Civil Combat in “The Eustace Diamonds”: Social Status, Property, and the Law

by Andrew Lallier

Address delivered at The Trollope Society 2014 Annual Lecture, October 16, 2014.

Good evening and thank you all for coming.  Thanks are also due to the Center for Fiction for hosting and The Trollope Society for having this event.  I would also more particularly like to thank Randy Williams  for the invitation and assistance in getting all of this ready.

Like the paper on which it is based, this talk argues for the use of an Anglo-Germanic concept of Civil Society in understanding the legal and the social struggles of The Eustace Diamonds.

On being invited to give this talk, I decided it was high time to read Trollope’s Orley Farm – a text that, as it dealt closely with legal matters, might provide a useful background for the talk.  In the midst of this reading, I received a cautionary note about giving talks from Trollope in the form of the great lawyer from Berlin, Von Bauhr.  A bit aside from the main action of Orley Farm, Von Bauhr enters (and soon exits) the story as one of the primary speakers at an international legal congress in Birmingham.  We hear of the speech only at second-hand – a speech, we are told, that lasts three hours and is conducted entirely in German.  This speech is understandably met with a mixture of incomprehension and exhaustion from its English and international audience.  Even the narrator feels compelled to comment that Von Bauhr (along with the other speakers) takes unfair advantage of his position, and is “ruthless” in “lengthy cruelty.”  Von Bauhr, however, seem to have no idea of the effect he has had on his audience.  As Trollope puts it, “To him the day had been one long triumph, for his voice had sounded sweet in his own ears as, period after period, he had poured forth in full flowing language the gathered wisdom and experience of his life.”  As academics are sometimes given to the deception of our own ears, speaking German to English audiences, I have sought to trim excess critical commentary from the talk, and promise to adhere to the time given.

This talk will consist of three sections.  I will begin by going over some of Trollope’s comments on German intellectual culture, moving thence to relevant concepts in Carlyle and Hegel.  The second section will consist of a condensed version of the argument presented in the paper this talk is based on, namely that The Eustace Diamonds is a novel shot through with social and legal combat.  This civil combat is no less real for its non-physical status, and is part of a larger social and historical transition Trollope seeks to depict here and elsewhere in his novels.  I will end with a brief note about desire, both as a force driving the combat of the novel, and as a force driving our reading of the novel.

Unlike his mother, Anthony Trollope never wrote about Germany in his travel literature.  Despite this, Trollope communicates a broad sense of a German intellectual climate across a few scattered references in his novels.  One of the central figures of Orley Farm, Lucius Mason, appears to have been unfitted for the practical matters of English life by this abstract and academic air.  Upon returning from his German studies, Lucius rejects careers in the law or engineering, flirting instead with philology … or perhaps literature, and then chemical agriculture without committing to much of anything.  German influences seem to have strengthened an interested but distractible character within Lucius, rendering him given to unpredictable action without much hope of profit.  Despite his Italian predilections, Bertie Stanhope in Barchester Towers has also had a German education.  This education nets Bertie a knowledge of German and an appreciation of fine arts, and Bertie is more than a match for Lucius in terms of flightiness.  But this German background also serves a weapon of sorts for Bertie.  At a party hosted by Mrs. Proudie, Bertie intervenes in an otherwise placid conversation between the archbishop, chancellor and dean about Oxford matters.  Recognizing that the talk has turned to professors, Bertie enters thus:

“How much you Englishmen might learn from Germany; only you are all too proud.”

The bishop, looking round, perceived that that abominable young Stanhope had pursued him. The dean stared at him as though he were some unearthly apparition; so also did two or three prebendaries and minor canons. The archdeacon laughed.

“The German professors are men of learning,” said Mr. Harding, “but—”

“German professors!” groaned out the chancellor, as though his nervous system had received a shock which nothing but a week of Oxford air could cure.

“Yes,” continued Ethelbert, not at all understanding why a German professor should be contemptible in the eyes of an Oxford don. “Not but what the name is best earned at Oxford. In Germany the professors do teach; at Oxford, I believe, they only profess to do so, and sometimes not even that. You’ll have those universities of yours about your ears soon, if you don’t consent to take a lesson from Germany.”

A minor canon attempts a counter-offensive, alleging that German professors commit the inexcusable sin of preferring beer to wine.  A weighty accusation, to be sure.  Bertie is not to be put off, however, and claims their indifference to either beer or wine “perhaps accounts for their superiority” – thus driving away the offended company.  Bertie is something of an agent provocateur here, and Trollope is certainly playing the conflict for laughs.  At the same time, Bertie’s carefree speech strikes a nerve with his Oxford audience.  Looking back, we see a hint of the coming success of the German model of the research university – and with it, a sense that German learning may have something to teach English institutions.

Bernie’s sentiment is echoed in a different institutional context (the law, rather than the university) by the more serious Felix Graham, who is among the few that seek to defend Von Bauhr.  Affirming Von Bauhr’s general commitment to legal reform, Felix argues that “what Von Bauhr said will not wholly be wasted, though it may not yet have reached our sublime understandings.”  Perhaps a little surprisingly, Trollope’s narrator seconds Felix’s sentiment, claiming that, though Von Bauhr may not have had the effect he intended, that does not mean his desire for improving reform has been wasted.  When prompted by Augustus Staveley as to the possibility of translating Von Bauhr, Felix responds:

It would be useless at present, seeing that we cannot bring ourselves to believe it possible that a foreigner should in any respect be wiser than ourselves. If any such point out to us our follies, we at once claim those follies as the special evidences of our wisdom. We are so self-satisfied with our own customs, that we hold up our hands with surprise at the fatuity of men who presume to point out to us their defects.

Felix’s satiric reference to “our sublime understandings” plays on a larger Trollopian sense that our individual and national understandings rarely approach comprehensive – let alone sublime – standards.  One of the chief benefits of German thought, as embodied here in Von Bauhr, is a perspective different from ours.  This perspective is particularly valuable in examining customs and institutions to which we have grown accustomed and thus see partially – partially both in the sense of taking their part and in the sense of seeing only a part, or seeing incompletely.  Trollope, as we well know, was quite attached to good number of English customs and even some institutions.  But this did not prevent him and should not prevent us from examining them with critical lenses.

The German lens I am applying today comes from Hegel through Carlyle.  While I have not yet uncovered any evidence that Trollope read Hegel, he read Carlyle extensively – as attested to by critics like Ruth ApRoberts and N. John Hall.  We can see Carlyle’s influence at its strongest in an unpublished work by Trollope, The New Zealander.  This text was a collection of essays, using a mixture of satire, historical perspective and direct criticism to examine and attack different social practices and establishments.  As in many of Carlyle’s writings, the social critique here ranges through matters social, religious and political and appears motivated by a felt loss of moral and intellectual strength in the culture of the times.

In his portrait of Carlyle in The Warden, Trollope asserts that Carlyle a.k.a. Pessimist Anticant had studied in Germany “with much effect, and had learnt to look with German subtilty into the root of things, and to examine for himself their intrinsic worth and worthlessness.”  The root cause of social trouble and degeneration, according to Carlyle, lay with Laissez-Faire.  For Carlyle, this term described the now-familiar political-economic theory, but also a broad model of social organization tending to promote atomizing individualism and leave all to greed and egoism.  Such a system would necessarily lead to violence and conflict, as it encouraged individuals to think of themselves as competing for limited resources, disconnected from any larger social ground or undertaking.  The social movement of Chartism appeared to many Victorians to confirm Carlyle’s social prophesying – and at least in The New Zealander, Trollope himself follows the Scotchman in seeking out an independence of perspective for the purposes of a social critique that might go to the root of things.

Those of you who remember the portrait of Carlyle as Dr. Pessimist Anticant in The Warden know that this is not the whole story.  While Trollope’s narrator stands among the number that learned much from Anticant, Trollope also cheerfully mocks Carlyle’s heavy-handed manner.  While beginning as a high-minded and sometimes insightful critic, Anticant becomes more of a determined grouch or cynic, installing himself as “censor of things in general.”

Trollope’s object in this portrait is not to simply reject Carlyle, but rather to moderate him and to indicate the limits of an extreme form of this kind of critique.  Before Dr. Pessimist Anticant becomes a self-caricature, embodying his given name, he offers needful moral fare and genuine insight into his times.  Nor should we forget that Trollope could be given to his own forms of pessimism about society in general – The Way We Live Now being one of the better known examples.  A critical lens is necessary equipment, whether one is writing essays or writing novels.

In seeking to preserve such a lens while moderating Carlyle’s extremism with an awareness of the frequently mixed nature of things, Trollope approaches a critical view closer to Hegel, one of Carlyle’s major influences.  Whereas Carlyle saw the kinds of greed, want and degeneration spawned by Bourgeois civil society as a sign of a coming end, Hegel saw civil society as a necessary component of modern societies, whose negative effects might be moderated but not destroyed.  The task of the critic or philosopher in this case must be to analyze as well as critique.  Instead of proclaiming an apocalyptic end, we have more to gain from closely examining and describing things as they are.

Things as they are, for both Trollope and Hegel, are a highly mixed affair.  For Trollope, this is perhaps most evident in the frequency with which something as private as a love affair quickly takes on public importance – having social, monetary and even legal and political ramifications.  For Hegel, we see this most clearly in the sphere of civil society, which stands between the private sphere of families and the public stage of the state.  In Civil society, by contrast, individuals pursue private ends in a public forum.

The pursuit of these private ends draws both individuals and the communities that connect individuals into conflict.  Hegel’s most well-known description of civil society is as a “battlefield of individual private interest, [a battlefield of] all against all.”  This formulation alludes to Thomas Hobbes’s characterization of the state of nature as a war of all against all, but we should note two key differences between the two.  First of all, civil society for Hegel is not a primitive state, like Hobbes’s hypothesized nature, but rather a state requiring prior social and political development.  The second difference has to do with the nature of the battles fought on these fields.  For Hobbes, the state of nature either enacted or constantly threatened physical violence.  Hegel certainly did not neglect actual violence – Marx’s assertion that class conflict was the violent motor of history is already present in a nascent form in Hegel’s philosophy.  But most of the combat that occurs in Hegel’s civil society is not actual physical combat, being battles of interests rather than battles of arms.  These battles could be fought over social or institutional standing, over political power, and over property and economic advantage.  They are less a matter of bare life than a matter of what one can lay claim to and be able to do within a larger social setting.

One of the things that puzzled me in first reading The Eustace Diamonds was the great preponderance of violent language and metaphor in a text in which virtually no physical violence occurs.  Although Trollope rarely focuses much on physical violence, we do see instances of it elsewhere in his novels – the duel between Phineas and Lord Chiltern in Phineas Finn or John Crumb’s pummeling of Felix Carbury in The Way We Live Now, for example.  Not to speak of some of the events in the later Palliser novels.  In The Eustace Diamonds, however, Trollope draws the reader’s attention to the exclusion of such violence from his narrative.

Upon learning that Lord Fawn intends to break off his engagement if she will not give up the diamonds, Lizzie Eustace rages against the Lord who would deprive her either of property (in the diamonds) or her social standing (as wife to a Lord).  Lizzie is full of violent invective, demanding that Lord Fawn be taken by the throat, and then that “he should be beaten within an inch of his life; – and if the inch were not there, I should not complain.”  Overcome by a desire for vengeance, Lizzie declares “I think I could almost do it myself” at the same time raising her hand “as though there were some weapon in it.”  Lizzie’s entranced state of imagined violence is broken by Frank’s reminding her in a matter of fact manner that that simply will not do.

“Let us understand each other, Lizzie. I will not fight him, – that is, with pistols; nor will I attempt to thrash him. It would be useless to argue whether public opinion is right or wrong; but public opinion is now so much opposed to that kind of thing, that it is out of the question. I should injure your position and destroy my own.”

Whatever Lizzie may imagine or desire, this appeal to interest and position is enough to return her to civil common sense.  Individual desires must be mediated by larger social arrangements, if we are to gain or hold anything at all.  As both Hegel and Frank know, however, this does not mean that we are to give up fighting.  Instead, the social arrangements of civil society predispose us to their own mediated forms of combat, in which position and property are to be won and lost.  Frank will not fight Fawn with pistols, but he is more than happy to engage in legal or political maneuvers to attack the Lord on Lizzie’s behalf.

Nor does all the combat in this novel directly involve Lizzie.  Lord Fawn is constantly seeking to flee a scrape, whether in matters political or nominally private.  Standing at the center of London Society, Lady Glencora usually has one or another campaign going – campaigns that usually meet with greater immediate success than her husband’s drive for decimal coinage.  Minor characters share in the figurative violence, Mrs. Carbuncle launching financial attacks on acquaintances great and small and Nina (one of the Fawn girls) ready to attack anyone who would slight her hypothesized lover.  Lucy stands somewhere between the consistently offensive Lady Glencora and the almost entirely defensive Lord Fawn.  Like Lord Fawn, her shield is frequently battered by those around her as she seeks to cling to her hope of marrying Frank.  This is a hope she has every personal right to, but which goes against both the desires of the family for whom she works and the usual course of society (Frank standing outside her own social sphere).  Unlike Lord Fawn, Lucy is usually able to hold her own in combat, fighting if necessary “down to the stumps of her nails” once she has a lover to fight for.

For Trollope as for Hegel, the fundamental social condition of all this combat is one of contingency.  Lucy does not and cannot know absolutely whether Frank will be true or not, as he is caught up in an unpredictable tide of events and is internally divided by competing interests.  Mrs. Carbuncle knows that ten pounds is ten pounds, but cannot know how many may be gained or lost at any given moment.  Lady Glencora stands in a relatively stable position by virtue of her wealth and political power, but neither governments nor fortunes are inherently stable things.  We may recall the fear Glencora experiences at Madame Max’s threatened marriage to the Duke in the Palliser novel immediately before The Eustace Diamonds.

One of Lord Fawn’s great mistakes is to imagine that the private sphere of marriage might provide an exit to the painful contingencies of political life as a poor Lord.  Lizzie quickly teaches him that the matrimonial game or battle has its own unforeseen dangers.  Once she has decided to take up the cudgels on Lizzie’s behalf, Lady Glencora further adds the lesson that supposedly private matters like marriage cannot be fully separated from matters social and political.  On being hounded by Glencora as to when the marriage is to come off, Lord Fawn gathers his courage and determines to rebuke the overly forward lady with a curt:

“My private affairs do seem to be uncommonly interesting,”

The completely unabashed Glencora responds:

“Why, yes, Lord Fawn, … most interesting. You see, dear Lady Eustace is so very popular, that we all want to know what is to be her fate.”

Glencora sees nothing wrong in her interest here – an interest justified explicitly by a common social interest in the affair and implicitly by her position at the heart of English social and political worlds.  There is also a nod to the reader here, as however we may feel about Lizzie, it is primarily her story we are following.

Lizzie is also, it must be admitted, a particularly well-suited driver of plot in the context of the kind of civil society that Hegel and Trollope describe.  As the narrative opens, Lizzie is characterized as being “clever, sharp, and greedy,” but having “no idea what her money would do, and what it would not.”  Far from hindering Lizzie, this lack of knowledge encourages her to test out her newly gained economic and social powers.  Even before her marriage, she was experimenting with what her anticipated match could get her by way of reclaiming lost property.  Lizzie may not have a full understanding of the tools of finance, but she has a strong intuitive grasp of credit, and is eager to see what her newfound position and wealth can do.  In this pursuit, Lizzie inhabits a variety of offensive and defensive postures in matters social, matrimonial and legal.  Lizzie is consistently incautious but adaptable, ready to adopt one stratagem after an earlier one has failed.  She is equally ready to maneuver out of combat, to turn and defend a sensitive point, or to pursue a weaker foe, as the situation calls for it.  She may venture a bold frontal assault one moment, and turn in frightened retreat the next.

This kind of adaptability renders her hard to catch for those who would hold seek to bind her or what she sees as her property by the rule of custom or law.  Mr. Camperdown begins his entreaty for what he considers the family jewels by increasingly urgent letters sent to the lady.  Lizzie, however, knows that technically one is not required to respond to a private letter, even from a family lawyer.  This is a kind of knowledge that might not even occur to one who had been bred and accustomed in the standard ways of life of a Eustace family member.  Once Camperdown confronts her in the street and demands the diamonds, however, Lizzie can assume the dignity and privileges of her station to protest his attempts to detain her.  Later in the novel, as the police come to investigate the missing diamonds, Lizzie continues to use what resources her position gives her to impede the law’s agents.  Trollope reports the frustration of detectives Bunfit and Gager thus:

“Had it been an affair simply of thieves, such as thieves ordinarily are, everything would have been discovered long since; – but when lords and ladies with titles come to be mixed up with such an affair, – folk in whose house a policeman can’t have his will at searching and brow-beating, – how is a detective to detect anything?”

Despite these hindrances, something of Lizzie’s dealings are eventually detected, and she is brought before a police court.  These are now called magistrates courts and, in more severe cases like the one here, are used to determine whether a case should go on to a higher court.  In her examination here, Lizzie is brought near fainting, but manages to escape to Scotland afterwards.  Fortified at Portray castle, Lizzie alleges sickness to prevent being called to the subsequent trial at the central criminal court.  While Lizzie does occasionally act in, in Trollope’s terms, a hysterical manner, we should not mistake this for one of those moments.  Instead, this feigned sickness is a calculated maneuver on Lizzie’s part, in which she has reckoned probable gains and losses.  She is also more familiar with legal dealings at this point in the novel, and is sure to obtain a certificate from a doctor confirming her illness.  The condition the certificate certifies may seem questionable to the attorneys and to us readers, but that is effectively irrelevant, so long as it does its work.  The dissatisfied attorneys send up a clerk, only to find Lizzie barricaded in her bedchamber and the doctor perfectly authorized to produce such a certificate.  On this latter point, Trollope seems to take part in the frustration of the attorneys, bemoaning the fact that: “There are certain statements which, though they are false as hell, must be treated as though they were true as gospel.”

These statements indicate a troubling fact about the kind of civil society that Trollope illustrated and lived in.  Such a society requires rules and procedures to regulate legal and social combat.  These rules are in place to limit physical violence, but also as a product of the internal logics of the systems from which they result from and which help to constitute.  Both structurally and practically, these rules cannot contain or account for all individual cases or persons that may fall under their purview.  Moreover, these rules themselves are contingent, being a product of ongoing historical development.  In this situation, statements and actions must be allowed to work – to count as true within an institution – whether or not they are true, good or desirable from an absolute perspective.

Mr. Camperdown’s character is defined in part by his incapacity to come to terms with this fact.  He knows that the diamonds belong to the family, and that Lizzie has stolen them – however incapable he is of officially proving this.  Camperdown makes use of all the engines of the law, sure that at some point the legal is must connect with a higher ought and the criminal will be caught.  Perpetually frustrated in this endeavor, he strikes out against her verbally, using whatever insults he has to hand and complaining “that she ought to be dragged up to London by cart ropes.”

The great legal expert of the novel, Mr. Dove, is given to no such violent exclamation.  From his seat of learning, Dove unwinds the grand traditions of the law and carefully sorts the case before him accordingly.  His habit is not to delve into combat, but to attempt to foreclose the possibility of combat through an apparently near-perfect understanding of the situation.  From this perspective, the chivalric institution of the heirloom cannot be applied to the quibbling of heirs over monetary property not covered in a will.  Mr. Camperdown cannot quite follow all of Dove’s poetic speech, recognizing within it “somewhat cloudy ideas of the beauty and the majesty of Law.”  This is not without good effect, for it helps to preserve Camperdown “from that worst of all diseases,- a low idea of humanity.”

Nevertheless, there is something slightly dishonest about Dove’s magisterial proceedings, as the law does of course concern itself with what Dove rejects as simple dirty questions of money.  Camperdown is at least honest about his motivations and desires.  Like Lizzie, his uncontrolled outbursts testify to the paramount importance of the matter before him – and the real value that a ten-thousand pound diamond necklace possesses.

Lizzie tells a great number of lies in seeking to realize the value of this necklace for herself.  A number of these lies come back to haunt her, but throughout the story she seems to come to a better sense of what lies can be made to pass and what lies cannot.  After an excellent performance by Lizzie at a questioning by Camperdown, John Eustace goes so far as to claim that “she is a very great woman, a very great woman; and, if the sex could have its rights, would make an excellent lawyer.”  The remark is half in jest – one has a hard time imagining Lizzie laboring over law books.  But it is also a genuine appreciation of a woman who has figured out a good deal of what statements can do and where legal limits lie.  When Lord Chiltern dismisses Lizzie by saying “all that I can hear of her is, that she has told a lot of lies and lost a necklace” he flattens out a story in which Lizzie has real social and economic gains and losses – and learns a good bit about laws and lies.

Despite her frequent recourse to lies, however, Lizzie is often honest about her desires – not the less through her actions and emotions than through her words.  These desires do sometimes come into conflict – her false threats to throw the diamonds into the sea belie her interest in them, but accurately reflect her desire to appear theatrical and to invoke a response in her audience (and also to have done with those who trouble her about them).  Ultimately though, Lizzie makes no bones about desiring status, desiring wealth and desiring a romanticized image of a lover, her frequently-invoked corsair.  The Byronic name she gives to this lover informs us of his literary and conventional status – but we should not on that account pretend that her desire is not real.  This desire drives and is realized in her actions, as surely as the desire for the diamonds drives the novel as a whole and many of the characters that inhabit it.

The Eustace Diamonds has a sort of double ending, wrapping up the events of the story in the penultimate chapter but reporting on them from the Palliser crowd at Matching in the final chapter.  In both of these conclusions, Trollope gestures towards the continuance of the story beyond the novel.  In the first, he uses a mixed tone to anticipate Lizzie’s fate, blending assertive wills with less definite mays.  The next chapter does not so much resolve this indefinite tone as present a variety of different viewpoints on the events that have transpired and only concluding with the Duke’s prediction that Lizzie hasn’t “a good time before her.”  Trollope both affirms and problematizes this assertion, saying “In this opinion of the Duke of Omnium, the readers of this story will perhaps agree.”  Reading in the later novels, we may well know that this is not a bad prediction, but I am momentarily more interested in the way Trollope uses this line to draw our attention to the act of reading.  The Duke has become engrossed in the story of Lizzie, and we can hear a note of desire in his anticipation – an eager sense that Lizzie may meet a fitting end for her hubris.

Like Lady Glencora, it is true that we all want to know what is to be Lizzie’s fate.  Our reading of the novel relies on this interest, on our continued constructions of anticipated rewards or punishments for this unheroic heroine.  Like the Duke, we become captivated by the alternate skill and brashness with which Lizzie plays her game.  We are told from the beginning of the story that she can play her game well, and her character seems crafted to test the boundaries of what may be done and gained within her society.  The narrative desire we come to feel for following Lizzie’s battles is constructed, but not the less real for that – much like Lizzie’s desire for her corsair.  Trollope encourages us to take part in these desires, but also to pause a moment and examine them.  The “perhaps” is incidental – of course we follow the Duke – but it is also a breath and half-moment for reflection.

And in that spirit of reflection, I want to conclude with a moment that Trollope’s narrator includes in the end of his story, but that gets lost with the crowd at Matching.  Lizzie has been engaged to Mr. Emilius and goes to tell her servant, Miss Macnulty, who was herself courted after some fashion by the reverend.  Macnulty is stunned.  In Trollope’s words, “she could not congratulate her successful rival, even though her bread depended on it. She crept slowly out of the room, and went up-stairs, and wept.”

The game of civil society and its combats major and minor are almost self-evidently entertaining when a figure like Lizzie Eustace is involved.  The stakes are high and the player has an attractive mix of skill and untutored desire, without too much moral luggage to hinder her (or prevent our enjoyment should she come to punishment).  It is less obvious that we should take an interest in a character like Macnulty, whose stakes are meager and desires prudent.  Who will not take a hundred guinea brooch to compromise herself, but is rewarded with no Frank nor even an Emilius.  She is a poor player to be sure, but she is no less subject to the game for that, and has had her own hopes and sufferings as Lizzie’s story has played out.

If we are to take Trollope’s project of descriptive realism seriously, then we must admit the need to look into civil societies past and present extensively, not limiting ourselves to a particular viewpoint within them.  After all, Trollope expects something of us that he does not expect of the Duke – that we should desire to hear of the struggles of Macnulty as well as the combats of Lizzie.

Andrew Lallier is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature in the Department of English studying Romantic and Victorian Literature at the University AndrewLlallierof Tennessee. He is currently working on a dissertation on generically experimental texts by Thomas De Quincey, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and George MacDonald.  His past publications on George Eliot and Anthony Trollope have appeared in the George Eliot Review, George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies, and The Fortnightly Review, New Series. Lallier was awarded the 2013 Graduate Trollope Prize for his paper “Battles over bits and diamonds: sanction, pragmatic pursuit and civil society in Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds.”