Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope

“Women have often been hardly used by men, but perhaps no harder usage, no fiercer cruelty was ever experienced by a woman than that which fell to the lot of Josephine Murray from the hands of Earl Lovel to whom she was married in the parish church…….”

This opening line of the novel introduces perfectly the main theme of this book; that women were almost totally reliant on men in 1874 and marriage was the expected institution with which a woman could be provided with security during the period when this book was written in the late 19th century. It also raises issues of class expectation.

As the opening line states, Josephine Murray marries the Earl of Lovel and becomes the Countess.  However, the Earl later claims that he was previously married and his wife still living when their marriage took place. He, therefore, denounces her as his wife and claims their daughter illegitimate.

With help from her modest tailor friends, the Thwaites, Josephine throws all her energies into proving her title and that of her daughter, Anna. However, Anna has become secretly betrothed to Daniel Thwaite, her childhood sweetheart and Radical. When this secret betrothal becomes known Josephine goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure the marriage does not take place.

When Trollope published this story in 1874 he claimed that it was “the best novel I ever wrote!” I have not read enough of his work to be able to make a judgement on that (something that I intend to rectify) but it certainly was not well received at the time and is said to have outraged readers.

I thought this was an immensely readable and enjoyable novel. It is true to say, that it is a little predictable but I found it a fascinating account of the insecurities faced by the vast majority of women of the time. How a reliance on men and marriage were, by and large, the only acceptable route for a young woman and she was totally dependent of forming an alliance through marriage in order to secure her future.

The characters are well portrayed within the formalities concurrent with the period. However, Anna is an admirable character who shows a courage that will resonate with modern women. Her ability to stand firm in her beliefs in the face of immense opposition demonstrates a resoluteness of character that we could admire in a modern day woman let alone one constricted by the confines of Victorian society.

Parts of this novel are concerned with a legal case and the language is, therefore, a little dry in parts. Overall though, I love the lyrical quality of the prose in this novel which more than compensates. For example the opening paragraph of Chapter 37 begins:

“All December went by, and the neighbours in the houses round spent each his merry Christmas; and the snow and frost of January passed over them, and February had come and nearly gone…..”

I think anyone who enjoys classical novels, history or women’s issues will enjoy this novel. As one of Trollope’s lesser known novels, Lady Anna, is not easily found and my copy came from a charity shop years ago. It is a beautiful old orange spined Penguin and I love it. However, the good news is that Amazon have free kindle copies of this available so it seems to me that this is a win/win situation if you have a kindle. There are also several used copies of this available.

Happy reading!

ISBN:  9780140438345

Publisher: Penguin (my copy)

Price: £1.25 (this is what I paid for my second hand copy)

Total saving:  £283.67

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