Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Way We Live Now: Cynthia Ozick’s Our Kinsman, Mr. Trollope

Cynthia Ozick: “Though Trollope belongs with the permanent enchanting few (he educates domestically in the manner of Jane Austen, and in a worldly sense in the manner of Balzac), he has been a diminished figure ever since—except in the unbiased regions of literary truth.” Her essay “Our Kinsman, Mr. Trollope” looks to offset that diminishment while taking a brief look at The Way We Live Now.

Ozick addresses the question I asked earlier and is more exact in her conclusion than I was: Is The Way We Live Now the way we live now?
Suicide, malice, stupidity, greed, manipulativeness, fakery, cowardice, dissoluteness, deceit, prejudice without pride, pretension, ambitiousness, even pathological self-abnegation—excess of every kind—dominate Trollope’s scrutiny of his “now.” If our now departs a little from his, it is only because we have augmented our human matériel with heightened technological debris.

Ozick expands this view, suggesting that Trollope’s perceptiveness and ability to convey his findings may be responsible for his diminishment: “Writers who describe for us precisely the way we live now tend to be scorned.”

There’s more to Ozick’s essay, including a bizarre attack on “those preening bands of Trollope cultists” (although with all the talk of parsonages and tea-cozies the criticism may have been a little tongue-in-cheek). In addition, I didn’t follow her argument on Trollope’s cynicism…or rather, the attributes she mentions I agreed with but didn’t really see them as characteristic of a cynic (even with her qualifications). There is too much humanity in Trollope’s wryness, but then my Trollope exposure has a n of 1, or rather one-half, at this point. Even with these digressions and disagreements, I find her summary statements about The Way We Live Now match my experience to date: “Yet nothing can really exhaust any part of this narrative; it is alive and stringingly provocative at every turn.”


Mel u said...

New Year's reading resolution-read more Trollope-!

Dwight said...

And not a bad one. Funny, I've never gotten into many novels from this era but I find myself more receptive to it now. I loved Galdos. Guess I'm going to have to try Dickens again.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

That comparison to Balzac is correct. He is the only writer I know of before Trollope who writes so seriously - or I guess I mean so specifically - about money. In Balzac, it can get a little ridiculous, that barrage of interest rates and sums. But where most writers become vague, Balzac and Trollope stay sharp.