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I, János Bátky, Hungarian citizen, come face to face with Englishness, Welshness and Irishness

February 24, 2012 18 comments

The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb. 1933 French title: La légende de Pendragon; translated into French by Natalia Zaremba-Huszvai and Charles Zaremba. 

Antal Szerb is a Hungarian writer of Jewish origin. He was born in 1901 in Budapest and died in 1945 in a camp, killed by Hungarian fascists. I discovered The Pendragon Legend when Max reviewed it here.

János Bátky is a Hungarian scholar who lives in London and he’s the Narrator of this novel. It’s 1933, our Narrator attends a party and is introduced to the eccentric Lord Owen Pendragon, Earl of Gwynedd. They have a common interest in esoteric and occult books. The count invites him to Gwynedd, his castle in Wales. It’s a rare opportunity, the castle’s library is filled with rare and ancient books and Bátky is excited to put his hands on original rarities. Before going, a mysterious phone-call warns him not to go. If curiosity doesn’t kill the cat, it threatens our Narrator’s life as he becomes involved with a strange family, drawn to legends and mysticism. The novel is an odd mix of detective story, gothic tale and social autopsy. A dangerous cocktail for a writer but the barman Szerb is a master and it’s excellent.

More than the plot of the novel, I loved Bátky’s subtle sense of humour and Szerb’s deciphering of Britishness. Max wrote a spot-on entry about János Bátky’s guide to romance and indeed the novel points out several times the difference between continental and British attitude toward love and sex. The book is full of ironic notes, aphorisms, little remarks about the UK. Here is Bátky sleeping in the family castle in Wales and feeling uncomfortable in his room:

En tout cas, j’allumai la lumière. La chambre était encore de deux cents ans plus historique que lorsque je m’étais couché. J’avais déjà vu de telles chambres dans des musées londoniens ou des châteaux français, mais toujours avec des étiquettes et des guides pour suggérer ce qu’il faut imaginer, Napoléon faisant les cent pas les mains croisées dans le dos ou une dame maigrichonne à côté de son rouet.

Anyway, I switched on the light. The bedroom was two-hundred years more historical than when I went to bed. I had already seen that kind of room in London museums or French castles but they always had tags and guides to prompt what to imagine. Napoléon pacing across the room with his hands behind his back; a skinny woman beside her spinning wheel.

Part of the book’s charm comes from this and I really appreciated that the translators scattered the text with English words such as Well, All Right, Dear Me, or I say. It enforced the feeling of being in Great Britain and reminded me all the time that Bátky was a foreigner there. Remember how I had problems saying Anthony Trollope? That was piece of cake compared to Gwynedd, Llianvygan, Abersych or Pierce Gwyn Mawr because I can’t even imagine how it’s supposed to sound. Some words seem bound to be photographed rather than said aloud. That said, I downloaded a sample of the English translation and I wonder if the French version isn’t even wittier than the English one:

Ses yeux étaient plus vifs que l’Angleterre disciplinée ne le permet d’habitude. Le sujet devait être pour lui le sujet des sujets.

The fervour in his eyes was certainly un-English. The subject was clearly close to his heart. (Translated by Len Rix.)

The literal French would be His eyes were brighter than usually allowed by disciplined England. The subject must have been THE subject.

Apart from the exquisite irony, Szerb is a wonderful writer when it comes to nature and lanscapes. His descriptions of the Welsh wilderness are beautiful, lots of greenery very few sheep, he mustn’t have visited the same places as me. Here is an example, if you can, read the French, the English is my translation.

Quand nous montâmes en voiture, il faisait déjà nuit. Le vent furetait impatiemment entre les arbres de la forêt que nous traversions et, de temps en temps, la pleine lune montrait son grand visage rougeoyant. A ces moments, on pouvait voir la fuite sauvage, exaltée mais néanmoins silencieuse, des nuages vers l’est.

It was already dark when we got into the car. The wind was impatiently snooping between the trees of the forest we were driving through and from time to time, the full moon showed up her big red- glowing face. In these moments, one could see clouds wildly but yet silently fleeing towards the East.

Picturesque, isn’t it?

For who reads this blog regularly, the novel will sound out of my usual path. That’s true. But that’s precisely the joy of blogging, being tempted by books I would never have picked on the shelf by myself. Thanks Max!

Cornegibouille! Ubu is a slave now.

February 18, 2012 4 comments

Ubu Enchainé by Alfred Jarry. 1899. Ubu Bound.

In case you’ve missed the first episode, here is my chronicle of Ubu RoiUbu Enchainé is the sequel of Ubu Roi. The first scene sums up what happened in the previous play. Now that Ubu is back to France, he doesn’t want to be king anymore; he wants to be a slave now. Follow a series of events, and it goes crazier and crazier. The language is as imaginative as in Ubu roi and under the apparent lunacy, there are some serious themes.

First, Jarry makes fun of the army, in French, l’armée, in Ubu-language, l’Armerdre, literally, the armshrit.) He makes fun of the dogma of liberty (Remember the slogan of the French Republic: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité) and also mocks fraternity. This must have been quite shocking at the time. The army was respected, in the idea of revenge over the Germans. And remember it was the Dreyfus Affair back then.

Second, I heard a criticism of anarchism in this play. The soldiers refuse to obey, they say it’s their freedom to do so. But they’re not free to obey and the rule is to act freely and obey wouldn’t be acting freely. They prone liberty at any cost up to stupidity.

Nous sommes libres de faire ce que nous voulons, même d’obéir ; d’aller partout où il nous plaît, même en prison! La liberté, c’est l’esclavage ! We are free to do as we please, even free to obey, free to go everywhere we want, even to prison! True freedom lays in slavery!

The reasoning is pushed so far that it becomes ridiculous. (Is is a syllogism?)

I wrote an entry about character names in Trollope. Jarry has a lot of fun with them too. Here we have Pissembock (Pee-in-a -beer-glass), Pissedoux (Pee-softly), Granpré (High Prairie) or Grandair (Grandair, like in Trollope, btw). I have no idea how the English translator dealt with these names. Lord Catoblépas, the English character speaks French like a Spanish cow –this is literally what we say when a foreigner speaks awful French– mixing English and French, I could hear his accent:

Oh ! Vous faites à moi beaucoup de pleasure. Voici pour vous bonne pourboire. Oh! You’re making me many plaisir. Here a good tip to you.

I tried to translate the grammar mistakes into some a French could make in English. Again, I wonder how the English translator did.

The play was incredible. I saw a version directed by British director Dan Jemmet. Eric Cantona impersonated a formidable Père Ubu, Valérie Crouzet a vulgar and yelling Mère Ubu and an incredible actor, Giovanno Calo played a Narrator. When I read the play, I wondered how the director would do with all the characters and locations indicated in the book. He had a fantastic idea: the Narrator was in a kitchen and played all the other characters using eggs, toasts, a tea pot, a flower, a bottle. I understand that Jarry meant to use puppets. This was a crazy version of the puppets, perfectly in the atmosphere of Jarry’s text. Calo moved like a mime sometimes, funny and at the same time really telling what was happening. Marvellous.

I recommend that your rational mind takes a French leave when you read the Ubu plays. It’s the only way to enjoy them.

Photo: Eric Cantona by Patrick Swirc for “Télérama”.

Strangers On A Train by Patricia Highsmith

February 15, 2012 11 comments

Stranger On A Train by Patricia Highsmith. 1950. French title: L’inconnu du Nord Express.

Strangers On a Train is one of the books Guy gave me for our virtual Christmas gifts. Hitchcock made this novel into a film in 1951, shortly after the novel was published. The film is very famous, so I suspect you already know the plot. Let me refresh your memory. 

Guy Haines is a young architect in his late twenties. He made a mistake when he was younger, marrying the vulgar and clinging Miriam, back there in his home town of Metcalf, Texas. Their marriage is a failure and they’ve been living apart for two years now, he in New York, she still in Metcalf.  

At the beginning of the book, Guy is on his way to Metcalf, to get a divorce. Miriam is pregnant with another man’s child and she intends to marry him. She’s eventually ready to agree on the divorce. Guy is impatient to get away with it, both because he loathes Miriam and wants her out of his life and because he’s in love with Anne and needs his freedom to marry her.  

He meets Charles Bruno on a train carriage to Metcalf. Bruno starts talking to him and Guy is too polite to object and get rid of him. Against his better judgement, he accepts to dine with him in his private carriage. Bruno is on his way to Santa Fe to meet his mother. He hates his father and wants him dead, mostly to put his hands on his fortune and have his mother to himself. Bruno adores his mother. Although he’s usually rather private, Guy confides in Bruno who quickly understands how convenient it would be if Miriam were dead. The craziest idea occurs to him and he suggests Guy that they plan the perfect murder. He would kill Miriam and Guy would kill Bruno Senior. Guy refuses and turns his back on him, appalled. They part.  

When Miriam is murdered a few weeks later, Guy suspects that Bruno did it. Bruno confirms his suspicion and now claims that Guy must pay him back and do his part of the bargain.  

From then on, Guy’s life turns into hell.  

The confrontation between the two men is uneven as Bruno is unbalanced and fights dirty. I found the two characters complex and perfectly drawn. Patricia Highsmith excels in pealing of layers after layers of thoughts and feelings, exploring the minds of our two murderers.  

Bruno is a crazy man and his motives are based on muddy feelings. We are in an Oedipal story: he wants his father killed to have his mother. He loathes women in general and yet can’t stay away from Guy, even if it’s imprudent to contact him as the basis of their perfect murder is the impossibility for the police to make a connection between the two of them. The following quote is typical of Bruno’s behaviour and attitude towards life:  

I mean you’re serious and you choose a profession. Like architect. Me, I don’t feel like working. I don’t have to work, see? I’m not a writer or a painter or a musician. Is there any reason a person should work if they don’t have to? I’ll get my ulcers the easy way. My father has ulcers. Hah! He still has hopes I’ll enter his hardware business. I tell him his business, all business, is legalized throat-cutting, like marriage is legalized fornication.

I think Bruno is in love with Guy. We are in 1950 and Patricia Highsmith doesn’t write it openly but there are enough hints. Perhaps it’s such a taboo that Bruno can’t admit it to himself either. Bruno coaxes Guy into killing Bruno Senior. He appears out of thin air, crashes at Guy’s wedding with Anne, telephones at home, at the office, writes letters. He threatens to tell the truth to Anne or to the police, follows Guy at work. He pushes Guy over the edge.

The novel shows how Bruno slowly but surely breaks up Guy.  

Guy is an honest man, deep inside. He’s a quiet, serious man, climbing the social ladder thanks to his gift for architecture and his wedding with Anne. He’s deeply in love with her, a requited love by the way. She’s his anchor in real life when things get out of control with Bruno. Guy’s leading a double life. On the one hand, he’s a promising architect, his career is taking off and he’s busy building a life with Anne and designing creative buildings. On the other hand, he’s consumed with guilt and always on edge because of Bruno’s looming presence.  

Bruno tortures him, not physically of course, but mentally. Guy’s an fascinating character, serious, shy, professional and creative. His creativity relies on his ability to imagine the people who will use the building he’s drawing and to design an artistic line without neglecting the practicalities. It’s an interesting side of his character, it reveals his concern for other people and explains his anguish and his guilt. He’s split into two.  

Patricia Highsmith explores an intriguing idea: do we all have a murdered lurking in ourselves, ready to come out were our public self threatened enough. We all live with a dark side and here’s Guy thinking about it:  

But love and hate, he thought now, good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in differing proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, one had merely to scratch the surface. All things had opposites close by, every decision a reason against it, every animal an animal that destroys it, the male the female, the positive the negative. The slitting of the atom was the only true destruction, the breaking of the universal law of oneness. Nothing could be without its opposite that was bound up with it. Could space exist in a building without objects that stopped it? Could energy exist without matter, or matter without energy? Matter and energy, the inert and the active, once considered opposites, were now to be one. 

Highsmith’s style is amazing. Precise. Imaginative. Literary. She builds the tension in the story, adding one detail to the other, slowly driving the characters to the inevitable. I loved the Trollope Guy chose for me, this one is also excellent. Thanks Guy, now I’m looking forward to reading An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge.

Merdre or Shrit! Ubu Roi is a lot more sensible than expected

February 11, 2012 16 comments

Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry. 1896. Written circa 1888. English Title: Ubu Rex.

I’m going to watch the play Ubu Enchaîné (Ubu Bound) by Alfred Jarry in a couple of days. So I thought I might as well read it before watching it. Then I realized that Ubu Roi and Ubu Cocu (Ubu Cuckolded) came before Ubu Enchaîné, and that there was also Ubu sur la butte (1906) I downloaded the four plays, so you can expect more about Ubu.

In Ubu Roi, Père Ubu and Mère Ubu murder the current king of Poland so that Père Ubu can be powerful and rich. Follow the inevitable massacres of opponents, wars, spoliations and battles.

In French, ubuesque means totally absurd. Hmm, I’m not sure about Ubu being totally absurd. It is a parody of classic theatre, Shakespeare, Corneille and Racine in particular. It’s clear in the introduction:

Adonc le Père Ubu hoscha la poire, dont fut depuis nommé par les Anglois Shakespeare, et avez de lui sous ce nom maintes belles tragœdies par escript.

Thereatte Lord Ubu shooke his peare-head,

whence he

is by the Englysshe yclept Shakespeare, and you

have from

him under thatte name many goodlie tragedies in his own hande.

translated by C. Connolly and S. Watson Taylor.

And indeed, Ubu is a funny pot-pourri of the conventions of tragedy and of allusions to the history of France. In the first scene, Mère Ubu talks Père Ubu into killing the king of Poland to dethrone him then become rich. There are already several allusions in that scene. The most obvious one is the reference to Macbeth, especially since Ubu kills the king just after he rewarded him for his courage at war. The second one would be a historical reference to the 16thC, when Henri II, son of Catherine de Médicis became king of Poland.

Later, during the war, Ubu loses his horse. Although he’s not ready to give up his kingdom for a horse, he’s pretty upset by the loss. Ubu also wants to kill his assailants by sticking a wood pick in their ears, which reminded me of Hamlet’s father being killed with poison in his ear. By the way, after the war, Ubu sails near Elsinore on his way back to France.

Other allusions to Shakespeare are scattered throughout the text: Family Ghosts talk to Bougrelas, the son of the former king, during his sleep. He’s on the run, thinking about revenge.

O mon Dieu ! Qu’il est triste de se voir seul à quatorze ans avec une vengeance terrible à poursuivre ! O my God! How sad it is to be alone at fourteen with a terrible vengeance to pursue

The Ghosts give him a sword that won’t rest in peace until the usurper is dethroned. The idea of vengeance at any cost is also present in Le Cid by Corneille, which takes place in Spain and there are allusions to Spain in Ubu Roi too. One sentence is an open reference to Horace, also by Corneille:

Combat des voraces contre les coriaces, mais les voraces ont complètement mangé et dévoré les coriaces, comme vous le verrez quand il fera jour Fight of the voracious against the tough but the voracious totally ate and devoured the tough, as you’ll see it when it is dawn.

Here you need to read the French. Horace relates the fight between the Horatii (Horaces) and the Curatii (Curiaces), an episode of Ancient Rome history. In Jarry’s phrase, Horace becomes vorace (voracious) and Curiace becomes coriace (tough).

Jarry plays with the conventions of theatre. Somewhere in the play, Mère Ubu has her monologue, a tradition in classic plays. I also caught allusions to Molière: Ubu’s passion for money reminded me of L’Avare. Some devices come from Molière and the Comedia dell’Arte: streams of insults, tricks, beat-ups. Sometime, Ubu is convinced that he saved his crowd from a bear thanks to a prayer. What a Tartuffe!

Several episodes of our history are mentioned in the play. After ridiculous trials, Ubu executes the nobility of his country to take their properties. It’s not the guillotine, but it’s close; I thought of the Terror. Ubu visits the previous king’s son in his jail and says it would make a fuss of he escaped. I saw a mix between Louis XVII in the prison du Temple after the Revolution and their attempt to flee the country. Later, Ubu is stuck in Russia, in the snow, during a war with his enemies. Doesn’t that ring a bell?

I suspect that there were also allusions to contemporary politics. Ubu wants to create all kinds of taxes, and taxes on propriety and on revenues were actually discussed during the Third Republic in France. I also find strange that a peasant is named Stanislas Leczinski, which is the name of the last Duke of Lorraine, just at a time when reconquering Lorraine to the Germans was a major issue in the country.

In a way, I even found Jarry premonitory. Ubu calls himself Maître des Financiers (Master of Finance Men), he sees his political role as a taking good care of the finance. With the Euro crisis these days, I wonder if our politicians don’t feel the same.

That was the substance. Now the form. The language is extraordinary, literally. It’s full of play-on-words, allusions, slang, swear words and inventions. I’m not surprised his contemporaries were shocked. It mixes old French with argot, accents and onomatopoeias. It’s funny, terribly funny and very witty, like here:

Pile.— Hon ! Monsieuye Ubu, êtes-vous remis de votre terreur et de votre fuite ? Père Ubu.— Oui! Je n’ai plus peur, mais j’ai encore la fuite. Pile – Hon! Sir Ubu, have you recovered from your fright and your flight?

Père Ubu: Yes! I’m not frightened any more but I’m still flightened.

I couldn’t find a free translation online, so you’ll have to bear my translations. Be forgiving, it’s not easy to translate. The dialogues are totally whacked, surrealist we would say now. (and indeed Jarry was a precursor of the Surrealists)

Un Capitaine (arrivant).

— Sire Ubu, les Russes attaquent. Père Ubu.

— Eh bien, après, que veux tu que j’y fasse ? Ce n’est pas moi qui le leur ai dit.

A Captain, coming.

- Sir Ubu, the Russian attack.

- Well, what do you want from me? I’m not the one who asked them to.

 Sometimes, it’s also very sharp. Before Ubu, the finance men are spelled Les Financiers. After the coup, they are spelled Phynanciers, a way to show that after a revolution, the people remain but with another tag.

I had a lot of fun reading this. Under the apparent craziness, I found many perfectly sensible themes and attacks to politicians. Ubu is horrible. He kills in cold blood, only lusts for money, treats his people with contempt. He has the madness of a Nero. The parody of serious tragedies is hilarious. It’s a short play, about 60 pages and it’s a real gem. I’m sure I missed many other allusions, I’m not a specialist of classic tragedies, they rather bore me. (I prefer Shakespeare to Corneille and Racine anyway). It must have been a challenge to translate this play and keep the creativity of the language. Give it a try.

I found other reviews: one by Mel U at The Reading Life and Tom at Wuthering Expectations also wrote several entries about Ubu, (here about the use of merdre  , here  and here)

PS: I guess I know why the director chose Eric Cantona to play Ubu in the version of Ubu Bound I’ll see.

The end of innocence

February 9, 2012 16 comments

Le blé en herbe by Colette. 1923 English title: The Ripening Seed.

This month, our selection for our Book Club Les Copines d’Abord was Le blé en herbe by Colette, a brilliant novella picturing the delicate time between childhood and adulthood. Colette doesn’t mention adolescence, I’m not sure that word was commonly used at the time.

Early 1920s. Philippe and Vinca spend all their summers in Brittany with their parents, who are used to renting the same house together every summer. Phil and Vinca have known each other since childhood. They are close friends, sharing their activities. But this year, things have changed as they are leaving childhood behind and starting the difficult path of adulthood.

Mais le plus beau matin rajeunissait jusqu’à ces enfants égarés et qui se tournaient parfois, plaintivement, vers la porte invisible par où ils étaient sortis de l’enfance. But the brightest morning made these distraught children look younger. Sometimes, they turned back plaintively towards the invisible door through which they had come out of childhood.

The tender feelings between them are shifting from a carefree camaraderie into love. So they think. They grope around, hesitate to name their growing feeling, knowing deep inside it is changing. Each of them experiences the turmoil of adolescence, questions about identity, love, sex, the future.

Philippe envisions school, diplomas, work. He knows Vinca mentally prepares to get married and be a housewife. He tries to act as a man. She has womanly curves but still behaves like a tomboy, fishing crabs and shrimps, walking by the sea, throwing stones in the ocean. This summer, their sensuality awakens. They try to understand what happens, do their best to cope with it. They become self-conscious, walls build up between them. Philippe realizes he doesn’t know her as much as he thought. She loves him unconditionally but seems more mature than him sometimes. She has to face his weaknesses. They misunderstand each other, quarrel sometimes. The external element who will unbalance their casualness and force them to face their feeling will be Mme Dalleray, a 30 years old woman who meets Philippe and seduces him.

Philippe and Vinca call their parents les Ombres, the Shadows. They are so caught up in their little drama, their internal tempest that they behave on automatic pilot when they are among their families. They have this silent understanding between them, their own unspoken language. They are oblivious to their parents and they perceive them as distant puppets moving around them, Shadows gesticulating in the background. I can relate to that. I remember that feeling and I still do that sometimes, partially withdraw from my environment when something bothers me. Teenagers sometimes seem selfish but their energy is turned inward trying to understand the hurricane of questions and feelings they discover. (Please remind me of that in a few years when my children are teenagers.)

In Le blé en herbe, it is August, the summer is ending, so is Philippe and Vinca’s childhood. The descriptions of the landscape go along with the change in their attitude towards one another. Colette is an excellent writer, giving a vivid picture of the scenery, the wilderness and the sense of an ending.

L’odeur de l’automne, depuis quelques jours, se glissait, le matin, jusqu’à la mer.De l’aube à l’heure où la terre, échauffée, permet que le souffle frais de la mer repousse l’arôme, moins dense, des sillons ouverts, du blé battu, des engrais fumants, ces matins d’août sentaient l’automne. Since a few days, the scent of autumn drifted to the sea in the morning. From dawn to the hour when the warm earth allows the fresh breath from the sea to push aside the less dense aroma of the open furrows, of the beaten wheat, of the steaming manure, these August mornings smelled like autumn.

Colette perfectly unfolds their tormented relationship and remarkably describes the impact of sensuality on what they think is a couple. The characters aren’t what you could expect. Philippe is more hesitant and troubled than Vinca. Does it matter that this novel was written by a woman? I think it does. Colette had a free lifestyle and it resonates in her work. I feel that no male writer managed to describe the fragility of an adolescent boy the way Colette did. At least not before the 1970s and men’s acceptance of their soft side. Here the characters aren’t what you expect. Philippe cries, overwhelmed by emotions. Vinca is more practical, able to repress her feelings and act rationally. In a way, she’s stronger than him.

I am sorry I couldn’t find an online version of The Ripening Seed, I had to translate the quotes and it wasn’t easy. Colette is gifted, subtle, managing to mirror Phil and Vinca’s feelings into the lanscape. It’s a faithful portrait of adolescence, the end of innocence, the end of certainties and the mistaken impression nobody ever experienced what we feel. Danielle reviewed it too (spoilers there) but the quote by a professional translator will give you a better idea of Colette’s talent.

Trollope plays with character names

February 4, 2012 17 comments

Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope. 1865.

I already wrote the main piece about Miss Mackenzie but I’d like to pay a tribute to Trollope’s sense of humour when it comes to character names. In Proust, names have a special place in the Narrator’s mind. He fantasizes about the Guermantes names, he explores etymology of places. It’s part of his imagination, his way to decipher the essence and the history of the Guermantes.

Nothing so romantic or intellectual in Trollope. I started to pay attention to characters names when I first encountered Mr Frigidy and Mr Startup at Mr Stumfold’s tea party. Remember, Mr Stumfold is the evangelist clergyman that Miss Mackenzie meets in Littlebath. Mr Frigidy and Mr Startup are his disciples. Can you imagine a funnier name than Frigidy for a Calvinist clergyman? The name in itself bears the image of a dark tooth-pick man dressed in black, with no sense of humour and who considers that dancing and playing cards are devilish.

He [Mr Frigidy] was a good young man, at peace with all the world—except Mr Startup. With Mr Startup the veracious chronicler does not dare to assert that Mr Frigidy was at peace.

And Mr Startup! I imagined him in the wilderness in the colonies trying to settle a Christian community among natives, certain to bring Truth to poor people living in sin.

Startup, though he was younger than Frigidy, could talk to seven ladies at once with ease, but Frigidy could not talk to one without much assistance from that lady herself.

I had a feeling of Thomson and Thompson (Dupont and Dupond for French readers) about these two ones, and their choice of names made me laugh.

Their names are connected to their profession. In the same spirit, Tom Mackenzie works in the oilcloth industry and thus his associate is conveniently named Mr Rubb, mid-way between rub and rubber. And doesn’t Mr Rubb thoroughly tell rubbish to Miss Mackenzie to get her money? Doesn’t he mentally rub her feelings to have her on his side?

On another tone, the attorney who’s in charge of the Mackenzies’ legal affairs is named Mr Slow and Trollope describes him as follow:

He was a stout, thickset man, very leisurely in all his motions, who walked slowly, talked slowly, read slowly, wrote slowly, and thought slowly; but who, nevertheless, had the reputation of doing a great deal of business, and doing it very well. He had a partner in the business, almost as old as himself, named Bideawhile; and they who knew them both used to speculate which of the two was the most leisurely. It was, however, generally felt that, though Mr Slow was the slowest in his speech, Mr Bideawhile was the longest in getting anything said.

According to Daniel Pool’s book, justice was rather slow in the Victorian era. Shall we see a little attack at the institution through the name of that lawyer? In any case, the description of the attorney’s office is appalling; I doubt anyone would have considered being a lawyer under these conditions.

In addition to the clergymen and the attorney, the doctor’s called Mr Slumpy, the haughty butler at the Tom Mackenzie’s is purposely named Grandairs. A rather stupid old lady with her oh-so-English reply I’m sure I don’t know’ answers the sweet name of Mrs Fuzzybell. The goodhearted but rather nosy and vulgar lodger in London is a Mrs Buggins. Unsurprisinggly, she gets on Miss Mackenzie’s nerves.

I’m sure I missed some and I didn’t catch all the innuendos. I wonder if there are footnotes in the French translation or if the names have been translated. It spiced my reading, enforcing the idea of the writer as a playful narrator. I want to hear more of Mr Trollope’s literary voice.

PS: For other Trollope readers, Lady Glencora Palliser makes an appearance in the end of the novel, like a guest star in a sitcom.

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