Brave blogger that I am, I often read Trollope’s wonderful books with no intention of writing about them. They are very long, very amusing, and to write about them might dilute my enthusiasm.
To commemorate Anthony Trollope’s 200th anniversary, there are many things to do besides write. You can buy new Trollope stamps in the UK; see a display at the British Library of the manuscript of An Autobiography; enjoy a Bloggers’ Trollope Challenge; and discuss his books at online Trollope and Nineteenth Century Literature groups.
Everyone is reading Trollope; everyone is writing about Trollope.
Trollope is not someone you write about. That is my belief, though I have written about him. You read him the way you eat cookies. I just finished The Prime Minister, the fifth novel in the Palliser series. It wasn’t the best cookie in the series–that would be Can You Forgive Her?–but it was a very good oatmeal. It centers on politics and a misbegotten romance.
Trollope wrote 47 novels, and all of them are in print. Which ones will I read this year? I decided not to read the Folio Society’s new complete edition of The Duke’s Children, because it is As Big As a Bible. Instead, I am enjoying my Oxford World Classics paperback edition, which is 576 pages. This is the last book in the Palliser series.
In a brilliant article in The New Yorker, “Trollope Trending: Why He’s Still the Novelist of the Way We Live Now,” Adam Gopnik very briefly mentions the issue of the editing of The Duke’s Children:
A handsome new edition of “The Duke’s Children,” the last novel in the Palliser series, has just been published by the Folio Society. Much matter that had been cut by Trollope for practical reasons has been restored, but the truth is that the editing does not actually change the contents significantly. Trollope is not a sentence-by-sentence writer, or even a scene-by-scene writer; really, he is a character-by-character writer. We finish his books with portraits of people, and a few sentences added or subtracted don’t alter our feelings about the book.
Gopnik’s essay provides a brilliant introduction to Trollope and a scholarly analysis of the history of the reception of the books (they are back in style) and their historical context. And he explicates Trollope’s politics and why the books are not dated.
Gopnik says that Trollope’s politics still apply to such issues as gay marriage.
The movement for gay marriage is almost a textbook case of Trollope’s idea of how political reform happens: an impossible idea becomes possible, then becomes necessary, and then all but a handful of diehards accept its inevitability. The job of those trying to bring about change is not to hector it into the agenda of the necessary but to move it into the realm of the plausible. Once something is plausible in a semi-democratic society, it has a natural momentum toward becoming real. (Even decimal coinage happened eventually.)
I do not write about every book by Trollope I read, but I love to read about Trollope. I have informally posted here about Phineas Finn, here about The Eustace Diamonds, here about Phineas Redux, and here about The Way We Live Now.
Love your comment about reading Trollope like eating cookies (or biscuit, as we say in the UK! My cookie of choice for the series would be The Eustace Diamonds – Lizzie Eustace is thoroughly despicable, but such an interesting character. ‘Bad’ women in literature are frequently more likeable than the ‘good’ ones!
I forgot all about biscuits! The Eustace Diamonds IS good. Lizzie is so saucy! She makes a brief appearance in The Prime Minister (which I just read) and is hanging out with the villain!
I also vote for The Eustace Diamonds being the cookie of choice of the Palliser books I’ve read so far. I’ve only read half of them, but The Eustace Diamonds was my gateway Trollope, and I’ve used it to lead a few others down the Trollope hole. And I “read” it by listening to it back in the dark ages, when I borrowed cassette tapes of the audiobook from the library. The cassettes came in a container the size of a suitcase, I recall.
I wonder if Can You Forgive Her? is my favorite because it was my gateway book! Entirely possible. Some people don’t even count The Eustace Diamonds and Can You Forgive Her? as the Pallisers books. Both of them can be read as standalones, but I don’t think that’s true of the rest of the books.