Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Classics Challenge: October and a chapter of Trollope

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.


  1. Oh, how funny! That really does sound like the way a family will talk over each other and interrupt.

    I am a failure at the Classics Challenge - it's been a few months since I've posted :(

  2. I admit to missing a couple of months myself, but it's not too late!

  3. @Lisa May: Love the quote you've pulled. I have some of Trollope's works in my reading list but hadn't heard of The Three Clerks! :) Thanks for sharing.

  4. AT can be a droll fellow, and he does faithfully capture the rhythm of genuine dialog, as you say. The last Trollope I read was An Old Man's Love, which I did not much care for, and it put me off reading him for a while. Time to give him another go, since he rarely disappoints.

  5. That is very funny - AT is so good at dialogue. I haven't heard of The Three Clerks but your post does make me want to bring out the next of the Barsetshire Chronicles.

  6. Katherine, this isn't one of his best-known works, but it should be better known! It's a fun story. Thanks again for hosting us - I hope there will be a 2013 version.

    Fay, I have An Old Man's Love on the Trollope pile - I think it was one of his last books? This is one of his earlier ones, so it might be a good antidote :) though it has its own faults.

  7. Cat, Trollope wrote so many books that it's hard to keep them straight! but if you ever come across this one, I think you'd enjoy it.

  8. @Lisa May: I'm thinking of making the 2013 version of the Classics event be more of a blog-hop or monthly meme. Not sure yet. But I'll probably have something for next year. ;)

  9. I have a big stack of Trollope on my TBR shelf and this is one of them! I'm really looking forward to reading it now (as soon as I finish the Barsetshire series, only one left to go!)

  10. Katherine, I'll be signing up in whatever form it takes :)

    Karen, this one is just so fun! but if you're up to The Last Chronicle, then you are in for such a treat. I think it's my absolute favorite.

  11. You're right, the conversation is so natural, I can imagine it myself. D
    Still haven't chance to read Trollope, hopefully next year..

  12. Fanda, thanks for stopping by. You have a treat ahead of you, with Trollope - and so many books to enjoy :)

  13. I'm reading a Trollope myself and I agree that he does have a gift for capturing natural family conversations--really enjoyed the bit you included.

    I'm not sure I like his narrator though--mostly endearing and warm but occasionally overdone to the point of grating, in my opinion.

    Really enjoyed reading a post by a true Trollope fan.

  14. Jane, in this book the narrator is definitely over the top at times! I wonder if that's because it's one of the earlier books? Now I'm off to read your post.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!