Purple Facial Hair

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope is weighty tome, getting on for 1000 pages, but is mostly an easy read – lots of characters living their lives, all interesting folk and many of whom are deeply morally ambiguous, against a backdrop of political satire and a biting response to the recent financial scandals. Some of it has aged rather well and is certainly relevant to modern day politics.

A warning though: while it is mostly an easy read, there are a couple of aspects of the plot which I didn’t expect and which made me deeply uncomfortable. I suspect that’s what Trollope intended and is no way a criticism of the book, but it’s worth being aware that there are a number of references to domestic violence. The violent fathers and husbands are portrayed very unfavourably, but it does seem to be considered very normal.

And the anti-Semitism. Wow.

There’s a Christian woman (Miss Longestaffe) who accepts a marriage proposal from a Jewish man (Mr Brehgert), and the reaction from her family is utterly horrific. I think Trollope is on Mr Brehgert’s side, as his life turns out much better than that of any of the Longestaffes, but no one actually calls them out in the book.

The initial description of Mr Brehgert isn’t especially flattering:

He was a fat, greasy man, good-looking in a certain degree, about fifty, with hair dyed black, and beard and moustache dyed a dark purple colour. The charm of his face consisted in a pair of very bright black eyes, which were, however, set too near together in his face for the general delight of Christians. He was stout;—fat all over rather than corpulent,—and had that look of command in his face which has become common to master-butchers, probably by long intercourse with sheep and oxen.

Yeah I know, there’s a lot to unpack there. I mean, if you’re going to object to the marriage, there are a number of things there that you could use rather than his religious beliefs. He’s over two decades older than Miss Longstaffe, is a widower with half a dozen teenage children (I appreciate that bit isn’t mentioned in the quote but is worth mentioning, I think), and he dyes his facial hair purple.

What? Just… what? Was that in any way normal in Victorian society? Was is intended to show him as a dandy, as vain and shallow? Or as someone who was visibly different to the majority of people? Any ideas?

This is the first book by Trollope that I’ve read and it’s great, I’m only sorry that it’s taken me to long to get started. I feel I should thank The Classics Club and the idea of the lucky spin as without it, I probably wouldn’t have read this. I’ll admit I considered cheating when this came up – it is a massive book and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it by the end of May – but I’m very glad I stuck with it. And I will read more Trollope! You have all been warned!

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7 thoughts on “Purple Facial Hair

  1. You’ve reminded me that Trollope is a rewarding read. I last read him when I was far less aware of the kind of issues he clearly touches on here, so it’s obviously going to be more than ‘just a novel’, when I finally pluck up the courage to tackle a book with 1000 pages.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have, I think, the full set of Trollope books on my Kindle but interrupted myself from reading the first one. (I will get back to it eventually.) This was interesting. I don’t know what to make of the purple facial hair.

    Liked by 1 person

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