A Young English Lord Chases after a Poor Irish Gal named Kate

“An Eye for an Eye” by Anthony Trollope (1879) – 201 pages

    “A man’s love, till it has been chastened and fastened by the feeling of duty which marriage brings with it, is instigated mainly by the difficulty of pursuit.” – Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope, having lived in both Ireland and England, wrote novels about both places.  “An Eye for an Eye” is an interesting mix in that it takes place in both countries.  

The Earl of Scroope and his wife the Countess are looking for someone to inherit the lordship and the Scroope Manor after their own son died of dissipation in France.  They settle on their oldest nephew Fred Neville.  Fred Neville is only too happy to one day become the Earl of Scroope, but he asks to spend one more year with his calvary regiment stationed along the coast in Ireland.  The Countess of Scroope doesn’t like this at all, fearing Fred will only get into trouble over in Ireland.  Fulfilling the Countess’s worst fears, Fred soon meets and falls in love with the sweet and beautiful Irish girl Kate O’Hara who lives with her mother in a little cottage near the ocean.  .

A lot of the fun of “An Eye for an Eye” is watching the Countess’s worst nightmare come true.  The Countess has her own spy in Ireland, Lady Mary Quinn, who sends her regular reports about what Fred is up to.  As soon as the Countess finds out about Kate, she invents a pretense to get Fred back to Scroope Manor.  The Countess invites a suitable young woman Sophia Mellerby to Scroope Manor to entice Fred, but Fred wants no part of it, only itching to get back to his regiment and his wild Irish Kate.  So the Countess as well as the Earl of Scroope only get more worried and angry. 

One could say this is a very stock situation, fodder for a thousand Victorian melodramas.  However Anthony Trollope makes the story come alive.  From our perspective, it is easy to sneer at the Earl and Countess of Scroope for their prejudice against the Irish and for their trying to prevent Fred from making his own decisions.  However Fred is a self-indulgent young guy, and does he really know what he wants to do with his life?  I wonder if parents still intervene when their children seem to be making the wrong choice of life mate.  Are children still reckless and willful, and do parents still want the best for their children?  Somehow it seems today that everyone thinks that the kids are always smarter than their parents, and it doesn’t matter what the old people want.  But there are still young people with money and young people without money. 

The Earl and Countess of Scroope.  ‘Scroope’ is a humorous name, and the name does help us to sneer at them a bit.  I’ve read Trollope’s “The Warden” and “Castle Richmond”.  This time I wanted a short dip in Trollope, not a long wallow, and thus picked this relatively short novel rather than one of his longer novels.

One of the reasons Anthony Trollope is still widely read is that you can trust him to know exactly how each of his characters would think and act, given their place in society and the family.  You can always depend on him to get the people in his novels right.  Sometimes Trollope is called the great novelist of money.  Yes, he did know the importance that money plays in people’s lives, not as an object itself but as a reflection of what it means for people’s self-image, property and place in the community and their society.  He was not particularly innovative, deep, or orginal in his novels, but AnthonyTtrollope was better than anyone in capturing the way we really are.   

“An Eye for an Eye” is a rich study of English and Irish life that left me completely tuned in up to the end of the book.  Only in its last few pages does the story turn into overwrought Victorian melodrama. 

    “It may almost be a question whether such wisdom as many of us have in our mature years has not come from the dying out of the power of temptation, rather than as the results of thought and resolution. “ – Anthony Trollope.
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11 responses to this post.

  1. I too am a Trollope fan, although his predictability does mean spacing between books is a good idea. I think your review captures his strength very well — the plots and situations might be predictable, but he always supplies the reward with his well-developed characters. A lot of cooks might make stew, but that does not mean that some stews are far superior to others.

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    • Hi Kevin,
      Trollope certainly holds my interest. I suppose between Trollope and Thomas Hardy, I probably prefer Hardy. Haven’t read Hardy for a long time, but at one point I was a huge Hardy fan. Maybe when I have a little more time, I’ll read one of Trollope’s long novels.

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  2. Since you have read The Warden, and like Trollope, consider moving in the Barchester Chronicles with volume two Barchester Towers. The novels look long, but they aren’t — like a Jane Austen, once you settle in they just flow on.

    You know from what you have read that Trollope is a “fast” read. And The Warden, to borrow some North American language, is like an executive summary to the Chronicles. Each one explores various examples of the same cast — the reason to start with Towers is that it is a) the best-known and b) the funniest. If you hate it, abandon the series — but if you love it, there are five more novels to explore that are even better.

    And we haven’t even got to the Palliser series.

    Cheers.

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  3. I LOVED the quote you have here! This seems like a fun read, I haven’t read any of Trollope yet. Should I start with this or do you have any other recommendations?

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  4. Hi Soul Muser,
    I think that many people start Trollope off with “The Warden” which is the first novel of the Barchester Chronicles and may be his most famous novel. “An Eye for an Eye” is nice because it is quite short and stands alone, yet shows Trollope’s ability to tell an interesting story. I started with “The Warden” which is about 350 pages if I remember correctly.

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  5. I love Trollope and haven’t read this one yet. It’s on my shelf.

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  6. Hi Frisbee,
    Trollope is one of those novelists who have enough excellent novels to last a long time. Some time maybe I’ll have time for “Can You Forgive Her?”

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  7. Posted by kimbofo on February 14, 2011 at 9:14 PM

    I’ve wanted to read Trollope for the longest time, but have never known where to start. With my penchant for Irish fiction this sounds like a great place for me to start!

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  8. Hi Kimbofo,
    I liked “An Eye for an Eye”; it’s not as famous as “The Warden”, but I think it still represents Anthony Trollope well.

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