"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

July 11, 2011

"Tales of All Countries" by Anthony Trollope (Book Review)

The British Victorian author Anthony Trollope is in the first place famous for his novels. What is relatively unknown is that he also wrote quite a lot of memorable short stories. Like his novels, many of these are available on Gutenberg.org in formats that can be read in popular e-book readers as the Kindle. The first collection (in three volumes) is called "Stories of All Countries." We will look at the stories in alphabetic order.

Aaron Trow. A story set in Bermuda where an English convict, Aaron Trow, has escaped prison. He breaks into the isolated cottage of Anastasia Bergen, and has her provide food. She is terrified but hopes that her fiance, Caleb Morton, will come to save her...

Chateau of Prince Polignac. An English widow, Ms. Thompson, is living with her younger daughter in a hotel in Le Puy, while her elder daughter has been placed in a boarding school in the same town. A courteous and sympathetic Frenchman, who looks like a banker, wins her affection and declares his love on a sightseeing trip to the Castle of Polignac. But he is not a banker at all...

Courtship of Susan Bell. A widow with two marriageable daughters takes in lodgers. One is a young man, a railroad engineer who makes love to the youngest daughter by offering her his beautiful drawings. But his position is not permanent...

George Walker at Suez. An Englishman travels for his health in Egypt and in Suez is mistaken for an important dignitary. When the real official arrives and he is left behind, he decides to make the excursion for which he was invited.

House of Heine Brothers. A British young man joins the Heine Brothers bank in Munich. He falls in love with the daughter of one of the partners and it takes some time to win her practical German heart. But then she shows who is in charge...

John Bull on the Guadalquivir. A young and rather boyish Englishmen is betrothed to the daughter of the Spanish business relation of his father. He finds her rather cold ("mature" is in fact the case). He travels to Spain to meet her and on the way behaves insolently towards a Spanish man in fancy clothes (of course a bull fighter!), even pulling off a button from his suit. Later this gentleman appears to be the aristocratic friend of his future wife, but she helps him save his face. This story not only nicely lays the cultural differences bare, but also the difference between the maturity of women and the boyishness of men.

La Mere Bauche. Madame Bauche is an innkeeper in the Pyrenees. She has a son Albert, and has also taken in an orphan, Marie. When they are of age, Albert and Marie fall in love. Madame Bauche does not like that and she tries to force Marie to marry an elderly retired officer with a wooden leg - with dramatic results, for once.

Man Who Kept His Money in a Box. The narrator, Mr Robinson, comes in Swiss and Italy across the family Greene, consisting of Mr Greene, who is afraid of robbers and carries his money and his wife's jewels in a box; Mrs Greene; and a daughter of whom Mr Robinson is a bit enamored. He therefore helps them out with the language which they don't speak and also helps looking for the box when it disappears... It is found in an unexpected place.

Miss Sarah Jack of Spanish Town, Jamaica. An impoverished young sugar planter falls in love with the coquettish and flirting Marion Leslie. Their relation does not seem to go anywhere, until hus aunt, Miss Sarah Jack helps out...

Mistletoe Bough. A mistletoe is hung in Thwaite hall for Christmas, complicating the life of the young daughter Elizabeth who is afraid someone will take advantage of this.

Mrs. General Talboys. In an artistic circle of British expatriates in Rome, Mrs. Talboys has the highest word with her liberal or even libertarian ideas. But when a young sculptor tries to make love to her she feels insulted.

O'conners of Castle Connor. The narrator Mr Green meets the O'Conners during a fox hunt and is invited to their castle. There are several pretty daughters and a promised dance, but Green's dancing shoes are still at the inn. As he has only heavy boots, he borrows the shoes of one of the servants...

Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne. Parson's daughter Patty from Dartmoor is made love to by the mighty Captain John Broughton. But when she notices he has reservations about their marriage as she has no money and a lower status than he, she herself breaks off the relationship.

Relics of General Chasse. In the castle of Antwerp. a rotund English clergyman as a joke tries on the uniform of the Dutch General Chasse. Disturbed by other visitors, he hides, leaving his own clerical clothes behind. A group of ladies finds these, and thinking they belonged to General Chasse, cut them up as relics to make pin cushions from. A farce.

Returning Home. A British expatriate starts on the journey home from Costa Rica to old England. On the way to the coast, he and his wife meet with disaster and in the end, he stays in Costa Rica.

Ride Across Palestine. The narrator travels alone in Palestine and welcomes the companionship of a young man, who looks rather feminine. Later they are overtaken by an angry elderly man who accuses him of abducting his daughter...

Unprotected Female at the Pyramids. A young and emancipated Englishwomen who travels alone in Egypt tries to join the party of Mr Damer and his family. Breathless, on the top of the Great Pyramid, Mr Damer is forced to refuse her as his wife and daughter harbor a dislike to her rather overbearing manner.

What to say about this volume of short stories? They are varied, ranging from drama to farce and profit from the exotic settings. Trollope traveled much and was a keen observer. He has a fine eye for cultural differences.

What are the best stories? My own favorites are: The Man Who Kept His Money in a Box, John  Bull of Guadalquivir and Chateau of Prince Polignac - and I should probably also add A Ride Through Palestine.