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ARTICLE ABJECT AND DEFILED: SIGNORA NERONI'S BODY AND THE QUESTION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN BARCHESTER TOWERS KATE LAWSON University ofNorthern British Columbia This paper examines a substratum of sexuality and violence underlying the conservative and amusing surface of domestic relations in Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers. For an author known for gentle satire and polished scenes of everyday Ufe, domestic violence may seem like a vulgar topic, unbefitting TroUope's keen sense of propriety. However as P.D. Edwards points out in Anthony Trollope: his Art and Scope, Trollope's "unexcitable levelness of tone, his lumbering, strictly sequential unfolding of plot, his sameness of style in novel after novel have blinded most readers to the variety of his subject-matter and especiaUy to his fondness for the sensational, the moraUy macabre, the exotic" (3). As Henry James pointed out in 1865, TroUope is interested in the vulgar. James's devastating comment, "Life is vulgar, but we know not how vulgar it is till we see it set down in his pages" (1865, 44), is a useful reminder of the nature of TroUope's concerns. TroUope is fascinated by the common, the coarse, the quotidian aspects of everyday Ufe, including the realm of domestic relations. It is also worth noting that James acquits TroUope of a meaner level of baseness, what he calls the "morbid" and the "poUuting."1 Indeed, Trollope himself is afraid that any graphic description of male-female violence will induce "every weU-bred reader of these pages [to] lay down the book with disgust" (384). Trollope's novel must thus tread a fine line between vulgarity, commonness, on the one hand and pollution, morbidity, on the other. In part TroUope does this by clearly isolating a source of pollution and defilement in the Barchester community — Signora Madeline Stanhope Neroni — and eventually expelling her from its Victorian Review 21.1 (Summer 1995) 54Victorian Review midst. The fact that Signora Neroni is also seemingly an abused wife, irremediably crippled by an unspecified act of domestic violence, will be the focus of this essay. How are we to read this body marked by injury? What threat of "pollution" does she bring to the Barchester community? The focus of this analysis is thus inevitably on what can be called the domestic romance plot of Barchester Towers, however there are important analogies that should be drawn between violence in the domestic sphere and the public world of ecclesiastical politics which dominates the novel. The language of violence and war provides the governing metaphor for large portions of the novel; the great public "battle" in Barchester Towers is in fact a civil war in the Church between the Tory "high and dry" party and the Evangelicals. What seems to be at the centre of the battle is the worth of tradition; where the current clergy of Barchester are content "to confine themselves to such ceremonial observances as had been in vogue for the last hundred years" (40), the Evangelicals, who are gaining power and prestige in the church, believe in innovation. Mr. Slope, for example, casts himself as a "new man" who is doing the unpleasant but necessary task of "casting away the useless rubbish of past centuries" (99). For tiieir part, Mr. Grantly and his faction have for many years "exercised [their] ministry without schism" (51), but the arrival of the Proudies and Mr. Slope makes it clear that the true enemies of the church are internal: "It is not the dissenters or the papists that we should fear, but the canting, low-bred hypocrites who are wriggling their way in among us" (39). Although the schism which threatens the integrity of the Church of England concerns the relative merits of the new and the traditional, the content of the debate focuses on issues of purity and impurity — of deciding what the "rubbish" is that must be discarded. Is Sunday travel an impure practise or not? Is chanting in the cathedral a mark of holiness or of defilement? Is questioning the worth of tradition from the pulpit a cleansing of the temple or the sign of, as Mr. Harding says, "disrespect to the ministration of God's services, as conducted in...


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