Trollope’s The Way We Live Now

way we liveThe Way We Live Now

Anthony Trollope

1875.  According to Wikipedia, The Way We Live Now was one of the last major Victorian novels to appear in serialized form.

I read a public domain version, downloaded from Amazon.  This is a very long novel — with 100 chapters.  A 2012 paper reprint counts it in at 890 pgs.

Other books I’ve read by Trollope:  none!  But the Guardian list contains at least three — and once again, thanks to the List I’ve read something absolutely fantastic that I would never have picked up.  So, more from Trollope as soon as I can get to them.

Guardian 1000 Challenge.  State of the Nation titles.

Where do I begin to try to summarize this huge, fantastic story??  First of all, Trollope’s life is interesting — an unhappy childhood dominated by broke, creative, volatile parents — his father failed taking the bar because of his bad temper and his mother actually went off to America to try to make the family fortune.  She then returned home and wrote novels to try to support them.  Despite not making ends meet, Anthony’s parents were both very concerned with maintaining their gentry status — so Anthony was sent off to the best schools where he was bullied for being the poor kid.  Then, Anthony began a long and somewhat up and down career as

a civil servant in the British Post Office.  He was said to be responsible for establishing the the famous red postal boxes.

Trollope was really upset about the financial crisis of 1873, some of which was caused by speculation—especially in railroad building.  The plot of The Way We Live Now revolves around a huge swindle concerning this very same subject.

Augustus Melmotte has come to London with his family to set up a financial house in the City. He is rumored to be a Jew, fantastically wealthy and somehow connected to the failure of a bank in Vienna — or maybe in Paris.  No one is sure, but every broke aristocrat is dying to get in good with him.  (Shades of Bernie Madoff??).  His daughter, Marie, is rumored to be an heiress worth millions — which attracts a raft of worthless, stupid noblemen hoping to make their fortunes.  Mixed in with this crowd are the Carbury’s — broke gentry who pin their hopes on son Felix (one of the most dissolute, ridiculous characters you will ever meet in fiction) snatching up Marie.  Of course Melmotte has no intention of giving his rich child over to the penniless Felix — never mind the fact that he is Sir Felix — but Melmotte is also intent on playing his own game of stocking a board of directors for his Grand South Central Mexican Railway with stupid and quiescent nobility.  So, Melmotte will use Felix for his own purposes for a while.  What Melmotte doesn’t count on is:

  • Marie’s infatuation with Felix and her own ruthless ambitions
  • Paul Montague’s nagging questions about when actual building on the railway will begin
  • Some impertinent questions from a jealous newspaperman
  • Questions from his faithful and usually complacent clerk about actually how far Melmotte is going to go this time…

This story really has everything:  greed, power, status, love, politics, finance, bigotry, a visit from the Emperor of China….I could go on and on.  There must be almost 50 substantive and fascinating sub-characters, each with his or her own story to tell.  But in the center of it all sits Melmotte.  Is he a swindler?  An anti-hero?  A fatally flawed adventurer who is merely the instrument to punish a corrupt and valueless society?  Read this fantastic story and be the judge yourself.

I have to also add that the BBC produced a luscious adaptation of TWWLN in 2001 starring David Suchet as Melmotte and Mathew Macfadyen as Felix Carbury.  I made myself the read the whole book before watching it, though, and hope you will also.

Advertisements