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Anthony Trollope ( 24 April 1815 – 6 December 1882 ) became one of the
most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the
Victorian era. Some of Trollope's best-loved works, known as the
Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of
Barsetshire; he also wrote penetrating novels on political, social,
gender issues and conflicts of his day.
Trollope has always been a popular novelist. Noted fans have included
Sir Alec Guinness (who never travelled without a Trollope novel), former
British Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan and Sir John Major, economist
John Kenneth Galbraith, American novelists Sue Grafton and Dominick
Dunne and soap opera writer Harding Lemay. Trollope's literary
reputation dipped somewhat during the last years of his life, but he
regained the esteem of critics by the mid-twentieth century.
"Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role
of money. Compared with him even Balzac is a romantic." — W. H. Auden
Anthony Trollope's father, Thomas Anthony Trollope, worked as a
barrister. Thomas Trollope, though a clever and well-educated man and a
Fellow of New College, Oxford, failed at the bar due to his bad temper.
In addition, his ventures into farming proved unprofitable and he lost
an expected inheritance when an elderly uncle married and had
children. Nonetheless, he came from a genteel background, with
connections to the landed gentry, and so wished to educate his sons as
gentlemen and for them to attend Oxford or Cambridge. The disparity
between his family's social background and its poverty would be the
cause of much misery to Anthony Trollope during his boyhood.
Born in London, Anthony attended Harrow School as a day-boy for three
years from the age of seven, as his father's farm lay in that
neighbourhood. After a spell at a private school, he followed his father
and two older brothers to Winchester College, where he remained for
three years. He returned to Harrow as a day-boy to reduce the cost of
his education. Trollope had some very miserable experiences at these two
public schools. They ranked as two of the most élite schools in England,
but Trollope had no money and no friends, and was bullied a great deal.
At the age of twelve, he fantasized about suicide. However, he also
daydreamed, constructing elaborate imaginary worlds.
In 1827, his mother Frances Trollope moved to America with Trollope's
three younger siblings, where she opened a bazaar in Cincinnati, which
proved unsuccessful. Thomas Trollope joined them for a short time before
returning to the farm at Harrow, but Anthony stayed in England
throughout. His mother returned in 1831 and rapidly made a name for
herself as a writer, soon earning a good income. His father's affairs,
however, went from bad to worse. He gave up his legal practice entirely
and failed to make enough income from farming to pay rents to his
landlord Lord Northwick. In 1834 he fled to Belgium to avoid arrest for
debt. The whole family moved to a house near Bruges, where they lived
entirely on Frances's earnings. In 1835, Thomas Trollope died.
While living in Belgium, Anthony worked as a Classics usher (a junior
or assistant teacher) in a school with a view to learning French and
German, so that he could take up a promised commission in an Austrian
cavalry regiment, which had to be cut short at six weeks. He then
obtained a position as a civil servant in the British Post Office
through one of his mother's family connections, and returned to London
on his own. This provided a respectable, gentlemanly occupation, but not
a well-paid one.
Time in Ireland
Rose Heseltine TrollopeTrollope lived in boarding houses and remained
socially awkward; he referred to this as his "hobbledehoyhood". He made
little progress in his career until the Post Office sent him to Ireland
in 1841. He married an Englishwoman named Rose Heseltine in 1844. They
lived in Ireland until 1859, when they moved back to England.
Despite the calamity of the Great Famine in Ireland, Trollope wrote
of his time in Ireland in his own autobiography:
"It was altogether a very jolly life that I led in Ireland. The Irish
people did not murder me, nor did they even break my head. I soon found
them to be good-humoured, clever - the working classes very much more
intelligent than those of England - economical and hospitable."
Pillar boxHis professional role as a post-office surveyor brought him
into contact with Irish people. Trollope began writing on the numerous
long train trips around Ireland he had to take to carry out his postal
duties. Setting very firm goals about how much he would write each day,
he eventually became one of the most prolific writers of all time. He
wrote his earliest novels while working as a Post Office inspector,
occasionally dipping into the "lost-letter" box for ideas.
Significantly, many of his earliest novels have Ireland as their
setting — natural enough given his background, but unlikely to enjoy
warm critical reception, given the contemporary English attitudes
towards Ireland. It has been pointed out by critics that Trollope's
view of Ireland separates him from many of the other Victorian
novelists. Some critics claim that Ireland did not influence Trollope
as much as his experience in England, and that the society in Ireland
harmed him as a writer, especially since Ireland was experiencing the
famine during his time there.Such critics were dismissed as holding
bigoted opinions against Ireland and did not reflect Trollope's true
attachment to the country.
Trollope wrote four novels about Ireland. Two were written during the
famine, while the third deals with the famine as a theme (The Macdermots
of Ballycloran, The Landleaguers and Castle Richmond respectively).
The Macdermots of Ballycloran was written while he was staying in the
village of Drumsna, County Leitrim. A fourth, The Kellys and the
O'Kellys (1848) is a humorous comparison of the romantic pursuits of the
landed gentry (Francis O'Kelly, Lord Ballindine) and his Catholic tenant
(Martin Kelly). Two short stories deal with Ireland ("The O'Conors of
Castle Conor, County Mayo"] and "Father Giles of Ballymoy" ).
It has been argued by some critics that these works seek to unify an
Irish and British identity, instead of viewing the two as distinct. Even
as an Englishman in Ireland, Trollope was still able to attain what he
saw as essential to being an "Irish writer": possessed, obsessed, and
"mauled" by Ireland.
The reception of the Irish works left much to be desired. Henry
Colburn wrote to Trollope, "It is evident that readers do not like
novels on Irish subjects as well as on others". In particular, magazines
such as New Monthly Magazine, which wrote reviews that attacked the
Irish for their actions during the famine, were representative of the
dismissal by English readers to any work written about the Irish.
Trollope himself wrote, about Phineas Finn's identity as an Irishman:
"There was nothing to be gained by the peculiarity, and there was an
added difficulty in obtaining sympathy and affection for a politician
belonging to a nationality whose politics are not respected in England.
But in spite of this Phineas succeeded."
Return to England
By the mid-1860s, Trollope had reached a fairly senior position within
the Post Office hierarchy. Postal history credits him with introducing
the pillar box (the ubiquitous bright red mail-box) in the United
Kingdom. He had by this time also started to earn a substantial income
from his novels. He had overcome the awkwardness of his youth, made good
friends in literary circles, and hunted enthusiastically.
He left the Post Office in 1867 to run for Parliament as a Liberal
candidate in 1868. After he lost, he concentrated entirely on his
literary career. While continuing to produce novels rapidly, he also
edited the St Paul's Magazine, which published several of his novels in
His first major success came with The Warden (1855) — the first of
six novels set in the fictional county of "Barsetshire" (often
collectively referred to as the Chronicles of Barsetshire), usually
dealing with the clergy. The comic masterpiece Barchester Towers (1857)
has probably become the best-known of these. Trollope's other major
series, the Palliser novels, concerned itself with politics, with the
wealthy, industrious Plantagenet Palliser and his delightfully
spontaneous, even richer wife Lady Glencora usually featuring
prominently (although, as with the Barsetshire series, many other
well-developed characters populated each novel).
Grave in Kensal Green Cemetery, LondonTrollope's popularity and critical
success diminished in his later years, but he continued to write
prolifically, and some of his later novels have acquired a good
reputation. In particular, critics generally acknowledge the sweeping
satire The Way We Live Now (1875) as his masterpiece. In all, Trollope
wrote forty-seven novels, as well as dozens of short stories and a few
books on travel.
Anthony Trollope died in London in 1882. His grave stands in Kensal
Green Cemetery, near that of his contemporary Wilkie Collins. C. P. Snow
wrote a biography of Trollope, published in 1975, called Trollope: His
Life and Art.
In 1871, Trollope made his first trip to Australia, arriving in
Melbourne in July, with his wife and their cook. The trip was made to
visit their younger son, Frederic, who was a sheep farmer near Grenfell,
New South Wales. He wrote his novel Lady Anna during the voyage. He
spent a year and two days "descending mines, mixing with shearers and
rouseabouts, riding his horse into the loneliness of the bush, touring
lunatic asylums, and exploring coast and plain by steamer and
stagecoach". Despite this, the Australian press was uneasy, fearing he
would misrepresent Australia in his writings. This fear was based on
rather negative writings about America by his mother, Fanny, and by
Charles Dickens. On his return Trollope published a book, Australia and
New Zealand (1873). It contained both positive and negative comments. On
the positive side included finding a comparative absence of class
consciousness, and praising aspects of Perth, Melbourne, Hobart and
Sydney. However, he was negative about Adelaide's river, the towns of
Bendigo and Ballarat, and the Aboriginal people. What most angered the
Australian papers, though, were his comments "accusing Australians of
When Trollope returned to Australia in 1875 to help his son close
down his failed farming business, he found that the resentment created
by his bragging accusations remained and, when he died in 1882,
Australian papers still "smouldered". In their obituaries they
referred yet again to his accusations, and refused to fully praise or
recognise his achievements.
After his death, Trollope's Autobiography appeared. Trollope's downfall
in the eyes of the critics stemmed largely from this volume. Even during
his writing career, reviewers tended increasingly to shake their heads
over his prodigious output (the same complaint was targeted at Charles
Dickens), but when Trollope revealed that he strictly adhered to a daily
writing quota, he confirmed his critics' worst fears. The Muse, in their
view, might prove immensely prolific, but she would never ever follow a
schedule. (Interestingly, no-one decried Gustave Flaubert for diligence,
though he too worked on a schedule-scheme similar to Trollope's.)
Furthermore, Trollope admitted that he wrote for money; at the same time
he called the disdain of money false and foolish. The Muse, claimed the
critics, should not be aware of money.
Julian Hawthorne, an American writer, critic and friend of Trollope,
while praising him as a man, calling him "a credit to England and to
human nature, and ...[deserving] to be numbered among the darlings of
mankind," at the same time says that "he has done great harm to English
fictitious literature by his novels" ("The Maker of Many Books,"
Confessions and Criticisms).
Henry James also expressed mixed opinions of Trollope. The young
James wrote some scathing reviews of Trollope's novels (The Belton
Estate, for instance, he called "a stupid book, without a single thought
or idea in it ... a sort of mental pabulum"). He also made it clear that
he disliked Trollope's narrative method; Trollope's cheerful
interpolations into his novels about how his storylines could take any
twist their author wanted did not appeal to James' sense of artistic
integrity. However, James thoroughly appreciated Trollope's attention to
realistic detail, as he wrote in an essay shortly after the novelist's
"His [Trollope's] great, his incontestable merit, was a complete
appreciation of the usual...he felt all daily and immediate things as
well as saw them; felt them in a simple, direct, salubrious way, with
their sadness, their gladness, their charm, their comicality, all their
obvious and measurable meanings...Trollope will remain one of the most
trustworthy, though not one of the most eloquent of writers who have
helped the heart of man to know itself...A race is fortunate when it has
a good deal of the sort of imagination — of imaginative feeling — that
had fallen to the share of Anthony Trollope; and in this possession our
English race is not poor."
James disliked Trollope's breaking the fourth wall in addressing
readers directly. However, Trollope may have had some influence on
James's own work; the earlier novelist's treatment of family tensions,
especially between fathers and daughters, may resonate in some of James'
novels. For instance, Alice Vavasor and her selfish father in the first
of the so-called Palliser novels, Can You Forgive Her?, may pre-figure
Kate Croy and her own insufferable father, Lionel, in The Wings of the
Writers such as Thackeray, Eliot and Collins admired and befriended
Trollope, and George Eliot noted that she could not have embarked on so
ambitious a project as Middlemarch without the precedent set by Trollope
in his own novels of the fictional — yet thoroughly alive — county of
As trends in the world of the novel moved increasingly towards
subjectivity and artistic experimentation, Trollope's standing with
critics suffered. In the 1940s, Trollopians made attempts to resurrect
his reputation; he enjoyed a critical Renaissance in the 1960s, and
again in the 1990s. Some critics today have a particular interest in
Trollope's portrayal of women — he caused remark even in his own day for
his remarkable insight and sensitivity to the inner conflicts caused by
the position of women in Victorian society. Less compelling however, is
the anti-semitism which appears in some of his work (for instance, in
The Eustace Diamonds, where he refers to the character of Mr Emilius as
a "nasty, greasy, lying, squinting Jew preacher"), and which exceeds
anything to be found, say, in either Dickens or James.
A Trollope Society flourishes in the United Kingdom, as does its
sister society in the United States.