The Refugee In America (Part 2)


    Mr Mitchel cheered the hearts of all the ladies, and Mrs Williams was one of them, with the broad assertion, that the iniquity of those who had scorned their betters was brought to light; and that in the Lord’s good time, they would be punished for their misdeeds; for that to his certain knowledge, the officers of justice were after Mr Gordon, &c. &c. &c.
    It is hardly necessary to trouble the reader with a detailed account of the horror expressed, or the pleasure felt, on this occasion.
    “I thought so!”
    “I was very sure how it would be!”
    “I said it would issue in mischief.”
    “I am not one bit surprised.”
    “I saw it clearly from the first,”
    and “The Lord be good unto me! what will brother Wilson say?” formed the chorus with which the news was received.
    Mr Mitchel shook his head, as the ladies purred around him, and almost squeezed the hand of Miss Duncomb, in the sympathy he felt for her detestation of such wickedness.
    “It is perfectly astonishing,” observed Mrs Cornish, “how often my prognostics have been right, respecting English people…”

 

 
 
Those aspects of The Refugee In America concerning Lady Darcy’s efforts to prove her son innocent of murder, Nixon Oglander’s counter-efforts, and her final thwarting are not presented as a complete narrative, but interwoven with the experiences of Edward and Caroline Gordon and Lord Darcy – aka “Edward Smith” – after they land in New York.

There is also further back-story concerning Gordon’s raising of his daughter. In a number of ways, Caroline is the most interesting character in this novel, far more shaded than was often true of girls in the novels of this time. We learn that she resembles the late Mrs Gordon physically, but that her father – never having lost sight of Eleanor Oglander as his secret ideal – has attempted to give her the education that nobody bothered to give her mother. It hasn’t worked, simply because Caroline doesn’t have that kind of mind; but she is a bright, well-read girl who takes an interest in the world. She has a good opinion of her own capabilities and a strong will, and is used to getting her own way—not in an obnoxious sense, but just because she usually does.

But with all this, Caroline is devoted to her father, and allies herself with him in his desperate and sudden effort to protect Lord Darcy from the consequences of his actions. (She never appears to seek for a deeper motive in his doing so.) She makes no protest or complaint at being snatched away from England just when she is making her social debut as a young lady of wealth and fashion, but makes up her mind to enjoy the adventure associated with her journey to America, even when this means roughing it.

Caroline also strives to keep up the spirits of Lord Darcy, who is overcome with guilt and remorse at having, as he believes, killed a man. His awareness of how much the Gordons are sacrificing for him and his feelings of gratitude compel Darcy to make an effort; but often he is overcome with deep fits of depression, and tends to withdraw into himself whenever he is left alone, or the travellers find themselves in company.

Caroline’s tender care of Darcy has natural consequences: she finds herself falling in love with the quiet, wounded young man; but he is so inwardly focused that he doesn’t even notice, let alone return her affection.

Despite various difficulties along the way, the party eventually arrives in Rochester, where they make themselves known via Captain Birdmore’s letters of introduction. One of these is to a Mr Warner, a successful and prominent lawyer, who invites them to stay in his house; the other is to a Mrs Williams, the widow of a government man, who has relocated to Rochester from Washington in order to settle near her sister, who is married to a clergyman, and to eke out her slender income.

It is here that Trollope allows her satire almost to overwhelm her crime / pursuit plot. She lets herself go when depicting Rochester “society”, just as she did in Domestic Manners Of The Americans, with all the things that most exasperated her during her own time in America taking a thorough beating.

The first of these is predictable enough—and familiar enough: the Gordons are subjected to endless dogmatic lectures upon the natural superiority of America to Europe in every single respect; and the profound envy and jealousy with which the latter naturally views the former, also in every single respect.

Less familiar, though significant in context of Trollope’s struggles in Cincinnati, is her depiction of what passes for “social gatherings” in Rochester (and even in Washington, where the English people later travel): dull and dreary evenings during which the sexes remain strictly divided, the men clustering in groups for conversation, while the women sit around the walls in largely unbroken silence. Caroline’s attempts to disrupt this arrangement go about as well as did Trollope’s own: when she approaches them, hoping to join in, the men simply halt their discussion until she goes away again.

Mr Gordon does better, in at least being invited to join the conversation; though whether he enjoys the results is another matter:

    “Why, surely, sir, you do not mean that you never heard of the first poet of the age—decidedly the first poet of the age: you do not mean that you never heard of Bryant?”
    “Indeed, Mr Chambers, I am sorry to say it is so…”
    “I take it for granted the gentleman will allow us this superiority,” said Judge Burton; ” we certainly do possess vastly more the spirit of liberal inquiry than the English do.”
    “Not on all subjects, I hope, sir,” said Mr Gordon, with much good humour, “I assure you, on all points of practical improvements in machinery, a most important branch of knowledge, we pay great attention to what you are doing here—”
    “Yes, yes,” interrupted the Judge, “that’s of course, sir; you would have been rather in a deplorable condition of ignorance if you had not—but we must keep to the subject of books, for this is a literary soirée. I am happy to find, Mr Gordon, that the example our moralists have set of condemning altogether the worthless productions of your ‘noble poet’, as you call him, has been pretty considerably followed up in England. I presume Lord Byron’s works have become pretty well a dead letter since our critics have begun to exert themselves to put him down.”
    “Perhaps you have later intelligence on this subject than I have, sir,” said Mr Gordon; “but I was not aware of Lord Byron’s works being out of fashion.”
    “Oh, quite altogether, I assure you. They could not stand a week after Paulding’s incomparable attack upon him in the Azure Hose,—no, not a day, sir.”
    “Really,” said Mr. Gordon.
    “We are the most moral people upon the earth,” said another gentleman of the party; “and it is a blessing to the earth that there is such a people existing upon it. Were it not for us, the world would sink deeper into vice with every passing year. Our Paulding is a giant, sir; and he has stretched out a giant’s hand to crush the paltry insect, whom you islanders have thought fit to magnify into a poet. No, sir, Byron can no more stand before Paulding than butter before the sun. He can never rise again, sir; it is quite out of the question, I assure you.”

To be fair, Trollope – who, nota bene, frequently uses quotes from Byron as her chapter epigraphs – isn’t just being mean here: despite her characters’ references to their literary “antients”, American literature was barely fifty years old at this point, and had only just begun to cross the Atlantic. Washington Irving was the first American writer to gain popularity in Britain—although at that point (that is, with the publication of The Sketch-Book Of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1820), he was living in England and writing much about English subjects. The first properly American works to win a British audience were the novels of James Fenimore Cooper.

While Trollope finds humour in such displays of insularity, she is less amused and more scathing when it comes to the local attitude to religion, or rather the very public way in which it manifested. Even here the visitors find themselves judged and condemned by the locals:

    But at length she fortunately recollected that brother Wilson had specially charged her to discover what the young woman’s religious feelings appeared to be; and beyond all else, to certify from her own mouth, to what congregation it was her purpose to belong. Conscience-struck at the long delay, Mrs Williams abruptly broke into a disquisition on the fashion of Washington, and the size of the Capitol, by saying, “Pray ma’am what church may you be of?”
    “Madam?”
    “What church do you attend?”
    “I shall probably go to the nearest, as I have no carriage here.”
    To the nearest! what an answer for a Christian woman to make. It was true that brother Wilson’s church was the one nearest to Mrs Oak’s house; but was that to be her only reason for going there?
    “The Lord be good unto us!” inwardly prayed Mrs Williams, as these thoughts suggested themselves. “I meant to ask, ma’am,” she resumed, “what denomination of Christians you belong to?”
    “We belong, madam, to the established church of England.”
    Mrs Williams dropped her eyes, and doubled her chin with a little diplomatic air of contempt, as she answered, “I expect, ma’am, that England has no establishments in this country at this day…”

Of course, there’s an unintentional irony here: The Refugee In America was published one year before John Keble’s landmark sermon on “the national apostasy” triggered the Oxford Movement, and as much public airing of religious opinion – and as much factional in-fighting – in Britain as anything that might have been observed in America. Moreover, Frances Trollope – like her son, Anthony – was ‘High Church’, and would not only have perceived the American evangelicals as ‘Low Church’, but been as swift to condemn them as her characters are to condemn the Gordons—and on the same (if opposite) grounds: insufficient fervour versus too much display.

And it seems to be the latter that really grated. It is not difficult to deduce that, in Trollope’s opinion, anyone who made such a parade of their faith was likely to be a hypocrite; and in many of her characters, an overt display of devotion goes hand-in-hand with some extremely un-Christian attitudes and behaviours—not the least of which is a willingness, not to say eagerness, to think the worst of everyone – at least, everyone who isn’t a member of their own congregation – a practice that tends to come coupled with a relentless acquisitiveness.

Trollope has a lot of nasty fun with the American attitude to having and getting; and it is the careless way in which the British party spend their money that first gets them into trouble. Blithely unaware of the impression they are making with their openhandedness and tendency to pay whatever is asked, the Gordons inadvertently convince those with whom they interact that the gains in question were undoubtedly ill-gotten, since money so easily parted with could not possibly have been honestly earned.

(All through this part of The Refugee In America I couldn’t stop thinking about the false-beard sellers in The Life Of Brian: “Bert! – this bloke won’t ‘aggle!” “Won’t ‘aggle!?”)

    “…she went last night to the factory to buy some soap, and there she saw that Christian man Simon Hicks, who is one of the partners; he was telling something so earnestly to two or three gentlemen in the store, that she stopped to listen, before she did her errand, and she heard him say, that if ever there was a run-away chap in America, there was one now in Rochester. She then related the manner of his meeting these people, and how he had found them out; he did not know their name, which he said they concealed most carefully; the people that was with them always calling the man sir, and master; and that,” continued Miss Duncomb casting down her eyes, “is not the worst either, for Simon Hicks stated, that there was a creature with him, that called him father, but that it was perfectly clear to see that she was something else.”
    “Mercy on me!” exclaimed Mrs Williams, “and my Emily is there now. How could Captain Birdmore let himself be cheated this way? But I must run this instant, and take my child away. Oh, what horrid wickedness there is in the world!”
    She was hurrying away, when Miss Duncomb stretched out her long arm to stop her; and making it evident that she had not yet finished her story, the chorus of “Mys!” and “Ohs!” and “Possibles!” was stopped.
    “Judy says, that the gentlemen asked Simon Hicks how he came to find him out; and then he told them such a history of the manner in which he had thrown about his money, as seemed to convince them all. Mr Cartwright was there, who is certainly the smartest lawyer in town, and he said he had no doubt the Bank of England had been robbed…”
    Mrs Oaks coloured to the ears. She thought of the fifty dollars that she had in her pocket, and felt as certain of the fact as if she had already seen one or two of the party hanged…
    After her exit, the rest of the party…crowded closer round the orator, who, perfectly in her element, went on for a considerable time detailing further particulars from the narration of Judy, and farther commentaries from herself, in that spirit of peculiar malevolence which she denominated Christian charity…

While Trollope is clearly working off a lingering grudge here (one wonders what the Cincinnatians said of her), she finds matter for far more serious and justified scorn in the gulf between the constant harping upon “freedom” and “equality” and certain social realities.

Typically for Trollope, it is Caroline who is most given to speaking her mind upon such subjects; and she challenges Rochester authority, in the form of Mr Warner, whenever she sees an opening—forcing him to fall back upon condescending concern for such as she “worrying her pretty head” about matters she cannot possibly understand:

    “But, Mr Warner,” playfully persisted Caroline, “what I quarrel with most, is the fallacy of your nominal institutions. You tell your labouring poor that they are your equals, when really, except in the permission of being as rude as they like, I do not as yet observe at all more equality of condition between those who labour, and those who do not, than at home.”
    “Ah, my dear miss! that is because you have not been long enough amongst us to understand the inestimable advantages they enjoy. But come now, confess that your alone reason for disliking our glorious country is, that your aristocratical feelings cannot bear to see all the people happy together.”
    “Indeed I cannot confess that; for I protest that one of my most particular complaints against you is, that your people never do look happy together; I have never heard a hearty laugh since I entered the country.”
    “Now that is a curious fine complaint, as ever I heard; and that from an English girl. Why, my dear Miss Caroline, you are come from a country where the cries of famine ring back and forth in your streets, and you are got here, where the people are rolling in plenty, and now you fault their want of happiness! Pretty as you are, Miss Caroline, I cannot approbate this.”
    “Well, Mr Warner, perhaps the labouring people here may look grave from indigestion; but I do assure you, that notwithstanding the famine you talk of, the working classes laugh and sing much more in my country than they do in your’s.”
    “I know that young ladies think they can make black seem white, but I expect you’ll find it difficult to make me realise that.”
    And here Mr Warner got up, and took a turn across the room with a look of some discomposure…

Everywhere they go, the fact that the Gordons have two menservants is greeted with upraised hands and cries of disbelief and contempt. Americans, they are told solemnly, don’t have “servants”: that is a foul British institution.

However…references are soon forthcoming to what Americans do have, namely, the help; nor is the real issue slow in emerging:

    Here William, who was too far acquainted with the situation of Lord Darcy, not to feel that this questioning must be troublesome, stept in to his relief by saying, “I do assure you, time is very important with us, and you may be quite sure that my master will approve every thing my young master orders about the carriage.”
    “Your MASTER! and your YOUNG MASTER! Why, how can you, being a white man, do such a wrong to yourself, and the children as may come after you, as to call any man your master?”
    “And what would you have me call him then? Is’n’t he my master?”
    “Call him? why call him the man what you helps, or Mister; pray what may his name be? I don’t remember seeing names on any of the boxes.”
    William, however, was born in Yorkshire, and not to be so caught. “I do assure you, friend,” he replied, “that my master, or the man what I helps, or whatever it may be your fashion to call him, will not be over well pleased, if I stay here talking of how he is to be called: I call him my master, and a very good master he is, and I’ll see to get horses for him, if any are to be had, for love or money.”
    So saying, he sallied forth into the yard, leaving the coachman, and two other men smoking with him, expressing their profound contempt for a white man who could call another his master…

****

    Robert looked at his master. “Sit down, both of you,” said Mr Gordon; “sit down, Robert, in the place offered you, and make room for William beside you.”
    “Why, sure them bean’t your sons, Mister?” said the ‘squire.
    “No, sir, they are my servants.”
    “And them that colour— My!” exclaimed the wife.

But the note of satire vanishes when Frances Trollope directly tackles the question of slavery. A few years after the publication of The Refugee In America, she would write an overt abolitionist novel; but here she contents herself with a few harshly critical interludes (including a later, close-up look at the treatment of slaves when her characters are travelling through Virginia):

    “Oh! Miss Caroline, (pausing opposite her chair,) you have got a deal of British insularity about you. You don’t like to jeopardise your gentility by our freedom and equality.”
    “Do you know, Mr Warner,” replied Caroline, “that I begin to suspect that though we both talk English, there are some few words which have exactly contradictory meanings on the different sides of the Atlantic. Freedom and equality—for instance.”
    “How so, my pretty lady? how so?”
    “May I speak plainly?”
    “Surely, surely.”
    “Then, will you tell me how you manage to reconcile your theory of freedom, with the condition of your negroes? or your treatment of the Indians, with your doctrine of equal rights?”
    “I calculate, Miss Caroline, that these subjects are considerable much beyond the scope of the female; so it would be partly unfair to make a requirement of more learning from you, than from an older. Mr Gordon, sir, what say you to a glass of mint julap?”

Scenes such as these eventually result in the Gordons and Darcy removing from Mr Warner’s house and settling themselves in a rented property (Mrs Oaks’, hence the fifty dollars in her pocket). They then complete their offending of the locals by all but withdrawing themselves from public visiting—content with the two real friends they have made, each in her own way an outsider like them.

One of the oddest touches in this novel is the supporting character of Madame de Clairville, a French widow stranded in America while she tries to save enough money to return to Paris, and the young daughter she left behind there with her mother. Trollope draws upon her own miserable experience  at “Nashoba” in sketching the Frenchwoman’s background: she and her husband make the mistake of joining another “utopian” settlement; unlike the author herself, they don’t escape unscathed:

On arriving at Perfect Bliss, the name Mr Wimble had given to his settlement, it was signified to M. de Clairville that he was to hew down a tree, cut it into rails, and fix it as a zig-zag, or serpentine fence.
The poor Frenchman, whose visions had been of scientific lectures, amateur concerts, private theatricals, and universal philanthropy, was startled; but he bore it well… But when he found that his delicate wife was expected to milk cows every morning, standing ancle deep in water, and moreover to assist in washing linen; when he learned that all the little comforts which he had spent his last thousand francs to purchase at New York, were seized upon, as general stock, and a scanty pittance of necessaries doled out to them at each meal; his gay heart sunk within him… But he was totally without funds to carry them across the immense distance which divided him from his country, now loved in vain; he had irreconcilably offended his wife’s mother, the only wealthy relative they had, by taking her daughter from France, and seeing no chance of escaping from Perfect Bliss, he fell into a deep decline, and died before the end of the year…

Eventually the Gordons arrange for Madame de Clairville’s return home. Until then, she and Caroline find allies in each other, thanks to a shared sense of humour and a similar opinion of Rochester evening parties.

However, it is Caroline’s growing friendship with Mrs Williams’ young daughter, Emily, that becomes of the greatest importance to the narrative.

Here Trollope does take us off-guard: because in spite of criticising and/or poking fun at almost all of her other American characters, it is Emily Williams who unexpectedly emerges as her novel’s real heroine – even, in the broadest sense of the word, its hero – as well as being offered up as proof that when America did produce something good, it was likely to be excellent.

When we are introduced to Emily, she is barely seventeen; but in spite of her youth and natural shyness, she proves to be intelligent, sensitive and artistically inclined. Moreover, Trollope assures her, there is great potential of character in her, which only requires the correct opportunity to develop and show itself; this in addition to a fine instinct about people, which (although in her innocence she does not always understand their motives) allows her to sense what might lie beyond the smokescreen of their public personas.

This instinct also operates with respect to Lord Darcy, the truth of whose identity and situation is eventually confided to her. The two first come together over their mutual love of music; and it is not long before Emily is aware of a deeper feeling for him. It never crosses her mind that he might return it, but as it happens she is the immediate beneficiary of the arrival of a letter from Lady Darcy. It is not an entirely happy one, written during the time of her confinement as “a maniac”, and without holding out hope that it might be possible to prove that Richard Dally still lives; but it removes from Darcy’s shoulders the crushing weight of his guilt. In his joy and relief, he is restored to something like is natural spirits for the first time in many weeks; and when he looks around, seeing the world with fresh eyes, the first thing those eyes alight upon is Emily Williams…

Here again, Frances Trollope’s handling of Caroline Gordon is unusual and clever. Fully aware of her own charms, and with more than a good opinion of herself, Caroline is mortified when she realises that, having shown himself impervious to her own attractions, Darcy is falling in love with “the little republican”, as she is sometimes called, and who (if truth be known) Caroline first adopted in something of a patronising spirit; though to her credit, she soon realised that Emily needed no polishing that she could give her. Furthermore, so sincere is her affection for both Darcy and Emily that she sets herself to crush her own feelings for the young man, determined to be a true friend to both—though at the distance she stands from the situation, she sees obstacles in the path of the young couple to which, as each of them deals with their still-secret feelings, they are currently oblivious.

Meanwhile—the various threats directed at Darcy by Nixon Oglander begin to make themselves felt.

The first of these is the detective Hannibal Burns, whose mishandling of his inquiries actually alerts his quarries to their danger. He approaches his quest by questioning a Rochester store-keeper called Mr Mitchel, who is both a member of the same congregation as the “boarding-house ladies” with whom Caroline has been butting heads since her arrival, and “a thorough-bred New England Yankee”…and consequently gets a lot more out of Burns than Burns gets out of him: all of which he then recounts (with personal interpretations and editorialisations) to his flock of female admirers.

The thought of “what brother Wilson will say” quickly carries Miss Duncomb to the minister’s house, where she finds instead his wife, his daughters, and his eldest son—the latter of whom has been dallying (or attempting to do so, against the ladies’ wills) with both Caroline and his cousin, Emily Williams. The outspoken Emma Wilson causes offence by questioning Miss Duncomb’s assertions, on the grounds of her father’s professed liking for Mr Gordon; but Mrs Wilson receives the news in the same spirit as her boarding-house sisters:

    “God forbid, Mrs Wilson, that we should any of us soil our lips with the words that would go to tell the particulars. You know it would be worse for me than for you; for blessed as you are, Mrs Wilson, in being the wife and helpmate of a holy minister of God, (and, oh! such a minister!) it must be allowed that I am still less fit than you to speak such words.”
    “Go out of the room, Lucy,” said the mother; “it is not fitting that such as you should hear of such things as these. Go and read the ‘Sinner’s Guide,’ my daughter.”
    The young lady left the room, but evidently with a reluctant step. Mrs Wilson waited till the door closed after her, and then resumed the conversation.
    “The Lord in his holy mercy forbid that I should ever lead maid or wife into saying what was not befitting for a Christian woman to speak, Miss Duncomb; but I cannot but think that sisters of the same congregation, as we are, it is our bounden duty to relieve our minds to each other on such matters as these. ‘Offences will come, saith the Lord;’ you know where that is, Miss Duncomb? And then follows, ‘Woe unto them by whom offence cometh;’ but there is not a word about woe to any Christian women who talk together about it, for the edification of their own souls.”
    “Well, then, Mrs Wilson, I am willing to tell all I know, though I must make allusion therein to what should neither pass the lips nor enter the head of a Christian sister, whose life is dedicated to works of holiness and religious love. That girl they call Miss Gordon is—”
    Miss Duncomb paused to breathe. Mrs Wilson’s mouth and eyes were open, as well as her ears.
    “What is she, Miss Duncomb? In the name of the Lord, tell me.”
    “No better than she should be;” replied the holy oracle, in a tone of most exciting mystery…

The flying gossip eventually reaches the ears of its subjects. The initial terror of Caroline and Emily subsides when they realise that it is Mr Gordon who is assumed to be the wanted criminal – as has been the case from the beginning, as it is he who pays the bills – and that no-one is giving much thought to the silent, withdrawn “Mr Smith”.

The first real blow suffered by the party is Mr Wilson forbidding Emily to have any more contact with them. At first inclined to uphold them, out of a genuine liking and respect for Mr Gordon, Mr Wilson back-flips when he discovers that the minister of a rival congregation is being very vocal about the Gordons’ iniquities. He does not in fact believe Gordon guilty of all the vulgar crimes laid to his discredit by those pious members of his congregation, the boarding-house ladies – though he thinks some sort of political transgression not out of the question – but decides that he cannot afford to flout public opinion.

But Emily does flout his authority, slipping secretly away to keep her friends apprised of the situation, and to spend as much time with them as possible before the inevitable, painful parting.

Quickly enough, though with no undignified haste, the Gordons and Darcy remove from Rochester, bringing forward their planned visit to Niagara. They are accompanied by Madame de Clairville, who has burned her bridges by declaring her belief in them.

Unbeknownst to the travellers, they are immediately freed from the first threat against them, with Hannibal Burns receiving new orders not to pursue them; though without any explanation forthcoming.

The truth, however, is that Nixon Oglander has decided to deploy the other weapons in his arsenal—namely, Richard Dally himself, and the former Captain Bob Brown…who in a moment of genuine shock is revealed to the reader to be none other than the Reverend Mr Wilson…

 

[To be continued…]

 

4 Comments to “The Refugee In America (Part 2)”

  1. These easily mocked aspects of Americana are, though faded with time, unfortunately still recognizable.

    • Ah-hmm. Like I said, I felt bad for snickering; but honestly… 😀

    • unfortunately, not all that faded.
      Dickens also slaughtered the American character in several novels, especially ‘Martin Chuzzlewhit’, where one author was convinced his letters were frequently read in Parliament, resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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