Wednesday, June 13, 2018

An Old Man's Love by Anthony Trollope: Not Actually As Creepy As the Cover Images

I'm not into the May-December romance thing but he looks much older than 50.

My recent track record with Trollope's shorter novels hasn't been great (I haven't forgotten Linda Tressel) but my library had a free digital download of An Old Man's Love on audio and I needed something to listen to, so I decided to give him another shot. This is Trollope's last completed novel; it's listed as published in 1884, though he died in 1882. (I'm not sure if the 1884 date is a serialization or posthumous publication of the complete novel). It's another of his short works, about 250 pages, and it didn't take long to listen to the entire book on audio.

Basically, this is a love triangle between young Mary Lawrie, an orphan (naturally) of about 25; her benefactor, the 50ish Mr. Whittlestaff; and her absent lover, John Gordon. As the novel begins, Mr. Whittlestaff is informed that the wife of his late friend Mr. Lawrie has died, leaving young Mary (her stepdaughter) penniless. He takes it upon himself to give Mary a home at his small Hampshire estate, Croker's Hall. Mr. Whittlestaff isn't wealthy but he has a quiet and comfortable life and is happy to have Mary in the household, rather than force her to make her way in the world as a governess. 

Eventually, he begins to develop romantic feelings for Mary, though he's old enough to be her father. Mr. Whittlestaff proposes marriage, and Mary is fond of him and grateful for all he has done for her. She confesses that she was in love with a dashing young man named John Gordon; however, her stepmother sent him packing because he had no money, though he was well-born and hardworking. It's been three years and she hasn't heard from John, so after struggling with her feelings, she accepts Whittlestaff's proposal. Wouldn't you know it, John Gordon, having made a fortune in the diamond mines of South Africa, shows up looking for her the very next day after she accepts. Who could imagine the coincidence??

Thus the dilemma ensues. Should Mr. Whittlestaff hold Mary to her promise to accept his proposal? What does Mary owe Mr. Whittlestaff? And will his housekeeper Mrs. Baggett ever shut up? 

As one of the shorter novels, the plot isn't very complex, but the writing was good and there were some amusing side characters. The housekeeper Mrs. Baggett has a parallel plot with an estranged drunkard husband who shows up after years in absentia, demanding financial support to continue his gin habit. She moans and wails and rolls her eyes and doesn't think Mary is good enough for Mr. Whittlestaff, yet can't abide the thought of Mary turning him down. She wants Mary to accept him to make him happy, but at the same time Mrs. Bagette doesn't want Mary to become mistress of the household and threatens to leave. It's enough to make your head spin.

There's also a delightful and garrulous vicar, the newly engaged Mr. Montagu Blake, an old schoolmate of John Gordon who decides to play cupid and encourage the match between Gordon and Mary Lawrie. This leads to the world's most awkward dinner party ever. 

Some of the characters in this book made me guffaw, snort, and yell out loud in response. I've heard that the quality of Trollope's writing declined in his later years but I really enjoyed this book, with one small quibble -- there are several racist comments about the workers in the South African diamond mines which made me really uncomfortable. I realize this was written well over 100 years ago, but it does make me disappointed in Trollope.

And now on to the bad book covers! I do realize that age 50 in the 1880s was considered old, but the image on the paperback version looks like a man in this 70s, at the very least. 

And what about this cover? It's pretty bad. 

This one isn't much better:

And while I was searching for the original Overdrive image I found this one, 
which left me speechless:

I literally have no words for this. I don't even want to imagine what they were thinking.


  1. I had a good laugh at the book covers, and the last one--gads!! They obviously had no clue what they were doing.
    I'm also interested in reading the book, which is a Trollope I didn't know about. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. Clearly, nobody bothered to read the books, not even the summary. It worth reading though, much better than I expected. And the audio was excellent.

  2. I don't know if that last image is an actual e-book that's available, I've never heard of any published called The Library of Alexandria. It was too funny not to include.

  3. Those covers are terrible! The story line sounds is like just one strand of Dicken's enormous Bleak House: the Esther/John Jarndyce/Allan Woodcourt triangle.

    I have trouble with these May-December romances in Victorian literature (Sense & Sensibility particularly). I also have trouble with first cousins marrying which also happens frequently in Vic Lit.

    1. Yeah, I understand men were older than women because they had to have the means to support a wife, but I agree, it's super creepy to have these men 20+ years older than their teenaged brides. Ew. Also Emma! Mr. Knightley knew her when SHE WAS A BABY. And first cousins marrying is icky.

  4. Thank you for this review; it really revved up my desire to read the novel. I've read almost all of Trollope's books and am trying to sweep up the three or four left...


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