Books: Hell in Harrow, overdrafts in Ohio

The Trollope family saga began with Anthony's intrepid mum, who fled a dismal home for uncouth America and pioneered Yank-bashing for British readers. D J Taylor remembers a woman of substance

Fanny Trollope: the life and adventures of a clever woman

by Pamela Neville-Sington, Viking pounds 20

Social histories of the early Victorian period have a tendency to play down the importance of the woman writer. No doubt, the literary sisterhood of the 1840s was a heterodox crowd - it included the down-at- heel poets satirised in Pendennis as well as genuine best-sellers - but at its upper level it was a force to be reckoned with. Mrs Gore, to take a representative example, was an influential figure in Victorian society for 20 years, and Thackeray professed himself flattered by a rumour that she was the author of the then anonymous Vanity Fair.

In some ways Fanny Trollope stands at the head of a literary grouping whose significance was always likely to be more than literary. The publisher Whittaker gave her pounds 400 for her first novel, The Refugee in America, in 1832. Domestic Manners of the Americans, which had established her reputation earlier in the same year, was one of the great pioneer exercises in transatlantic disparagement; its influence lasted deep into the later 19th century. Dickens had a copy to hand when he wrote his American Notes, while Anthony Trollope, visiting Ohio a good 40 years after his mother's stay, found that her reputation survived intact.

Like many another Victorian literary output, Mrs Trollope's 35 novels and half-dozen travel books were the product of necessity. If the series of financial disasters racked up by her moody barrister husband Thomas Anthony seem over-familiar to the readers of Victorian novels, it is because Anthony put several of them into his own fiction: the descent of the bailiffs on the Roberts's vicarage in Framley Parsonage mirrors a real-life depredation on the Trollopes' Harrow farmhouse. Irascible, quarrelsome, fatalistic ("The touch of his hand seemed to create failure" according to Anthony), poisoned by the mercury he took for his painful headaches, Trollope senior eventually became a millstone around his wife's neck. Her American trip in the late 1820s, originally to join a commune of simple-lifers, was a transparent attempt to escape from an increasingly irksome and impoverished home. Returning after four years of fruitless commercial endeavour - including a Cincinatti entertainment palace that ate up what remained of her capital - she found her husband nearly bankrupt. Despite the success of Domestic Manners, the family fled to the continent to escape paterfamilias's arraignment for debt.

Amid tribulation and tragedy - husband and two children died within the space of a single year - Mrs Trollope wrote indefatigably on, elbowed her way into polite literary society, struck advantageous bargains with sharp contemporary publishers like Bentley and Colburn, and rapidly became a household name. Among the many marks of her intelligence, as Pamela Neville-Sington shows, was a shrewd eye for the market. Her first two books had been dramatisations of her American experiences, but the third (The Abbess, 1833) exploited a period vogue for the Gothic romance. Thereafter, the tide flowed relentlessly on, only coming to a halt with Fashionable Life in 1856, two years short of her 80th birthday.

Fanny Trollope: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman (Neville-Sington's edition of Domestic Manners is published simultaneously in Penguin Classics at pounds 8.99) is a thoroughly worthy take on this extraordinary career, a touch unadventurously written in its early stages, perhaps, but picking up no end - as it could scarcely fail to do - when covering the American scenes. If there are two slight irritations, they are the biographer's dogged attempts to weave Fanny's early life into the social circles inhabited by Jane Austen, and her belief that almost every scenario in the novels has some parallel in her subject's own life. Nothing wrong with the life/art nexus, of course, especially when the source material is thin, but between pages 49 and 50, for example there are no fewer than five descriptions of life chez Trollope which turn out to have been filched from the Trollope oeuvre.

On the other hand, Neville-Sington is good on the sheer effervescence of Fanny's character: it is easy to believe, from the personality sketched here, that the literary powers were there from the first (in fact, Fanny did make one or two pre-crash attempts at a novel) and wanted only the stimulus of approaching ruin to stir them into action. There are also some shrewd glimpses of the young Anthony (who resented not being taken to America) skulking round his father's chambers or, as a hobbledehoy clerk, bringing home his own debts for maternal settlement. Here, it seems fairly evident, the money fixations of his own Autobiography have their source.

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss