The Way We Live Now ~ Chapters 29-42

Trollope Society Online Conversazione on 10th May 2021

An Introduction to Chapters 29 to 42 of The Way We Live Now
by Pamela Blake


In Chapters 29-42, the themes of greed and love prevail, with healthy servings of duplicity, snobbery, despair, neglect, domestic violence, and fraud. There are some bright spots that leaven the action and, naturally, Trollope’s insights and humor are evident throughout these chapters. The several story lines contained herein are presented in loose order.

Chapter 29 opens with Lady Carbury continuing her pleas to Felix to move quickly with a marriage to Marie Melmotte. Felix is hesitant (one could say wishy-washy) about it. He certainly likes the idea of the money, but he does not like risking the chance of possibly getting the girl without the money. On a half-hearted visit to Marie he instead meets Melmotte, who makes it clear to him that he is not welcome in their home, and that Marie will marry Lord Nidderdale. Melmotte strongarms the protesting Marie out of the room and tells Felix that if he marries Marie, they will not be given a shilling. Before this information can cool Felix’s misplaced ardor, however, Felix is informed via a note from Marie that her father has put some funds into her possession for legal safekeeping. Felix naturally warms to Marie based on this disclosure…” Nothing had opened his eyes to the way of the world so widely as the sweet lover-like proposition made by Miss Melmotte for robbing her father. It certainly recommended the girl to him.” The chapter concludes a twinge of uneasiness in the otherwise, overall thrill for Felix…“These were deep waters into which Sir Felix was preparing to plunge, and he did not feel himself altogether comfortable, although he liked the deep waters.”

In Chapter 30, Melmotte repeats to Lady Carbury his warning that he will not give a shilling to Marie should she marry anyone other than Lord Nidderdale, however he sweetens the threat by promising that, “If he’ll (Felix) will signify to Marie that he withdraws from this offer, he (Melmotte) will see that Felix does uncommon well in the city.” Lady Carbury is astute and honest enough to recognize that the flaw in that promise is that “any perpetuity of such making must depend on qualification in her son which she feared he did not possess.” Thus, Lady Carbury remains undeterred in pursuit of the marriage. Later we see Felix succumb to Melmotte’s pressure and write a letter, at Melmotte’s dictation, formally renouncing his pursuit of Marie, essentially in exchange for a check for 200 pounds. This letter however is not enough to stop Marie from arranging the elopement in Chapter 41, of sailing to New York City to be married there, or perhaps on board, and then to return to London.

Chapter 31 shows us that Mr. Broune has made up his mind about making a proposal of marriage to Lady Carbury. This action occurs at the end of a Tuesday night soiree at Lady Carbury’s that had not been successful as desired, as far as her efforts with Melmotte were concerned. Lady Carbury is therefore somewhat exasperated with what she perceives as foolish actions on the part of this old friend of hers when he asks her to be his wife. She is quite surprised by this proposal – it comes at her like a wondrous thunderclap.

“That a man – such a man – should offer to take half her burdens, and to confer upon her half his blessings. What an idiot! But what a god!”

Mr. Broune further adds that he can love Lady Carbury’s daughter as his own, however the most he can offer for Felix is that he is “willing to encounter the troubles which may attend (his) future career.” The magical encounter is comically interrupted when Mr. Broune encounters an intoxicated Felix entering the home at the exact moment of Broune’s departure. The meeting with the drunken Felix immediately sobers Mr. Broune, who has ‘pangs of doubt’ literally as he is walking away. Lady Carbury engages that night in prolonged reflective meditation on the proposal, becoming “…a better woman, as being more oblivious of herself, than she had been for many a year.” She was honest with herself regarding how her slavish devotion to Felix would color her future….” He would go utterly to the dogs, and would take her with him…withersoever he might go, to what lowest canine regions he might descend, she knew herself well enough to be sure that whether married or single she would go with him…” Hetta’s lukewarm appraisal of Mr. Broune the day seals the deal, and thus in Chapter 36, we see the results. Poor Mr. Broune, having reflected further on the burden that a stepson like Felix would provide, is consumed with regret, such that when he receives the expected letter from Lady Carbury the following day, he does not even open it immediately…he “chucked the letter, unopened, and endeavored to fix his attention on some printed slip that was ready for him.” However, his anxiety gets the better of him and he soon opens it, quickly realizing that “the danger is over,” as Lady Carbury explains that, due to the struggles she has encountered in her past, she believes that she is “best alone.” While Mr. Broune is relieved, the touching letter serves to intensify his admiration for this complex woman.

In Chapter 39, however, we see a less charitable side of Lady Carbury. She and her cousin Roger have returned to find Hetta Carbury at home alone with Paul Montague, a Director of the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway and a competitor of Roger for Hetta’s hand. Lady Carbury, intensely eager for a match between Hetta and Roger, angry to find Hetta with Paul. After the men leave, Lady Carbury immediately “attacked her daughter. What brought him here?” Hetta protests that it was an innocent, unplanned visit, however Lady Carbury, unconvinced, accuses Hetta of insolence, and ridicules Paul Montague’s role at the Railroad (while, elsewhere, ironically esteeming that same position for Felix). Hetta manages to remain cool and above the fray, telling her mother, “I think you are very cruel to me. You say things so hard, I cannot bear them.” This is a painful display of most unmotherly behavior on the part of Lady Carbury.

A brief foray to the country before we return to the City. In Chapters 33 and 34, we catch up with Miss Ruby Ruggles, the beautiful granddaughter of Daniel Ruggles, a tenant of Roger Carbury, who is head over heels in love with the equally beautiful Sir Felix Carbury. Ruby has innocently believed the exclamations of love Felix has delivered among the cabbages in the kitchen garden of Daniel Ruggles’ farm, Sheep’s Acre, and she has turned her back on her previously promised betrothed, John Crumb. John Crumb is as uninspiring as his name. He is perpetually dusted with flour and his oratorical skills are poor – so much that he must bring a friend, the aptly-named baker Joe Mixet, to a dinner at Mr. Ruggles’ home to announce his ongoing interest to marry Ruby. Ruby makes it very clear that she is not interested in John Crumb, to the great dissatisfaction of her grandfather. That evening, after John Crumb and Joe Mixet have eaten their dinner of broiled ham, boiled poultry and an abundance of cabbage, Daniel Ruggles expresses his anger, sadly, by striking Ruby, pulling her about the hair, and knocking her about. Ruggles threatens to throw Ruby out of the house the next day, and she accommodates him by leaving of her own accord very early, catching a train to London.

We return to London for the final two primary story lines – the saga of Augustus Melmotte and his leadership of the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway, and the strange relationship of Paul Montague and Mrs. Hurtle. In Chapters 30, 35, 37, and 40, we see not only Melmotte’s actions but also a rebellion against his opaque tactics by Paul Montague. Melmotte has packed the London Board of the railway with foolish, easily manipulated young men who are flattered to have been named to the Board and who will follow essentially anything Melmotte proposes in the 15-minute-long weekly Board meetings. There is only one protesting “rebel,” Paul Montague, who recognizes the impenetrability of the fiscal goings-on and who demands more information regarding the number of stocks that have been issued and details as to how the money is flowing. For his efforts, Melmotte rewards him in the Board meeting by announcing that he is considering adding yet another foolish, easily manipulated man, Adolphus Longstaffe to the Board. Melmotte indicates to Montague that his threatened resignation from the Board, while deeply saddening to him, would be essentially insignificant as Longstaffe will simply take his place. Melmotte does summon Paul Montague to his home, where planning for the dinner for the Emperor of China is underway and speaks to him regarding the need for “unanimity” on the Board. When Montague continues to express doubt about the transparency of Board actions, Melmotte proposes that Montague travel to Mexico and California “in order to get necessary information for the Company.” Montague agrees to consider the proposal, as he leaves to do some business with Mrs. Hurtle.

Finally, Paul Montague and Mrs. Hurtle. Earlier, in Chapter 38, Paul had been summoned to Liverpool to meet with an American friend, a Mr. Ramsbottom, who knows Mrs. Winifred Hurtle, the beautiful and mysterious American woman who has traveled to England to hold Paul Montague to the promise he made to her when they met in the United States. Paul was bewitched by Mrs. Hurtle’s charms as they traveled in the US, and he proposed to her, however, upon his return to England, his attention turned to Hetta Carbury, and so he wishes to end the engagement. In addition, Paul is increasingly uneasy about what he is learning regarding Mrs. Hurtle’s past. The rumors are flying about a duel with her first husband, who is now deceased (is he even dead?…) and that she had killed a man in Oregon. Mr. Ramsbottom tells Paul that he has heard that Mrs. Hurtle was considered by some onboard the ship to “be the handsomest woman we had ever seen, … but there was a bit of the wild cat in her breeding.” Another traveler had known a Mr. Hurtle at Leavenworth, Kansas. (It is worthwhile to note that Leavenworth, Kansas, in the 1860s and 1870s, was the Western frontier. It was populated by settlers, Civil War veterans, soldiers manning a large Army Fort, and American Indians. The town was the Wild West, and in fact, at the time of writing TWWLN, Trollope may have known that the US Congress was in the process of designating Leavenworth as the site of the first Army Disciplinary Barracks (prison) as well as the site of a large civilian prison. Even today, for most Americans, the word ‘Leavenworth’ is synonymous with ‘prison.’ Thus, the theme of danger or violence, implied even in the very name Hurtle, is reinforced.) Paul is even more uneasy after his meeting with Mr. Ramsbottom and grows in determination to tell Mrs. Hurtle that any arrangement between them is over. He, therefore, in Chapter 42, meets with Mrs. Hurtle…and fails miserably at his task. She continues to apply her charms to Paul, weakening him, and when he finally summons the courage to tell her the engagement is off, Mrs. Hurtle reads his tone and begs him to delay any bad news on the premise that she is ill. She instead, artfully, begs him to accompany her on a trip to the sea. Paul acquiesces, and sets a destination, meekly imagining breaking his news to her on “the sands at Lowestoft.” Their encounter, and the chapter, ends in a manner that neatly reflects the tone of the novel…” Then as he took his leave she stood close to him, and put her cheek up for him to kiss. There are moments in which a man finds it utterly impossible that he should be prudent – as to which, when he thought of them afterwards, he could never forgive himself for prudence, let the danger have been what it may. Of course he took her in his arms, and kissed her lips as well as her cheeks.” Oh, Paul…

And this concludes the Introduction to Chapters 29-42.