Anthony Trollope is unusually concerned with numbers: consider both the famous obsession with productivity and the figures that organize his serial fictions, what Mary Hamer has called his “writing by numbers.” Yet while such numerals control his narrative flow, forming the remarkable torrents of his romans fleuve, this essay focuses on ones that appear as such within his novels: those used to designate his characters’ ages. Age has long been recognized as a central Trollopian concern, but exploring formally Trollope’s habitual use of age-related integers reveals Trollope’s practice of counting the years to be another kind of “writing by numbers.” “X was now Y years of age” is a favorite locution, and all Trollope’s novels measure the gap between adjacent nows by watching characters grow older. Trollope’s now is thus crucially a sign of age, dependent upon its adjacent number for its force, coloring it and alerting us to its relationship with other numbers as with previous and future selves. This now should be distinguished both from what Mikhail Bakhtin calls the novel’s foundation in “maximal contact with the present” and from Jonathan Culler’s lyric “now.” Instead, it is a paradoxically durational present—a special generic marker of the roman fleuve. Trollope’s figures thus bear heavily on his form of plotting. Narrative generally depends on keeping track of numbers, but not all genres of narrative count in the same ways. Trollope’s age-related numbers show what happens when plot is not only subordinated to but also embodied in character.
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Stefanie Markovits; But Who’s Counting? Plotting Age in Trollope. Genre 1 July 2020; 53 (2): 111–134. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-8562656
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