- Anthony Trollope’s Late Style: Victorian Liberalism and Literary Form by Frederik Van Dam
Frederik Van Dam’s new book, Anthony Trollope’s Late Style: Victorian Liberalism and Literary Form, resembles classic studies of Trollope that appeared between the 1960s and 1980s: Robert Polhemus’s The Changing World of Anthony Trollope (1968), James Kincaid’s The Novels of Anthony Trollope (1977), Robert Tracy’s Trollope’s Later Novels (1978), and Christopher Herbert’s Trollope and Comic Pleasure (1987). Like these scholars, Van Dam approaches Trollope through close formal readings of a series of novels, mostly lesser-known works, to tease out the implications of Trollope’s famously understated literary practice. I refer to formal readings deliberately, as Van Dam’s seem to be less concerned with style (the word he chooses to describe his book in his main title) than with form and formal structures such as paraphrase and allusion. Anthony Trollope’s Late Style also seems to me less interested in lateness (which Van Dam defines in his introduction, using the work of Theodor Adorno, as a political rather than biographical lateness) than in an earliness that goes back to the classical period.
The book is structured around what I consider to be paired chapters. Chapter 1 (the introduction) and chapter 2 (“Getting and Spending”) present both The Way We Live Now (1875) and Ayala’s Angel (1881) as novelistic responses to the economic changes brought about by late capitalism in Victorian Britain, the period of the proliferation of the great commercial millionaires that Harold Perkin describes in The Rise of Professional Society: England Since 1880 (1989). Chapters 3 and 4 deal with colonialism and the New Imperialism in the Australian novel John Caldigate (1879), An Old Man’s Love (1884), The American Senator (1877), The Fixed Period (1882), and The Land Leaguers (1883). Chapters 6 and 7 analyze social institutions—education and the law, respectively—in Cousin Henry (1879), Dr. Wortle’s School (1881), Is He Poppenjoy? (1877), and Mr. Scarborough’s Family (1883). The last two chapters focus on tact, chapter 8 in relation to love and chapter 9 in relation to affection and comedy in Is He Poppenjoy?, Marion Fay (1882), and Ayala’s Angel.
I have left chapter 5 out of this synopsis, since I read it as both pivotal to the book’s logic and its most unusual chapter. That chapter deals with Trollope’s prose writings rather than his fiction and focuses primarily on his critical essays about, and biography of, Cicero. Referencing Edmund Burke, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, among many others, Van Dam here establishes his early claim that Trollope was “an intellectual exile among the elite of his time,” resisting his era’s tendency to privilege Caesar as an emblem of social authority by presenting Cicero as an advocate of civic republicanism (9). This analysis solidifies the arguments at the center of Van Dam’s book: namely, that “Trollope’s late writings are radical, even visionary” (12), that “they experiment with a number of literary conventions in order to articulate a form of subjectivity in which the individual element, agency, has been erased,” and that “these stylistic elements are part of his engagement with modernity” (9). These arguments place Van Dam’s work solidly in the realm of new studies of liberalism, a position that seems to be confirmed by the fact that he and Lauren Goodlad coauthored the essay on “Trollope and Politics” for The Routledge Companion to Anthony Trollope (2017). [End Page 710]
Nevertheless, I read the central concerns of Anthony Trollope’s Late Style as less political than formal and less about modernity than about the past. What links the chapters of the book, to my mind, is their consistent turn to formal literary structures that preceded the advent of the novel. These would include the turn to romance and the fantastic in chapter 2, to Jacobean drama in chapter 3, to the carnivalesque, satire, allegory, and...