for me it was a great pleasure. I did suffer later over the few interventions I made because as always I played them back in my head as me making a fool of myself but this cost was well worth paying.

And of course there were many fascinating papers and discussions! Ellen has written of some of these far better than I ever could at…

  I will try not to go over ground which she has covered – better than I ever could. I agree that the opening address by Robert Polhemus on The Lot Syndrome was one of the most fascinating talks of the Conference. I was definitely inspired to go and read his book although I have not done so yet.

In the first of the seminar sessions I attended a different one to Ellen so I will attempt some summaries.

The Panel was entitled Dangerous Liaisions – Family Sagas.

The first paper was given by Lynn Parker and was concerned with sibling relationships. Lynn noted that this was present in Dickens and exemplified Nicholas Nickleby where whenever the brother and sister separate bad things happen, when they are together good. As an example from Trollope she took Can You Forgive Her and the brother/sister/lover plot (George/Kate/Alice – a plot almost entirely excluded from the television adapatation of the novel which I am watching at the moment and we are discussing on Trollope-l). Lynn explored the character of Kate – her extreme self-abnegation, her love for George – but does she also want to retain Alice by tying him to George? Trollope Lynn noted presents Kate as almost proposing to Alice. She notes how in the childhood fight George has protected Alice’s ‘jewels’ against an assailant armed with a chisel! Kate confesses she is married to her brother – she needs Alice to free her. Lynn pointed out that Trollope links sisterly devotion and self-sacrifice to moral virtue. She then  moved on to Phineas Finn where Laura’s sisterly devotion to Chiltern is more diffuse; but George and Chiltern are linked in their violence’ however where George goes to the bad, Chiltern is transformed. Lynn argues that Trollope uses Phineas to take away the incest theme. She noted how the book ends with Phineas marrying his sister’s friend – his sister is quite willing to sacrifice her friend’s interest on her brother’s behalf. Lynn argued that the passage bewteen sister (Barbara) and friend (Mary) is strongly homo-erotic (I must admit I had no memory of this – need to re-read Phineas Finn). Lynn concluded by arguing that Trollope exposes the dangers of sibling relationships and exposes doubts about the brother/sister/lover plot in CYFH but then returns to it in PF. I found this the most interesting of the three papers.

Christine Poulson: Remarriage and The step-family

Christine Poulson opened with an explanation that there was a hostility to re-marriage in the 19thC, a hostility to step-fathers but above all a hostility to step-mothers and women remarrying. She argued that there was a double standard in Trollope where it is fine for a widower to marry again in certain circumastances and adduced as examples of widower heroes Major Grantlye in LCB and Phineas in Phineas Redux. On the other hand she adduced the way in which Olivia Proudie’s marriage to a widower with 3 children (Framley Parsonage) is treated as a running gag. Christine argued that Trollope dosen’t see remarriage as necessarily problemmatic, there are few actual step-mothers in Trollope and the most searching examinations occur in The American Senator and the short story Alice Dugdale. Material inheritance is always an important part of the question as in Orley Farm and Marion Fay and she argued that it is in the latter that we see the closest Trollope comes to a wicked step-mother. All these arguments and characters take their place in a larger contemporary deabte about authority (I am not sure about the Olivia Porudie argument – after all she is hardly a major character and in some ways the Proudies en bloc are a running gag ; we can counterpoise the Widow Greenow in CYFH who is a much more important character and if not a heroine is certainly a positive character).

Jenni Bourne Taylor : Legitimacy as Legal Fiction

Trollope’s later novels repeatedly return to the question of who can legitimately inherit; the bastard is the lynchpin of a debate about legal and moral rights. Jenni Bourne Taylor argued that a number of political and social issues are reflected in these late novels and actual legal and parliamentary cases are in the background. In Mr Scarborough’s Family the idea of legitimacy is pursued to its conclusion of nihilism. Other novels in which these themes emerge are Lady Anna, Ralph the Heir and Is he Popenjoy. (I regret my notes on this talk are very limited – this may be due to my lack of acquaintance with these novels or to the fact that I was flagging in the stifling heat –  I will be generous to myself and pick the latter).

I did not either keep any notes as to the discussion. There is a different reason for this. I was working up to ask a question which I did – I asked Lynn about the brother/sister/lover relationship in Framley Parsonage. There of course we have the rotten, if tragic Sowerby, his sister Mrs Smith and the delightful Miss Dunstable. What is of great interest is Trollope’s reiteration is that Mrs Smith – contemptuous of her pathetic husband – is ‘good’ in her love for her brother, even while she is willing to sacrifice her (only) friend to him. She is almost redeemed by this sibling affection. What are the proper limits of sibling love. Unfortunately my question – wholly unintentionally – embarrassed Lynn who did not know Framley Parsonage. I felt quite awful about this. Fortunately when I met her later and apologised she was very kind! And it had the excellent outcome that I got to know her. But I was distracted from the rest of the general discussion.

On the final session of the Monday I again attended a different panel to Ellen; the title of the panel was ‘Its a Boy Thing: Emerging Manhood’.

Stephen Amarnick : The Dukes Children 

The first paper was given by Stephen Amarnick and was based on his detailed textual research into The Duke’s Children – his basic thesis is that Trollope made large cuts to the novel which resulted in a weaker book. A comparison of the size of The Dukes Children to the Last Chronicle shows to what extent the novel was truncated. Stephen’s argument was that at the core of the Duke’s Children is the question of Plantagenet’s and other characters resistance to change ; that this is a feature of the entire series. In the truncated version it is the maturation process of the children (the changes necessary upon adulthood) which are lost. Silverbridge’s political development is made much clearer in the original MS. So why did Trollope make the changes if they make the book worse? In the first place he left the book for two years before cutting it and so was not so emotionally attached to it. Secondly he wanted to see if he could cut a book – it was a dare to himself. This was a fascinating paper and it is very much to be hoped that Stephen succeeds in his ambition of getting the full original text published.

Hyson Cooper : Ayala’s Angel and the Hobbledehoy

Hyson argued that the hobbledehoy has a very restrictive code; he has not yet grown out of his masculinity and become a patriarchal, ungendered (controlling) man. In Ayala’s Angel this is found in the character of Tom Tringle. One of the issues is literally visibility – Tom overdresses and this is an expression of the fact that he will not be disciplined, he is a dandy and he remains unmarried at the novel’s close. Tom’s violence offends against the code that he should ‘suffer and be still’. But worst of all is his propensity to worship Ayala. Trollope makes clear that love-affairs can only be conducted successfully when men and women agree that man is superior. But Tom wants to worship and this is an offence against Trollope’s definition of manliness. Hobbledehoy has to learn that he is superior to women.

If this account is confused it may be because I found the paper confusing and I have not read Ayala’s Angel.  

Mark King : Hobbledehoys

Mark argued that there is a change in the meaning of hobbledehoy from Three Clerks to The Prime Minister. The early paradigm was – fall in with low company, prove themselves by physical bravery, mature. In Three Clerks the hobbledehoy is Charlie Tudor who is redeemed by hard work, Johnny Eames by physical courage, Phineas by a change in his love-life – he doesn’t need the country, a foreign woman offers salvation; he obtains status through work not despite work – the association of gentility and idleness was disappearing – here in the mid-era novels work does become almost Carlylean. But with John Caldigate everything changes, there is a new conservatism. Caldigate wanders off to Australia, works with his hands and co-habits with a lower-class woman – the hobbledehoy text is inverted (Australia as upside-down world). But Trollope attacks rampant greed even when endorsing work. In The Prime Minister, Lopez is the final nightmare hobbledehoy; all that seems to stop him is lack of money, which attacks the notion that gentility is innate. For Trollope work is not an unqualified good – there must be a moral focus. Smiles’ argument that work civilises/gentilises has a slippery slope – if that is true for white men, then why not for women and black people? So Trollope is deeply suspicious of the self-made man.

This was another paper I found confusing and may have misrepresented. I certainly thought that Carlyle’s thought was misrepresented and at times muddled up with Smiles.

However the basic problem with the last two papers which emerged strongly in the general discussion which followed was over the definition of a hobbledehoy – the discussion was very confused which may be partly ascribed to the fact that by now everyone was very hot and perhaps a little tired, but is also down to this central confusion. Stephen (I think) argued that Phineas is not a hobbledehoy(I agree), just as Silverbridge is not a hobbledehoy. Tom Tringle is very rich. I wanted to intervene and insist that in my view there is a strong class element to the hobbledehoy ; it is not just a term which can be elastically expanded to any of Trollope’s young men. An element of being a hobbledehoy is certainly emotional immaturity, indeed general immaturity, but that is not enough. Charlie Tudor and Johnny Eames do follow a certain paradigm, but in my view Trollope worked this out with Eames and there was little left to say. This is clearer to me now I have (partially) read The Bertrams where none of the young men are, in my view, hobbledehoys. Yes there are elements in common – the maturation process – but Trollope’s focus is very different ; it is on the questions of how they should live , their moral and career choices, ambition, how all those things inter-link. None of the characters is a hero, either to Trollope or to the reader (I prefer George Bertram to the hobbledehoys myself but then I loathe violence and I like radical authors!). An interesting final thought was raised about absent fathers as in the case of Johnny Eames (here there is a link to George Bertram) and it would have been interesting to pursue this, reflecting on the autobiographical elements. But everyone was very ready to break off and the discussion was a fragmented one due to the lack of any agreed definition. 


Deborah Morse : Race and Trollope

The day opened with a keynote speech by Deborah Morse. Ellen has covered this in her report…

(I remind any readers again that this is a far fuller and obviously vastly better informed account than mine) and I will try to cover only areas she has not reported. Morse argued that Trollope re-imagined the questions of gender-race-power-empire in a racial way from the mid-1860’s and that there was a very specific reason for this – the controversy following the massacre at Morant Bay in Jamaica, which was part of Governor Eyre’s imposition of order following the uprising of October 1865. An enormous and passionate controversy followed this in the years 1866-68. The Jamaica Committee headed at first by Buxton and then Mill sought to indict Eyre. Carlyle (no surprise) and Ruskin defended him. Trollope was a friend of Buxton and wrote an admiring review of his book. HKHWR was written 1867-68 and Eyre acquitted in 1868. Trollope reverses the imperial narrative so it is the classic Englishman who goes mad not the colonised half-caste/dark-skinned. The three subplots work in another way with three young men all rejecting mastery as a way of relating to the world and women. I cannot really comment as I have not read HKHWR and would urge anyone interested to read Ellen’s paper. I did find the account of the Morant Bay controversy fascinating.

The Conference then again split in two and once again I attended a different panel to Ellen. This one was entitled Imperial Gender Race and Ethnicity.

Anna Peak : Anti-Semitism

This paper was heavily concentrated on the character of Melmotte in The Wat We Live Now and argued that the Trollope is in fact deconstructing and examining anti-semitism in the novel. Once again I found this paper hard to follow due to a lack of knowledge of the one book around which it was tightly argued.

Mary Corbett : Gender and Ethnicity – Phineas Finn

The central contention of this paper was that class and ethnicity are not absent from Phineas Finn as a certain critical tradition has argued. Phineas after all resigns over an Irish issue. Trollope is also examining the distinction between manliness and gentlemanliness – a class issue. Manliness involves openness and independence – there is a powerful sense of the female other (dependant) – how do independence and manliness interact? There is a sense of the party hacks as feminine (dependant) – there was a specific quote about ‘coyness’ which unfortunately I failed to note. But if Phineas is dependant in some ways, politically he is a manly (independent) man – more independent than his country. His love-life is divided between his English (Laura, Violet) and Irish (Mary) loves – when in Ireland he loves Mary. Being a candidate/MP is a threat to manliness; political independence means financial dependence (or vice-versa). Ultimately of course Phineas rejects public life.

Lauren Goodlad : Trollope and India

In some ways this was rather a misleading title. This was a complicated paper and I may have failed to follow the argument correctly – but it was certainly fascinating. Lauren contrasted the discourses of  Barsetshire (a rooted patriarchal  society) and London (free market capitalism) within Trollope and argued that he rejected both liberal imperialism (Mill) and reactionary imperialism. The book on which the talk concentrated was the Eustace Diamonds and the central notion of heirlooms. The Eustace Diamonds had a connection to The Moonstone and hence to debate about Indian Empire. Are the diamonds an heirloom (Barsetshire) or a commodity (London) – land v money? Who is the real heirloom in ED? Lucy Morris ; but she is also self-acting and in self-possession. The Eustace Diamonds is an ‘heirloom debunking novel’, Bagehot was wholly cyncical about heirloom institutions, but Trollope at least in The Warden saw them as really specially, morally excellent : over time and through events his faith was shaken an this is reflected in The Eustace Diamonds. This paper was another which argued for Trollope’s radical trajectory – that is that he became more radical as he grew older and this radicalistion can be traced through the treatment of specific subjects in the books. I suppose this was really the sub-text of the entire Conference. In this particular case I found the argument quite compelling, and the notion of ‘heirloom’ which I failed to properly note one about which it would be fascinating to read more.

The final session of the Tuesday morning was again in panels. I attended the one called Gender and Narrative Construction (1). The first paper was Ellen’s – this can be found in full at….

and it would be both redundant and absurd to attempt a summary.

Michelle Mouton : Trollope’s Gazing Narrator

This was another paper which I found very interesting. Michelle noted that physiognomic descriptions are extremely detailed, repetitive and ever-present in Trollope; she then asked the question how gender influences the narrator’s attitude to these descriptions? The intrusive narrator tells us where to look, he introduces the physical description and in some cases he does not want us to look to closely at his heroine. Handsome bad men are often seen as handsome by women and therefore removed from narrator (Sir Lionel in The Bertrams certainly reflects this). But at other times the narrator’s expression of physical admiration for men is almost homo-erotic, the best example being Burgo Fitzgerald; here the narrator can seem to identify with women’s desires (a fascinating point in light of The Pallisers TV adaptation – should Burgo have been more attractive? or was he attractive?). Michelle concluding by asking whether the narrator is also a desiring subject? . This paper concentrated on male characters and physiognomies but the entire subject of Trollope’s physiognomic descriptions is fascinating.

David Skilton : Depth of Portraiture

Trollope in his day was criticised as entirely mimetic and therefore incapable of portraying women. David Skilton argued that in fact Trollope’s women make life choices, not in the same way as men but nonetheless they do – which may have semi-autobiographical elements given Trollope’s mother’s life choices. The choices are largely internal and ethical and subjective in Trollope’s women. Ellen has written of this…

>>I’m not sure I was persuaded that the literal limited choices can be overlooked just in favor of ethics and psychology as such, for the latter are dependent on experience hoped for as well as had.<<

We then broke for lunch which was very pleasant – I chatted with Ellen and Clare.

There was intended to be another plenary session after lunch but the speaker had not turned up so we proceeded to the final panel sessions of the day. This time I attended the same panel as Ellen – Gender and Narrative Construction (2).

Ellen has written extensively about Michael Brooks paper on Trollope and American feminism, which was fascinating and completely new to me, but I have nothing to add so will move on. (just to remind anyone who is missed it Ellen’s far more comprehensive account is at… )

Sophie Gilmartin: Trollope’s Flesh and Blood

This was another very good paper. Sophie was considering the way in which Trollope is meticulous about the way in which he places bodies in space – she started with the the example of the balcony scene in CYFH where Alice is held prisoner (now need to check how this was managed in the TV adaptation!), also the Pallisers at breakfast – carefully choreographed but also something electric about it. Sophie argued that there was a further specific subset of men, women and horses in space and exemplified this from the scene in Last Chronicle where Lily meets Crosbie in London after three years. Lily has her back to Achilles – a controversial nude sculpture in honour of Wellington (fear/rejection  of eroticism/Crosby?) – then Crosby (Apollo) approaches and there is a whip reference – she is in control, on horseback – she could whip him. In Framley Parsonage there is the moment where Lord Lufton and Lucy are surprised by Fanny – there is a conversation about riding which Lucy turns from horses to men and so a sexual element is introduced (I was also thinking of that extraordinary specificity about the ‘spot on the carpet’). In CYFH we have the comparison of Burgo as a a horseman with him as a dancer – and therefore by extension the treatment of Glenocra as horse. Sophie’s central argument was that we always need to pay careful attention to the placement of bodies in Trollope.

Maia McAleavey : Loving Lily Dale

 A brave subject to tackle! Maia argued that the introduction to Lily is in a tradition the locus classicus of which is Sophia Weston in Tom Jones – Fielding talks of Sophia much as Trollope does of Lily. There is a triangular love plot/relationship – narrator/character/reader – this is an invitation to a specifically male audience, which argues against understandings of Trollope’s intended audience as female. Lily both thwarts and palpitates the erotically involved reader – she claims to be married and single at the same time. Lily is a very sexual being who also corresponds to conservative values – she is soft. 18thC commentators worried about effect of courtship novel on young women – but what about effect on men? What happens to male reader in Small House? No happy endings for men. This is another talk I may have misrepresented – I found some of the arguments hard to follow and was indeed in disagreement, so that I got caught up in my own thoughts rather than paying proper attention. The debate at the end inevitably tended to focus on Lily which may have been unfair to the other two papers.

I think people were also a little de-mob happy at this point – rather than stimulating greater attention the effect of the announcement that there would be a long stretch of free time induced a holiday atmosphere – group psychology at Conferences as much as anywhere else is a remarkable thing. After a long chat with Ellen I am afraid I completely failed to make good use of my freedom by visiting Exeter Cathedral or some other cultural attraction – instead I went and had a sleep! This did at least mean that I thoroughly enjoyed the Conference dinner that night.

The final (Wednesday) morning began with another panel session. Again I attended the same panel as Ellen on Regenderings.

Margaret Markwick : Out of The Closet

Ellen has written extensively about this paper in relation to Trollope. I must admit that I was not wholly convinced by the general historical analysis – I am not sure homosexuality was really as accepted before the mid-19thC as was stated, but it is a long time since I have read anything on this subject. It is of course true that only in 1885 was homosexuality criminalised – but it is worth noting that that was as a part of The Criminal Law Amendment Act which was partly the work of feminist campaigners (such as Josephine Butler) and was mainly concerned with legislation on prostitution, also raising the age of consent from 13 to 16.

Somewhere there was a fascinating quotation from Thackeray ‘since Fielding died no-one has been permitted to portray a man’ – I am not sure how this came in as I was too busy writing it down! Woolf cites this quotation.

Christopher Noble : Widows

A very enjoyable paper considering the anomalous position of widows – most masculine in terms of power but put against these are extensive mourning customs – Victoria herself is of of course a central figure. Within Trollope comedy is used to attack mourning customs. Christopher noted how Trollope’s attitude changed over the Palliser series from the independent and comic Arabella Greenow in CYFH, who marries Belfield, to Emily Lopez who becomes a ‘gothic shade’. Between the two is Madam Max who’s androgyny is strongly stressed – she is both merry and sad and combines the tropes. Ellen countered with the example of Lady Lufton in the discussion and as she notes I mentioned to her the more extreme example of Aunt Staubach in Linda Tressel.

Kathy Psomiades: He Knew He Was Right

Looking back at my notes on this paper I can make no sense of them at all. Ellen seems nearly as unsure as me for once (so it may not just have been my obtuseness!). I did note at the end that the paper (once again) made no reference at all to class. Ellen points out that it also ignores power. In fairness it might be best to read the extract at…..

Final Plenary Session

The final session, with seven speakers, was entitled Why should we read Trollope?, but was obviously a chance for general discussion of the Conference. I did not really keep very specific notes. One argument was that 19thC has a particular resonance now – I have written down in my notes that this is possibly a very American viewpoint – neo-liberalism, Imperial power (for the UK I am not sure that the 17thC is not more relevant given the ever-growing elimination of Parliament and the near monarchical powers Blair has appropriated to the the Prime Ministership – but this is mere jollity inspired by the fact that several of the addresses were witty). I did also note that the ‘we’ often seemed to be interpreted as meaning an academic community, rather than a wider public in whatever form. There was a debate about why Trollope is in low regard in the UK academic community in which it seemed to be concluded that one should therefore argue that he is not realist but post-modern. The deeply conservative nature of the Trollope Society was discussed and it was felt that it should be pointed out that he is liberal and radical.

It was really at this point that I started to get uneasy. The point I made – very badly – was that despite all that can said to the contrary there are limits to Trollope’s radicalism. Nothing and no-one is going to turn him into a socialist. But the point which occurs to me subsequently is that I am not sure I even approve of this sort of approach. Whenever I am discussing Trollope I would use all that I have learnt (mainly from Ellen) and all I perceive of his radicalism to stress this side of his achievement. But if Tories like him and read him in another way I cannot see that it is right to suggest that they should be prescribed from being so. Just as authors cannot determine how books should be read (a point Ellen was making yesterday on ECW and is forcefully conveyed by Lessing in her introduction to the Golden Notebook), no more can critics. If someone likes to read Trollope because he is a great storyteller (which he is) then fine. If they want to read him for escapism then fine. If they want to read him because they are enchanted by Lily Dale then fine. If they like hunting scenes fine. I come back to the over-constrictive use of ‘we’ – ‘we’ is always such a treacherous word. This final session was enjoyable and provided some real humour but I am less positive about it than Ellen.

After this the Conference ended and after saying goodbye to Ellen and Clare, I reluctantly got back in the car for a sticky and sweaty drive home up the M5.

Conclusion and Qualification

I certainly do not want to end on a downbeat note! I really enjoyed the whole experience and was very pleased with myself for attending. It was wonderful to meet Ellen and Clare and at the dinners I mainly had the excellent company of Lynn, Susan and Yvonne. And I really enjoyed and benefited from the Conference itself. The qualification I would make, of all my summaries, is that they are wholly subjective – in the highly improbable event that a speaker reads my summary and finds it bears no relation at all to what they had been trying to say, then the fault is entirely mine.

As a consequence of going through my notes and writing them up I have come to realise – somewhat to my surprise – that the papers I enjoyed most were those which seemed to me to pay close attention to the text. Of course this should be qualified by the fact that it had to be a text I knew – which is wholly unfair as it makes my judgement dependent on my ignorance. But nonetheless this is not a conclusion I expected. There were exceptions to this – the two that stand out being Robert Polhemus’s opening address and Lauren Goodlad on heirlooms (I am not saying these ignored the text but they were wide-ranging in scope). The detailed textual analyses which stood out for me were Ellen’s (well that was wide-ranging too!), Lynn Parker, Stephen Amarnick, Michelle Mouton and Sophie Gilmartin.  Of course I, like everyone else, only managed to attend half the panels!

A final mention should be made of the weather and setting. Both were glorious. OK so it was too hot inside. But the view from the terrace by the bar was fantastic. Those are some lucky students!<<

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