The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Glencora and Hermione?

Via The Trollope Jupiter, an interesting article from the eminent scholar John Sutherland, writing in The Financial Times. He argues that the Barsetshire and Palliser novels are each flawed in the same way--"the two most lovable characters choose bad marriages," pointing to Lily Dale's rejection of Johnny Eames and that, in the Palliser novels, "Glencora – the spunkiest of Trollope’s ladies – does not marry the beautiful Burgo Fitzgerald and gives herself away to Plantagenet Palliser, whose true love, cynics might say, is a parliamentary bill for decimal coinage." (His statement that "the novelist to whom JK Rowling has always seemed to me closest is Anthony Trollope" is surprising, but not insupportable.)

Now, let me just disagree, most strongly here, with Professor Sutherland on this--not with his history, but rather with his implicit endorsement of an alt-Trollope universe in which Lily marries Johnny Eames, or Glencora runs off with Burgo, drawn from his explicit endorsement of future Harry Potter novels which bring Harry and Hermione together.

Trollope's love of his characters is well-known; their reality to him, as well, is well documented in his Autobiography. The fact that they made questionable decisions, or were confronted with bad situations in which no good decision was possible, is part of his genius. Let me explain. Forced marriages happened in the Nineteenth Century; the use of pressure to compel a woman to marry the suitor chosen by her family was a real historical event, which Trollope, despite his anti-feminist ideology, understood as a horror (see Lucinda Roanoke; I've often thought that Trollope's sympathy for his women characters, so in conflict with his more conventional ideas, warrants a feminist analysis). Glencora's and Plantagenet's union is one that is born in a violation of her autonomy.

And yet--

Trollope doesn't leave us there. It's rather like Soames Forsyte, who violates his wife Irene even more brutally, thinking that he is doing the right thing in "asserting his rights." Palliser is uneasy with this wife who does not love him, whose charm slowly works on him; he, like Soames, is keenly aware that something is dreadfully wrong. Unlike Forsyte, the glum, taciturn, politico's honor and his ethics lead him to do something extraordinary: He defers to his wife. He carves out a space for her autonomy, and places her concerns above his, damaging his political career, even rescuing Burgo from his gambling debts. Palliser recognizes that he owes Burgo something, places Glencora's interests above his own.

And yet there is no happy ending. The couple grow closer and closer but when Glencora dies, her promotion of her daughter's romance with an "unsuitable" young man is felt by Palliser as a rejection of their years together, as an assertion that she should have stuck to her guns and run off with Burgo. And, in one sense, it is.

And yet--

Glencora did come to love Plantagenet--their relationship was real, even when they squabbled. It's just that the original tragedy was never exorcized because it could not be. The harm was done, the wound inflicted. All Plantagenet's efforts could not undo it. Their marriage was both tragic and triumphant.

It's a very complex view of the world, one which Trollope did not articulate in discussing women's issues, but one which he clearly felt--all the cross tides and eddies of feeling--love, and anger, and affection, and resentment all mixed in together.

The marriage of Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser provides far more rich a stew for the reader than any "love conquers all" escape with Burgo would. I know nothing like it in Victorian British fiction--particularly when as it is placed in the same sequence as the tragedies of Lucinda Roanoke and of Emily Wharton--outside of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Which has, of course, no bearing on Harry and Hermione.

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