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Introduction by Juliet McMaster
London, Chapman and Hall, 1863 2V.
Rachel Ray is a deceptively simple novel. It is simple, in that, like most of Trollope’s two volume works, the plot is unencumbered with digressions.
The deception lies in its sharing so wholeheartedly the great English preoccupations with sex, class and religion. Indeed, although commissioned by the editor of a religious weekly, it gives us one of the most vivid and realistic studies of the awakening sex drive in a young woman to have been produced in Victorian times. Not surprisingly, The Rev Dr Macleod, the editor of Good Words, dropped it like a hot potato. (It was published instead in book form, and was an instant success). The good Reverend Doctor objected to the author “casting a gloom over Evangelical Societies — and a glory over balls till 4 in the morning”. It must be said that he had a point. The simple part of the plot concerned the widowed Mrs Ray and her two daughters: the young and innocent Rachel, and her repressed (and also widowed) elder sister.
Living in genteel poverty, Rachel is taken up by the somewhat parvenu daughters of the local brewer, Mr Tappitt. At the ball given by their ambitious mother, it is Rachel, and not her own girls, who excites the admiration of all — not least of Tappitt’s extrovert young partner. Rachel’s awakening feelings, through the physical stimulation of her first ball, are beautifully observed.
Meanwhile her elder sister escapes with some difficulty the attentions and influence of the slimy young Curate, Mr Prong, whose heart is set more on the care of her modest fortune than the care of her immortal soul.
This simple story neatly exposes the sociological strata of the average sleepy provincial English town in Victorian times with all its finely graded class distinctions.