Anthony Trollope

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Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1882) was a Victorian novelist, travel writer, postal official and politician.

Early life

Anthony was born on 24 April 1815, the fourth son of a barrister whose great abilities were widely recognised, but who lost clients through his violent temper, and who was no more successful as a gentleman farmer. The son went to Harrow School, which he could attend free of charge as he lived in the parish, to Winchester College, and to Harrow School again. His Autobiography made much of his miseries at school. When his father finally became bankrupt and escaped to Bruges to avoid his creditors, his mother, Frances Trollope, took on the task of earning the family income through writing. She had already become well known – notorious in the United States – for a book on America, and she now systematically produced travel books and novels.

The Post Office official

In 1834 Trollope was appointed a clerk in the General Post Office. His first years at the London headquarters did not bode well. Although his abilities were acknowledged, he was negligent, lazy, and a bad timekeeper. Except when he could lodge with his mother, who came to live near London after her husband's death, his income did not meet his expenses. The storylines about dealing with moneylenders in several of his novels were based on personal experience. All this changed when he was appointed a Surveyor's assistant in Ireland. He became diligent and hardworking, and his finances benefited from the generous allowances and the lower cost of living. It was while on holiday near Dublin that he met Rose Heseltine, from Rotherham in Yorkshire, whom he very soon married.

In Ireland he first developed his passion for fox-hunting, which he pursued for most of the rest of his life, despite being, as he described himself, "very heavy, very blind", and not a good horseman. He liked to introduce a hunting scene into every novel, where possible

Trollope never rose higher than the post of Surveyor in the Post Office, but as an assistant to the Surveyor in various localities he was called on to reorganise the collection and delivery of the mail. It was while acting in this capacity in the west of England that he introduced the pillar box to Jersey. Its success there resulted in its being used throughout Britain and Ireland. As a Surveyor, he was also commissioned to negotiate postal agreements with other countries, notably Egypt. After he had resigned from the Post Office in 1867, he went to the United States of America for the same purpose. On this trip he obtained authority to try to negotiate an agreement on copyright, but whereas the postal treaty was a success, nothing resulted on copyright.

The politician

Trollope was a lifelong Liberal, but it was not until he had resigned from the Post Office that he could even vote, let alone stand for Parliament. In the election of 1868, he did not return from America in time to get one of the safe seats, but he agreed to stand for Beverley, where he campaigned with his customary vigour but failed to get elected. The election was eventually annulled and Beverley lost its seats because of the corrupt practices which were proven. Trollope did not stand again, and his most significant venture into the political world was as an active member of the Royal Commission on Copyright in 1876.

The novelist

Trollope's first novels were written during his first stint in Ireland. They had Irish subjects and failed to sell. His first modest success came with the first of the novels set in Barsetshire, The Warden, which made a small profit. It was followed two years later by Barsetshire Towers. Apart from these, no two of the “Barsetshire” novels followed upon each other in order of writing; but on the whole it was these which made his reputation if not his fortune. The first appeared in 1855 and the last, The Last Chronicle of Barset, in 1867. They were interspersed with other novels which had a variety of settings and subject matter.

The other series, only a series in the sense that they shared some of the central characters, who developed over time, was that of the “Palliser” books, dealing with political life and its fringes. The first of these, Can You Forgive Her?, appeared in monthly parts 1864–65, and the last, The Duke's Children, was serialised 1879–80. Trollope published 47 novels in all, and numerous short stories.

Trollope was known for his rounded and sensitive depiction of characters, and it was a surprise to some of his admirers when they met him, to find that he was loud and boisterous.

Travel writing and biography

His first travel book came out of his being sent to the West Indies by the Post Office (1859). Later, when he could afford to indulge his love of travel, he was able to go as far as Australia (to see his second son, Fred) and New Zealand. He made several visits to North America, but unlike other novelists of his time he did not do lecture tours, recognising that lecturing was not his forte. Books and newspaper articles frequently came out of his trips. He also produced sketches of Thackeray (his idol) and Palmerston, and a Life of Cicero.

Death and reputation

Trollope died on 6 December 1882, following a series of strokes.

His sales had diminished in the years before his death, as he had continued with a steady output of fiction when his ability to depict character, and to chat confidentially to the reader alongside him in the course of narration, had diminished considerably. His Autobiography was published by his elder son, Henry, in accordance with his instructions. It was thought by some to have damaged his reputation because it showed very clearly how he drove himself by turning out so many words to a page, so many pages a day, every morning before he did anything else – and also how he calculated how much he was paid per word. However, although his reputation has fluctuated, his work has never completely lost favour, either with critics or with the reading public.