This month, for her Classics Challenge, Katherine at November's Autumn asks us to write on "the chapter you've just read or one that struck you the most. It can be as simple as a few words you learned, some quotes, a summary, or your thoughts and impressions." I chose Anthony Trollope's The Three Clerks for this month, though I read it back in September (you can read my review here).
Initially I thought of the first chapter, which opens with the words, "All the English world knows, or knows of, that branch of the Civil Service which is popularly called the Weights and Measures." It struck me as a typical Trollopian opening. From the first sentence he makes us part of the world of his story. The tone is confident, and confiding. "All the English world knows..." And we who don't know settle in to learn. Generally with Trollope's books, I find myself hooked into the story by the end of the first chapter, captive to that wonderful warm authorial voice.
But I also have to mention one of my favorite chapters, "Crinoline and Macassar, or, My Aunt's Will." In this chapter, two of the clerks of the title, Norman and Charley, are visiting their friends the Woodward family at their cottage. Charley, who works at the much less important Internal Navigation office, is hoping to make some extra money by writing for the papers. He has brought a story that he has just finished, and Mrs. Woodward reads it aloud to the group after tea. As you might guess from the title (Crinoline is the heroine, Macassar the hero), it is a ridiculous story, in six chapters, no less, with poetry, though Charley takes it very seriously. As Mrs. Woodward reads, or tries to read, she is constantly interrupted with questions and comments, advice and opinions freely given, which are just as entertaining as Charley's story itself:
"The tale must now be told," continued Mrs. Woodward. "In his early years Macassar Jones had had a maiden aunt. This lady died - "
"Oh, mamma, if you read it in that way I shall certainly cry," said Katie.
"Well, my dear, if your heart is so susceptible you had better indulge it. This lady died and left behind her -"
"What?" said Linda.
"A diamond ring?" said Katie.
"A sealed manuscript, which was found in a secret drawer?" suggested Linda.
"Perhaps a baby," said Uncle Bat.
"And left behind her a will - "
"Did she leave anything else?" asked Norman.
"Ladies and gentleman, if I am to be interrupted in this way, I really must resign my task," said Mrs. Woodward; "we shall never get to bed."
"I won't say another word," said Katie [who interrupts again before her mother finishes the paragraph - "Will you hold your tongue, miss?" her mother says].
To my mind, this chapter shows Trollope's gift for capturing the natural rhythms of conversation. It's also as funny as anything I can remember in his books. And if he is laughing at his young author, it's not cruel laughter. Trollope may even be remembering his own early attempts at writing. This chapter also reminded me of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, where Jo's family comments just as freely on her plays and stories, though they treat their "authoress" with much more respect than Charley gets.