Trollope – Short Stories – City and Country

On the renamed Trollope 19thC Studies list (see right for link) we have embarked on a year long project of reading the complete Short Stories. We have read some 13 stories so far and the main – and very obvious – conclusions I would draw are…

  1. That the quality of the stories varies wildly; some are little gems, others are poor in a way which nothing  in any novel I have read prepared me for (of course my knowledge of the novels is limited!)
  2. A repeated theme is that of Englishmen (and women) behaving badly abroad – and the vast majority of the stories to date are set overseas.
  3. Trollope makes fascinating use of first-person narration. I wrote of this on-list…..””The variations in ‘I’. The clump of 4 stories I have just read – John Bull, Palestine, Talboys and Oxney all feature a first-person narrator but the position and stance and interpretation of this ‘I’ is very dissimilar. In Oxney we have the I of the novels – the author, Trollope himself, projecting his persona as balanced, wry, dispassionate, outside the action. Of course this I is in no way a participant in the events; he is merely the all-seeing recorder. In the other three Tales however the I is to a greater or lesser degree a participant in
    the action. In the case of John Bull and Palestine a vital one. In both cases here we have a man telling a story of his past – in the case of John Bull at some considerable distance, in the case of Palestine at least some distance. How far are these autobiographical? Well in the case of John Bull very considerably so as it is based on an incident in which Trollope was involved. He is therefore laughing at himself (which for me is the best aspect of a story I did not
    particularly enjoy). In Palestine the question of auto-biography becomes much more moot and important and there has been some considerable
    discussion of this already. What I would say is that the two I’s (of John Bull and Palestine) are very different; of course they could be aspects of one persona. But whereas in John Bull we have an ‘I’ laughing at his foolish youth, in Palestine the tensions are mostly unresolved. I do not draw any conclusions to any of this merely point out how fascinating Trollope’s use of first-person narration is.”

The one story which I had read previously – The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne– is unquestionably one of the gems; certainly the favourite of those I have read so far. To what degree this is connected to the fact that it is set in the world of many of Trollope’s novels (the English countryside), and deals with Trollopian themes and so has all the comfort of the familiar it is hard to say. It would be unfair to say that this is a Trollope novel in miniature as it functions perfectly as a short story, but there is nonetheless a certain truth to the remark.

For my immediate purposes here however I am interested to see that when I first read the story I concentrated on the city/country dualism to be found there. As I have recently been discussing this dualism in a very different context (see ) I though that I would reproduce an edited version of my thoughts here…..

>>>>Of course there are all sorts of ironies and dualities at play in the story……………One duality is of course the urban/rural. Stressed by the idyllic nature of the location as pictured right at the start of story. There is something of the Garden of Eden here and Broughton is the snake. But this is far to simple for Trollope. However beautiful the landscape this is a very limited, static society. Trollope may in this story ultimately come down on the side of the rural but the dualism is never simple.

The irony is very apparent in the comparison of Mr Woolsworthy with Scott’s Antiquary(Jonathon Oldbuck). Presumably Trollope’s readers would have been intimately acquainted with Scott and have known that the glorious, larger-than-life, highly comic and energetic Mr Oldbuck – a gentle self-mocking by Scott – is miles away from the patently dull Mr Woolsworthy (worthy but dull indeed ::)). Mr Oldbuck would have seen through a Captain Broughton in five minutes.

If in comparing Rhoda and Patience we are looking chiefly at differences, in comparing Broughton and Everard [1] it is the similarities which are most evident.
They are both calculating men to whom, whatever they may say, the social game is of great importance. And perhaps in Trollope and Gissing’s attitude to them we may see something of the authors own position? Let us be clear that Broughton is an insufferable jerk. And be clear that Trollope thinks so too….

>>I by no means say that he was not a brute.<<

This strikes me as characteristic. One of those deadly asides which you can almost skip by without assimilating its import (I imagine there is probably a lengthy study on the use of the double negative in Trollope somewhere… how different is “I confidently avow he was a brute”?)

>>What would his sister say, she who had married the Honourable Augustus Gumbleton, gold-stick-in-waiting to Her Majesty’s Privy Council?<<

The description of a “gold-stick-in- waiting’ almost causes us to pass by the deadliness of a man who would mind about the judgement of a sister who had married such a man.

But most deadly of all..

>>when, after her little jokes, she did confess her love, had she not been a little too free for feminine excellence? A man likes to be told that he is loved, but he hardly wishes that the girl he is to marry should fling herself at his head! <<

This it appears to me is the heart of the story. Trollope it often seems to me is deeply romantic. Romantic no doubt in a thoroughly masculinist way. But romantic none-the-less. A man who does not appreciate the girl he loves falling into his arms is in some ways always a ‘brute’. Certainly so if his opposition to this is a concern for money and social position. It is in this light that I read the ending …..


>>But with a large heart she loves many, and, with no romance, she works hard to lighten the burdens of those she loves.<<

This it seems to me is wholly commendatory. Trollope’s gender politics are certainly revealed in the fact that there is an air of melancholy about this – that by not marrying Patience has somehow missed out – but I am quite sure that we are not meant to question or condemn her decision.


>>As for Captain Broughton, all the world know that he did marry that great heiress with whom his name was once before connected, and that he is now a
useful member of Parliament, working on committees three or four days a week with a zeal that is indefatigable. Sometimes, not often, as he thinks of
Patience Woolsworthy, a gratified smile comes across his face. <<

To me this is is a reassertion of his brutishness and also that ultimate siding with the rural in that rural/urban dualism. Broughton’s ‘indefatigable zeal’ is meant to read ironically (I think of the absurd committee in The Three Clerks) where Patience’s ‘hard work’ is meant to be read as genuinely effective. The rural is real, the urban false. This of course is not necessarily always true of Trollope but it seems to function strongly so in this story. What is of particular interest is that
the rural is strongly feminine.<<<<

It is the last observation which especially interests me in the light of what I had been writing about Big City/Small Town movies last month. While I talked about the way in which the bridging figures in these movies were generally female, I think it is also true that in terms of gender identification the City tends to the masculine (we rarely see any female characters other than the bridging character herself), where the Small Town tends to the female. As I remarked it is in Trollope that we probably find the last full flowering of city/country dualism in English fiction and it is interesting to see that the gender identification probably works in the same way there as in late 20thC Hollywood movies.


  1. The comparison here is with characters in Gissing’s The Odd Women which we had been reading on-list immediately before reading this story.

2 thoughts on “Trollope – Short Stories – City and Country

  1. ellenandjim

    Dear Nick,

    I just got round to reading this. It’s very good. I especially (as I said) like this perspective of city or town v country and how for Trollope in this story the latter is equated with women.

    I find the story so moving because of the banality of the cruelty. It reminds me just a little of Henry James’s Washington Square, which if you remember ends with Catherine sitting down to her sewing, as it were for life. Trollope is kinder to his Patience: her good elderly lady friend leaves her money and her father loves her despite her so-called failure in life. Trollope in fact invites us to see it not as failure, but her refusal of the captain as an act of moral courage whose reward was a life of inner peace.


  2. nick2209

    Many thanks Ellen. I love the phrase ‘the banality of the cruelty’ which captures it perfectly. And yes I wholly agree that Trollope is not portraying it as failure but as (again exactly) ‘ an act of moral courage’.

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