He Knew She Was Right: The Independent Woman in the Novels of Anthony Trollope

He Knew She Was Right: The Independent Woman in the Novels of Anthony Trollope

He Knew She Was Right: The Independent Woman in the Novels of Anthony Trollope

He Knew She Was Right: The Independent Woman in the Novels of Anthony Trollope


Trollope's mother, wife, and a friend he loved platonically most of his life provided him three very different views of the Victorian woman. And, according to Jane Nardin, they were responsible for the dramatic shift in his treatment of women in his novels.

This is the first book in Sandra Gilbert's Ad Feminam series to examine a male author. Nardin initially analyzes the novels Trollope wrote from 1855 to 1861, in which male concerns are central to the plot and women are angelic heroines, submissive and self-sacrificing. Even the titles of his novels written during this period are totally male oriented. The Three Clerks, Doctor Thorne, and The Bertrams all refer to men. Shortly after meeting Kate Field, Trollope wrote Orley Farm, which refers to the estate an angry woman steals from her husband and which marks a change in the attitudes toward women evident in his novels.

His next four books, The Small House at Allington, Rachel Ray, Can You Forgive Her?, and Miss Mackenzie, prove that women's concerns had become central in his writing. Nardin examines specific novels written from 1861 to 1865 in which Trollope, with increasing vigor, subverts the conventional notions of gender that his earlier novels had endorsed.

Nardin argues that his novels written after 1865 and often recognized as feminist are not really departures but merely refinements of attitudes Trollope exhibited in earlier works.


In 1850 an obscure writer named Anthony Trollope published his third work of fiction, La Vendée, a serious historical novel about the royalist uprising that followed the French Revolution. When a revolutionary army attacks the chateau where he has taken refuge, the novel's hero, Henri de Larochejacquelin, rushes to rescue his sleeping fiancée, Marie de Lescure. Entering her chamber "without much ceremony," Henri raises the healthy young woman from the bed, "as though she were an infant," folding her in a cloak that he has thoughtfully caught up on his way to the room. "We haven't one instant to throw away. Remember who has you in his arms," he tells Marie soothingly, while "with his right hand [he] arraign[s] the cloak around her person...Carrying her out into the passage, [he] hurrie[s] to the window," and readies himself to jump (II, 8).

The leap from the second story window, the narrator remarks, "was one which few young men might much hesitate to take with empty arms, [but] it was perilous with such a burden as Henri had to carry." As Henri climbs the sill, a revolutionary soldier rushes up behind him and grabs Marie's cloak, pulling it "from off her neck and shoulders.... Her pale face, and white neck and bosom were exposed: her eyes were fast closed, as though she expected instant death, but both her arms were tightly fastened round her lover." Though somewhat hampered by his "burden," Henri manages to kill the attacker by driving "the butt-end of the pistol which he held right through his skull." Hotly pursued by a German soldier, Henri races through the garden still carrying Marie, accompanied by the narrator's frantic encouragement: "Run now, Henri, run your best, for the load you carry is heavy, and the German is strong . . .

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