Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope


Among the twenty books by Anthony Trollope that I own is Rachel Ray.  It's not one of his most famous books compared to the Barchester series, the Pallisers books, or even The Way We Live Now, which is a shame, because it is mostly delightful, with one quibble.  It is also blessedly short, just about 400 pages, compared to some of his 800 page chunksters.  

Rachel Ray is 18 and lives in Baselhurst with her widowed mother and her sister Dorothy, who is ten years older and also widowed.  Both widows were previously married to clergymen, and Dorothy is very devout and evangelical.  Trouble starts one night when she reports to her mother that she has seen her younger sister doing something scandalous . . . walking alone with a man!!!  Shocking!  

This young man is in fact Luke Rowan, who is a guest of the Tappitt family.  Rowan is the heir to a portion of the local brewery, and came to Baselhurst to try and work out an arrangement with Mr. Tappitt.  Mrs. Tappitt had great hopes that he would marry one of the three unwed Tappitt daughters, who are friends of Rachel.  Rachel was visiting her friend Cherry Tappitt, and was walking home when he overtook her and caused this minor scandal.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Rowan has all kinds of ideas about improving the brewery and the beer.  Mr. Tappitt thinks he is a young upstart, and Mrs. Tappitt is smarting because Luke had the nerve to fall in love with Rachel instead of one of her daughters.  Luke is a little hotheaded, and he Mr. Tappitt can't get along.  Meanwhile, there's a local election which causes the town to start taking sides, partly based on the whole Rowan/Tappitt feud, and poor Rachel is caught in the middle.  The story follows the courtship of Rachel and Luke, and is a social satire about gossip, hypocritical evangelicals, and local politics. 

I mostly enjoyed this book.  The characters are charming and interesting, and Trollope gets in some good digs, especially about the overly pious Dorothy and a suitor who is mostly interested in her money.  The only part of the novel I didn't enjoy was an aspect of the local election -- the current MP is challenged by a local businessman who is -- gasp -- a Jew.  He's not a bad character, but some unpleasant comments are made about him by other characters (mostly his political opponents) which made me uncomfortable.  I'm not sure if Trollope himself was anti-Semitic, or was just trying to make a point about people of this time period, but I really wish it hadn't been included.  But it's otherwise a nice portrait about life in a small town during Victorian period, and a very easy read.  

I'm counting this as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

9 comments:

  1. I regularly have those questions about whether a Victorian author was anti-Semitic or if they used the sentiments they saw around them to paint some of their characters as backward or mean.

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    1. I'm hoping it was just Trollope reflecting the attitudes of the time. I would be very disappointed if I found out he felt that way himself.

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  2. antisemitism was prevalent during the Victorian era, look a Disraeli and the bias he faced, Edward VII socialized with "Jewish Bankers"
    Novels reflect the times they are written in and antisemitism is alive and well now.

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    1. I agree, I'm sure that anti-semitism still exists. I think Victorian authors were much more blatant about it than authors are today.

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  3. I've never heard of this novel, thanks! I like Trollope and am reading a Barsetshire novel now.

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    1. I loved the Barsetshire series -- I think Barchester Towers and Doctor Thorne were my favorites. I'm thinking about starting the Pallisers series by the end of the year.

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  4. Sounds like a good story and Trollope is becoming a favorite of mine. I definitely share the uncomfortable feeling when authors (even my beloved classics authors) demonstrate their racial prejudices. I recently started Trilby by George du Maurier, which I had planned to read for years, only to discover that this is the novel that launched Svengali upon the world and this character is a classic example of antisemitism in literature. Now I feel that I cannot really like Trilby. Dickens and Fagin is another example, and I remember writing a post about Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, which contained another "avaricious Jew" stereotype character.

    All that aside, I would like to read Rachel Ray, if only to make Food Network jokes, which you happily abstained from :)

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  5. I have never heard of this one but I'll have to check it out as I love Trollope's books. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  6. "mostly delightful, with one quibble" is a great way to describe most Trollop novels.

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