British and Irish Literature Anthony Trollope
John McCourt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0139


Anthony Trollope (b. 1815–d. 1882) was one of the most widely read, prolific, and respected novelists of the 19th century. Although his reputation initially declined following his death and the posthumous publication of his Autobiography, in the early 21st century, Trollope’s position as one of a handful of great Victorian novelists is secure. Trollope grew up as the youngest son of a failed barrister and failed gentleman farmer. The family was saved from collapse by the publishing success of his mother, Frances (Fanny) who is best known for her best-selling Domestic Manners of the Americans. Trollope’s education was undistinguished and unhappy, as were the early years of his career a junior clerk in the General Post Office in London (1834–1841). His fortunes improved when he was transferred as a postal surveyor to Ireland (1841), where he began to enjoy professional and social success. In 1844 he married Rose Heseltine, an Englishwoman, and set up house in Ireland. At this time he also embarked on his literary career. His two earliest novels, The MacDermots of Ballycloran and The Kellys and the O’Kellys, enjoyed scant critical or popular success but are penetrating studies of the Ireland of the time. They were followed by the Barchester Chronicles (six novels published between 1855 and 1857), set in the imaginary English county of Barsetshire and focused on the Cathedral community and the local landed gentry and aristocracy. In 1859 Trollope moved back to London. He resigned from the civil service in 1867 and unsuccessfully stood for parliament as a Liberal candidate in 1868. By then he had produced some twenty-four novels, the fruit of extraordinary diligence, discipline, and determination. Trollope’s second great series is generally referred to as the Palliser novels, the first of which is Can You Forgive Her? (1865). They are convincing studies of the dynamics of political life over several decades with Plantagenet Palliser, later the Duke of Omnium, playing the central role through many volumes, down to The Duke’s Children (1880). Novels of great psychological penetration, the Pallisers also focus on the dynamics of love, marriage, and family seen within the limiting social structures of Victorian England. The final phase in Trollope’s writing career begins with the publication of He Knew He Was Right (1869), a subtle psychological study of a rich man’s jealous obsession with his innocent wife. Another highlight from this period is The Way We Live Now (1875), which offers an extraordinary portrait of the rise and fall of its villain-hero, the financier Melmotte. Trollope was writing a final Irish novel, The Landleaguers, when he died of a stroke in 1882.

General Overviews

When an author has written forty-seven novels and roughly the same number of short stories, along with biographies, an Autobiography, an extensive body of travel writing, and numerous essays and reviews, finding comprehensive studies is not easy. There are, however, a number of excellent overviews of the life and writing, as well as several essay collections/companions that offer specific approaches to a variety of themes, textual and stylistic issues, and historical complexities seen through the analysis of a significant body of primary texts. Although Trollope’s reputation dipped following his death and his Autobiography’s revelations about his mechanical methods of book production, he enjoyed a revival in the late 1970s with some ninety volumes published between 1977 and 1983, spurred in part by the centenary of his death. A further flourishing of interest has come over the past twenty years, most particularly over the past five years or so, partly coinciding with the bicentenary of his birth. Some of the still-valid, single-author studies may read as old-fashioned in the early 21st century, as they weave the life and the work together, but they remain reliable guides to the fiction. Examples include Kincaid 1977, Terry 1977, and Overton 1982. Important multiauthored collections include Bareham 1980 and Halperin 2016 and the more recent Dever and Niles 2010 and especially Morse, et al. 2017.

  • Bareham, Tony, ed. Anthony Trollope. London: Vision, 1980.

    This collection offers a worthwhile panorama of Trollope’s strengths as a writer and finds connections between his style and that of other Victorian novelists, such as Thackeray.

  • Dever, Carolyn, and Lisa Niles, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Anthony Trollope. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    The sixteen essays in this very solid volume of essays, written by leading Victorianists, provides a comprehensive overview of critical perspectives on his work. Topics explored include Trollope’s biography, autobiography, canonical fiction, short stories, and travel writing. Trollope’s works are also read in terms of their treatments of issues such as gender, sexuality, vulgarity, Ireland, America, and the law. See also Language and Narrative Style.

  • Hall, N. John, and Donald D. Stone, eds. Special Issue: Anthony Trollope (1882–1982). Nineteenth-Century Fiction 37.3 (1982).

    An important collection featuring leading Trollope scholars, including Kincaid, Hillis Miller, and Robert Tracy. Looks at various themes in Trollope, such as economics and religion, as well as his attitudes toward Thackeray and toward Ireland.

  • Halperin, John, ed. Trollope Centenary Essays. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    Originally published in 1982, this is a strong selection of essays by affirmed Trollope scholars who examine topics such as his much criticized Autobiography, his travelling, his time in Ireland, and his unique writing process (his construction of dialogue, his revision process).

  • Kincaid, James. The Novels of Anthony Trollope. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.

    An ambitious study that concentrates on Trollope’s major novels while also looking at the lesser-known fiction. Kincaid offers a penetrating analysis of the aesthetics of Trollope’s novels, of his low-key style, his use of pastoral, and his ongoing questioning of what makes for a moral life. The author examines Trollope’s frequent use of the formulas of romantic comedy while also focusing on his frequent use of irony. He suggests that Trollope favors an open form that anticipates future novelistic conventions.

  • Morse, Deborah Denenholz, Margaret Markwick, and Mark W. Turner, eds. The Routledge Research Companion to Anthony Trollope. London: Routledge, 2017.

    Reflecting the burgeoning interest in Trollope studies, this volume collects a wonderful blend of established and emerging scholars who offer a comprehensive overview of Trollope scholarship and criticism. The volume features unusually long essays that discuss Trollope’s works in connection with the law, material culture, gender, politics, evolution, race, anti-Semitism, biography, philosophy, illustration, aging, emigration, and Ireland.

  • Overton, Bill. The Unofficial Trollope. Brighton, UK: Harvester, 1982.

    Overton’s detailed study, fortified by sensitive close reading, challenges traditional views of Trollope. In Overton’s view, in pushing against 19th-century conventions and showing sympathy for outsiders, a more complex “unofficial” Trollope emerges to challenge the successful, popular, “official” figure.

  • Polhemus, Robert. The Changing World of Anthony Trollope. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968.

    This is the first work to make the case for reading against traditional interpretations of Trollope and in favor of a more versatile and subversive chronicler who used his novels, which he almost uniquely set in the present, to argue for social change.

  • Pollard, Arthur. Anthony Trollope. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978.

    Although dated, this work comments briefly on most of Trollope’s novels, including many of the lesser ones, providing a useful overview even if it focuses too much on what it sees as the author’s conservatism, which has been challenged by more recent studies.

  • Terry, Reginald C. Anthony Trollope: The Artist in Hiding. London: Macmillan, 1977.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-03382-9

    Sensitive close reading of Trollope’s novels by one of the critics who knew his work best. Terry argues that Trollope is essentially a novelist of character rather than a social realist. This somewhat old-fashioned work provides a solid view of Trollope’s biographical and historical contexts.

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