Emotionally Expressive Masculinity in the Fiction of Anthony Trollope

‘I think that no youth has been taught that in falseness and flashness is to be found the road to manliness: but some may perhaps have learned from me that it is to be found in truth and a high but gentle spirit.’[1]

The men in Trollope’s novels frequently demonstrate a level of emotional expression that is oppositional to orthodox perceptions of masculinity in the nineteenth century. According to Andrew Drowling: ‘While nineteenth-century women could speak of inner feelings, nineteenth-century men were defined by their stoic silence.’[2] Kept in the Dark, for example states that:

‘The man is silent, not because he would not have the words spoken, but because he does not know the fitting words with which to speak. His dignity and so-called manliness are always near him, and are guarded, so that he should not melt into open ruth.’[3]

This passage is particularly interesting, as here, Trollope’s male characters are shown to be highly sensitive, capable of the strong emotions which are often contradictory to the lasting perception that Victorian masculinity involved an emotional hardness that prevented emotional expression and articulation. Trollope also appears to be criticising the expectation to maintain this ‘stoic silence’ that is placed upon the men in his society. It is difficult to overlook the critical tone when reading about the expectations accompanying hegemonic masculinity that prevent this expression of emotion.

Overcoming this emotional illiteracy, is a prominent feature in several of Trollope’s novels, and is often linked to men achieving a status as a successful male. Phineas Finn, for instance, shows a scene in which the apparent sensitivity of Phineas is applauded, and assumed to be the explanation for his success with women: ‘‘I think it is because he listens so well,’ said one man. ‘But the women would not like him for that,’ said another. ‘He has studied when to listen and when to talk,’ said a third.’[4] Phineas’ aptitude for the articulation of thoughts are repeatedly brought to the attention of the reader, and are always praised by Trollope in these descriptions. Trollope writes that Phineas ‘knew that words would come readily enough to him, and that he had learned the task of turning his thoughts quickly into language’.[5] Importantly, these demonstrations are not isolated. Margaret Markwick argues that ‘Oswald’s openness about his over-strong feelings is to be interpreted as honesty, a chivalric quality which thus exonerates him’.[6] Trollope’s males, are therefore, not only capable of deep feeling and sincerity, but the expression of these, in Trollope’s novels are frequently shown to be a feature of manliness. With regard to the depth of feeling, and the expression of emotion, therefore, Trollope’s novels present a challenge to orthodox perceptions of masculinity in the nineteenth century.

 

 

[1] Anthony Trollope An Autobiography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press) p. 146

[2] Andrew Dowling, Manliness and the Male Novelist in Victorian Literature, (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2001) p. 13

[3] Anthony Trollope, Kept in the Dark: 1882 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 159

[4] Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn: 1869, Volume 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) p. 98

[5] Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn: 1869, Volume 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) p. 339

[6] Margaret Markwick, New Men in Trollope’s Novels: Rewriting the Victorian Male (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2007) p. 115

The True ‘Shame of the Brontë Society’: Nick Holland’s Everyday Sexism

Until today, I’ll freely admit, I had not heard of Lily Cole. My attention was drawn to her existence upon reading a piece on Nick Holland’s blog. I had initially began to follow Nick’s blog as I began my MA in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, and I found many of his posts really helpful for providing a foundation for my understanding of the literary sisters. I was, however, extremely disappointed to read this piece.

For those like me, who know nothing about Lily Cole, she has been selected as ‘creative partner’ for the forthcoming events to mark the bicentenary of Emily Brontë’s birth. Cole also happens to be a supermodel. According to Holland, this is unforgivable, and the Brontë society’s appointment of Cole, means he ‘can longer continue being a member’. Of course, the fact that Cole also holds a double-first BA from Cambridge University is entirely irrelevant to her appointment.

As a woman in academia, I have been fortunate enough so far to not have experienced the institutional sexism that many of my peers have. Holland’s criticism of Cole, however, is a perfect example of the challenges several women face as academics. Holland fails to even acknowledge Cole’s academic merit, questioning: ‘what would Emily Brontë think if she found that the role of chief ‘artist’ and organiser in her celebratory year was a supermodel?’

In my opinion, Emily Brontë, a woman who heavily believed that the primary means of achieving sexual equality was education for women, would have been delighted that a highly educated female was able to hold the position. Frankly, I don’t think she would have cared in the slightest, and certainly not taken issue with the fact that the accomplished Lily Cole also happens to be beautiful.

Holland provides a clear, and saddening example of ‘everyday sexism’, and truly seems to believe that female beauty and female intelligence are mutually exclusive, and it is, for this reason, that I believe his contributions to the Brontë society will not be missed in the slightest.

Lily Cole’s full statement (as printed on http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-42564230 )

2018 offers us both the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK, and the 200th anniversary of Emily Bronte’s birth, so it feels poignant to begin the year on the topic of prejudice.

Emily Bronte, whose extraordinary novel Wuthering Heights has stirred the world for over 150 years, published her work under an androgynous pseudonym: Ellis Bell.

Writing in 1850, Charlotte Bronte explained why she and her sisters Emily and Anne all used pseudonyms: “We did not like to declare ourselves women, because we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.”

When I was asked by the Bronte Parsonage Museum to work on a piece to commemorate Emily Bronte’s birth, I immediately thought of Emily’s pseudonym, and what that gesture represented.

Why could a woman not publish under her own name? What was life like for women living in the UK in the 19th Century? What circumstances would also give rise to a child being found abandoned in a city in the 18th Century, as Heathcliff was?

Now I find myself wondering, fleetingly, if I should present the short film I am working on for the Bronte Parsonage Museum under a pseudonym myself, so that it will be judged on its own merits, rather than on my name, my gender, my image or my teenage decisions.

I would not be so presumptuous as to guess Emily’s reaction to my appointment as a creative partner at the museum, were she alive today. Yet I respect her intellect and integrity enough to believe that she would not judge any piece of work on name alone.

In the meantime I am excited to see how much Emily still means to so many people, and I welcome 2018 to celebrate her.