The Way We Live Now Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1874-1875, serial; 1875, book

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: February to August, 1873

Locale: London and Suffolk, England

Characters DiscussedLady Carbury

Lady Way We Live Now, TheCarbury, a aspiring writer trying to arrange favorable reviews for her book Criminal Queens. Since the death of her abusive husband, she has sought literary fame and friends for herself, but she also anguishes over the wasted life of her son Felix, the one human being to whom she is devoted. She also is irritated by her daughter Hetta’s insistence on making her own marriage choice. Lady Carbury finally has to accept Felix’s failure and Hetta’s romantic marriage to Paul Montague, as well as her own inadequacies as an author, but she finds happiness in a second marriage to Mr. Broune, an editor.

Sir Felix Carbury

Sir Felix Carbury, a dissolute young gentleman who enjoys a run of luck at gambling but reluctantly acquiesces to his mother’s urging that he pursue marriage with Marie Melmotte. With little effort, he gets Marie to fall in love with him, but he is able neither to impress Marie’s father into acceptance of their engagement nor to follow through on Marie’s plan that they elope. His luck at cards changes, and he loses so badly that his friends will no longer play with him. He is beaten by the fiancé of a working-class girl he tries to seduce, and he is forced to leave England and live quietly in Germany.

Hetta Carbury

Hetta Carbury, Lady Carbury’s daughter, who is wooed by Roger Carbury. Although she increasingly recognizes and admires his wisdom and probity and thinks she ought to be able to love him, she knows she prefers Paul Montague. Although their engagement is threatened when she learns about Paul’s relationship with Mrs. Hurtle, she forgives him and they marry.

Roger Carbury

Roger Carbury, a country gentleman who wants to marry his cousin Hetta but is unable to persuade her to accept him. Although Roger believes that Paul Montague’s relationship with Hetta is a betrayal of their friendship, he works to prevent Paul from a renewed entanglement with Mrs. Hurtle, whom Roger regards as a completely unsuitable match for an English gentleman. He finally becomes reconciled to Paul’s marriage to Hetta, and he promises to make their son his heir.

Paul Montague

Paul Montague, Roger’s friend and his rival for Hetta’s love. Paul had met and become engaged to Mrs. Hurtle during a trip from America, where he had worked for a while, back to England. Roger had persuaded him that Mrs. Hurtle’s reputedly wild past would make her an unsuitable wife, and Paul had ended the engagement. When Mrs. Hurtle appears again in London hoping to resume their relationship, Paul finds it impossible to stay away from her, even though he believes she is a dangerous woman, capable of violence, and he knows he loves Hetta Carbury. He manages to extricate himself both from his relationship with Mrs. Hurtle and from his involvement with Augustus Melmotte’s America-to-Mexico railroad scheme.

Winifred Hurtle

Winifred Hurtle, a beautiful American who had become engaged to Paul Montague and who believes her only hope for happiness is to renew their engagement. An independent, spirited woman, she has survived marriage to an abusive former husband and an episode in Oregon in which she found herself forced to shoot a man. Although she dreams of a safer life in England, she also scorns the rigid English code of propriety and regard for family origins that make Roger Carbury oppose Montague’s relationship with her.

Augustus Melmotte

Augustus Melmotte, an unscrupulous financier who is the talk of upper-class London for what people believe to be his fabulous success at making money. He knows his continued success depends on his ability to maintain this belief in his financial wizardry. Although English aristocrats are repelled by his uncouth arrogance, their need for money to support their own expensive modes of life makes them put their repulsion aside and vie for invitations to his parties. Melmotte aims to move more permanently into upper-class society by entering Parliament and marrying his daughter Marie to an aristocrat, but his ambition makes him take too many risks. When he is discovered to have forged signatures on several documents, he kills himself.

Marie Melmotte

Marie Melmotte, Augustus Melmotte’s daughter, whom he assumes he can use as an instrument of his ambition by marrying her to an English lord. Marie’s ignorant naïveté at first makes her passively willing to marry her father’s choice, Lord Nidderdale, but when she realizes Nidderdale is interested only in her money, she decides she wants to be valued for more than that. Unfortunately, her own romantic choice, Sir Felix Carbury, also is interested only in her money. When Marie is forced to accept this fact, she despairs of love and again agrees to marry Nidderdale, coming to appreciate his honesty about his feelings as he, in turn, has come to admire her spirit. After Augustus Melmotte’s financial collapse and death, Nidderdale withdraws his suit, and Marie decides to go to America with money her father had given her and she had refused to give back to him.

BibliographyBarickman, Richard, Susan MacDonald, and Myra Stark. Corrupt Relations: Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Collins and the Victorian Sexual System. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Explores the extent to which Trollope’s fiction, like that of some of his contemporaries, moves beyond the sexual stereotypes of the time to recognize the damage these stereotypes did to the lives of women and men.Gilmour, Robin. The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel. Winchester, Mass.: Allen & Unwin, 1981. Sets Trollope’s gentlemanly ideal in its historical context.Harvey, Geoffrey. The Art of Anthony Trollope. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. Thoughtful discussion of The Way We Live Now, praising Trollope’s combination of “an absolutist moral stance and a high degree of moral relativism.”Levine, George. The Realistic Imagination: English Fiction from Frankenstein to Lady Chatterly. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. The best discussion of Trollope’s modes of representation, emphasizing the dependence of Trollope’s realism on “an almost cynical acceptance of the necessity for arbitrary and traditional rules.”MacDonald, Susan Peck. Anthony Trollope. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Excellent introduction to the complexities of Trollope’s fiction; includes an annotated bibliography.
Categories: Characters