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Women have plenty of lovers when they have plenty of money

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Miss Mackenzieby Anthony Trollope. 1865. An eponymous French translation has been available since 2010. (!!)

Anthony Trollope. I try to say it aloud. A tricky th too soon followed by a treacherous Tr and my French tongue is in a twist, properly tied. Well, no one said I have to say it aloud.

Miss Margaret Mackenzie is 19 when her father dies after an illness and she then spends 15 years nursing her brother Walter. Walter is a civil servant, a gentleman. Her other brother Tom dropped any claim to gentlemanliness when he started a business with Mr Rubb. He doesn’t pay much attention to Walter and Margaret. When Margaret was younger, Mr Handcock courted her but her brother selfishly refused his consent to her marriage. He would have needed to find a new nurse, how could he spare her? She spends her best years at the service of selfish man who has no consideration for her. She doesn’t even run Walter’s house, he keeps control over everything.

Margaret is 34 when Walter dies and she inherits his fortune. That was unexpected and she decides it’s time for her to live a little. There’s also a sudden change in the attitude of others towards her.

First, Mr Handcock proposes again. Then, her family who never visited her before is now curiously interested in her. Her brother Tom presses her to come and live with them, although he resents Walter’s choice of an heiress. Her cousins Balls, the aristocratic but poor branch of the family invites her to their house. John, the eldest son is about fifty; he’s a widower with several children to support and needs the extra money. He proposes to her too.

But Margaret is clever and if she’s unconscious of her own worth as a person, she’s perfectly aware of her worth as a rich old-maid. She is very lucid and far less weak than her acquaintances and family expect. She refuses Mr Handcock because she doesn’t like him anymore and because he proposed only after he heard of her money. She refuses John Ball because she doesn’t want to abandon her newly found freedom to a life of duty.

She decides to leave London and settle down in Littlebath. To appease his brother’s claims and to have company, she takes her niece Susanna with her. In Littlebath, she meets the Stumfolds:

But Mr Stumfold at Littlebath had very special views, and was very specially known for them. His friends said that he was evangelical, and his enemies said that he was Low Church. He himself was wont to laugh at these names—for he was a man who could laugh—and to declare that his only ambition was to fight the devil under whatever name he might be allowed to carry on that battle. And he was always fighting the devil by opposing those pursuits which are the life and mainstay of such places as Littlebath. His chief enemies were card-playing and dancing as regarded the weaker sex, and hunting and horse-racing—to which, indeed, might be added everything under the name of sport—as regarded the stronger.

Not exactly a funny place, the Stumfold’s salon and Margaret is rather skeptical and find them a little too zealous for her. There she meets Mr Maguire, Mr Stumfold’s second in command. He soon realizes that Margaret would be a good match for him; he’ll be a respectable clergyman, she’ll bring the money. He proposes.

In Littlebath, she also meets Mr Rubb Junior, who comes to her to borrow money for the Mackenzie & Rubb business. She enjoys his company but alas, he’s not a gentleman. The business is far from booming, Mr Rubb would like to catch her money too and starts courting her.

That makes four lovers in less than a year for our Miss Mackenzie.

As to getting away from all her suitors that was impossible. Had she gone to Littlebath there was one there; had she remained with her sister-in-law, she would have been always near another; and, on going to the Cedars, she would meet the third. But she could not on that account absolutely isolate herself from everybody that she knew in the world.

What will she do?

I loved Margaret Mackenzie as a character. She’s torn between belonging to the Stumbfoldian circle – to any circle actually because she craves for company— and her desire to live and have fun. Trollope points out what the society expects from her:

Would it not have been easier for her—easier and more comfortable—to have abandoned all ideas of the world, and have put herself at once under the tutelage and protection of some clergyman who would have told her how to give away her money, and prepare herself in the right way for a comfortable death-bed?

And later, he also shows that her situation would have been different if she were a man and that the society leads her into thinking that she doesn’t deserve better than the quiet life of an old maid:

A man situated in outer matters as she was situated, possessed of good means, hampered by no outer demands, would have declared to himself clearly that it would be well for him to marry. But he would probably be content to wait a while and would, unless in love, feel the delay to be a luxury. But Miss Mackenzie could not confess as much, even to herself,—could not let herself know that she thought as much; but yet she desired to be married, and dreaded delay. She desired to be married, although she was troubled by some half-formed idea that it would be wicked. Who was she, that she should be allowed to be in love? Was she not an old maid by prescription, and, as it were, by the force of ordained circumstances? Had it not been made very clear to her when she was young that she had no right to fall in love, even with Harry Handcock? And although in certain moments of ecstasy, as when she kissed herself in the glass, she almost taught herself to think that feminine charms and feminine privileges had not been all denied to her, such was not her permanent opinion of herself. She despised herself. Why, she knew not; and probably did not know that she did so. But, in truth, she despised herself, thinking herself to be too mean for a man’s love.

I loved Margaret for her goodness and her cleverness. Margaret has the healthiest relationship with money:

What is the use of money if people cannot be happy together with it? I don’t care a bit for money, Miss Todd; that is, not for itself. I shouldn’t like to be dependent on a stranger; I don’t know that I would like to be dependent again even on a brother; but I should take no shame to be dependent on a husband if he was good to me.”

She has a sure way to assess someone’s character and decipher ulterior motives. She’s able to stand for herself; actually, her money gives her the power to stand for herself, it opens up possibilities. In that sense, Miss Mackenzie is a feminist novel. It shows that a woman can be as sensible as a man, that someone can hardly be free without money. Trollope didn’t give her any of the clichéd traits of a female heroin: she’s strong, she doesn’t wallow into romance, she isn’t shallow or hit by a buying spree when she becomes rich. She’s Emma Bovary’s perfect opposite regarding romance and Ondine Spragg’s perfect opposite regarding money.

I loved this novel. Trollope is so funny; I caught myself chuckling all along the book because of his witty look upon his characters. The pages are filled with irony:

Available hypocrisy is a quality very difficult of attainment and of all hypocrisies, epistolatory hypocrisy is perhaps the most difficult. A man or woman must have studied the matter very thoroughly, or be possessed of great natural advantages in that direction, who can so fill a letter with false expressions of affection, as to make any reader believe them to be true.

But I think he was very fond of Miss Mackenzie himself. He sends little daggers at the Victorian society: he makes fun of the evangelist current in the Church of England, mocks the new dining habits à la russe, questions the central issue of gentlemanliness, exposes the ridiculous snobbery of the aristocrats and silently criticizes the enormous place money holds in his world.

Miss Mackenzie is the first book I read from Guy’s Christmas gifts. He knew I wanted to try Trollope and helped me start with an excellent and short one. Thanks Guy. Miss Mackenzie is translated into French but sadly most of Trollope’s novels are translated at all. It puzzles me, I have to say. Which one should I read next?

  1. January 30, 2012 at 2:05 am

    In my opinion, Trollope doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves. Not sure if Tony would agree with that, but I think he’s sadly overlooked while I place him on my top writers list.

    Next: An Old Man’s Love.

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    • January 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm

      Thanks for the choice. Blogging friends are great: it’s hard to know where to start with a writer like this, it’s good you helped me.
      I’m adding An Old Man’s Love to my TBR.
      Good thing he’s written about 50 books.

      Like

      • February 3, 2012 at 1:36 am

        There are many better Trollope novels, but I’m picking a shorter, less read one again

        Like

  2. January 30, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Trollope is a wonderful writer, and he is actually very under-regarded as a feminist writer; many of his novels show the restraints Victorian women were under. In this one (which I haven’t read!), it seems as if he is returning to the old dilemma women faced, even when they did have money – for what is the point of financial independence if it won’t bring happiness? Unfortunately, for most women, the only way to enjoy their wealth was by finding a suitable man to share it – and open doors into society…

    This sounds excellent, and I’d like to say that I’ll give it a try soon, but that would be fibbing. You see, I’ve just started ‘Phineas Redux’, and I’ll be reading the final two of the Palliser novels over the next few months. Also, I’ve just received another batch of Trollope books (won in a Twitter competetion!), so ‘Miss Mackenzie’ will have to wait a while 😉

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    • January 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      He’s quite a feminist in his way. He’s not able to see women as equals but he does show that their condition is hardly liveable.

      I hope I’ll have time to read your Trollope posts, I’ve skipped a few of your entries, sorry.

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      • January 31, 2012 at 12:16 am

        Don’t worry – real life is more important, even if it does get in the way of reading blog posts (I’m pretty slack myself at times!).

        Like

  3. January 30, 2012 at 2:47 am

    I know we English must have an idiosyncratic pronunciation for every single word, but Anthony is pronounced as if the ‘h’ wasn’t there – much like you’d pronounce Antonio.

    I’ve never read much Trollope: read The Warden once, and never gone back. He was John Major’s favourite novelist: says it all.

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    • January 30, 2012 at 2:53 am

      And I say, pronounce like Antonio, I only mean in the matter of the ‘h’ – Antony is stressed on the A, not the ‘o’: I’d probably pronounce it: AN-ta-nee.

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      • January 30, 2012 at 10:34 pm

        Thanks for the help. I still can’t say it without stuttering. *sigh* Hopefully my spoken English will improve in the next few months since I have to speak English at work now.

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    • January 30, 2012 at 10:39 pm

      Maybe you started with the wrong book or it was at a wrong time.

      Trollope is incredibly funny, maybe you could give him a second chance. (PS: at least John Major can read big books without pictures.)

      Like

  4. January 30, 2012 at 4:26 am

    If only you could remove the thorn from the rest of the English language so easily! It would be so much easier for everyone else to pronounce.

    This Trollope sounds quite good. I son;t know if it matters to you, but it is smack in the middle of a – I want to say productive, but Trollope is always productive – of a period that features many of Trollope’s most-loved books.

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    • January 30, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      “remove the thorn” ? like “enlever une épine du pied”?

      I think I really have a thing for Victorian Lit. I wonder why most of his books aren’t translated into French. I don’t understand why he wasn’t translated in the 19thC or early 20thC.

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      • January 30, 2012 at 10:55 pm

        Ah, “th” is the descendant of the Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic letter called “thorn.” Which is a funny name, because that is how most non-native speakers feel about it – that our “th” is a big pain.

        I would also like to no more about why it was so hard for Trollope to move into French. This kind of information is so hard to find, but often so informative.

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        • January 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm

          Ah, right, thanks. It makes sense now. Yes pronouncing it properly is a lost cause to me. Stressing on the right syllabe is difficult too because there’s no such thing in French.
          Hmm, I guess you’re having a hard time with the French “u” and “ain/in/ein” too?

          I haven’t read anything about Trollope’s life. His novels are currently reaching the French market. Several of them were translated in 2010-2012.

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          • January 30, 2012 at 11:23 pm

            Yes, the French nasal vowels are hard for me to pronounce or hear. Ma femme always corrects me.

            The important thing to know about Trollope, outside of his books, is that he is responsible for the spread of the free-standing British pillar post box.

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            • January 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm

              Is your wife French or Canadian or Belgian? The nasal vowels are strange: when French people have an accent (like in Marseille, Toulouse or Strasbourg), it’s strong on these vowels, as if they weren’t a “natural” sound.

              I knew about the pillar post box: that Daniel Pool book is really a gold mine for foreigners…

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          • January 30, 2012 at 11:46 pm

            Not a native French speaker, but highly skilled with languages, and her ear in particular is superb.

            Like

      • February 3, 2012 at 1:39 am

        Many of them are OOP in English, Emma. I bought mine a few years back and I recently checked to see which titles were available. I was surprised to see how many had fallen out of print.

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        • February 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm

          Now we can find electronic version for OOP books.
          Good for me I don’t need a translation, very few are translated into French.

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          • February 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm

            TG for the kindle, eh?

            Like

            • February 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm

              YES!!! Try a French book with the French-English instant dictionary and you’ll understand why I say my kindle is my “doudou” (I think you say security blanket)

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        • February 4, 2012 at 2:15 am

          I have nineteen (including the ‘Autobiography’) on my shelves, and a quick scan of the usual suspects revealed that there are only really a couple more in print which I don’t have…

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          • February 4, 2012 at 2:19 am

            Can you get free French/German/French-English/German-English dictionaries for the Kindle? ‘Cos that would be very welcome…

            Like

  5. January 30, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I like the sounds of this a great deal. That’s the type of character I like and there aren’t even enough of them in contemporary novels. I haven’t read any Trollope so far but it sounds as if Guy has chosen wisely and we may even expect a Trollope page? 🙂
    It seems a pity he is not read so much but it could be due to the length of his novels. Another reasons why this seems a great start.

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    • January 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm

      No Trollope page in sight. At least not until I’ve read all Hardy and eventually finished rereading In Search of Lost Time. (I wonder if I’ll have enough brain cells available for that in 2012)

      Guy chose a “small” one for a start, which means less than 500 pages. (I don’t know how many pages it has, I have the kindle version) But still, it’s more than 200 pages, above your favourite length for a novel. 🙂

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  6. January 30, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Tom, Obooki,

    Something else.
    Since my native language is, I think, really difficult to learn, I can’t complain about the complexity of the English language. It would be unfair.
    I’m always at awe when I read a non-francophone writing French without mistakes. (Just like Tony does)

    Like

    • January 31, 2012 at 12:15 am

      Now I’m sure I’ve never written a sentence in French without making at least one mistake 😉

      Like

      • January 31, 2012 at 8:32 am

        Yes you do, trust me on that one, I’m the expert after all. 🙂

        Like

  7. January 31, 2012 at 8:09 am

    English is by far more difficult than French. It’s easier to learn the basics but it’s a deceptive language. Most people think they are good at it while they are not. I only say “phrasal verbs”.

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    • January 31, 2012 at 9:01 am

      Certainly. But Caroline, most people don’t learn a foreign language to read or write literature. They just want to travel, interact with foreign colleagues, understand what they read online. English is easier than French or German for that.

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      • January 31, 2012 at 11:21 am

        Yes, that is true but still it’s a bit of a prejudice that English should be so easy and I’m mortified daily at work when I hear all those people who think they master the “oh so easy English language” and listenig to them is quite frightful. And I’m not even talking about accents here.

        Like

        • January 31, 2012 at 2:17 pm

          The problem is that we don’t have a choice. We have to speak English in this world. That’s what I say to my children.

          Like

  8. January 31, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Few writers capture the complex layers of 19th century English society like Trollope while also being gently mocking of the deceits and subterfuges which keep it going. I enjoy his books but haven’t even heard of this one. Your summary is excellent as usual and almost saves me from having to read it myself. I congratulate you on being to read it in English – it can’t have been easy.

    Like

    • January 31, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      Trollope is often a reference in Daniel Pool’s book about England in the 19thC.
      I really recommend this book.

      Victorian lit isn’t the most difficult to read in the original.

      Like

  9. January 31, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I read this one a couple of years ago and loved it. It’s so refreshing to find a nineteenth century heroine who is stubborn and determined. Margaret was a joy to read about.

    Like

    • January 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      Margaret is stubborn in the best sense of the word. She stands for herself without being foolish. Perhaps Trollope also wanted to show the advantages of marrying an older woman.

      Like

  10. February 1, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I’ve only recently discovered that the “h” in Anthony is meant to be silent, as in Antony, and that the spelling variant is merely that – this came as a shock to the system as my parents always sounded the “h” as have mostly everybody I’ve come into contact with. Personally, I prefer the “h” (if you’ve got it, flaunt it) but “Antony Trollope” is perhaps easier on the tongue.

    Like

    • February 1, 2012 at 10:48 pm

      Hello,
      Thanks for visiting. So it is possible to say the “h” too.

      Like

      • February 4, 2012 at 2:22 am

        A matter of preference – my name doesn’t have the ‘h’ because my mum was determined that nobody would pronounce the thorn sound 😉

        Like

        • February 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm

          Well I can’t say Antony or Anthony properly with the thorn or not and with the stress on the right syllable if there’s Trollope just after. Alone, it’s rather OK.

          As a consolation, I’ll think that you might not be able to say Emmanuelle properly either, which is why I went for Emma online.

          Like

  11. February 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    It sounds very good. I have The Warden lined up as my first Trollope, for later this year, possibly at Tony’s suggestion (either Tony or Guy).

    My only fear with Trollope is that there’s so much of him. I do prefer discovering writers who, like Ann Quin say, didn’t write many books. It seems somehow so much more manageable.

    Like

    • February 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm

      It’s very good but far from what you’re currently reading.

      There are a lot of books by Trollope, something like 40 or 50. I wouldn’t think it as something to fear but more as something to be excited about: so many chances of great pleasure with books.

      Like

  12. February 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    What I read varies a fair bit. If it’s good that’s much more important than genre or style. Besides, variety is how one keeps things fresh.

    Like

    • February 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      I knew you’d react to that one. 🙂 I think you’d like Miss Mackenzie.

      Like

    • February 4, 2012 at 2:28 am

      But if you like Trollope, then you’ve found a writer who will supply you with a few good books a year for… well, virtually for ever if you reread a few 😉

      Like

      • February 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm

        I like to know there are still some in store for me.
        This is why I haven’t read all Romain Gary yet. I keep some unread ones for the future.

        Like

  13. February 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Tony, about kindle dictionaries.

    When I bought my kindle, I had to buy an American one. (I have American electric cord) So it came with the free American dictionary. It’s what I use when I read, I read the definitions in English and most of the time it’s fine. In prep school, the English teachers asked us to stop using a translation dictionary for unknown English words, so I’m used to it. However, I need an English-French dictionary for flowers, birds, trees, stuff like that because when I read the definition, I still don’t know what flower, bird or tree it is, most of the time.

    I downloaded (not free) the Collins English-French dictionary Vol.1. Bof. Lots of words are missing. It’s good for everyday life but not so good for literature.

    I also downloaded the Merriam-Webster’s French-English translation dictionary. Re-bof. Same comment as above.

    I can’t tell you how to change the automatic dictionary from one language to the other as I never tried.

    For a good English-French / French-English online dictionary:
    http://www.lexilogos.com/anglais_langue_dictionnaires.htm
    and choose the Larousse one for French to English.

    Like

  1. December 27, 2012 at 12:18 am
  2. August 1, 2013 at 12:06 am

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