I am reading Orley Farm, one of Anthony Trollope’s less well-known novels. One of his topics is male infidelity, or at least the pursuit of what he calls “strange goddesses.” He explains the situation from the point of view of each of the characters, which is interesting in itself: a middle-aged Victorian writer imagining the experience of a long-suffering wife. What I really appreciate is the way he conveys some of this in homely examples. Here’s one:

In the course of the evening the footman in livery brought in tea, handing it round on a big silver salver, which also added to Mrs. Furnival’s unhappiness. She would have liked to sit behind her tea-tray as she used to do in the good old hard-working days, with a small pile of buttered toast on the slop-bowl, kept warm by hot water below. In those dear old hard-working days, buttered toast had been a much-loved delicacy with Furnival; and she, kind woman, had never begrudged her eyes, as she sat making it for him over the parlour fire. Nor would she have begrudged them now, neither her eyes nor the work of her hands, nor all the thoughts of her heart, if he would have consented to accept of her handiwork; but in t hese days Mr. Furnival had learned a relish for other delicacies.

She also had liked buttered toast, always, however, taking the pieces with the upper crust, in order that the more luscious morsels might be left for him; and she had liked to prepare her own tea leisurely, putting in slowly the sugar and cream–skimmed milk it had used to be, dropped for herself with a sparing hand, in order that his large breakfast-cup might be whitened to his liking; but though the milk had been skimmed and scanty, and though the tea itself had been put in with a sparing hand, she had then been mistress of the occasion. She had had her own way, and in stinting herself had found her own reward. But now–the tea had no flavour now that it was made in the kitchen and brought to her, cold and vapid, by a man in livery whom she half feared to keep waiting while she ministered to her own wants.

Or was this based on what his wife told him about her life, after he became successful ,and perhaps during what’s been called his “infatuation” with a young US journalist, Kate Field?

karen christensen's corona typewriter on t s eliot's desk

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