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Literature / The Way We Live Now

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The Way We Live Now is a novel by Anthony Trollope. It was made into a BBC miniseries in 2001.

In true Victorian style, this novel is a Door Stopper with many separate plotlines intersecting. The main element that ties them all together is Augustus Melmotte, a con man who bulldozes his way into London society by sheer force of personality and the promise of riches for everyone. Among the countless people who pin their hopes on his fictitious railway company are Paul Montague, an idealistic engineer trying to escape his possessive fiancee; Sir Felix Carbury, a spendthrift baronet hoping to restore his family's fortune by marrying Melmotte's daughter Marie; and Mr. Brehgert, a widowed Jewish banker who falls in love with snobbish spinster Georgiana Longestaffe. Love, ambition, greed and jealousy collide as the characters navigate the treacherous landscape of nineteenth-century English society, proving that "the way we live now" was not so different from the way they lived then.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: The Melmottes.
  • Arranged Marriage: Mr. Melmotte tries to set up Marie with Lord Nidderdale. Thanks to her inherited stubbornness, he fails.
  • Betty and Veronica: Paul Montague is caught between the aggressive Mrs. Hurtle and the innocent Hetta Carbury; farm girl Ruby Ruggles deserts her stolid fiance, John Crumb the miller, for the dashing Sir Felix.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Mrs. Hurtle refuses to release Paul from their engagement and threatens to sue and/or kill him, unless he breaks it off with Hetta and marries her. Truth in Television, since an engagement was legally binding on the man at this time in England.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Georgiana and Marie.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: John Crumb for Ruby; Sir Roger Carbury for Hetta (although the fact that he's middle-aged, her cousin, and her lifelong mentor makes this ever so slightly creepy to a modern reader).
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  • Doting Parent: Lady Carbury to her son Felix.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mr. Melmotte drinks poison to escape the consequences of his failed schemes.
  • Eagleland: The two American characters in the novel, Paul's fiancee Mrs. Hurtle and his business partner Mr. Fisker, are both portrayed as charming, but immoral. Although in the book at least Mrs. Hurtle is genuinely altruistic towards Mrs Pipkin and Ruby, and does nothing more immoral to Paul Montague than turn up in London and manipulate him into taking her on a few outings in hope he would fall in love with her again. Oh, and go off with a professed scammer.
  • First-Name Basis: Mr. Melmotte insists on this with all his aristocratic party guests, much to their annoyance.
  • Gold Digger: Marie's suitors, including Felix, are actively encouraged by their parents to be this.
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  • Hooked Up Afterwards: Marie and Fisker; Georgiana and a random clergyman.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Lady Carbury and her children.
  • The Jeeves: Mr. Melmotte's assistant Croll.
  • Kissing Cousins: Roger wants to be this with Hetta, but she refuses.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: Hetta versus Mrs. Hurtle.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Roger/Hetta/Paul/Mrs. Hurtle; John/Ruby/Felix/Marie.
  • Meaningful Name: Sir Damask Monogram; John Crumb; Sir Felix (Latin for "lucky"); a banker named Goldsheiner; Mrs. Hurtle.
  • Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: Georgiana breaks up with Mr. Brehgert when she finds out that, because of his bank's bad investment with Melmotte, she will have to - temporarily - move in with his Jewish children by a previous marriage, which she is unable to endure.
  • Missing Mom: Marie's birth mother disappeared under unknown circumstances. The present Mrs. Melmotte is her stepmother.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Like Charles Dickens' Mr. Merdle, Melmotte is partly based on con artist John Sadleir.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Mr. Melmotte, especially when trying to be persuasive.
  • Parental Abuse: Mr. Melmotte, Ruby's grandfather, and possibly Felix and Hetta's late father are guilty of this.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Mr. Melmotte declares that he will cut Marie off without a penny if she marries Felix. Lady Carbury forbids Hetta from marrying Paul.
  • Ponzi: Mr. Melmotte's railway scheme. Oddly, this is never explicitly shown to be a terrible thing.
  • Rape Portrayed as Redemption: When a heartbroken Ruby runs away after finding out that Felix never meant to marry her, he drags her down a dark alley and pins her to the wall. John Crumb rescues her and beats the stuffing out of Felix, prompting her to give up her social climbing dreams and settle down into her "proper place".
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Paul exposes Melmotte's fraud to the public even though, as a member of the Board, he is among those who stand to benefit the most. As for Hetta, she refuses to marry Roger even though his country estate could save her and her mother from poverty.
    • Georgiana is a negative example: her deeply rooted Anti-Semitism forces her to refuse Mr. Brehgert, who is not only wealthy and kind-hearted, but possibly her last chance at marriage.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Mr. Melmotte, Sir Felix and the Longestaffes live by this rule, believing that their privilege raises them above the necessity of paying their debts.
  • Stereotype Flip: The Jewish Mr. Brehgert, one of the novel's very few honorable men.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: The book follows different characters in turn, telling us what they are doing and thinking. Even when we're following the truly dislikeable ones, Sir Felix and Mr. Melmotte, the reader may temporarily find themself wishing the character's scheme of the moment might succeed.
  • The Stoic: Mr. Brehgert weathers the prejudice of his Gentile peers with patience and wisdom, even when one of them breaks his heart - more in the TV series than in the book, where it is heavily implied that he was a little relieved to be out of the engagement with his honour intact.
  • Tsundere: Marie is as fierce and stubborn in arguing with her father as she is sweet and affectionate to Felix.
  • The Unfavorite: Hetta, which may have contributed to her being less self-centered than her brother.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Dolly Longestaffe.
  • Weddings for Everyone: Six marriages in the last fifty-odd pages.
  • Wife Husbandry: Roger has dreamed of marrying Hetta "all his life", which implies that she must have been very young when he started.


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