IV Characters
Anthony Trollope by H.S. Davies

The intense moral realization of his characters gave them, once created, a very tenacious hold upon his imagination: so tenacious that he was often unwilling, almost unable, to let them go. His two most notable creations in The Warden were of this kind, and they were carried on into Barchester Towers (1817), Doctor Thorne (1858), Framley Parsonage (1861) and The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867). Other characters were added, of course, and some of them obtained almost as close a grip on their author's affections. Other novels were written in the same period, many of them. But Archdeacon Grantly and his father-in-law went on leading their lives in his imagination, growing older as he grew older, yet always themselves as he remained himself. Of the two, the Archdeacon was the more prominent and active, and much more akin to Trollope. His father-in-law, who had been Warden in the first book, stood at the upper limit of Trollope's moral range, and once he had made his great decision in that first episode, there was little for him to do in the world but be gentle to his family and friends, play his 'cello, and take good care of the music in the cathedral. Yet he did all this in such a way that we are made to feel his virtue, his religion even, beyond any description that Trollope felt able to give. The Archdeacon was coarser in grain, quick to anger, but quick to forget his anger, more worldly, but generous and warm-hearted. The two existed side by side, as characters must often do in fiction, making a richer Pattern by their contrasting qualities than they could ever have made separately. When the older man came to die, it was through the mouth of the Archdeacon that Trollope expressed his estimate both of the dying man, and of the Archdeacon:

I feel sure that he never had an impure fancy in his mind, or a faulty wish in his heart. His tenderness has surpassed the tenderness of woman; and yet, when occasion came for showing it, he had all the spirit of a hero. I shall never forget his resignation of the hospital.... The fact is, he never was wrong. He couldn't go wrong. He lacked guile, and he feared God, — and a man who does both will never go far astray. I don't think he ever coveted aught in his life, — except a new case for his violin-cello and somebody to listen to him when he played it. Then the archdeacon got up, and walked about the room in his enthusiasm; and, perhaps, as he walked some thoughts as to the sterner ambition of his own life passed through his mind. What things had he coveted? Had he lacked guile? He told himself that he had feared God, — but he was not sure that he was telling himself the truth even in that.

Nothing is more like Trollope himself than this moment of explosive self-perception. The Archdeacon, like his creator, had standards by which to measure his fellow men, and he was tolerably sure of their general rightness. But when he came to ask how far he himself measured up to them, he had his awkward moments. He had coveted many things, greatly: a Bishopric, power, the ruin of his enemies, wealth, and above all in his later days, the glory of his children. He had indeed done his best for them, and they had not done badly for him. His daughter was a marchioness, and though her husband the marquis was unquestionably a moron, she was still unquestionably a marchioness. His eldest son, Henry, had done well in the Indian Army, had won the Victoria Cross, and a wife with a little money. The wife had died, leaving the young widower with a baby daughter, but Henry still had his fine record, some money of his own, and a handsome allowance with his father. He had retired from the Army, and was settling in Barsetshire as a country squire, with land and farms and horses and foxes of his own.

All this had been achieved by stern ambition, and not without guile; and whatever God might think about it, the Archdeacon was usually well pleased with his achievements. In The Last Chronicle of Barset, he was sorely tried because Henry fell deeply in love with a young woman, the daughter of a cleric the very opposite of himself, pious, very poor, unworldly, and to make the worst of an already bad job, awaiting his trial on a charge of stealing a cheque. So outrageous was Henry's choice, that his father opposed this new marriage, even threatened to stop the allowance. The struggle between father and son was long and obstinate on both sides, and even the mother's intervention was not able to end it. It was brought to its climax, and at the same instant to its solution, in an interview between the Arch-deacon and the girl herself, which illustrates as comprehensively as any passage in Trollope both the emotional force of which he was capable, and the moral standards which he accepted without question. The first part of the interview does her credit — more credit than the Archdeacon had expected. She refers to her father's disgrace, and gives her promise that unless his name is cleared, she will marry nobody:

The archdeacon had now left the rug, and advanced till he was almost close to the chair on which Grace was sitting. 'My dear,' he said, 'what you say does you very much honour — very much honour indeed.' Now that he was close to her, he could look into her eyes, and he could see the exact form of her features, and could understand — could not help understanding — the character of her countenance. It was a noble face, having in it nothing that was poor, nothing that was mean, nothing that was shapeless. It was a face that promised infinite beauty, with a promise that was on the very verge of fulfilment. There was a play about her mouth as she spoke, and a curl in her nostrils as the eager words came from her, which almost made the selfish father give way. why had they not told him that she was such a one as this? Why had not Henry himself spoken of the speciality of her beauty? No man in England knew better than the archdeacon the difference between beauty of one kind and beauty of another kind in a woman's face — the one beauty, which comes from health and youth and animal spirits, and which belongs to the miller's daughter, and the other beauty, which shows itself in fine lines and a noble spirit — the beauty which comes from breeding. 'What you say does you very much honour indeed,' said the archdeacon.
'I should not mind at all about being poor,' said Grace.
'No; no; no,' said the archdeacon.
'Poor as we are and no clergyman, I think, ever was so poor — I should have done as your son asked me at once, if it had been only that — because I love him.'
'If you love him you will not wish to injure him.'
'I will not injure him sir there is my promise.' And now as she spoke she rose from her chair and standing close to the archdeacon, laid her hand very lightly on the sleeve of his coat. 'There is my promise. As long as people say that papa stole the money, I will never marry your son. There.'
The archdeacon was still looking down at her, and feeling the slight touch of her fingers, raised his arm a little as though to welcome the pressure. He looked unto her eyes, which were turned eagerly towards his, and when doing so he was sure that the promise would be kept. It would have been sacrilege — he felt that it would have been sacrilege — to doubt such a promise. He almost relented. His soft heart, which was never very well under his own control, gave way so far that he was nearly moved to tell her that, on his son's behalf, he acquitted her of the promise.... As he looked down upon her face two tears formed themselves in his eyes and gradually trickled down his old nose. 'My dear,' he said, 'if this cloud passes away from you, you shall come to us and be my daughter.' And thus he pledged himself There was a dash of generosity about the man, in spite of his selfishness, which always made him desirous of giving largely to those who gave largely to him. He would fain that his gifts should be bigger, if it were possible .... He had contrived that her hand should fall from his arm into his grasp, and now for a moment he held it. 'You are a good girl,' he said — 'a dear, dear, good girl. When this cloud has passed away, you shall come to us and be our daughter.'

It was thus that Trollope created the most solid of his male characters, by a temporary merging of his own personality in theirs: here, he has all but put himself into the Arch-deacon's shoes and gaiters. But the merging was never uncritical, because he was critical of himself; he was always capable of qualifying a virtue, of noting an unworthy doubt, and took frequent pleasure in slight backhanded ironies at the expense of their inner weaknesses, as he did at the expense of his own.

As for the girls, he was inclined to be in love with them in the same vicarious fashion. His contemporaries, we are informed by a review written in 1867, liked to make gentle jokes about his intimacy with the minds of his heroines: how, they asked, had he managed to 'find it all out'? And shortly after his death, Henry James accurately noted the nature of his relation with them:

Trollope settled down steadily to the English girl; he took possession of her, and turned her inside out. He never made her the subject of heartless satire . . . he bestowed upon her the most serious, the most patient, the most tender, the most copious consideration. He is evidently always more or less in love with her.... But if he was a lover, he was a paternal lover.

It was, indeed, the English girl who saved Trollope from the labour of devising plots. She was there to be loved, and love for her was enough to set in motion not only one or two young men, but their families too. For only if the love went hand in hand with an income large enough to support marriage — and marriage in the style to which both parties were accustomed — could it run all smooth. All that was needful then, to produce a story with situations full of doubt and perplexity was to bring the power of love into conflict with the demands of property and social status. The ensuing confusion would involve not only the lovers, but their families and friends, and as wide a circle of acquaintance as might be needed to fill a three volume novel. Trollope made this discovery early in the Barsetshire series, and thenceforward he never bothered his head with plots. 'When I sit down to write a novel', he blandly observed, 'I do not at all know, and I do not very much care, how it is to end.' For this relief, he was almost entirely indebted to the English girl with her ability to inspire love, and to the Victorian sense of property with its inveterate tendency to make love injudicious. As the great tragic conflicts in French classical plays tend to arise from the opposition of love and honour, so Trollope's arose from love and property.

But it would be unjust to present him as becoming thus involved only with young lovers, or with characters on the whole amiable and admirable. Such was his involvement in any creation of his own that he was almost equally capable of becoming devoted to personages neither young nor amiable. In the Barsetshire novels, for example, the Archdeacon's arch-enemy is Mrs Proudie, wife of the Bishop and mistress of the palace which the Archdeacon had coveted so much, and which his father had held before him. Mrs Proudie is probably the best-known virago in English fiction, above all for her achievements in hen-pecking her husband, yet even to her Trollope developed a powerful attachment. The manner of her death was curious. One night at his club, he heard two clergymen criticizing him for carrying the same characters from novel to novel, and they were very hard on Mrs Proudie. 'I got up, and standing between them, I acknowledged myself to be the culprit. "As to Mrs Proudie," I said, "I will go home and kill her before the week is over." And so I did.... but I have never dissevered myself from Mrs Proudie, and still live much in company with her ghost.'

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