In 1870's London, Mr. Melmotte, a financier with a mysterious past is rising the ranks of society. The gentry, among them the Longestaffe family, abhor him and want nothing to do with him. But their own financial troubles will force them to seek Mr. Melmotte's help. Mr. Melmotte's daughter, Marie, is flaunted before all the bachelors in London, but loses her heart to the dissolute young baronet Felix Carbury. Carbury's sister Hetta is trapped between two men: her kind and dependable cousin Roger whom she does not love and the young businessman Paul Montague, who seems to be keeping secrets from her.
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope is a satirical novel, inspired by the financial scandals of the 1870s which shocked Trollope. It dramatizes how greed and dishonesty influenced society and politics at the time. It is Trollope's longest novel with a large host of characters and quite a few subplots.
After reading and enjoying my first Trollope novel He Knew He Was Right last year, I decided this year to read the other Trollope novel whose story I already knew (thank you, BBC...) I must say, it was quite a chore to get through this 'brick' and if not for some audiobook help, I don't know if I'd have finished it. This might say more about my busy and slightly chaotic life then about this book though.
Anyway, I'm glad that I finished it, though it will not be among my favourite classics. The Way We Live Now is quite a dreary book and I found it even downright boring at times. This might have to do with the main theme: money and how it influences society. Not a theme I'm awfully interested in, even though it was fascinating to see how Victorian society was busy with money All-The-Time. It also didn't really help that none of the main characters were truly sympathetic or easy to identify with. They were almost all greedy and looking out only for their own interest, some were downright awful (Mr. Melmotte, Felix Carbury). Trollope undoubtedly is a master in creating life-like characters, but the characters in this novel are just no fun to follow.
I must say something about the female characters though, something I also already alluded to in my review of He Knew He Was Right. I feel like Trollope writes more 'real' female characters than any other Victorian novelist I know so far. His leading ladies are less stereotypically bad or good then those in books of for example Dickens and Gaskell and can often surprise you. For example Marie Melmotte, who at first seems a victim of her father, but turns out to be very intelligent and shrewd.
Unfortunately the only really sympathetic female character in the book, Hetta Carbury is a bit of a 'wet rag' and I wasn't too fond of her romance story either. That might also be one reason why I couldn't like this book more, the fact that a romance you could root for was missing.
All in all, though The Way We Live Now is no doubt well-plotted and well-written, it wasn't a great book for me. I will keep reading other Trollope novels though!