Anthony Trollope's infamous obsession with composing novels in as efficient a manner as possible founders on the rhetorical excess of the metaphors he employs to signify utility: shoes and shoe making. Like the ornate metaphors for utility that illustrate and obstruct Trollope's theory of novel production, the girl propels his novels through their marriage plot but can also clog this narrative by failing to form a pair. Despite Trollope's distaste for his popular heroine, Lily Dale, this girl—who buys herself a pair of shoes rather than pairing herself in marriage—may be Trollope's most fitting author surrogate because she exemplifies the uselessness that cannot be extricated from his notion of utility. Her appropriation of his favorite metaphor for utility also offers a way to read his shoe fetish as concealing a fetishistic relation to language in which rhetoric becomes a fetish that disavows the disarticulating force of rhetoric itself. Linking Trollope's autobiography and novels to discourses on shoes and utility by Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger, this essay draws out the compatibility of uselessness and value that Trollope performs even while explicitly championing utilitarian value. All three writers correlate utility and gender, but it is in Trollope's works that we most clearly see the girl emerging as the absolute figure of uselessness. A Victorian cultural fetish, the girl embodies the wealth of human sentiment but also marks the place where sentimentalized subjectivity appears the flimsiest cover for the abject incapacity into which Trollope fears any subject can slide.
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Lauren Byler; If the Shoe Fits … Trollope and the Girl. Novel 1 August 2009; 42 (2): 268–277. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-2009-014
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