The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
Published by Wordsworth Classics
Publication date: June 5th 1995
Genres: Fiction, Historical
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I just finished The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (like he didn’t catch shit in school) and while you might think 738 pages is a slog far too great for any book that isn’t part of the The Girl series it’s not for this one. My biggest complaint is that as I read lying in bed it did hurt my wrist to hold the book up but hey, suffering is a part of art.
If you want true literary criticism you’ll have to look elsewhere (added link in case you’re a student who stumbled on this site by mistake. See? Me being nice.) because I don’t possess those skills anymore. I’m pretty sure they vanished by the time I exited the stage after grabbing my diploma in English Literature. This book is simply good old fashioned trash as written in the late 1800s. Now don’t get too excited; I don’t mean smut. I mean soap opera antics with good and evil clearly defined in a plot that leaves you wondering right up until the end just who will come out on top. They may speak funny but Victorian Brits as portrayed by Trollope had enough vice and craven behavior to satisfy even 21st century readers. Trust me; this book is a page turner. If it didn’t require a small well dressed servant to hold it for you I would go so far as to suggest it as a beach read.
What is most startling to me is that although the book was written in the 19th century it could just as easily have been penned in the last ten years. Instead of Adolphus Melmotte the lead character could be Bernie Madoff, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, or any of the CEOs at a number of Wall Street firms. This guy is buying property with money he doesn’t have, assuming ownership, and mortgaging it to the hilt to maintain a lifestyle he can’t afford. He’s selling stock for a railroad that has yet to be built and likely never will be. He creates a board for his pseudo company and fills it with aristocrats who have never been in business and cannot even read the board minutes! He commits forgery and fraud….was Trollope a psychic or are we just so short sighted we think no one has ever behaved as badly as we do? Or that the financial scams and schemes perpetuated by Madoff and Skilling are somehow new to our age? Because they are not. In fact, the new scammers could well be historians- simply repeating what worked so well in the past.
If you’re thinking ‘snoozefest’ because who cares about the financial world don’t worry. Trollope has plenty to say about society as well (maybe because of all the grief he took for his name while at university). In the social world we have cads, curs, and rakes who still live in their parents’ homes and refuse to get jobs despite being in their 30s. Their days are spent hunting, at their clubs, and gambling. They too spend money they don’t have with no intention of ever paying it back (IOUs and chits as the precursors to credit cards). They seduce naïve young women with the promise of marriage and wealth and lie to and abuse their parents. The majority of women portrayed are put upon and misled but you do have enough sluts, slatterns, and hussies to keep up the interest quotient. Add spray tan, fake nails, designer clothes and you’ve got the cast of characters from the majority of MTV reality shows. What’s not to love?
I’m not a fan of non-fiction so reading a true tome on the economic, political, or financial shenanigans of our time is not likely to happen but Trollope so completely captures the social fabric of his time, and ultimately ours, that it is riveting reading. Plus you learn all sorts of new words with which to insult people in a very highbrow manner so you can even feel better about yourself for expanding your vocabulary. A win-win and must read. Seriously, go to the library and get this book.