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Trollope plays with character names

February 4, 2012 19 comments

Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope. 1865.

I already wrote the main piece about Miss Mackenzie but I’d like to pay a tribute to Trollope’s sense of humour when it comes to character names. In Proust, names have a special place in the Narrator’s mind. He fantasizes about the Guermantes names, he explores etymology of places. It’s part of his imagination, his way to decipher the essence and the history of the Guermantes.

Nothing so romantic or intellectual in Trollope. I started to pay attention to characters names when I first encountered Mr Frigidy and Mr Startup at Mr Stumfold’s tea party. Remember, Mr Stumfold is the evangelist clergyman that Miss Mackenzie meets in Littlebath. Mr Frigidy and Mr Startup are his disciples. Can you imagine a funnier name than Frigidy for a Calvinist clergyman? The name in itself bears the image of a dark tooth-pick man dressed in black, with no sense of humour and who considers that dancing and playing cards are devilish.

He [Mr Frigidy] was a good young man, at peace with all the world—except Mr Startup. With Mr Startup the veracious chronicler does not dare to assert that Mr Frigidy was at peace.

And Mr Startup! I imagined him in the wilderness in the colonies trying to settle a Christian community among natives, certain to bring Truth to poor people living in sin.

Startup, though he was younger than Frigidy, could talk to seven ladies at once with ease, but Frigidy could not talk to one without much assistance from that lady herself.

I had a feeling of Thomson and Thompson (Dupont and Dupond for French readers) about these two ones, and their choice of names made me laugh.

Their names are connected to their profession. In the same spirit, Tom Mackenzie works in the oilcloth industry and thus his associate is conveniently named Mr Rubb, mid-way between rub and rubber. And doesn’t Mr Rubb thoroughly tell rubbish to Miss Mackenzie to get her money? Doesn’t he mentally rub her feelings to have her on his side?

On another tone, the attorney who’s in charge of the Mackenzies’ legal affairs is named Mr Slow and Trollope describes him as follow:

He was a stout, thickset man, very leisurely in all his motions, who walked slowly, talked slowly, read slowly, wrote slowly, and thought slowly; but who, nevertheless, had the reputation of doing a great deal of business, and doing it very well. He had a partner in the business, almost as old as himself, named Bideawhile; and they who knew them both used to speculate which of the two was the most leisurely. It was, however, generally felt that, though Mr Slow was the slowest in his speech, Mr Bideawhile was the longest in getting anything said.

According to Daniel Pool’s book, justice was rather slow in the Victorian era. Shall we see a little attack at the institution through the name of that lawyer? In any case, the description of the attorney’s office is appalling; I doubt anyone would have considered being a lawyer under these conditions.

In addition to the clergymen and the attorney, the doctor’s called Mr Slumpy, the haughty butler at the Tom Mackenzie’s is purposely named Grandairs. A rather stupid old lady with her oh-so-English reply I’m sure I don’t know’ answers the sweet name of Mrs Fuzzybell. The goodhearted but rather nosy and vulgar lodger in London is a Mrs Buggins. Unsurprisinggly, she gets on Miss Mackenzie’s nerves.

I’m sure I missed some and I didn’t catch all the innuendos. I wonder if there are footnotes in the French translation or if the names have been translated. It spiced my reading, enforcing the idea of the writer as a playful narrator. I want to hear more of Mr Trollope’s literary voice.

PS: For other Trollope readers, Lady Glencora Palliser makes an appearance in the end of the novel, like a guest star in a sitcom.

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