In mid-19th century England, an era full of celebrated novelists, Anthony Trollope was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed of them all. Even today, his Chronicles of Barsetshire series is widely read, as are his other novels, many of which deal with criticisms of English culture at the time, from its politics to its customs and norms.
As the title suggests, The Way We Live Now was about Trollope's contemporary period, and it's a biting social critique of the corruption in England during the 1870s, particularly over financial scandals that exposed the kind of greed that Trollope frequently railed against. Trollope explained the motivation behind writing the work: "Nevertheless a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflections as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now."
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Trollope's 1875 tale of a great financier's fraudulent machinations in the railway business, and his daughter's ill-use at the hands of a grasping lover (for whom she steals funds in order to elope) is a classic in the literature of money and a ripping good read as well.From the Inside Flap:
"Trollope did not write for posterity," observed Henry James. "He wrote for the day, the moment; but these are just the writers whom posterity is apt to put into its pocket." Considered by contemporary critics to be Trollope's greatest novel, The Way We Live Now is a satire of the literary world of London in the 1870s and a bold indictment of the new power of speculative finance in English life. "I was instigated by what I conceived to be the commercial profligacy of the age," Trollope said.
His story concerns Augustus Melmotte, a French swindler and scoundrel, and his daughter, to whom Felix Carbury, adored son of the authoress Lady Carbury, is induced to propose marriage for the sake of securing a fortune. Trollope knew well the difficulties of dealing with editors, publishers, reviewers, and the public; his portrait of Lady Carbury, impetuous, unprincipled, and unswervingly devoted to her own self-promotion, is one of his finest satirical achievements.
His picture of late nineteenth century England is of a society on the verge of moral bankruptcy, where the traditional virtues of Tory squirearchy, represented by Roger Carbury, prove to be no match for the financial genius of Augustus Melmotte. In The Way We Live Now Trollope combines his talents as a portraitist and his skills as a storyteller to give us life as it was lived more than a hundred years ago.
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