The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

So Trollope wrote an obscene number of books, and I’m only now getting into the ones not in the Palliser or Barchester series. The Way We Live Now is a monumental doorstop of a work, but it remains interesting throughout (if, like me, you find Trollope’s satire of Victorian society interesting). There are a lot of interspersed subplots, including a rather enormous cast of characters, but unlike in some of his other works they all feel relevant (possibly because none of them are used as an excuse to tip foxhunting chapters into the work). There’s an overarching theme of financial expediency throughout the whole work: both Felix and Mrs. Carbury act according to their want of money (Felix somewhat less assiduously than his mother), while Henrietta resists the easy path. The seemingly irrelevant chapters about the Longestaffes and Lord Nidderdale likewise point up the strangely necessary compulsions of the embarassed aristocracy, and their hypocrisy in trying to wrap their heads around the need to marry below their station.

It’s also one of Trollope’s few works in which Americans play a significant role. Trollope seems to hold to the pretty common view of Americans being wild, uncontrollable, and somewhat untrustworthy, although in the end the American visitors are presented far more sympathetically than the British youths. There is, however, a somewhat xenophobic streak to the characterization: Fisker is unscrupulously aggressive in the market, Mrs. Hurtle ferocious in her passions, Auguste Melmotte a swindler, and Madame Melmotte stupid and fat. Surprisingly, Germans and Jews come out rather well: Kroll behaves with significant scruples and gets a happy ending, while Breghart, despite being decried as vulgar by most of the characters in the story, is presented as a quite decent fellow.

It’s an entertaining read, rife with brazen outrageousness on the part of Melmotte. His disappearance from the story takes a bit of the momentum out of the work, and really there is nothing left to be done but to tie up the loose ends, but for as long as he is still a central figure the book really runs along quite merrily. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone not already acquainted with Trollope—it really is very long and is best enjoyed by someone who likes his style—but if you’ve enjoyed Trollope’s wit, and are willing to see some of his same with applied to financial cautions more particular than “don’t countersign other people’s loans” (which is the bulk of the financial wisdom in, say, Framley Parsonage or Phineas Finn), you might find The Way We Live Now an enjoyable sprawl.


Wibble Wednesday: Ten Thousand Spoons (Numbers 22:2–25:9)

Alright, just trying to get back to something vaguely schedulelike and trying to keep honest. I’m still (at least!) one update behind schedule, but, damn, can’t fix everything. Today we have פָּרָשַׁת בלק (“Balak” portion), which has a mildly comic interlude.

The quick snarky summary: The freaked-out king of Moab summons a sorcerer to curse Israel, a plan which comically misfires. Meanwhile, Israel manages to fuck things up just fine without these villains’ help.

Blessings and curses

Wibble Wednesday: The Magical Mystery Tour (Numbers 19:1–22:1)

I missed last week — maybe I’ll do a midweek to make up for it — but this one’s a bit special, because פָּרָשַׁת חקת (“Ritual laws” portion) was my Torah portion. It’s full of mysteries and inexplicabilities. Ooh.

The quick snarky summary: Because touching dead people is extra-bad, there’s a confusing, complicated, and fiddly ritual to make the magic corpse-cleansing juice. Miriam dies, and the people moan about lack of water. Moses hits a rock and is condemned for it for spurious-seeming reasons. Aaron dies, the people whine from mere force of habit, and get punished with snakebites. The community continues to drive eastwards towards Canaan, and beats the crap out of two mighty kings.

The rock probably deserved it, really

Fribble Friday: Divine Favor (Numbers 16:1–18:32)

This week we have פָּרָשַׁת קרח (“Korach” portion), named after a character who (surprise!) spurns the divinely appointed law of Israel and gets smote for his trouble.

The quick snarky summary: The Israelites rebel again. God promises to destroy them (again), and Moses talks him downl Predictably, a show of force reduces the Israelites to gibbering fear and they commence whining. God reiterates a lot of the fairly simple rules he’s already told the community, because clearly they don’t get it.

If I were God, I’d be getting impatient about now, too.