"The Journey to Panama": One of Trollope's Best "Tarts" - or, Why You Should Read "The Journey to Panama" to Develop Your Taste for Trollope

By Kohn, Denise | Studies in Short Fiction, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

"The Journey to Panama": One of Trollope's Best "Tarts" - or, Why You Should Read "The Journey to Panama" to Develop Your Taste for Trollope


Kohn, Denise, Studies in Short Fiction


Today's literary appetites don't care much for Trollope's short stories. although his place, for now, in the canon is firm, his reputation rests solely upon his novels. Trollope-hungry Victorians, however, enjoyed his short stories, which were published in popular periodicals such as Cornhill, edited by William Thackeray. In a letter to Trollope, Thackeray encouraged Trollope to write short stories, which he compared to baking tarts:

Don't understand me to disparage our craft, especially your wares. I often

say I am like the pastrycook, and don't care for tarts, but prefer bread and

cheese; but the public love the tarts (luckily for us), and we must bake and

sell them. (Autobiography 137) Unluckily for us, though, many modern critics seem to think of Trollope's short stories as unnourishing tarts that do not deserve a place on the literary menu. The publication in 1983 of the five-volume Anthony Trollope: The Complete Short Stories did not create much interest in Trollope's short fiction.(1) Perhaps this is because Trollope's 47 novels offer critics plenty of bread and cheese to feast upon. Yet not all pastry is puff--especially among Trollope's wares.

"The Journey to Panama," the last (but not least) story in the Complete Short Stories, serves as an excellent example of substantial Trollope. I agree with Rebecca West and othcr critics that Trollope was a feminist (West 167; Barickman, MacDonald, and Stark 203). Critics such as Rajiva Wijesinha, author of The Androgynous Trollope, and Richard Barickman, Susan MacDonald, and Myra Stark, authors of Corrupt Relations, have shown that his novels express a deep sympathy for women and the constraints Victorian society imposed on them. These critics find his feminist themes most evident in his Palliser and other later novels, which were published from the mids 1860 through 1880s. Feminist scholars, like most Trollope scholars, miss an important opportunity to study the artist at work because they ignore his 42 short stories. As early as 1861, Trollope had openly addressed the problems women face in a patriarchal society in his short story, "A Journey to Panama." This story should play an important role in feminist discussion of Trollope.

The story was first published in Victoria Regia, a collection of poetry and prose edited by Adelaide A. Proctor and published by the feminist Emily Faithfull. The circumstances of the publication of this short story alone should be important in a feminist study of Trollope. Faithfull, who founded the Victoria Press, believed that printing offered new career opportunities for women (Sadleir, A Bibliography 214). The press was staffed by female compositors, and Victoria Regia's title page includes the social statement, "Victoria Press (for the Employment of Women)" (Sadleir, A Bibliography 213). Trollope donated "The Journey to Panama" to Faithfull for the book (Sadleir, A Bibliography 214, Letters 211), which is surprising considering the fine detail he pays to his literary earnings in his autobiography.

Trollope is better known for his harsh criticism of feminism than his support of it (Barickman, MacDonald, and Stark 195). Yet emphasis on his vituperative comments have led critics to conclude that there was a sort of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde split between Trollope the man and Trollope the artist. In their study of Trollope, Barickman, MacDonald, and Stark conclude that there are "two Trollopes-the seemingly hostile critic of the Victorian women's movement and the sympathetic Victorian sociological novelist capturing in fiction the tensions being felt by upper-class men and women of his day" (196). The publication of "The Journey to Panama," however, shows that Trollope the man did, like Trollope the writer, publicly support feminist causes. He was not always consistent in his support of women's rights, but criticism that focuses solely on his objections and not his support does not reflect a true picture of Trollope. …

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