Sunday 13 January 2019

Running out of Plot

The Times, reviewing Trollope's John Caldigate at the time of its publication, reckoned it 'a good novel expanded into a dull one'.

Trollope was usually writing for serial publication, and he was here. The chapters, accordingly, are regular in length, and a particular quantity was required.

I don't know what Trollope's planning looked like, but I suspect it wasn't quite at the level of the chapter. He knew where he was going but there was a danger he might get there too quickly.

Perhaps the last sixth of John Caldigate is markedly drawn-out. And yet I loved it. I never like saying farewell to characters. I like a long goodbye. I like discovering new things about them, perhaps unrelated to what has been their main function. I even don't mind meeting new characters so late in the day, though that's usually a novelist's no-no. So we find ourselves in London, with the Home Secretary, or lounging among legal eagles in gentlemen's clubs. Or we learn about the love life of a Post Office clerk. Or we witness a heartening reunion in all its affecting detail. I was charmed. The main business was all but at an end, or the outcome assured; the tension was released. I could simply enjoy the company of an urbane and sensible author and his personages. I had the time, and I didn't find it dull.

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