Sunday, 13 March 2016

A horrid, big, rich scoundrel


"Money: It buys you everything, even a seat in Parliament. It makes you what you are. It is all that matters." Melmotte, the financier, in The Way We Live Now

“A miserable imposition, a hollow, vulgar fraud from beginning to end,—too insignificant for you and me to talk of, were it not that his position is a sign of the degeneracy of the age. What are we coming to when such as he is an honoured guest at our tables?” Sir
Roger Carbury on Melmotte. 

Melmotte, Trollope wrote, is a "horrid, big, rich scoundrel… a bloated swindler… a vile city ruffian".

A Facebook friend who's a BBC journalist posted the above on his wall and asked 
Bring anyone to mind? 
Actually, a certain American gentleman is not a swindler, as far as I know, nor a fraud - though not quite what he appears to be, but which of us is, least of all political candidates? I cannot make up my mind about him. Like a diamond he has many facets and looks different in different lights. In many he looks very bad and vulgar yes, very. It's odd how republics dislike vulgarity, but monarchy and respect for hierarchy are hardwired into the human brain, like belief in a Creator.

Living in Romania I am used to fraudsters and scoundrels buying seats in Parliament and buying political parties. Buying seats in England was normal when Trollope wrote in both political parties. Conservative seats were bought until 1948 by candidates rich enough to pay the whole expense of a campaign. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe's reform of the way candidates were selected brought this to an end. (Someone once wrote: 'Of all the terrors in this life/The worst is David Maxwell Fyfe', but that had nothing to do with his reform of Tory candidate selection procedures.)

The Way We Live Now, by the way, is a novel I could not get through. I read between thirty and forty Trollope novels in my teens and I hold to the very old-fashioned view that the Barchester Chronicles are much better than the rest. Of the others, I liked best Ralph the Heir, The Vicar of Bullhampton and John Caldigate. Ralph the Heir is interesting for its vivid account of a corrupt parliamentary election which is based on Trollope's own experience of standing for election and failing to get into the House.

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