Trollope Trending by Adam Gopnik
The New Yorker, May 4, 2015
Did you enjoy Andrew Greeley’s Cardinal Sins? Or, perhaps, you follow(ed) West Wing or presently House of Cards and Madam Secretary on TV? Then, Anthony Trollope is likely a writer you should read.
Trollope faithfully chronicled and satirized the everyday life of the clergy, as well as bureaucrats and politicians in England. Trollope, claims Adam Gopnik, understands how power divided and diffused among various office holders’ voices and bodies, “is not just an aspect of politics – it is a precondition of politics…with the hum of gossip and backbiting.” More than many of us, Trollope is interested in how ambivalent and confusing the forces of change can be, and how compromise and painful growth form much of that change.
Trollope tackles this theme through entirely invented worlds, characters, and institutions grappling with modernization of a particular kind and the impositions of efficiency and accountability. As Gopnik writes:
In Trollope’s fiction, even the most small-scale and homely stories have as a background this special crisis of modernization—not the crisis of industrialization and mass immiseration, seen by Dickens, but a crisis of institutions, produced by reform and standardization…[T]he agents of reform are often ugly, that the beneficiaries of corruption are often graceful, that the effects of reform are often dubious, but that reform in a liberal society is nonetheless as inevitable as the standardization of measurement.
The characters of Trollope’s Barsetshire novels — including the characters of parish newcomer Mr. Harding (The Warden), Bishop Proudie and his wife, Dr. Stanhope or Mr. Quiverful – could all exist on a modern university campus in various roles, according to Gopnik — ranging from university president to lowly adjunct instructor. In the Palliser novels, outsider Irish lawyer Phineas Finn rises through the British political system to become a British MP and later Cabinet member, through relations formed with others, as well as with ambition, charm, favors, and luck.
Trollope could very well help Americans understand their current political landscape, populated as it is by die-hard radicals on either side of the spectrum, reactionaries, moderates, as well as middling careerists and interest groups. If he were still alive today, claims Gopnik, he’d no doubt be comically depicting the European Parliament in Brussels – or other powerful institutions.
Lantana Public Library, by the way, has many of Trollope’s works, including these:
The Duke’s Children
The Eustace Diamonds
The Prime Minister
Can You Forgive Her?
The Last Chronicle of Barset
Dr. Wortle’s School
Ralph the Heir
|Irish & overseas novels
An Eye For an Eye
Our library has a small but superb collection of art books, ranging from classical to popular. Whether you want to peruse images of sculpture, paintings, ceramics, cartoons or learn to pursue them yourselves — we have what you are looking for! Here is a sampling of them…
The Essential Andy Warhol by Ingrid Schaffner
[Hardcover]112 pages 1999 Call No.: 759.13 War
Famous artists of the past : with 177 reproductions including 44 in full color by Alice Elizabeth Chase [Hardcover] 1964, Platt & Munk, 120 pp Call No. 709 Cha
Art in Florida: 1564-1945 by Maybelle Mann. [Hardocver] Sarasota : Pineapple Press, 1999. Call No.: Fla 709 Man.
The Chinese art book. Phaidon, 2014. Call No.: 709.51 Chi
Lantana Public Library has other excellent works in its collection on Founders and also on Colonial history, including recent studies and classics related to Thomas Jefferson. Here are some brief reviews and reflections on some of them.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham [Hardback] Random House, 2012. 759 pp. Call No: B Jef
“Where some saw hypocrisy, others saw political agility. As long as a political leader has some core strategic belief — and Jefferson did, in his defense of republicanism — then tactical flexibility can be a virtue” (p. 254).
Jon Meacham’s recent biography of Jefferson focuses more on Jefferson’s politics. He views Jefferson as a “creatively flexible,” “transformative leader” who championed the individual American’s liberty and rights and also exercised executive powers pragmatically when required. Jefferson was a brilliant dinner table politician who carefully listened and brilliantly conversed to both opponents and friends, always avoiding direct confrontation Jefferson by turn seeking to charm, fascinate, discern, enlighten, or indoctrinate.
Meacham offers that Jefferson came to view the acts of his compatriots for representation and self-determination as justified by Britain’s own Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, which had deposed the absolute monarch James II and passed a Bill of Rights that protected liberty and free elections and limited the power of monarchs. Paul de Rapin-Thoyras’s history of England and Henry St. John Lord Bolingbroke’s political writings, as well as other classics such as Tacitus’ Germania, likely led Jefferson to view Britain’s authority to tax colonial Englishmen and limit their representation as monarchical tyranny reminiscent of the mother country’s Civil War and the Restoration periods.
Meacham observes that Jefferson never governed with blind self-interest or rigid ideology but with tactical maneuvering or expansion wherever possible. Some examples: Jefferson’s infamous abandonment of Richmond during the raiding British and Gen. Benedict Arnold in Jan. 1781 was understandable and defensible as intelligence at the time was unreliable and the Virginia militia defense uncoordinated. Also, Jefferson’s secret, divisive acts of plotting while serving as Vice-President under the Adams’ Presidency was arguably artful politics to survive and prevail in the toxic political climate of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Lastly, Jefferson expanded Executive authority quickly and decisively by upholding Madison and Livingstone’s negotiations with France for the Louisiana Purchase, and by overseeing its retroactive ratification by the U.S. Senate, as well as in imposing the Embargo Act of 1807.
Meacham’s biography has also been critically reviewed. See Eric Herschthal’s Atlantic Monthly article of Nov. 1, 2012.
Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by Fawn Brodie [Hardback] W.W. Norton, 1974, 1998. 571 pp. Call No. : B Jef
Brodie’s is the first ground-breaking academic biography ever to claim Jefferson fathered children by a slave woman, Sally Hemings, and that Jefferson may have even likened his life-long relationship with her to the Biblical tale of Abraham and Abraham’s slave concubine Hagar. Brodie weighs Jefferson’s upbringing and privately charming and sensual, conflicted, tightly controlled psychological/inner psyche, alongside a carefully calculated and cultivated public life of partisan leadership and democratic simplicity.
Jefferson’s privileged upbringing and adult life in colonial Virginia and the newly independent republic were certainly not trouble-free, as Brodie documents. After losing his father prematurely and finishing his education, Jefferson came to head a large family while forced to assume and manage its inherited debts, all while launching a turbulent political career in the Virginia legislature and suffering demanding relationships with a mother (and possibly his wife Martha Wayles Skelton) who likely held conservative/Tory sympathies. Throughout his lifetime Jefferson would sell or mortgage land, his slaves, as well as his famous 7,000 book library to Congress, to maintain social standing and multiple roles of family patriarch, plantation and slave owner, intellectual, politician, diplomat, and President.
Like Meacham, Brodie appraises Jefferson’s presidency mostly positively, as it fortuitously began with the Peace of Amiens and continued with its peaceful diplomacy with Tripoli/the Barbary Pirates, together with the “restoration of freedom of the press and speech and aborting the Hamiltonian trend toward militarism.”
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed. [Hardback]. W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. 798 pp. Call No. : B Hem
“The relationship of the Hemingses to the tragedy of slavery was unique only because they happened to be owned by one who made himself a public man, but wanted to keep private the world he really lived in with this particular African American enslaved family.”
In this somewhat labored, but well-researched and exhaustive history of the Hemingses, we discover there were many of them in addition to Sally; she and her extensive family lived at the center of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Poplar Forest plantations, as well as in Virginia itself, over several generations. As one learns, many of them were Jefferson’s unofficial in-laws, children, and shadow kin (through his father-in-law and deceased wife). Readers also learn much about the history of colonial Virginia and how its people lived with slavery (whereby a person’s slave status of a child derived from that of his or her mother, ensuring its perpetuity).
My previous blog on Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton began what will be a series of blog posts to follow on what enlightenment and wisdom we may still discover in reading on our Founding Fathers and late American colonial history.
For after all, there is so much now that has been re-written and revised, and journalist/critic Barry Gewen urges us in his piece of June 5, 2005, to consider divergent, global perspectives of our history that speak more directly to the needs of our time than do biographies of dead white Founding Fathers. We are missing, according to Gewen, the “bigger picture [that ]is in the process of being lost” and we are running out of Founding Fathers to write about. These concerns I hope to explore in reviewing some relevant historic works readers can find in Lantana Public Library’s collection.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
818 pages [Hardback], 2004.
Lantana Public Library Call No.: B Ham
“Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” ― Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
How extraordinary and yet not at all surprising that one of our most forgotten Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, observed the dynamics of post-9-11 America, the War on Terror, and a very realistic grasp of the way citizens of nations often choose to live.
It’s extraordinary that Hamilton’s observations can still be relevant to us, because for many of us not as well-read in American colonial history or American government, Alexander Hamilton and his legacy remain widely misunderstood, elusive, and ambiguous. Although he’s featured on our $10 bill and was our first treasury secretary and creator of the Federal deficit or national debt, he was vilified as our first “bankster,” plutocrat, monarchist, and war-monger. Hamilton did not lead the Continental Army against the British as Washington did, nor did he write our now famous Declaration of Independence or deliver the Louisiana Purchase to us as Jefferson did. He did not shape the powers of Congress as Madison would from the U.S. Constitution. Hamilton died infamously in a pistol duel with Vice-President Aaron Burr.
Hamilton’s extraordinary achievement was the institutional blueprint of the United States’ Federal government and much of the Executive Branch, our modern banking and financial markets, and a seemingly egalitarian meritocracy, all formed out of and underpinned by the U.S. Constitution. No other single person could have created the first Treasury Department and early customs/taxation system for the new country, chartered one of our earliest federal banks (the federal Bank of New York) and inspired the speculators of Wall Street, negotiated our first trade agreements with the Europeans and the Caribbean and tariff system, as well as founded West Point, our first Coast Guard, Hamilton College (for native Americans), and the Manumission Society to abolish slavery. Much of the Federalist party platform, of course, was influenced by Hamilton while he was alive and even after his death.
Hamilton’s vision of the American Federal system, claims Chernow, was undoubtedly shaped by what he lived under and observed of tyranny and excesses of power. A Creole/West Indian child prodigy born in Nevis/St. Croix, of illegitimate birth, a partly self-taught bilingual orphaned child later apprenticed to a merchant company, Hamilton eventually came to New York as a young immigrant and enrolled at Kings (later Columbia University). But he had come of age in the Caribbean where the most brutal forms of slavery, riots, rule of law and punishment existed, and he strongly believed in limiting and outlawing these in the new American republic, as Great Britain was doing throughout its Empire. Hamilton may likely have seen the oppressive social order and system of his childhood mirrored in the lawless excesses of French Revolution as it descended into a Reign of Terror, and he never romanticized that Revolution as Jefferson did.
Moreover, Hamilton’s vision to remake the debt-ridden, economically distressed colonial confederate state system into a stronger, stable, national system of manufacturing and commerce likely arose during his merchant apprenticeship as a youth and also later while he served American military commanders and the Continental Army in the chronically under-funded American war with the British. Beginning in the mid 1770s, he had a rapidly rising and distinguished military career in the American Colonial War both in the field and as Washington’s aide behind the lines, while educating and training himself in law, classical economics, and also while providing input to the drafting of the Constitution and its ratification at constitutional conventions on behalf of the state of New York. He would also adopt and extend the ideas of his predecessor Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris on public credit when Washington nominated Hamilton as the first Treasury Secretary.
Hamilton evolved into one of the country’s most high-profile and competent administrator and dedicated public servants of his time, loyal to his adopted country to the last. Only Madison is arguably the other great Founding Father who exercised such abilities of implementation. Although the small scale of the Federal government of Hamilton’s and Washington’s day cannot be imagined today, Henry Cabot Lodge was largely correct in observing that “we honor Jefferson, but we live in Hamilton’s country.” MIT economist Simon Johnson observes in his November 2011 article in Vanity Fair, “Debt and Dumb” that Hamilton’s legacy — of a stable, secure, powerful country with a strong Executive branch, with a durable system of U.S. Treasury securities, credit, and power to tax us — remain with us today, and mostly for our betterment — our common defense, infrastructure, and so much more. What a refreshingly bold and accurate observation to make in this day and age, when we have a dysfunctional Congress and Tea Party conservatives and social conservatives, of course, who consider taxes for all and large government as our downfall, and who aim to take power back to the states.
Chernow in this wonderfully written and researched biography makes an extraordinarily convincing case for Hamilton as the founding father of our Federal government, while showing us how Hamilton remained a person of his time, flaws and all. He believed the early republic to be under continual threats of anarchy, disorder, sedition, and even invasion, His relations with with Madison (an early friend but a later critic and political enemy), Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Gouverneur Morris, Edward Stevens, and Burr, and others, as well as his wife Eliza and family and intimates, were at times turbulent, alongside with his scandalous misconduct and arrogantly blind, political miscalculations.
Before I read Chernow’s work, I understood little of the historical context of the American Federal government system. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to understand its historical origins and to understand the modern superpower United States later in the 20th century would become. Moreover, Chernow may also help readers better understand, no doubt, how Thomas Jefferson’s folksy, populist, idealized vision of confederate, independent states and an austerely simple, rustic/agrarian, free America came to prevail for much of 19th century America, culminating, of course, in the American Civil War that nearly toppled the Union and the country.
Chernow also talked further about this work on C-SPAN on May 26, 2004. Enjoy!
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
by Moshin Hamid
[Hardcover] 228 pages
Lantana Call No. F Ham
What a strange, funny, jaw-dropping read this book was. It’s a story of a young South Asian man in twelve acts doubling satirically as a self-help book.
The twelve acts or parts sum it all up far better than anything I could write here in this review. Some of these should sound familiar:
One: Move to the City
Two: Get an Education
Three: Don’t Fall in Love
Four: Avoid Idealists
Five: Learn from a Master
By the story’s end, simple beginnings have become complex lives (only perhaps to end suddenly).
Moreover, use of 2nd person narration (where the man/narrator addresses readers as “you,”) renders the views of events ironic and somewhat impersonal, and yet other times unexpectedly peculiarly funny or touching. At times it seems as if the “you” the narrator refers to is really himself.
Certainly, the man’s story allows readers a view of individuals who are swept along by modernity in a part of the world many of us may know less about.
By Tom Shirley
[Hardcover] 288 pages
Lantana Call No: Fla 363.68 Shi
South Floridians…who remembers when water stretched everywhere we looked or stepped, in the savannahs of sawgrass, as well as hammock islands of pine, palm, mahogany, and cypress, brimming with life?
Or remembers beautiful intra-coastal lagoons of lush mangrove and the fresh or sweet waters Miami, Loxahatchee, and St. Lucie rivers?
Or remembers the rollicking life of Hialeah, the poachers of Homestead, and the famous Opa-Locka airport?
Tom Shirley remembers, of course. He recalls much of it for us with gusto in his memoir of his service in the Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission, from the 1950’s into the 1980’s.
With South Florida’s urban sprawl and the Everglades in retreat, it is impossible to know of the drained wetland and coastal shelf we actually live on, its shifting boundaries with the natural world, as well as the dangers and challenges it once posed, as the Seminoles and glades people once did or perhaps still do.
While working his own businesses and while in service with the Commission, Shirley was one of several pioneering men to re-design and improve on Glenn Curtiss’s famous Scooter airboat and recreational vehicles, first introduced to Florida in the 1920’s. These airboats and RV’s enabled modern travel into one of the last unknown areas of the United States.
Shirley and fellow patrol officers spent thousands of hours tracking, chasing down, and arresting armed and dangerous poachers and monkey fisherman, rescuing wildlife including distressed and stranded deer and ornery alligators. When not out in the glades, he also traveled widely — including trips with his family to the Amazon.
Readers also learn of Shirley’s efforts for the restoration of the Everglades. (See his website, Evergladesrestorationfear.org).
See also the Sept. 6, 2012, article in the Tampa Bay Times article by Terry Tomalins, “A man for wilder times.”