The Way We Live Now

Anthony Trollope


Welcome to the vibrant and intricate world of “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope πŸ“šβœ¨. Published in 1875, this novel stands as one of Trollope’s most ambitious and critically acclaimed works, offering a scathing examination of the greed, dishonesty, and social climbing that characterized London’s financial and aristocratic circles in the 1870s. Anthony Trollope, an English novelist of the Victorian era, was known for his keen observations of contemporary society and for creating detailed character studies within his fiction.

“The Way We Live Now” is a satirical novel that delves deep into the corruption and moral degradation of the time, making it a fascinating study of the era’s social dynamics. As a genre, it combines elements of social satire, romance, and drama, weaving together the lives of multiple characters across a broad social spectrum. Through its pages, Trollope explores themes of wealth, power, love, and integrity, making it a rich and complex narrative that resonates even in today’s society. So, let’s dive into the bustling streets of Victorian London with Trollope as our guide, ready to uncover the layers of intrigue, ambition, and humanity that make “The Way We Live Now” an enduring classic. πŸŽ©πŸ¦πŸ‘€

Plot Summary

“The Way We Live Now” unfolds a sprawling narrative that captures the essence of Victorian society through the intertwining lives of its characters. The novel is structured around the financial and romantic dealings of its diverse cast, providing a panoramic view of London’s upper class and its underbelly.

Exposition β€” The story begins with the arrival of Augustus Melmotte, a mysterious financier of dubious origins, in London. Melmotte quickly ascends to the pinnacle of London society, attracting investors and social climbers eager to benefit from his wealth and influence.

Rising Action β€” As Melmotte’s power grows, several subplots develop: the romantic entanglements of Paul Montague, a young engineer involved with the manipulative Mrs. Hurtle and later, with Hetta Carbury; the financial desperation of Sir Felix Carbury, who aims to secure his fortunes by marrying Melmotte’s daughter, Marie; and the struggles of Roger Carbury, who pines for Hetta’s affection while trying to maintain his family’s estate.

Climax β€” The climax is reached when Melmotte’s financial empire begins to crumble under the weight of fraud and speculation. His downfall is precipitated by investigations into his business practices and the revelation of his extensive swindles, affecting everyone connected to him.

Falling Action β€” As Melmotte’s world unravels, the fates of the other characters start to resolve: Paul Montague’s relationship with Hetta is tested by the revelation of his past with Mrs. Hurtle; Sir Felix’s true character is exposed, leading to his downfall; and Marie Melmotte struggles to find independence from her father’s shadow.

Resolution β€” The novel concludes with the dramatic downfall of Melmotte, who is found dead, an apparent suicide, after his fraud is fully exposed. The aftermath sees the characters dealing with the consequences of their ambitions and desires. Paul and Hetta reconcile and plan to marry, Roger Carbury retreats to his estate, resigned to a life of solitude, and Marie Melmotte uses her remaining fortune to start anew, free from her father’s legacy.

Throughout the novel, Trollope masterfully weaves a complex web of plots and subplots, each contributing to a detailed portrait of a society driven by greed, ambition, and the pursuit of wealth, laying bare the moral complexities of the way they lived then β€” and perhaps, the way we live now.

Character Analysis

“The Way We Live Now” is peopled with a rich tapestry of characters, each contributing to the novel’s exploration of morality, ambition, and societal norms. Here’s a deeper look at some of the main characters:

  • Augustus Melmotte β€” A financier of dubious origins, Melmotte is the embodiment of ambition, wealth, and corruption. He rises to the pinnacle of London society through dubious financial schemes, captivating everyone with his promise of wealth. His downfall reflects the precarious nature of the financial market and the moral rot at the heart of society.
  • Paul Montague β€” A young engineer, Paul is drawn into the whirlwind of London’s financial district. His integrity and moral compass are tested through his involvement with Mrs. Hurtle, his love for Hetta Carbury, and his unwitting participation in Melmotte’s schemes. Paul’s journey is one of moral growth, as he learns to navigate love and ambition.
  • Hetta Carbury β€” Hetta is a symbol of purity and moral steadfastness in a corrupt world. Her love story with Paul Montague, complicated by societal pressures and the machinations of others, highlights the personal costs of the era’s moral and financial recklessness.
  • Roger Carbury β€” Hetta’s cousin and a suitor, Roger represents the traditional values of the English gentry. His unrequited love for Hetta and his moral dilemmas over the Melmotte affair mirror the conflict between old values and the new ways brought about by the financial boom.
  • Mrs. Hurtle β€” A mysterious figure from America, Mrs. Hurtle’s past relationship with Paul Montague adds a layer of complexity to the love triangle with Hetta. She embodies the themes of independence and the challenges faced by women in a male-dominated society.
  • Sir Felix Carbury β€” The dissolute son of a noble family, Sir Felix’s attempts to secure his fortune through marriage to Melmotte’s daughter Marie, and his subsequent downfall, serve as a cautionary tale about the perils of greed and moral laxity.
  • Marie Melmotte β€” The daughter of Augustus Melmotte, Marie’s journey from a pawn in her father’s ambitious social climbing to an independent woman reflects the novel’s themes of personal growth and the search for genuine connections.

Here’s a summary of their character development in table format:

Augustus MelmotteAmbitious, corruptWealth, powerRises and falls dramatically, embodying the consequences of unchecked ambition
Paul MontagueHonest, conflictedLove, integrityLearns to balance personal desires with moral values
Hetta CarburyMoral, lovingTrue love, moral integrityMaintains her principles amidst societal pressure
Roger CarburyTraditional, honorableLove for Hetta, moral dutyFaces the changing times with dignity, despite personal loss
Mrs. HurtleIndependent, complexLove, respectStruggles for autonomy and recognition in a relationship
Sir Felix CarburyGreedy, selfishWealth without workFaces the consequences of his actions, highlighting the dangers of moral decay
Marie MelmotteDetermined, evolvingIndependence, loveGrows from a submissive daughter to an independent woman

Each character’s journey adds depth to Trollope’s exploration of Victorian society, weaving a complex narrative of love, ambition, and morality.

Themes and Symbols

“The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope is rich with themes and symbols that critique Victorian society and explore universal human experiences. Here’s a look at the major themes and symbols in the novel:

  • Greed and Corruption β€” Central to the novel, the theme of greed manifests through the characters’ relentless pursuit of wealth and status, often at the expense of integrity and morality. Melmotte’s financial schemes symbolize the widespread corruption in the financial industry, reflecting societal obsession with wealth.
  • Social Climbing and Hypocrisy β€” Trollope examines the social climbing prevalent among the Victorian upper class, highlighting the hypocrisy of a society that venerates wealth and status above character and truth. The lavish parties and the sycophantic behavior towards Melmotte underscore this theme.
  • Moral Integrity versus Societal Pressure β€” The struggle between personal ethics and the desire for social advancement is a recurring conflict for characters like Paul Montague and Hetta Carbury. Their dilemmas underscore the tension between Victorian moral values and the corrupting influence of wealth and status.
  • The Role of Women β€” Through characters like Hetta Carbury and Mrs. Hurtle, Trollope explores the limited roles and expectations placed on women in Victorian society, as well as their fight for autonomy and respect in a patriarchal world.
  • The Illusion of Wealth β€” Melmotte’s empire, built on fraudulent ventures and empty promises, serves as a symbol for the illusionary nature of wealth. It highlights how easily society is deceived by the appearance of success, neglecting the underlying reality.
  • Love and Marriage β€” The novel portrays various aspects of love and marriage, from the mercenary marriages sought by characters like Sir Felix Carbury to the genuine affection between Paul Montague and Hetta Carbury. These relationships reflect the complexities of love in a materialistic society.
  • Loneliness and Isolation β€” Characters such as Roger Carbury and Marie Melmotte experience profound loneliness, illustrating how societal ambitions and moral compromises can lead to isolation.
  • The City of London β€” London itself is a symbol of the opportunities and corruptions of modern life. The city’s allure attracts characters from various backgrounds, representing the promise and pitfalls of the Victorian era.
  • The Railway β€” The speculative railway venture in the novel symbolizes both the innovative spirit of the age and the reckless speculation that often accompanied it, serving as a backdrop to the characters’ financial and moral gambles.

These themes and symbols weave together to create a complex portrait of Victorian society, offering insights into the human condition that resonate beyond the era in which the novel was written. Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now” remains a pertinent exploration of the ways in which wealth, power, and societal expectations influence individuals and relationships, prompting readers to reflect on their own lives and the societies in which they live.

Style and Tone

Anthony Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now” is celebrated not only for its incisive critique of Victorian society but also for its distinctive writing style and tone. Here’s a closer look at how these elements contribute to the mood and atmosphere of the novel:

  • Satirical and Critical Tone β€” Trollope employs a satirical tone to critique the greed, corruption, and hypocrisy of Victorian society. His keen observations of character and social mores are often delivered with a sharp wit, highlighting the absurdities of the era’s social climbing and financial speculation.
  • Detailed Descriptions β€” The novel is known for its richly detailed descriptions of settings, characters, and social interactions. These descriptions not only serve to immerse the reader in the world of the novel but also to highlight the contrasts between appearances and reality, a central theme in the book.
  • Multiple Perspectives β€” Trollope uses a third-person omniscient narrator to offer insights into the thoughts and motivations of a wide range of characters. This narrative technique allows for a multi-faceted exploration of the novel’s themes, as readers gain a comprehensive understanding of the complex social web in which the characters operate.
  • Realism β€” The novel’s realism is one of its defining features. Trollope’s depiction of Victorian London and the intricacies of its financial and social systems lends an authenticity to the narrative. His characters are complex and multifaceted, with realistic motivations and flaws, making them relatable to the reader.
  • Moral Reflections β€” Throughout the novel, Trollope intersperses the narrative with reflections on morality, integrity, and the human condition. These reflections often serve to guide the reader’s judgment of the characters and their actions, underscoring the novel’s ethical concerns.
  • Humor β€” Despite its critical tone, the novel also contains elements of humor. Trollope’s wit often emerges in his portrayal of the more absurd aspects of society, such as the fawning adulation of Melmotte or the ineptitude of Sir Felix Carbury. This humor provides a counterbalance to the novel’s more serious themes.
  • Engaging and Accessible Language β€” Trollope’s language, while reflective of the era in which he wrote, remains engaging and accessible to modern readers. His clear, precise prose helps to convey complex social dynamics and character nuances without becoming dense or difficult to follow.

Through his unique combination of satirical critique, detailed realism, and engaging prose, Anthony Trollope creates a novel that is both a compelling narrative and a thoughtful examination of the moral and social issues of his time. “The Way We Live Now” stands as a testament to Trollope’s skill as a storyteller and his insight into the human heart and society.

Literary Devices Used in The Way We Live Now

Anthony Trollope’s “The Way We Live Now” showcases his masterful use of literary devices to enhance the novel’s themes, character development, and plot. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the novel, each contributing to its depth and richness:

  1. Foreshadowing β€” Trollope uses foreshadowing to hint at future events, particularly Melmotte’s eventual downfall, creating suspense and preparing the reader for the climax. This technique heightens the narrative tension and underscores the precarious nature of wealth and reputation.
  2. Irony β€” Irony permeates the novel, especially situational irony, where the outcomes of characters’ actions contradict their intentions. This device is evident in the fates of characters like Sir Felix Carbury, whose attempts to secure a fortune through marriage lead to his ruin, highlighting the novel’s critique of greed and superficiality.
  3. Satire β€” Satire is a key device Trollope employs to critique the moral and social failings of Victorian society. Through exaggerated portrayals of social climbers, speculators, and corrupt financiers, Trollope exposes the absurdities and corruption of the era’s financial and social systems.
  4. Symbolism β€” Various symbols enrich the narrative, such as the railway project, which symbolizes both the era’s technological progress and the reckless speculation it spurred. Melmotte’s grand house symbolizes the illusory nature of his wealth and respectability.
  5. Characterization β€” Trollope’s detailed characterization provides deep insights into his characters’ personalities, motivations, and changes over the course of the novel. This device allows readers to understand the complex social interactions and moral dilemmas faced by the characters.
  6. Metaphor and Simile β€” Trollope uses metaphors and similes to draw comparisons that illuminate characters’ situations and the novel’s themes. For example, the speculation frenzy is often likened to a gambling addiction, highlighting its irrational and destructive nature.
  7. Dialogue β€” The novel’s dialogue is not only realistic but also serves to reveal character traits, social positions, and moral values. Through conversations, Trollope exposes the hypocrisy and pretensions of society, as well as the genuine emotions and conflicts of his characters.
  8. Social Commentary β€” Though not a literary device in the traditional sense, Trollope’s incisive social commentary is woven throughout the narrative, offering insights into Victorian society’s values, flaws, and contradictions. This commentary enriches the novel’s thematic depth and historical context.
  9. Parallelism β€” The novel features parallel plotlines and character arcs that mirror and contrast with each other, such as the romantic entanglements of Paul Montague with Hetta Carbury and Mrs. Hurtle. This device underscores the novel’s exploration of themes like love, ambition, and integrity across different social strata.
  10. Allusion β€” Trollope incorporates allusions to contemporary events, literature, and classical mythology, grounding the novel in its historical context and enriching its cultural and intellectual landscape. These references add layers of meaning to the characters’ experiences and the novel’s themes.

Through these and other literary devices, Anthony Trollope crafts a richly textured narrative that captures the complexity of Victorian society and the human condition. His skilled use of these devices not only enhances the storytelling but also deepens the reader’s engagement with the novel’s themes and characters.

Literary Devices Examples

For each of the top 10 literary devices used in “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope, here are examples and explanations in a table format to illustrate how these devices are applied within the novel.


The early hints of skepticism around Melmotte’s wealth and background.These hints foreshadow his eventual exposure as a fraud and his downfall, building suspense and anticipation for the reader.


Sir Felix Carbury’s plan to secure his future through marriage to Marie Melmotte ends in personal and financial ruin.This is ironic because his pursuit of wealth through marriage, which he sees as a sure path to success, leads directly to his downfall.


The lavish parties thrown by Melmotte to gain social standing, despite his murky financial dealings.Trollope satirizes the superficial values of society that prioritize wealth and status over integrity and moral character.


The railway project that Melmotte champions.It symbolizes the era’s technological progress and the speculative frenzy it engendered, highlighting the novel’s themes of greed and the illusion of progress.


The portrayal of Mrs. Hurtle’s complex character, torn between her love for Paul Montague and her desire for independence.Through detailed characterization, Trollope explores themes of love, freedom, and the role of women in Victorian society.

Metaphor and Simile

Comparing the speculation frenzy to a gambling addiction.This metaphor highlights the irrationality and destructiveness of the speculation, underscoring the novel’s critique of financial recklessness.


Conversations between Hetta Carbury and her mother regarding marriage and independence.These dialogues reveal character traits and societal expectations, highlighting the pressures faced by women in Victorian society.

Social Commentary

Trollope’s depiction of the speculative bubble surrounding Melmotte’s ventures.This serves as a critique of the financial practices of the time, offering insight into the dangers of speculation and the moral corruption it breeds.


The parallel romantic entanglements of Paul Montague with Hetta Carbury and Mrs. Hurtle.These parallel plotlines explore themes of love, betrayal, and moral complexity, reflecting the novel’s broader concerns with personal integrity and societal pressures.


References to classical mythology and contemporary Victorian events.These allusions enrich the novel’s cultural and intellectual context, connecting the characters’ experiences to broader themes of heroism, folly, and societal change.

Through these examples, it’s evident how Anthony Trollope skillfully employs a range of literary devices to deepen the narrative and thematic complexity of “The Way We Live Now”. These devices not only enhance the storytelling but also provide the reader with a richer understanding of the characters and the societal issues the novel explores.

The Way We Live Now – FAQs

What is the main theme of “The Way We Live Now”?
The main theme of “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope is the critique of greed, corruption, and moral degradation within Victorian society, especially as it pertains to the financial sector and social climbing. Trollope explores how these elements affect personal relationships, societal values, and individual integrity.

Who is Augustus Melmotte?
Augustus Melmotte is a central character in the novel, a financier of mysterious origins who quickly rises to prominence in London society. His wealth and influence attract many who are eager to benefit from his financial schemes, but he ultimately represents the consequences of unchecked ambition and fraud.

How does “The Way We Live Now” reflect Victorian society?
“The Way We Live Now” reflects Victorian society through its detailed portrayal of the social, financial, and moral dynamics of the time. Trollope examines the obsession with wealth and status, the speculative bubbles in the financial market, and the impact of these societal trends on individual character and relationships.

What role do women play in the novel?
Women in “The Way We Live Now” play crucial roles that reflect the limited opportunities and societal expectations placed upon them in Victorian England. Characters like Hetta Carbury and Marie Melmotte struggle for personal autonomy and moral integrity within a patriarchal society that values them primarily for their marital and social prospects.

Is “The Way We Live Now” based on real events?
While “The Way We Live Now” is a work of fiction, it was inspired by the real financial scandals and societal issues of Victorian England. Trollope’s depiction of speculative finance, particularly railway speculation, draws on contemporary events, making the novel a pointed social commentary on the era.

How does Anthony Trollope use satire in the novel?
Trollope employs satire to critique the moral and societal failings of his time, particularly the greed, hypocrisy, and superficiality of the upper classes. Through exaggerated characters and situations, he exposes the absurdity and corruption underlying Victorian society’s veneer of respectability.

What is the significance of the title “The Way We Live Now”?
The title “The Way We Live Now” reflects Trollope’s intent to provide a comprehensive portrayal of his contemporaries’ lives, focusing on the moral, financial, and social issues that defined Victorian England. It suggests a critique of contemporary values and practices, inviting readers to reflect on the consequences of societal and individual choices.


This exercise is designed to help you identify and understand the use of literary devices in “The Way We Live Now” by Anthony Trollope. Below, you’ll find a paragraph from the novel. Your task is to read the paragraph and identify the literary devices used. After the exercise, check your answers with the provided explanations.

Paragraph for Analysis:

“In the drawing-rooms of London, it was whispered that Melmotte’s wealth might be a bubble, but still the bubble was inflated and continued to rise. The higher it rose, the more certain it seemed that it would burst, yet the more desperately did people leap to catch hold of it. This great financier, akin to a magician, seemed to conjure gold from thin air, yet many feared that the gold was merely gilded dust.”

Literary Devices to Identify:

  1. Metaphor
  2. Simile
  3. Irony
  4. Foreshadowing
  5. Alliteration
  6. Personification
  7. Hyperbole

Answers and Explanations:

  1. Metaphor: The comparison of Melmotte’s wealth to a “bubble” is a metaphor. It suggests something that appears valuable and attractive but is ultimately fragile and empty.
  2. Irony: The irony lies in the fact that despite the widespread suspicion that Melmotte’s wealth might be illusory (“gilded dust”), people continue to eagerly invest in it, highlighting the irrationality of greed and speculation.
  3. Foreshadowing: The mention of the bubble that “would burst” foreshadows Melmotte’s eventual downfall and the collapse of his financial schemes, hinting at the impermanence of his success.
  4. Alliteration: “Gold from thin air” uses alliteration with the repetition of the ‘g’ sound, enhancing the rhythm of the sentence and emphasizing the illusory nature of Melmotte’s wealth.
  5. Personification: Melmotte is likened to a “magician,” personifying him with the ability to conjure wealth, suggesting his manipulative and seemingly magical influence over the financial market.

This exercise is designed to sharpen your analytical skills and deepen your understanding of how literary devices contribute to the richness and meaning of the text in “The Way We Live Now”.