Let’s cut to the chase. If you haven’t discovered the novelist Anthony Trollope, you should start reading him. Today. Here are 11 life-changing reasons why:
(i) the six Palliser novels, starting with Can you forgive her, are literature’s best guide to politics and power. Why did Lord Acton say “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men“? Trollope explains, long before Acton said it;
(ii) Trollope writes perceptively about relationships and sexual politics. His novels boil with strong women, from the indomitable Lady Glencora to my favourite, Miss Dunstable (an heiress who will not be pushed around by any man – not even the all-powerful Duke of Omnium). Many Trollope women feel more emancipated, or tormented by their lack of emancipation, than their sisters in some contemporary novels;
(iii) Trollope is brilliant on religion and its relationship to the state. Take, for example, this editorial in The Jupiter newspaper in Framley Parsonage (1860) lambasting the privileges of the Church of England: “It is with difficulty enough that the Church of England maintains at the present moments that ascendancy among the religious sects of this country which it so loudly claims. And perhaps it is rather from an old-fashioned and time-honoured affection for its standing than from any intrinsic merits of its own that some such general acknowledgement of its ascendancy is still allowed to prevail. If, however, the patrons and clerical members of this Church are bold enough to disregard all general rules of decent behaviour, we think we may predict that this chivalrous feeling will be found to give way.” Would that today’s media could force all states and religions to examine their relationships equally dispassionately;
(iv) the media: see above. Trollope both praises and ridicules the role of the media, which is a backdrop to many of his novels. He writes in terms which are fresh and relevant today on the tense relationship between the power of the media and the responsibilities it should bear. He explores the difficulties into which media allegations can place politicians and others, for example in Phineas Redux; and how difficult it is, once allegations have been raised, ever to be free of them – whether they are true or not;
(v) the works of Trollope are, if you wish, free. You can download as many novels as you like without charge on your Kindle, because they are out of copyright. Alternatively you can buy nicer editions, at modest prices, in hard copy or as e-books. If you really want to push the boat out you can join the Trollope Society and buy their desirable but immensely heavy (in kilograms) Trollope Society Complete Edition. I recently inherited a set but (I cringe to admit) often find myself reading the novels on my Kindle as it’s easier to carry around;
Trollope Society Complete Edition on my shelf at home
(vi) Trollope has many famous fans including Alec Guinness and former British Prime Minister Sir John Major, with whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting and discussing Trollope. Sir John is Vice-President of the Trollope Society (the President is the Bishop of London). The Society’s web-site includes a magnificent collection of quotes illustrating Trollope’s wit. They include:
- “There is no human bliss equal to twelve hours of work with only six hours in which to do it“; and
- “When one is specially invited to be candid, one is naturally set upon one’s guard“;
(vii) Trollope’s work is a reminder that sometimes, life in the slow lane can be better than the alternative. There’s no way to rush-read Trollope. His novels are best savoured: read in chunks, rather than a few pages at a time. This gives you the full impact of his humour and wisdom and a better chance of remember the extraordinary variety of characters and sub-plots;
(viii) Trollope invented the red pillar box – one of the first, installed in jersey in 1852, is still in use (although it was originally painted green). What a guy;
(ix) unlike most creative types, Trollope was a modest fellow. he wrote in his autobiography: “I do not think it probable that my name will remain among those who in the next century will be known as the writers of English prose fiction.”
(x) Trollope is endlessly inspiring. The original title of this post was “5 reasons why you should read Trollope”. But it just kept growing.
(xi) 2015 is the bicentenary of Trollope’s birth in 1815. He died in 1882;
(xii) Trollope also wrote the Barsetshire Chronicles, some of the funniest books in existence. Next time you have a long holiday, consider talking The Warden (the first, short, introductory volume) and the hilarious but substantial Barchester Towers, whose Signora Medline Vesey Neroni is perhaps the first and last serial flirt in 19thC literature. The chaos she causes amongst the men of Barchester is a pleasure to behold. Whoops, that’s 12 reasons. I shall have to write a post on the Barsetshire Chronicles.
Please let me know if you love or hate Trollope. If the latter, do consider joining the excellent Trollope Society.
By way of an example of the brilliance of Trollope, see my blog Trollope: “He Knew He Was Right”. A masterpiece of dry comedy.
For: all of human nature is here. Trollope can teach you to understand the 21st Century.
Against: undoubtedly wordy. Some books go on a bit. The thought of reading the whole lot is daunting.
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