Matthew Sussman, “Optative Form in Anthony Trollope’s The Small House at Allington” (pp. 485–515)

This essay argues that Anthony Trollope is the preeminent novelist of the optative, a term introduced by Andrew Miller that describes how people sharpen their sense of self through counterfactual speculations about themselves and others. The optative shapes Trollope’s novels in two ways: first, as the main determinant of character psychology and behavior; and second, as a structural principle that governs his handling of the multiplot novel. Through an analysis of The Small House at Allington (1864)—the first of Trollope’s novels in which the plot is fully motivated by psychological characterization—I show how Trollope adopts narrative strategies of fragmentation and development to distribute optative motifs across the character-space, in effect replicating at the level of structure what takes place within individual minds. In this way, Trollope finds formal means for staging the contest between freedom and contingency in the construction of the self, significantly advancing the character-plot debate of the 1860s and deepening the moral purpose of his realism.

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