What’s An Austen Reader Supposed To Do?

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

So you love Jane Austen.  You’ve read all her novels and plan to re-read them with great pleasure the rest of your days.  When you come to the end of Austen, you always have an appetite for…more!  You start in with the Brontes and read through their works.  This is a good thing.  There are many, many good books in different genres, true.  But there are times you want a nice cup of tea and a little touch of Britain in the night. 

It was because Anthony Trollope’s name was said in the same sentence as Austen’s, and from a friend I trust, that I decided to go exploring.  I’ve only read one book (audio book), so I’m no Trollope expert.  But–BUT– I thoroughly enjoyed An Old Man’s Love, which was unfortunately the extent of our rural library’s Trollope collection.  This work seems a little obscure: Frank Magill’s Cyclopedia of World Authors didn’t list the title among Trollope’s principal works.

An Old Man’s Love was a sweet romance, a lovely love story.  Here’s the gist: A young woman, Mary Lawrie (20 something), is left orphaned.  A friend of her father’s, the 50 year old bachelor, William Whittlestaff decides to take her in and provide for her.   He  falls in love with her and asks her to marry him.  She hesitates and acknowledges to him that her heart is with a young man, John Gordon, from whom she has not heard a word in three years, and with whom no words of love were ever exchanged.  Whittlestaff presses Mary, confident that her infatuation was a childish one and sure that he can give her a good life.  She reluctantly agrees and decides to do her duty to the man who has been so kind to her, a man for whom she has genuine affection. Within hours of giving her promise to marry Whittlestaff, John Gordon, home from the diamond mines, knocks on the door asking for Mary.

The ensuing conflict between Mary’s love for Gordon and her promise given to Whittlestaff occupies the rest of the book. A promise is a promise! Trollope portrays so accurately that inner impulse to be a martyr  that seems so noble at night, but sticks like a bone in the throat in the daylight. Hearing the tale unfold was like riding a see-saw; it was impossible to guess how it would come out.  Each man is so certain that it would be in Mary’s best interest to be with himself. There are two Dickensian characters, the housekeeper and the vicar, which add comic relief to the drama.
From An Old Man’s Love “Here he was wont to sit and read his Horace.  And think of the affairs of the world as Horace depicted them.  Many a morsel of wisdom he had here made his own.  And to then endeavor to think whether the wisdom had in truth been taken home by the poet to his own bosom, or had only been a glitter of the intellect, never appropriated for any useful purpose.”

“A novel should give a picture of common life enlivened by humor and sweetened by pathos.”  Anthony Trollope

“His great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual.” Henry James on Anthony Trollope.

It isn’t the satisfying protein of Austen, but we still need some carbs in our life, and Trollope is a good carb.

3 thoughts on “What’s An Austen Reader Supposed To Do?

  1. “-or had only been a glitter of the intellect, never appropriated for any useful purpose.”  I LOVE that!  :0) I’m glad you keep a list going.  I am still reading Austin however- I have a certain project going- and was giggling to myself again most of the night. 

Comments are cinnamon on my oatmeal!

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