I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.
He Knew He Was Right – Anthony Trollope
Louis Trevelyan and his wife Emily are a young married couple with a toddler son. Despite hearing that women from the colonies are head-strong, Louis loves Emily, the daughter of Lady Rowley and Sir Marmaduke, a governor in what sounds like either the Bahamas or the Antipodes (Tony wrote fast so details slipped). Colonel Osbourne, her father’s contemporary and friend, likes to drop in for a bit of gossip. Plus, he gets an ego boost from the idea that even at his age his frequent visits can cause friction between husband and wife.
The friction, however, reaches the danger point because Emily asserts that Louis slanders her reputation by confronting her about the colonel and banning visits and letters between them. Essentially a suspicious weakling, Louis in his jealousy feels he must put his foot down and demand obedience as his wife’s duty. She claims that because there is nothing a reasonable person would find objectionable in her friendship with the colonel, he has no call to make such demands or dictate her duties. The confrontation drives them into irreconcilable positions and finally drives a miserable Louis off his dot.
By the time he wrote this novel in 1869, Trollope was a seasoned writer with a growing interest in psychological changes in his characters. Over 900 pages, he introduces interesting characters, juggles multiple love stories, and moves the story at a steady pace. I don’t want to describe the plot because I don’t want to give anything away. So this is an overview of the characters.
Nora Rowley, the second daughter of Sir Marmaduke, rejects – in two of the four (count ‘em!) proposal scenes - the suit of Charles Glascock, wealthy son and heir of Lord Peterborough. She is in love with Hugh Stanbury, a poor reporter working for the penny newspaper The Daily Record and a friend of Louis Trevelyan. Miss Jemima Stanbury, a spinster who lives in the cathedral town of Exeter, is a former benefactor of Hugh Stanbury, her nephew. She’s put him out of her house for using her money to go to college only to end up working at a dingy newspaper for a low and precarious income. Aunt Stanbury, a wonderful comic tory and tyrant, has Dorothy Stanbury, sister of Hugh Stanbury, come live with her. Doing go, pretty Dorothy attracts the attention of both Thomas Gibson, a minor canon, and Brooke Burgess, Aunt Stanbury’s heir and a mid-level government clerk in London. Another great character is the stoical, ill-conditioned, prickly Priscilla Stanbury, sister of Hugh and Dorothy. We hardcore readers can tell Priscilla reads as much as us:
To her eyes all days seemed to be days of wrath, and all times, times of tribulation. And it was all mere vanity and vexation of spirit. To go on and bear it till one was dead,—helping others to bear it, if such help might be of avail,—that was her theory of life. To make it pleasant by eating, and drinking, and dancing, or even by falling in love, was, to her mind, a vain crunching of ashes between the teeth. Not to have ill things said of her and of hers, not to be disgraced, not to be rendered incapable of some human effort, not to have actually to starve,—such was the extent of her ambition in this world.
Trollope gives even the minor characters much life and points of view. Martha, Jemima Stanbury's maid, resolutely carries out her employer’s wishes, while making her own points in circuitous ways. Mr. Samuel Bozzle is a compunction-free ex-policeman and PI employed by Louis Trevelyan to keep an eye on Emily while she lives with the put-upon vicar Mr. Oliphant Outhouse, an uncle of Emily and Nora. Sisters Camilla and Arabella, with the assistance of their mother Mrs French enter into conspiracy to trap Mr. Gibson in marriage. Caroline Spalding, a young American woman, battle Miss Wallachia Petrie, an American feminist, who objects to Carry’s relationship with the feudal lord Charles Glascock. Beating even naming Oliphant Outhouse, Trollope assigned somebody only mentioned a typically loopy name: an eminent mad doctor is named Dr. Trite Turbury.
I highly recommend this novel to readers looking for a long winter-time read filled with interesting and familiar characters in plausible settings, in adult situations, with many excellent moments and scenes. It’s not only the title “He” who stubbornly knows he right. Almost all of the characters are self-willed, obstinately clinging to their choices, both rational and irrational. As prickly Priscilla observes, probably as a stand-in for Trollope:
All that is twopenny-halfpenny pride, which should be thrown to the winds. The more right you have been hitherto the better you can afford to go on being right. What is it that we all live upon but self-esteem? When we want praise it is only because praise enables us to think well of ourselves. Every one to himself is the centre and pivot of all the world.