Last reviewed: June 2018
April 24, 1815
December 6, 1882
The father of Anthony Trollope, Thomas Anthony Trollope, was an eccentric barrister who lost his wealth in wild speculations; his mother, Frances Trollope, kept the family together by fleeing to Belgium to escape creditors and by writing a total of 114 volumes, mostly novels. Her best-known work today is Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), a caustic and grossly exaggerated account of the United States she observed on a trip to Cincinnati in 1823 in an unsuccessful attempt to set up a great bazaar. As his older brother, Thomas Adolphus, was also a writer, Anthony was following a well-established family tradition. Anthony Trollope
According to his posthumous Autobiography, Trollope was born in London on April 24, 1815; he grew into an ungainly, oafish, and unpopular boy who spent miserable and friendless years at Harrow and Winchester, where he learned nothing. When he was nineteen, he sought work in London, first as a clerk and then as a civil servant with the post office. He hated his work and his lonely life in the city, and seven years later he accepted with relief an appointment as traveling postal inspector in Ireland (1841-1859). Later his duties carried him on brief trips to all the continents of the world. In Ireland Trollope’s pleasant experiences with genial country people and an exhilarating landscape helped him develop into a more confident and optimistic person.
He married Rose Haseltine and at the age of thirty began to write, his first novels being inspired by the ruins of an Irish mansion. His early works were failures, but he persevered under difficult conditions until The Warden found a responsive audience in 1855. This “scene from clerical life,” its setting the Episcopal establishment of Barchester, presents a detailed account of the day-to-day events of provincial life in Victorian England. Its sequel, Barchester Towers, with its incorrigible comic character, Bertie, was so successful that it was followed by four other novels on the same theme, the whole group constituting the perennially popular “Chronicles of Barsetshire.” During this same period, Trollope also wrote other novels, the best of which are The Three Clerks, an autobiographical account of the English civil service, and Orley Farm, a work which combines a plot involving a forged will with genre pictures of family life in the country.
In 1867, now confident of his powers, Trollope resigned from the post office and became interested in politics. He stood as Liberal candidate for Parliament in 1868 but was defeated. Nevertheless, he cut an impressive figure, chatting in the London literary clubs and riding to the hounds in southern England. All these interests are faithfully embodied in a series sometimes called the parliamentary novels, among them Phineas Finn, the Irish Member; Phineas Redux; The Prime Minister; and The Duke’s Children. Trollope could not compete with Benjamin Disraeli in this field (just as he was unable to compete with Charles Dickens in depicting city life among the lower and middle classes), and despite their appealing portraits of political life and character, his parliamentary series was not widely read. Trollope continued to turn out novel after novel—mild satires, histories, romances, travelogues, novels of manners, and even, in The Fixed Period, a futuristic work about life in 1980. A curiously interesting work is the story of an erring woman, Can You Forgive Her?—a novel as close as he ever came to modern realism.
Despite the fact that he wrote some sixty novels in all, it cannot be said of Trollope that he made the world his stage. He surveys generally a rather narrow scene, usually rural and provincial, peopled by mild villains and tame heroes. No powerful philosophical or social conviction charges his writing, and no keen analysis of human psychology opens the inner beings of his characters. “A novel,” he said, “should give a picture of common life enlivened by humor and sweetened by pathos.” In this endeavor Trollope succeeded so completely that Henry James said of him, “His great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual.” Trollope died on December 6, 1882, as the result of a stroke suffered one month earlier.
Trollope’s posthumously published Autobiography disappointed his admirers and dampened his reputation, for he candidly confessed that he wrote 250 words per hour, completing eight to sixteen pages a day. He is said to have earned some seventy thousand pounds from his writings. Despite the fact that he was not an inspired writer, he amused an entire generation with pleasant tales, the best of which have considerable value as sociological insights into a more tranquil age forever past.