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Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Writer's Responsibility

"Nevertheless a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflections as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now. And as I had ventured to take the whip of the satirist into my hand, I went beyond the iniquities of the great speculator who robs everybody, and made an onslaught also on other vices;—on the intrigues of girls who want to get married, on the luxury of young men who prefer to remain single, and on the puffing propensities of authors who desire to cheat the public into buying their volumes."  (An Autobiography, 1883)

In chapter 20 of his Autobiography, Trollope describes his return to London from Australia in late 1872, upon which he settle in Montagu Square.  Prompted by the "commercial profligacy of  the age," Trollope began his The Way We Live Now (TWWLN) to address the immorality to which he was exposed.  Trollope uses his Autobiography to describe a writer's responsibilities to his audience.  A writer of fiction has an obligation to teach morals.  One must portray dishonest characters in such a way that readers will reject them, even if they happen to meet one's ideal of beauty.  In TWWLN, Felix is acknowledged as very good looking, but his character is as base as possible.  However, those in the novel that are attracted to him realize too late how reproachful he is. 

Furthermore, Trollope asserts that a writer must convince his readers that "truth in love will make them happy."  In the novel, many characters seek to get married with the wrong motive.  For example, Georgianna Longstaffe desires to marry Brehgert, a Jew, despite his religion and her family's objection, which seems honorable, but her motive is exposed when she demands he keep his house in London, in spite of his pecuniary troubles.  Her only motivation in consenting to marry Brehgert is money and he ultimately ends their engagement.  Trollope illustrates that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

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