Trollope’s story of a marriage and a life destroyed by the jealousy of a husband could have been a vivid portrayal of how delicately married life can be balanced. Instead, Trollope watered down a potentially powerful narrative with sub-plots and minor characters that only serve to underline Trollope’s trademark verbosity.
When Louis Trevelyan suspects his wife Emily of emotional adultery with Colonel Osbourne, an old family friend, the situation quickly gets out of hand. Louis’ lack of trust is met with Emily’s equal lack of humility. Despite there being nothing untoward in the initial exchanges, she undermines her position by going against her husband’s wishes and meeting Osbourne behind Louis’ back. Each spouse, when given the opportunity to pour water on the flames, decides instead to pour aviation fuel. The resulting conflagration not only costs them their marital harmony, it drives one of them out of their mind.
Trollope could have developed so much around this storyline. There’s the change in contemporary attitudes towards the role of women in marriage in Victorian England, there are the timeless issues faced by married couples from every era of humanity, there are great themes of jealousy, neglect, humility and of choosing others over yourself. All of these he deals with, but without plumbing the depths of any of them.
Instead, we’re whisked away to watch minor characters spar with each other and decide whether or not they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between their commitment to lifelong matrimony and the rapidly unravelling Trevelyan household. It’s as if no one else realises how likely they too could find themselves in the mire of marital misunderstanding. Again, I feel Trollope missed an opportunity here.
So, while I welcome this rare glimpse into the reality of a disintegrating marriage in Victorian literature, Trollope has done no one any favours by distracting from what could have been an important novel.