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Anthony Trollope: Novels Like Jane Austen's
Another Author for Austenites to Love
Jane Austen's five novels don't seem to be enough for most readers, as the recent surge of take-offs by modern authors demonstrates. If you like Austen or the Bronte sisters, you might want to try Anthony Trollope's The Warden, Can You Forgive Her? Phineas Phinn, Doctor Thorne, The Palliser novels, or any one of his 47 novels. The best part is that you can get all of his novels, plus short stories and travelogues as an e-Reader for under $2.00!
My Favorite E-Book Edition
Who Was Anthony Trollope?
Anthony Trollope was a Victorian novelist who wrote about the same time as Dickens, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins and George Elliot. Even though his novels had wide sales, he kept his "day job" as a postal official until he was in his 50s. Although his work grew in popularity throughout his career, he did not receive the same sort of critical acclaim as other novelists of his time after his death.
The Novelist in his 50s
Why Haven't I Heard of Him?
Trollope may very well be the best classic novelist you've never heard of. Why? Unlike his more famous contemporaries Dickens and Thackeray, who wrote comedic and tragic novels with a broad brush, and reveled in strange but memorable characters, he wrote novels with a finer brush. His characters are more like Austen's, whom he greatly admired. They are novels about real people who face real moral dilemmas and must make the choice to do right, or not. Unlike Dickens, his characters are neither all black or white. Instead, they are real people who become blacker or whiter as the novel moves on as a result of the choices they make.
Why You Might Like Him
Frankly, his novels are just a good read. He sets up the characters and background of their lives and then gives you the problem they face. What he does especially well is to explain how different people can often offend and hurt one another even when they intended to do good and help. He has a wonderfully insightful way of explaining some of the experiences of life we all go through when trying to do the right and the best, and finding that sometimes that is not possible.
Characters You Love and Hate
What makes reading his novels even more enjoyable is that he often will send his characters from one novel into a place where they encounter characters from an earlier novel. What reader doesn't like to get just a little bit more about a character they met before? Some of these side trips are delightful, such as the dashing Lord who seven years later has become "fat and forty" after making the sensible marriage choice and rejecting the seductions of the fortune hunter Arabella.
This wonderful aside in the novel Ayala's Angel made me then have to go back and think about the earlier novel's ending. Did the Lord make the right choice after all? Maybe he would have been happier with Arabella, who told him she would not interfere with his hunting and other pleasures.
Romance and Courtship but More
Just like Austen's novels, most of Trollope's novels revolve around courtship, love, and marriage. His heroines have to decide who is the right man to marry, and how to marry the right man they find, often against the wishes of their family or difficult financial or personal circumstances.
However, his novels go further than hers by including far more intimately, the choices of men as well as women, not only in the area of marriage but also in the area of career. How to get a decent living? What sort of work to do? How to spend your time? Is family or career the highest fulfillment? His characters wrestle with bigger questions than Austen's.
For example, in his book The Warden, a lovely young girl named Eleanor is courted by a handsome young surgeon named John Bold. However, John Bold faces an unpleasant situation when he investigates the finances of Hiram's Hospital, a home for indigent men. Eleanor's elderly father, Mr. Harding is warden of the hospital and has earned a comfortable living off of that job for many years, without doing much real work. Bold loves Eleanor and also loves her gentle, harmless, cello-playing clergyman father, but he knows it is wrong for Mr. Harding to be taking the money which was intended to take care of indigent men.
Bold has to decide whether he should tell what he knows. When he does tell, Mr. Harding is deeply shocked, and faced with making a choice to continue to accept the income, which his son-in-law the Bishop insists belongs to him, or give it up and face poverty but a free conscience. Of course, Eleanor is caught between her father and her lover, as well as facing the indignation and wrath of her brother-in-law and sister. The working out of these choices is delightfully complex to read, which keeps me continuing to download his books on my Kindle E-Reader
While Austen's novels were in a small scope because her life revolved around a small focus, Trollope combines his intense interest in the relationships between men and women and families with a wide view of his historical moment, and the world. In fact, through his postal work, he became one of the most widely traveled men in his day. While not dominating his novels, all of his traveling informs his view and deepens the interest his work has for a modern reader.
Remarkably, he was an eye-witness to not only the Potato Famine in Ireland, and the Civil War in America, but also the slavery situation in the West Indies. Along with visiting much of America and Europe, Trollope traveled to the Middle East and Egypt. He also spent time in Australia where one of his sons went to try his luck. On his visits to "down-under," he witnessed the frenetic boom and bust of gold mining and the lonely difficulty of the sheep herders in the Outback.
He wrote a number of travel books and his novels also take place in many exotic locations. Interesting details from his experiences as a traveler and his perspective current and previous historical situations add an interest to his novels that no other Victorian author can boast.
Why He Knew So Much About England
In addition, Trollope also spent several years riding all over England, trying to figure out how to deliver mail better and faster. In spite of all his postal work, he was dedicated to working at his writing. Luckily for us, he often wrote about the places he visited, leaving a record of these places as they were during the 19th century for us to enjoy. Whether at home or traveling, he kept a rigorous schedule of novel writing, devoting three hours of every morning to writing, producing 10 pages a day.
Why isn't He Better Known?
Maybe it is because he wrote so much. Or because his novels seemed more ordinary and less sensational. Yet it is in the details of his understanding of ordinary people that I find his novels most fascinating, especially when he puts those people into extraordinary situations.
Some of these seem taken straight from Austen: What should a poor woman do when courted by three or four wealthy men she doesn't like? Should she marry one of them, or wait for someone that fills her romantic dream?
Others are more taken from Trollope's friend, Wilkie Collins, who originated the detective novel: What can a man do who is falsely accused of murder? How should he behave that doesn't make himself seem guilty? Or is there a time when a man is justified in murder? Or a time a woman is justified in committing a crime to protect her own financial security and that of her child?
Why His Novels Have Continuing Power
Trollope's novels may move slower than Dickens, and they tend to involve respectable members of society, rather than focusing on deviants. However, by comparison, his men and women seem much more real than the people who fill Dickens’ novels, more like people you might actually meet if you were to travel back to Victorian England. What makes him a powerful novelist is that he asks questions about human nature that makes me think. Would I falsify a will if I felt my husband was unjustly leaving me penniless? If left destitute by the debts of my father, would I marry a man I didn't like or even love? Are those choices good or bad? Moral or immoral.
He Makes You Think
When I was younger, I loved Dickens but as I've moved past middle age, I'm now finding myself a bit tired of his caricatures of real human beings. Trollope is a more moving and interesting companion. He makes me think about my own choices and the choices of others. Moreover, I have come to deeply love some of his characters: Phineas Phinn, Madame Gosler, Glencora, Mr. Harding and Eleanor. He talks in his Autobiography about enjoying living with the characters he has created. I enjoy living with them too, and look forward to the time during the day when I can pull out my Kindle and read a few more chapters.
Trollope on DVD
Novels on Film
No time to read long novels? Watch them instead! Trollope's novel series The Pallisters was made into a BBC series for Masterpiece Theater and is available to watch. The Palliser novel series covers the story of the irrepressible Glencora through her failed attempt to thwart her relatives and run off with her improvident dashing lover, to her career as wife of the boring but intensely loyal Plantagenet Palliser.
Trollope considered Plantagenet his favorite character, but most readers prefer Glencora, who manages to make the most of her opportunities to influence society through her husband's position as Member of Parliament, to Prime Minister, to finally the Duke of Omnium. The books are delightful to read and perhaps his best writing. The BBC series, perhaps inevitably fails to be quite as good, and yet gives a chance for an introduction to his world and writing.
BBC The Pallisers
Which Novel to Read First?
If you've never read him before, you might want to start with the first Palliser novel, Can You Forgive Her? or one of my favorites, Phineas Phinn, about a handsome, intelligent Irishman and his career and loves (and who becomes a favorite project of Glencora Palliser). The Warden is also an excellent place to start and is a fairly short book and an easy read.
Wherever you start, I hope you will enjoy entering the world of Anthony Trollope's novels and that you will come back to tell me what you think about them!