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Reviews

Margaret Markwick. New Men in Trollope’s Novels: Rewriting the Victorian Male. Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. ISBN: 9780754657248. Price: US$99.95/£52.25

  • Karen Kurt Teal

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  • Karen Kurt Teal
    The University of Washington

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Margaret Markwick has produced a long-awaited study of the coding of masculinity in Trollope’s oeuvre. Using close reading in the novels and in the area of gender studies she shows that Trollope problematized the Victorian notion of manliness and developed rich, static-busting characterizations that won Trollope his considerable reading public. There is also a gem of critical appraisal that punctures the dicta of Henry James. This study follows Markwick’s previous book, Trollope and Women (1997), one of many books written on this subject in the last two decades.

The writings of John Tosh, Mark Rutherford, Elaine Showalter, and Mary Poovey establish that British Victorian culture celebrated a brusque, domineering, and sometimes brutal male character, and that, as Rutherford cogently argued, it was the British male’s mother who instilled unconscious incivility, unquestioned superiority, and perpetual boyishness in the male of the period. This is, as it is asserted, the norm not the exception. Markwick catalogues this history of critical opinion, and then challenges the conclusions of her precursors. Markwick announces that the “New Man, so heralded by our generation, is alive and well in Trollope’s novels, changing the nappies, making the gravy, pushing the pram, hugging his sons and his daughters” (13).

The work of Anthony Trollope has resisted the usual catalogue of period literary social norms. Whereas there are many different kinds of Trollopian hero, none quite fits the rigid profile of dogmatic force. Markwick identifies Trollope as an author defining masculinity out of a larger cultural anxiety about who is socially appropriate, or clubbable, but she distinguishes Trollope from his contemporaries in her main thesis: Trollope grants his male and female characters highly similar agendas, that is, agendas for reclaiming autonomy, or agendas for reclaiming a place outside of the bitter and brittle male-over-female hierarchy. In this way, she fulfills the object of the Ashgate Nineteenth Century series which sets out to enhance “our understanding not only of the past but of the contours of our modernity” (v). Markwick’s introduction expertly summarizes the critical history of Trollope scholarship, recovering along the way such jewels as Virginia Woolf’s remark: “We believe in Barsetshire as we believe in our weekly bills” (9). Markwick interweaves criticism with the geography of manliness in the years 1817-70, and she brings up texts that serve as touchstones, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection in the Formation of a Manly Character (1825) and Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes and Hero Worship (1840). As part of the question of manliness, she describes the broad debate on the question of who deserves to be called a gentleman, extending from the Broad Stone of Honour (1822) which proscribed laboring for money and thus excluded the entire middle class, to the confusion expressed by Plantagenet Palliser in The Duke’s Children (1879): “There is not a clerk in one of our public offices who does not consider himself to be a gentleman….The word is too vague to carry with it any meaning that ought to be serviceable.” Manliness in the nebulously-defined gentleman class becomes Markwick’s focus for the rest of the book.

Her second chapter studies four novels that articulated norms of manliness between the years 1855-1862, at the beginning of Trollope’s most successful period of publishing. She seeks to work out exactly how Trollope aligns with his fellow writers in the field. The authors and their respective novels are Charles Kingsley, Two Years Ago (1857); Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857); Frederic W. Farrar, Eric, or Little by Little (1858); and Mrs. Henry Wood, Mrs. Halliburton’s Troubles (1862). For the most part, a certain amount of male bravado and strong-arming is accepted as the British manly norm. Yet there is also some authorial ambivalence toward the role of violence in school as in life; according to Hughes, “Fighting is the business…of every son of man” (41). There is the tacit celebration of male rather than female mentors in Hughes and Farrar which is overturned by Mrs. Wood. Kingsley’s and Wood’s novels indicate social weakness in the omission of female teachers. Markwick claims, rather abruptly, that Trollope offers a subversive subtext to Farrar’s and Hughes’ popular narratives.

These two introductory chapters undergird later chapters devoted to showing how Trollope challenges male-male relationship stereotypes and prescribes the need for a successful family man to find his feminine side. These chapters dissolve the illusion that Trollope prescribed anything like the usual program for Victorian men. In Trollope’s story “On the Banks of The River Jordan” [1861] (later republished as “A Ride Across Palestine”) and in The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847), male characters engage in homoerotic activity that does not scorch their lives or turn them into pariahs. Phineas Finn’s natural teariness is mixed with “the general courage and tranquility of his deportment” as he undergoes an indictment for murder. He weeps openly with his friends just as other coded manly men do such as Mark Robarts in Framley Parsonage (1861) and Arthur Fletcher in The Prime Minister (1876). Rather than losing the appearance of tough manliness, the tears enhance their manly strengths. Phineas’s confession to Marie Goesler that “I should only weep in your presence like a school girl” has the odd effect of riveting the reader’s attention to this quite contemporary character. It is through his reliance on Marie, Markwick argues, that Phineas survives his nightmare and finds his new life path.

Simple tears, however, are not a guarantee of perfect Trollopian manliness. It takes slightly more awareness to earn the title. Markwick compares the reactions of Harry Gilmour in The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870) and John Grey in Can You Forgive Her? (1865). When faced with romantic rejection, Gilmour “threw himself on the sofa and cried like a woman” (128). In contrast, John Grey, the more egalitarian lover, shows only a “fragment of a tear in his eye, and the hint of a quiver in his voice”(127). The belief in that balance of wills tempers his reaction to frustration. Whereas the two characters come from completely different angles and play different roles in their separate novels, Markwick draws an important similarity between them in that both men have reached points in their lives when they realize a female partner would provide “an infinity of female blessings” (Can You Forgive Her? 381) and that in Markwick’s words, their “long-term emotional fulfillment demands that they must change their domestic arrangements” (129).

Trollope’s superior males find their peace in self-awareness and domesticity. When Phineas Finn visits his old flame and her husband, “He rode Lord Chiltern’s horses, took an interest in the hounds, and nursed the baby” (137). The adventurer, John Caldigate, resolves his crisis in settling down to become a devoted father: “Then he took the child very gently, and deposited him, fast asleep, among the blankets. He had already assumed for himself the character of being a good male nurse” (138). Markwick claims that Trollope coded manly men by their responses to children. Once she began to look for the way Trollope’s men coped with children, her sense of the importance of this indicator was confirmed: “the pointers are everywhere” (138). The unreliable but thoroughly romantic and manly Burgo Fitzgerald is “soft and gracious with children,” (138) whereas Sir Hugh Clavering, a less generous character in the novel The Claverings (1867) is dismissed by the observation,“Who ever saw him playing with his own child?” (138).

By the end of the seventh chapter, Markwick has disabused the reader of the notion of the “strong, silent type.” Using George Germain, the anguished and impotent main character of Is He Popenjoy? (1878) and the chilly Plantagenet Palliser of the Palliser series, Markwick elucidates the relationship between silence and what she calls “emotional incoherence” (160). Nothing is gained by the long periods of uncommunicated masculine sorrow in Popenjoy or The Duke’s Children, novels that witness the deforming of normal relations in families. George Germain cannot discuss his sexual dysfunction and therefore cannot resolve his misdirected anger at his young wife. Here, Markwick shows shrewd understanding of male reticence and the mental choking that happens when fear takes over. Furthermore, Palliser, always the clammy fish, is checked and infuriated by his wife’s warmer if more contradictory character, but he leaves the nurturing of the children to her. After her death, Palliser cannot reconnect with his children. What has long been mistaken as masculine reserve is actually masculine terror, terror of malfunction, terror of disorder, terror of intimacy, and terror of responsibility. It is only through gentle female guidance that Palliser is able to accept his three children and find peace (169).

Of note is Markwick’s defense of Trollope’s artistry against the attacks of Henry James. James’s primary criticism against Trollope’s style was that it forced upon the reader a strong narrator who tells the reader how to look, feel, and interpret. In James’s words, Trollope takes “suicidal satisfaction in reminding the reader that the story he was telling was, after all, a make believe” (63). According to James, Trollope’s talkative narrators disrupt the narrative and therefore diminish Trollope’s claims to artistry. By examining the powerful manipulation of narratorial voices and subvoices in Trollope’s text, Markwick reveals the powerful heteroglossia at work, giving the reader multiple lines of thought and observation on the action. Rather than break the illusion of the fiction, Trollope masks the sources of certain viewpoints and fascinates the willing reader. “What eludes James so completely,” maintains Markwick, “is that Trollope creates tension between reality and mimetic representations” (63). She enunciates the value of the intrusion: “This is Trollope writing metafiction. His novels have narrators talking about the narrating of stories. They are conscious manipulations of narrative structure, self-parodies that anticipate Calvino by a century” (63). So caught up was James in establishing a high art of worthy subjects that he and willing followers overlooked the subtle craft of a master storyteller in his prime.

Markwick completes her compelling study of a master storyteller with an examination of the bawdy joke in Trollope. Her point is that the narrative style in Trollope’s text is deft enough to deliver salacious puns without seeming to mean it. When the comic Ned Spooner announces to Phineas Finn that “There’s nothing like a good screw” (177), some readers will not know the object of his remark, but others older and wiser will. Markwick persuasively visits and revisits the areas of covert sexual innuendo throughout her book, thus convincing us that Trollope truly was an artist, considering the number of sexual innuendoes he got past the nineteenth-century publishers of “wholesome” periodical fiction. In that, he truly was the master.

The reviewer wishes to acknowledge a few of the typos in this Ashgate book: on page three we are surprised to see Trollope identified as a matinee idol of the circulating library “through the 1960s.” Also, on 56, the names “Valencia” and “Valentia” appear interchangeable.

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