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How much cruelty can you squeeze into a 150,000 word novel?
A huge amount, if that book is Lady Anna, written by Anthony Trollope at the astonishing rate of 16,500 words a week on a voyage from England to Australia between 25 May and 19 July 1871.
The plot (no spoilers follow) revolves around a conflict: should the eponymous heroine marry a low-born tailor; or a young earl, of her own class? She loves the tailor – or does she? Almost every other character in the book, especially her mother, believes she should marry the earl; and subject her to extraordinary pressure to bring about this result.
This is heavy stuff. As so often with Trollope, his female characters are often more attractive than his men, some of whom, like Anna’s father the earl, are vile:
It must be told that the Earl was a man who had never yet spared a woman in his lust. It had been the rule, almost the creed of his life, that woman was made to gratify the appetite of man, and that the man is but a poor creature who does not lay hold of the sweetness that is offered to him… The life which he had led no doubt had had its allurements, but it is one which hardly admits of a hale and happy evening. Men who make women a prey, prey also on themselves. (more…)