A loud, untidy and yet wonderfully humane man
Anthony Trollope was a prolific writer, and wrote novels, short stories, biography and travel. He is an addictive novelist as he takes the reader into his world of politics or church, and few male novelists have shown Trollope’s understanding of women. He is also brilliant when writing about the influence of money. I am just one of thousands of people who have adored the novels of Anthony Trollope. His writing has enriched my life.
Trollope’s life was not always an easy one. In many ways, his childhood trauma was worse than that suffered by his great contemporary, Charles Dickens. As a schoolboy, he was so miserable that he contemplated suicide. His mother became a best-selling writer – discover how her books influenced her son’s. He rose high in the Post Office, adored hunting, was a great club man, and he loved his food. Let me help you get to know this loud, untidy, and yet wonderfully humane man.
“Trollope kills me. Kills me with his excellence,”
― Leo Tolstoy
Henry James once commented that Trollope’s “great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual”. Through details of food, houses and dress, Trollope reveals his characters to us as they go about their daily lives – he does so with perception, a vast understanding of human weaknesses and motivations, and with sympathy.
Anthony Trollope had a successful career in the Post Office, and we can thank him for the introduction of the pillar post box into Britain.
But we can also thank him for his authorial perseverance. He published three novels that failed to bring him either money or fame. Then, one summer evening in 1852 he found himself in the cathedral city of Salisbury on post office business. He stood for some time on Harnham Bridge looking at the distant spire of the cathedral and there he conceived the idea of writing novels about clergymen, showing them not so much in their clerical roles, but as ordinary men, as beset by greed, ambitions, lust and envy as other men.
As a result of that evening walk, he created ‘Barchester’ in the west of England, an amalgam of Salisbury, Exeter and Winchester, and he wrote the six novels of his Barsetshire series. Barchester Towers has always been the best-known of Trollope’s books. And yet it disgusted some early readers – why? Trollope was ordered to remove his reference to Mr Slope’s bad breath as this was seen as simply too vulgar. It’s a very funny novel, as Eleanor and the Signora contend with too many suitors, Mrs Proudie struggles for dominance against all who come near her, and the men of God are revealed to have all too human failings.
Contemporary reviewers of the novel were very favourable. Trollope was praised for his “healthy and sturdy” realism and for his “real insight into human character and into the complexities of human motives”. During his lifetime it was reprinted more than any of his other novels and has remained one of his most popular works. Interestingly Trollope himself was not the book’s biggest fan.
Trollope also wrote a political series, the brilliant six-novel set known as ‘The Pallisers’. Trollope never took a holiday from writing, even when he travelled, and in his lifetime he produced 47 novels, a play, volumes of short stories, and some biographies and travel books.
If you’re keen to find materials to learn more, you’ve come to the right place. Scroll down to where I list many of the books, movies, and resources available – about his life, times, characters, style, and influence. It’s a compilation of items that I have referenced over many years and is by no means exhaustive, rather, just a starting point for your own Anthony Trollope discovery.
I, for one, am incredibly grateful that Trollope did stand on Harnham Bridge on that memorable evening in 1852. I adore his novels and have made my way through every one of them with pleasure. I would love to persuade you to share my deep love of an author whose works have given me untold pleasure.
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