The Way We Live Now--Chapters LX--LXXX (60--80)
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As the financial bubble which is the Mexican Railway bursts on the heels of Melmotte's successful although evental fatal political bid for a seat in Parliament, Melmotte's schemes began to unravel. Unable to meet financial demands with the Longstaffes (for fraudlent acquisition of the Pickering estate) and the Nidderdales (Marie's marriage settlement), Melmotte resorts to threats and violence against his daughter who is key to his concealed fortune. Nemesis visits Georgiana in her marriage bid for the wealthy but elderly and Jewish Braghert. Sir Felix meets nemesis on the street in the person of John Crumb who visits physical retribution on his person for an attempted seduction of Ruby. These are Trollope's characters who are at the mercy of their own weakensses and who are unable or unwilling to combat effectively what is happening to them.
Corresponding characters (facing not necessarily nemesis but rather consequences of actions) all make a stand and attempt to rise above circumstances. These include Marie, Mrs. Hurtle and Roger. Each operate from a position of strength (whatever their judgement) and make a stand against the forces that overwhelm them.
Trollope has much to say in this section of the novel on bigotry and hypocrisy. Jews, Americans, divorced women, people in "trade' and of course those of a lower station in life all come in for censure from Trollope's upper classes though these characters are morally and financially improverished. The Way We Live Now takes on another more dark meaning when we look at the novel as a satire of bigotry. We live now not only deloploring the new and radical ways of living but also honoring and cherishing our life-long prejudices and bigotries.
I thought Longstaffe's reaction showed the depth of his, and his society's, anti-semitic feelings; as in "things are bad but they can't be THAT bad!"
On the other hand, I think Trollope showcased the bigotry of some people in the upper classes of England during this period with Mr. Longstaffe. Mr. Longstaffe doesn't seem to care about his own moves or even that of his daughter. The only issue is what people think about the family---that is: what people who MATTER think! So he sacrifices her to spinsterhood (or as a poor second choice, a marriage of poverty) rather than a comfortable life with someone who "one would not dream of meeting in society".
On a different track, did you think that Trollope has a poor opinion of women who "know their own mind and act on it"? The women who did step out of line in this novel seemed to wind up with the short end of the stick. What do you think?
This sort of thing is unfortunately something you just have to deal with if you're going to wade into the Victorian novel; although I do find Trollope particularly infuriating for reasons I could go into at very great length...but I'll spare you here. Briefly, it seems to me he laid down some very narrow tracks for women in his mind, and in his novels any woman running off them at all is either ridiculed or overly severely punished, sometimes both.
It's particularly exasperating because in his real life he knew and apparently admired some real "pioneers". These encounters don't seem to have opened his mind at all, though.
Anyway, you understand now why I made that early comment about the handling of Mrs Hurtle. :)
He was also guilty of casual antisemitism, as again most writers at that time were. However, there at least he seemed to sometimes realise his own injustice, and write characters like Brehgert.
I really don't know that much about Trollope's life but I think his mother was a novelist who, I think, spent some time in the U.S. I wonder how much of Lady Carbury, also a novelist, is drawn from Trollope's own mother. If so---not a very flattering portrayal of a family member. And if not---then not a flattering portrayal of women writers as a whole. Just a thought.