Nina Balatka by Anthony Trollope


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Page 1

But _Nina Balatka_ is different from Trollope's previous novels in four
respects. First, Trollope was accustomed to include in his novels his
own witty editorial comments about various subjects, often paragraphs or
even several pages long. No such comments are found in _Nina_. Second,
the story is set in Prague instead of the British isles. Third, the
hero and heroine are already in love and engaged to one another at
the opening; we are not told any details about their falling in love.
The hero, Anton Trendellsohn is a successful businessman in his mid-
thirties--not the typical Trollopian hero in his early twenties, still
finding himself, and besotted with love. Anton is rather cold as lovers
go, seldom whispering words of endearment to Nina. But it is the fourth
difference which really sets this novel apart and makes it both a
masterpiece and an enigma. That fourth--and most important--difference
is clearly stated in the remarkable opening sentence of the novel:

Nina Balatka was a maiden of Prague, born of Christian parents,
and herself a Christian--but she loved a Jew; and this is her
story.

Marriage--even worse, love--between a Christian and a Jew would have
been unacceptable to Victorian British readers. Blatant anti-semitism
was prevalent--perhaps ubiquitous--among the upper classes.

Let us consider the origins of this anti-semitism. Jews were first
allowed into England by William the Conqueror. For a while they
prospered, largely through money-lending, an occupation to which
they were restricted. In the 13th century a series of increasingly
oppressive laws and taxes reduced the Jewish community to poverty, and
the Jews were expelled from England in 1290. They were not allowed to
return until 1656, when Oliver Cromwell authorized their entry over
the objections of British merchants. Legal protection for the Jews
increased gradually; even the "Act for the More Effectual Suppressing
of Blasphemy and Profaneness" (1698) recognized the practice of Judaism
as legal, but there were probably only a few hundred Jews in the entire
country. The British Jewish community grew gradually, and efforts to
emancipate the Jews were included in various "Reform Acts" in the first
half of the 19th century, although many failed to become law. Gradually
Jews were admitted to the bar and other professions. Full citizenship
and rights, including the right to sit in Parliament, were granted in
1858--only seven years before Trollope began writing _Nina Balatka_. By
this time wealthy Jewish families were growing in number. This upward
mobility and increasing economic and political power no doubt made the
British upper classes envious and resentful, fuelling anti-semitism.

Trollope chose to have _Nina_ published anonymously in _Blackwood's
Magazine_ for reasons which he described in his autobiography:

From the commencement of my success as a writer . . . I had
always felt an injustice in literary affairs which had never
afflicted me or even suggested itself to me while I was
unsuccessful. It seemed to me that a name once earned carried
with it too much favour . . . The injustice which struck me did
not consist in that which was withheld from me, but in that which
was given to me. I felt that aspirants coming up below me might
do work as good as mine, and probably much better work, and yet
fail to have it appreciated. In order to test this, I determined
to be such an aspirant myself, and to begin a course of novels
anonymously, in order that I might see whether I could succeed in
obtaining a second identity,--whether as I had made one mark by
such literary ability as I possessed, I might succeed in doing so
again. [1]

Why did Trollope start his "new" career with a novel whose central theme
was a subject of distaste at best--more likely revulsion--to the vast
majority of the reading public? Perhaps the nature of the novel itself
led him to consider publishing it anonymously, although we know he was
not averse to controversial subjects. In his first book, _The Macdermots
of Ballycloran_, which he thought had the best plot of all his novels,
the principal female character is seduced by a scoundrel and dies giving
birth to an illegitimate child.

Certainly _Nina_ was well-suited for the experiment because of it's
different setting and subject matter. Perhaps further to disguise his
authorship, Trollope wrote _Nina_ in a style of prose that reads almost
like a translation from a foreign language.

The experiment did not last long enough to test Trollope's hypothesis.
Mr. Hutton, critic for the _Spectator_, recognized Trollope as the author
and so stated in his review. Trollope did not deny the accusation.

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