April 12th, 2010

Harriet Vane

A Trollopian Sunday afternoon

Dear friends and readers,

A second seasonal posting:

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Virginia -- cool in the early morning and later evening and night, and very warm and sunny during the day, dry, perfectly blue skies, with just puffs of clouds.

We (Jim, I, and Izzy) went to a point-to-point race meet in middle Virginia, and had a very Anglo-American afternoon, the closest one can get to some aspects of Trollope in his fiction too often forgotten in talking or writing about it:  pleasure, deep pleasure in human play, which in Trollope mostly takes forms that the upper classes of his time did: dance, hunt, dinner, party -- and in The Dukes' Children, racing for money.   The Duke's Children shows a turning point in Trollope not only in the sparkling ironic dialogue but in its repeated dramatizations of afternoons intended for pleasure, whether on gorgeous country house grounds, out boating, where tennis is played, or shooting or racing for money.

He makes some fun of them all, and is even quietly sardonic about shooting (it's a form of continual hard work slaughter).  On the landscapes of party luxury, we see individuals are not happy even there :), the brilliant portrait of the self-destructive behavior of the honest Lady Mabel is just one case in point.  We see their stupidity (Dodds) and their enforced (as it were) weak corruption: Tifto.

Mrs Greenow's picnic on the sands (Can You Forgive Her, not an aristocratic entertainment)

Well not being a Trollope novel, we did not quite see this.  But we did see many people dressed up in typical fancy riding suits -- black velvet was the order for women and "pink" (red) for the men who kept order on big horses. We saw the very thin wiry jockeys in their dress with their weights.  Watched scenes of people who belong to expensive clubs under tents (gourmet feasts set out for those who belong).  Where we sat (under a tree, with wooden table and chairs, and a picnic lunch which included two bottles of white Riesling) was for "general admission," the hoi polloi at $10 per car (reasonable price).  Lots of blankets, chairs and tables, umbrellas, picnics, and people running about watching the races.  There were grouped under our tree a variety of four groups. There are five large trees in the "inbetween" area (inside the track) where people who are general admission can lay their blankets and chairs and stay. 

You have to cross the track, and walk past the expensive tents (how human beings continually divide themselves in hierarchies) to get to where the horses, betting, and shops under tents are.

You can bet there as there is one bookie near where the horses are brought out to be seen.  We do bet so as to become involved. In the tents are sold big hats, riding gear, and other paraphernalia characteristic and for the day are sold.  Ringed round the outside of the track are places where you can buy barbecue -- very cheap, $2 for a hot dog on roll. These are manned and womaned by local people looking to make some money for the day.

The general ethnic composition is still heavily Anglo-American and many have firm English, Irish, Scots accents so the local UK population in Virginia (to which Jim probably may be said to belong) come in larger numbers than anyone else.  Still this time there was a notable increase in the number of African-Americans -- all part of parties of European- or white-Americans. Not individual parties in their own right as yet.

I talked with one jockey, an older man, Scots accent, over 60 who told me in brief a history of hiimself, hard working sometimes chequered (from the account I could see) life which is still going on.  He is getting too old for some courses (they won't let him ride).

I remembered how Tifto is said by our narrator to be a man "modest in his ambitions" because he had to be.

Hunting scene from Can You Forgive Her?