Anthony TrollopeAnthony Trollope (April 24, 1815 - December 6, 1882) became one of the most successful and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. His popularity continues into the present day (one famous fan being ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major); however, his reputation amongst literary critics fluctuates markedly, for reasons explained below.
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3 Trollope on television
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Trollope was born in London, England, the son of a barrister, and educated at various public schools until his family moved to Belgium. Trollope's experiences at these schools were very miserable; at the age of twelve he fantasised about suicide. However, he took to daydreaming instead, constructing elaborate inner worlds.
Following his father's death, Trollope's mother, Frances, embarked on a writing career to make ends meet. Trollope himself obtained a job in the Post Office in 1834, and was sent to work in Ireland in 1841. On the numerous long train trips Trollope had to take to carry out his Post Office duties, he began writing, and set very firm goals about how much he would write per day, earning Trollope the title of being one of the most prolific writers of his time. He wrote his earliest novels while working as a Post man, occasionally dipping into the 'lost-letter' box for ideas (it is significant that many of his earliest novels have Ireland as their setting — natural enough given his background, but not likely to lead to a warm critical reception given the contemporary English attitudes towards Ireland). During the period of his employment as a Post Office official, Trollope is credited with having introduced the pillar box (a bright red mail box) in the United Kingdom.
After leaving the service and failing in a bid for election to Parliament, Trollope became a full-time writer, working as editor of the St Paul's Magazine. Through this magazine he published several of his novels. His first major success came with The Warden (1855) — the first in the series of six novels set in the mythical county of "Barsetshire". The best-known of these is probably the comic masterpiece, Barchester Towers (1857).
Trollope's other major sequence of novels, serialised in the 1970s by the BBC under the title, The Pallisers, deals with politics, mainly in the shape of Plantagenet Palliser (although, like the Barsetshire series, many other characters feature in each novel). Also noteworthy are Cousin Henry and Dr. Wortle's School (both probing psychological and moral studies in the vein of The Warden) and The Way We Live Now, a sweeping satire that has of late years received increasing respect and which was recently dramatised by the BBC.
By the time of his death, Trollope had completed approximately four dozen novels, as well as dozens of short stories and a few books on travel.
After his death, Trollope's Autobiography appeared. It was largely this volume that led to Trollope's downfall with the critics. Even during his writing career, reviews of his books tended increasingly to shake the head over his prodigious output (and the same went for Dickens), but when Trollope revealed that he actually adhered to a definite schedule, he confirmed his critics' worst fears. The Muse, in their view, might just possibly be immensely prolific; but she would never work on schedule. (Interestingly, no-one has decried Gustave Flaubert for diligence, though he too worked on a schedule-scheme similar to Trollope's.) Worse, Trollope admitted that he wrote for money and called the disdain of money false and foolish. The Muse should not be aware of money.
Henry James drove the final nail into the coffin of Trollope's reputation. 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 pablum"). He also made it clear that he despised Trollope's narrative method; a real novel, in James's view, should maintain "the fiction of fiction", and never talk as if the made-up characters actually were made up. Nor would the reliable narrator have appealed to James's tastes. As trends in the world of the novel moved increasingly towards subjectivity, James's views and, more importantly, modern ideas on the novel in general, assured that Trollope would remain obscure for decades. In the forties some attempts were made to resurrect Trollope; he enjoyed a brief critical Renaissance in the sixties; and again in the nineties. Critics today are particularly interested in Trollope's portrayal of women — which caused remark even in his own day for its remarkable insight and sensitivity to the inner conflicts caused by the constrained position of women in Victorian society. But the understanding that critics find largely in Trollope's portrayal of women, readers find in Trollope's portrayals of human beings in general. Trollope's sales amongst readers have never waned.
A Trollope Society flourishes in the UK.
The Barchester Chronicles, an eight-episode adaptation of the first two Barset novels, The Warden and Barchester Towers. Adapted by Alan Plater; starred Donald Pleasance as the Reverend Septimus Harding, Nigel Hawthorne as Archdeacon Grantly, and Alan Rickman as the Reverend Obadiah Slope.