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The Way We Live Now (Wordsworth Classics) Paperback – February 5, 2004
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For one thing there is Lady Carbury, widowed and trying to supplement a small income by writing novels of all things! She has a son, Sir Felix Carbury, who is the complete lout. There is not much new in his case. He has squandered his own inheritance in drinking and gambling at cards, and is the near-ruin of two women in the story. His sister Hetta is a beauty and of course in a Trollope novel is pursued by two men. Hetta's rejection of the rich and steady man against all family advice is perhaps not new, but it is something that happens more frequently in "modern" times.
The really new thing is the appearance of a modern financier, Mr. Melmotte. He uses leverage, watered stock and ponzi-like schemes to build a huge house of financial cards (think Bernie Madoff et al.). He entertains the visiting Emperor of Japan and English royalty and gets himself a seat in the House of Commons. Along the way he fleeces the old landed aristocracy represented by Mr. Longstaffe whose daughter Georgiana is particularly afflicted. Georgiana is of marriageable age but when her father must lose his house in London (due to Melmotte's scheming) Georgiana has no access to the London marriage market. She first contemplates marrying a rich Jew but family outrage puts a stop to that. Ultimately she is left with no better choice than to run off with an impoverished curate.
I won't say what becomes of Melmotte, but it's dramatic.
As an author who can develop and write wholly believable and interesting characters I rate Trollope on the top tier, along with Austen and Tolstoy. Other really excellent novels by Trollope include "Barchester Towers," "Dr. Thorne," "Can You Forgive Her," "The Eustace Diamonds," "Phineas Finn," "Phineas Redux," "The Prime Minister," and "The Three Clerks," at least these are my favorites.
Most of Trollope's work was big, and some of it quite great. Anyway, I always find him enjoyable, if sometimes too much stuck in unwinding the knots of his plots. Those pains often spoil the last 50 to 100 pages. The master didn't master the art of brevity and omission.
The plot driver of this big novel (100 chapters!) is a financial swindle about a big American railway project and the related fundraising in London society. Trollope shows himself quite the psychologist on the subject of financial confidence tricks, and of public reactions to them. A solid amount of anti-semitism comes into play, and one wonders if Trollope writes as a faithful observer of society, or if he discloses some personal attitudes of his own.
Money worries and match making shenanigans of English aristocrats and landed gentry provide further amusement, as do politics and gambling. Hunting can never fail to happen in Trollope, but is kept a a bare minimum here.
While I enjoyed reading it at a leisurely pace, not too much in one go, I remember that I was emotionally more invested in Trollope's Barchester Series, or in the Palliser novels. Maybe that's because there isn't any really interesting person in this whole long story. Or maybe I am getting too cynical with age anyway.