By Margaret Grant
First published in Trollopiana Issue 80, April 2010
To close with a marriage between faithful, devoted lovers is the time-honoured way of bringing a novel to a satisfactory conclusion. The hero and heroine, having been through various trials, are finally bound together in a union that not only ensures their happiness but also strengthens their community and perpetuates its values for future generations. The reader is left with the abiding sense that all is well. But not here. Try as we might to applaud Anna and Daniel’s unswerving loyalty to each other, we cannot help but feel that like should marry like and that the young earl must surely be a far more suitable match for the Lady Anna Lovel than the tailor could ever be. The instinctive disquiet that this wedding evokes in us is a clear indication that this is a world where things have gone very wrong. Puzzled and disconcerted, we find ourselves asking: “What is Trollope really trying to say?”
The answer lies in the fact that Lady Anna is not a novel about a girl who marries a tailor. It is a novel about a girl who does not marry an earl. Quite simply, Anthony Trollope has written a book which ends with a wedding but is actually a tragedy. In his capable hands what could easily have been little more than a far-fetched melodrama about contested identity becomes a compelling, closely observed drama of obsession, class arrogance and legal disingenuousness. In a letter Trollope said: “All the horrors had to be invented to bring about a condition in which an Earls [sic] daughter could become engaged to a tailor without glaring fault on her side.” Anna was justified in her choice, but only because so much doubt has been cast upon her true name that it has become meaningless. It is this psychological dislocation that lies at the heart of the novel and gives it its disturbing intensity. Lady Anna is not one of Trollope’s masterpieces, but it is an elusive, intriguing work full of originality and insight. Written in 1871, it is one of his few historical novels and has a complicated plot, summarised as follows.
Married in the mid-1810s, Josephine Murray was abandoned within months by her husband, Lord Lovel, who claimed that he already had a wife living in Italy when he married her. Largely ignored by her own relatives, Josephine was driven by want to leave Lovel Grange (near Keswick), and was taken in by a local tailor, Thomas Thwaite, a widower with one son, Daniel. With his financial support she prosecuted her husband for bigamy. He was acquitted – thus proving the validity of his marriage to Josephine – but a shadow remained over her. No one in society acknowledged her and she had acquired a reputation as an aggressive, ill-natured woman. Twenty years after the story begins, Lovel died and left his colossal estate to his new Italian mistress. Frederic, heir to the Earl’s title, contested the will and it was set aside on the grounds of insanity. Josephine and Frederic consequently battled for the estate. In spite of the result of the bigamy trial, the lawyers involved all seemed to agree that the question to be settled was whether the late Earl’s first countess (it is generally accepted that there was an Italian countess at some stage) was either: firstly, still alive, in which case the estate would go to her, Josephine’s marriage would be invalid and Anna would be the illegitimate Miss Anna Murray; or secondly, alive at the time of Josephine’s marriage but now dead, in which case the estate would go to Frederic, with Josephine’s marriage and Anna’s status being as before; or thirdly, dead before Josephine’s marriage, in which case the estate would go to Josephine and Anna, who would be the legitimate Lady Anna Lovel.
Josephine and her legal team lacked the money to go to Sicily to get to the bottom of the Italian story. Frederic’s side sent Mr Flick, who came to the conclusion that the Italian countess was dead before Lord Lovel’s marriage to Josephine took place. As it would obviously not be in their client’s interests to admit this, the head of Frederic’s team, Sir William Patterson, suggested a compromise whereby he and Anna should marry each other. The head of Josephine’s team, Serjeant Bluestone, was initially derisory but when Josephine herself heard about the idea she immediately became obsessed by it and would not hear of its being dropped. From this time on no further attempt was made to get at the truth of the first marriage and the central legal question – that of Anna’s legitimacy – was never definitively resolved.
Anna was dismayed by the suggestion that she marry Frederic. During her years in poverty and obscurity growing up in Thomas Thwaite’s house she and Daniel fell in love and became engaged. She was steadfast in refusing Frederic’s proposal and remained true to Daniel throughout, in spite of great pressure from her mother and everyone else around her and the fact that she was strongly attracted to Frederic (and he to her). Meanwhile Daniel was alone in London, working for weekly wages as a journeyman tailor and quite isolated from the other characters. He too was advised – first by his father and then by one of the Lakeland poets – not to pursue his childhood love. Sir William still hoped that Anna and Frederic might marry and in the trial at the centre of the book – “Lovel v. Murray and Another” – he made an extraordinary break with legal etiquette, giving his opinion that Josephine and Anna were entitled to their legitimate status. This led them to keep their rank, but still with considerable doubt in the eyes of many as the matter was not fought out in court in the usual way. The plot then concentrates on Josephine’s increasingly unhinged attempts to force Anna to give up Daniel, culminating in her unsuccessful attempt to shoot him. By now the other characters began to distance themselves from her, realising that she was dangerous; they also reluctantly accepted that Anna and Daniel would marry. When Anna came of age and voluntarily made over half her fortune to Frederic, the novel ends with her and Daniel’s wedding and emigration to Australia.
Lord Lovel was the architect of the novel’s maddening ambiguity. Thanks to his actions all the other characters were trapped in an irredeemably treacherous situation where all motives were suspect, no one trusted anyone else and nothing was what it seemed. Lovel is a recognisable, albeit extreme, example of a common Trollopian type: the well-born, well-to-do character who scorned the responsibilities that constituted his proper role, preferring instead to tread the vain path of absolute selfishness. We watch with horrified fascination as he trampled over everything sacred in life: shamelessly claiming to be a bigamist, abandoning his wife and unborn child and telling one lie after another, both verbally and in his will. In Lovel, Trollope highlighted one of the potential pitfalls of an excessively deferential society, which is the harm that can result from a high ranking character’s abuse of the privileges of their position. Because his social standing was above that of all the other characters, Lovel’s falsehoods were backed by great authority and carried tremendous weight. Long after it was “acknowledged on all sides that [he] was a villain and a liar” (p.16 of the Trollope Society edition), doubt continued to cling to Anna. There is always the feeling that because the Earl was an earl, what he said must have had some truth in it. He was uniquely well-placed to do the damage that he did. A totally heartless monster, Lovel’s propensity to make things look like what they were not distorted everything that happened afterwards.
Lady Anna contains a large number of legal characters, even for a Trollope novel, and in a story notable for its sharp distinctions of rank they form a class of their own. They all knew each other very well, displaying considerable familiarity in their dealings one with another, and in their many meetings in Sir William’s chambers they played a significant part in determining Anna’s final identity. On the face of it, this seems to be an excellent example of lawyers when seen at their best in Trollope’s fiction, who help to ensure that everyone achieves their rightful place within the community. This is a high calling because in Trollope’s eyes the law had a spiritual dimension and the just inheritance of wealth and status was a vital method of maintaining the English way of life. (See law and society and lawyers as characters in the Oxford Reader’s Companion to Trollope). It is necessary to look very closely at Lady Anna in order to discern where the legalities go awry.
In the first place, in their efforts to secure their client’s interests, the team acting for Frederic Lovel played the system in a decidedly calculated and disingenuous fashion. They proposed various compromises with regard to the will, initially refused to admit that they believed Anna to be legitimate and hoped to be able to undermine Josephine’s testimony with an unsupported character witness. From their point of view, Frederic’s lawyers were merely attempting to protect the established class from interlopers via the kind of manoeuvres that are distasteful but necessary in such circumstances. Rightly or wrongly, this is the way the adversarial system works. No one would censure Mr Camperdown for trying to defend the Eustace family from the rapacious Lizzie in The Eustace Diamonds. Here, however, the process was aimed at the wrong target because Anna was actually born an insider. In seeking to discredit her, the attorneys turned their armoury on to one of their own. As a result the arbitrary, excluding nature of the whole system became instantly apparent.
Secondly, the lawyers committed a series of highly irregular breaks with legal etiquette. These unorthodoxies originated with Sir William Patterson, the Solicitor-General and senior counsel for Frederic Lovel. Sir William was “a sweet-mannered, mild man” (p.28) and “a gentleman born and bred” (p.119), but he also had a reputation in legal circles for thinking he knew better than the system. Serjeant Bluestone said he “always thinks he can make laws according to the light of his own reason” (p.57), while the Attorney-General opined: “he might be a very clever philosopher, but certainly no lawyer” (p.58). Sir William rapidly abandoned his adversarial stance and transcended the barriers between the opposing camps of lawyers to propose and then press the marriage compromise between Anna and Frederic. It would be a grave mistake to regard this suggestion as altruism on his part. It was actually desperation.
He only deserted his brief because it became obvious his side would lose. In conversation with Mr Hardy he said: “the girl is her father’s heir” (p.60). But when his colleague replied that in that case Anna should be allowed her rights, he disagreed, instead mooting the marriage compromise. We can tell that he knew deep down that this was a bad idea by the way he held back from becoming personally involved. He had toyed with inviting Anna to his own house in order for Frederic to meet her there, but decided that: “he must not go so far as to do himself an absolute and grievous damage, should it at last turn out that he was wrong in any of his surmises” (p.62). In the long run, these surmises led to Anna and her mother being completely estranged, Anna forsaking her true rank to marry massively beneath her and the substance of an English earldom being split in half. None of his fellow lawyers were happy with the situation. Mr Flick was “aware that such a house as that of Messrs Norton and Flick should not be irregular” (p.144), the Serjeant was furious that Sir William “tampered with his clients” (p.59) and the less glamorous but more conventional Mr Hardy summed up the feeling of all of them when he reflected that: “it isn’t law” (p.60).
Sir William’s scheme placed both Anna and Frederic in an impossible position, because they were expected to get to know each other intimately when neither of them knew officially who Anna was. Her legitimate status was made provisional and dependent upon his. Frederic Lovel was fair-minded and honest. When he realised that his legal advisers believed Anna to be the true heir, his first reaction was to withdraw his claim. He said to Mr Flick: “I want nothing … that does not belong to me” (p.63). He disliked the idea of the marriage compromise because he thought it unfair to Anna, but was persuaded to proceed by his aunt Julia. (She in turn had been swayed by Sir William’s mistaken surmise that the Italian interest was a serious threat.) When Frederic met Anna, he was genuinely attracted to her. “She was very beautiful – to his thinking the very pink of feminine grace … What a happy chance it had been … that he should have been able to love this girl whom it was so necessary he should marry – ” (p.157). Although he truly believed in her, sadly the situation in which they were placed meant that Frederic’s sincere protestations of affection to Anna always appeared to have a hollow, interested ring. When he continued his love-suit even after he knew about Daniel, he lost his godlike aura in Anna’s eyes. She began “to think that his motives [were] merely human, and perhaps sordid. He ought to have abstained … after she had owned her own degradation” (p.218). Even at Bolton Abbey, she could never quite bring herself to trust him. As she said to Josephine, her cousin Frederic was going to address her “because he would get all this money” (p.65).
The older Lovel cousins (the Rev’d Charles, his wife Jane and his maiden sister Julia) compounded Anna’s sense of not belonging in their world. For 20 years, bigamy acquittal notwithstanding, they had regarded Josephine and Anna as impostors. Not surprisingly, they had great difficulty wording their invitation to Anna and found receiving her at Yoxham to be very awkward, as Miss Lovel’s blunder about poor visiting shows. Mr Lovel, the head of the household, was cold and non-committal towards her, always doubting her in his heart. He even refused to drop the handle to her name and address her by her Christian name alone, side-stepping the question by calling her nothing at all. Mrs and Miss Lovel did warm to Anna, but they were always mindful of the financial importance of the match between her and Frederic. Thus, while for a brief period they contrived to make Anna feel “really admitted to the inner circle as one of the family” (p.126), they quickly distanced themselves once she refused their nephew. This, of course, made Anna feel even more excluded than she did before she arrived. In a letter to Josephine, she said: “They were very nice to me before … they never say anything ill-natured to me now. But it is very different, and there cannot be any good in remaining” (pp.130-31).
Trollope was at pains to stress that the Lovels were good people in their own sphere. Mr Lovel, for example, was “an honest, sincere man … a doer of good to those around him” (p.332). But he “likes the old-established things – things which had always been unsuspected, which were not only respectable but firm-rooted” (p.196). The legal confusion surrounding Anna defeated them all, playing on their prejudices and causing them to view her with perpetual suspicion. The Rector’s neighbour, Lady Fitzwarren, was worse again. Supercilious and condescending at Anna and Daniel’s wedding she said to him, of Anna: “she must always be considered [my italics] as the legitimate child of her father” (p.332); evidently she didn’t really believe it. This was the social equivalent of the lawyers’ machinations. Such a remark might – just – not be recognised for the snobbery it was were it to be said with the aim of putting an outsider in their place; directed at Lady Anna it cannot be mistaken for anything other than blatant arrogance.
Josephine’s part in Anna’s fate was different in kind but no less tragic. Obviously she did believe in their rank, but in a manner so obsessed and violent that it was wholly counterproductive. She was so hard upon Anna in her efforts to force the marriage compromise upon her that she brought out all the latter’s latent strength of character. Anna was as stubborn as her. “She too was a Lovel, and she was, moreover, the daughter of her who had once been Josephine Murray” (p.139). Trapped in this gigantic battle of wills, Anna had no psychological space in which to decide what she really wanted. All she could do was be equally inflexible in her loyalty to the tailor. Ultimately Josephine’s isolated frustration, exacerbated by the knowledge that Anna had shaken off her authority, caused her to take the desperate step of trying to shoot Daniel. Whether this was a serious attempt at homicide or more a cry of despair from a defeated, demented woman, the effect was to bring down public sympathy firmly on Anna and Daniel’s side. Josephine was completely cowed by her actions and Anna, seemingly “as free as air” (p.307) sallied forth unattended every day to Daniel’s lodgings to help nurse him back to health.
It is easy to see why Anna found Daniel attractive. She had known him all her life and had always relied upon his guidance and companionship. In the shifting, uncertain world of the book – a world where even her own name was open to question –his unflinching probity seemed to her to be the one rock to which she could cling. “[She] was sure of but one thing alone, and that was of the tailor’s truth” (p.181).
Daniel also had the quality of manliness, a trait much admired by Trollope, in abundance. His quiet courage was shown by the way in which he responded to the more established characters’ treatment of him for much of the novel. Mr Flick was high-handed and patronising, the Serjeant actually tried to bribe him and even though called there as a witness he had to all but fight his way into the courtroom on the first day of the trial. Yet through it all Daniel remained calmly resolute. There was no doubt that his dignity in the face of these insults was one of the most admirable things about him and was presumably exactly what Anna, who knew him intimately, would have expected of him.
But like everything else in Lady Anna, Daniel’s character was highly ambiguous. Looked at from a different angle, and his steadfast certainty becomes rigid censoriousness. He was as prejudiced against the wealthy characters as they were against him. Not so much educated as instructed, his reading has blinkered him rather than enabled him to develop a mature, balanced outlook on life. “With his half-knowledge … his reading that had been all on one side, he had been unable as yet to catch a glimpse of the fact that from the ranks of the nobility are taken the greater proportion of the hard-working servants of the State” (p.199). Like all self-righteous people, much of his identity was invested in nursing his grievances. When he and Frederic finally met, he was actually disappointed that the young nobleman was so pleasant to him. Trollope’s description of him as a dog in the manger is telling. Anna hoped that “the poles might be joined together by her future husband” (p.327), but it seemed more likely that Daniel would be the cause of her remaining estranged from her world. While he did unbend enough to agree to be married at Yoxham he was nevertheless sullen and ungracious; after the wedding he took ship for New South Wales with his wife as soon as he could.
The exact nature of the couple’s relationship in Keswick is left unspecified and those who follow the current fashion for finding veiled references to sex in Trollope might like to explore this further. Much more interesting (and disturbing), however, is the psychological hold Daniel had over Anna. He commanded absolute obedience from her. Under his fixed gaze she was often silent, always compliant and never contradicted him. He was her master as well as her suitor. It is part of Anna’s tragedy that, because she and Daniel were kept apart for most of the novel, the other characters did not have the opportunity to observe how they related to each other. Mrs Bluestone suspected that she was afraid of him, but no one actually saw the full extent of his controlling manner. So strong was his dominion over her that she saw his image clearly in her mind even when she was with Frederic at Bolton Abbey. Daniel had effectively deprived Anna of the power to choose for herself. Seen in this light, his offers to withdraw his suit if she would tell him that she wished it seem rather less noble. In reality, for their engagement to end, he would have to release her unconditionally – as Josephine put it: “free her from this thraldom in which you hold her” (p.166) – which he was unwilling to do.
Daniel and his father Thomas have always accepted that the two women were who Josephine said they were. However, because as Radicals they did not believe in the concept of an hereditary aristocracy, their attitude was, in its own way, as damaging to Anna’s sense of self as Mr Lovel’s scarcely concealed hostility. Anna had only two influences forming her character in her girlhood: Josephine’s single-minded insistence on their rank in society (which, given their actual circumstances during those years, must have seemed not only obsessive but ridiculous) and the Thwaites’ equally didactic political egalitarianism. While she identified with Daniel and his station – “for all practical purposes in life he had been her equal” (p.248) – in fact she was as cut off from the townsfolk of Keswick as she was from the aristocracy. She and Josephine saw no one but the Thwaites and when she did encounter the local children, their response was to scout her about her title. This wretchedly tense upbringing, spent isolated with three bizarrely obsessive people, accounted for Anna’s excessive gratitude to Daniel and her mistaken belief that what she felt was romantic love. She had no other, more relaxed, relationships in her life by which she could learn to judge her feelings accurately. (Daniel, as we have seen, manipulated these feelings in order to exert what he regarded as his emotional rights over her.) The difference between what she felt for Daniel and what she could have felt for Frederic was clear in how she viewed Frederic when they met. In the best tradition of Trollopian young ladies with their lovers, she looked upon him as godlike and would readily have worshipped him, but for her perceived obligation to Daniel. It is this sense of love unfulfilled that gives the scenes between Anna and Frederic at Wharfedale their touching poignancy.
Anna’s abnormal background also explains her strangely muted character. Trollope was as fond of Anna as he was of his other favourite heroines, if not more so, telling us that she was: “soft, feminine, almost humble, – but still with a dash of humour in her, when she was sufficiently at ease … to be happy” (p.90). Sadly the reader saw little of these qualities because Anna very rarely was at ease. Of all the characters in the story, the one who least believed in Lady Anna was Anna herself. Her awkwardness, diffidence and deep sense of inadequacy were obvious in her guarded and mistrustful manner. It was only when in conversation with Minnie Lovel and Alice Bluestone (happy young people both sure of their places in the world and of the unconditional love and acceptance of those around them) that she began to thaw out and show her feelings. With Minnie she became openly affectionate and later, with Alice, she was able to discuss her dilemma frankly. Unfortunately, however, the healing effects of these friendships were not given time to come to fruition due to the insuperable time constraints imposed by the marriage compromise. They were also fatally hampered by the uncertainty surrounding Anna’s identity. It would be impossible for any of us truly to know and relate to anyone else – or they to us – if we did not first know who we were ourselves. Anna was no different. Her whole life was crippled by her world’s refusal to allow her to be the Lady Anna Lovel in her own right, free of any doubt. Fully aware of this, she said to Alice: “I believe what I had better do would be to die … everything would come right then” (p.153). And in a way, at the end of the book, she did die. She and Daniel died to 1830s British society, which had no place for them, and emigrated to Sydney, going as far away as possible in an attempt to be themselves.
Lady Anna is such an ambivalent story that it is generally regarded as being impossible to decide which side Trollope was really on: hence its reputation as his ‘divided mind’ novel. But I think we can tell. In his introduction to the Trollope Society edition, Paul Johnson discusses the conversation between Daniel and the Keswick Poet, which occurred at the centre of the book. Here Daniel confided the whole history of his love to the poet, who responded by telling him that he could not approve his conduct. He said that the social gulf between Daniel and Anna was simply too great and that he did not believe in “graftings so violent as this” (p.176). As Johnson said: “when the poet argued that there is one kind of love in poetry and another in real life – poetic love ‘is more ecstatic but far less serviceable’ – the reader feels he is talking sense”. Surely this is Trollope’s own voice? No matter how prone to human frailty the institutions of society may be, they are necessary for the smooth ordering of civilized life. It is everyone’s duty to fit in and perform the part allotted to them in this ordering because the serviceable rather than the poetic must win the day. This explains why Lady Anna is a tragedy. Trollope adored the English moneyed world with its hunting and its comfortable certainties, but in Lady Anna he depicted this earthly paradise as rotten to the core. In particular, he showed us how Anna – a person of birth, quality and integrity – was so beset by calumny and disbelief that any positive role she might have taken in public life was lost.
Much has been made of the supposed autobiographical flavour of the novel – Anna was the same age as Trollope, she lodged in Keppel Street where he was born and even shared his initials once she was united to Daniel. It might be nearer to the mark to say that Trollope, a deeply reserved man regarding the subjects closest to his heart, used Lady Anna as a mask. Safely hidden behind its pages, he could express all his lingering sense of ostracism from his own class, the anguish he suffered from wholeheartedly loving a way of life where he never felt he quite belonged and his anger at the way in which those who were sure of their place in his world so often abused the power and privileges of their position. Perhaps it is for this reason (although his readers and critics have tended to disagree with him) that he pronounced Lady Anna: “the best novel I ever wrote! Very much!! Quite far and away above all others!!!”
Note: This article is based on a presentation of the novel originally delivered to the Trollope Society’s London Seminar Group on 19th October, 2006. I would like to thank members of the London and York Seminar Groups for valuable comments, which have been incorporated into the text.
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