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Short Story Archives > The Complete Shorter Fiction - The Courtship of Susan Bell

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message 1: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
This story was written in 1860 for a magazine. Trollope had visited the U.S., including Niagara, Saratoga Springs, and New York City. Saratoga Springs, in particular, is still a very quiet town in the winter months. During the crossing home, he met a widow with a young daughter. It is believed the daughter is the inspiration for this story.


message 2: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
To get our thought processes started, but of course, not limited to this question:

How does the mother's fears and shyness affect her decisions?


message 3: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Since we traveled regularly to Vermont along the Northway for many years, a couple of times we have stopped at Saratoga Springs at Exit 15. I have long wondered what it was like in the late 1800's as a famous spa, resort, and horse racing town, escape for the privileged from NYC, Albany, et al. The town has appeared for me in the novels of Edith Wharton and Henry James. Now it shows up in Trollope.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interst...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saratog...

Fun sidebar on Canfield Casino -- not directly relevant to the story, but suggests the ambiance of Saratoga Springs (and perhaps one of the mother's sources of concern about "wolves"):
http://www.saratoga.com/aboutsaratoga...

This, from the article on the Saratoga National Historic Park, suggests the beauty of the region: "In addition to how historical this piece of land is, it is equally as beautiful. Trace through the soldiers' foot steps and prepare to be in awe of your surroundings. It begins at the scenic Freeman Farm Overlook which provides a stunning view of the tree line, hills and ravines, that has not changed much since 1777."

I include this partly to suggest the rather protected community and environment in which this story is set -- this is a "upper middle class story"? Would we say that was a specialty of Trollope, whether abroad or at home?


message 4: by Lily (last edited Nov 29, 2015 08:46AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Trollope also seems to have particular interest in what was required to build railroads -- his novel The Way We Live Now includes episodes involving investment and speculation for their construction. I don't find an easy reference on building the railroad through Saratoga County, but I am wondering about Trollope's interests as he assigned a profession to his hero, Aaron Dunn.

(Did Trollope have a particular liking of the name "Phineas"? Trivia bit of curiosity: did this story precede his novels about Phineas Finn?)

Google: "Saratoga county NY railroad history" and I find more than I have interest enough to wade through.

PS: Well, a glimpse at this page is kind of fun to give a sense of the fervor around railroad building:
http://ballstonhistory.angelfire.com/...

Trollope may focus on the mother's timidity, but I think the setting and milieu, as well as being a lawyer's wife, may give her more credibility for savvy than first reading of the words does.


message 5: by Deborah, Moderator (last edited Dec 01, 2015 07:48AM) (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "Trollope also seems to have particular interest in what was required to build railroads -- his novel The Way We Live Now includes episodes involving investment and speculation for the..."

I was wondering whether she would have made a different decision if she wasn't timid.


message 6: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Deborah wrote: "I was wondering whether she would have made a different decision if she wasn't timid...."

Which decision? Approving his stay? Or other?


message 7: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "Deborah wrote: "I was wondering whether she would have made a different decision if she wasn't timid...."

Which decision? Approving his stay? Or other?"


The decision to send him away


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments I found not that much intellectual meat in the story, but enjoyed it nonetheless. The plot was almost banal and highly predictable. However, I thought he did an excellent job of creating and maintaining the characters, all quite distinct and well drawn in the limited confines of a short story. The mother was the only one who really developed for me during the course of the story, finally developing a backbone.

What struck me was the subtle but distinct humor in the story, something I haven't recognized that strongly in Trollope.

For example: "But Mrs. Bell did not come in. She and Hetta were at a weekly service at Mr. Beckard's meeting-house, and Mr. Beckard it seemed had much to say." Zing.

Or ""God bless you, Aaron," said she; and yet she was sure that she had not declared her love. He however thought otherwise,..."

Or "Aaron was very fond of Mrs. Bell; but nevertheless he did sometimes wish that some domestic duty would take her out of the parlour for a few happy minutes. Susan went out very often, but Mrs. Bell seemed to be a fixture."


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Lily wrote: "Since we traveled regularly to Vermont along the Northway for many years, a couple of times we have stopped at Saratoga Springs at Exit 15. I have long wondered what it was like in the late 1800's ..."

Nice anecdote. In my mind, growing up on the East coast but not in a social circle that sent time in the Poconos or Saratoga, the whole area was imbued with an aura of mild wealth-related dissolution, sort of as the Hamptons are today.


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments If there was a weakness in the story for me, it was that I did get a bit tired of Susan's perpetual dithering and insecurity. I wanted to see a bit more personal confidence developing in her. But then, I think Trollope may well have been very accurately representing the mindset of a quite young woman in her situation.


message 11: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Everyman wrote: "...But then, I think Trollope may well have been very accurately representing the mindset of a quite young woman in her situation."

A bit like Fancy in Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree ?


message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Lily wrote: "Everyman wrote: "...But then, I think Trollope may well have been very accurately representing the mindset of a quite young woman in her situation."

A bit like Fancy in Hardy's [book:Under the Gre..."


A bit, though in Fancy's case it was too many admirers, not too few.


message 13: by Louise (new)

Louise | 46 comments Yes Susan seems very meek/pliable/weak - but I guess it's her habit because of her dominant sister?


message 14: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1298 comments Mod
Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to live in a simpler time, like the one described in this story... and then I remember, "nope, I'm female!"


message 15: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 229 comments Charming story, simple, but well told. "Many nice things .. seem to be wrong only because they are so nice".

The bashfulness of these women is especially striking considering that Mrs. Bell is a widow, and of independent means (more or less). And yet, waiting for a son-in-law to advise her! Meanwhile, some 'exceedingly proper prim old ladies' (like young Hetty) man the first lines of moral defense.


message 16: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Wendel wrote: The bashfulness of these women is especially striking considering that Mrs. Bell is a widow, and of independent means (more or less). And yet, waiting for a son-in-law to advise her! "

Which I think reflects fairly accurately the predominant view of gender roles at the time. As Lori points out, the appeal of those simpler, more innocent times came sometimes at the expense of women (and minorities).


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Lori wrote: "Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to live in a simpler time, like the one described in this story... and then I remember, "nope, I'm female!""

Since I'm not female, the appeal of those times is perhaps less muted.


message 18: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 599 comments When I start thinking about how nice it would be to live in past times, I think about dentistry and get over it.


message 19: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 229 comments Here is a quote from Trollope's memoires (as cited by John Sutherland in his Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives - recommended!) to show that not all (or indeed few) women were as meek as Mrs.Bell:

"I was always in trouble. A young woman down in the country had taken it into her head that she would like to marry me … the mother appeared at the Post Office. My hair almost stands on my head now as I remember the figure of the woman walking into the big room in which I sat with six or seven other clerks, having a large basket on her arm and an immense bonnet on her head. The messenger had vainly endeavoured to persuade her to remain in the ante-room. She followed the man in, and walking up the centre of the room, addressed me in a loud voice: “Anthony Trollope, when are you going to marry my daughter?” We have all had our worst moments, and that was one of my worst. "

Was Trollope a wolf, perhaps?


message 20: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
Abigail wrote: "When I start thinking about how nice it would be to live in past times, I think about dentistry and get over it."

Or health care


message 21: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Anyone willing to comment on Susan's suitor in our story? Did Mr. Bell have only the nephew's widow's finances in mind when he sent Aaron Dunn her way? It didn't seem to me that Trollope gave any clues Mr. Bell might be a bit of a matchmaker, too.

"...The artful dodger! he had drawn and coloured a beautiful little sketch of a bridge; not an engineer's plan with sections and measurements, vexatious to a woman's eye, but a graceful little bridge with a string of cars running under it..."

Trollope, Anthony (2011-03-24). "The Courtship of Susan Bell" (p. 16). . Kindle Edition.

Note the presumption that an engineer's plan would be "vexatious" to a woman. Might at least a different contrasting word be used today, even if a sketch still might be more useful for any courting objective in a modern parallel. Or ...?


message 22: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Lily wrote: "Anyone willing to comment on Susan's suitor in our story? Did Mr. Bell have only the nephew's widow's finances in mind when he sent Aaron Dunn her way? It didn't seem to me that Trollope gave any c..."

That's a nice question that I hadn't thought about. I had just assumed all he was trying to do was help her financially. Hadn't thought about him as the eHarmony of Saratoga Springs!


message 23: by Louise (new)

Louise | 46 comments Abigail wrote: "When I start thinking about how nice it would be to live in past times, I think about dentistry and get over it."

And penicillin... I went to a museum, in a medieval convent famous for it's medical knowledge. They had skeletons of people with cronic sinus infections, and the skulls had bumps the size of golf balls, because of that. Ugh!


message 24: by Lily (last edited Dec 04, 2015 05:47AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Everyman wrote: "That's a nice question that I hadn't thought about. I had just assumed all he was trying to do was help her financially. Hadn't thought about him as the eHarmony of Saratoga Springs! ..."

If he thought well of Dunn, it could have been an even better financial support move than just sending a renter. I think people thought such ways more in that era -- family responsibilities for the marriage of daughters, or something like that? Cynically, if it worked, Dunn could also relieve any future sense of financial responsibilities that Mr. Bell might feel some little niggle about. Part of what brought me to ask the question was Dunn's strong sense of self -- does Trollope in any sense imply Dunn had support (Mr. Bell) back in the home office? I don't find that in the story, but it would fit with what I have seen elsewhere from Trollope.

(I haven't looked at its timing in Trollope's writing career, but are we watching an author develop his character sketching and story telling skills? It is not unusual for short stories to serve that purpose, whether deliberately or just the way an author's writing unfolds. Trollope is virtually the only author I know with particular skills at revealing how both the business world and the social world may develop interactively -- I'd be interested in learning who are considered others.)


message 25: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Lily wrote: "does Trollope in any sense imply Dunn had support (Mr. Bell) back in the home office? I don't find that in the story, but it would fit with what I have seen elsewhere from Trollope."

I didn't see it either, and indeed Dunn's insecurity about his future income perhaps suggests that it wasn't very strong, if it was there at all?


message 26: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Wendel wrote: "Charming story, simple, but well told. "Many nice things .. seem to be wrong only because they are so nice".

The bashfulness of these women is especially striking considering that Mrs. Bell is a w..."


Yes, much too bashful and then dependent on a man's opinion. And Susan far too timid. Yes, it was a time when the patriarchy ruled, but women weren't total wallflowers.

I think that is what bothered me in the short story, besides that it was a bit cliche. And there was no growth, except maybe Mrs. Bell at the end said she wouldn't ask for her son-in-law's opinion again regarding the engagement.

A bit disappointed, because normally, I like Trollope.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Lily wrote: "(I haven't looked at its timing in Trollope's writing career, but are we watching an author develop his character sketching and story telling skills? "

I don't know when the story was written, but it was published in August, 1860. This would have been early-middle of his career. His first novel was apparently published in 1847. The first three novels of the Barchester series were written in 1855, 1857, and 1858, with the last three in 1861, 1864, and 1867, so his writing career was getting well established by 1860, but he still had twenty years of writing ahead of him.


message 28: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1805 comments Mod
I also found this a light and charming little story, which demonstrated well the difficult lot of young women of slender means at that time-what might have happened to Susan if Mr Dunn had not arrived? While her mother seems overly protective and meek, I think there was a real fear of "wolves" who might ruin a young woman's reputation (and future chances at marriage) with little consequence to themselves and yet conversely of driving away one of the few eligible young men. The widow also doesn't want to appear as Mrs Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, chasing husbands for her daughters.

I appreciated that Trollope did not resort to caricature of his supporting characters. Mrs Bell, while meek and somewhat dithery, still appears sensible, kind and to be trying her best. Mr Beckard, as the local clergy (always ripe for caricature) and stand-in for the male head of house (once he is safely engaged to Hetta), still seems well-intentioned and good-natured, and we sense that he and Aaron, though very different in many ways, do still enjoy each other's company (and enjoy arguing with each other).

Lynne, I felt differently than you about the characters-I felt that Aaron grew to be more self-assured and gained the confidence to work for and to stand up for what he wanted, that Mrs. Bell (as you say) learned to trust her own judgement and to take back her role as matriarch, and I even felt that Susan, in walking out with Aaron, eventually came to settle things for herself rather than relying on others to make decisions for her.


message 29: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 229 comments Lynnm wrote: "... there was no growth, except maybe Mrs. Bell at the end said she wouldn't ask for her son-in-law's opinion again regarding the engagement."

Growth, is that what we would expect in a short story?


message 30: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Wendel wrote: "Lynnm wrote: "... there was no growth, except maybe Mrs. Bell at the end said she wouldn't ask for her son-in-law's opinion again regarding the engagement."

Growth, is that what we would expect in..."


A short story doesn't provide as much space for character development as a longer piece of literature, like a novel.

A google of "short story characteristics" provides a plethora of views on what we might (should?) expect in a short story. (I am leery of "shoulds".)


message 31: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
As Lily mentions, short stories can be challenging in their brevity. The author has limited space for character and plot development. Yet, I feel both of our stories this week were very well done, and I'm not typically a short story fan.


message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Frances wrote: "I also found this a light and charming little story, which demonstrated well the difficult lot of young women of slender means at that time-what might have happened to Susan if Mr Dunn had not arri..."

Nice post, good points.


message 33: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1805 comments Mod
I am always pleasantly surprised that Trollope, as a Victorian man, still seemed to have a profound understanding of and sympathy for women in society. Can anyone think of any instances where this extends to working/servant class women?


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Frances wrote: "I am always pleasantly surprised that Trollope, as a Victorian man, still seemed to have a profound understanding of and sympathy for women in society. Can anyone think of any instances where this ..."

I'll have to think about that. He really didn't do much with working/servant class males either, did he?

But you might approve of Bridget who, in Dr. Thorne, hits Mr. Jonah with a rolling pin when he tries to take liberties.

The only female servant I can recall offhand getting much treatment as a character is Martha in He Knew He Was Right.

Oh, I almost forgot, there was also Mrs. Toff in Is He Popenjoy?, but she's almost a member of the family more than a servant.

That's all I can come up with offhand. Not much, I'm afraid.


message 35: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1298 comments Mod
Thomas Hardy, maybe


message 36: by Deborah, Moderator (new)

Deborah (deborahkliegl) | 4461 comments Mod
George Moore wrote a great one re servant, Esther Waters


message 37: by Lynnm (last edited Dec 06, 2015 03:59PM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments True about the growth in a short story. Not enough time for a character to grow.

But...I do stick with my point about Mrs. Bell and Susan. They are stereotypical, weak females. And the older sister, who is stronger, is portrayed negatively. While I certainly haven't read a lot of Trollope, those I have read, have stronger, positively depicted females. Hence, my disappointment in this story. I expected better.


message 38: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Lynnm wrote: "Hence, my disappointment in this story. I expected better. ..."

I was okay with it -- on a number of counts, from setting to interaction of family responsibilities to believable characters to... Lynnm, I'm curious as whether you have another short story which might be sort of a standard against which you are evaluating this one.


message 39: by Wendel (last edited Dec 07, 2015 12:03AM) (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 229 comments I just read 'The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne', starring a very independent female character (in Tales of All Countries 2, available on Gutenberg). The drawback is that here the male hero is an insensitive and selfish prick ...


message 40: by Silver (new)

Silver Lily wrote: Trollope may focus on the mother's timidity, but I think the setting and milieu, as well as being a lawyer's wife, may give her more credibility for savvy than first reading of the words does.."

I have to say I found the wife of be quite amusing and rather comical because of her timidity, nervous nature and seeming inability to make a decision on her own. Always needing/wanting to consult with her other daughter Hetta, and Mr. Beckard first and allowing them to sway her.

Yet I can appreciate the difficult circumstances they were in, and the possible danger posed to Susan, for what did they really know of Aaron and what his true intentions might be?

It would be hard, most particularly at that period of time for a mother to entrust her daughter to a man of whom she knew very little about and knew not if he was earnest and genuine and if he would indeed be able to financially provide for his wife.

I was glad that after Aaron came back and proved himself successful Mrs. Bell did finally stand up against Hetta and defended Susan and made up her own mind.


message 41: by Silver (new)

Silver Everyman wrote: "If there was a weakness in the story for me, it was that I did get a bit tired of Susan's perpetual dithering and insecurity. I wanted to see a bit more personal confidence developing in her. But t..."

Yes Susan was quite irritating at times. At first I had rather liked Hetta, and she certainly was more interesting than Susan was but as things progressed I felt bad for Susan and was annoyed by how awful Hetta was being towards her sister.

I do not know if Hetta was genuinely trying to protect Susan, because Susan was meek and timid, and seemed much more naive than Hetta of if Hetta was in some way jealous of her sister and was acting out with some malicious intent.


message 42: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "I was glad that after Aaron came back and proved himself successful Mrs. Bell did finally stand up against Hetta and defended Susan and made up her own mind. ..."

Thanks for your words, Silver. That's kind of what I was trying to get at -- it all seemed a bit more subtle than a first quick reading might. Mrs. Bell could hide behind so long as it served her to hide behind. I suspect most of us know people like that, including ourselves occasionally?


message 43: by Silver (new)

Silver Lily wrote: "hat's kind of what I was trying to get at -- it all seemed a bit more subtle than a first quick reading might. Mrs. Bell could hide behind so long as it served her to hide behind. I suspect most of us know people like that, including ourselves occasionally?"

That is an interesting thought, that it was an act in which she could hide behind while she was holding off making a decision until she was certain it was the right choice to make.

At first I had thought she was simply inept but after witnessing her daughters suffering she was unwilling to put Susan through that a second time and so a maternal protective instinct drove her to shutting Hetta down.


message 44: by Lily (last edited Dec 10, 2015 02:31PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Silver wrote: "...so a maternal protective instinct drove her..."

Maybe both: timid shrewdness and maternal protectiveness? She had landed a successful lawyer in the first place, one who was supposed to have taken care of her and left her to her maternal responsibilities if life (death) hadn't gotten in the way.


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