Matilda Carbury is a a genteel widow on the verge of poverty. She has two children, Felix and Hetta, to provide for. Unfortunately Felix has wasted his living through gambling and his mother does not seem to know how to refuse his continual requests for money.
“She looked around the room, longing for a friend, whom she might consult with a true feeling of genuine womanly dependence. Her most natural friend was Roger Carbury. But even had he been there she could not have consulted him on any matter touching the Melmottes. His advice would have been very clear. He would have told her to have nothing at all to do with such adventurers. But then dear Roger was old-fashioned, and knew nothing of people as they are now. He lived in a world which, though slow, had been good in its way; but which, whether bad or good, had now passed away.”
Matilda is resourceful though and encourages Felix to marry well (meaning, to marry money). The property laws in England at the time attributed a woman’s wealth to her husband…so Felix obediently (probably the only time we see him obedient in this novel) sets out to win the hand of Marie Melmotte, an heiress.
Felix however, is not the only one interested in Marie (poor Marie!).
“People say that he is about the richest man alive.’
“He lives as though he were.’
‘I don’t see why it shouldn’t all be true. Nobody, I take it, knows very much about him.’ When his companion had left him, Nidderdale sat down, thinking of it all. It occurred to him that he would be ‘coming a cropper rather,’ were he to marry Melmotte’s daughter for her money; and then find that she had got none.”
Augustus Melmotte, Marie’s father, is not taken in by Felix. Himself a swindler and well-versed in deceit, Augustus (after fleeing several European countries) works his way through the avenues of finance and government to become accepted within London society. His downfall, though obviously inevitable, makes for a very enthralling and cleverly-written story. Throughout this lengthy- but- so -engaging novel, there are tidbits of human nature that the reader finds delight and identification with:
“Throughout the world, the more wrong a man does, the more indignant is he at wrong done to him.”
The Way We Live Now” was originally written to tell the story of Felix Carbury’s mother, Matilda, but what it actually becomes is a complex story not only of the Carburys and the Melmottes, but also of a more ‘common’ couple, Ruby Ruggles and her fiance John Crumb. Ruby is discovered by Felix and her nuptials are suddenly endangered as her heart is drawn away from her plain, hardworking fiance (John) and attracted to the ‘gentleman’ (appearance) of Felix Carbury.
Just when the reader wonders if there are any redeeming qualities in *any* of the characters in this book (besides Hetta), along comes Roger Carbury.
Roger Carbury became a favorite character of mine. When Roger’s nephew Paul Montague falls in love with Roger’s own love interest, Hetta, a dilemma presents itself to Roger. Should Roger warn Hetta of Paul’s entanglement with the American widow, Mrs. Hurtle? A perfect gentlemen of character, Roger is willing to sacrifice his own personal happiness although he first has a process of forgiveness to go through.
And there is Mrs. Hurtle herself. Will the pistol-packing American widow take Paul’s rejection lying down?
A review I came across in “The Guardian” explains the author’s motivation and purpose:
“The novel, fuelled by indignation, began as a satire. Trollope, who had been living in Australia for 18 months, had returned to London in 1872, to find a society (as he saw it) mired in corruption. He was appalled, he wrote later, by “a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places… 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.”
I am so glad I read “The Way We Live Now”!