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Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) was one the major English novelists and writers of the Victorian Age. He was also among the most prolific ones, having published forty-seven novels in addition to a number of short stories, Sketches, travelogues and biographies. Trollope succeeded in earning a good reputation as a serious writer during his lifetime and although this reputation seemed to wane during his twilight years and right after his death, the recognition of his genius and literary merits was posthumously revived by critics and academics towards the mid-twentieth century. In addition to being such a successful writer, Trollope had also made a long career as a post office clerk and is today remembered as the inventor of the Victorian post pillar box used to deposit mail before it is collected and forwarded to addressees by the Royal Mail.
Anthony Trollope was born in London on April 24th, 1815. His family, which emerged from the landed gentry, had yet to go through serious financial problems. This caused little Anthony to suffer the predicament of being educated among the wealthy in the most prestigious London schools while being in rags and impecunious. Although Trollope’s father was an educated man and a barrister, he was a complete failure in courts and even his attempts at farming were vain. This pushed Trollope’s mother, Frances Trollope, to travel to travel to America in 1827 in search for a more decent income for the family. For financial reasons, Anthony Trollope had to move from one school to another. In the beginning, he attended Harrow School as a day-boy to leave it for a private school in Sunbury and later for another in Winchester. At the age of 15, he returned to Harrow, but he never succeeded in making it to university.
In 1834, Anthony’s father, Thomas Trollope, was forced to leave his home country and seek exile in Belgium for unpaid debts. The father, who took his family with him and settled in Bruges, died the following year. After his death, there was finally some financial improvement when Frances Trollope’s first publication entitled Domestic manners of the Americans (1832) started to achieve considerable success among English readers.
Adulthood and Early works
By that time, Anthony Trollope worked as an usher in a Belgian school before becoming a post office clerk in London. Trollope spent almost seven years in that position without coming to any palpable achievements. It was only in 1841 that a turning point in his life took place when, on his own demand, he was transferred to another postal position in Ireland. He settled in Banagher and was assigned the mission of inspecting post offices all over the country. In addition to the financial advantages that the new position offered, it also enabled him to socialize with the Irish and to have much time to concentrate on writing, mainly on the many train trips to the different offices that he had to visit.
In Ireland, Trollope seemed to transform into another man. He got rid of his childhood shyness and awkwardness and made acquaintances that would later help him populate his novels. Unexpectedly, the English writer had a very positive impression about the Irish whom he found much more good-humored, humane and intelligent that the English. Trollope’s ideas about Ireland and Irish people were depicted in a number of his novels such as The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847) and The Kellys and the O’Kellys (1848). These early novels did not achieve any significant success, however. According to critics, no English author of the time could arouse any interest among his countrymen by writing about the Irish.
In the early 1840s, Trollope met the daughter of an English banker named Rose Heseltine in the seaside town of Kingstown. They fell in love and got married in 1844. After settling in the south of Ireland where Trollope occupied a new postal position, the couple had two sons. During this period, Trollope travelled a lot and his job offered him the opportunity to visit numerous countries including Scotland, the West Indies and Egypt. It was also during this period that Trollope devoted most of his time and energy to writing and publishing.
Before returning to London in 1859, Trollope had already started publishing his Barsetshire series of novels. The first novel of the series was The Warden which was published in 1855 and represented Trollope’s earliest success. The next five novels that Trollope published shared with The Warden the same imaginary setting of the county of Barsetshire. They are respectively: Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington, and The Last Chronicle of Barset. By the time of the publication of his last Barsetshire novel in 1867, Trollope decided to resign from the Post Office. Having made quite a respectable income from his writing activities, he wanted to spare more time for his publishing and editorial activities. The resignation from his civil position would also allow him to apply for a seat in the House of Commons, something that he had always dreamt of. His dream did not come true, nonetheless, since he was ranked last in the elections after running for the position and spending a considerable amount of money on the campaign.
The success of the Barsetshire novels was a rising crescendo as every new publication sold much more than the one preceding it. The novels were mostly comic examinations of the different facets of Victorian life with much sarcasm and satire. Generally, Trollope’s narratives offered a thorough analysis of the main political issues and social structures of the Victorian Age. They combined criticism with smooth humor. Many of Trollope’s heroes reappear in more than one work and some characters, such as Mr. Crawley, Mr. Slope and Mrs. Proudie, soon became popular icons in the minds of English readers. By that time, Trollope was introduced to London literary circles and befriended some major figures such as William Makepeace Thackeray, George Eliot, George Murray Smith and G. H. Lewes.
Meanwhile, Orley Farm was serially published between 1861 and 1862, and in 1864, Trollope started a new series of novels, the Palliser series. The first of these novels was entitled Can You Forgive Her? This was followed by Phineas Finn (1869), The Eustace Diamonds (1873), Phineas Redux (1876), The Prime Minister (1876) and The Duke’s Children (1880). As their title suggests, such novels dealt with the Victorian political issues of the day besides their interest in family relations and the Victorian institution of marriage.
However, apart from the Palliser series, Trollope also published a number of novels which were also quite successful. They include He Knew He Was Right which was published in the form of a series between 1868 and 1869 and follows the martial life of a jealous husband and a stubborn wife. In 1871, Trollope wrote another novel entitled, Lady Anna, while being on his trip to visit one of his sons in Australia. Soon after his return to England, he published Australia and New Zealand. The latter was a travelogue in which he described his experiences and impressions after the visit.
However, it was in 1875 that Trollope published what many readers and critics believe to be his masterpiece, The Way We Live Now. The book is a satirical novel which takes a very harsh stance on Victorian society. It mainly denounces its excessive materialism and moral decadence.
Anthony Trollope’s biographers agree that the novelist’s literary reputation sank during his last years and the few decades after his death to be revived only in the middle of the twentieth century. This was caused by different factors. First, there was the scathing criticism that he directed towards his countrymen and Australians, among others. Second, many English critics and literary men did not appreciate Trollope’s profuse literary production and thought that this could only be explained by his mechanical style of writing. The latter idea was further strengthened after the posthumous publication of Trollope’s autobiography in which he revealed that he used to set schedules and deadlines for his writings. For literary purists, this was against the principle of literary spontaneity and inspiration. Furthermore, the reaction of some of Trollope’s critics was even harsher towards his frank declaration that he also wrote for money. However, despite his waning popularity, some of Trollope’s contemporaries like the Americans Henry James and Julian Hawthorne expressed their appreciation of Trollope’s witty and strong painting of reality.
In 1880, Trollope’s asthma made him decide to resort to seclusion in a rather rural region named South Harting. He was then an old man with a declining health, yet he carried on writing more novels, the last of which was the never-finished The Landleaguers. In September 1882, he returned to London and died there on December 6th following a sudden stroke.