"A certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places ... "
This was the new metropolitan disease Trollope set out brilliantly to expose in The Way We Live Now. His milieux are the City's financial institutions, London's exclusive West End squares and drones' clubs populated by languorous aristocrats, all offering rich pickings for the unscrupulous speculator, whether in the marriage or the money market. Among the unscrupulous are the hack-writer Lady Carbury, her son Felix and, above all, Melmotte, a financier of uncertain origins and Napoleonic ruthlessness, energy and charm, whose dramatic rise and fall dominates the novel.
The Way We Live Now, unpopular on its first appearance in 1874-5, is now widely recognized as Trollope's masterpiece. An unorthodox satire with a happy ending, it explores decadence and change in what Frank Kermode calls "a world increasingly more congenial to the speculator than to the gentleman."
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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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