Anthony Trollope Essay - Trollope, Anthony (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Trollope, Anthony (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)


Anthony Trollope 1815-1882

English novelist, autobiographer, short story writer, playwright, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism from 1981 to 1997 on Anthony Trollope's works. For further discussion of Trollope's life and career see NCLC Volumes 6 and 33.

A prolific and popular writer, Trollope's esteemed reputation among many contemporary critics diminished somewhat throughout the length of his career. Accused of reworking the same, often narrow, plot in many of his novels, and focusing too heavily on the domestic realism that interested so many female readers, Trollope lost some ground with his male colleagues who sought to differentiate between popular tastes and “high art.” Despite the views of his contemporaries, Trollope's work is now regarded as among the best produced in the nineteenth-century, and his fiction is frequently compared to that of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and George Eliot. Throughout his career, he penned 47 novels, as well as travel books, biographies, and collections of short stories and various sketches. Many late-twentieth-century critics focus their attention on the quality of Trollope's early, Irish novels. Other modern scholars concentrate their studies on Trollope's An Autobiography (1883), his lengthy novel The Way We Live Now (1874–75), Trollope's treatment of women and gender issues in his fiction, and the narrative techniques he employs.

Biographical Information

Born in London to an impoverished family, Trollope was the son of a fellow of New College, Oxford, who had failed as both a lawyer and farmer. Trollope was tormented at Harrow and Winchester, the schools he attended, due to his family's poverty. When their financial difficulties reached the point of crisis, the Trollopes moved to Belgium; it was there that Trollope's father died. Trollope's mother, Frances, was at this point beginning to earn enough to support the family through her career as a writer. In 1834, Trollope began work as junior clerk in London's General Post Office, although his career did not flourish until he transferred to Ireland in 1841. Three years later, he married Rose Heseltine in Ireland, who bore him two sons. Trollope traveled extensively on behalf of the Post Office and did not take up permanent residence in England again until 1859. After resigning from the Post Office in 1867, he campaigned unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1868. Although Trollope’s political career ended with his failed attempt, he continued his interest in politics, incorporating political issues into his novels. In 1882, following a retirement of 15 years, Trollope died of a stroke.

Major Works

Trollope's literary career began with the publication of the Irish novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, in 1847. Yet it was not until 1855, with the appearance of his fourth novel, The Warden, that Trollope established the material and style for which he became known. The Warden was the first in a six-book series known as the Barsetshire chronicles, which examined the everyday lives of recurring characters who inhabited the fictitious county of Barset. Trollope explored the possibilities of the novel-series further in another collection, referred to as the Political novels, or Palliser series, after the character of Plantagenet Palliser, who appeared in all six novels. Among Trollope's other notable works is his novel The Way We Live Now, a detailed and satirical view of late-nineteenth-century society. Only by adhering to a rigorous schedule, Trollope explains in An Autobiography, was he able to complete so many works. Although the factual accuracy of An Autobiography has been disputed, the book nevertheless captures the spirit of Trollope's literary vision, which was focused on presenting people, their lives, and social issues in a realistic manner.

Critical Reception

Trollope's Irish novels were not particularly popular in England and modern critics often refer to them as apprentice works. These critics often explore the ways in which the early novels influenced Trollope's later writings. Others assess the novels as they stand on their own. Conor Johnston evaluates Trollope's political philosophy—specifically, his views on the treatment of the poor—as expressed in The Macdermots of Ballycloran. Johnston finds that Trollope took a conservative-liberal approach to the issue in that the author felt that the situation of the poor should be improved, but not at a pace so quick that the rest of society is disrupted, and not at a rate so slow that the suffering of the poor is unconscionably prolonged. In another essay, Johnston looks at Trollope's portrayal of Irish Catholic and Anglican clergymen, demonstrating that Trollope's distaste for the Church of Ireland did not prevent him from treating its members with sympathy. Similarly, Johnston points out, Trollope's more favorable attitude toward Irish Catholic priests did not prevent him from highlighting their flaws as well. Robert Tracy takes the view that Ireland “made” Trollope, that he learned his craft there. Tracy identifies significant differences—those that go beyond setting and character—between Trollope's Irish and English novels. Writing as intimately about Ireland as Trollope did enabled him to view English society as an outsider, argues Tracy. Likewise, Owen Dudley Edwards contends that Trollope wrote about Ireland as a participant in its affairs. Edwards reviews the characters and themes of Trollope's Irish novels and maintains that even after Trollope returned to England, his work was still based on the “rough designs” of his Irish experience, and that he wrote with Irish insights.

Often ignored by Trollope loyalists, The Way We Live Now has been rejected by even some of Trollope's staunchest supporters who believe that the work is too long, extremely cynical, and offers an unjustly harsh representation of foreigners. A. Abbott Ikeler defends the work against these charges, observing that the work reflects Trollope's response to a particularly decadent era. Ikeler maintains that in many ways, the work is typical of Trollope's style and structure, and that the satire of the work is in fact evenhanded, as Trollope abuses foreigners and natives alike. Also studying the satire in The Way We Live Now, Stephen Wall contends that Trollope is unable to sustain a scathing level of satire throughout the work. The reason, suggests Wall, is that Trollope is heavily involved with characterization in the novel; Trollope's dedication to the particular nature of each individual overrides all other stylistic concerns of the work. Examining the novel from another angle, R. D. McMaster assesses Trollope's treatment of the women in The Way We Live Now. McMaster maintains that despite Trollope's anti-feminist reputation, he depicts the women in the novel with sympathy toward female psychology and an understanding of the social influences on the lives of women.

Other critics join ranks with McMaster in exploring Trollope's ability to provide realistic illustrations of the lives and emotions of women. Robert H. Taylor compares Trollope's delineation of female characters to that of other nineteenth-century authors, including Dickens and Thackeray, and observes that unlike his contemporaries, Trollope does not allow his female characters to indulge in rhetorical flourishes. Trollope's women are spirited and are not portrayed as vacuous, like the female characters of other authors, asserts Taylor, who goes on to praise Trollope's power for observation and his ear for dialogue. Yoko Hatano also notices the spirited and strong-willed nature of Trollope's women, particularly the recurring heroines of the Barsetshire novels. These women, in addition to their spiritedness and strength of will also possess intelligence, firm principles, and a sense of obligation to their social inferiors. Such qualities, Hatano contends, allow them a certain social mobility.

In Trollope's An Autobiography, he reminisces about his early years and recounts the habits and experiences that enabled him to publish so many works. R. H. Super cites portions of the work that are obvious exaggerations, that are misleading or incomplete, and demonstrate Trollope's penchant for boasting. Despite the unreliability of the work, Super suggests that one should have confidence in Trollope's vision, if not his factual accuracy. Peter Allen also examines the sometimes baffling nature of An Autobiography, suggesting that Trollope adopts a persona similar to the identity he projected in social situations in which he felt he was “on display,” and accordingly performed as the boasting, self-assured writer. Allen concludes that An Autobiography leaves the reader with two choices (among others): that Trollope may be seen as a “vulgar materialist,” or, since his novels suggest otherwise, that this vulgar materialism is a pretension, a comic pose.

Many modern critics focus their analyses of Trollope's work on the narrative techniques he employs in his fiction. David R. Eastwood studies the interplay between the “romantic disposition” of many of Trollope's characters, and the realism that he so valued. Eastwood indicates that Trollope encouraged his audience to regard all elements in his stories, including the romantic nature of his characters, in a realistic way. Additionally, Eastwood considers the methods by which Trollope created aesthetic distance in his fiction, commenting on his use of non-participant narrators, and unappealing participant narrators. In his evaluation of Trollope's use of metonymy, Michael Riffaterre states that the function of Trollope's use of descriptive detail is to create “semantic displacement.” Riffaterre explains that Trollope uses metonymies as comic devices, and that this comic and descriptive tool is reflective of Trollope's emphasis on contradiction, a hallmark of his literary style. The repetitive nature of Trollope's plots was a source of irritation to his contemporary critics. L. J. Swingle suggests that this repetitive practice was not the result of Trollope's lack of imaginative power, but that it served his strategy by highlighting variation in the repeating plot. In Swingle's estimation Trollope used this maneuver to stress the instability of human nature.

Principal Works

The Macdermots of Ballycloran (novel) 1847

The Kellys and the O'Kellys; or, Landlords and Tenants: A Tale of Irish Life (novel) 1848

La Vendée: An Historical Romance (novel) 1850

The Warden (novel) 1855

Barchester Towers (novel) 1857

Doctor Thorne (novel) 1858

The Three Clerks: A Novel (novel) 1858

The Bertrams: A Novel (novel) 1859

The West Indies and the Spanish Main (travel book) 1859

Castle Richmond: A Novel (novel) 1860

Framely Parsonage (novel) 1861


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R. D. McMaster (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “Women in The Way We Live Now,English Studies in Canada, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 68-80.

[In the following essay, McMaster evaluates Trollope's treatment of female characters in The Way We Live Now, revealing a more pro-feminist attitude than Trollope is generally known for.]

Criticism dealing with Trollope's views about women is a hardy perennial despite the fact that his more celebrated statements are unambiguous.1 “The necessity of the supremacy of man is as certain to me as the eternity of the soul,”2 he says. Or of Alice Vavasor in Can You Forgive Her? he says, “her mind had become filled with...

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Conor Johnston (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “The Macdermots of Ballycloran: Trollope as Conservative-Liberal,” Eire Ireland, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer, 1981, pp. 71-92.

[In the following essay, Johnston appraises Trollope's political philosophy, particularly his concern for the problems of the poor, as it is revealed in Trollope's first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran.]

Anthony Trollope revealed his abiding interest in politics not only in his novels but also in his letters and his autobiography.1 In the autobiography, he describes his political philosophy as “advanced Conservative-Liberal,” and explains it in a discussion of the ethical implications of the relative positions...

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David R. Eastwood (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: “Romantic Elements and Aesthetic Distance in Trollope's Fiction,” Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 4, Fall, 1981, pp. 395-405.

[In the following essay, Eastwood traces the literary sources of the romantic ideals in Trollope's short stories and novels and argues that Trollope encouraged his audience to regard all aspects of his fiction, including romance, in a realistic manner.]

Many of Anthony Trollope's realistic fictional works are built around episodes in the lives of characters who explicitly are, were, or would like to be (or who seem to be, but are really not) romantically predisposed. Whereas his short stories often focus entirely on the...

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Michael Riffaterre (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “Trollope's Metonymies,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 37, No. 3, December, 1982, pp. 272-92.

[In the following essay, Riffaterre examines Trollope's use of metonymy, demonstrating that metonymies in Trollope's novels are primarily comic devices used for descriptive purposes. This dual function, Riffaterre states, is typical of the type of contradiction that is one of the hallmarks of Trollope's style.]

After a century of criticism, much remains to be said about Trollope's technique. His approach to traditional or perhaps obsolescent concepts of the novel and his morality have been much studied. But relatively little is known of his writing practice...

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Robert Tracy (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “‘The Unnatural Ruin’: Trollope and Nineteenth-Century Irish Fiction,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 37, No. 3, December, 1982, pp. 358-82.

[In the following essay, Tracy studies Trollope's Irish novels and argues that his work in Ireland made it possible for Trollope to view English society in an original manner when he began writing about it.]

The sun was setting beautifully behind the trees, and its imperfect light through the foliage gave the unnatural ruin a still more singular appearance, and brought into my mind thoughts of the wrong, oppression, misery and despair, to which some one had been subjected, by what I saw...

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Robert H. Taylor (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “The Collector and Scholar: Trollope's Girls,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, Vol. 47, No. 2, Winter, 1986, pp. 229-47.

[In the following essay, originally presented as a lecture in 1982, Taylor compares the women in Trollope's novels to the female characters in the works of other male writers.]

The Victorian age saw the novel reach its greatest popularity. Enormous amounts of fiction were produced, and all tastes were catered to: there was the elegant, or Silver Fork school, there was the political novel, the satiric novel, the evangelical novel, the sensation novel—and the list can be as long as you wish to make it. Whatever the underlying...

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Owen Dudley Edwards (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: “Anthony Trollope, the Irish Writer,” Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 38, No. 1, June, 1983, pp. 1-42.

[In the following essay, Edwards offers a detailed survey of Trollope's Irish novels and studies the way in which these works influenced Trollope's later writings.]

Anthony Trollope's connection with Ireland is unique among the British major creative writers of the nineteenth century. For all of the many differences of their responses to Ireland, Trollope has one quality lacking in the rest of them. Britain made them. Every one of them saw Ireland as outsiders. Trollope did not. His view of Ireland from first to last was that of a participant: Ireland...

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A. Abbott Ikeler (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: “That Peculiar Book: Critics, Common Readers and The Way We Live Now,College Language Association Journal, Vol. 30, No. 2, December, 1986, pp. 219-40.

[In the following essay, Ikeler defends Trollope's The Way We Live Now against charges that the work is too long, too cynical, and offers a negative and unfair depiction of foreigners.]

Defending The Way We Live Now before a group of genial Trollopians is generally taken as a sign of bad manners.1 One of them invariably retorts, “You know, that's one book of his I never really liked.” The company nods its assent, and all wait through a deprecatory silence until another...

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Stephen Wall (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: “Trollope, Satire, and The Way We Live Now,Essays in Criticism, Vol. 37, No. 1, January, 1987, pp. 43-61.

[In the following essay, Wall studies the plot and characterization of Trollope's The Way We Live Now, contending that Trollope's concern for his characters prevented him from sustaining biting satire.]

The Way We Live Now (1875) may seem to owe its prodigious length to the author's desire to provide comprehensive evidence for the thesis clearly signalled by the title. Trollope's Autobiography retrospectively defines the novel's subject as ‘the commercial profligacy of the age’, which is most obviously embodied in the...

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Conor Johnston (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: “Parsons, Priests, and Politics: Anthony Trollope's Irish Clergy,” Eire Ireland, Vol. 25, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 80-97.

[In the following essay, Johnston assesses Trollope's portrayal of members of the clergy in his Irish novels, and maintains that Trollope's views regarding both Irish Catholic and Irish Anglican clergymen are more complex than critics typically assume.]

Couple the name Anthony Trollope with the word “clergy,” and the coupling will likely produce a series of images of that galaxy of colorful Anglican clerics in rural Barsetshire. Trollope, however, created another colorful collection of clerics, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, in...

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L. J. Swingle (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: “Trollope and Stories: ‘Of Course, That's Only My Story’,” in Romanticism and Anthony Trollope: A Study in the Continuities of Nineteenth-Century Literary Thought, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990, pp. 215-49.

[In the following essay, Swingle investigates the contention that Trollope reformulates the same plot in many of his novels. Swingle maintains that the variations accented by these repetitions are significant in that they reveal lessons and themes Trollope hoped to highlight, such as the instability of human nature.]


Trollope's proclivity for plot repetition probably accounts in part for why he is rarely...

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R. H. Super (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “Truth and Fiction in Trollope's Autobiography,Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 48, No. 1, June, 1993, pp. 74-88.

[In the following essay, Super reviews the exaggerations and inaccuracies in Trollope's An Autobiography, and contends that despite the faulty facts in the work, Trollope's vision remains pure.]

It is a delicate and difficult matter to assess Trollope's judgment of Dickens, or Dickens's judgment of Trollope, at the personal level (Trollope is very explicit about his view of Dickens as a novelist).1 Their careers ran parallel in so many respects, and yet they disagreed so often on personal matters. Trollope loved the...

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Andrew Maunder (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “Anthony Trollope and the Visual Language of the Nineteenth-Century Theatre,” Etudes Anglaises, Vol. 46, No. 3, July-September, 1993, pp. 289-300.

[In the following essay, Maunder explores the way in which Trollope appropriates techniques used by nineteenth-century theater actors in creating the characters in his fiction.]

The novel and the drama, were, contended Wilkie Collins in his “Preface” to Basil (1852) the “twin sisters in the family of fiction.” Yet while comments on the presence of theatrical elements in the works of Hardy, Balzac, Reade, James and particularly Dickens, have become a critical commonplace (critics generally agree...

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Nicola Thompson (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: “‘Something Both More and Less Than Manliness’: Gender and the Literary Reception of Anthony Trollope,” Victorian Literature and Culture, Vol. 22, 1994, pp. 151-71.

[In the following essay, Thompson investigates the way in which Victorian conceptions of gender influenced the way Trollope's work was reviewed by his contemporaries.]

“We state our opinion of it [Barchester Towers] as decidedly the cleverest novel of the season, and one of the most masculine delineations of modern life … that we have seen for many a day”—Westminster Review 1857

“My husband, who...

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Peter Allen (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “Trollope to His Readers: The Unreliable Narrator of An Autobiography,” in Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 1-18.

[In the following essay, Allen examines Trollope's An Autobiography as an extension of Trollope's social persona, viewing the work as a type of communication addressed to a particular audience.]

Trollope's An Autobiography, written in the mid-1870s and published posthumously in 1883, is a curious work, especially when considered in terms of its audience. On the surface it is a well-known author's account of his career, chiefly written for admirers of his fiction. More closely...

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Further Reading


Birns, Nicholas. “The Empire Turned Upside Down: The Colonial Fictions of Anthony Trollope.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 27, No. 3 (July 1996): 7-23.

Examines Trollope's colonial novels and maintains that these works explore the effects of the globalization process on English language and literature.

Brown, Sally. “‘This So-Called Autobiography’: Anthony Trollope, 1812-82.” British Library Journal 8, No. 2 (Autumn 1982): 168-73.

Offers an overview of An Autobiography, commenting on the reception of the work and its effect on Trollope's reputation.


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