Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Trollope Ho!


I very recently entered what I'm calling my Anthony Trollope period. I have them all lined up in the shelf next to my bed, the six Palliser novels ands the six Chronicles of Barsetshire, tome-like in their mute appearance, a formidable wall of books containing an ocean of words!

I’m now reading Can You Forgive Her?, the first in the Palliser series of political novels. The author has an interesting style, much more controlled than Charles Dickens, his contemporary, and much less exuberant, though with subtle comic overtones. Like Dickens he offers a fascinating insight into the habits, attitudes and mores of Victorian England, though clearly the social milieu he prefers to look at is quite different.

He also offers himself, at least a part of himself. In Can You Forgive Her? he makes an appearance as Mr Pollock ‘the heavyweight sporting literary gentleman.’ I was delighted to discover that Trollope was indeed a keen huntsman. It shows particularly strongly in Chapter XVII of the novel, the one headed Edgehill, which describes a hunt meet and all the vagaries that arise from a hunt meet. The chapter begins so beautifully;

Of all the sights in the world there is, I think none more beautiful than that of a pack of fox-hounds seated, on a winter morning, round the huntsman, if the place of the meeting has been chosen with anything of artistic skill. It should be in a grassy field, and the field should be small. It should not be absolutely away from all buildings, and the hedgerows should not have been clipped and pared, and made straight with reference to modern agricultural economy. There should be trees near, and the ground should be a little uneven, so as to mark some certain small space as the exact spot where the dogs and servants of the hunt meet.

The whole chapter in some ways reminds me of Tolstoy’s description of a wolf hunt, one of the highlights of War and Peace, though at a far more intimate, a far more English level. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but I’m thinking of the difference between epic grandeur, the sort of thing that becomes the wide-open spaces of Russia, and the more circumscribed social and physical geography of nineteenth century rural England.

Edgehill is a chapter that could only ever have been written by a rider and a hunter. Trollope captures perfectly the highs and the lows, the anticipation and disappointment that so often accompany a hunt. He knows his way and he knows his people.

They are still there, the amateurs who want to be up with the hounds, who jump every hedge and fence, who want to be in at the end, only to find that their horses are blown far too early. And then there are the experienced hunters, people who know the lie of the land and the capability of their horses; who know when to jump and when to look for ways through, who know the ditches and obstacles to be avoided. There are people who in general do not, at the close of the day, end up walking for miles, leading exhausted mounts! These are also the people who know how to keep on the good side of the hunt master, who rules the proceedings a little like Captain Bligh ruled the Bounty. Good reading; good hunting!

30 comments:

  1. I'm now on the tenth disk of a twelve disk BBC adaptation of the Palliser novels. Great stuff! I'm not a novel reader (not anymore anyway) so this will have to do for now. Susan Hampshire is excellent as Lady Palliser.

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  2. NP, I must have a look at that. I'll check if it's on Amazon UK.

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  3. PETA...people for the ethical treatment of animals.

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  4. Sounds amazing Ana! I'm always delighted by your adventures in literature!

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  5. BTW, great pictures! Did you take them yourself?

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  6. My earliest memories are of hunting - well, of hunting scenes on the curtains of my bedroom windows, lit by the early morning sun ... my version of Proust's magic lantern!

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  7. Thanks, Jeremy. I have many talents but riding and taking pictures at the same time is not among them. :-)

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  8. Chudexs, horses can be a bit scary if you are not used to them.

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  9. Mark, I have a similar remembrance of things past, though mine begins with wallpaper!

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. @Anthony: PETA = Psychotic Extremists Torturing Animals. Research their record on euthanizing "rescues" . . . they are a bunch of loonies demanding complete separation between humans and other species, in the name of animal welfare.

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  12. In Australia we have the ocasional fox..and rabbits, donkeys, horses, camels, goats, cane toads etc. We just poison or shoot the bastards or crush them with four-wheel-drive behemoths. Much more humane than chasing them with horses and dogs.

    I know there's some foxes near my own home, holed up in the scrub around the Mount Lawley Golf Course. One night I saw one run across Alexander Drive and sneak through a gap under a cyclone-wire fence around the course.

    I saw the TV adaptation of The Pallisers many years ago. It wasn't bad.

    About iPlayer and BBC here (to answer your comment): I don't have any such contraptions so I don't know what is available. One day I may get into this stuff but it's beyond me right now.

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  13. I did not know about Anthony Trollope but I will remember him to read later without absence, I read that he is very famous around the world and have the series of the 12 novels that you say sound excelent, I feel in grace to know another great writer, literature is a ocean of books and i love discover them and read. I read your article, I like horses, my father was master of horse riding in the army, champion many times in equestrian jump, i could see many competItions and a little mount horses, I respect them a lot, they are beautiful but dangerous, you can fall out from them in horrible way and hurt oneself for the rest of you life. I think must be interesting hunt foxs though that I feel a little pity for them to kill them but can be a "sport" like bullfight, love and hate mix in the way. A kiss . Mario.

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  14. We are going through a mini Ice Age in America with some rolling power outages.Extremes are bad but did you know that the Fuehrer favored animal protection laws? What do you think of the sadistic sport of bullfighting?I cheer for the bulls, as I like to see the chaps in the tight pants get gored!

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  15. @Retarius:How was the flooding down under?

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  16. Mario, thank you. I'd love to know more about your father. Do you ride? I've fallen out of the saddle more times than I care to admit - less so now than in the past - but I always manage to get up again!

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  17. Anthony, I've been to bullfights in both Spain and Mexico. The bulls are specially reared for their day in the sun. Most of their compatriots end by queuing in the slaughterhouse. I’m as much in favour of animal welfare as any other person, but I am not sentimental about them.

    Retarius, incidentally, lives in the city of Perth in Western Australia, unaffected by the recent flooding.

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  18. I tried a couple of times mount but not anymore, it was an experience long time ago. I feel the height of the horses and I am not calm enough to mount horses, an easy answer is that is not my sport, I prefer have my feet in the ground but I am not saying never because one time could do it again, it is not a close door for me. I respect them a lot, and I think they are beautiful, they are cute when eats carrots and this things, they are intelligent beasts but in general I dont know too much. A kiss. Mario.

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  19. @Ana: I knew a girl in high school who could pistol shoot targets at 100 yards from a horse at full gallop.

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  20. Yes, you know your Antipodes, Anastasia. The polis of Perth is so far flood-free. The Eastern States are being "given the good news" (to borrow from Andy McNab) by La Nina. This promotes a balancing dryness on our side of the island. Last year most of WA had below-average rainfall.

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  21. You don't do weather in the West, do you? :-) Sorry; I shouldn't really make light of this. The footage from the East looks so bad.

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  22. The Estern States are afflicted with a great regiment of opinionators who frantically dispute over all matters pertaining to water resource management. The arguments about land clearing, dams, releases of water into rivers and anything else of this type are perennial and futile. There's no reason why an unusual rainfall should cause disaster. The potential to deal with it has existed forever. They just can't make a hard decision or two and stick to it. Any attempt to do so is shouted down by interest groups.

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