Like physician Anton Chekhov, customs inspector Herman Melville, and insurance man Wallace Stevens, English novelist Anthony Trollope belonged to that proud society of writers who worked a double shift. While other men were content to have one profession, Trollope pursued two with gusto: He undertook a distinguished if unconventional career in the British General Post Office (capped by his invention of Britain's distinctive red pillar mailbox), at the same time penning some of the most popular social novels of his day -- and in no small quantity.
Anthony Trollope was the fourth son of Thomas Anthony and Frances (Milton) Trollope. During his youth, he was shuttled among several public schools, where the ill-clad and awkward boy was often the subject of taunts and jeers from well-off schoolmates. When his father's law practice began to fail, his mother's American mercantile venture soured, and an expected inheritance was cut off, the Trollopes moved to Belgium. It was here that Mrs. Trollope took over support of the family through her already successful career as a satiric novelist (Domestic Manners of the Americans, 1832). While his brothers managed to continue their studies at Oxford and Cambridge despite the family's dire financial straits, Trollope showed little academic promise and, after a brief teaching stint in Brussels, embarked on his career at the post office.
As a junior clerk in London, Trollope earned little money and acquired a reputation for insubordination. In 1835, shortly after he assumed this post -- won largely on family connections -- his father passed away. Miserable, Trollope remained in London for six more years before transferring to Banagher, Ireland, where he began at last to find some measure of happiness. The move allowed him to live in comfort, begin a lifelong obsession with fox hunting, and, in 1844, marry Rose Heseltine, with whom he had two sons.
While in Ireland, Trollope also began his literary career. His first two novels, The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847) and The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848), prefigure his later political novels. He moved in a different direction with The Warden (1855), the first in his Barsetshire series, a six-book chronicle of clerical life in a fictional English cathedral town. This first installment was followed by Barchester Towers (1857), Dr. Thorne (1858), Framley Parsonage (1861), The Small House at Allington (1864), and The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867). Said Trollope of the novels: "I had it all in my mind -- its roads and railroads, its towns and parishes, its members of Parliament, and the different hunts which rode over it. I knew all the great lords and their castles, the squires and their parks, the rectors and their churches."
The Barsetshire novels feature many recurring characters, a signature technique Trollope returned to in a later series of political novels. Known as the Palliser novels, after the politician and English gentleman Plantagenet Palliser who appears in all six books, the series details the political and economic travails of a noble English family; it contains Can You Forgive Her? (1864), Phineas Finn (1869), Eustace Diamonds (1873), Phineas Redux (1876), The Prime Minister (1876), and, finally, The Duke's Children (1880).
In 1859 Trollope returned to England, taking a post at Waltham Cross just outside of London. His popularity would peak during the following decade. Many of his novels were serialized in popular magazines, including Cornhill Magazine (edited by William Makepeace Thackeray) and Blackwood's Magazine. From 1867 to 1870, Trollope himself undertook a brief stint as editor of St. Paul's Magazine. In addition to the admiration of readers who devoured his spot-on depiction of middle-class English society and delighted in following the development of his characters from book to book, Trollope won over literary London, befriending major novelists such as Thackeray, George Eliot, and G.H. Lewes.
In November 1882, while laughing at a family reading of F. Anstey's Vice Versa, Trollope suffered a stroke and died a month later. In an 1883 obituary, Henry James summed up Trollope's literary achievement as "...a complete appreciation of the usual."
Anthony Trollope's workhorse-like approach to writing was revealed in his posthumously published Autobiography. Assisted by his secretary and niece, Florence Bland, Trollope adhered to a regular and rigorous schedule. Rising at 5:30, he would write until 11:00, producing a given number of words before going off to the post office. This discipline resulted in an output of 47 novels, several travel books, biographies, and innumerable short stories and sketches. Although this routine was periodically interrupted by travel, Trollope never stopped writing, continuing his work on boats and trains, beginning his next novel as soon as he had completed his last. Trollope's popularity waned after his death.
American author Nathaniel Hawthorne provided an enduring assessment of Trollope's work in an 1860 letter to his publisher: "Have you ever read the novels of Anthony Trollope? They precisely suit my taste; solid, substantial, written on strength of beef and through inspiration of ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were made a show of."
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