Trollope’s Rachel Ray

Beer and evangelicals: that’s what you’ll find in Anthony Trollope’s Rachel Ray

What Luke Rowan, the main man in this novel, cares about is brewing good beer. He inherits a portion of the brewery of Messrs. Bungall and Tappitt, gentlemen who consistently made muddy, disagreeable beer.  Naturally Mr. Tappitt objects to an upstart nephew suggesting ways to improve his beer.  To Tappitt, beer is business; Luke thinks there is a great deal of poetry in brewing beer.

He is “a young man, by no means of the bad sort, meaning to do well, with high hopes in life, one who had never wronged a woman, or been untrue to a friend, full of energy and hope and pride.  But he was conceited, prone to sarcasm, sometimes cynical, and perhaps sometimes affected.”  Perhaps the greatest compliment is that Luke “had the gift of making himself at home with people.”

In the character of Dorothea Prime, Rachel’s widowed sister, Trollope takes aim at pharisaic pietism.  “Her fault was this: that she had taught herself to believe that cheerfulness was a sin…”

Nice things aggravated her spirits and made her fretful.  She liked the tea to be stringy and bitter, she liked the bread to be stale; –as she preferred also that her weeds should be battered and old.  She was approaching that stage of discipline at which ashes become pleasant eating, and sackcloth is grateful to the skin.  The self-indulgences of the saints often exceed anything that is done by the sinners.

Sweet Rachel Ray is the antithesis of her sister.  “She walked as though the motion were pleasant to her, and easy,–as though the very act of walking were a pleasure.”  Rachel’s sister wants to keep her cloistered at home, leaving only for church services and afternoon teas at Miss Pucker’s house.  Rachel protests, “If I was minded to be bad, shutting me up would not keep me from it.”

Thus two views of marriage and courtship are at opposition.  Trollope poses “that great question,–What line of moral conduct might best befit a devout Christian?”

Marriage is the happiest condition for a young woman, and for a young man, too.  And how are young people to get married if they are not allowed to see each other?

Men and women, according to her theory, were right to marry and have children; but she thought that such marriages should be contracted not only in a solemn spirit, but with a certain dinginess of solemnity, with a painstaking absence of mirth.

I loved the storyline but I adored the writing.  Phrases like “elated with dismal joy” and “she knew her mother must be appeased and her sister opposed” and “burial service over past unkindness” delighted me. 

If you are so inclined, click on the link in the first sentence of this post, then click Look Inside the Book, First Pages.  Read the first paragraph and tell me it’s not brilliant.

Rachel Ray.  Written in 1863; my favorite book of 2009.


12 thoughts on “Trollope’s Rachel Ray

  1. And another good recommendation…I can always count on you, Carol!  Putting on my list of “to reads” and perhaps to give, I’m thinking about a special daughter-in-law who would like this book as well.

  2. Just had to comment on the title of the book… it!  ‘cept I’d change the spelling of *Ray* to *Rae* and bless a girl with this beautiful name.  It rivals Georgia Rae, right Okay, here’s the test: to whom would you give this book as a gift?

  3. Because of you I’m still happily “bogged down” in Wendell Berry.  Nevertheless, I can’t help but be jealous that you are reading a Trollope book that I haven’t read.  It sounds wonderful!

  4. @hiddenart – @BooksForMe –  I would give this book to *any* of my friends who love Jane Austen.  If I thought the beer/brewery part would offend my friend, I would either forewarn or choose another Trollope book for a gift.  PS – Anthony Trollope is a delightful author.  The Warden is a good book to begin reading Trollope.

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