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Performative realism.

Anti-Romantic Theatrics in Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage


Framley ParsonageWHEN DISCUSSING THE characterization of Lucy in Framley Parsonage, Anthony Trollope considers that she possesses the most “downright honest love” (A 143) of any of his young female protagonists. Trollope’s notion of “honest love” characterizes Lucy as an ideal realist figure. She does not fall into the pitfalls of excessive romanticism; moreover, through its naturalness, Lucy’s love represents the pinnacle of the realist expressions of genuine feeling. Though the reader recognizes this “honest love,” other characters such as Fanny Robarts do not recognize its “honesty” because Lucy goes to great lengths to conceal her love. Such deception, however, does not trouble the “honesty” of her love, as instead Trollope draws attention to the necessity of Lucy’s performative identity to contribute to her complex realism. In contrast to Lucy’s honesty, Griselda Grantly’s one-dimensionality aligns her with the uncomplicated heroine of romance. Griselda lacks that performative and verbal capacity which typifies Lucy’s character, and with which Trollope clearly identifies. However, this performative capacity – of pretending to feel or act in ways that disguise one’s true feelings – seems to contradict Trollope’s idealization of “honest” feelings. That Trollope maintains a belief in Lucy’s “honest love” highlights a critical necessity to rethink Trollope’s definitions of his realism and his real characters. His clear endorsement of Lucy’s realism despite her performativity also suggests that Trollope endorses Lucy’s realism, in part, because of her performativity. Accordingly, this essay will attempt to track the ways Trollope positively asserts a connection between Lucy’s “honesty” and her performative capacity, opening up Trollope’s realism to account for and endorse more complex forms of performativity in his theory of realism.

There has not as of yet been a concerted effort to discuss elements of realism and theatricality in Trollope’s novels, which makes this paper unique in its attempt to track the relationship between the theatricality of Trollope’s characters and his commitment to realism. In doing so, this essay questions assumptions about the simplicity of Trollope’s realism held by earlier, influential critics such as George Levine and Henry James, who dismissively suggest that Trollope devoted very little thought to his use of realism. They critique Trollope for a mechanical-style of realism, of merely documenting everyday realities with a plodding fidelity to life. In contrast to this limited perspective of Trollope’s writing, this essay aligns itself with critics such as Walter Kendrick and Jenny Bourne Taylor, who view Trollope as a thoughtful and self-theorizing realist and aims to contribute to critical discourse on Trollope’s realism, especially in relation to his theory of character and performativity.

To preserve the fiction of the real, Trollope must necessarily portray real characters who are placed in real situations.

THAT TROLLOPE’S NOVELS exist and perpetuate the realist ideal of documenting life as it is, is a truism almost universally unquestioned by critics. In The Novel-Machine: The Theory and Fiction of Anthony Trollope, Kendrick notes Trollope’s acceptance of realism as a form of fiction that only produces the ‘verisimilitude’ of the real; Trollope’s works are products of “his imagination,” but his imagination of things that could happen in the world (143). To preserve the fiction of the real, Trollope must necessarily portray real characters who are placed in real situations. Within this framework, romance throws the reality of the fiction into question because, in the romance plot, the “real” individual becomes a stock, idealized hero or heroine, rather than a complex, flawed individual such as one might encounter in an everyday setting. Trollope’s realist notions, evident through his discussion of Framley Parsonage in An Autobiography, highlight the tension between realist and romance plots. While he maintains that for a novel to be interesting it must contain a love plot (A 142), such restrictions automatically brings the realist novel into potential conflict with romance, a genre in which excessive feeling, melodramatic emotion, and heroes and heroines reign supreme. Yet love functions as an essential element in Trollope’s fiction, which would otherwise suffer from the abhorrently boring qualities of the uneventful – or at least un-dramatic – everyday. Thus, to preserve this commitment to realism and entertain his audience, Trollope must incorporate a love story without being romantic; a love story, that is, with no “heroism or villains” or damsels in distress.

Source: Wikimedia CommonsHowever, in Framley Parsonage, Trollope does produce a character similar to the one-dimensional damsel (albeit not of the distressed sort) in his depiction of Griselda Grantly. Her distinct name connects her to “Patient Griselda,” a romantic archetype of female patience originally captured by Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer in the Middle Ages. The “Patient Griselda” of medieval lore is the only notable instance of the name “Griselda” in the literary canon. Likely, Trollope would be familiar with the story as it continued to appear in culture products through to the nineteenth century appearing, for instance, in the 1721 opera, La Griselda, by Antonio Scarlatti, the 1722 opera Griselda by Giovanni Bononcini, the 1735 opera by Antonio Vivaldi of the same name, as well as in a novel called The Modern Griselda, written by Maria Edgeworth and published in 1804. The tale of “Patient Griselda” tells of a woman who submits to torment by her husband and is rewarded for doing so, highlighting ideals of female submission and the horrors of such submission. Most versions, including Chaucer’s The Clerk’s Tale, subtly indicate the disapprobation for Griselda’s treatment at the hands of her husband. Arguably, her utter submission to her husband’s will indicates Griselda’s complete loss of self: we see her become the empty shell of an individual, a romantic archetype. And it is this complete disavowal of the self that denies one of the fundamental premises of realism which defends not only the individual self, but the coherent self. Consequently, in the world of realist fiction, a figure like “Patient Griselda” cannot exist, as she denies the conditions for her own existence: her singular self.

Though, in the world of Framley Parsonage, Griselda Grantly does not endure any such torments, her muteness links her closely with the uncomfortably “Patient Griselda” of romance. The narrator explains that “she was decidedly a beauty… Her forehead was high and white, but perhaps too like marble to gratify the taste of those who are fond of flesh and blood. Her eyes were large and exquisitely formed, but they seldom showed much emotion” (FP 151). Griselda’s beautiful exterior is contrasted with her vacant interior: her emotionless eyes and the distinct lack of “flesh and blood,” or what Trollope later considers “the ease and abandon of youth” (152), cumulate to produce a sense of her essential emptiness. Trollope utilizes the rhetoric of praise and detraction to demonstrate the varied ways in which she is viewed: initially desirable, but ultimately unattractive. Lady Lufton’s continual references to “Griselda’s beauty” (205. 253), “her face … [and] fortune” (283) emphasize the external elements that make her an attractive prospect for Lady Lufton. Yet, as Lucy comments, “[Griselda] is most absolutely like a statue than any other human being I ever saw” (264), reminding us of the way Griselda is stripped of an internal through other’s construction. The act of naming her a statue deprives Griselda of her fundamental humanity and thus also her reality. Like Lady Lufton, whose comments about Griselda are generally positive, Lucy’s words similarly enforce the way that Griselda is constructed through language and without a language of her own – Griselda’s exterior and interior rely primarily on these other characters. Like the “Patient Griselda,” Griselda Grantly’s inability to communicate, to express herself, limits her ability to control or participate in the world she inhabits, reminding us of the linguistic and real powerlessness contained in her character. Though she is beautiful, in a world constructed by text, language wins out; Griselda is thus always dependent on those who talk (most notably Lady Lufton, Lucy and the narrator) for her existence.

Reading Griselda’s silence as a loss of power and a loss her realist self, highlights the linguistic and generic difference between herself and Lucy. Lucy understands the implications of her words, her actions, and she understands how she wants to be seen by others. She does not want to be “missish, and spoony” (316), or overly romantic, and so she satirizes Romance – both the genre and the feeling. Griselda Grantly has no power to alter the perceptions of others – is simply written upon – but quick-witted Lucy is able to do so and, in some ways, actually controls the responses of others. Moreover, Lucy’s power over language represents her fundamentally self-reflexive realization of the power and meaning of language, especially the language of love. Lucy mocks what she considers Lord Lufton’s “soft words” (316), which overtly represent the language of love. She claims that these soft words affect her heart and “bowled [her] down like a ninepin” (316), later explaining that Lufton’s soft words were like “the kind he speaks…when he asks you how the cow gets on which he sent you from Ireland” (316). The clear perversion of the high to the low represents this self-conscious recognition of the way in which his feelings and hers as well, may be debased through the use of language.

As her comparison between Lufton’s love talk and his cow-talk suggest, one of the ways in which Lucy empowers her language is through the use of comedy, as she attempts to distinguish herself from the romantic Griselda Grantly. In his book Trollope and Comic Pleasure, Christopher Herbert argues that comedy is necessary in Trollope’s novels to contravene the potential dullness of the realist genre (110). The use of a comic voice, particularly in Framley Parsonage, emphasizes the ability of comic satire to subsume the romance love plot. In the story of Lucy and Lord Lufton, comedy and satire function as substitutes for the grand romantic love one might expect in their relationship. Lucy openly acknowledges to Fanny the lack of romance in her love when she bluntly states, “[Lord Lufton] is no hero. There is nothing on earth wonderful about him. I never heard him say a single word of wisdom, or utter a thought that is akin to poetry” (317). The frank denial of Lord Lufton’s heroism reflects Lucy’s attempt to distance herself from the romance plot. Her ironic notions of Lufton’s poetic deficiencies highlight his inability to fulfill the role of romantic lover. Lucy also satires the romantic desire for a poetry recital from a prospective lover, suggesting how very far such notions are from the reality of her love.

Though comic satire seems to undermine the romantic sentiment found in Framley Parsonage, the use of comic devices potentially disrupts other prevalent notions of nineteenth century realism, primarily the belief in a singular, coherent self. Herbert argues that “comic ‘limberness,’” the ability to pretend to be someone or something else, “implies a theory of character deeply at odds with the one prevalent in nineteenth-century realist fiction” (130). According to this theory, Lucy’s comedy may complicate notions of her singular coherent self as she performs a kind of theatricality through her comedy. This notion of theatricality is based on the separation of word and deed from feeling; Lucy may act the part of a critical and indifferent young woman, but feel something quite different.

Many critics have recognized Trollope’s writing as containing elements of theatricality; for instance, Geoffrey Harvey discusses the role of Jacobean Drama and theatrical intertext in Trollope’s plot and style, while Jenny Bourne Taylor in her recent essay, “Trollope and the sensation novel,” touches on issues of gender performativity and the boundaries of the self. Although Trollope’s use of theatre will be touched on, Taylor’s notion of gender performance is particularly relevant to this essay’s concern with Lucy’s performative exterior. Discussing Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds and Orley Farm, Taylor claims, “In both novels the courtroom is explicitly presented as a stage on which two women act out very different versions of femininity, suggesting contrasting notions of authenticity and performance” (94). Certainly, Taylor’s notion of feminine performance highlights Trollope’s self-conscious characterization of his female protagonists, which we find in so many of his novels. The role of the injured and helpless female, such as Lizzie Eustace who “puts on an affecting performance of feminine weakness and modesty in court” (94), emphasizes the way Trollope plays with traditional notions of feminine vulnerability, but also suggests the way he manipulates the romance genre through undermining the tropes of ideal female behaviour. The recognition that feminine modesty may be performed, suggests its potential unnaturalness, but also links such acts of performance with romance and fantasy rather than reality.

FP_halliwell_3Trollope’s allusions to the theatre frequently manifest in his descriptions of Lucy as a performer who, like Lizzie, can “act” a variety of roles/selves. For instance, in explaining Lucy’s present but unexpressed feelings for Lufton, Trollope quotes Viola’s speech from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “a single silent tear would gather in the corner of her eye and gradually moisten her eyelids ‘she never told her love.’ Nor did she allow concealment to feed on her damask cheek” (FP 262). Though Trollope denies the link between Lucy and Viola, his words serve to reinforce the connection through his repetition and the similarities between these two figures: both love a man they are not suppose to love and both attempt to disguise their love, Viola, by her masculine garb and Lucy, by hiding herself from Lord Lufton’s sight. Herbert’s notion of disguise further suggests the realist problems of such theatrical associations for Lucy and Viola: dressing as a man and wooing another woman indicates a doubling of character and as Viola pretends not to love her employer and not to be a woman, she appears to become an entirely different person – a different self. Though Lucy’s theatrics are not quite so drastic, it is clear, despite Trollope’s insistence that she did ‘not hide her love,’ that Lucy enacts a process of disguise through her satire. In fact, Lucy’s satire is so disguising that her sister-in-law with whom she lives, Mrs. Robarts is not sure whether Lucy truly loves Lord Lufton or is merely pretending to love him; “[Lucy] spoke of herself and her sufferings with so much irony, with so near an approach to joking, that it was very hard to tell how far she was in earnest” (317). Not only do others doubt her love, but in disguising her feelings she also becomes an actress and we are told, “something even in Lucy’s look that was almost comic. She acted the irony so well with which she strove to throw ridicules on herself” (319). Thus Lucy, unlike a realist character such as Jane Eyre who attempts to narrate her life honestly and completely self-consciously displays only part of herself. More pointedly, she engages in a process of subjective editing whereby some parts of her self are expressed and others produced, or acted, for the benefit of others.

Though this interpretation of Lucy’s theatrics distances her from Trollope’s realist project, her performativity also adds to Trollope’s realism. Protagonists such as Lizzie Eustace utilize romance narratives for their own benefit in the “real” world of Trollope’s fiction and they perform these romance parts and in such a way as to bring romance into that world (for Lizzie this romance takes the shape of gossip). But protagonists such as Lucy disavow their own romanticism through theatre. Her performance of the sarcastic and satirical subject distances her from other performances of female vulnerability and helplessness, which enforces her autonomy and power. As Trollope’s realism is connected to the denial of the romance narrative, Lucy’s creation of a new narrative of comic satire highlights her fundamental realism.

Essentially, Lucy’s use of language emphasizes the formidable self-conscious realism found in her performative identity. Her belief that “it was [Lord Lufton’s] title that killed me” (317) demonstrates Lucy’s author-like awareness of linguistic properties. To explain: that there is a twofold notion of the word title, first of title in a financial sense, and second in a literary sense. Read in a literary way, Lord Lufton becomes a textual product; his exterior is like the title of a book, identifying his contents. Through this ambiguous use of the word, Lucy draws attention to the lack of distinction between individual and text. The titles ‘Sir’ or ‘Lord’ equally exist as a linguistic manifestation, denoting something about the interior of the bearer of that title. Like the cover of a book, the title may denote its relationship to romance, tragedy, or some other literary genre. However, the recognition of Lord Lufton’s title also signals Lucy’s awareness of her role as subject of linguistic utterance, as this weakness indicates that she acknowledges that she is also a textual product.

And yet, Lucy’s heightened awareness of her use of language and the language of others effectively connects her with Trollope and his sense of realism. In An Autobiography Trollope highlights the similarities between himself and his characterization of Lucy. Trollope’s description of Lucy as “the most natural English girl I ever drew” (143) parallels Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words, proudly reproduced in An Autobiography, that Trollope is “as English as beef steak” (144) – the most quintessentially English author of the nineteenth century. Trollope also asserts his similarity with Lucy when he uses a description nearly identical to her own in his comments regarding Lord Lufton’s character: “true heroism there was only a moderate admixture in Lord Lufton’s composition” (261). While such similarities are provocative – partially as Trollope considered Lucy the most “lifelike” of all his characters (143) – such associations more pointedly affirm the literary intentions of both, of a creator and character who attempt to undermine the romanticism of love by providing a comic alternative.

Beyond mere formulaic associations, the literary narrator in Framley Parsonage inextricably links Trollope to Lucy. In his essay “Romantic Elements and Aesthetic Distance in Trollope’s Fiction” David Eastwood claims that Trollope, in his desire to detract from the romance of his text, distances himself from his characters. Citing one of Trollope’s letters in which he explains to a fellow writer, “It is always dangerous to write from the point of ‘I’” (401), Eastwood concludes that Trollope was wary of investing himself too emotionally with his characters. Such ideas are confirmed in An Autobiography, where Trollope considers that “I myself was of course my own hero. Such is the necessity of castle building” (43). As Trollope explains, his castles allowed him to create and sustain imaginary worlds, training him to become a novelist; however, it was his removal of himself as the “hero” of these stories that allowed him to begin novel-writing, initiating the development of his realism. Yet, it is indicative in Trollope’s writing that the sense of a personal narrator, of the narrator as a character, persists even when Trollope denies the importance of the ‘I’ perspective. This contradiction suggests that Trollope creates a secondary narrative voice, one distinct from himself, in order to further his realist project. In this way, the narrative voice may interact with his audience and share his opinions quite distinctly from Trollope the man. Such ideas are perhaps not new, especially with regard to contemporary forms of literary theory, but Trollope’s invention of a narrative voice quite distinct from his own voice further highlights a link between himself and the performativity of his characters. The creation of a narrator mimics the performance of a character in much the same way Lucy performs a satirical version of herself in Framley Parsonage.

The various connections between Lucy’s performativity and Trollope’s conflicting relationship with the first-person narrator highlight Trollope’s awareness and endorsement of a type of theatricality in his realism and real-life. Lucy’s self-aware voice mirrors Trollope’s writing style, both in terms of its comic irony and its desire to avoid romance. Rather than theatricality being a fundamental problem for the realist imagination, as suggested by Herbert, Trollope endorses a model of character who possesses diverse personalities, both external and internal. Indeed, Trollope’s desire to endow Lucy with a kind of theatricality functions to contravene the notion of a single-minded romantic self, the kind Trollope evidently disliked so much. But, perhaps the more profound implication of this depiction of character lie in the performative theory to be found in Trollope’s fiction. Trollope’s association with Lucy, and her narrative style, highlights that not just character, but the process of text making itself contains an element of self-aware performance.

Emily Halliwell-MacDonald is a student at the University of Toronto. This essay is the winner of the 2013 Trollope Prize (undergraduate competition).


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