Thursday 8 August 2019

Brits Abroad

Carl Spitzweg, Engländer in der Campagna, 1845, Berlin

Having read and enjoyed Scott's The Talisman, set in the Middle East, I next selected Trollope's The Bertrams from my shelves a) because it's also partially set in the Holy Land and b) because it's by now one of the few Trollopes I haven't read. It's a mark of age to have made such headway into so massive an oeuvre. I never thought, when I began, that I'd make it this far. Earliest Trollope (The Bertrams (1959) is number eight) plus a few oddities from later (e.g. The Landleaguers and The Vicar of Bullhampton) remain for another year. Will I ever read La Vendée?

You can never tell. One book leads to another. Trollope was the best travelled of the Victorian novelists; he actually visited Jerusalem and its environs, which Scott never did (not that you'd know it from reading The Talisman). The foreign episode in The Bertrams takes up a lengthy section near the start, and it is very funny. The novel's hero George Bertram falls in with a group of his compatriots, including the doughty Miss Todd, a clergyman, a strapping beauty, her aunt, a finicky fellow named Mr M'Gabbery, and assorted other comic creations. At one point the party enjoys a disgraceful picnic among some ancient Jewish tombs, where they drink champagne and eat ham.

The Bertrams isn't well known. But I reckon E. M. Forster read it. Where but in A Room with a View do we find a like situation, even down to the picnic and the vicar? Forster's setting is only Italy. Not for the first time, Trollope takes the prize for exoticism.

How parochial and Eurocentric or merely English is so much of English fiction! Brookner leaves Europe only once, in A Family Romance, in a chapter set in an American women's college. Bland's friend in A Private View has dreams of the Orient, but dies before realising them. Anita Brookner herself was a great traveller in Europe - in France, in Germany, in Switzerland, favouring quiet sedate towns, cities and resorts and stolid hotels. The Beau Rivage at Nyon; the Du Lac at Vevey; Dijon, Baden-Baden, Scheveningen, Bonn! In her heyday she visited the States (summer 1989 seems to have been the date) and very likely was welcomed on to a liberal campus or two. There are toothsome tales of Brookner in New York - in particular of her lunch with a Boston reporter. She felt, she told the journalist, too European for New York, and insisted their interview take place within the safe confines of a formal restaurant. I think I rather fancy the notion of being too European.


  1. I am intrigued to hear about a Bonn connection! I read a few of Brookner´s novels but can´t remember that any of her characters travelled to Bonn. Would you enlighten me?
    Regards from Cologne
    P.S. Wonderful blog! Glad I found a fellow Brooknerian.

  2. Many thanks for your comments. Bonn gets several mentions in Brookner's novel The Next Big Thing. I visited the city, the statue of Beethoven, and the area called Popplesdorf a year or two back. You can read about it in my 'German Notebook':


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