“Throughout the world, the more wrong a man does, the more indignant he is at wrong done to him.” (The Way we Live Now by Anthony Trollope)
If Hetta Carbury and her lazy lover Paul Montague were somehow involved in my life, I would be the mean girl who teased them behind their backs. I can imagine myself being catty over coffee, along with some other gossip-minded friend, calling Hetta boy-crazy and Paul a lackey. “He only likes her because Roger likes her,” I’d say of Paul, and my friend would agree with a knowing smirk. If a rumor about their breakup made its way to us, we would groan and roll our eyes; we’d absolutely refuse to give Paul credit for the audacity of being with another woman. And we’d be right.
In my defense, Trollope himself brings out this mean-girl persona in me. Had he not held up Hetta as the pinnacle of womanly virtue, I probably would not be so angry at her for being insipid. Had he simply created a couple boring characters who happened to triumph over the more interesting ones, I likely wouldn’t have this lingering desire to verbally abuse them in the hopes of making up for the injustice. Instead, Trollope pronounces judgement on his cast, leaving no recourse for the reader who disagrees with his morals. The boring characters prevail because they do nothing objectionable; the interesting ones fail because they’re morally flawed.
And yet, only books that engage the reader’s whole mind can raise such ire. There’s a distinction between being angry at a book and not caring about one; the ones that don’t raise any emotion are the ones we end up quickly forgetting.