Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope

As those of you who have visited this blog before know, I recently decided to set a goal for myself: starting on 1/1/11, I'll start reading all those classic books I should have read already--from Gilgamesh and Homer's epics to Joyce and Proust.  In order to keep myself on track with this project and also to give me a place to write about my experiences with the books, I set up this blog.

It did not occur to me that other people might be blogging about their reading.  But I was extremely pleased to discover the rich world of book bloggers--many of whom are interested in reading classic literature.  I was especially thrilled to learn about The Classics Circuit, a monthly extravaganza of literary celebration.  Readers from around the blogosphere write about a book by a particular author, in a particular genre, from a literary time period, etc. then share their ideas or responses over the course of a week or more.

This month's Classics Circuit is devoted to Anthony Trollope, an incredibly productive Victorian author.  Make sure you check out the amazing lineup of posts.  Your to-be-read pile might be expanding considerably...

Rachel Ray (Oxford World's Classics)For "Trollopolooza" (as Dwight calls it), I read one of Trollope's lesser known books, Rachel Ray.  Although this novel is not as widely read as some of his other books, it is a wonderful place to start.  The book shows off the author's strengths, is shorter than Trollope's average tome, and is quite accessible.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have found myself thinking about it quite a bit since I finished.

I should warn you of a couple of weaknesses.  First, there really is no plot.  Girl meets Boy and they fall in love.  Everybody thinks Boy will be dishonorable and leave Girl.  He doesn't, and the two get married.  Yep--that really is pretty much it--and you know it from the beginning.

The second thing you should be aware of if you are new to the Victorians is that Trollope reflects many of the assumptions and prejudices of his time.  Sometimes his portrayals of gender or race can be kind of off-putting.  (For the way this issue plays out in a different novel, check out Falaise's discussion.)

Another problem is that Rachel Ray herself is kind of a sap.  Unlike those fascinating young women of Victorian literature like Jane Eyre or Dorothea Brooke, Rachel doesn't seem to have much of a spine or intellect of her own.

While Rachel may seem boring to the modern reader, Trollope's other characters do not.  The author's strongest suit is his painting of marvelous portraits.  Some seem almost like caricatures, but they have just enough depth to them to make them real.  They are also complex: not simply good or bad, but instead both sympathetic at moments and irritating at others.  We wind up loving them warts and all, as if they were members of our own families.

Rachel's mother is one of those women "who cannot grow alone as standard trees" and instead "in their growth will bend and incline themselves toward some prop for their life."  She is warm and loving, but easily persuaded by others.  Her elder daughter, the widowed Mrs. Prime, is fierce and sharp--like her Calvinist friends Mr. Prong and Miss Pucker with their greedy distasteful lives.  Even their names show their personalities!  The family clergyman is Reverend Comfort--another perfect name--who wants to do what is right but sometimes leads his flock astray.  Rachel's love interest, Luke Rowan, is an outsider to the community, eager to exert his right to a place in the local brewery--run by a man with the perfect brewer's name, Mr. Tappitt.

In addition to the character portraits and the author's wit, other reasons to read Rachel Ray are for its fascinating discussions of complicated and changing webs of authority.  How Rachel chooses to submit to Luke, to her mother, and to her sister is clearly a major plot line, but issues of power and respect appear everywhere: between young and old, between men and women, between high church and Evangelists, between Jews and Protestants, between between workers and employers.

Trollope was focusing on these questions of authority at exactly a moment in history when the English-speaking world seems to be turning upside down.  Charles Darwin had just published The Origin of Species, the United States was becoming embroiled in the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution and mass production was reshaping the meanings of everything from labor to wealth, and the British Empire was coming to its peak.  Suddenly, traditional interpretations of power and control were thrown to the wind.  People found themselves at odds about how to go forward.  Questions filled every relationship in this changing world.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the novel has more to do with its production than with the book itself.  Trollope was originally hired by Good Words, an Evangelical magazine, to write a novel for serialization in its pages.  When the editor saw what Trollope was producing--a book that absolutely skewered Evangelists as people who cared more for money than love--people with "no warmth and little life" as the introduction to the Oxford World Classics edition says--he told Trollope that the pages of his Evangelical paper were perhaps not the right place for invective against Evangelists.  Surely Trollope did not think he would get away it--but as it turned out, several chapters were set in type before Good Words pulled the novel.

*  *  *

Just for a little fair-play turnabout,
here is a recipe for  
Trolloped Potatoes
a slightly altered version of
Rachel Ray's Scalloped Potatoes:


2 cups milk
1 cup broth (chicken or veggie) or water
1 cup brown ale (preferably from an English brewery)
4 cloves garlic
3 pounds potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick (peeled--or unpeeled for a more rustic look)
3 ounces of your favorite sharp English cheese, coarsely grated (about 3/4 cup)
Pinch cayenne pepper
Black pepper
1 cup heavy cream plus 2 tablespoons of spicy English mustard


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large saucepan, combine milk and broth with garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to prevent the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the beer and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until the potatoes are tender but still slightly firm, about 8 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer half the potatoes to a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish.  Arrange the potatoes in an even layer.

Sprinkle with half the cheese and the cayenne.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Repeat with the remaining potatoes and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Whisk together the heavy cream and mustard, then pour the mixture evenly over the top. Bake the scalloped potatoes until golden and crisp on top, 40 to 45 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy--with a good book.


  1. LOL to the Rachel Ray recipe!

    I'm on the fence about how high Trollope should rise in my Victorian TBR; I think Gaskell and (more) Collins remain above him. Still, I like what you and others are saying about his ability to present characters who are flawed but ultimately sympathetic. And it's good to know that not every novel he wrote is 950 pages! :-)

  2. NOTE: Unfortunately, some of the comments to this post were lost when I uninstalled IntenseDebates. My very sincere apologies.

    I have tried to put the old comments back in by hand. Please forgive me if I have made any mistakes in doing so.

  3. I haven't read this one, but I'm always happy to find out about another Trollope novel that isn't part of one of his larger series. I agree with you that his characterizations are one of his greatest strengths--and sometimes his secondary characters are more interesting than the central ones.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, particularly the part relating Trollope to events in the outside world. I am not sure that Rachel Ray is necessarily the one for me but I am inspired by the whole Trollope Tour to read more of his novels in the New Year.

  5. I love that you included a recipe!! :)

    I've yet to read Trollope and I was too busy this month to take part in the tour. Ah well. Hopefully one day I'll get to him, though probably not this book.

  6. Emily: I still have not read any Collins but plan to remedy that soon. I like the Gaskell I have read, but I haven't read a lot of her yet either. I'm looking forward to reading more.

    Teresa: I hope you enjoy Rachel Ray if you get a chance to read it. With this book (and it sounds like with most Trollope), I kept thinking about who I would cast in each role if I were making a film version of the novel. (I'm imagining Shirley Henderson as Mrs. Prime.)

    Falaise: Thank you for stopping by! I really did enjoy Rachel Ray very much, but I do see that it is one of Trollope's lesser novels for a reason. Nevertheless, the charm and wit of his characterizations makes me want to read more.

    Amanda: Although Rachel Ray works fine as a first Trollope read, I've heard that The Warden is better. I think I'll have to read that one (and its follow-up novels) soon.

  7. LOL, a book review and a recipe to match.

    Loved the review, will have to give the recipe to my wife.

  8. Man: Yep, with a book title like Rachel Ray, how could I not talk about food?

  9. I really lucked out in picking a Trollope that featured a heroine with a mind of her own! I wouldn't have been surprised if that hadn't been the case, though, and Rachel Ray still sounds worth reading for the other characters. I want to read more of his work in the future, but I must say I'm with Emily: I'd pick Gaskell and Collins over him any day :P

  10. Nymeth: It is absolutely worth reading! _RR_ is a charming book, despite its flaws. Even Rachel herself is more interesting than my post may imply. Over the course of the book, the reader can watch her start making judgements for herself. Sometimes it feels as if her will is just moving from her parent to her future spouse--but I think it is a bit more.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  11. I have just started Trollope's Cousin Henry- I find his prose style very relaxing somehow-and I admit I was happy to find a book under 300 pages to read for the circuit-I thought your inclusion of a recipe was a great idea!

  12. Yes, Mel! Relaxing is exactly what it is. There was something so personal and chatty, so real. Felt like my great aunt was telling me a story.

  13. I'm in the middle of my first Trollope (my post goes up next week) and I am amazed by how accessible he is. I love the use of language in his novel.

    This certainly sounds like a novel I would enjoy, and I already know I am going to be reading more of him in the future.

    And part of me is relieved to know that my hatred of Dickens most certainly does not mean that I hate all Victorians...which I kind of knew already since I have mad love for Eliot, Gaskell, and a few others.

    I love the Rachel Ray recipe (I actually have that recipe in my recipe box).

  14. Thanks for stopping by my blog--it gave me a chance to discover yours! I'm ashamed to say that I've never read any Trollope. But the plan is definitely to remedy that in the coming year.

  15. Allie: You have the original Ray recipe in your box? How cool!

    I'm so glad to hear you got past the Dickens barrier to some of the other great writers of the period! Victorian literature is probably the only pre-20th cent literature I know much about, and I do love it so! While I concentrate on US history from the time, some of the issues are parallel. Knowing a little bit about the background makes the novels so much more accessible and appealing for me.

    Lisa: Thanks for dropping by. I hope you enjoy Trollope. Can't wait to read about your experiences with his work!

  16. Trollope is definitely prolific, and I was starting to think he had no non-series books. This sounds interesting in that I like good portraits and I like moral dilemmas.

    Loved the nod to our Rachel Ray...was wondering if you would make it :)

  17. Jane: _Rachel Ray_ is a nice introduction to Trollope. I'd love to hear what you think!

    And yes, I do plan to make the Trolloped Potatoes sometime soon--although I might substitute broth for the beer. Allie above says she makes the other Rachel Ray's original recipe. (If you're reading, Allie, let us know how it is!)

  18. I love that you included the recipe -- I can't help thinking about her when I see this book!

    My first Trollope was actually one of his longest, The Way We Live Now. I was rather daunted by the length (about 800 pages) but it was so easy to read, I could hardly put it down. I highly recommended it -- it's about a huge financial scandal and is extremely timely. It's considered by many to be one of his finest works.

  19. I have this to read in the new year and am looking forward to it. What I've found with Trollope so far is that sometimes not much happens at all, but it doesn't happen in such an interesting way, and I've fallen in love with the complexity of his characters, especially the supporting cast. Hope you find much more Trollope to love.

  20. I love that you included a recipe, the moment I saw the title, that's what flashed through my mind.

    I find Anthony Trollope soothing but less demanding then Henry James. I've never warmed up to Elizabeth Gaskell's novels but I do love Dickens and Dumas. Pulp fiction all the way, I suppose.

  21. KarenL: Sounds fantastic. I've been a bit intimidated by that particular title but love your description.

    DespReader: Hope you enjoy Rachel Ray as much as I did. You're absolutely right that not much happends, but in such interesting ways!

    Carrie#K: I haven't read any Dumas and am thrilled to hear you like him. Do you have a favorite to recommend?

  22. could that be bad?

  23. Love this post!!! And let me just say "ditto" to Caite's comment.

    I used IntenseDebate for a bout 3 weeks. I'm so glad I got rid of it. Nothing but trouble for me.

  24. Caite and Beth F: Ha! I am totally with you that cream, beer, and cheese is a combo that can't be beat.

  25. LOL! Brown ale in a potato recipe.

    I'll have to check this book out!

  26. I LOVE the turnabout and recipe included!

    I am surprised that Rachel in this book is spineless, as the two books I read were full of strong women.

  27. Ellie: Hope you enjoy the book!

    Rebecca: I've enjoyed the Circuit posts so much, especially the ones talking about Trollope's strong women. I am looking forward to reading one of them. Such an interesting writer.

  28. wow really nice informations thank you man I have bookmarked your blog it is very informative blog.

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