Thursday, May 3, 2018

Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel: Anthony Trollope Finally Disappoints

Sorry for the poor image quality.
Not a lot of editions of this book.
For a reason.
It was bound to happen eventually: my favorite, most trusted, most reliable author has disappointed me. And not just with a book I found mediocre -- a book that made me so annoyed, so frustrated I nearly threw the book across the room. The culprit? Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel, two short novels published in one volume by one of very favorite authors of all time, Anthony Trollope. Harrumph.

This wasn't even my top choice of Trollope novels to read, but I chose them simply because they were short, and because they're the only two of Trollope's works not set in England. Nina Balatka is set in Prague (which I was lucky enough to visit last year); and Linda Tressel is set just down the road (well, 3 1/2 hours) in Nuremberg.

So. Nina Balatka is the story of a young woman in Prague who is in love (gasp!) with a Jewish man, to the horror of her family. Her mother has long since died and her aged father has fallen on hard times, and signed over the ownership of his house to the Trendellsohns, the family of his former business partner. Nina's father is ill so she has been dealing with the Trendellsohns, particularly the son, Anton. One thing has led to another and they fall in love, to the displeasure of both families. Nina's cousin Ziska Zamenoy is in love with her, and his mother is dead set against her marrying a Jew. She vows to do everything within her power to split them up, planting seeds of doubt in the minds of the two lovers. The big issue is that Anton never actually received the deed to the Balatka house, which is rightfully his.

This was not Trollope's best work. I thought the dialogue and writing seemed rather stilted, quite unlike Trollope's easy style, and the plot seemed to go over and over the same points repeatedly -- interfaith marriages are hard! Relatives are manipulative! It was like Trollope was beating a literary horse to death; also, there was one character in particular who was so saintly as to be unrealistic. It took me nearly a month to read this 200 page novella because it really wasn't that interesting -- I actually started it at the end of April and it just didn't grab me.

On the other hand, I zipped through Linda Tressel in just over 24 hours.  Right away, this novella held my interest -- the writing was much better and faster-paced. Aha, I thought, now this is the Trollope I know and love. Young Linda Tressel, about 20, was orphaned at a young age and is under the care of her aunt, her mother's sister. They live together in Nuremberg, Germany, in the house left to Linda by her father. To make ends meet they have a lodger, the 50-something Peter Stenimarc, who works for the burgermeisters. Linda's Aunt Charlotte is very religious, a strict Calvinist who basically has sucked all the enjoyment out of Linda's life. She's not allowed to have any friends, dance, read novels, and heaven forbid she should have a suitor or make any kind of decision for herself. 

Aunt Charlotte has decided that Linda needs a stabilizing influence and that she should marry Mr. Stenimarc, who is old enough to be Linda's father. Mr. Stenimarc is flattered by the suggestion and begins to think that young Linda would be lucky to have him. He's very interested in controlling pretty young Linda -- and her property! He and her aunt decide They Know Best and pressure Linda to accept his hand in marriage, even though she's horrified. 

Meanwhile, there's a young man named Ludovic, a distant cousin of Peter's, who is also in love with Linda, but it turns out he may be disreputable -- or is this just what Charlotte and Peter say to keep him away from Linda? It seems like Linda has only a faithful servant to turn to, and there were some pretty surprising developments. The plot in this novel moved along much quicker than Nina Balatka, but I kept wanting to shout at her to grow a spine and tell Aunt Charlotte where to shove it (it's very hard for me as a 21st-century feminist to see people try to control women's decisions, even when they are fictional). Aunt Charlotte was masterful at using guilt to pressure Linda. And then PLOT TWIST [highlight for spoilers] after resisting Charlotte and Peter for months, Linda finally walks out and takes a train and a boat to Cologne to some distant relatives BUT CATCHES COLD ON THE BOAT. AND DIES. THANKS, TROLLOPE!!!!

I was so angry I can't stop thinking about this. It is a terrible thing when one's literary hero falls short. I'm taking it very personally. Anthony, I know you've been dead for 136 years, but seriously, how could you do this to me? I admit, after reading 28 of Trollope's novels (and his autobiography), I've been kind of spoiled because the quality is so high -- there have only been a couple so far that have been just meh -- all but one of them (Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite) have had at least parts that I really enjoyed. I did mostly like Linda Tressel but the ending made me so mad, I don't know if I want to read any more Trollope for a while.

Trollope, you hurt my soul.


  1. Yeh, I was burned by The Belton Estate, the Trollope novel that a young Henry James bluntly called "stupid" in a review. It really was stupid and I felt stupid for persevering and only finishing it for the sake of finishing it. I got rid of a fistful of Trollope novels that I'd been thinking of re-reading, and I've not read a Trollope novel since The Belton Estate.

  2. Whew! OK, I will skip these two titles and The Belton Estate too. I doubt I will manage to read all of Tony T. by the time I die anyway, so this just helps me pick future titles. So sorry it was disappointing. :(

  3. Oh, no. Too be disappointed by a favorite author. That's the worst! I still haven't forgiven Katherine Kurtz for making a hash of one of her books and ruining a favorite character's life. :)

  4. I can feel you, Karen. I haven't read anything by Trollope so far, so I can't share a judgement. But having to get that from one of your favorite authors must have been very disappointing!


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