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Abstract Wealth and Community in ‘The Way We Live Now’.

Graduate Winner of the 2019 Trollope Prize.

DURING THE SECOND half of the nineteenth century, the stock market swindler found himself the economic villain du jour because he embodied middle-class anxieties surrounding an increasingly abstract and professionalized economy. In literature, bank runs, stock-market crashes, and fraudulent companies, et cetera, “could operate as an easily realizable way of articulating instability” (Wagner 5).1 In this way, authors contributed to the perception of the investment economy as pervasive and money as all powerful. While many of Anthony Trollope’s novels deal directly with swindlers and scams in the credit economy, The Way We Live Now offers one of the best opportunities for studying the interplay of literature, economics, and community formation in the face of economic abstraction because the novel portrays a world in which economic systems are not simply the mathematical, disinterested entities economists described, but immersive, volatile systems able to shape identity. In The Way We Live Now, characters equate the abstract economy with air, perceiving it as immersive and inescapable. This immersiveness complicates the possibility of what I term capital conversion—the ability to move disparate capitals such as social, cultural, and domestic capitals between fields—because it mystifies the values of non-economic fields necessary to community formation. Capital conversion is required for community formation because it is predicated upon recognition of, and respect for, the values of different fields. Recognition and respect, as Trollope illustrates, are possible only when characters invest their time and resources in learning the values of other fields. Through this education, characters attain a mutual understanding that acts as a foundation for community.

The increasingly powerful and abstract investment economy obscures relationships between—and the value of—different fields of capital in the novel because it overthrows previously established relationships such as that between land ownership, social prestige, and economic success. Community formation, however, depends upon non-economic capitals. As a result, the only viable communities depicted in the novel are those that are tangentially, rather than directly, involved with the abstract economy: the domestic sphere and gentlemen’s clubs. Both the home and the club are closed communities whose borders can be policed, and both depend on gender and class: middle-class women make a home and only men of a certain class can join clubs. Furthermore, both spaces require attention to multiple forms of capital for entry and membership. Trollope indicates that if the home and the club are properly maintained, they are not subject to the fluctuations of the abstract economy, allowing for stability and the formation of interpersonal connections. For example, when the purveyor of the Beargarden, Herr Vosner, absconds with money, the club recovers quickly with minor inconvenience.

Trollope’s The Way We Live Now…underscores the ideological importance of land to counter new economic practices. The emphasis on finance capitalism is challenged by the importance of estates.

The difficulties posed by the abstract economy including atomization stem from two related effects: confusion over the values of other types of capital, their relation to economic capital, and the implication of land within the cash nexus. While Mary Poovey contends that it was “most Britons’ impression that, in its own way, capital was as substantial—as real—as land” (Introduction 3), Trollope’s The Way We Live Now refutes this and underscores the ideological importance of land to counter new economic practices. The emphasis on finance capitalism is challenged by the importance of estates. Melmotte’s desire to purchase Pickering, one of the country estates owned by the Longstaffe family, shows that land remained a significant component in legitimating the abstract economy by grounding it in the real, tangible world. Land becomes implicated in the abstract economy when negotiations between characters reveal land to be little more than a bargaining chip, challenging its symbolic value and reducing land’s ability to act as a foil for capitalism. Without clear rules dictating how older forms of value represented by the country estate interact with new financial systems, the novel risks revealing to readers the deterioration of stable class and gender hierarchies. Trollope represents this through the fraudulent purchase and destruction of Pickering, which was “purchased,” but never paid for, by Melmotte.2 Trollope uses his failed investment lords to create a tension between the desirable stability and legitimacy of land and the impossibility of achieving that stability. The fraudulent purchase and destruction of Pickering indicate that the most recognizable symbol of English community—the English country house—has entered into the economic market and been unable to withstand the maelstrom: “The Pickering estate had been the joint property of him [Mr. Longstaffe] and his son [Dolly]. The house had been already pulled down, and now the purchaser offered bills in lieu of the purchase money!” (Trollope II.217). Rather than challenge the capitalist system, land becomes a part of it. The significance—that land is perhaps no different from any other commodity to be bought and sold, despite its ideological freight—makes the estate an impotent signifier of modern English community. The ruin of Pickering suggests destruction of gender and economic identity and stable community relations. Because it was the “joint property” of Mr. Longstaffe and Dolly, the sale of Pickering is a point of contention between father and son that fractures the already tenuous family relations, challenging patriarchal legacy and intergenerational power. The fracturing of intrafamilial relations spirals out into social interactions beyond the family, as Georgiana Longstaffe’s subplot illustrates.3 No great conflagration destroys Pickering, the fate of earlier, mid-century estates in Jane Eyre and Aurora Leigh. However, the lack of spectacle belies the extent to which Pickering’s destruction is destabilizing. I will address in the third section how this disempowered position paradoxically allows for an alternative circulation of wealth and capital. Yet this new circulation depends on the clash of tradition and modernity to reveal the limitations of a landed, entrenched patriarchy.

The Over/Under: Augustus Melmotte.

TROLLOPE DEPICTS TWO very different reactions to the abstract economy and the resulting unknowability of values in his characters Augustus Melmotte and Roger Carbury. Melmotte over-invests, whereas Roger underinvests in the financial realm. Neither of these responses allow the men to be successful members of a community or to develop interpersonal relationships in which they are respected. They are two of the loneliest characters in the novel alienated by their economic practices, which represent two extremes of engagement with modernity.4 To unpack their lack of success and general lack of community requires an examination of how they engage with different types of capital, followed by an analysis of each man’s social worlds and their positions within them. Due to length constraints, this analysis is necessarily abridged.

As Trollope’s major character most-immersed in the credit economy, Melmotte represents the worst effects caused by abstraction, which include blinders toward the different fields of capital. Melmotte’s inflated wealth hinders his understanding of how value transfers between fields, undergirding his belief in all other fields’ inferiority to the realm of finance and the City. Unable to see the value of other fields, Melmotte does not learn their rules. He cannot comprehend that objects such as a ticket to a ball, which represent social capital, may be more highly prized than money. Because he does not learn their rules, he cannot see their value or how the fields relate. This is ultimately his undoing.5 Melmotte’s limited understanding of capital conversion is displayed in several ways during the novel, the first of which is when he fails to realize that his financial wealth does not excuse him from observing social mores and etiquette. Nor does his financial wealth give him automatic access to that knowledge. His failure in the social realm marks readers’ introduction to Melmotte when at Madame Melmotte’s ball, “considerable skill was shown in keeping the presence of his royal guest a secret from the host…[because Melmotte] would probably have been troublesome and disagreeable” (TWWLN I.42). As the novel continues and Melmotte’s financial success and notoriety increase, he moves from possessing “awkwardness and incapacity” (I.88) to flagrant rudeness which others translate as disregard for social rules. In the novel, everyone attends—or wants to attend—Melmotte’s parties, but they go because of the social capital associated with being seen among the invited guests, rather than because they desire or perceive benefit in direct association with Melmotte himself.

His financial capital and its power thus have limits in terms of forging real social bonds, or even the effective performance of them. “It was pleasant to see…the sweet intimacy with which he [Melmotte] called his Lordship Alfred” (I.36) elicits nothing by disdain because the intimacy is unearned. Rather than Melmotte being perceived as “pleasant,” such behavior is interpreted by Lord Alfred and others as at best ignorant, but more likely intentionally vulgar.6 As such, socializing with Melmotte has a price tag, but the price is never specified. “‘It is all very well saying that it isn’t right’” The Duchess says to her son Lord Buntingford in response to his objection to dancing with Marie Melmotte, “‘but what are we to do about Alfred’s children’” (I.33). Lord Buntingford acquiesces to one dance before disappearing from the novel. The family trades a dance with a Lord for Melmotte managing the Grendall family’s debt, but only because the Melmotte “money was certain” (I.33). Yet that certainty of money is not worth continued or consistent intimacy with the family, as Georgianna Longstaffe learns to her detriment. Everybody visits them, but nobody “condescends to come and stay with” the Melmottes, as Georgianna’s frenemy Lady Monogram chastises her (I.302-304). Going suggests a temporary alliance to move capital around. Staying suggests an affinity for their poor social abilities. Melmotte’s attempts at capital exchange across fields fall apart because the terms and agreements are undecipherable: no one is quite clear on how close to get to Melmotte, how long to interact with him, or the exact compensation for a dance, which leads to unstable situations.

Ultimately, Melmotte’s cash flow problem results from his lack of social capital and his lack of understanding about how fields of capital interact.7 His misunderstanding is ironic because of the way Melmotte understands and describes credit: “Gentlemen who don’t know the nature of credit, how strong it is,—as the air, —to buoy you up; how slight it is, —as a mere vapour, —when roughly touched, can do an amount of mischief of which they themselves don’t in the least understand the extent!” (TWWLN I.379-380). Melmotte’s description of financial credit could also be applied to the way social capital works in the novel, yet Melmotte fails to realize this. As Pierre Bourdieu describes, “In this game, the trump cards are the habitus, that is to say, the acquirements, the embodied, assimilated properties, such as elegance, ease of manner, beauty and so forth, and capital as such, that is, the inherited assets which define the possibilities inherent in the field” (149-150). Melmotte has not received the “education sentimentale” necessary to understand the value and power of habitus and effectively navigate society.8 Moments in the novel such as when “everyone” is attempting to get tickets that cannot be had for “love or money” (II.81) to Melmotte’s dinner and ball raise the question of how different forms of capital can be converted, even while they foreclose the possibility of Melmotte converting his money into social cachet. In this instance, the only currency with recognized value is social capital.

When Melmotte does focus attention on the social rather than the financial, he does so at the wrong times and in the wrong manner. As rumors of his forgeries begin to spread prior to the Emperor’s dinner, rather than go into the City for work, he spends the day “pottering about among the chairs and benches in the banqueting room” (II.68). This leads even his supporters to criticize him because “at such a time as this and in such a crisis as this, he should have been in the City” (II.68), suggesting his failure to achieve acceptance from homosocial institutions he seeks to join, and his misunderstanding of capital conversion. Melmotte’s financial wealth is not social wealth despite people wanting to attend his parties, and his great parties translate into neither social nor financial success. While, as Denise Lovett explores, possession of a ticket to Melmotte’s parties indicates the possessor’s social capital, it does not indicate Melmotte’s (700). Building on Lovett, it is the accumulated social power of the other invited guests that makes the tickets desirable and who attends is spread through gossip and rumor. Minor characters with substantial social capital such as The Duchess attend Melmotte’s parties in the hopes of inducing financial assistance for her dilettante family members. Other characters, such as Georgianna Longstaffe’s friend Lady Monogram attend Melmotte’s parties in the hopes of being seen in the same company as The Duchess et al. The majority of his guests, then, are interested and invested in other guests, not in the Melmotte family who they see as little more than furniture in the room. Despite his genius for finance and abstract trading, Melmotte fails to realize this.

The Over/Under: Roger Carbury 

MELMOTTE’S SOCIAL POSITIONING and self-promotion is in direct contrast with that of Roger Carbury. Because of this, despite the modern elements of the novel that scholars such as Amanda Anderson have explored, The Way We Live Now is often read as “a nostalgic response to a nation and culture into which speculation had already deeply penetrated, a longing for the old world of Roger Carbury and a removal of speculative activity from the domestic to the foreign” (Van 78).9 Yet, if The Way Live Now is “a longing for the old world,” the depiction of Roger Carbury in the novel demonstrates that the old world is no longer viable. While Roger appears to fit effortlessly into his social milieu, his refusal to engage with the abstract economy leaves him comparatively impoverished and a quaint relic of older times. Roger may be a responsible landowner and the embodiment of duty and quiet noblesse oblige, but this very quietness costs him the spectacle necessary to his standing in society and the maintenance of social connections.10 Roger’s apparent quietism masks how he is remarkable as the only major character to consistently read and understand traditional rules of capital transference.11 We see this most clearly in the guidance he gives to other characters, such as when he counsels Father Barham about how to be more successful both socially and vocationally. Despite his clear sight for others, Roger is passed over as both an adviser and a love interest. Multiple characters ask Roger for advice—most notably Paul Montague and Lady Carbury—only to ignore it. Roger is unable to win Hetta Carbury’s affections and ultimately ends up an impotent pseudo-uncle to Hetta and her children by his former friend and rival-in-love. He passes his name and estate to the next generation, but doesn’t reproduce biologically suggesting that in the terms of the novel, only Roger’s configuration of economic and social status is valuable. Much like his fate in the novel, Roger Carbury is frequently dismissed by critics. Studies of masculinity and economics centered on Trollope’s novel most often focus on Augustus Melmotte or the idle young men of the Beargarden with their paper IOUs.12 Roger, however, despite his critical obscurity embodies contemporary fears about the credit economy, its enervating effects on men, and the difficulties of attaining a sense of community in the face of abstraction. Roger’s ability to navigate non-financial fields of capital and social situations paradoxically does not create a community, as evidenced by the tension in his relationships with other characters. From this paradox, however, and despite his impotence in the novel, Roger enables potential new pathways for the circulation of wealth and capital even as these pathways leave him behind at the novel’s close.

Roger’s control of his finances and his debt-free life contribute to the impression of membership within a community even as it injures him. “Carbury of Carbury had never owed a shilling that he could not pay, or his father before him” (I.50). To avoid debt, particularly in The Way We Live Now, should indicate good character, but readers are quickly informed “His orders to the tradesmen at Beccles were not extensive, and care was used to see that the goods supplied were neither overcharged nor unnecessary. The tradesmen, consequently, of Beccles did not care much for Carbury of Carbury” (I.50). The comedic element of this moment masks its inherent discord: the nameless tradesmen would rather risk not being paid by a debtor with a large order than to have the hard cash of a small order from Roger. As Jill Rappoport discusses in regard to several of Trollope’s other novels, “financial obligations are painful and emasculating” (651), and so Roger Carbury’s fiscal responsibleness should endear him to everyone, particularly the tradesmen.13 Yet, the narrator indicates that Roger’s debt-free life is unfortunate because it alienates the community of which he is reputed to be a part. Only “perhaps one or two of the elders among [the tradesmen] entertained some ancient reverence for the family” (TWWLN I.50, emphasis added). It is only perhaps the older generation who respects Roger’s debt-free life. Even then, the respect given to Roger stems from “some ancient reverence for the family” rather than Roger’s financial practices, suggesting his individual insignificance in the community even as it speaks to the importance of tradition and the Carbury family.

Roger’s commitment to taking care of his land—the luxury which “of all luxuries is the most costly” (I.48)—and fulfilling his duties without extravagance means that even though “there had been no ruin, —no misfortune…the Squire of Carbury Hall had become a poor man simply through the wealth of others” (I.48). In the same way that debt once indicated a character flaw, Roger Carbury’s comparative poverty is now suspect. While Roger Carbury is not actually poor and readers meet characters of smaller incomes with greater financial challenges than his, it is worth considering the epithet, even if intended to be ironic. Tamara S. Wagner argues that authors “helped to drive an ongoing vilification of commercial acquisition as the nouveau riche’s vulgarity was rejected in favor of… the symbolic and cultural capital of the shabby genteel” (24). Roger may not be a member of the “shabby genteel,” but his financial practices and refusal to engage in the abstract economy make his position within the community uncertain. Roger knows how to behave socially, but not how the social links to financial modernity. Thus, in The Way We Live Now, the dynamic between Augustus Melmotte and Roger Carbury is more ambiguous than Wagner’s binary. Melmotte is punished, but Roger is not rewarded, questioning the value of traditional capitals that Roger prizes.

Roger Carbury’s ability to read and navigate between traditional fields of capital appears in his attitude and opinions about the Melmotte family, his wide-range of associates, his refusal to use credit, and his reputation for wisdom among other characters. From the beginning, Roger is skeptical and censorious of Melmotte. When asked if he’s heard of him, Roger replies to the great dismay of Lady Carbury, “I have heard of the great French swindler who has come over here, and who is buying his way into society” (TWWLN I.67). Roger, unlike Lady Carbury and many others, understands that even if “everyone visits them” (I.67) they are not socially accepted.14 The importance of Roger’s refusal to engage with the Melmotte family despite “everyone” is not that he knows that Melmotte is a swindler—this is an open secret in the novel. Rather, Roger correctly reads the limitations of Melmotte’s ability to “buy his way into society” and he does so prior to Georgiana Longstaffe’s lesson that people do not stay with the Melmottes. The limitation that Roger sees, but “everyone,” especially those who support Melmotte for Parliament, fail to recognize, is that Melmotte cannot infiltrate very deeply into society because financial capital and social capital are not a one-for-one even exchange. Roger may underestimate the importance of the financial realm, but he recognizes that capital conversion is more complicated than stock trading: it is not a simple case of giving X for Y.15 To move into the social realm, Melmotte would need to cultivate relationships with others beyond those whose time he can buy. Roger recognizes that Melmotte misses: hosting social events does not earn you a recognized place in the community. Like purchasing a place in Parliament, playing the host is an immediate and temporary outlay of cash and not a long-term investment in the community. Investing in the community requires a larger network than that of impoverished aristocrats.

Coupled with Roger’s sense of duty, his cross-class network provides him ample experience in how communities interact with different fields of capital. Similar to the jostling of minor and major characters that Alex Woloch describes in The One vs. the Many, the jostling of many different classes within Roger’s story is a key source of his knowledge and gives value to his advice, even as the different classes and characters threaten to overwhelm him. He is the only character in the novel who converses with characters above, below, and equal to his social standing. Roger works in his fields, follows politics, debates religion, counsels the Ruggles family, attends dinners with the Longstaffes, and is generally known to both major and minor characters. Melmotte, by contrast, is solitary and ignorant of gossip and what his servants witness. To use an apt economic metaphor, Roger has a diverse portfolio of social investments. The blending of many-into-one that takes place with Roger creates the impression of steadiness of character through his grounding in the tangible, everyday world of the novel that the majority of other characters lack and gives Roger the reputation for wisdom and knowledge, making him a desirable adviser. And yet, Roger’s diverse social investments belie the extent to which Roger’s communities are atomizing.16 Roger engages with individuals, but these individual relationships do not cohere into a community, and the other parties do not necessarily respect him.

The consistency with which Roger’s advice is sought out and then ignored stresses his ambiguous position and contributes to his inability to fully participate in a community. Lady Carbury seeks Roger’s advice regarding her son, her finances, and her daughter, but unfailingly ignores it. Roger’s advice about Felix is simple: Lady Carbury should “refuse to have anything to do with him while he continues in such courses”  (TWWLN I.60) because Roger believed that “the remedy for the evil ought to be found in the mother’s conduct rather than the son’s” (I.66).17 Roger suggests that Felix be sent to the colonies, a suggestion which “increasingly came to [be seen as]…reassuringly honest and virile for youths likely to be tempted by London’s dissipations” (Sanders 58). Lady Carbury’s dismissal of Roger’s advice nearly ruins her and she turns to Mr. Broune for assistance. Mr. Broune echoes Roger, but Lady Carbury listens to Mr. Broune. Mr. Broune’s successful influence where Roger failed, while minor, suggests changing hierarchies and capital relations. Mr. Broune is a newspaper editor, an intellectual, and a bachelor.18 Roger owns a country estate, represents an ancient family, and is in the prime of life. The differences between the two men’s situations with Roger possessing more of the outward signs of success and inhabiting the role of a proper English gentleman indicates a system in flux where traditional markers of gender and status retain their symbolic weight, even as they have less influence in the community at large. Like the “ancient reverence for the family” that the tradesmen have, Roger’s failure here draws a distinction between the value of Roger’s position and his individual influence within the community. While at one time, the value of Roger’s position may have influenced the community, “the way we live now” requires a different type of relationship. Mr. Broune succeeds because of his personal relationship with Lady Carbury and because he has a more modern form of capital as an intellectual, not because of his status within a traditional community or hierarchy. Lady Carbury recognizes the value of Mr. Broune’s capital, and his position in London is what originally enabled the personal relationship. It is not an either/or, but rather a both/and, which is what Roger does not seem to understand. Success depends upon one’s position and development of interpersonal relationships by engaging strategically with modern elements in the world. It depends on tradition and engaging with the new capitalist economy since that is an inescapable component of “the way we live now.”

Yet it is important to note that the characters most adept at engaging with modern forms of capital and exchange without relying on speculation (Fisker, Marie Melmotte, Mrs. Hurtle) do not remain in England. They disappear off-stage, presumably to continue their successful endeavors in other countries (specifically America).19 The value of individual capitals is indeterminate, but a mass exodus of finances suggests future problems for England. If Hetta is—as critics including Annette Van have argued—representative of good, wholesome England, then her union with the bumbling Paul should be cause for concern. With the economically successful characters leaving England, it becomes questionable how England will remain dominant and competitive with the specter of the economy’s global scale ever-present on the novel’s edges. Today’s audience continues to find Paul a disappointing match for Hetta to the degree that in the 2001 BBC adaptation of the novel, the writers send Paul to America to work physically on the railroad and write letters to Hetta about his concerns for the company. The BBC’s writers’ attempt to redeem Paul and turn him into a new man full of power and vitality glosses over Trollope’s strategic construction of Paul as unappetizing. While the narrator attempts to redeem and vindicate Paul, claiming that his follies “will be forgiven him” (I.441) and that his behavior towards Mrs. Hurtle and Hetta Carbury is due to “an aversion to the giving of pain” (I.442), such defenses evidence the narrator’s, and likely Trollope’s, discomfort with Paul-as-leading-man. Despite his shortcomings, Paul, unlike Roger, is willing to engage in modernity in limited ways, perhaps because of his limited understanding of it.20 Trollope may not approve of financial modernity, but he makes it equally clear that abstaining is not the solution.

Whether one participates or abstains, community appears to be beyond characters’ grasps. The men of the novel circulate like so many atomized stocks and IOUs. They move from situation to situation without accumulating at one place. Constant exchange and circulation make a community impossible and so does avoiding exchange. Both reactions appear to stem from confusion about the value of different types of capital. Melmotte overvalues financial capital. Roger acknowledges the need for money, but dismisses the abstract economy and prizes traditional configurations of capital. It is significant that Melmotte and Roger never meet. Their physical and financial distance, with other characters sliding between them, represent the spectrum of possible positions across fields of capital. If Roger and Melmotte are two poles of English middle-class manhood (country//city; gentleman//trade), Paul is a midway point between the two. While this does not necessarily make Paul desirable or a pillar of the community, it does mean that he is able to survive Melmotte’s literal demise and Roger’s fading into obscurity.21

At Home and the Beargarden

DEBORAH MORSE AND others have argued that Trollope’s pessimism about the state of the world is palpable in his inability to propose any solution other than a complete retreat into the domestic. Such arguments rightly focus on the expulsion of capitalists at the end of the novel contrasted with the family unit of Roger, Hetta, and Paul. Yet in doing so, critics gloss over why this domestic space works when no other household in the novel withstands “the way we live now.” For Trollope, a retreat to the domestic at the end works not because it represents a “separate sphere” but because it functions as a permeable membrane: some elements of the traditional and the modern can enter, while other elements are kept out. The only other space to function this way in the novel is that of the gentlemen’s club. Despite obvious differences, both spaces depend on class and the appropriate performance of gender roles in conjunction with limited engagement with the abstract economy. Gentlemen’s clubs such as the Beargarden rely on a complex balance of social and financial capital. The successful home similarly relies on tradition tempered by modernity. Overly traditional homes in which the marriage or financial market is too emphasized ultimately fail, and clubs appear to be the only place bloated fortunes have no power. Only by policing the entry of clubs to maintain their balance of tradition and modernity, and reconfiguring the domestic to have women at the center of circulations of wealth and people do these spaces provide a viable proto-model of other potential communities.

In the Beargarden, ideas of investment are central to the functioning of the group, but the primary field is that of social capital, rather than financial.

In the Beargarden, ideas of investment are central to the functioning of the group, but the primary field is that of social capital, rather than financial. This is seen clearly when Melmotte’s situation is juxtaposed with the environment of the Beargarden. Melmotte’s doom, which comes at the unlikely hands of Dolly Longstaffe, could have been avoided through the cultivation of habitus, of social capital, by observing etiquette and mores. Dolly knows that Melmotte does not have the money for Pickering: “‘I don’t know why Mr. Melmotte is to be different from anybody else,’ [Dolly] had said to his father. ‘When I buy a thing and don’t pay for it, it is because I haven’t got the tin, and I suppose it’s about the same with him’” (II.69). But it is precisely because Melmotte is different in social status, if not in his motivations for withholding payment, that Dolly speaks out. This behavior is radically different from Dolly’s actions in the Beargarden among his peer group. In the Beargarden, the circulation of paper IOU’s is regulated by social etiquette and understandings of honor, duty, and class. Only by breeching the unspoken-but-understood social laws of the club does a man become an outcast, which we witness happen to Sir Felix Carbury. Sir Felix’s ostracism builds as he first pays an outsider in IOU’s, second accuses Miles Grendall of cheating, and third boasts about his “heartless” treatment of Marie Melmotte (II.434). Thus, in the Beargarden, cheating (or forging) is not cause for ostracism but accusing someone of cheating is. A gentleman does not behave to Marie as Sir Felix does. Social rules prevail. Sir Felix may have lost his social group, but (with the exception of Melmotte) no one seeks payment from him. The unspoken agreement between the men of the Beargarden regarding debt and paper IOU’s, particularly concerning patience and lack of forced payment, is precisely the sort of congenial, social capital-based agreement Melmotte needed with the Longstaffes. These situations indicate that the impoverished aristocrats hold power over Melmotte, for all his money, because patience can only be granted from a position of privilege and the comfort of a long-standing situation. Economic capital is not omnipotent. Melmotte’s failure to develop the social capital that would secure patience led to him being pressured for payment, which directly influenced his fall and suicide. Without a social group to belong to, Melmotte is left exposed.

The Beargarden details how fields of capital interact in clubs and Lord Alfred’s club The Peripatetics, which “Melmotte was anxious to get into,” (I.36) follows the same unwritten rules in which the social prevails. Melmotte’s entry is refused because he does not, or perhaps refuses to, understand and invest in the social institutions and practices of his (would be) peer group. Such actions reflect a man unable to inspire a community or lead others effectively as do characters in Trollope’s other novels, including John Gray or Plantagenet Palliser who are social and economic role models. As a result, despite his wealth, Melmotte is not given special treatment by The Peripatetics: “it was decided that the club could not go beyond its rule, and could only admit Mr. Melmotte out of his regular turn as soon as he should occupy a seat in the House of Commons” (I.421). While Melmotte’s brief financial success and subsequent fall suggests an overall erosion of England’s standards for what constitutes a proper man and community leader, his inability to gain membership to a club suggests the world is not so dismal as Trollope would have readers believe. He was not admitted “out of his regular turn” to the club he desired to join, because the “noble lord” whose approval was needed is “old fashioned” and would not grant it despite the desire of other members (I.421). Melmotte’s brief financial success occurs because the other men in the novel allow it and support it with their participation, even if they do not allow him entry to their social ranks. Such distinctions parallel the domestic situations in the novel: admittance occurs only after the proper courtship period when a man invests his time and energy, and proves he understands the social law. Melmotte’s money only extends so far into the social realm: it can give him access to society, but it cannot shore up his standing among other men.

Melmotte’s market-minded reading of the relationship between rank and money contributes to over-exposing his domestic sphere. Melmotte’s attempts to marry his daughter to a nobleman is telling in this regard. Melmotte tells Felix Carbury that “money expects money” (TWWLN I.222). Felix is incredulous; his incredulity is explained later by the narrator in regard to Lord Nidderdale: “Rank squanders money; trade makes it;—and then trade purchases rank by re-gilding its splendor. The arrangement…is well understood” (II.59). Lord Nidderdale understands it as his duty to marry an heiress to put matters “right” regarding his family’s embarrassments. While Melmotte realizes that his wealth is why Marie can marry a titled man (assuming he can prove that he has money in hand), Melmotte never appears to realize that the rank he is purchasing is for his daughter rather than for himself. Melmotte’s “daughter was valuable to him because she might make him the father-in-law of a Marquis or an Earl” (I.233). Rather than recognizing that his daughter would be a Marchioness or a Countess, Melmotte imagines his higher status: “The higher [Melmotte] rose without such assistance, the less need he had of his daughter’s aid” (I.233), emphasizing Melmotte’s misunderstanding of the relationships between fields and the potential power marriage has to convert capital.

In addition to hindering his ability to form a homosocial group or gain membership in a club, Melmotte’s misunderstanding of the relationship between rank and money contributes to his cash flow problem. Importantly, while Melmotte is able to “purchase” a position as Member of Parliament, he is not able to infiltrate the ranks of the aristocracy with his money. The former is a straightforward laying out of cash; the latter is a long-term investment of wealth into social structures and a single family, akin to following the proper channels to join a club. Infiltrating the aristocracy requires his daughter. Exchanging women is a highly traditional maneuver, counter to Melmotte’s modern form of abstract financial capital.22

Marie’s first engagement to Lord Nidderdale ends because “Melmotte had not objected to the sum…but had proposed to tie it up. Nidderdale had desired to have it free in his own grasp, and would not move on any other terms” (I.32). Settling money in such a way that it would go to Marie’s children would not have been unusual, but for someone with Nidderdale’s entanglements, it would be inconvenient. If this is how Melmotte “proposed to tie it up,” he would not be violating English practices, but it does show the need for inducements beyond money even in an explicit attempt to “purchase rank.” It also suggests that Melmotte does not have the social capital yet to act the role of the English gentleman and to set terms for the aristocrats. Like the ability to be patient, setting terms depends on a position of power, which Melmotte does not have. Patience and the setting of terms undercuts the apparent omnipotence of money in The Way We Live Now.

We see the matter-of-fact invasion of market forces into the domestic present with the Melmottes again in how Lady Carbury tries to marry off her children. Her attempts to wed Felix to Marie Melmotte and Hetta to Roger Carbury are unsuccessful. Whereas Felix’s courtship is that of a straightforward mercenary similar to Georgianna’s interest in Breghert, Hetta’s is more complex. Lady Carbury’s motives are market minded, but Hetta resists such a mindset. It is Hetta’s resistance and Roger’s genuine interest that enables, ultimately, the formation of a functioning domestic sphere. While Roger ends up romantically alone, he lives with Hetta and Paul at Carbury Manor and Roger “was prepared to settle Carbury on Hetta’s eldest boy on condition that such boy should take the old name. He would never have a child whom he could in truth call his own” (II.469). Roger furthermore requests that Hetta lean on him “as a daughter leans on a father” (II.471). In transitioning himself from a romantic suitor into a father figure to Hetta, he unsexes himself, admitting defeat and forgoing the desire to leave Carbury Manor to a child of his own. Instead, Carbury Manor shall go to Hetta’s child—fathered by Roger’s rival in love—under the condition that the child takes Carbury for his name. Eileen Cleere’s study of avuncularism provides some insight into the potential economic benefits of Roger-as-uncle because the “avunculate provided…a particularly elastic term for understanding the intersection of the commercial world with the affective family” (32). However, as Cleere discusses, even as the avuncular reinforces the patriarchy, it also challenges and rearranges it, providing new pathways for the circulation of wealth. These new pathways, in turn, rearrange the relationships between characters. For the men involved, there is no straightforward winner. Paul gets the girl and will reproduce, but his identity becomes subsumed by the Carbury family and Roger, not Paul, will be the head of the household. Roger’s family name will continue, but only by proxy. Hetta benefits most from the rearrangement of wealth and relationships, as do her future children. In the case of The Way We Live Now, rearranging relationships illustrates how economic systems shape identity and the family. Such shaping proves harmful to leadership and community patterns of old England as represented by Roger and Carbury Manor, but potentially beneficial for modern England.

Like the Beargarden with its circulation of IOUs, Carbury Manor looks toward a modernity through its rearranged pathways of inheritance. Significantly, this modernity is tempered by relationships based on traditional social and gender roles. Trollope’s biting satire ends on a tentatively optimistic note. While radically different characters, when juxtaposed, Augustus Melmotte and Roger Carbury share the common bond of representing authorial and middle-class anxieties over the effects of the modern abstract economy on men and the communities of which they are a part, even as they reveal the old world and its ways to be impotent. These concerns and anxieties will shift in the upcoming decades to focus not only on the economy, but on shifting gender relations already suggested in Hetta’s triumph over Roger and Paul and Marie’s independent fortune and triumph over her father.

Deirdre Mikolajcik PhD is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. This essay is the winning graduate entry in the Trollope Prize competition, 2019.

For other Trollope Prize-winning essays in this collection, see here.


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  1. See Mary Poovey’s Genres of the Credit Economy, Tamara S. Wagner’s Financial Speculation in Victorian Fiction, Eleanor Courtemanche’s ‘The Invisible Hand’ and British Fiction, 1818-1860, and Patrick Brantlinger’s Fictions of State: Culture and Credit in Britain, 1694-1994, especially the introductions of these books, for explorations of the intersection of suspicion of money capital and nineteenth-century British realist fiction.
  2. Historians are still debating how frequently wealthy businessman like Melmotte actually purchased country estates because of the sheer expense not only of the initial purchase, but of ongoing support and maintenance. According to Tom Nicholas, country estates like the fictional Pickering needed to turn at least a small profit to support their upkeep (43). Thus, by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, land ownership was very much an economic burden rather than a boon.
  3. Georgiana’s pursuit of a husband is brought to a point of desperation by her family’s financial problems, which leads her to the home of the Melmottes and an attempted mercenary union with Breghert. This union ultimately fails to occur because Georgiana is unable to fully emancipate herself from her previous social circles. The loss of her social capital because of her association with the Melmottes, in conjunction with her and her family’s anti-Semitism, mean that the lower value of Breghert’s strained financial circumstances will no longer – to her mind – balance.
  4. Georgianna Longstaffe is also lonely and falls into many of the same traps that Melmotte and Carbury do regarding her attempted manipulation of capital and valuation of the marketplaces.
  5. Whereas Shirley Robin Letwin views Melmotte’s misreading of situations as “fantasy” and argues that “Melmotte’s sense of reality was sound. What was missing was something subtler and more profound,” which is that fantasy is dangerous (176-177), there is no indication in the novel that Melmotte is acting on anything other than his interpretation of value which is less fantasy than it is a mistaken reading of relationships between economic fields.
  6. Melmotte’s physical appearance as “a big man with large whiskers, rough hair, and…an expression of mental power on a harsh vulgar face” is one that the narrator describes as likely to “repel you by his presence” (TWWLN I.80). The vulgarity of his face, especially his mouth and eyebrows, are noted throughout the novel (I.31, I.188, I.223, II.38, II.343, etc.).
  7. Tara McGann argues persuasively that Melmotte is ultimately undone by the way narrative time slows down. “As cash flow problems beset Melmotte” time in the novel slows down and single days are spread over many chapters which is contrary to the first half of the novel when chapters contained days or even entire weeks or months (149-153). The temporal change McGann notes supports my reading of capital conversion because the meticulous cataloguing of events that slows the novel are all social in nature. The narrator conveys financial information quickly and concisely, if at all.
  8. Pierre Bourdieu borrowed “education sentimental” from Gustave Flaubert’s novel by the same name: [continued from the above quotation] “These trump cards determine not only the style of play, but also the success or failure in the game of the young people concerned, in short, the whole process Flaubert calls education sentimentale” (149-150).
  9. Anderson argues that Trollope’s construction of character is based on the importance to Trollope of honesty, which is in tension with the systemic dishonesty present in The Way We Live Now.
  10. Regenia Gagnier’s tracing of how economic man transitioned from man-as-producer to man-as-consumer during the nineteenth century helps to explain why Roger’s lack of spectacle and conspicuous consumption hurts others’ perception of him in spite of his other talents.
  11. Melmotte, as discussed earlier in this chapter, does not understand the complexities of how fields of capital interact and why, sometimes, values cannot be transferred. Georgiana Longstaffe fails to see the difference between people going to visit the Melmottes and staying with the Melmottes, which costs her social capital.
  12. See Freedman, The Temple of Culture; Letwin, The Gentlemen in Trollope; Markwick, Morse, and Gagnier, The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope’s Novels; Markwick, New Men in Trollope’s Novels; and Slakey, “Melmotte’s Death: A Prism of Meaning in The Way We Live Now.” In all of these works, and others, Carbury is mentioned in passing (if at all) and relegated to being nothing more than a metonym for Old England.
  13. See the introduction to Aeron Hunt’s Personal Business for more exploration of the business and character.
  14. Those injured by Melmotte are largely an unseen presence in the novel – the shareholders of the Railroad stock. Of those depicted, no one else’s losses are quite as grand as Melmotte’s, but the Longwood family’s Pickering estate is destroyed, and they are not paid, and Breghert loses a great deal of money even if it does not ruin him.
  15. I omit discussion of cultural capital for the most part because social and financial capital receive the majority of attention in the novel. That being said, cultural capital is also not a one-for-one exchange and complicates the already fraught relationships between fields. Lady Carbury’s attempts at a literary career and trading conversation and flirtation for positive reviews of her book illustrate an attempted exchange between the social and the cultural, which never quite works out in her favor as much as Lady Carbury desires.
  16. I follow Raymond Williams theorization of knowable communities in which they are built on “a matter of consciousness, and of continuing, as well as day-to-day experience” of members within a delimited geographic location (166).
  17. Roger is perhaps not being entirely fair here: Lady Carbury appears to be deft at handing finances and works hard to support her family, playing the necessary games and exchanging social capital for cultural capital that brings her limited financial capital. Felix, an adult, should be held accountable for his own actions, which ultimately see him mildly disfigured and exiled from England.
  18. See Martin Danahay’s Gender at Work in Victorian Culture: Literature, Art and Masculinity.
  19. Breghert is a successful and ethical businessman, but while he does not disappear to another country, he does retreat to regroup from his losses with Melmotte.
  20. Paul ends up involved with Melmotte through Fisker, but he is involved with Fisker because he had already made poor investments in the United States and did not have enough money to pull completely out of involvement with Fisker. These poor financial decisions, and his time in the States spent trying to fix them, are the catalysts for how he ends up involved with Mrs. Hurdle.
  21. Deborah Morse in her article “The Way He Thought Then: Modernity and the Retreat of the Public Liberal in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, 1873)” argues that readers’ dissatisfaction with Trollope’s novel and the modern feel of Trollope’s novel lies in “his vision of the wreckage of public life—and the private life as salvage” (2).
  22. Gayle Rubin and Annette B. Weiner discuss sociological and anthropological exchange of women and how this exchange structures inter and intra-clan relationships: the exchange of women underwrites economic transactions.

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