Monday, 20 April 2015

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope.

1880 edition of Rachel Ray.
Rachel Ray is Anthony Trollope's twelfth novel and was published in 1863 in novel form - unlike many of his other novels it was never published in serial form. Trollope wrote in his autobiography (An Autobiography, 1883):
Rachel Ray underwent a fate which no other novel of mine has encountered. Some years before this a periodical called Good Words had been established under the editorship of my friend Dr. Norman Macleod, a well-known Presbyterian pastor in Glasgow. In 1863 he asked me to write a novel for his magazine, explaining to me that his principles did not teach him to confine his matter to religious subjects, and paying me the compliment of saying that he would feel himself quite safe in my hands. In reply I told him I thought he was wrong in his choice; that though he might wish to give a novel to the readers of Good Words, a novel from me would hardly be what he wanted, and that I could not undertake to write either with any specially religious tendency, or in any fashion different from that which was usual to me. As worldly and—if any one thought me wicked—as wicked as I had heretofore been, I must still be, should I write for Good Words. He persisted in his request, and I came to terms as to a story for the periodical. I wrote it and sent it to him, and shortly afterwards received it back—a considerable portion having been printed—with an intimation that it would not do. A letter more full of wailing and repentance no man ever wrote. It was, he said, all his own fault. He should have taken my advice. He should have known better. But the story, such as it was, he could not give to his readers in the pages of Good Words. Would I forgive him? Any pecuniary loss to which his decision might subject me the owner of the publication would willingly make good. There was some loss—or rather would have been—and that money I exacted, feeling that the fault had in truth been with the editor. There is the tale now to speak for itself. It is not brilliant, nor in any way very excellent; but it certainly is not very wicked. There is some dancing in one of the early chapters, described, no doubt, with that approval of the amusement which I have always entertained; and it was this to which my friend demurred. It is more true of novels than perhaps of anything else, that one man's food is another man's poison.
'What Rachel Thought' by John Everett Millais
for the frontispiece of Rachel Ray
It is not a wicked a tale, as Trollope says, nor is it "brilliant" or "excellent", not compared with some of his other works, but it is an immensely enjoyable read, a comfort read even. In it he tells the story of Rachel Ray, the daughter of Mrs. Ray, a widow, and sister of Dorothea Prime, also a widow (before she was even twenty years old): "Black, and stiff, and stern, in widow's weeds, she had remained since, for nine years following, and those nine years will bring us to the beginning of our story." Rachel, by contrast, is spirited and full of colour and vibrancy:
She was a fair-haired girl, with hair, not flaxen, but of light-brown tint,—thick, and full, and glossy, so that its charms could not all be hidden away let Mrs. Prime do what she would to effect such hiding. She was well made, being tall and straight, with great appearance of health and strength. She walked as though the motion were pleasant to her, and easy,—as though the very act of walking were a pleasure. She was bright too, and clever in their little cottage, striving hard with her needle to make things look well, and not sparing her strength in giving household assistance. One little maiden Mrs. Ray employed, and a gardener came to her for half a day once a week;—but I doubt whether the maiden in the house, or the gardener out of the house, did as much hard work as Rachel. How she had toiled over that carpet, patching it and piecing it! Even Dorothea could not accuse her of idleness. Therefore Dorothea accused her of profitless industry, because she would not attend more frequently at those Dorcas meetings.
She falls in love with Luke Rowan, a young man from London who has inherited a share in the local brewery of Messrs. Bungall and Tappitt, however, owing to an argument with Mr. Tappitt it is assumed that he will never be made partner. By the time of this disagreement Rachel and Luke are already engaged, however Mrs. Ray is advised by the local pastor Mr. Comfort to withdraw her consent. She does so and instructs Rachel to write to Luke informing him that she no longer wishes to marry him. Rachel is heartbroken, yet forced to comply.

As Trollope novels go, this is quite typical - at the centre there is the 'love question' and at the sides the politics of both the church and the parish, and too the government (there is at this time an election). But, typical though it may be it is still done very well. Trollope sent a copy to George Eliot and she wrote back, "you have organized thoroughly natural everyday incidents into a strictly related well proportioned whole": it is this type of writing that both Trollope and Eliot excelled at (for Eliot I'm thinking about both Middlemarch and Scenes of Clerical Life). Trollope writes of individuals firmly located in their social environment, in this case it is set in Devon, in the fictional Baslehurst, so we have a portrait not only of a young couple in love but of the provincial town as a whole, just as we did in Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire (1855 - 1867), however this is one of Trollope's shorter, 'stand-alone' novels. This may not be my absolute favourite Trollope, but I still took great pleasure in reading it.

Further Reading


  1. I'm so surprised at the number of books that Trollope had written. I always think of his two series when I hear his name and forget that he wrote many more. I can't wait to get through the Barsetshire Chronicles so I can get to some of his single novels.

    1. I know - there are 47! Very prolific indeed. I think I've read about ten so far, eleven maybe. I do love Trollope, though :)


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