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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

It was Mr. Trollope's birthday, and I failed to honor him here.  I did Tweet about the momentous occasion, Twitter being a forum I think he'd appreciate anyway (the creator of the post box surely would be interested in faster and faster modes of communication), but he deserves a little long-short-form respect.  I've been branching out in my reading lately, and it's been a while now since I've opened one of his texts, but I have been circumnavigating his world; a few months ago I picked up Anne Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, a novel I've known I have to read since the Sarah Lawrence days, when every other Victorian novel I opened mentioned the title.  And upon beginning Mysteries, one can feel a supercharged version of better-known (to me) heroes and heroines of British novels to come; men and women whose loves and hearts are so refined, who act purely, and out of an almost mystical connection to the other in their lives. Their nature brings immediately to mind the dream-like narratives in Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend.  Their reverie-like existence anticipates the all-encompassing love  between David Copperfield and Dora.  Trollope's heroes follow in this vein more than his heroines seem to--Phineas Finn is as lyrical as they come--and while certain Trollopian women bear the overwhelming sweetness of mind and heart as, say, Dora (In He Knew He Was Right, Emily is as pure and good as a Dickensian heroine, but with that added stubbornness and intractability that makes Trollope's women more...realistic, shall we say?).  It's this difference that's got me thinking these days--as I have been delving into the minds and hearts of Shavian women; Shaw's heroines seem in keeping with Trollope's.  They lose their tempers, they are not fragile, they have romantic lives that rise above (below?) purity and chastity.  Eric Bentley, writing about these Shavian ladies, expresses how they exceed the life force (to reference Man and Superman) of Dickensian females in their "naturalness and in their grandeur, in the nobility of their purpose and the effectiveness of their behavior."  How very Trollopian.  If ever Trollope had branched out into dramatic form, I wonder how not very far away from Shaw he'd be.  This week's Weekly (now yearly?) Wisdom from Mr. Trollope might as well be one of Shaw's aphorisms, and I'm enjoying the connection between my most revered Victorian author, and my currently practiced Victorian playwright:

"Young men are pretty much the same everywhere, I guess. They never have their wits about them. They never mean what they say, because they don't understand the use of words. They are generally half impudent and half timid ... Indeed there is no such thing as a young man, for a man is not really a man till he is middle-aged. "