Literary Corner Cafe

Monday, December 6, 2010

Today In Literary History - Anthony Trollope Dies in London in 1882


On December 6, 1882, prolific English author Anthony Trollope died in London at the age of sixty-seven. He was one of the most successful and respected of all the Victorian authors and is widely read today. Some of this best loved works, collectively known as the "Chronicles of Barsetshire," revolve around the fictional county of Barsetshire in southern England.

Born in London, Trollope attended Harrow School as a day student for three years, beginning at age seven. He later followed his father, Thomas and his two older brothers to Winchester College, where he studied for three years, then returned to Harrow due to the cost of education at Winchester. Both Harrow and Winchester are two of the most elite schools in all of England, but Trollope didn’t fare well at either, having little money and few friends. He was often the brunt of bullies, and at the age of twelve, he says, he fantasized about suicide. Trollope, of course, had an active imagination, and he often daydreamed and constructed elaborate fantasy worlds.

In 1827, Trollope’s mother, Frances, moved to the United States, taking Trollope’s three younger siblings with her. She opened a shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, but it was unsuccessful. On her return to England in 1831, Frances Trollope took up writing and soon made a name for herself, earning a good income as well. Trollope’s father, however, didn’t fare nearly as well. He was quite unsuccessful as a barrister, and his attempts at farming failed to provide him with the income he required to pay his rents to his landlord. In 1834, Thomas Trollope fled to Belgium to avoid arrest for debt. The entire Trollope family moved into a house in Bruges and lived on Frances’ earnings as a writer.

While in Belgium, Trollope was offered a commission in an Austrian cavalry regiment, one he intended to accept. To accept, however, he had to learn both French and German in one year. He took a job as a tutor to thirty boys at a school in Brussels in order to learn both languages without expense to either himself or his family. However, after only six weeks, a family friend obtained for Trollope a clerkship in the General Post Office and in the fall of 1834, he returned to London to accept it.

In his position at the Post Office, Trollope soon acquired a reputation for unpunctuality and insubordination. Trollope admitted that “the first seven years of my official life were neither creditable to myself nor useful to the public service” and he also said that he lived in constant fear of dismissal.

In 1841, his superior, eager to be rid of him, appointed Trollope to a position as a postal surveyor’s clerk in western Ireland. The post was not a desirable one, but Trollope, who was in debt and in trouble, was glad to take it.

Trollope’s work in Ireland consisted mostly of inspection tours in Connacht. Although he’d arrived in Ireland with a bad reputation, his supervisor was fair, and within a year, Trollope had attained the reputation of a valuable public servant and his salary and travel allowance were both increased. For the first time in his life, he was enjoying a measure of economic prosperity. He took up fox hunting, which he enjoyed for the next three decades and he says he liked the Irish people. “The Irish people did not murder me, nor did they even break my head. I soon found them to be good-humored, clever – the working classes very much more intelligent than those of England – economical and hospitable.”

While in Ireland, Trollope met Rose Heseltine, the daughter of a Rotherham bank manager. They became engaged, but because of Trollope’s debts and Rose’s own lack of a dowry, they were unable to marry until 1844.

Although Trollope had already resolved to become a novelist, he had done very little writing during his first three years in Ireland. At the time of his marriage, he had written only the first of three volumes of his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran. Within a year of his marriage, he finished that work and began writing on the numerous long train trips he had to make around Ireland in order to carry out his duties with the Postal Office. Trollope took himself in hand and set very firm goals about how much he would write each day (250 words each quarter hour – no fewer). Because of this, he became one of the most prolific writers of all time.

Understandably, most of Trollope’s early novels have Ireland as their setting, and it’s been pointed out by many literary critics that Trollope’s view of Ireland separates him from many of the other Victorian novelists. The reception of Trollope’s Irish works, however, left much to be desired. Henry Colburn wrote to Trollope, “It is evident that readers do not like novels on Irish subjects as well as on others.”

In 1851, Trollope’s work with the Postal Office took him back to England. During a two-year mission reorganizing rural mail delivery in a portion of the country, he traveled over all of Great Britain, often on horseback. Trollope describes this time as “two of the happiest years of my life.” In its course, he visited Salisbury Cathedral, where he conceived the plot of The Warden, the first of the six Barsetshire novels. The Warden was published in 1855, and though it didn’t earn a lot of money for Trollope, it did bring him to the attention of the novel reading public.

Although Trollope had been very happy in Ireland, he felt that as an author, he should live within easy reach of London. In 1859, he sought and obtained a position in the Post Office as Surveyor to the Eastern District, which comprised Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, and most of Hertfordshire. He also moved to Walthan Cross, about twelve miles from London, where he lived until 1871. By the mid-1860s, Trollope had reached a senior position with the Post Office, and he is credited with introducing the pillar box (the bright red “English” mail box) to the United Kingdom. By the mid-1860s, he had also begun earning a substantial income from his novels. In the autumn of 1867, he resigned his position at the Post Office, having by that time saved enough money to generate an income equal to the pension he would lose by leaving his post prior to the age of sixty.

Trollope had long dreamt of serving in the House of Commons, though as a civil servant he was ineligible for such a position. After his resignation from the Post Office, however, this impediment was removed. In 1868, he agreed to stand as a Liberal candidate in the borough of Beverley in East Riding, Yorkshire. Beverley, however, had a long history of vote buying and Trollope described his period of campaigning in Beverley as “the most wretched fortnight of my manhood.” At the November 17,1868 election, Trollope finished fourth of four candidates, and the fictional Percycross election in the novel Ralph the Heir is closely based on the corrupt Beverley election.

After the Beverley loss, Trollope concentrated solely on his literary career. He produced novels rapidly and also edited the “St. Paul’s Magazine,” which published several of his novels in serial form.

In 1871, Trollope made his first trip to Australia and arrived in Melbourne in July with his wife and their cook. The family had made the trip to visit their younger son, Frederic, who was a sheep farmer in New South Wales. While making the voyage to Australia, Trollope wrote the novel, Lady Anna. In Australia, he spent a year and two days “descending mines, mixing with shearers and roustabouts, riding his horse into the loneliness of the bush, touring lunatic asylums, and exploring coast and plain by steamer and stagecoach.” The Australian press was leery of Trollope and feared he would depict them in a negative light, in part based on the negative writings of America by his own mother, Fanny, and by Charles Dickens. On his return to England, Trollope published a book, Australia and New Zealand, which contained both positive and negative comments, the negative comments were reserved for Adelaide’s river, the towns of Bendigo and Ballarat, and the Aboriginal people. What upset Australians most, however, were Trollope’s comments “accusing Australians of being braggarts.”

When Trollope returned to Australia in 1875 to help his son close down his failed farming business, he found that the resentment created by his accusations of bragging still smoldered. Even when he died in 1882, the Australians had not forgiven Trollope and refused to praise or even recognize his achievements.

In 1880, Trollope moved to the village of South Harting in West Sussex. He died in London in 1882 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery near the grave of his contemporary, Wilkie Collins. Inscribed upon his commemorative plaque in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey is the last sentence from his Autobiography, published the year after his death: “Now I stretch out my hand, and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words that I have written.”

In all, Trollope wrote forty-seven novels, ten more than the other literary giants of his time – Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, and the Brontës – combined. And all of them are still in print, bought, according to biographer N. John Hall, “not by students, forced to do so, but by people who read them because they enjoy them.”

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