Book Of A Lifetime: The Way We Live Now, By Anthony Trollope

By rights, I ought to loathe The Way We Live Now. It starts with a withering portrait of a woman author writing begging letters to three different literary editors about her new novel. It's unremittingly racist about Jews and respectful to posh people.

Yet I adore Trollope, and re-read him regularly. I owe to him, more than any author, my moral education, my understanding of how British society still works, and my determination to write novels that are, as far as I can make them, also about the way we, too, live now.

Trollope's genius came upon me not as a thunderclap but as a slowly evolving, wholly delightful friendship. By the time I read TWWLN, I was half-way through the Palliser Chronicles'with their incomparable portrait

of political life, and had been enchanted by The Eustace Diamonds. This, his great dark novel, begins as pure satire on literary life (Lady Carbury wants to write not good books, but ones that are said to be so), on the kind of credit-based greed that is especially evident in our own time, and on the perpetual struggle between what is honest, loving and kind in people and what is venal. Trollope writes with brutal frankness about the three subjects that remain hot potatoes in our society: money, class and race. Merely by portraying these to his Victorian audience, he is much more radical than many suppose.

Even as a satirist, he can't help adding depth. Lady Carbury is despicable, yet a loyal wife and loving mother of the stone-hearted, Felix. The foreign financier, Melmotte, is despised even by the author, let alone the "curs" who fawn on him – yet he achieves a kind of nobility, and is, ironically, found to leave a genuine fortune after his death. Henry James sneered at Trollope as having "a complete appreciation of the usual", but we recognise Melmotte as both unusual and real in the way that none of James' characters were in being a prescient portrait of the real-life swindlers Maxwell and Madoff.

Trollope could portray almost as wide a social range as Dickens and his sympathy for women is unexpected and delicate; his bluff manner conceals something more subtle. Above all, he is a God confident of his creations. From him, I learnt the satisfactions of bringing back characters from one novel to the next. His portrait of Roger Carbury, the decent toff who sacrifices his own love in order to make its object happy, is sentimental, but his understanding of love's pangs and sacrifices is not. His dialogue and sense of drama, makes his characters breathe; if he lacks the grand "bow-wow" strain and language of Dickens, his ear for the way real people speak is impeccable. His least popular novel in his lifetime, The Way We Live Now has become the one we most admire him for. The irony in that is one Trollope, above all, would relish.

Amanda Craig's new novel, 'Hearts and Minds', is published by Little, Brown

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory