The English novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) wrote a series of novels that chronicle the everyday life of middle-class Victorians. Quietly humorous and at times satirical, his works reveal the vigorous and modest good nature of their author.
After the depressions and near-revolutions of the 1840s, England entered a period of peace and plenty that lasted from 1850 to about 1870. Anthony Trollope's fiction mirrors the Establishment of that period—comfortably off, even wealthy; concerned with individual morality; and relatively unaware of how private virtues and vices interact with public issues.
Trollope was born on April 24, 1815. His mother, Frances Trollope (1780-1863), was the author of The Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832) and many novels. He was a large, awkward, shy boy who developed into a burly, vigorous, even boisterous man. He went to school at Winchester and Harrow, but he was a very poor student. When he was 19 years old, he went to work in London as a clerk in the Post Office.
In 1841 Trollope volunteered to become a postal inspector in Ireland. He then took up hunting and followed the sport for many years. In 1844 he married Rose Heseltine; they had two sons. To add to his income Trollope wrote The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847) and The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848), two novels about Ireland; and La Vendée (1850), a novel set in Bruges during the French Revolution. None of these books was successful.
From 1851 to 1853 Trollope inspected post offices in southern England. In Salisbury in 1851 he conceived the idea for The Warden (1855), a novel about clerical life in a cathedral town, the first of his Barsetshire novels. It was followed by Barchester Towers (1857), in which two of the series's most popular figures—the Bishop and Mrs. Proudie—made their first appearance. These wise, humorous, and gentle novels presented the Victorian middle class without the preaching of Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke (1850) and other "sociological" novels and without the sensational events recorded in novels by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Charles Reade. The Barsetshire series, successful financially and critically, was completed by Doctor Thorne (1858), Framley Parsonage (1861), The Small House at Allington (1864), and The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867).
Many of the Barsetshire characters appear in more than one novel, growing older from novel to novel and revealing new but not inconsistent aspects of their personalities. Barsetshire itself was so vividly imagined that readers have published maps of this make-believe country. The series may have ended because Trollope's readers let him know they were growing tired of it.
In 1858-1859 Trollope was sent by the Post Office to Egypt, Scotland, and the West Indies and, in 1861, to the United States. From these journeys he developed stories and travel books. In 1859 Trollope was promoted to chief inspector of the Post Office, and he then moved his family from Ireland to England. In 1860 he met Kate Field, a young American with whom he had a fatherly relationship, and William Makepeace Thackeray, whose novels he admired and about whom he wrote a memoir (Thackeray, 1879). In 1867 Trollope resigned from the Post Office and made a second trip to the United States. Wherever he went, he kept at his writing. In all, he wrote 47 novels, in addition to short stories, travel books, hunting sketches, biographies, and other volumes.
Can You Forgive Her? (1864) began a series of political novels that includes Phineas Finn (1869), The Eustace Diamonds (1873), Phineas Redux (1874), The Prime Minister (1876), and The Duke's Children (1880). The characters in this series develop as they do in the Barsetshire novels, especially Plantagenet Palliser, who is seen as a young man in the first novel and as a widower in the last.
Most of Trollope's novels are good-natured, but The Way We Live Now (1875) is not. This novel is a scathing satire of England in the 1870s, greedy for money while on the edge of moral bankruptcy. This novel seems to reveal a Trollope different from the author of the Barsetshire stories. The author, however, is the man he always was; his story is now about a different England.
Trollope was a methodical writer. He began writing as early as 5:30 in the morning and before breakfast entered in a diary kept for each of his novels, beginning with Barchester Towers, the number of pages he had written. He wrote aboard ship or on a train. When he finished a novel, he turned it over to his publisher and promptly began another. His method of working made him liable to the charge of being a mechanical rather than a methodical writer. However, his steady output was the result of pondering the characters and situations of a projected book while traveling or during intervals in his business day.
Trollope's Autobiography, written in 1875-1876 but not published until 1883, the year after his death, revealed his method of writing and caused a decline in his reputation. Only in the 20th century was his reputation restored. The Autobiography presents an older and sadder man—but not an essentially different one—than the Trollope who commented upon his characters in the Barsetshire novels.
After resigning from the Post Office, Trollope traveled for pleasure. He continued to write during each journey. He suffered a stroke and after a short illness died on Dec. 6, 1882.
Further Reading on Anthony Trollope
Trollope's Autobiography (1883; many subsequent editions) is a valuable self-portrait but an underestimation of his abilities. Michael Sadleir, Trollope: A Commentary (1927), undoubtedly the best biography, presents him as a healthy, normal man content with the life around him and happy to create the illusion of it in his books. Lucy Poate Stebbins and Richard Stebbins, The Trollopes: The Chronicle of a Writing Family (1945), analyzes Trollope as an unhappy man who betrayed his talent and revealed his embitterment in his Autobiography. The best critical study is Bradford A. Booth, Anthony Trollope: Aspects of His Life and Art (1958), which mediates these views. Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870 (1957), is an excellent presentation of historical background.
Additional Biography Sources
Glendinning, Victoria, Anthony Trollope, New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1993.
Hall, N. John, Trollope: a biography, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Mullen, Richard, Anthony Trollope: a Victorian in his world, Savannah: F.C. Beil, 1992.
Snow, C. P. (Charles Percy), Trollope, his life and art, New York: Scribner, 1975.
Super, R. H. (Robert Henry), The chronicler of Barsetshire: a life of Anthony Trollope, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988.
Super, R. H. (Robert Henry), Trollope in the Post Office, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981.
Trollope, Anthony, An illustrated autobiography: including How the "Mastiffs" went to Iceland, Wolfeboro, N.H.: A. Sutton, 1987.
Terry, R. C. (Reginald Charles), Trollope: interviews and recollections, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.