Friday, June 25, 2010

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

802 pages
Published in serial form 1874-1875

Reprinted Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005
New York, NY

I can't help but find it a little ironic that a few weeks after I first discovered Angela Thirkell and her Barsetshire novels my book club settled upon reading an Anthony Trollope novel. For those who don't know/remember, Anthony Trollope wrote a series of six books set in the fictional county of Barsetshire, which some 80 years later Angela Thirkell used as inspiration for 29 of her own novels set in that same fictional county. (While Trollope's novels were about the people of Barsetshire in the mid 19th century, Thirkell's were her own creation of the people of Barsetshire in the early and mid 20th century.)

The book selected by my book club was not one of Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire, but one of Trollope's longer stories, The Way We Live Now, which although not popular upon first publication has in recent years come to be considered Trollope's best work.

The Plot:
"Ruthless greed, relentless self-promotion, corporate swindles and scandals on a grand scale -- indeed it sounds like 'the way we live now.' Though Anthony Trollope's title actually refers to 1870s England, his scathing satire of a money-mad culture cuts close to the contemporary bone. At its center stands Augustus Melmotte, a crooked financier whose enormous schemes ensnare an array of avaricious aristocrats, politicians and 'important people.' Among them are Lady Carbury, who earns the family bread by churning out fatuous potboilers, and her spendthrift, ne''er-do-well son, Felix, who sets his sights on Melmotte's dangerously beautiful daughter, Marie. meanwhile Felix's sister, Hetta, falls for Melmotte's partner, Paul, who's encumbered wiht an American fiancee, herself a widow who may have shot her husband. As the frauds expand and the romantic entanglements grow ever more complex, Trollope revels in the antics of his characters while pillorying the corruption of their morally bankrupt society." (Summary courtesy of the publisher)

My Thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed this read. The story plot is thick (so much happens within the story over the course of six months) and the characters richly colorful and quirky.

Some readers might liken Trollope to Dickens, but I think in some ways Trollope is actually better than Dickens. The Way We Live Now is a long book, almost as long as Dickens' Bleak House or Little Dorrit, yet not once did I feel the story lagged or that Trollope was rambling as I admit I have felt from time to time with Dickens. Another aspect that I liked about Trollope's writing is that his characters seemed a little less stereotypical. On the downside I can't say that I loved any of the characters in The Way We Live Now. I liked some of the characters and I completely despised some of the others within The Way We Live Now, but none tugged at my heartstrings as in books like Bleak House.

One similarity between Dickens and Trollope is the ending. Both Dickens and Trollope ended their novels with a "happy ending" -- although in the case of The Way We Live Now that doesn't mean every character lives happily-ever-after or has all their problems solved, but it does mean that the reader finishes the book satisfied.

The Way We Live Now is a satire, which means Trollope was writing tongue-in-cheek as he criticized and commented on various aspects of life in England during the latter decades of the 19th century. His writing is filled with interesting and thought provoking snapshots and at the same time is witty and entertaining. Although a long read (with 100 chapters) The Way We Live Now is not a difficult read. I particularly enjoyed the vivid imagery that Trollope's words painted and jotted down many passages in my
Book of Books.

Some might be discouraged by the length of The Way We Live Now, as I mentioned it runs to 100 chapters and depending on the publication can average around 800 pages. It took me 25 days to finish, but it was definitely a worthwhile read and one I highly recommend to any reader. I bounced back and forth between reading the actual book and listening to the complete book read aloud with the free
LibroVox iPhone application. Having finished and thoroughly enjoyed The Way We Live Now I am definitely planning to explore more of Trollope's works in the future. As for The Way We Live Now, this is one book I'd advise you to buy rather than borrow.

a related note, PBS Masterpiece Theater produced a mini-series adaptation of The Way We Live Now in 2001 starring David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) and Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice). I watched this series in 2007 at a time when, sadly, I'd never heard of Anthony Trollope. The movie is fairly true to the book. Some aspects of the story did not transfer to the screen, others did not transfer very well, which means you don't get the full depth of this story by watching the movie alone. But I do believe watching the adaptation does help a reader gain a better understanding of the story as a whole and also helps keep who's who amongst the characters clear within the reader's mind while they read.

I will add that the movie ending and the book ending are different, but only slightly so and both still end happily. The only objection I had to the movie was the addition of some bedroom-type scenes, though not obscene were enough to leave the viewer without doubt as to the intimacy of the character's relationships. Upon further reflection I believe this interpretation is typical of society's views within the 21st century, but not what Trollope intended in his book. It just doesn't work with the social views of the 19th century. Yes, affairs occurred, but not for characters of these types. Still I enjoyed the miniseries and recommend it to anyone who has read the book or requires some assistance in understanding the story before setting out to read the novel.

Related Links:
Anthony Trollope Society
Anthony Trollope.Com
Anthony Trollope USA
PBS: Masterpiece Classics: The Way We Live Now
E-book: The Way We Live Now (Project Gutenberg)
Audio-Book: LibroVox: The Way We Live Now


Becky said...

I love Anthony Trollope! And I agree with so much of what you said in your review. Especially, "yet not once did I feel the story lagged or that Trollope was rambling..." I think that is one of the reasons I love him so.

I have read the first three Barsetshire books and loved them!

morninglight mama said...

A crooked financier, huh? Hmmmm... sounds like this is definitely applicable today. :)

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Great review. I might have to give this one a go.

Here is mine

Nancy said...

I'm ashamed I've never heard of the book or the author but I loved reading your review. Thanks for sharing!

Nancy @