August 27th, 2009

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope is a risky subject. My daughter, Athena, whose opinion I respect, rolls her eyes and gets embarrassed at the utter density of her father when I mention Trollope. But I can’t help it. To begin with, I am partial to Victorians. I don’t have much patience with skirts on piano legs and prigs who must say white meat instead of breast when the turkey is carved, but I respect the society that first recognized that women are not chattels and poverty is a condition to surmount, not a crime to punish.  Anthony Trollope was born to a family on the edge of respectability.trollope His mother wrote novels to support her family after Trollope’s father’s law practice failed. His family sent Anthony Trollope to the right schools, but he had to withdraw when funds ran out. Anthony had a distinguished career in the post office, inventing the letter box still seen all over Britain. Eventually he withdrew from the post office to pursue a full time literary career, but only after he was thoroughly established as a civil servant in the post office.

As a writer, Trollope was a novel machine. He wrote an allotment of pages a day, every day, whether at home or traveling for the post office, as he frequently did. When he finished a draft of one novel, he started the next immediately and he claimed never to revise. He was the most prolific of the Victorian novelists, far exceeding the output of Dickens and Thackeray, with whom he is often compared.

Of the great Victorians, I think Trollope is my favorite. Dickens was clearly a master and a genius, but his characters are exagerated, better, worse, or more comic than the real people I know. Trollope’s genius is in the way he captured characters that are exactly as you might meet them at your job or in your home: interesting, sympathetic, but not overdrawn or exaggerated.

I have posted one of Trollope’s short stories, The Panjandrum, to give you a sample of his skills.

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