Monday, June 28, 2010


The Way We Live Now

I just finished reading Anthony Trollope's novel The Way We Live Now. It was first published 135 years ago, but its description of financial shenanigans seems very up-to-date in 2010. The villain Augustus Melmotte reminds me of no one so much as Bernie Madoff, except that the former had the decency to kill himself with prussic acid when his crime was discovered, while the latter is now a guest at taxpayers' expense in Butner Federal Prison, affectionately known to its inmates as Camp Fluffy. Here are some excerpts from The Way We Live Now.

Chapter 2 (example of asyndetic, privative adjectives):
fathomless, bottomless, endless
Chapter 6:
Land is a luxury, and of all luxuries is the most costly.
Chapter 8:
Roger Carbury did not quite believe in the forgiveness of injuries. If you pardon all the evil done to you, you encourage others to do you evil! If you give your cloak to him who steals your coat, how long will it be, before your shirt and trousers will go also?
Chapter 11:
There is the review intended to sell a book,—which comes out immediately after the appearance of the book, or sometimes before it; the review which gives reputation, but does not affect the sale, and which comes a little later; the review which snuffs a book out quietly; the review which is to raise or lower the author a single peg, or two pegs, as the case may be; the review which is suddenly to make an author, and the review which is to crush him.
Chapter 16 (boodying = sulking):
'He is a man of that kind,—so stiff and stubborn and old-fashioned that nothing will change him. He will go on boodying over it, till he will become an old misanthrope.'
Chapter 30:
But then dear Roger was old-fashioned, and knew nothing of people as they are now. He lived in a world which, though slow, had been good in its way; but which, whether bad or good, had now passed away.
Chapter 39:
If one has to be hung on a given day, would it not be well to be hung as soon after waking as possible? I can fancy that the hangman would hardly come early enough. And if one had to be hung in a given week, would not one wish to be hung on the first day of the week, even at the risk of breaking one's last Sabbath day in this world? Whatever be the misery to be endured, get it over. The horror of every agony is in its anticipation.
Chapter 42:
'If men were equal to-morrow and all wore the same coats, they would wear different coats the next day.'
Chapter 44 (cf. "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet"):
It seemed that there was but one virtue in the world, commercial enterprise,—and that Melmotte was its prophet.
Chapter 44 (too big to fail):
'There are a good many who say that Melmotte will burst up.'

'I don't believe it,' said Lord Alfred. 'They don't know what they're talking about. There are too many in the same boat to let him burst up. It would be the bursting up of half London.'
Chapter 46:
'People live now in a way that I don't comprehend.'
Chapter 50:
There is an intoxication that makes merry in the midst of affliction,—and there is an intoxication that banishes affliction by producing oblivion. But again there is an intoxication which is conscious of itself though it makes the feet unsteady, and the voice thick, and the brain foolish; and which brings neither mirth nor oblivion.
Chapter 53 (example of rhetorical device known as climax or ladder):
Mr Longestaffe in the meantime had progressed from weariness to impatience, from impatience to ill-humour, and from ill-humour to indignation.
Chapter 54:
He was one of those men whom success never mollified, whose enjoyment of a point gained always demanded some hoarse note of triumph from his own trumpet.
Chapter 55:
'A failure! Of course he's a failure, whether rich or poor;—a miserable imposition, a hollow vulgar fraud from beginning to end,—too insignificant for you and me to talk of, were it not that his position is a sign of the degeneracy of the age.'
Chapter 55:
'Taking society as a whole, the big and the little, the rich and the poor, I think that it grows better from year to year, and not worse. I think, too, that they who grumble at the times, as Horace did, and declare that each age is worse than its forerunner, look only at the small things beneath their eyes, and ignore the course of the world at large.'
Chapter 55 (quotation unidentified in the Penguin Classics edition, note on p. 776, but it's from Horace, Epodes 4.20):
hoc, hoc tribuno militum
Chapter 62:
When such rumours are spread abroad, they are always believed. There is an excitement and a pleasure in believing them. Reasonable hesitation at such a moment is dull and phlegmatic. If the accused one be near enough to ourselves to make the accusation a matter of personal pain, of course we disbelieve. But, if the distance be beyond this, we are almost ready to think that anything may be true of anybody.
Chapter 64 (example of rhetorical device known as praeteritio):
'I scorn,' said he, 'to say anything against the personal character of a political opponent, which I am not in a position to prove. I make no allusion, and have made no allusion, to reports which were circulated yesterday about him, and which I believe were originated in the City. They may be false or they may be true.'
Chapter 64:
Masses of men will almost feel that a certain amount of injustice ought to be inflicted on their betters, so as to make things even, and will persuade themselves that a criminal should be declared to be innocent, because the crime committed has had a tendency to oppress the rich and pull down the mighty from their seats. Some few years since, the basest calumnies that were ever published in this country, uttered by one of the basest men that ever disgraced the country, levelled, for the most part, at men of whose characters and services the country was proud, were received with a certain amount of sympathy by men not themselves dishonest, because they who were thus slandered had received so many good things from Fortune, that a few evil things were thought to be due to them.
Chapter 64:
'A child has such a hold upon his mother. When her reason has bade her to condemn him, her heart will not let her carry out the sentence.'
Chapter 67:
But he was chiefly tormented in these days by the want of amusement. He had so spent his life hitherto that he did not know how to get through a day in which no excitement was provided for him. He never read. Thinking was altogether beyond him. And he had never done a day's work in his life. He could lie in bed. He could eat and drink. He could smoke and sit idle. He could play cards; and could amuse himself with women,—the lower the culture of the women, the better the amusement. Beyond these things the world had nothing for him.
Chapter 69:
It was astonishing, some people said, what things attorneys would do in these days!
Chapter 70:
Throughout the world, the more wrong a man does, the more indignant is he at wrong done to him.
Chapter 78:
'Do nothing for you! Haven't you got a home to live in, and clothes to wear, and a carriage to go about in,—and books to read if you choose to read them? What do you expect?'
Chapter 84:
'Everybody is a burden to other people. It is the way of life.'
Chapter 84:
'Love is like any other luxury. You have no right to it unless you can afford it.'
Chapter 93:
To a man not accustomed to thinking there is nothing in the world so difficult as to think. After some loose fashion we turn over things in our mind and ultimately reach some decision, guided probably by our feelings at the last moment rather than by any process of ratiocination;—and then we think that we have thought. But to follow out one argument to an end, and then to found on the base so reached the commencement of another, is not common to us.
Chapter 96 (quotation unidentified according to the Penguin Classics edition, note on p. 779, but it's from The Toper's Apology by Charles Morris (1745-1838)):
'In life I've rung all changes through,
  Run every pleasure down,
'Midst each excess of folly too,
  And lived with half the town.'
Chapter 100:
As to giving his coat to the thief who had taken his cloak,—he told himself that were he and others to be guided by that precept honest industry would go naked in order that vice and idleness might be comfortably clothed. If any one stole his cloak he would certainly put that man in prison as soon as possible and not commence his lenience till the thief should at any rate affect to be sorry for his fault.

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