‘Lady Anna’ was published in 1874 after, quite remarkably, Trollope wrote it from start to finish on a voyage to Australia.
“‘Lady Anna’ is the best thing I ever wrote! Very much! Quite far away above all others!”
I’m not sure that I agree with him, but I do understand why he thought that it was special, and I did like it very much.
“Lovel Grange is a small house, surrounded by a small domain,—small as being the residence of a rich nobleman, lying among the mountains which separate Cumberland from Westmoreland, about ten miles from Keswick, very lovely, from the brightness of its own green sward and the luxuriance of its wild woodland, from the contiguity of overhanging mountains, and from the beauty of Lovel Tarn, a small lake belonging to the property, studded with little islands, each of which is covered with its own thicket of hollies, birch, and dwarfed oaks. The house itself is poor, ill built, with straggling passages and low rooms, and is a sombre, ill-omened looking place. When Josephine Murray was brought there as a bride she thought it to be very sombre and ill-omened; but she loved the lakes and mountains, and dreamed of some vague mysterious joy of life which was to come to her from the wildness of her domicile.“
Lady Anna’s mother, Countess Lovel, the former Josephine Murrayhad risen in the world when she married the dissolute Lord Lovel, but it wasn’t long before she tumbled down again:
“She had not lived with him six months before he told her that the marriage was no marriage, and that she was—his mistress. There was an audacity about the man which threw aside all fear of the law, and which was impervious to threats and interference. He assured her that he loved her, and that she was welcome to live with him; but that she was not his wife, and that the child which she bore could not be the heir to his title, and could claim no heirship to his property. He did love her,—having found her to be a woman of whose company he had not tired in six months. He was going back to Italy, and he offered to take her with him,—but he could not, he said, permit the farce of her remaining at Lovel Grange and calling herself the Countess Lovel. If she chose to go with him to Palermo, where he had a castle, and to remain with him in his yacht, she might for the present travel under the name of his wife. But she must know that she was not his wife. She was only his mistress.”
The countess – who anticipated the birth of a heir – was not going to accept that!
Now you might think that a lady who had been seen to marry in church and who had been cast off like that would have the sympathy and support of her family, friends and neighbours. Not this lady. The world saw her as someone who had been too ambitious, too proud; someone who had got her just desserts.
And so Countess Lovel and her daughter were left with nothing. Her one friend was Thomas Thwaite, a tailor. He gave her sympathy, he gave her respect for her station, and he gave her practical and financial support as she pursued her husband through the courts of justice.
Anna, the Countess’s daughter, and Daniel, the tailor’s son, became playfellows; and as they grew up they fell on love.
All of this is set out, quite beautifully in the opening chapters, before the event that will set the plot proper into motion.
The Earl dies, and he leaves no will. His title and his estate are entailed of course, and they are inherited by Frederick Lovel, a distant cousin. But who inherits his personal property, his vast fortune. Well, if the Countess can prove the validity of her marriage it will come to Lady Anna, the Earl’s legitimate daughter; if she can’t, well then the new Earl takes everything.
It seemed that the legal battle would continue, but a very simple solution presented itself: a marriage between Lady Anna and the new Earl could unite that title, the estate and the property to the satisfaction of all!
The Countess was delighted with the idea; the Earl’s family was horrified; the Earl was himself was willing though; he saw the sense of the plan and he had become very fond of his cousin.
Lady Anna was not willing, because she had become secretly engaged to the tailor’s son.
“It was all very well that lawyers should look upon her as an instrument, as a piece of goods that might now, from the accident of her ascertained birth, be made of great service to the Lovel family. Let her be the lord’s wife, and everything would be right for everybody. It had been very easy to say that! But she had a heart of her own, — a heart to be touched, and won, and given away, — and lost. The man who had been so good to them had sought for his reward, and had got it, and could not now be defrauded. Had she been dishonest she would not have dared to defraud him; he she dared, she would not have been so dishonest.”
And so Trollope spins a wonderful story around the court cases, around the people involved in those court cases, and most of all around the escalating battle between mother and daughter.
The telling of the story and the drawing of the characters was simpler than I have come to expect from Trollope, but I was pulled right into the heart of the story.
I was very taken with the two young lovers. She was a young woman with principles, true to herself, but sensitive to the feeling of others. He had similar qualities, and he wad both respectful of others and prepared to stand his ground. I liked them both and I understood why they loved each other, and why there relationship would – given the chance – work.
The star of the story though was the Countess, who, when she found herself unable to set her daughter on the path she wanted, became obsessive and unbalanced, and in the end is driven to a desperate act. It’s a measure of Trollope’s skill with characters that even when I knew she was wrong I understood why she felt and acted as she did, and felt for her.
I would have liked to see a little more of some of the other characters, especially the new Earl. I would have liked a little more shape to the plot. I would have liked to spend a little more time in this world.
But I found much to enjoy, in what Trollope had to say about money, family and class, and in the very human story he had to tell