About Anthony Trollope
Anthony Trollope (24 April 1815 – 6 December 1882) was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Among his best-loved works is a series of novels collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, which revolves around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote perceptive novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters.
Trollope's literary reputation dipped somewhat during the last years of his life, but he regained the esteem of critics by the mid-twentieth century.
Trollope's first major success came with The Warden (1855)—the first of six novels set in the fictional county of "Barsetshire" (often collectively referred to as the Chronicles of Barsetshire), dealing primarily with the clergy and landed gentry. Barchester Towers (1857) has probably become the best-known of these. Trollope's other major series, the Palliser novels, which overlap with the Barset novels, concerned itself with politics, with the wealthy, industrious Plantagenet Palliser (later Duke of Omnium) and his delightfully spontaneous, even richer wife Lady Glencora usually featuring prominently (although, as with the Barsetshire series, many other well-developed characters populated each novel, and in one, The Eustace Diamonds, the Pallisers only play a small role).
Trollope's popularity and critical success diminished in his later years, but he continued to write prolifically, and some of his later novels have acquired a good reputation. In particular, critics who concur that the book was not popular when published, generally acknowledge the sweeping satire The Way We Live Now (1875) as his masterpiece. In all, Trollope wrote forty-seven novels, as well as dozens of short stories and a few books on travel.
After his death, Trollope's Autobiography appeared and was a best-seller in London. Trollope's downfall in the eyes of the critics stemmed largely from this volume. Even during his writing career, reviewers tended increasingly to shake their heads over his prodigious output, but when Trollope revealed that he strictly adhered to a daily writing quota, he confirmed his critics' worst fears. The Muse, in their view, might prove immensely prolific, but she would never ever follow a schedule. Furthermore, Trollope admitted that he wrote for money; at the same time he called the disdain of money false and foolish. The Muse, claimed the critics[who?], should not be aware of money.
Julian Hawthorne, an American writer, critic and friend of Trollope, while praising him as a man, calling him "a credit to England and to human nature, and ...[deserving] to be numbered among the darlings of mankind", also says that "he has done great harm to English fictitious literature by his novels".
Henry James also expressed mixed opinions of Trollope. The young James wrote some scathing reviews of Trollope's novels (The Belton Estate, for instance, he called "a stupid book, without a single thought or idea in it ... a sort of mental pabulum"). He also made it clear that he disliked Trollope's narrative method; Trollope's cheerful interpolations into his novels about how his storylines could take any twist their author wanted did not appeal to James' sense of artistic integrity. However, James thoroughly appreciated Trollope's attention to realistic detail, as he wrote in an essay shortly after the novelist's death:
His [Trollope's] great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual. ... [H]e felt all daily and immediate things as well as saw them; felt them in a simple, direct, salubrious way, with their sadness, their gladness, their charm, their comicality, all their obvious and measurable meanings. ... Trollope will remain one of the most trustworthy, though not one of the most eloquent, of the writers who have helped the heart of man to know itself. ... A race is fortunate when it has a good deal of the sort of imagination—of imaginative feeling—that had fallen to the share of Anthony Trollope; and in this possession our English race is not poor.
James disliked Trollope's habit of addressing readers directly. However, Trollope may have had some influence on James's own work; the earlier novelist's treatment of family tensions, especially between fathers and daughters, may resonate in some of James' novels. For instance, Alice Vavasor and her selfish father in the first of the so-called Palliser novels, Can You Forgive Her?, may pre-figure Kate Croy and her own insufferable father, Lionel, in The Wings of the Dove.
Writers such as Thackeray, Eliot and Collins admired and befriended Trollope, and George Eliot noted that she could not have embarked on so ambitious a project as Middlemarch without the precedent set by Trollope in his own novels of the fictional—yet thoroughly alive—county of Barsetshire. Other contemporaries of Trollope praised his understanding of the quotidian world of institutions, official life, and daily business; he is one of the few novelists who find the office a creative environment. W. H. Auden wrote of Trollope as follows: "Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role of money. Compared with him, even Balzac is too romantic."
Of course there was a Great House at Allington. How otherwise should there have been a Small House? Our story will, as its name imports, have its closest relations with those who lived in the less dignified domicile of the two; but it will have close relations also with the more dignified, and it may be well that I should, in the first instance, say a few words as to the Great House and its owner.
The squires of Allington had been squires of Allington since squires, such as squires are now, were first known in England. From father to son, and from uncle to nephew, and, in one instance, from second cousin to second cousin, the sceptre had descended in the family of the Dales; and the acres had remained intact, growing in value and not decreasing in number, though guarded by no entail and protected by no wonderful amount of prudence or wisdom. The estate of Dale of Allington had been coterminous with the parish of Allington for some hundreds of years; and though, as I have said, the race of squires had possessed nothing of superhuman discretion, and had perhaps been guided in their walks through life by no very distinct principles, still there had been with them so much of adherence to a sacred law, that no acre of the property had ever been parted from the hands of the existing squire. Some futile attempts had been made to increase the territory, as indeed had been done by Kit Dale, the father of Christopher Dale, who will appear as our squire of Allington when the persons of our drama are introduced. Old Kit Dale, who had married money, had bought outlying farms,--a bit of ground here and a bit there,--talking, as he did so, much of political influence and of the good old Tory cause. But these farms and bits of ground had gone again before our time. To them had been attached no religion. When old Kit had found himself pressed in that matter of the majority of the Nineteenth Dragoons, in which crack regiment his second son made for himself quite a career, he found it easier to sell than to save--seeing that that which he sold was his own and not the patrimony of the Dales. At his death the remainder of these purchases had gone. Family arrangements required completion, and Christopher Dale required ready money. The outlying farms flew away, as such new purchases had flown before; but the old patrimony of the Dales remained untouched, as it had ever remained.
All the English world knows, or knows of, that branch of the Civil Service which is popularly called the Weights and Measures. Every inhabitant of London, and every casual visitor there, has admired the handsome edifice which generally goes by that name, and which stands so conspicuously confronting the Treasury Chambers. It must be owned that we have but a slip-slop way of christening our public buildings. When a man tells us that he called on a friend at the Horse Guards, or looked in at the Navy Pay, or dropped a ticket at the Woods and Forests, we put up with the accustomed sounds, though they are in themselves, perhaps, indefensible. The 'Board of Commissioners for Regulating Weights and Measures', and the 'Office of the Board of Commissioners for Regulating Weights and Measures', are very long phrases; and as, in the course of this tale, frequent mention will be made of the public establishment in question, the reader's comfort will be best consulted by maintaining its popular though improper denomination.
It is generally admitted that the Weights and Measures is a well-conducted public office; indeed, to such a degree of efficiency has it been brought by its present very excellent secretary, the two very worthy assistant-secretaries, and especially by its late most respectable chief clerk, that it may be said to stand quite alone as a high model for all other public offices whatever. It is exactly antipodistic of the Circumlocution Office, and as such is always referred to in the House of Commons by the gentleman representing the Government when any attack on the Civil Service, generally, is being made.
I am disposed to believe that no novel reader in England has seen the little town of Bullhampton, in Wiltshire, except such novel readers as live there, and those others, very few in number, who visit it perhaps four times a year for the purposes of trade, and who are known as commercial gentlemen. Bullhampton is seventeen miles from Salisbury, eleven from Marlborough, nine from Westbury, seven from Haylesbury, and five from the nearest railroad station, which is called Bullhampton Road, and lies on the line from Salisbury to Ycovil. It is not quite on Salisbury Plain, but probably was so once, when Salisbury Plain was wider than it is now. Whether it should be called a small town or a large village I cannot say. It has no mayor, and no market, but it has a fair. There rages a feud in Bullhampton touching this want of a market, as there are certain Bullhamptonites who aver that the charter giving all rights of a market to Bullhampton does exist; and that at one period in its history the market existed also,—for a year or two; but the three bakers and two butchers are opposed to change; and the patriots of the place, though they declaim on the matter over their evening pipes and gin-and-water, have not enough of matutinal zeal to carry out their purpose. Bullhampton is situated on a little river, which meanders through the chalky ground, and has a quiet, slow, dreamy prettiness of its own. A mile above the town,—for we will call it a town,—the stream divides itself into many streamlets, and there is a district called the Water Meads, in which bridges are more frequent than trustworthy, in which there are hundreds of little sluice-gates for regulating the irrigation, and a growth of grass which is a source of much anxiety and considerable trouble to the farmers. There is a water-mill here, too, very low, with ever a floury, mealy look, with a pasty look often, as the flour becomes damp with the spray of the water as it is thrown by the mill-wheel. It seems to be a tattered, shattered, ramshackle concern, but it has been in the same family for many years; and as the family has not hitherto been in distress, it may be supposed that the mill still affords a fair means of livelihood. The Brattles,—for Jacob Brattle is the miller's name,—have ever been known as men who paid their way, and were able to hold up their heads. But nevertheless Jacob Brattle is ever at war with his landlord in regard to repairs wanted for his mill, and Mr. Gilmore, the landlord in question, declares that he wishes that the Avon would some night run so high as to carry off the mill altogether. Bullhampton is very quiet. There is no special trade in the place. Its interests are altogether agricultural. It has no newspaper. Its tendencies are altogether conservative. It is a good deal given to religion; and the Primitive Methodists have a very strong holding there, although in all Wiltshire there is not a clergyman more popular in his own parish than the Rev. Frank Fenwick. He himself, in his inner heart, rather likes his rival, Mr. Puddleham, the dissenting minister; because Mr. Puddleham is an earnest man, who, in spite of the intensity of his ignorance, is efficacious among the poor. But Mr. Fenwick is bound to keep up the fight; and Mr. Puddleham considers it to be his duty to put down Mr. Fenwick and the Church Establishment altogether.
Mr William Whittlestaff was strolling very slowly up and down the long walk at his country seat in Hampshire, thinking of the contents of a letter which he held crushed up within his trousers' pocket. He always breakfasted exactly at nine, and the letters were supposed to be brought to him at a quarter past. The postman was really due at his hall-door at a quarter before nine; but though he had lived in the same house for above fifteen years, and though he was a man very anxious to get his letters, he had never yet learned the truth about them. He was satisfied in his ignorance with 9.15 a.m., but on this occasion the post-boy, as usual, was ten minutes after that time. Mr Whittlestaff had got through his second cup of tea, and was stranded in his chair, having nothing to do, with the empty cup and plates before him for the space of two minutes; and, consequently, when he had sent some terrible message out to the post-boy, and then had read the one epistle which had arrived on this morning, he thus liberated his mind: "I'll be whipped if I will have anything to do with her." But this must not be taken as indicating the actual state of his mind; but simply the condition of anger to which he had been reduced by the post-boy. If any one were to explain to him afterwards that he had so expressed himself on a subject of such importance, he would have declared of himself that he certainly deserved to be whipped himself. In order that he might in truth make up his mind on the subject, he went out with his hat and stick into the long walk, and there thought out the matter to its conclusion. The letter which he held in his pocket ran as follows:—
St. Tawell's, Norwich, February 18—.
MY DEAR MR WHITTLESTAFF,—Poor Mrs Lawrie has gone at last. She died this morning at seven o'clock, and poor Mary is altogether alone in the world. I have asked her to come in among us for a few days at any rate, till the funeral shall be over. But she has refused, knowing, I suppose, how crowded and how small our house is. What is she to do? You know all the circumstances much better than I do. She says herself that she had always been intended for a governess, and that she will, of course, follow out the intention which had been fixed on between her and her father before his death. But it is a most weary prospect, especially for one who has received no direct education for the purpose. She has devoted herself for the last twelve months to Mrs Lawrie, as though she had been her mother. You did not like Mrs Lawrie, nor did I; nor, indeed, did poor Mary love her very dearly. But she, at any rate, did her duty by her step-mother. I know that in regard to actual money you will be generous enough; but do turn the matter over in your mind, and endeavour to think of some future for the poor girl.—Yours very faithfully,
Before the reader is introduced to the modest country medical practitioner who is to be the chief personage of the following tale, it will be well that he should be made acquainted with some particulars as to the locality in which, and the neighbours among whom, our doctor followed his profession.
There is a county in the west of England not so full of life, indeed, nor so widely spoken of as some of its manufacturing leviathan brethren in the north, but which is, nevertheless, very dear to those who know it well. Its green pastures, its waving wheat, its deep and shady and—let us add—dirty lanes, its paths and stiles, its tawny-coloured, well-built rural churches, its avenues of beeches, and frequent Tudor mansions, its constant county hunt, its social graces, and the general air of clanship which pervades it, has made it to its own inhabitants a favoured land of Goshen. It is purely agricultural; agricultural in its produce, agricultural in its poor, and agricultural in its pleasures. There are towns in it, of course; dépôts from whence are brought seeds and groceries, ribbons and fire-shovels; in which markets are held and county balls are carried on; which return members to Parliament, generally—in spite of Reform Bills, past, present, and coming—in accordance with the dictates of some neighbouring land magnate: from whence emanate the country postmen, and where is located the supply of post-horses necessary for county visitings. But these towns add nothing to the importance of the county; they consist, with the exception of the assize town, of dull, all but death-like single streets. Each possesses two pumps, three hotels, ten shops, fifteen beer-houses, a beadle, and a market-place.