This year we celebrate the birth of the wonderful Anthony Trollope who was born 200 years ago in 1815. I intend to spend some time with this, one of my favourite authors, this year and my aim is to write not about his famous or better known works, but his lesser known titles. The first I would like to draw to your attention is Kept in the Dark which I read several years ago. This book was written in four months and appeared in serial form in the magazine Good Words in 1882. It was the last of his novels to be published in his lifetime as he died in December that year.
The heroine of Kept in the Dark, Cecilia Holt, keeps a secret from her fiance, the fact that she had been engaged before and to a particularly unsavory baronet. Once she had realised the kind of man she had promised to marry, she terminated the engagement. Sir Francis Geraldine took this badly and, naturally, preferred to tell the story that it was he who had decided against marrying Cecilia. When a year or so later, Cecilia meets and falls in love with Mr Western, she keeps this story to herself. Her new fiance had also been jilted and, as this is a novel and coincidences are allowed, it was by a young lady who then went on to marry a cousin of Sir Francis. When Cecilia hears this story she finds it somewhat difficult to mention her own connection with this family and, while she decides she will tell her fiance at some time, the right occasion never arises and she marries him while keeping him in the dark.
This secret weighs heavily with her. Now we might wonder what all the fuss is about - what is wrong with breaking off an engagement? But this is not the 21st century, this is Victorian society and soon rumours about this situation arise, encouraged by Sir Francis who wishes to be revenged on the woman who threw him over. He also takes it upon himself to tell Mr Western of their aborted engagement. Not only does he wish to hurt Cecilia but he has a reason for disliking Mr Western who accused him of fraud in the past.
Mr Western is unable to forgive this deception and the fact that she has Kept him In the Dark, and without listening to his wife or any explanation, he leaves her and goes to live abroad. She then finds she is with child, but does this bring him running back - no it does not. His stubbornness and intransigence is only broken by his strong willed sister who goes to see him in Dresden where he has fled and who tears a strip or two off him. He says he will go back if his wife asks for his forgiveness to which Lady Graham rightly replies she has no reason to and his behaviour has been wrong and unforgivable. Cheers all round at this stage from moi who was thoroughly incensed by Mr Western's pig headed attitude. He decides to go back to his wife and what does she do as soon as she sees him? She flings herself in his arms and begs his forgiveness....
It all ends well with Mr Western having the grace to admit that he has also been wrong and the couple then, presumably, live happily ever after.
The plot is very similar to He Knew he was Right, an earlier novel, but the characters in that book are much more fully drawn, Cecilia and Mr Western are lightly sketched. My feelings on reading both books was much the same however, I felt like banging heads together and telling each couple to get a grip.
There is an amusing sub-plot to set against the Cecila/Mr Western situation and that is of Sir Frances Geraldine being drawn into an engagement with an erstwhile friend of Cecilia, Miss Altifiorla, a single lady in her mid-thirties, very strong on women's rights and very much against marriage, until of course an opportunity comes along. The reader cannot help but feel that these two ghastly people deserve each other but in the end Sir Francis panics and runs away to America. At the end of the story we hear that Miss Altifiorla is intending to undertake a lecture tour on Women's Rights in America, so I do not think that Sir Francis will get off scot free.
Definitely not one of Trollope's best but, quite frankly, a second tier Trollope is still streets ahead of most writers and, as always, when I start reading one of his books I find myself getting more and more drawn into the lives and thoughts of the characters and then reach a stage when I literally cannot put the book down until I have finished it.
There is a paragraph in a book by Diane Setterfield, the Thirteenth Tale, which sums up how I feel about Victorian literature perfectly and here it is:
".....I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nicely and neatly..."
Any Trollope novel fulfills the above criteria and leaves the reader closing the book feeling happy and satisfied. Well, this reader certainly does and I look forward to writing more about this author in 2015.
PS If you have a Kindle this title is FREE on Amazon....