Volume 12, Issue 2 (June 2014) : 287-310|
Love as Tact between Matthew Arnold and Anthony Trollope
Frederik Van Dam
Rubric A: Literature and Theories of Love
Rubric B: The English Novel
This article argues that the representation of love in Anthony Trollope’s Marion Fay (1882) is informed by the conceptualization of tact in Matthew Arnold’s essays. According to David Russell, Arnold conceives of tact as a certain reserve that allows one to find a middle ground between conflicting opinions. Tact thus differs from fixed rules of interpretation such as those of physiognomy or etiquette, since these produce distance rather than proximity. Trollope satirizes such fixed rules by means of his novel’s setting in the suburbs. Conversely, his depiction of love serves to promote a sociability that is intimate, even tactile. Touching plays a crucial role in the recognition of love: it forges an unconscious connection. Trollope highlights this motif by contrasting tact with the taboo and the sublime. This contrast reveals that whereas the taboo and the sublime are structurally dependent on inequality, love can only exist on the basis of equality. This sets up a relation that is always in danger of tipping over into possessiveness and that, as such, must leave lovers dissatisfied. Trollope’s thematic exploration of love as tact is mirrored in the novel’s style: Marion Fay achieves a measure of reserve by framing love within moments that abruptly descend from the exalted to the banal.