Trollope: A Biography

Synopsis

Anthony Trollope was a giant of Victorian letters whose works are still read avidly today. Now, in what is surely the definitive biography, the world's leading expert on Trollope provides an amusing, insightful, and authoritative portrait of this remarkable figure. N. John Hall writes with an unparalleled knowledge of his subject--he is the general editor of the 62-volume Selected Works of Anthony Trollope, and the editor of Letters of Anthony Trollope, which Victoria Glendinning (herself a Trollopian) suggested in The Spectator "already constitutes a biography by other means" simply by virtue of its "brilliant footnotes." In this volume, Hall draws on Trollope's works themselves, as well as all pertinent historical evidence, and interweaves Trollope's public and social life--as a civil servant, devoted hunter, and extensive traveler--with lucid accounts of his writing. Starting with Trollope's early days on the family farm and at the famous Harrow School (studying with Byron's former tutor), we learn of Trollope's marriage, his politics (Hall calls him a "conservative liberal"), his career at the Post Office, and his last decade (which gets full treatment, although many have ignored it). We trace his initial attempts at writing (his first three novels were resounding failures), and follow his eventual popular success (beginning with The Warden and Barchester Towers--the latter of which, Hall shows, boasts Trollope's rich comic dialogue and distinctive characterization). In Hall's telling, Trollope's life almost approaches that of his novels, as when we watch him swoop down into a small village on his horse to interview the surprised residents about their mail service. (Trollope once claimed that his life's ambition was "to cover the country with rural letter carriers.") Trollope's legendary prolific output--nearly seventy books in a thirty-five year career--attests to the rigor of his writing schedule. Every morning, he would produce a certain number of words (recording his output in a ledger he devised for the purpose), and then head off to work. To increase his efficiency he took to writing on trains (for which he designed a special writing tablet), and later had carpenters build him desks in his steamer cabins during ocean crossings. And, as Hall points out, Trollope was not simply a prodigious writer, but also more of a scholar than has been recognized. Nevertheless, his genius lay especially in his comic sensibility, and in the care and judgment of his writing (despite the fact that he almost never rewrote a line). Hall's complex, but sharply focused, narrative portrays this daunting figure in vivid detail, combining humor with subtle insight into a mysterious personality. Those who have enjoyed the Barsetshire chronicles or the Palliser novels, and who want to know more about one of the greats of 19th-century literature, will be richly rewarded by this comprehensive biography.

Additional information

Contributors:
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Oxford
Publication year:
  • 1991