The Way We Live Now

by Anthony Trollope

Other authorsJohn Sutherland (Editor)
Paperback, 2009

Call number




Oxford University Press (2009), Edition: 1, 1024 pages


Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML: The Way We Live Now is a satirical novel by Anthony Trollope. In it he lashes out at the political, financial, commercial and moral dishonesty of the age, inspired particularly by the financial scandals of the 1870s. It was considered by many of his contemporaries as his finest work, and was one of the last Victorian novels to be serialized..

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
Trollope's entry in the Great Victorian Novel stakes, a vast, sprawling Vanity Fair for the 1870s, with far too many characters, far too many subplots, and far, far too many pages that pounds smoothly and steadily on over the waves of literary convention like one of the Transatlantic steamships
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that play such a large part in its plot. Despite all its self-indulgent predictability, it turns out to be a very satisfying and enjoyable book: Trollope is just so infuriatingly good at what he does, and this is Trollope at the top of his form.

Ostensibly, the book centres around the rise and fall of Mr Melmotte, a businessman who has appeared in London from no-one-knows-where with a tremendous reputation for wealth, power and influence, and is soon being courted by investors, politicians, diplomats and - since he has an unmarried daughter - impoverished aristocrats with sons to marry off. Trollope has a lot of fun with the notion that success in modern capitalism has far more to do with someone's reputation for being able to make money than with any actual profitable assets they control. Melmotte's fall is based on as little solid evidence as his initial success - it is not his actual crimes that undermine his credit, but the (false) rumours that he is about to be arrested for them.

But it's probably too narrow to think of this as just a satire of the financial sector - Trollope pulls in all sorts of different aspects of the ways that money, class and gender work together to undermine the moral values that we deceive ourselves into believing we use to guide our lives. Trollope - as usual - digs a bit deeper and cuts a bit sharper than his genial manner conveys, and gives us a little reminder that he was an almost exact contemporary of Karl Marx, whose Kapital had started to appear three or four years before The Way we live now. Not that Trollope was in any way a Marxist, but obviously, those were the ideas that were floating around London at that time.

If Vanity Fair was "a novel without a hero", Trollope also seems to be determined to make this a novel without a villain: neither Melmotte nor the Bad Baronet, Sir Felix Carbury, ever quite manage to dominate the story for more than a scene or two. Trollope keeps undermining their badness and showing us how engagingly weak they are underneath. None of the other men in the book really get out attention for long enough to stand out: there are lots of nice little scenes, but no-one you want to engage with. Even the bachelor squire Roger Carbury, who seems a rather engaging and sympathetic character in the opening chapters, is revealed to us later in the book as a well-intentioned but crashingly pompous bore.

The women do a bit better, but there's only one female character who really leaps off the page, and rather surprisingly that turns out to be the gun-toting American widow-query-divorcée Mrs Hurtle, who gets more grand set-piece scenes than anyone in the book. She breaks all the rules of Victorian fiction and doesn't care who knows it: she even manages to behave outrageously in Lowestoft, something I would not have thought feasible... Meanwhile, Hetta Carbury, who ought by rights to be the romantic heroine, is too feeble to be more than momentarily interesting (as with Thackeray's Amelia, this is probably intentional); the heiress Miss Melmotte shows a certain amount of wit and feminist determination in the later scenes, but Trollope keeps her rather quiet most of the time, perhaps simply because he doesn't want her to turn into a clone of Miss Dunstable. Ruby Ruggles is a one-trick-pony, an anachronistic refugee from a Thomas Hardy novel that hasn't been written yet, and Lady Carbury has potential but is so transparently an affectionate portrait of the author's mother that she has to be kept out of anything more sensational than a few gently comic scenes with editors and publishers.
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LibraryThing member BeyondEdenRock
Before I fell in love with Trollope I couldn’t have told you a great deal about his books, but I would have told you that I understood ‘The Way We Live Now’ to be his biggest, his greatest, his most enduring work. Now that I’ve read it I can’t disagree with my earlier evaluation. I found
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the Trollope I loved, but I found that his tone was darker, and a little more cynical, that I had ever found it before.

I discovered that this book began as a satire, when Trollope returned to London after a year and a half in Australia, and was horrified to find how much in society had changed for the worst. And I believe that is reflected in this wonderful human drama.

The book opens with Lady Carbury dashing off letters to the editors of the London papers to try to secure the reviews that she knew she needed to make her newly published book, ‘Criminal Queens’, a success. She knew that it was not a very good book, but she was a widow with two children she wanted to marry well and had no illusions of being a great author; she was simply trying to bring in the money that was needed to keep her household afloat.

Trollope described her as ‘false from head to foot’, but I liked her. She put on a front, she was determined to keep up appearances, and she did her level best even when it seemed her children were set on making things difficult for her.

The satire here is glorious. I’ve read different suggestions of who might have inspired Lady Carbury’s character – including Frances Trollope, the author’s mother, and Mrs Oliphant – but much of what I read left me inclined to think that Trollope’s principal target was himself.

Lady Carbury’s greatest desire was to marry her son off to an heiress. But he, Sir Felix Carbury, was a hopeless wastrel, oblivious to his family’s situation, with a lifestyle centred around drinking and gambling his London club, the Beargarden, with other, like-minded young men. His mother was oblivious to his failings, and she and he had their sights on Miss Marie Melmotte, only daughter of financier Augustus Melmotte, recently established in London and swiftly rising through society.

But Melmotte had other plans for his daughter. He wanted her to marry well, to take a place in the upper echelons of society. He had in mind Lord Nidderdale, who could offer a title and a country estate, but would need a handsome dowry to keep that estate afloat. It was while the men were arguing terms that Marie, who had firm opinions of her own and was determined to chose her own husband, fell in love with the charming, attentive Sir Felix Carbury. Her father was appalled, but she was determined. It would be Felix who wavered, as he realised that Melmotte was quite capable of following through his threat of disinheriting his daughter if she did not follow his wishes.

Lady Carbury was less concerned about her daughter, Hetta; her son was clearly her favourite. But she was determined that she should marry her cousin, Roger Carbury, who loved her dearly, who had inherited the family estates but not the family title. Hetta was fond of him, but she had given her hear to Roger’s younger friend and protege, Paul Montague.

That was this book’s classic Trollopian love triangle; and I really couldn’t see a resolution this time. Because, though Paul loved Hetta as much as he loved her, he had made promises to an American widow, Mrs. Hurtle, and she had come to London to make sure that he kept those promises.

The emotional arc of this part of the book, and the many twists and turns, were wonderful. I had mixed emotions about the way this story played out, with acceptance on one side and heart-break on another, but I loved the journey to its conclusion.

These are the principal strands of the story, but there is a great deal more to consider.

The Longstaffe family entered a financial arrangement with the Melmottes; leasing their London home to shore up their precarious finances. Their daughter, desperate to secure a husband, saw that as a major setback, and she took drastic action with catastrophic results. She was selfish she was insensitive; but I understood her fears and what drove her and so I felt for her, even as she infuriated me.

Ruby Ruggles, the granddaughter of a tenant farmer on the Carbury estate, had caught the eye of Sir Felix; that led her to run away to London, to escape her grandfather’s beatings and the attentions of a good – but to her mind dull – suitor. She was taken in by her aunt, who also Mrs. Hurtle’s landlady.

Ruby’s story was not my favourite. It was clearly there as the ‘comic relief’ and it seemed a little detached from the other storylines. Though I appreciated that it made serious points, that it played a part in allowing characters whose paths might not otherwise have crossed to meet, and that it had to be there to allow the book to work as a whole.

I particularly appreciated that Ruby’s story brought Mrs Hurtle to the fore. Mrs Hurtle was a wonderful character; her past was dubious, but she had gained wisdom from her experiences; her spirit was strong and her heart was true.

But this book really belongs to the darkly charismatic Augustus Melmotte. The stories of his manoeuvres through the artistocratic society that doesn’t approve of his kind but is drawn to his wealth and power, the society that he knows he needs but can’t quite understand are darkly satirical and utterly compelling. The stories of his shady investments and financial skulduggery are less engaging, but they drive the plot forward.

And of course he is involved in almost all of the drama. There’s an elopement, there’s the election of a new member of parliament, and there’s even a visit from the Emperor of China.

Trollope created a monster, but he gave him such charisma, that after his dramatic downfall and his exit from the stage, my sense of loss was tangible.

The way he made a multitude of plots and a wealth of details work together was masterful. The cast of characters was fabulous, all utterly believable, real, fallible complex human beings. Some I liked, some I didn’t, but I could see that they were all the products of their lives and circumstances, and I couldn’t doubt for a moment that they had lives before and after this book.

The women were stronger and more distinctive than the men. I saw some echoes of the Pallisers in some of the men here, and in the stories of parliament and the press; no more than echoes though, and the stories here were different and the characters were a degree or two deeper and darker.

Trollope takes his time winding up the story, setting each character who remained on the stage on the right path to their future. Lady Carbury’s was particularly lovely, and I would so love to read more chapters and find out what happened next to Miss Melmotte and Mrs Hurtle.

I can stand by my initial evaluation of this book; and I can also say that I loved it, and that I think Trollope did what he set out to do with this book very well indeed.
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LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Trollope weaves multiple plot lines with ease and confidence such that the reader is never in doubt. Trollope explores the thin veneer of civility and sophistication that covered society. Those who are decent and upright differ only slightly from the social climbing, or money-hungry. Trollope
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exposes the foibles of social climbers and get-rich-quick investors.
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LibraryThing member browner56
In The Way We Live Now, author Anthony Trollope provides a sweeping and skewering look of the social and economic conditions prevailing in mid-Victorian era England. Intended as a scathing satire of the financial markets, the literary and journalism establishment, class divisions, gender
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restrictions and stereotypes, and the political system, the novel focuses on Augustus Melmotte, an investor and businessman recently arrived in London with a shady past and grand schemes to get rich quickly by building an American railroad. While most of the other characters in the story, both the noble and the low-born, do not understand the source of his power, they all to varying degrees fall under the sway of The Great Financier. Of course, very few of these sycophantic and trusting souls remain unscathed when the myriad arrangements do not quite work out as planned.

Although the main plot of the novel is easy enough to describe, working one’s way this massive tome is another thing altogether. Written in 100 chapters, this was one of the last novels from that time period to be released in serialized form, with twenty monthly installments in this case. (In fact, the serialization apparently sold very poorly and the entire novel was released before the installments were finished.) That is an important thing to understand because the full novel runs between 700-800 pages—depending on the edition—which is substantially longer than necessary to tell the tale. Indeed, despite the presence of myriad subplots involving the secondary characters, as well as the author’s occasional philosophical musings, this is a book that could have easily been 300 pages shorter had it been intended as a self-contained novel in the first place.

Which is not to say that the novel is without its own unique charms. Trollope was an insightful and playful critic of what he saw as the excesses and follies of British Victorian society and he has produced a volume that ably chronicles those issues. He is particularly delightful when dissecting the foolishness of the class system that existed at the time and, if he was still alive today, he might be even regarded by some as a feminist. Beyond that, though, I am not sure he really breaks much new ground here relative to William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, which was published more than a quarter-century earlier. Also, the plot device involving Melmotte’s financial schemes stretched credulity, even for a satirical novel. So, while I cannot say I am sorry to have read this voluminous work, I am not sure the payoff fully justified the effort.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Darker than the Barsetshire books, but with the same way of getting at the humanity of his characters. Delightfully complex, wickedly funny ... it may look like a long read, but the time just flies right by.
LibraryThing member alison_jayne
A great, sweeping yarn that draws you in and is reluctant to let you go. The characters are vivid and memorable, but unlike Dickens they do not drift into caricature. This was my first Trollope novel and I shall certainly be going back for more!
LibraryThing member Capybara_99
It is truly surprising how much of The Way We LIve in 2010 is the same as The Way We Live in 1975. Trollope's great social satire is about money, and the pervasive way capital and the seeking of it warps and forms the lives of all, those in the City, those in the clubs, in the country, in
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publishing, politics and newspapers, and those seeking the proper marriage. But my favorite little modern touch is Trollope's note that young women smell of pachouli, which I thought was a feature only of my day.

It's a bit long, in the spacious way of the Victorian novel, but marked by some remarkable portraits and acts of sympathy for characters who are flawed at best.
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LibraryThing member madamepince
One of my favorite books. Ever.
LibraryThing member leslie.98
4½ stars- Wonderful satire of life in 1870s England for impoverished lesser nobility. Trollope does such excellent characterization that even knowing what a scoundrel Melmotte is, you still can admire his pluck in facing the City & members of the House of Commons after it becomes common knowledge
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that he is in trouble.

I think that Trollope must have himself believed that
"'Taking society as a whole, the big and the little, the rich and the poor, I think that it grows better from year to year, and not worse. I think, too, that they who grumble at the times, as Horace did, and declare that each age is worse than its forerunner, look only at the small things beneath their eyes, and ignore the course of the world at large.'"
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LibraryThing member dmarsh451
Such a treat to read. Many characters. Many predicaments. But all brought together so deftly. And I never once got that compensatory urge to pitch the book against a wall in lieu of smacking the whiny little mouths within. This book also explained the recent financial crisis to me as Trollope
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deftly mapped out the workings of invisible money in many invisible hands.
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LibraryThing member Maura49
This is without doubt the most readable book by Anthony Trollope that I have yet come across and I found it really enjoyable. I had read the Barchester Chronicles and some of the Pallisers series, but the difference here was that I was not constantly being tripped up by my lack of knowledge of
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Anglican Church affairs or the inner workings of the Houses of Parliament. Politics do feature in the book but not in any dominant way.
The Way We Live Now is very much a character driven book and Trollope has created some very strong individuals including some splendidly well drawn women. I loved the bold American, Mrs Hurtle, who is inexplicably attached to the rather weak Paul Montague and then there is Marie Melmotte, helpless pawn of her father's matchmaking plans, but with a mind of her own. We meet Mrs Carbury, forced to scratch a living by her pen and desperate to establish her children in the world. The men are less vivid with the exception of Mr Melmotte whose dilemmas have elements of almost Shakespearean tragedy .
Trollopes themes of corporate greed and corruption in high places speak very strongly to the modern reader and the ambition and range of the book mark it out as one of his best, and well deserving of it's high reputation. On the plot level, characters' financial affairs and various romances keep the reader on tenterhooks about the outcomes until the very end of the novel. Something of a sour note is struck by a level of anti-semitism expressed by some people , perhaps reflecting the time at which the book was written, but unpleasant to read. However it must be said that Trollope deals fairly with Ezekiel Brehgert, a Jewish banker who is by far the most honourable character in the book (with the exception of the old-fashioned Roger Carbury) and who deals with people in a dignified and level headed way.
Of those books by Trollope that I have read, this is the one that I would recommend to someone coming fresh to his work, quite definitely a good read.
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LibraryThing member maryslinde
Newsweek told me that I must read this English novel. It was definitely tooooo long....but I loved immersing myself in this story. I then watched the television version and it was also delightful.
LibraryThing member cdeuker
Trollope's analysis of greed in Victorian England. A wise author in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Melmotte, the villain, could be drawn from Bernie Madoff. Life definitely imitates art. Trollope lacks the social outrage of Dickens, but he doesn't fall nearly so much into the stereotyped
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characters. Both great
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LibraryThing member Renz0808
Considered Trollope's masterpiece this book centers around a brillant cast of characters with inter-connecting lives. It deals with many social and political issues of the time period across all classes. One of my favorite things about Trollope's books this one especially, is that he always
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portrays his women honestly and gives them strong independent voices. He really understands and accurately portrays all of the feminine issues of the day. I loved this book tremendously and I would have given it all five stars and more but I was a bit disappointed with the ending. Rogar Carbury is one of my favorite male characters that I have been introduced to recently and I wished he could have gotten a better ending. It was well worth the read even though some people might be a bit daunted by its size.
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LibraryThing member DavidGreene
My first Trollope, and certainly one of his best.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
Although this book includes the required Victorian love story, The Way We Live Now focuses more on the actions of Augustus Melmotte, a foreign financier who is turning heads of London society, with his amazing wealth and ability to make money. But actually, Melmotte is swindling investors by
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selling shares in a non-existant railroad company. This is such a timeless classic, not only in the large cast of characters with funny and endearing personality quirks, but also in the relevance this story holds, especially with the recent global financial crisis. Definitely a enduring and enjoyable classic.
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LibraryThing member littlegeek
Well, it's Trollope, so it's great in many ways. I have to say I didn't enjoy it as much as say, the Barcester novels. Perhaps it's just that there are no really sympathetic characters, and those who are portrayed as slightly better people, Roger Carbury, Mrs. Hurtle, Mr. Brehgert, are thwarted
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completely from any satisfactory conclusions.

I get that it's a social satire, but must it really be so relentlessly negative?

Anyhoo, it's got those great Trollopian characterizations, although some of those sweet young heiresses, and unscrupulous young gentlemen seem interchangeable. There's also those great little asides and commentaries that just nail human nature down pat. I enjoyed it for these reasons more than any other.

I wonder also *SPOILER* whether someone like Melmotte would actually have committed suicide. He'd been in hot water before, why take it so hard this time? I'm not sure that rang true.
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LibraryThing member herschelian
Possibly my favourite book by Trollope. It has everything, politics, social climbing, gambling, sex, finance, aristocracy. There are bribes, vendettas, swindles and fact much like our own times! Melmotte is the Robert Maxwell character who dominates the book. A masterpiece.
LibraryThing member jpe9
I loved it. I read Trollope's Barchester Chronicles twenty or so years ago and was greatly entertained by their parody of English country life. This book I picked up because it was #1 (!) on a _Newsweek_ list of "What to read now" that was published last summer. An inspired choice!

The shady
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financial dealings described herein -- which are a parody of English life ca. 1870 -- make an interesting parallel for the highly-leveraged economic house of cards prevalent in today's "developed" world...
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LibraryThing member idiotgirl
A great book for our times. The nineteenth century did a great job with novels about scoundrels and money schemes. For some reason, I wasn't familiar with this Trollope book. I love Trollope, but he wrote so many novels, it's difficult to know where to land. This book was recommended in the top 40
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by Susan Hill in another book I'm currently reading (listened on audiobook over a long, lazy weekend with lots of driving thrown in). One interesting story line in this sprawling novel is its American characters. Basically begins and ends with characters from America. I suppose there is something buried there about scoundrels. But basically the Americans aren't totally dished. And they end up surviving. And one of the emerging female characters ends up going to America in company with the strong and interesting American woman (and the American partner in the great raileway scheme in the story). I have to love the railway scheme--a railway from Salt Lake City to Vera Cruz in Mexico. The American woman killed a man and fought a duel in San Francisco. But is a sweetheart in England. But she's on her way back at the end. Definitely recommend.
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LibraryThing member mattmcg
The best book ever about getting rich on the empty promises of a foolish business plan. Should be required reading before you buy stock in fur-bearing-trout farms or internet companies.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
I have been interested in Victorian novels for most of my reading life. Early in that life, before I knew what a Victorian novel was, I fell in love with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. The other early love of my reading life was for the novels of Charles Dickens that began with a reading of Oliver
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Twist that so enveloped my imagination that I brought it along in my backpack to Boy Scout Camp in the north woods of Wisconsin. Never mind that there were no merit badges to be had for reading Dickens, or any other nineteenth century author. My life-long infatuation with Bronte and Dickens and my interest in Victorian literature was continued in my teens with the discovery of the novels of Thomas Hardy, especially The Return of the Native. I fell in love with the intelligent Clym Yeobright and his difficult relations with the alluring Eustacia Vye (a love I more recently found that I shared with the fictional Holden Caulfield, perhaps the only thing I shared with him). The sensationalism of Hardy in his novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the education of Pip in Dickens' Great Expectations, and others satisfied my teenage reading desires and furthered me on the road of Victorian literature. It was not until my post-college years that I would come to appreciate the intelligent novels of George Eliot and the later Dickens along with those of Anthony Trollope. It has been during more recent decades that I have included reading and rereading Middlemarch, Bleak House, and the Barsetshire novels in my traversal of Victorian literature.

Most recently I have been reading Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, a novel written late in his career. Unlike his early novels, this was a critique of the England of his age, including a broad-based attack on Victorian class, finance, politics and culture. Set in the 1870s it tells a story of two families struggling to adapt to the changing times. The Carburys are one family with Roger Carbury, the squire of Carbury Manor, leading them both morally and financially. The other family is represented by a young Paul Montague who becomes entwined in the shady financial dealings of a confidence man named Augustus Melmotte. Financial collapse entraps all of the families in some way and provides a sense of realism as the story is based on real-life events. In some ways reminiscent of the later Dickens' social novels, Trollope's novel is presented as a more realistic slice of life, foreshadowing the turn toward naturalism near the end of the century. Most of the characters are quite unlikable and there is little incentive to sympathize with them when they are taken in by the vulgar predator Melmotte. While there is humor in The Way We Live Now, it is a sharper and darker humor than that which made Trollope's early novels such a delight to read. However, the novel retains a relevance for our own day when financial scandals are still in the headlines.
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LibraryThing member LadyWesley
Classic Trollopian view of greed, envy, and lust in Victorian England. Rather depressing overall, but nevertheless a great novel by one of my favorites.
LibraryThing member LARA335
As pertinent today as it was in the 1870’s when it was first published. A Robert Maxwell type character swindles and commits fraud on such a large scale that much of society overlooks his vulgarity, swept up by his seeming wealth. Feckless aristos gamble their inheritances away. And female heads
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are turned by a handsome face.

With a large, well-drawn cast, Trollope shows that he understands people and how they battle with themselves.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
This one took me a while to finish, but I really enjoyed it. I would consider this one of Trollope's best stand alone novels. Many of his common themes make an appearance. I'm always particularly struck by how the misbehavior of the wealthy with their money was apparently as much of an issue back
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in the 1800s as it is today.

Central to this novel is the Melmotte family. The father is a wealthy financier type who has zero social standing. And is apparently more of a swindler than an actual businessman. His daughter attracts several men with the promise of her father's wealth, but her choice (a poor one!) is not to her father's taste. We also meet several young men who are stringing along one woman that they prefer to marry and one woman who they are more in love (or lust) with. And Lady Carbury, an author and mother of two of the adult children struggling with their love lives and money. And Roger Carbury who holds the money in the family but is out of luck in the love department.

It's really amazing that Trollope can convincingly keep track of all of these characters and plot lines and satisfactorily tie it all up in the end. I'm glad he wrote so many novels, because I really enjoy them.
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