Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reading Anthony Trollope on my brand-new Kindle

I have spent most of a deliciously lazy Saturday settling into The Eustace Diamonds on my new Kindle (and scratching the cat behind the ears and under the chin.)

It was only a matter of time before I caved and got an e-reader. I'd already purchased some digital books to read on my phone. I cannot resist the allure of cheap or free public-domain classics.

In particular, I've acquired a few of the Mobile Reference collections available at the Kindle store containing multiple works by 19th and early-20th Century authors. Yes, the books could be had for free, but $2-$5 is a small price to pay to have dozens of works in a single file, with a clickable table of contents and all the convenience of the Kindle format. I especially love being able to access word definitions instantly.

Reveling in all the literary goodness at my fingertips put me in the mood to sink into a big, fat Victorian novel. After considering Dickens, or Wilkie Collins, or Elizabeth Gaskell, I was ensnared by the opening sentences of Anthony Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds:

"It was admitted by all her friends, and also by her enemies - who were in truth the more numerous and active body of the two - that Lizzie Greystock had done very well with herself. We will tell the story of Lizzie Greystock from the beginning, but we will not dwell over it at great length, as we might do if we loved her."

I'm just 10 chapters in, but already I'm inhabiting the world Trollope created. I am fascinated by the avaricious, utterly wicked Lizzie and rooting for the good-hearted governess, Lucy Morris, to win the man she loves. I'm impatiently waiting for Frank Greystock to come to his senses and propose to Lucy, already, and I'm hoping the ever-correct Lord Fawn will untangle himself from his ill-considered engagement to Lizzie.

Already I'm impressed by the multifacetedness of Trollope's characters. Take Lord Fawn, for instance. From his first appearance, I shared Lizzie's view of him: A dull, none-too-bright peer unlikely to go far in life, and as guilty of seeking a marriage for money as Lizzie herself. But Trollope began awakening my sympathies by explaining the burden carried by a noble, yet poor, man constrained to live among the wealthy. Then after Lord Fawn discovers his intended is a greedy, scheming liar, Trollope dropped this scene on me:

"It was a Saturday evening, and as there was no House (of Lords), there was nothing to hurry him away from the office. He was the occupier for the time of a large, well-furnished official room, looking out into St. James's Park, and as he glanced round it he told himself that his own happiness must be there and not in the domesticity of a quiet home. The House of Lords, out of which nobody could turn him, and official life - as long as he could hold to it - must be all in all to him. He had engaged himself to this woman, and he must marry her. He did not think that he could now see any way of avoiding that event. Her income would supply the needs of her home, and then there might probably be a continuation of Lord Fawns. The world might have done better for him. ... He was a man capable of love, and very capable of constancy to a woman true to him. Then he wiped away a tear as he sat down to sign the huge batch of letters."

That last sentence made me catch my breath, and then say, "Awwwww," while shaking my head over Lord Fawn's plight. Trollope got me. In that instant, he made me care about a character I had found ridiculous and annoying.

Earlier in the novel, a scene occurs in which Frank Greystock, a member of the opposition party in the House of Commons, makes a speech on behalf of the "Sawab of Mygawb," a dispossessed Indian prince. I found myself chuckling and nodding my head in agreement at Trollope's summary of the purpose of political invective:

"We all know the meaning of such speeches. Had not Frank belonged to the party that was out, and had not the resistance to the Sawab's claim come from the party that was in, Frank would not probably have cared much about the prince. We may be sure that he would not have troubled himself to read a line of that very dull and long pamphlet of which he had to make himself master before he could venture to stir in the matter, had not the road of Opposition been open to him in that direction. But what exertion will not a politician make with the view of getting the point of his lance within the joints of his enemy's harness?"

Right on, Anthony! Doesn't that description completely fit today's politicians, who argue based on what will advance their own and their party's interests, rather than on what is best for the people they are supposed to represent?

(By the way, the lovely feline in the photograph is my cat Bella relaxing by my feet as I read.)

If The Eustace Diamonds continues as excellently as it began, I may just have found a new author addiction. I also want to mention my appreciation, compared to other Victorian novelists, for Trollope's smooth, easy-to-read writing. I've never had to stop to parse out the meaning of a sentence going on for half a page, as I sometimes have to with Dickens or the Bront√ęs.

3 comments:

Misfit said...

I just caved as well, but I had a nice *free* bonus GC from Amazon to splurge on. I still wasn't going to as I can get most everything, but like you those free and almost free classics at the fingertip was just too tempting.

Felicia J. said...

Yep. If you like reading classics, you're pretty much screwed. (I used a gift card as well.)

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