Friday, October 12, 2012

Til Death Do Us Depart: Cold Feet in Trollope's _Can You Forgive Her?_

Can you be happy as a woman and not marry?  That is the question Trollope poses in Can You Forgive Her?  The answer is no.  Yes, Alice knows John Grey loves.  Yes, she knows he loves her. But nevertheless she cannot marry him.  Why? In part because because she misreads him. But this novel is no Pride and Prejudice. A woman can't marry and be happy either.  This novel is about marriage being death. Here is what the narrator says about Planty Pall, Gencora's husband, after he has decided to refuse the once in a lifetime offer he has sought his entire adulthood trying to obtain, namely the office of he Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to save his marriage by taking his wife on a tour of Europe for a year:  "All his friends knew, or believed they knew, that he had left town.  His death and burial had been chronicled, and were he now  to reappear, he could reappear only as a ghost. He was being talked of as the departed one;--or rather, such talk on all sides had now come nearly to an end." p. 561  Glencora wants to leave her husband because she cannot give him an heir.  When John Grey finally gets Alice to accept his proposal, she does so in a graveyard.  In my view of the novel, a woman who doesn't marry, like a woman who does, already has one foot in the grave.  The central scene of the novel occurs when Alice go for a walk in the ruins near Matching, her home, and Glencora keeps them out to long.  They come home with cold feet, and Planty blames Alice.  The scene is mentioned again and again in the novel, even near the very end. "Cold" iS used again and again. Planty gives Glencora a "cold kiss." A dead husband is buried in the "cold sod." Funny when you think of it. Trollope's The Warden is missing its second volume. The heroine who gets married in a narrative rush at the end is already a widow at the beginning of Barchester Towers. The story of their seemingly happy marriage is never told. Trollope seems to be even more anti-marriage than Hardy. Who'd have thought?  

1 comment:

Richard Burt said...

I cannot decide whether the novel becomes worse because Trollope gets lazy--he relies on the same formulas far too often. "X ___fill in verb--; (repeat same syntactic structure three to ten times); then but in an advertise closer, like "but," followed by a brief independent clause--or because Trollope is ruining his own novel. It is ruined as if by design. There is a kind of pattern in its repetitions. The distance between a pattern and its repetition gets shorter and shorter. The novel is all about ruin.