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Dear friends and readers,

Another memory, not formative but telling.

On Twitter I'm a follower of the post-John Letts Trollope society. His fan club in the UK plans tiaras and toff affairs consistently (expensive), cruises in summer (as much as $2000 for the week, that's exclusive of the clothes, fare to the UK); the snobbery is ceaseless.  Trollope (I do believe) would have seen through these people and not come to play cards. I think of his crumpled hat, of so much of his fiction's presentation of people on the fringe of the middle class, let alone the top 10,000 as he does call them.

I asked the Admiral,  Why does Trollope attract this? Letts was able to moderate it, but him gone and they are back to silver forks again. The admiral suggested I had my clue in my casual phrase. He said that enough of Trollope's novels are the closest of the mid-century Victorian "great" novelists, with readable long books, to the silver fork books of the 1820s. Look at what books are still known and discussing: Barsetshire and Palliser novels. You need only forget about 1/3 of the novels and most of the short stories. What he, the Admiral, has wondered about is why Disraeli is not picked up by such a group. After all, he was also a powerful glamorous man in himself.  I responded: the lack of readability as Trollope himself says, but I remember how Trollope anathematized Disraeli and it was not just for the Jewishness. No he hated the book's moral thrusts which are sometimes genuinely political radical. Sybil has working class heroines who have sex outside marriage, drink and dance at taverns and, far from being punished, seem to be enjoying life and marry afterwards.

But my Captain countered with a memory. He asked if I remembered the one Trollope dinner we went to here in the US (it cost something like $260!). It was shortly after the publication of my book. Indeed I did. The only time in my life I've socialized with bankers. There were hot-shot lawyers at the reception.  And the only time I was in the super-wealthy Knickerbocker Club. I remembered the fancy dinner with wine flowing. The speakers included N John Hall. Of course they could call on him but when I attempted to speak to him, he more or less was curt and turned away.  He has spontaneously written me a couple of times, inveighing against David Case's readings of Trollope (which I love), but when I've asked him for help, he says he knows nothing beyond what's in his books and signs off.  His speech was moving, a genuinely in-depth reaction to Trollope. The second was a witty MP who gave a speech that amused and went over very well; I can only recall that he referred to me as "Ellen" as if he knew me, an acknowledgement of my newly published book.

But that's not the core of the memory. It's of he and I walked away from the Knickerbocker down 5th Avenue. We were filled with wine, champagne, food.  We were laughing.   Dressed elegantly. I had on an evening gown I had bought for the trip to England where we went to Lincoln's Inn for a dinner at the UK Trollope society. Emerald green with thin straps. Also high heels. He had on the tux and fancy shoes he had bought for that occasion.  (We did not buy new outfits for this second time in the US.)  It was a chilly night and he wrapped his jacket around my shoulders. He remembered how we were walking from one club to another for at that time the Williams Club was still going.

Inside the downstairs halls are all marble and there is wide grandstair with carved bannisters leading to the second floor

(The Williams Club as a building is no more. They ceased attracting enough people to use it often enough really as a club, and so a remnant of the membership has now goes to the very fancy modern Princeton building. The whole nature of the Cultural life spilling over from Williams College is gone.)

Well, saith the admiral, this is what these silver fork people want to experience; they want this lifestyle and Trollope is their intellectual-cultural mascot. He approved. He was part of it.  A site. Watching Film Adaptations is not enough. They don't count?

The admiral admitted not only had he enjoyed but it seemed a special moment. There walking so carelessly from one building (for privileged people) to another down the grand avenue leading away from the Park.

I do not remember the walk much only that indeed we walked away and were for the moment cheered and that I wrote about it on whatever Trollope list Mike Powe was hosting at the time.

It is true that the Trollope Society of NYC nowadays often makes the focus of its meeting an academic style paper from a college teacher, literary scholar in the wide area they can choose from. I do regret not living in NYC when I think of these sessions. I don't have the money it would take to get there in one day, listen, and home again. I would if I could.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2012 12:49 pm (UTC)
Conference/fan club events
Thanks, Ellen for another thoughtful blog. You were fortunate to be able to attend these conferences. Some of us live in small provincial towns and cannot even dream of attending such events. We do enjoy reading about them.

Trollope was a novel-machine and his many novels carry us, and carried his middle-class readers in the nineteenth-century, into worlds we and they could not enter. Art in its many forms gives us all a chance to participate in other societies and other lives. Trollope's genius was that he could tell stories. It could be that his stories and those of Dickens, had other layers to them, but first they were great stories. Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim described a world unfamiliar to us in Alabama, Florida or Georgia, but we became immersed in it and laughed along with his more sophisticated readers. Experiencing such events from a purely class-determined prism often distracts from the beauty of the experience.

Trollope and Dickens could tell us stories of great significance that were alien to our own experiences; they could tell tales about extreme poverty and great power and wealth. We of the lower middle classes could live these alien experiences through them and be elevated through the experience.

John Ryland

Edited at 2012-04-10 12:50 pm (UTC)
Apr. 10th, 2012 01:04 pm (UTC)
conference/fan club events & more on HD operas
You are equally thoughtful, John, and prompt me to be more frank. On the blog I have now added that I in part meant it as an example of what what groups of people reading a novelist make of him in and yes, to flatter and/or invent their own identities apart from the one the world has imposed, thrown them into, has seemed inescapable except in the comfort and privacy of our own minds or when alone or a couple of congenial friends.

Another problem is organizing what are (due to the basis people get together on in such groups) a dysfunctional core. I had also just read a column by John Sutherland in a 1999 Diary LRB (see below just the first paragraph). And I had a much harder idea in mind. By organizing these meetings around events that literally cost in the thousands, the post-Letts society excludes all those who cannot afford it. You see breezy happy ads for 2 week experiences which would run a couple $4000. Letts seems to have kept in mind that he needed to make occasions which remained not just in the hundreds but maybe the tens. The NYC dinner we went to cost a lot more than the dinner we attended in London at Lincoln's Inn.

The Met by providing these HD operas and the company that is disseminating the HD European ones prices the movies at $20 a seat. That is $60 for three, not nothing, but over the course of 10 months not prohibitive. An organization's chiefs are well aware of the price-tag they ask and whom it includes and excludes.


John Sutherland

An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture by Roger Scruton
Duckworth, 152 pp, £14.95, November 1998, ISBN 0 7156 2870 4

Like Diogenes in his tub, Roger Scruton has stripped himself of his professorship of aesthetics to rail, ungowned, against the age in which fate has deposited him. Scruton’s opposition to the times has two current manifestations: one is his lyrical advocacy of the feudal harmonies of the fox-hunt; the other is his hatred of ‘yoof’ culture. In An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture he defines culture three ways. ‘Common culture’ – what anthropologists study – is based in social life and examines how we use our knives and forks. What he calls ‘high culture’ is a quasi-religious superstructure conceived in the Renaissance, and refined in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods. Scruton has evidently been impressed by Matthew Arnold’s declaration that ‘the future of poetry is immense,’ and by Arnold’s confidence that high art can fill the vacancy left by the slow death of God: ‘there is,’ Scruton mystically claims, ‘a making whole, a rejoining of the self to its rightful congregation that come through art and literature.’ He believes that, like hunting, reading Jane Austen is a binding social ritual. TV adaptations don’t count.

My view of this may be seen in my review of Peter Borsay's Image of Georgian Bath, and I'll remark here that since sending this one in and being given a hard time over the point of view I display, I have been given no more reviewing to do for the Scriblerian which finds my reviews too liberal:


e.g., much evidence reveals that the image of Georgian Bath "encodes" a complicated cult, participation in which bestows high-status. We see that characters and images cherished by some groups of people for others symbolizes their own or a previous generation's deprivation and remembered and hidden injuries of class. Mr Borsay catalogues historical personages chosen and omitted from representations and retells quarrels over what elements in Bath's history to present and when. He describes how the organization of space in Bath works to separate, stigmatize, exclude, and elevate people. A "storm of protest" erupted when in 1934 a proposal to use the Assembly Rooms as a public library was altered to place the library in a separate building on the "lordly" Lansdown Crescent, a part of the city which "it was argued" was far away from where "the working and industrial men and women of Bath and their children" lived.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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