I recently had the enormous pleasure of reading a new, first edition of Anthony Trollope. It was a book called The Duke’s Children and was the last volume in his political, or Palliser, series of six novels. The book has an intriguing history.
The BBC 1974 TV series of The Pallisers came on TV when I was in my early teens. I watched the first of 26 episodes and was immediately hooked. So, I rushed out to buy the set of novels from the local bookshop and made my way through them, staying just ahead of each Sunday’s episode. I managed that until the terrible day when the science teacher confiscated my book because I was reading instead of attending to his chemistry lesson, and for many agonising days I had to wait to find out what happened to poor Phineas Finn who was in prison, in danger of being handed, when my book was taken from me. I can’t remember a single thing from any of his lessons, but I have never forgiven that teacher for taking away a Trollope novel when I was so utterly engrossed. The series remains one of my favourite TV serials of all time and I just adore the six novels.
When Trollope published The Duke’s Children he was past the peak of popularity that he had enjoyed. As his book was being serialised, the editor (son of Charles Dickens) felt that readers had had enough of Trollope and asked him to cut this new novel by 65,000 words. Reluctantly Trollope picked up a pencil and began to score through his own words on the manuscript, removing some of the repetitions that make his style so soothing and delightful, and cutting much of the political content of the novel. When the book was published as a novel in 1880, it was the cut version that was made available.
The manuscript of the book has rested for many decades in the Beinecke Library at Yale in the USA. Then Stephen Armanick and a few dedicated scholars decided it was time to revisit the original manuscript and see what had been removed. A decision was made to publish the full text and so the Folio Society brought out the true first edition of The Duke’s Children, well over 100 years after it had been written. I purchased a copy and, for some inexplicable reason, let it sit on the shelf for some years.
A few weeks ago, I opened the vast and heavy volume and fell with joy into Trollope’s fictional world once again. I have listened to the book (the cut version) read by Timothy West (one of the world’s best audio book readers) and adored it, but reading this uncut version made me realise that what I had experienced before was a poor substitute for the real thing. I so loved this new edition, felt it brought the whole series to a fitting and triumphant close, and lamented that Trollope had ever been asked to cut his own writings. The whole experience made me think about shortening books – horrid for any author who has laboured hard over every word, but perhaps even harder for an author to do to his own work – a bit like severing part of one’s own anatomy perhaps?
I am so pleased that Trollopians can now turn to the original text and read what Trollope originally wanted us to read. If you have never read a Trollope novel, let me recommend them. Tolstoy praised him and remarked ‘Trollope kills me with his greatness”, the economist J.K. Galbraith was convinced he could never enjoy a holiday without a Trollope novel, and then there’s the famous story of the Bishop who declared he could never go to bed without a good Trollope to enjoy! He’s an author who has greatly enriched my life, and it was a truly wonderful experience to return to his fictional world with this most fascinating first edition.