The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope


The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

Plot and Storyline

Anthony Trollope published his novel “The Way We Live Now” in 1875. It is a sprawling social satire that explores the themes of greed, corruption, and the power of money in Victorian society. The novel follows the lives of several characters as they navigate the intricacies of an increasingly materialistic and morally bankrupt world.

At the heart of the story is Augustus Melmotte, a foreign financier who arrives in London with a dubious reputation and grand ambitions. Melmotte manages to charm his way into high society, despite his questionable business practices. He sets up a grandiose scheme to finance a railway project in South America, attracting investors from all walks of life, including aristocrats, politicians, and social climbers.

The novel intertwines multiple storylines, each featuring a diverse cast of characters. We follow the lives of the Carbury family, who are desperate to regain their lost wealth and social standing. Paul Montague, a young engineer, becomes entangled in Melmotte’s financial web and falls in love with his daughter, Marie. Lady Carbury, a determined and manipulative widow, is determined to secure advantageous marriages for her children, while Sir Felix, her reckless son, pursues his own selfish desires.

As the plot progresses, the reader is drawn into a web of deceit, scandal, and unrequited love. The story takes unexpected turns, with betrayals, financial ruin, and even murder. Trollope masterfully weaves together these disparate threads to create a compelling narrative that exposes the moral and ethical decay of Victorian society.


“The Way We Live Now” features a rich tapestry of characters, each with their own motivations, flaws, and desires. Augustus Melmotte, the central figure, is a complex character who embodies the corrupting influence of money. He is a master manipulator, using his wealth and charm to gain social acceptance, despite his dubious background.

Other notable characters include Roger Carbury, a noble and honorable gentleman who becomes infatuated with Paul Montague’s love interest, Hetta Carbury. Paul Montague himself is torn between his loyalty to his business partner and friend, Roger, and his love for the captivating Marie Melmotte.

Lady Carbury, a struggling author, is a fascinating character who uses her charm and wit to manipulate those around her. She is driven by her desire for financial security and social status, often sacrificing her children’s happiness in the process. Sir Felix Carbury, Lady Carbury’s son, is a reckless and selfish young man who becomes entangled in a web of deceit and scandal.

Themes and Symbols

“The Way We Live Now” explores several major themes that are still relevant today. One of the central themes is the corrupting influence of money and the pursuit of wealth at all costs. Trollope depicts a society where materialism and greed reign supreme, leading to moral decay and the erosion of traditional values.

Another theme is the power of social status and the lengths individuals will go to gain acceptance and recognition. The characters in the novel are driven by their desire for social advancement, often resorting to deceit and manipulation to achieve their goals. Trollope critiques the superficiality of Victorian society and its obsession with appearances.

The novel also delves into the themes of love and marriage, exploring the complexities of romantic relationships in a society driven by financial considerations. Trollope examines the tension between love and social expectations, highlighting the challenges faced by individuals who seek genuine emotional connections amidst a world dominated by materialism.

Writing Style

Anthony Trollope’s writing style in “The Way We Live Now” is characterized by its realism, wit, and astute social observations. Trollope’s prose is precise and detailed, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the intricacies of Victorian society. His keen understanding of human nature is evident in his portrayal of the novel’s diverse cast of characters.

Trollope employs a multi-perspective narrative structure, providing insights into the thoughts and motivations of different characters. This technique allows the reader to develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of the story and the inner lives of the characters.

The author’s use of irony and satire adds depth to the novel, as he exposes the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the society he depicts. Trollope’s sharp social commentary and his ability to blend humor with social critique make “The Way We Live Now” a compelling and thought-provoking read.

Setting and Atmosphere

“The Way We Live Now” is set in Victorian England, a time of rapid industrialization, social change, and economic expansion. The novel takes place primarily in London, the heart of British society, where the pursuit of wealth and social status is at its most intense.

Trollope vividly portrays the opulence and grandeur of the upper classes, contrasting it with the squalor and poverty experienced by the lower classes. The stark juxtaposition of these settings adds to the overall atmosphere ofthe novel, highlighting the stark divide between the haves and the have-nots.

The cultural context of the Victorian era plays a significant role in shaping the story. Trollope explores the impact of industrialization and the rise of capitalism on society, exposing the moral and ethical dilemmas that arise in a world driven by materialism. The setting serves as a backdrop for Trollope’s critique of the social and economic structures of the time.

Historical, Social, or Political Context

“The Way We Live Now” reflects the historical, social, and political context of Victorian England. The novel was written during a period of significant social and economic change, with the rise of industrialization and the expansion of the British Empire.

Trollope’s portrayal of the corrupt financial practices and speculative investments in the novel mirrors the real-life scandals and financial crises that plagued Victorian society. The railway mania of the 1840s and the subsequent economic downturn influenced Trollope’s depiction of the financial world and its impact on individuals and society.

The novel also touches on political themes, highlighting the influence of money and corruption in politics. Trollope critiques the lack of moral integrity among politicians and the manipulative tactics employed to maintain power and influence.

Impact and Reception

“The Way We Live Now” was initially met with mixed reviews upon its publication. Some critics found the novel too long and sprawling, while others praised Trollope’s insightful social commentary. Over time, however, the novel gained recognition as one of Trollope’s finest works.

The novel’s themes of greed, corruption, and the pursuit of wealth resonate with readers across different time periods, making it a timeless piece of literature. Its exploration of the moral dilemmas faced by individuals in a materialistic society remains relevant and thought-provoking.

“The Way We Live Now” has had a lasting impact on literature, influencing subsequent works that delve into the complexities of society and its relationship with money and power. Trollope’s realistic portrayal of characters and his keen social observations have made him a respected and influential author.

How does the novel explore the tension between love and social expectations?

“The Way We Live Now” delves into the tension between love and social expectations through the experiences of its characters. In Victorian society, marriage was often seen as a transactional arrangement, driven by considerations of wealth, social status, and family connections. Love and personal fulfillment were often secondary to these societal expectations.

One of the primary examples of this tension is seen in the romantic relationship between Paul Montague and Marie Melmotte. Paul, a young engineer, falls in love with Marie, the daughter of the wealthy and controversial financier, Augustus Melmotte. However, Marie’s social status and her father’s dubious reputation create obstacles to their relationship.

Marie is expected to marry someone who can elevate her social standing and secure financial stability for her and her family. Her mother, Madame Melmotte, is particularly concerned with maintaining and advancing their position in society. As a result, Marie faces pressure to consider suitors who can offer material benefits rather than genuine love.

Paul, on the other hand, is torn between his love for Marie and his loyalty to his friend Roger Carbury. Roger, a noble and honorable gentleman, is also in love with Marie and desires to marry her. However, Paul’s relationship with Marie complicates his friendship with Roger, as he becomes entangled in a love triangle and struggles to reconcile his emotions with his sense of duty.

Through these characters, Trollope highlights the conflict between personal desires and societal expectations. Paul and Marie’s love is genuine, but their relationship is threatened by the weight of social conventions and the pressure to conform to societal norms. The novel explores the sacrifices individuals must make when faced with the choice between following their hearts and adhering to social expectations.

Furthermore, Trollope critiques the superficiality of Victorian society, where appearances and material wealth often take precedence over emotional connection. The characters in the novel are influenced by the expectations of their social circles, leading them to prioritize financial stability and social status in their pursuit of marriage. This emphasis on external factors creates tension and conflict, as personal desires and emotional fulfillment are pushed aside.

Overall, “The Way We Live Now” examines the tension between love and social expectations by portraying characters who must navigate the complexities of Victorian society. The novel challenges the notion that love and marriage should be dictated solely by social and financial considerations, encouraging readers to question the value of societal expectations and explore the true nature of love and personal fulfillment.

In conclusion, “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope is a sprawling social satire that exposes the greed, corruption, and moral decay of Victorian society. Through its intricate plot, well-developed characters, and astute social observations, the novel explores themes of materialism, social status, love, and the power of money. Trollope’s writing style, rich in detail and social critique, enhances the reader’s experience and leaves a lasting impact. Set in Victorian England, the novel reflects the historical, social, and political context of the era, offering insights into the challenges and complexities of a society undergoing rapid change. Its cultural significance and enduring themes have solidified its place as a timeless work of literature.


The Way We Live Now – Wikipedia

The Way We Live Now | Victorian, Satire & Social Criticism | Britannica

The Way We Live Now | The New Yorker