Tag Archives: property

Robert Louis Stevenson – The Master of Ballantrae (1889)

A sprawling jumble of things are crammed into this pretty stellar novel: adventure, family saga, historical fiction, pioneer exploration, buried treasure, etc. Centers on the Durie family, comprised of the father Henry (Lord of Durrisdere), his second son Henry (the current Lord), and his first son James (The Master of Ballantrae). The tension between the two sons is the main plot-mover, which is narrated almost entirely by Mackellar, a servant in the house of Durie. He is drawn rationally and morally to the cerebral but week Henry, but is drawn affectively to the morally corrupt, romantic “master of the arts and graces,” Katherine, a wealthy Scotitsh noblewoman, marries Henry despite loving James. James (who is presumed dead) returns to the house of his fathers, despite being a wanted man in Scotland,  after traveling on a pirate ship with the Irish Jacobite Francis Burke (some of the narration is pulled from his MS). After insulting his brother one too many times, they have a duel, where James seemingly kills him. But he doesn’t die. He escapes and travels throughout the orient, mostly India, where he picks up the Indian servant Secundra Dass. He returns and Henry and his wife (and two children) go to New York. Mackellar watches over James, but they eventually follow. Once there, James leads an expedition to recover the treasure he buried after escaping from the pirate ship with half the booty. An attempt to take the treasure all for himself, he buries himself alive. When Henry, refusing to believe that his brother has died, journeys back to his grave, they find Secundra Dass digging him up (he has learned to swallow his tongue). He comes to life for a single moment, and Henry and James die simultaneously. Mackellar writes their epitaphs, which reveal his conflicted sympathies.

Voice vs. wirting: can think of as elaborate competition for mastery between Mackellar’s “will to narrative” and the protean capacities of the Master charm, elude and evade any sort of simple representation by way of song, polygotism, etc. The final engraving could be read as MacKellar’s final victory, but the tune of his intended story has changed so much that the Master appears to have rewritten the story. Also, the tombstone will hardly ever be read, hidden as it is the in the American widlerness.

Life and Renewal: A pretty damning critique of 19th century tales of renewal. Can compare to Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, where drowning in Thames becomes the means for narrative rebirth. Or even to the end of Mill on the Floss, where the two characters are sublimated into some sort of aesthetico-natural landscape. Not so here. James keeps coming back to life, but to end…he cannot successfully write himself into a lineage or a history that would make such rebirth socially payoff--and their being swallowed by the American landscape seem less a moment of aesthetic colonization, than the withered failure of a line.

Servant narrator: Mackellar can be read in conjunction with Gabriel Betteridge (Moonstone) and Nelly Dean (Wuthering Heights). They became useful means (devices) for refracting the differences of their masters–for instance, that one need choose between two masters becomes an issue because it is shot through the consciousness of Mackellar. He not only struggles between two masters, but also between modes of narration: between the tragic decline of the House of Durie and the more sympathetic-practical modes of realism. And there is a related tension between tragedy and the story of the story itself, which constantly threatens to fracture that tragic glaze.

The Master: As much as we are supposed to sympathize with the Master, we should also recognize that Stevenson is hollowing out the trope of the Byronic hero–or at least disassociating the literary heroism from political constancy (James gets immunity in Scotland by becoming a political spy for England).

Inheritance and history: In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff interrupts the family chain of inheritance, which is then restored in the end. But here the family line is “interrupted” by none other than the heir himself.


Charles Dickens – Great Expectations (1860-1)

The orphan Pip is brought up by his sister and her husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. One night Pip encounters a convict in the cemetry, and he does him an act of kindness which the convict, who will turn out to be Magwitch, Mr. Provis and Mr. Campbell all in one, will never forget. He soon goes to Miss Havisham’s house to be a playmate with Estella. He starts to become ashamed of himself and his lower-cultured childhood friends. He becomes and apprentice with Joe, and works alongside Orlick, who is a sort of double that plays out all the crimes that Pip almost commits but never does. [An instance of shadowing the protagonist with doubles, sorta like Bertha Rochester and Jane Eyre.] Pip receives an inheritance (via Jaggers) from an unknown source, but he assumes it is from Miss Havisham. This enacts the processes of accumulation that correlate with the field of desire associated with Miss Havisham.  But he soon gets into debt and it is revealed that Abel Magwitch–and it is further revealed that he is the father of Estella (her mother is Molly, Jagger’s housemaid). Pip tells Havisham this story, she stands to close the fire and dies from her injuries, despite Pip’s attempts to save her. Magwitch is arrested and dies; Pip is about to be put into debtor’s prison, but he gets sick, and then is nursed back to health by Joe. He returns to Joe’s home, where they have had a child named Pip [cf. Sydney Carton at the end of Tale]. He visits Stalis house, where he meets Estella. It’s ambiguous whether they marry or not.


Guilt vs. desire – One can frame Pip’s two worlds according to this tension. Pip is marked by guilt from the very beginning, as his actual inheritance. The world of desire, or lack, is associated with Havisham and Estella. Cognitively adjusting to the knowledge that his inheritance comes from guilt rather than desire entails a confrontation with a world of crime that does not square with the tenants of individuality and subjectivity he had adopted in the middle part of the book. Rather, crime seems somehow universal: Magwitch somehow emerges from the landscape, he is an atmosphere of sorts. Pip himself will toggle between these two spheres.

Is Pip being a bad reader because he has not yet grown up? (structure of dramatic irony to deal with how these things can be known at all) Contrast this with Maisie (does not give signification, only registers impressions). As an example of better reading by way of negative contrast: Magwitch shows Pip how he acted poorly towards Joe. But where do we locate this knowledge?

In David Copperfield, the impetus to give full signification (retrospective and fully) is the same impulse as in Great Expectation (Pip as narrator does know things that phenomena subject does not know) but sometimes we just get the narrated Pip and we see his ignorance negatively. In the end, Pip the narrator and narrated converge but there is not a full knowledge. Indeed, the reduplication of Pip as a young boy points to the “bad infinity” that could ensue: the second Pip is able to effectively truncate the narrative with a new beginning. And to the degree that “family” is posited as a source of final cohesion, it should be noted that Pip is excised from that family.

Two ends in Great Expectation: 1. very clear that Estella and Pip don’t get married 2.  you don’t know whether they get married or not, structurally undecideable.

More broadly: Can think of Thackeray, Dickens and Trollope as obsessed with evidentiary character of narration, must give an account fo how the narrative has come into being. On the other hand, Eliot, Hardy and James fully accept the arbitrary nature of the narrative–they can’t justify it, so they just start. [in Hardy in particular, one has the sense that anyone walking along a road could furnish the novelist with a story]


Mill on the Floss (1860)

Maggie and Tom, children of Bessy (Dodson) and Tom Tulliver are best friends: Tom is domineering and block-headed while Maggie is free-spirited, intelligent, but submissive to Tom’s wishes. Mr. Tulliver manages his finances poorly, which makes the Dodson sisters angry and judgmental of the Dodson line–they consign Maggie to that branch of the family. Tulliver goes into debt at some point in time (compounded by the fact that he has leant money to his sister Mrs. Moss and does not demand its repayment) and Mr. Wakem takes the Dorlcote Mill. Waken is Philip Wakem’s father, an effete schoolmate of Tom’s who loves Maggie. Maggie promises herself to Philip (a cripple from birth?), despite the fact that Tom will not allow for there to be any connection. Tulliver eventually dies, but not before Tom manages to earn enough money to pay all of his debts. This happens simultaneously. While Tom sets out to buy back the Mill (the dying wish of his father) Maggie goes into town to live with her cousin Lucy, who is being courted by Stephen Guest. Stephen falls in love with Maggie, but Maggie resists him for the sake of both Lucy and Philip (whom she has seen clandestinely many times, up until Tom caught them. However, Stephen manages to get her to go on a boat ride that carries them beyond the point of their intended meeting with Lucy. They stay out all night. Maggie still refuses to marry Stephen, despite the fact that this would effectively clear her name. Stephen goes abroad and Maggie moves in with the town priest, and begins working to rebuild her name. Tom eventually gets the mill back but one evening the flood comes. Maggie leaves her abode (staying with childhood admirer Bill and family) and canoes over to Tom. She saves him from the house, but they are taken under by the debris. Town life continues; nature repairs its wounds. Tom and Maggie are buried together.


Strange narration frame: the impossible anonymous narrator that opens the story does not return to close it.

Flood imagery: throughout water is associated with the dangerous overflow of sentiment: different only in degree from the violent flood that will wipe away the lives of Maggie, Tom, and the novel itself. Connect with discourse of passion and sensibility.

Pastoral: Tom and Maggie’s childhood is Wordsworthian to the hilt. Their transition to adulthood is premised on a move to the urban as well as a consciousness of capital flow and debt. The allegorical connection with England as a whole is unmistakeable.

Characters: As with Silas Marner and Adam Bede, this is a portrait of low people, with the intention of uncovering the tragic in the everyday. Works by apophasis when saying: these stories do not ever get recorded.

Ending: Violent means of solving many oft he tension that Eliot could not otherwise resolve–in particular, the elicit romance between Tom and Maggie. It also is aestheticized (cf. Koven), and thus the death of the characters presages and conditions the move to a mode of representation that can adequately sublimate violence, rather than merely convey or mime it.

Debt: The crucial plot-mover in the novel. Linked with death in that Tulliver can only die when the debt is payed. Link with notion of equilibrium, etc. (Freud, Brooks). It also establishes its own narrative arc that is superseded by the romance that its structure cannot contain. Thus a “normal novel” would end with Tom’s reclamation of the Mill, but this narrative overshoots itself by attempting to pick up the uncontainable energies of Maggie.

Education: Contrast Philip, Tom and Maggie in terms of educational success. A rustic vs. cosmopolitan education, etc.

History: read as an aestheticized historical novel, a eulogy to a time that now exceeds the bounds of representation. How does this history relate to the capacity remember…and how does this relate to the memorializing impulse?



Henry James – Portrait of a Lady (1881)

Isabel Archer, from Albany, the most intellectual of three daughters (who go largely unmentioned) moves to Europe with her Aunt Lydia Touchett, where she meets her cousins at Gardencourt: Mr. Touchett, an American banker living out his last days, and Ralph Touchett, her consumptive cousin that reamins her closest companion throughout. She also meets Lord Warburton, whose marriage offer she refuses. When Mr. Touchett dies, Ralp gives over his inheritance to Isable, wanting her to be free of amrriage (for instance, of Casper Goodwood, an American suitor that follows her all over Europe. She is accompanied throughout by Henrietta Stackpole, a militantly modern pro-American, proto-feminist journalist who proves to be a great friend despite appearing vulgar at first (she marries Mr. Bantling, a minor character except that he presages uxorious man of the 20th century). Meeting Madame Merle (high in Mrs. Touchett’s esteem), she goes to Italy, where she meets Gabriel Osmond, a aesthetic dilletante (American expat) with whom she falls in love, thanks to Merle’s maneuvering and much to everyone’s chagrin. All goes wrong. She hates her husband, who hates her. It turns out that Merle is his ex-lover, and mother of Pansy Osmond. Isable returns to England despite her husband’s wishes in order to be with Ralph during his final days. They are reconciled. Soon after he dies, Casper Goodwood tries to propose violently. She resists, and the novel ends with her planning to return to Osmond.

Aesthetics: much attention given to actual portraits, but characters are constantly described in explicitly aesthetic terms. There is a danger, as in Osmond’s case, the one takes aesthetic distance to a cold extreme, transforming everyone into objects. Pansy is an extreme case.

Proximity: The desire for nearness, which is ubiquitous, counteracts the aesthetic impulse. Symapthetic characters travel great distance in order to be near to Isabel, the central aesthetic object. She herself moves in and out of her artistic state (wearing a mask at times, and breaking down at others, going near to Ralph in the end, despite her being useless to his recovery.)

Money: Draw parallel with Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend. Will becomes central enabler of evil rather than of good.

Love: Ralph goes on about love in the end, but it fails to rewrite lives devoid of it.

Translation/Original: Isabal is described as on original—unmediated—that is, as pure, in terms of currency.

Imagination: Isabel wants to fill out the limits of her imagination, which is what art does, too.

Life: Isabel is constantly employing this term to stand in for a poorly developed concept of personal freedom.

Suffering – track as plot device.

George Eliot – Mill on the Floss (1860)

Tom and Maggie Tulliver grow up together outside St. Ogg. Tom goes to school (private tutor) where he meets Philip Wakem, a crippled son of the lawyer who will later “ruin” his father. Maggie forms early pact with Wakem, and eventually becomes informally engaged, though she is in love with Stephen Guest, who is informally engaged to Lucy Deane, the daughter of Mrs. Deane (one of the three Dodson sisters of which Mrs/ Tuliver is one). Mr. Tulliver loses the Mill, partially because he won’t ruin his sister’s family (the Mosses). Tom comes back home determined to set things right, and eventually pays his father’s debts just before his father dies. Meanwhile, Maggie is clandestinely seeing Philip Wakem. Tom finds out and scolds her. She gives him up, but eventually cannot avoid his company when she moves to town. Stephen Guest falls in love with Maggie and takes her on a boat trip down the river. When she refuses to amrry him (out of obligation to Lucy and Philip) both are shamed (Steph leaves), but Maggie sticks around to absolve herself, living with the parson, etc. until one day there is a huge flood. Tom, having successfully retaken the Mill, is living there. Maggie rows all the way from childhood friend Bill’s house to the Mill, where Tom gets into a boat and begins rowing to town. They are drowned by huge fragments floating in the river.

Anthony Trollope – Barchester Towers (1857)

Septimus Harding’s daughter Susan is married to archdeacon Grantly (whose father, the Bishop, recently died). His other daughter, Eleanor, had married John Bold, who is dead, but she has a child. Mr. Slope, a chaplain to Dr. and Mrs. Proudie is the primary antagonist, embodying everything about the church that is back-handed and hypocritical. Dr. Proudie is inept and weak-willed, is ruled by his wife when he is not ruled by Slope.

Slope falls in love with Signora Neroni, who is part of the Stanhope family. She is a crippled femme fatale that married an Italian Prince of some sort. She demands that a couch be ready for her at all times and is likened to an immobile spider. Her brother, Bertie, is a loafer with no prospects. Along with Bertie and Slope, Mr. Arabin, a studious clergyman from Oxford, all try to woo Eleanor, who is the central heroine of this novel, along with her father, who is a strangely passive anti-hero. Not-taking is his credo…cf. ALF Open Secrets. [Compare with Vanity Fair “without a hero”]

Also of importance is the Thorne family living at Ullathorne. They are old gentry committed to merry old England, intimating a time before religious squabbles. Miss Thorne is a “druid,” and dreams of Sir Walter Scottesque events (that go horribly wrong). One senses their dominance, which is trumped only by Lady de Courcy, who enters the scene, intimating even grander titles. A similar escalation of power occurs in the conclusion, when the mystery of perferement spreads from the small town of Barchester to a “carpet in Windsor.”  The point here is that greater powers are maneuvering (or at best ignoring) the internal combustion of Slopes, Proudies and Grantlys.

The novel dissects the inner-workings of ecclesiastic strife: between evangelicals and those more sympathetic to papal forms. The narrator, who intervenes constantly with advice and commentary on his trade, seems reluctant, to bring about a conventional ending that nevertheless does occur. There is a disturbing coincidence between traditional hymeneal reconciliation and the settlement of property rights…as if the novel works against what Trollope himself wants to consistently deny—that is, that the good get what they deserve.

Narrator is constantly hedging his authority, drawing attention to his own qualified PERSPECTIVE (105 and 151 with regard to Slope; on 217 “point of view” is mentioned explicitly). Implies the both narrator and the reader hate Slope, thus implicating/constructing the reader. On (198) the reader is described as a tourist and Ullathorne’s windows are talked about at length [connect this with the frame/window scene in Emma]. This also connects with brief discourse on MIMESIS (167), in which narrator claims that no perfect representation is possible. “It is to be regretted that no mental method of daguerreotype or photography has yet been discovered by which the characters of men can be reduced to writing and put into grammatical language with an unerring precision of truthful description.” The concession is to the advantage of the novelist however, since it installs the REAL as something to be represented.

Narrator also draws attention to his role: now “following” a certain character (240); veiling (294, cf. Vanity Fair); narrative temporal constructions, “we must go back a little” (415); the progress and temporal expectation of the reader with regard to descriptive and interpretive labor (458);

The PRESS plays a huge role in arbitrating decisions. The Jupiter is the main organ, though it seems to be fairly disinterested (114). Registered as more powerful than clergy or state in determining popular opinion (at least in the Warden), though finally fails to set up Slope as dean.

PLOT: denigrates plot as most important/determinate feature. “The story shall have lost none of its interest” if you read the last couple of pages. Double-edged: b/c we already know what occurs, or because the knots Trollope ties are sufficiently frustrating to solicit a different type of reading. Novel CONVENTIONS are flaunted throughout: love-making (245)

Inside and outside: wit as a shell, etc. Contrast with “I believe in no belief that does not manifest itself in outward signs (246), as depth reading.

Trollope is prone to introduce his characters show-and-tell style, with plenty of warning that so-and-so is going to be important—unwilling to catch the reader off-guard. See description of Bertie (71)

PROPERTY is a central category. (192 for corn laws, free trade etc. the immaculate 53 that resisted the legislation in 1852)

Much is made of women and their agency. Signora is a Hermioniac statue throughout, tightly sealed impervious and penetrating (83, 85, as spider 242). Much attention given to tears, blushing, color, etc.

Interesting use of domestic space, converting pathetic fallacy into strangley ontic terms: uncomfortable conversation becomes correlated with a cramped drawing room. (84)

Humor works by compressing the grand and the petty. For example, Signora’s demand for a sofa (77) Also (234)

Critique of senseless sermons, platitudes, etc. (46)

A lot of wine is drunk, including champagne, claret, marsala, etc. usually associated with release, festivity, rashness, but also says something about the subject-matter characteristic of Trollope novel: the landed and professional class. (63, 78)

Wages: Money domaintes, much as it does in Vanity Fair, but the stakes are different, more fundamental. Here, the very concept of wage is thrown into question (98), or perhaps it just becomes a question. ??? All this is associated with the NEW (103), “carting away the useless rubbish of past centuries.” Trollope associated this new with a paired down, formless Puritanism. Ironically, Harding refuses the position of dean precisely because he is unable to accommodate the new.

Mentions “pulpy gelatinous matter,” I assume in reference to primordial soup. (160)

David Skilton (2005) points out that Trollope primarily dealt with the professional and landed class: even in his day, critics thought that his novels would be historical time-capsules for future generations. One reviewer described his portrayal of English upper-middling as a “natural history” of social man. The accuracy of his depiction, the concreteness of detail, the attention os mall things make country communities tick, have caused some modern readers to impose the nostalgic gaze on Trollope’s fiction: but Barchester, one should note, is being encroached on by modernity: it exists in the time of the train. Further, his characters are not from the tight enclosure of Southern England, but include people from australia and the other colonies.  Further, the economies of these communities is far from stable: all characters are at risk of sinking into poverty, even if they are able to also socially rise. Trollope is also modern, almost post-modern, to the degree that he is self-conscious about novelistic construction. Henry James called his frequent allusions to the “rude mechanicals” of fiction-making “suicidal.” In this way, the fictional and social convention are shown to just that: fictional, covering over, suturing the rapidly changing structure of Victorian England. Beneath the comedy of manner is the transience of social change.

Charles Dickens – Bleak House (1852-3)

Esther Summerson, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare are all orphans that have the benefit of being cared for financially by Mr. John Jarndyce, who brings them all together at Bleak House when they come of age. Ada is beautiful and boring, Richard is handsome and aimless, and Esther is diligent and plain. Esther becomes “mistress of Bleak House,” eventually marrying the young doctor Allan Woodcourt, but not before she discovers that she is the daughter of Lady Dedlock, the wife of the very rich and powerful Lord Leicester Dedlock, owner of Chesney Wold. Richard and Ada become engaged at a young age, and Richard devotes his life to unraveling the case, only to die when the case is solved and all inheritance money is taken up in expenses.

Other important characters: the lawyer Tulkinghorn, the detective Bucket, the spontaneously combusted Krook, the hyperbolic Boythron, the loyal soldier Mr. Geroge that turns out to be the son of the maid of Lord Dedlock, the crazy Miss Flite with all the birds, the young and homeless Jo that makes everyone sick, and Henry Skimpole, the “noble savage” that refuses the space-time logic of capitalism.

Property: Esther essentially marries a house. Jarndyce and Jarndyce case is sustained through flow of property—like capital, it requires movement, exchange. Bleak House is also easily transplanted, becomes signifier of traditional bonds, but is not rooted to land. Contrast this to Dedlock’s ideal England and one can see this as story of aristocratic decline, the repeal of the corn laws (the immaculate 53 cf. Barchester Towers), etc. (connect this with Parade’s End and Tietjens as Tory, etc.)

Narration – oscillates between omniscient narrator (present tense, social satire, spans geographical space and geological time) and Esther Summerson (deliberately self-limited, acutely aware of “epistemological limits” that double as socially defined gender conventions.) 3rd person is focused on objective conditions of society, while 1st person becomes increasingly imbricated in those concerns as the narrative progresses…convergence would be similar to something like David Copperfield’s conclusion, but via spatial coordinates.

Comedy – Impetus to produce (alphabetical list of names and other excess, bordering on absurdity)….as desiring-production in contrast to Freudian desire (in terms of construction and resolution of plot). At hinge moments (such as incipient critique of Chancery) the narrative starts to get absurd.

Genre – A peculiar mix of romance, detective story and realist novel. At time chaotic, but more often than not, locked in productive competition, leading towards ambiguous mixture. In general, realism becomes increasingly about character as the 19th century wears on: the psychological or sympathetic mimesis of Eliot and James is in the distance…but for Dickens, institutions, historical, etc. are still recalcitrants objects of representations that cannot be worked out via psychological focalization.

Plot – Chapters strung together like set pieces, plot emerges in small increments at the end of the chapters…as novel progresses, the plot begins to take over more and more of each chapter. Or the describes as inverse, where characters take on the body of the plot as they put on more flesh. Think about plot itself in terms of survival – with Chnacery case as prime example: achievement of steady-state. Further, plot is generated by 3 mysterious absences: the missing legal document, Esther’s past, Jo’s sickness (secret is social system that has given him disease, that then spreads)

Law – Opening sequence describes antediluvian London’s Chancery court system – contrast with Hugo’s description of Notre Dame (both make use of evolutionary language.)

Boythorn is a parody of William Savage Landor – ridiculous hyperbole and chivalry – a good example of Dicken satirical style, along with Chadband’s speechifying—note that all this comes mostly through omniscient narrator, and rarely through the restrained lens of Esther. Chadband is parody of florid novelistic prose that doesn’t go anywhere.

Richard Carstone fits the aimless male type: Deronda, Edward Ferrars, etc…is taken over by labor rather than taking on labor—perhaps because there is no metabolic exchange???

Skimpole – Dickens send up of the socially innocent ‘noble savage’

Bucket – precursor to Sherlock Holmes, disaffected and indifferent, pure plotting machine – terrifying attention to detail, an ability to “plot” which amounts to unraveling the plot – see Peter Brooks on the necessity of repetition.

Individual/System – Dickens shows the friction between individual agency and systematic recalcitrance. In generic terms, one can see the romantic Bildungsroman struggling for life, but being swallowed by Victorian conventions. This stands in reverse relation to otherwise “progressive” social reforms that democratize society and allow for the ascent of Mr. George’s brother, for example, and the marriage that flows from his monetary success… The relating between these vectors (political, economic) is by turns ironic, contradictory, and coincident.