228. Mr Scarborough’s Family by Anthony Trollope
Publication: originally published 1883, ebook published 2004
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Rating: Borrow it
Read: September 8-December 3, 2010
Source: Project Gutenberg
Summary from VictorianWeb:
“MR SCARBOROUGH, WEALTHY owner of Tretton Park in Staffordshire, is dying. His eldest son and heir Mountjoy has gambled away his inheritance to avaricious money-lenders who hold post-obits to the entire value of the estate. As the story opens, Mr Scarborough astonishes Society by declaring Mountjoy illegitimate. He claims that he only married his wife shortly before the birth of his second (remarkably unattractive) son Augustus, thus making him the real heir. Mountjoy’s creditors threaten vain law suits against the estate; and the odious Augustus assumes his place as heir.”
I’ve been wanting to do a Classics Circuit for a while, but nothing ever worked out until this one, the Anthony Trollope circuit. I’ll admit I’m not overly familiar with Anthony Trollope. I read Rebecca’s review of Can You Forgive Her? and thought he sounded like a boring old fart, but he’s written SO many books that I thought I’d give him a chance and try at least one of his books. I decided on trying one of his lesser-known books for the Circuit because a) I assumed everyone else would be reading some of his more famous books anyway and b) I have a soft spot for forgotten books (it’s why I like Girlebooks and Persephone Books so much) and wanted to try highlighting something somewhat unknown.
Anyway. Instead of a boring old fart, Trollope’s really a money-obsessed, repetitive, prejudiced and possibly bigoted old fart. Or at least that’s how he comes across based on the two books I’ve read– this one I’m reviewing here and Miss Mackenzie! And I honestly don’t know if I can work up the stamina to get through another. I mean there’s only so many times I can read about how much someone got a year and why that makes him better than the other fellow who only gets this much a year, and will he marry that lady who has a small inheritance but is hella shrewish or will he marry the nice but poor lady, etc etc. It’s tiring, especially because I really don’t give a crap how much someone has (or makes) a year, at least not to the extent that Trollope blathers on about it.
Mr Scarborough’s Family was actually the lesser of two evils, by which I mean I enjoyed it more although it was miles too long. So:
On the one hand, the characters are quite a lot of fun. The characters are, I think, the best part of Mr Scarborough’s Family. They’re why I kept reading it even when everything else was annoying me, because I wanted to see what would happen to Harry and Florence, and whether Augustus would get his comeuppance and whether Mountjoy would finally break his gambling habit.
The female characters aren’t too bad, although he does insist on giving them rather dull wits, and in fact I really liked the heroine, Florence. She’s a bit of a drip, but she’s staunch in personality and actually has a backbone– kind of a rare thing in Victorian romances, I think? I also liked Mr Grey’s daughter, Dolly, although she tends toward the prudish side of things. She IS the most intelligent character in the book, however, excepting Mr Scarborough, and that’s nice to see in a this sort of novel. She even turns down an offer of marriage, preferring to remain as a maiden aunt instead. Considering what was going on in Miss Mackenzie, where one of the main ideas was that everyone had to be married in order to be happy, this was nice to see.
The title character, Mr Scarborough, is refreshing rebellious and seems like he’d be a fun grandfather to have. He doesn’t believe in a lot of the laws of England, the most important of which is the one about all the inheritance going to the eldest son. The schemes he sets up to get around this rule are rather ludicrous, but they work out anyway through the power of storytelling, and it’s kind of fun seeing Mr Scarborough offend the sensibilities of nearly everybody else in the novel.
The hero, Harry Annesley, is sort of wishy-washy, but he’s not a bad sort and quite frankly you could do a lot worse with romantic heroes. I thought it was funny that Trollope describes him as being nearly perfect in every way, except for around the mouth where it has a “wavering indecision.” Mr Scarborough’s sons are pretty disreputable, although Mountjoy at least isn’t villainous. He’s just a gambling addict that doesn’t have anyone to give him good advice about his future. Augustus, the villain, is a proper villain, by which I mean he doesn’t have any good qualities whatsoever. If this was an early 20th century movie he’d probably have a large mustache that he twirls constantly, and he’d have kidnapped Florence and tied her to a train track. He doesn’t really do anything that physical, however. He really just slanders people, and insults his father. More of a schoolyard bully than anything else.
(The other characters aren’t really memorable, as they only have one part to play and they tended to disappear for large chunks of the book when they weren’t needed.)
On the other hand, there are some serious problems with the writing in this book, and I don’t just mean the way the moneylenders were portrayed (Jewish, with bad attributes and no humanization at all. One even had a ridiculous slurring/lisping sort of speech, and, just, COME ON. For shame, Mr Trollope). For the most part, the characters are good. Augustus gets stuck with the villain role, like I said, but the others have at least a few layers to them.
The writing, though. GOD. Was Trollope writing this book as a serial? Or what? Because that is the only excuse I can think of for his constant repetition of things I already knew. The fight scene between Harry and Mountjoy at the beginning of the book, the one that lasted less than a page and yet had such a large consequence for both throughout the rest of the novel, is an important event and I get that, I really do. So why, then, dear Mr Trollope, did you insist on repeating the details of that scene at least FIVE TIMES?! And it wasn’t even paraphrasing– it was full-on descriptions, with who did what and why. Over and over again. Why?
A few days after the visits to Cheltenham, described in the last chapters, Harry Annesley, coming down a passage by the side of the Junior United Service Club into Charles Street, suddenly met Captain Scarborough at two o’clock in the morning. Where Harry had been at that hour need not now be explained, but it may be presumed that he had not been drinking tea with any of his female relatives.
That fight scene isn’t the only thing repeated, in detail, multiple times throughout the book. Oh no. Trollope also felt the need to explain and re-explain the motivations of at least three characters, including Mr Scarborough, like he didn’t trust me to understand that Mr Scarborough was a rogue and did naughty things and was clever, but that he loved his children and wanted to do good by them. I got that the first time around, okay? SHEESH.
Also, I know it’s a thing that Victorians did, telling rather than showing, but I do think that there should be at least ONE hint as to a character’s villainous nature or not before one outs him as a villain. Augustus is the villain, right. So he should have been portrayed that way when he was first introduced! Everybody else gets an intro that describes exactly who they are, but Augustus, in his introductory chapter, is presented as an attorney that takes care of his drunk gambler of a brother. He seems quite nice in that chapter, and so you can imagine my surprise when, in the next chapter he shows up in, he’s suddenly a bad guy the likes of which no one has ever seen before in a Victorian romance (which I also highly doubt, because he wasn’t even THAT villainous).
ANYWAY. This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll talk about the ending just really quickly. SLIGHT SPOILERS HERE. It’s neither a fully happy nor fully sad ending, which I thought was kind of interesting. I was expecting Trollope to go with the completely happy ending– people getting married, people getting their comeuppance, people getting control of their addictions, etc. Not so much. Two people got married, yeah, and Augustus was basically disowned, but Mountjoy COULD have saved himself if he wasn’t so bull-headed and overly dramatic (he thought marrying Florence would “save” him, which seems REALLY old-school romantic to me, and highly unlikely besides) and after a few months of resisting his gambling addiction, he went off to Monte Carlo to blow through his family’s fortune. I mean, I guess I can see why he would– no wife, no prospect of a wife, and his only family is either dead or villainous (except maybe his aunt, but she’s useless and that’s almost as bad as being dead or a villain)– but it’s still a pretty dismal ending. For a minute I thought maybe Mountjoy would marry Mr Grey’s daughter somehow! I actually really like that idea: Dolly is level-headed and strong-willed, and there was an idea of making it so Mountjoy’s wife would be in charge of the money. Dolly would be perfect for doing that!
Actually, I think that’s a plothole, because it was brought up twice and then never mentioned again, and obviously it wasn’t put into the will because Mountjoy is gambling everything away. (Plus he and Dolly never met, anyway. Huge disappointment– though maybe Dolly wouldn’t have been a good match for him, because he seems like the sort to like a “gentle lamb” sort of wife. Not that Florence is lamb-like, but that’s how he saw her.)
Ah, I’m rambling. Okay! So: the ending. Lackluster, really, but overall it had a happy note. Did I like this book? Eh. It’s not horrible, but it definitely doesn’t have the sparkle of a Jane Austen novel, and doesn’t she deal with a lot of the same topics as Trollope? (Except several decades before, obviously.) It felt a big like I was eating a bowl of mud with diamonds occasionally stuck into it– mostly boring, but with some points of interest.
I don’t think I’d recommend it if it was your first Trollope book, but maybe if you like Trollope you’d enjoy it. Although you do have to skip past a lot of dreck.
- quidnuncs: a person who is eager to know the latest news and gossip; a gossip or busybody. Loc. 220-221: “At first there came little paragraphs without any name, and then, some hours afterward, the names became known to the quidnuncs, and in a short space of time were in possession of the very gentry who found themselves defrauded in this singular manner.”
- aspersed: to attack with false, malicious, and damaging charges or insinuations; slander. Loc. 289-90: “When it was explained to him that his mother’s fair name was to be aspersed,—a mother whom he could but faintly remember,—the threat did bring with it its own peculiar agony.”
- internecine: of or pertaining to conflict or struggle within a group. Loc. 419-20: “He had spoken ambiguous words, dreadful words, declaring that an internecine quarrel had taken place between him and his father […]”
- spoliation: the act or an instance of plundering or despoiling. Loc. 566-67: “Not a word of rebuke had passed his lips as to the infamous attempt at spoliation which had been made.”
- abeyance: temporary inactivity, cessation, or suspension. Loc. 588-89: “While the captain was away the matter should be left as if in abeyance; but this by no means suited the young lady’s views.”
- plenipotentiary: a person, esp. a diplomatic agent, invested with full power or authority to transact business on behalf of another. Loc. 1424: “‘My dear, he is not ambassador. He is minister plenipotentiary. It is not quite the same thing.'”
- equinoctial: pertaining to the celestial equator. Loc. 1999-2001: “Therefore they stayed at Boulogne, and Mrs. Mountjoy tried the bathing, cold as the water was with equinoctial gales, in order that there might be the appearance of a reason for her being at Boulogne.”
- scapegrace: a complete rogue or rascal; a habitually unscrupulous person; scamp. Loc. 2342: “But he had a married sister with a scapegrace husband and six daughters whom, in fact, he did support.”
- impecunious: having little or no money; penniless; poor. Loc. 2355-56: “Mr. Carroll,—for the captain had, in truth, never been more than a lieutenant, and had now long since sold out,—was impecunious, and a trouble rather than otherwise.”
- farrago: a confused mixture; hodgepodge; medley. Loc. 2715-16: “Mr. Grey had of late learned one thing which had before been dark to him,—had seen one phase of this complicated farrago of dishonesty […]”
- flagitious: shamefully wicked, as persons, actions, or times. Loc. 2892-93: “Then, as soon as he felt that the flagitious attempt had been made previously, in Mountjoy’s favor, it became his duty to protect Augustus, […]”
- panoply: a wide-ranging and impressive array or display. Loc. 3272-73: “He was clothed in a panoply of armor which would be true against all weapons.”
- jointure: an estate or property settled on a woman in consideration of marriage, to be owned by her after her husband’s death. Loc. 3434-35: “‘And he could settle a jointure on her which would leave the property not worth having.'”
- trumpery: nonsense; twaddle. Loc. 4562: “‘A trumpery affair at the best of it.'”
- defalcation: misappropriation of money or funds held by an official, trustee, or other fiduciary. Loc. 4998-99: “[…] but in calling Mr. Barry “the Devil” she had not intended to signify any defalcation from honesty more than ordinary in lawyers’ offices.”
- badinage: light, playful banter or raillery. Loc. 5157-58: “Though there was an air of badinage, almost of tomfoolery, about Dolly when she spoke of her matrimonial prospects to her father, […]”
- pettifogging: dishonest or unethical in insignificant matters; meanly petty. Loc. 5458-59: “‘He must be a low-bred, pettifogging lawyer.'”
- mulcted: to deprive (someone) of something, as by fraud, extortion, etc.; swindle. Loc. 6024-25: “And because Augustus had consented so to pay them he was now to be mulcted of those loose belongings which gave its charm to Tretton!”
- calumnious: slanderous; defamatory. Loc. 6428-29: “He did just what a man ought to do, and anything that you have heard to the contrary is calumnious and false.”
- pomatum: pomade. Loc. 6600: “But Miss Thoroughbung cared nothing for the pomatum with which the lawyer from London was to be received.”
- ebullition: a seething or overflowing, as of passion or feeling; outburst. Loc. 6833-34: “Could he have overheard them laughing over his ebullition in the drawing-room half an hour afterward, and almost praising his violence, some part of the pain might have been removed.”
- espial: the act of spying. Loc. 7209-11: “But she does not expect that his letters, either coming or going, shall be subject to any espial, and she generally feels that the option of obeying or disobeying the instructions given to her rests with herself.”
- animadverting: to comment unfavorably or critically. Loc. 9758-60: “Mr. Augustus Scarborough was in no way desirous of animadverting on his father’s memory, but was forced to repeat his belief that he was his father’s eldest son, and was, in fact, at that moment the legitimate owner of Tretton, in accordance with the existing contract.”
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THIS POST IS SO LONG. It’s over 1600 words long! I think this is the longest post I’ve ever written. It’s nearly long enough to be a full essay. (And at this point I COULD write an essay about this book, I definitely could. Someone get me into a Trollope class; I’ll write the shit out of whatever books we’d read.)
“Haven’t I got garden enough here?”
“Quite enough, if you think so; but will there be occupation sufficient in that to find you employment for all your life?”
“I shall read.”
“It seems to me,” she said, “that reading becomes wearisome as an only pursuit, unless you’ve made yourself accustomed to it.” (Loc. 9643-47)
Which is why I’m looking for a job! Sigh.