The American Senator
By Anthony Trollope
Dramatised by Martyn Wade
Arabella is determined to keep her engagement to John Morton a secret. Perhaps, there is a more exciting and wealthy husband she might be able to catch ...
Anthony Trollope..........Robert Glenister
Arabella Trefoil.............Anna Maxwell Martin
Lady Augustus.............Barbara Flynn
John Morton.................Blake Ritson
Senator Gotobed..........Stuart Milligan
Reginald Morton...........Daniel Rabin
Mrs Morton..................Richenda Carey
Mary Masters...............Penelope Rawlins
Lawrence Twentyman...Carl Prekopp
Lord Rufford.................Henry Devas
Mr Bearside.................Sean Baker
Directed by Tracey Neale
In this little known tale, Anthony Trollope never allows The American Senator's attitude to get in the way of plot -and his ability to weave story strands which arise out of credible motivation, psychology and emotion is as sure as ever. The characters are as finely drawn as we have come to expect from the pen of Trollope. There's the extraordinary Arabella but also the comic, kind natured and the tragic characters too.
Arabella finds herself in the ignoble occupation of husband/fortune-hunting. She's aware that the years are passing and the strain of numerous failed relationships have made her prospects increasingly poor. She is unofficially engaged to John Morton, a diplomat, and owner of a large estate, but now the wealthy and more exciting Lord Rufford has come into view. His estate being larger and more grand. Surely he is worth fighting for?
Arabella, encouraged by her monstrous mother, Lady Augustus, decides to try and keep Morton on the back-burner (but deny her engagement in public) while engineering a series of compromising situations in an outrageous attempt to win Rufford.
But Arabella is playing a dangerous game and although her behaviour is both conniving and ruthless, she is extraordinary and powerfully-drawn and so does not become an out-and-out anti-heroine. She is, to some degree, the victim of her situation - and of her mother. She is courageous as well as devious, and she has her pride. As the tale concludes and she seeks some degree of redemption she achieves tragic status.
A parallel but secondary plot concerns Reginald Morton, an elder cousin of John, and Mary Masters, who is the complete antithesis to Miss Trefoil. Mary's absurd, domineering stepmother thinks that Mary should marry a besotted local farmer, Lawrence Twentyman but Mary is in love with Reginald Morton. Is he in love with her though? She finds support in the shape of Reginald's kind and gentle aunt, Lady Ushant, but there is the stern and grim grandmother of both John and Reginald who stands in the way of happiness because of a long-standing family feud.
Elias Gotobed, the visiting senator of the book's title, has little impact on events - but he has an important part to play as an observer of events; a gauche but vigorous critic of the antiquated elements of English society and the establishment. Gotobed's conclusions are a supplement to those which can be drawn from Arabella's tale, where greed, class-consciousness and snobbery are mercilessly displayed.
'The American Senator' is, in part, a state of the nation novel - enhanced by the parallels between Trollope's world and ours. Arabella has her modern-day equivalents, and the Senator's remarks throughout the dramatisation about the working man's passive and subservient nature have not lost their relevance.
Anthony Trollope produced a vast collection of work about credible people and their foibles. He gained recognition as a writer who portrayed English life is a wry and honest manner with a cast of humorous and delightful characters. His portrayal of female characters is particularly skilful and Arabella Trefoil is no exception.
Martyn Wade is a skilled and talented radio writer and dramatist. He has dramatised the 'Barsetshire' novels for radio and the 'Palliser' series too. His other Trollope dramatisations have included 'Orley Farm' and 'Miss Mackenzie'. He also dramatised Ada Leverson's 'The Little Ottleys' for Woman's Hour.