April 24, 2015

It Happened on April 24th

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope's Birthday, 1815

When I was younger, and more patient, I used to adore the novels of Anthony Trollope. They were huge, gossipy Victorian novels, full of memorable characters and interesting complications. These days my patience is not quite what it used to be and I tend to prefer the BBC adaptations. If you haven't seen them and you like that sort of thing, I heartily recommend them. There are four-episode adaptations of The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right, a seven-hour adaptation of The Barchester Chronicles, and a 26-part series on The Pallisers. They're all available on DVD, and chances are good that you could borrow them from your library.

Trollope was the son of an impoverished barrister. His mother was an accomplished writer in her own right, best known for her first book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, written after her stint in Cincinnati as an unsuccessful entrepreneur. Anthony's older brother, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, also was a writer, best known for his histories and travel writing. All three of the writing Trollopes were pretty prolific: Thomas published about 60 volumes and Frances over 100. Thomas was the least prolific writer of the family, publishing only 47 novels, plus some short stories and a few travel books.

Anthony Trollope began working for the General Post Office when he was 19 and obtained a post in London. He apparently wasn't a very good worker. He was known for being unpunctual and insubordinate, and his superior was happy to recommend him for a post in Ireland just to get rid of him. Trollope had volunteered for the post -- he was unhappy in London, and deeply in debt.

Mom was a writer, too.
He found himself unexpectedly happy in Ireland. His money went further, he took up fox-hunting, and he met Rose Heseltine, whom he eventually married. He also began writing novels. A large part of his duties in the Post Office required long train trips around Ireland, and he used his time on the train to write. His first novels, naturally enough, were about Ireland.

Although he was happy in Ireland, he felt that, as a writer, his place was in London. He obtained a Post Office position there in 1859, and began submitting his works for publication in London. His Irish-themed stories were not very salable there, so he began writing novels set in England. His novels were very successful, both in popular sales and with the critics.

In fact, his reputation as a writer stayed elevated throughout his life, and was only damaged by the publication of his Autobiography after his death in 1882. In his autobiography explained his writing habits, which many could not reconcile to current romantic ideas about visitation from "the Muse." He held himself scrupulously to a daily quota, and if he finished a novel before his quota was up, he started a new book. He wrote every day from 5:30 am to 8:30 am, and produced at least 250 words every 15 minutes. He also stated that he wrote with the object of earning money, and considered any author who didn't to be foolish.

Daniel Defoe

Death of Daniel Defoe, 1731

The members of the Trollope family seem like mere amateurs when you think about the writings of Daniel Defoe, who wrote more than 500 books, pamphlets, and journals during his lifetime. Defoe was the son of a chandler (candle-maker). His birth name was Foe -- he later changed it to Defoe for a more aristocratic-sounding appeal. Among his most famous works are Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and A Journal of the Plague Year.

Defoe was a survivor of some of the most devastating events in English history. He was six years old when the Great Plague swept London, leaving 70,000 dead. A year later the Great Fire of London took place. Defoe's was one of only three homes standing in his neighborhood when it was all over. When he was 26 he took part in the Monmouth Rebellion, an attempt to overthrow James II by the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son. Defoe's side lost and although many others were executed or transported for their crimes, Defoe was pardoned. He was also a witness to the Great Storm of 1703, the most severe storm ever observed in the southern part of Great Britain. Defoe wrote books about both the Great Plague and the Great Storm.

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