Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mount TBR #35

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.

Miss Mackenzie – Anthony Trollope

The titular heroine of the novel at first seems a paragon of unworldly altruism. Margaret Mackenzie selflessly nurses her aged parents and consumptive brother till they check out of this vale of tears. In her dealings with the world in her secluded life, she evinces a disarming naivety. But after she inherits her brother’s well-heeled estate, the mercenary suitors - the subtly named Handcock, Rubb, and Ball - come calling thick and fast. In her dealings with guys and their mixture of romance and self-interest, Trollope reveals her as less simple and less malleable than she appears. Really vexing things happen to her, but she is adept at accepting whatever happens with good grace.

This novel has the usual dings we find in Trollope. Like Dr. Thorne, this novel starts oh so deliberately. Then more than a couple of patches feel quite sluggish and leisurely, to the point where the post-modern reader starts stamping a foot and thinking about 70 pages should have found themselves on the cutting room floor. I think Trollope rather teases us by spinning things out, especially with proposal scenes and over-delicate feelings  that stop people from doing what they naturally want to do. A novel, like the law, is slow, says a joshing Tony. This, about our old friend from The Three Clerks and Orley Farm, a long-time lawyer:

Mr. Slow was a grey-haired old man. ... He was a stout, thickset man, very leisurely in all his motions, who walked slowly, talked slowly, read slowly, wrote slowly, and thought slowly; but who, nevertheless, had the reputation of doing a great deal of business, and doing it very well. He had a partner in the business, almost as old as himself, named Bideawhile; and they who knew them both used to speculate which of the two was the most leisurely. It was, however, generally felt, that, though Mr. Slow was the slowest in his speech, Mr. Bideawhile was the longest in getting anything said.

Generally speaking, Trollope’s sentences are extremely easy to read but his grammar gets convoluted on occasion. In his novels, there’s always at least one sentence that is so twisted up as to be incomprehensible.

The paper in question was not a wicked paper, nor were the gentlemen concerned in its publication intentionally scurrilous or malignant; but it was subject to those great temptations which beset all class newspapers of the kind, and to avoid which seems to be almost more difficult, in handling religious subjects, than in handling any other.

Something gets garbled starting with “class newspapers of the kind.” My mildly lazy brain struggles to take in the meaning of everything after that garble. Oh, well, as the Japanese say, even monkeys fall out of trees.

But Trollope skillfully portrays Victorian codes of conduct with rigid social rules, the constant hunt and fighting for money, and the persistent female concern at the time, looking for a husband. The plot includes the machinations of contenders for her hand, lawyer and financial intriguing, and much quiet comedy from Trollope. Though Trollope signals what ultimately is going to happen, he tosses in unexpected developments  (I won’t say “surprises” – I think Trollope saw surprises as unworthy and tricky) keeps us readers in agreeable suspense. The other appeal of Trollope is that his stories offer soothing escape from the reality of sweltering weather and bloodthirsty talk in an election year.

Click on the title below to go to my review.

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