CAN YOU FORGIVE HER?*
CAN we forgive her ? asks Mr. Trollope. Certainly, if it were worth while, but we scarcely care enough about her for either a forgiving or unforgiving spirit. Mr. Trollope does not succeed in his vague characters. All that he does well is determinate, very determinate, with sharp outlines and precise effects. Alice Vava- sor's is intended to be one of the finest existing types of English- women's characters,--one full of sentiment, of those restless self- questionings awakened in women by an unhappy early attachment and the many half-renunciations of feeling involved in loving again, of feminine intellectual ambitions, of that pride which revolts against dictation without giving any real independence of nature, and lastly, of that kind of craving for love which is so fully aware of its own intensity that it is always doubting whether the love it gives is genuine affection or mere gratitude for that which it receives. At such a character it is evident that Mr. Trollope aims in Alice Vavasor, and it is also equally evident that he misses his aim. He misses it, as it appears to us, from having stu- died with much less care that part of a novelist's art which con- sists in describing what the critics call 'subjective' feeling than that part which consists in giving the little characteristic traits of out- ward manner and action. Alice Vavasor's type of character is uninteresting and unintelligible without much more of the scenery of inward emotion, of morbid distrusts, hesitations, self-analyses, and self-accusations of coldness, variableness, and exhaustion of feeling, than Mr. Trollope has attempted to give. He has entirely failed to make the reader see why Alice Vavasor broke off her engagement with Mr. John Grey, and he has managed only a little better her un.succeksful effort to re-engage herself to her cousin George. In short, his heroine remains to the last a dim and faintly painted figure, without the beauty of that vagueness of feminine feeling, that hesitating and self-task- ing ideality of mind, which is so often combined with the greatest intellectual activity and the deepest capacity for tender- ness in women. We think we can see what Mr. Trollope wished to paint,—but certainly if we are right, still more certainly if we are wrong and he was aiming at something we do not even suspect, he has failed as he seldom fails, in the central figure which gives the title to his new tale. Even in painting some of those little external traits in which Mr. Trollope is generally so happy, we do not know what he would be at with Alice Vavasor. Why, for instance, should he make her so much interested in Mr. Palliser's information as to how many eggs are daily consumed in Paris as to take a memorandum of it in her note-book? She would not have done it merely to please Mr. Palliser ; and neither the sentiment nor the humour of her nature is quite consistent with her lively interest in this statistical statement.
Yet the tale is, in many respects, one of his beat, in spite of a faint and misty centre. If Mr. Trollope has failed in Alice Vava- sor, he has drawn a figure of unusual force in her cousin George Vavasor, and has not left his tale, moreover, without a true heroine. The moment she appears on the stage, Lady Glencora Palliser, a figure far better suited to Mr. Trollope's style of art than Alice Vavasor, takes the place of her friend in the reader's mind, and it is her fortunes rather than Alice's that we watch with the most interest during the chief part of the tale. We believe that Mr. Trollope meant to paint in Alice a woman of the most refined delicacy of nature guilty of an indelicacy simply owing to morbid distrust of her own feelings. In Lady.Glencora Palliser he certainly does paint a woman with some little indelicacy of character from a nearly opposite cause,—a complete absence of reserve, combined with that kind of impetuosity which blurts out and even exagge- rates, instead of as much as possible ignoring and repressing, the feelings of which she has most reason to feel ashamed. Lady Glencora is the sort of girl who, under unfortunate circumstances might become even shameless and brazen, but could only become so by yielding impetuously to some half-generous feelings which might put her in conflict with the world's opinion, and make per- manent defiance of its morality a part of her pleasure. There is something loveable and childlike in her which belongs to this impetuous nature, though she has none of the reserve in matters of feeling which generally marks children. In her restless love of strong exciting feelings Lady Glencora is almost bold, and Mr. Trollope takes her as near as he can find it in his heart to do— (she is evidently a great favourite of his)—to the edge of the abyss
• Can You Forgive tier? By Anthony Trollope. 2 vole. London: Chapman and Hall.
a plunge into which would have made her what is called a ' bold ' woman. We are not quite sure that he is acting consistently with his own design and with th3 indications he throws out in the earlier part of the story in saving her from this fatal plunge, but perhaps he would say that a certain irresolution is a part of her character, and that it is strictly consistent to save her from the fatal step of an elopement by interposing the same kind of circumstantial obstacles which were originally sufficient to make her marry against her will and against the impulse of her affections. If Mr. Trollope had had the heart (shall we say the nerve?) to ruin Lady Glencora, he might have given (what is rare with him) a genuinely tragic interest to his story,—but his artistic instinct seems to have an awe of tragedy, the border of which he often brushes, touching it with no little insight and ability, but also apparently with something of distrustful anxiety, and leaving it again with a sense of relief. In Lady Glencora he has mixed ele- ments apparently almost intended to prepare us for feminine reck- lessness and that kind of desperation which cannot endure the con- demnation-it is so ready to brave. Her love of excitement, her yearning for love, her half scorn for the prosaic plodder destitute of insight into character who is her husband, the light effervescence of her spirits even when she is most unhappy, her pleasure in making faces when her husband preaches to her, her contumacious coun- termining of his little plans for sobering her down, the mischievous spirit which makes her almost mock her guest, the Duchess of St. Bungay, in Mr. Palliser's own house, the devil in her which makes her unable to resist flirting before Mrs. Marsham and Mr. Bott, or gaming in the gambling-rooms at Baden, and which, even after she is happier, makes her tell the Duke of Onmium, when bending over her, that she hopes her child (his heir) may prove a girl,—all these are traits which, taken together, would seem better suited to prelude a great rashness and a tragic fate than those of any other character Mr. Trollope has drawn. Nor can it be said that her amenability to advice on occasion of her marriage would argue a similar pliancy to the opinion of the world in greater matters after marriage. Mr. Trollope clearly means us to understand that Lady Glencora by marrying a man for whom she cared nothing has lost a little of her delicacy and, with her delicacy, of her respect for the opinions of others even on moral questions ; and the longing she evidently feels to recover a sincerer position is only a new motive to leave Mr. Palliser, her relation to whom she evidently felt insincere as well as cold. On the whole we have a strong feeling that Lady Glencora was in the earlier part of the book painted with a more or less unconscious eye to a darker ending, but that Mr. Trollope shrank back from the pic- ture, either because he distrusted his power to draw it, or because his instinct naturally leads him towards the play of lighter feelings. Something of the same tendency to run as close as he dare to the edge of tragedy without incurring the responsibility of delineating its darkest features, is shown in the masterly picture of George Vavasor's meanness and gloomy violence. Here Mr. Trollope does not shrink from delineating at least a murderous heart, but only from delineating the final consummation of its evil, and the general horror which a deliberately planned and executed crime of murder spreads around. Probably Mr. Trollope shrinks less from the imagination of dark thoughts, than from attempting that intensity of style required when dark thoughts come to a focus in dark deeds, and there is no room left for the play of those diffuse and piquant levities and elasticities of social life in the picturing of which he so much excels. George Vavasor vaguely contemplates getting rid of his grandfather, and very nearly succeeds in murdering John Grey, and in both cases the moody and savage state of mind of the sullen and ambitious man are admirably drawn, but as it comes to nothing in both cases, there is no occasion for any of that introverted intensity of tone which the picture of a great crime requires. George Vavasor, with that old scar on his face, which opens or closes according as he is angry or pleased with the course of events, with his cleverness, selfishness, and his capacityfor conversation, his vehement ambition, his latent ferocity, his pride which makes the meanness of plun- dering Alice hateful to him, and his necessities, which neverthe- less compel him to live on her without any sort of claim to do so, is a picture with far stronger lines and shadows than most of Mr. Trollope's heroes show. And never does Mr. Trollope paint him better than when he brings him, too, to the very edge of an abyss. The immediate emergency is the want of funds to contest the Chelsea districts :—
"He was in Parliament, but Parliament would be dissolved within three months. Having sacrificed so much for his position, should he let it all fall from him now,—now, when success seemed to be within his reach? That wretched old man in Westmoreland, who seemedgifted almost with antnortalits,—why could he not die and surrender his paltry acres to one who could use them ? He turned away from Regent Street into Hanover Square before he crossed to Great Marlborough Street, giving vent to his passion rather than arranging his thoughts. As he walked the four sides of the square he considered how good it would be if some accident should befall the old man. How he would re- joice were he to hear to-morrow that one of the trees of the accursed place,' had fallen on the obstinate old idiot,' and put an end to him f I will not say that he meditated the murder of his grandfather. There was a firm conviction on his mind, as he thought of all this, that such a deed as that would never come in his way. But he told himself, that if he chose to make the attempt, he would certainly be able to carry it through without detection. Then he remembered Rush and Palmer, —the openly bold murderer and the secret poisoner. Both of them, in Vavasor's estimation, were great men. He had often said so in company. He had declared that the courage of Rush had never been surpassed. 'Think of him,' he would say with admiration, walking into a man's house, with pistols sufficient to shoot every one there, and doing it as though he were killing rats ! What was Nelson at Trafalgar to that? Nelson had nothing to fear!' And of Palmer he declared that he was a man of genius as well as courage. He had looked the whole thing in the face,' Vavasor would say, and told himself that all scruples and squeamishness are bosh,—child's tales. And so they are. Who lives as though they fear either heaven or hell? And if we do live without such fear or respect, what is the use of telling lies to ourselves? To throw it all to the dogs, as Palmer did, is more manly.' 'And be hanged,' some hearer of George's doctrine replied. Yes, and be hanged,—if suCh is your destiny. But you hear of the one who is hanged, but hear nothing of the twenty who are not.' Vavasor walked round Hanover Square, nursing his hatred against the old Squire. He did not tell him- self that he would like to murder his grandfather. But he suggested to himself, that if he desired to do so, he would have courage enough to make his way into the old man's room, and strangle him ; and he ex- plained to himself bow he would be able to get down into Westmoreland without the world knowing that he had been there,—how he would find an entrance into the house by a window with which he was acquainted, —how he could Cause the man to die as though, those around him should think, it was apoplexy,—he, George Vavasor, having read something on that subject lately. All this he considered very fully, walking rapidly round Hanover Square more than once or twice. If he were to become an active student in the Rush or Palmer school, he would so study the matter that he would not be the one that should be hung. He thought that he could, so far, trust his own ingenuity. But yet he did not medi- tate murder. Beastly old idiot !' he said to himself, he must have his chance as other men have, I suppose.' And then he went across Regent Street to Mr. Scrnby's office in Great Marlborough Street, not having, as yet, come to any positive conclusion as to what he would do in refer- ence to Alice's money."
After giving us a character so powerfully drawn and so essentially dark in grain, it is almost a pity that Mr. Trollope should shrink from a province of his art which his tale almost goes out of Ito way to. escape.
The less important characters in this novel are certainly not the least well executed. The fault of the vulgar group which centres in Mrs. Greenow is its very slender connection with the story itself, so that, like the side panels of some old-fashioned pictures, it seems to be connected mechanically only, and not naturally, with the subject of the principal painting. Mrs. Greenow and her two lovers are very amusing nevertheless, though it is not quite easy to account for so vulgar a person as the pretty widow belonging to the Vavasor family, of which all the other members are at least of good blood and good culture. As usual, however, with Mr. Trollope's novels the incidental humour shown in delineating cul- tivated society is the best, because it has more of the tone of irony, and because the stiff social decoruras on which this humour is grafted enhances the absurdites so delicately observed. The Duchess of St. Bungay, Mrs. Conway Sparkes, Mrs. Marsharn, Lady Midlothian, and above all Mr. Bott, the vulgar M.P. who tries to ingratiate himself with Mr. Palliser and rise with him to power, are the subjects for some of Mr. Trollope's most delicate humour. There is a self-restraint in these touches, and on the other hand a strong unrestrained appetite in the vulgarer fun, which makes the former far more really humorous than the latter. Taken as a whole, Can You Forgive Her? is certainly one of Mr. Trollope's bast works, but its texture is more than usually loose and straggling ; and its central point is far more faint and colourless than is the case in any of the group of tales with which it must be ranked.