An Autobiography Summary (Anthony Trollope)

Anthony Trollope


(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

An Autobiography, by Anthony Trollope, is at once egotistical and amusing. One of the most prolific novelists of the nineteenth century, Trollope tells how he rose from obscurity to become second only to Dickens and Thackeray in popularity, and he shares as interesting sidelights his opinions of his contemporaries and of the art of creative writing, opinions that are calculated to shock anyone who believes in “inspiration.” Trollope was a boisterous, outspoken man through whose eyes we can see a side of Victorianism that is often neglected—the rich humor of the satirist.

Trollope looked back on his childhood as a time of misery; his father was poor, and he was unable to defend himself in fist fights with the local boys. Also, his family was divided. His mother went to America, and he found himself pretty much on his own, with the responsibility of having to pay the bills of his father. From this miserable origin exaggerated in order to make An Autobiography more dramatic Trollope could move in only one way. He managed to obtain a job in the General Post Office in London, a civil service position that he always looked to with pride.

Never very studious, Trollope was the type of young man who worked so that he might play. He wanted to be a gentleman because gentlemen had more pleasures than other people enjoyed. Thus, his earliest days in the General Post Office were turbulent; he was continually making clumsy mistakes that threatened his dismissal. In fact, the situation became so bad that he hated his work and was only too glad to be transferred to Ireland. This transfer pleased his superior perhaps as much as himself.

In Ireland three things happened to the young man: he acquired a taste, almost an obsession, for fox hunting, he wrote his early novels, and he married. His marriage brought financial problems that his first novels were unable to alleviate. While he was at work on his third novel, he made a change in his literary endeavors; he wrote a short paper satirically denouncing the government’s policy in Ireland. Then, while he was surveying for the Post Office in rural England, a new idea matured. He decided to use material drawn from people he had met and to write satire directed against the abuses that he most frequently encountered. This novel was THE WARDEN, the first of the Barchester novels.

From this point on, his life was a continual rise. In his work at the Post Office, he was promoted, and in his literary career he wrote BARCHESTER TOWERS, his greatest novel. He began to travel more often in an official capacity, making trips to Egypt and the West Indies, and he learned to write in whatever situation he found himself—on horseback, on ship, even in sickness. He was very methodical: he kept a diary in which he maintained strict account of the number of pages he wrote each day. Then he set a certain number of pages that he planned to write each week, and finally he arranged his novels so that they would come to exactly the number of pages that the publisher wanted. Because he did not believe in inspiration, he thought of creative writing as he did of any other occupation; the excellence came as a result of practice and diligence. He therefore trained himself to begin a new novel on the day after an old one was finished, and in this way he managed to write on the...

(The entire section is 1368 words.)