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LET THE READER be introduced to Lady Carbury, upon whose character and doings much will depend of whatever interest these pages may have, as she sits at her writing-table in her own room in her own house in Welbeck Street. Lady Carbury spent many hours at her desk, and wrote many letters, -- wrote also very much besides letters. She spoke of herself in these days as a woman devoted to Literature, always spelling the word with a big L. Something of the nature of her devotion may be learned by the perusal of three letters which on this morning she had written with a quickly running hand. Lady Carbury was rapid in everything, and in nothing more rapid than in the writing of letters. Here is Letter No. 1; --
Thursday, Welbeck Street
I have taken care that you shall have the early sheets of my two new volumes to-morrow, or Saturday at latest, so that you may, if so minded, give a poor struggler like myself a lift in your next week's paper. Do give a poor struggler a lift. You and I have so much in common, and I have ventured to flatter myself that we are really friends! I do not flatter you when I say, that not only would aid from you help me more than from any other quarter, but also that praise from you would gratify my vanity more than any other praise. I almost think you will like my ;Criminal Queens.' The sketch of Semiramis is at any rate spirited, though I had to twist it about a little to bring her in guilty. Cleopatra, of course, I have taken from Shakespeare. What a wench she was! I could not quite make Julia a queen; but it was impossible to pass over so piquant a character. You will recognise in the two or three ladies of the empirehow faithfully I have studied my Gibbon. Poor dear old Belisarius! I have done the best I could with Joanna, but I could not bring myself to care for her. In our days she would simply have gone to Broadmore. I hope you will not think that I have been too strong in my delineations of Henry VIII and his sinful but unfortunate Howard. I don't care a bit about Anne Boleyne. I am afraid that I have been tempted into too great length about the Italian Catherine; but in truth she has been my favourite. What a woman! What a devil! Pity that a second Dante could not have constructed for her a special hell. How one traces the effect of her training in the life of our Scotch Mary. I trust you will go with me in my view as to the Queen of Scots. Guilty! guilty always! Adultery, murder, treason, and all the rest of it. But recommended to mercy because she was royal. A queen bred, born and married, and with such other queens around her, how could she have escaped to be guilty? Marie Antoinette I have not quite acquitted. It would be uninteresting; -- perhaps untrue. I have accused her lovingly, and have kissed when I scourged. I trust the British public will not be angry because I do not whitewash Caroline, especially as I go along with them altogether in abusing her husband.
But I must not take up your time by sending you another book, though it gratifies me to think that I am writing what none but yourself will read. Do it yourself, like a dear man, and, as you are great, be merciful. Or rather, as you are a friend, be loving.
Yours gratefully and faithfully,----
After all how few women there are who can raise themselves above the quagmire of what we call love, and make themselves anything but playthings for men. Of almost all these royal and luxurious sinners it was the chief sin that in some phase of their lives they consented to be playthings without being wives. I have striven so hard to be proper; but when girls read everything, why should not an old woman write anything?
This letter was addressed to Nicholas Broune, Esq., the editor of the 'Morning Breakfast Table,' a daily newspaper of high character; and, as it was the longest, so was it considered to be the most important of the three. Mr. Broune was a man powerful in his profession, -- and he was fond of ladies. Lady Carbury in her letter had called herself an old woman, but she was satisfied to do so by a conviction that no one else regarded her in that light. Her age shall be no secret to the reader, though to her most intimate friends, even to Mr. Broune, it had never been divulged. She was forty-three, but carried her years so well, and had received such gifts from nature, that it was impossible to deny that she was still a beautiful woman. And she used her beauty not only to increase her influence, -- as is natural to women who are well-favoured, -- but also with a well-considered calculation that she could obtain material assistance in the procuring of bread and cheese, which was very necessary to her, by a prudent adaptation to her purposes of the good things with which providence had endowed her. She did not fall in love, she did not wilfully flirt, she did not commit herself; but she smiled and whispered, and made confidences, and looked out of her own eyes into men's eyes as though there might be some mysterious bond between her and them -- if only mysterious circumstances would permit it. But the end of all was to induce some one to do something which would cause a publisher to give her good payment for indifferent writing, or an editor to be lenient when, upon the merits of the case, he should have been severe. Among all her literary friends, Mr. Broune was the one on whom she most trusted; and Mr. Broune was fond of handsome women. It may be as well to give a short record of a scene which had taken place between Lady Carbury and her friend about a month before the writing of this letter which has been produced. She had wanted him to take a series of papers for the 'Morning Breakfast Table,' and to have them paid for at rate No. 1, whereas she suspected that he was rather doubtful as to their merit, and knew that, without special favour, she could not hope for remuneration above rate No. 2, or possibly even No. 3. So she had looked into his eyes, and had left her soft, plump hand for a moment in his. A man in such circumstances is so often awkward, not knowing with any accuracy when to do one thing and when another! Mr. Broune, in a moment of enthusiasm, had put his arm round Lady Carbury's waist and had kissed her. To say that Lady Carbury was angry, as most women would be angry if so treated, would be to give an unjust idea of her character. It was a little accident which really carried with it no injury, unless it should be the injury of leading to a rupture between herself and a valuable ally. No feeling of delicacy was shocked. What did it matter? No unpardonable insult had been offered; no harm had been done, if only the dear susceptible old donkey could be made at once to understand that that wasn't the way to go on!
Without a flutter, and without a blush, she escaped from his arm, and then made him an excellent little speech. 'Mr. Broune, how foolish, how wrong, how mistaken! Is it not so? Surely you do not wish to put an end to the friendship between us!'
'Put an end to our friendship, Lady Carbury! Oh, certainly not that.'
'Then why risk it by such an act? Think of my son and of my daughter, -- both grown up. Think of the past troubles of my life; -- so much suffered and so little deserved. No one knows them so well as you do. Think of my name, that has been so often slandered but never disgraced! Say that you are sorry, and it shall be forgotten.'
When a man has kissed a woman it goes against the grain with him to say the very next moment that he is sorry for what he has done. It is as much as to declare that the kiss had not answered his expectation. Mr. Broune could not do this, and perhaps Lady Carbury did not quite expect it. 'You know that for worlds I would not offend you,' he said. This sufficed. Lady Carbury again looked into his eyes, and a promise was given that the articles should be printed -- and with generous remuneration.
When the interview was over Lady Carbury regarded it as having been quite successful. Of course when struggles have to be made and hard work done, there will be little accidents. The lady who uses a street cab must encounter mud and dust which her richer neighbour, who has a private carriage, will escape. She would have preferred not to have been kissed; -- but what did it matter? With Mr. Broune the affair was more serious. 'Confound them all,' he said to himself as he left the house; 'no amount of experience enables a man to know them.' As he went away he almost thought that Lady Carbury had intended him to kiss her again, and he was almost angry with himself in that he had not done so. He had seen her three or four times since, but had not repeated the offence.
We will now go on to the other letters, both of which were addressed to the editors of other newspapers. The second was written to Mr. Booker, of the 'Literary Chronicle.' Mr. Booker was a hard-working professor of literature, by no means without talent, by no means without influence, and by no means without a conscience. But, from the nature of the struggles in which he had been engaged, by compromises which had gradually been driven upon him by the encroachment of brother authors on the one side and by the demands on the other of employers who looked only to their profits, he had fallen into a routine of work in which it was very difficult to be scrupulous, and almost impossible to maintain the delicacies of a literary conscience. He was now a bald-headed old man of sixty, with a large family of daughters, one of whom was a widow dependent on him with two little children. He had five hundred a year for editing the 'Literary Chronicle,' which, through his energy, had become a valuable property. He wrote for magazines, and brought out some book of his own almost annually. He kept his head above water, and was regarded by those who knew about him, but did not know him, as a successful man. He always kept up his spirits, and was able in literary circles to show that he could hold his own. But he was driven by the stress of circumstances to take such good things as came in his way, and could hardly afford to be independent. It must be confessed that literary scruple had long departed from his mind. Letter No. 2 was as follows; --
1. In 1873 the London Times praised The Way We Live Now as providing a "likeness of the face which society wears today." More recently Cynthia Ozick called the novel "very contemporary, despite its baronets and squires and rustics, and despite its penniless young women whose chief employment is husband seeking, and its penniless young lords whose chief employment is heiress-hunting. If all this sounds as far as possible from the way we live now, think again." Compare the world of Trollope's novel to our own. What are some similarities? Differences? Could this novel have been written today?
2. In his autobiography Trollope writes of The Way We Live Now: "I was instigated by what I conceived to be the commercial profligacy of the of the age." Discuss commercialism as taken up by Trollope, and its effect on society, from politics to morality to relations between the sexes to art.
3. Discuss the "great financier" Augustus Melmotte. How would you characterize him? What accounts for his rise and fall? Do you find him to be a compelling literary creation? What other characters in thenovel do you find interesting?
4. For the critic James Kincaid The Way We Live Now is concerned with "people's cynical admiration for successful dishonesty, their evasion of the tawdry moral realities underlying it for the sake of its surface glamour." Do you agree? Is this insight helpful in thinking about the meaning of the book?
5. What are some of the social institutions Trollope scrutinizes in this work? Do you agree with Kincaid's assessment, The Way We Live Now "comes closer than any of Trollope'sother novels to admitting the possibility that all existing social institutions may be obsolete and doomed, no longer having any real moral and economic foundations"?
6. Discuss the literary world taken by Trollope. How would you characterize the writing industry that Trollope portrays?
Posted December 26, 2003
THE WAY WE LIVE NOW is is a dark and witty commentary upon a society that has just-discovered capitalist manipulation of wealth. The author's maidens who can't make up their minds are not in this masterpiece. All the characters are out for themselves in a detailed scramble for money. The central character of Augustus Melmotte is the greatest figure of imagination created in the last century. Like Gatsby, he is ourselves had we been asked to be a character in the novel. Both the movie Wall Street and the book Bonfire of Vanities could never have been had not Trollope shown the way. There are a dozen or so wonderful characters in this story, not the least Melmotte's daughter, who is far from a blushing maiden in money matters. The TV version of this story goes one better than the novel by introducing details that Trollope would have omitted from a sense of delicacy; the script, casting and acting in the TV version (available from barnes and noble.com)are twice as enjoyable when you have read the novel.
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