Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fragmentary Heroes

Some book series cannot be read exactly once. I’ve never met anyone, for instance, who has read The Lord of the Rings one time and one time only. If they’ve opened up the trilogy to begin it at all, they’ve either read it multiple times or given up on it before finishing it the first time through. I’m one of the few people I know who has read the Harry Potter series once (all the others being over forty). And as far as I can tell from online sources, Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles works the same way. Of course everyone who has read the six-novel set multiple times had to have, at one time in history, read it only once. But they don’t seem to write about it online at that point in their lives. I, on the other hand, because I’ve committed to blogging about my ten-year adventure, must share my impressions with the world before finishing the series, and even in the middle of each of the books.

Today, I’m just over halfway through The Little House at Allington, so I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But based on my experiences with ten other Anthony Trollope novels, I’ll enjoy the ending, whatever it proves to be. Right now, I’m fascinated with the diverging judgments of two characters on parallel courses. Adolphus Crosbie has become engaged to two women within two weeks, without even breaking off the first engagement before making the second offer. Johnny Eames also has professed his love to two different women, although without formal engagements, and has even kissed one of them. The two story arcs aren’t all that different: neither character understands himself, and both say things to women that they immediately regret. And yet Trollope treats the first as a scoundrel and the second as an endearing “hobbledehoy.”

So far, that is. I’m keeping an open mind. Trollope may reverse either judgment, or both, before tying up the threads. He tells the reader up front that the book has more than one hero, or rather that “that part in the drama will be cut up, as it were, into fragments.” And since he says this while introducing Mr Crosbie, he seems to imply that Mr Crosbie will play the role of one of those fragmentary heroes. So I’m ready to forgive him, since I know that Trollope might forgive him (dramatically speaking), as well.

And that knowledge lies at the foundation of my love for this now-neglected Victorian author. Ironically, the man whose narrations admit to the imaginary status of the characters they portray, ends up delivering surprisingly realistic people. And that means that anything can happen. My beloved Dickens would probably treat the man who engages himself to two women at the same time as a bounder, a cad who gets his just deserts at the end of the story. But Anthony Trollope, by presenting two fickle-hearted characters in the same book and showing that the difference between shameful and forgivable conduct is one of degree, invites the reader to see each weak-willed character as one of us and to show mercy. What other author writes such psychological, internal drama, puts all the suspense and mystery within the human heart, and yet leaves us shaking our heads in good-natured sympathy? It’s as if Dostoevsky had decided to try to make us chuckle.

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