Trollope, Anthony (1815–82), novelist and post office surveyor, was born 24 April 1815 at 16 Keppel Street, Russell Square, London, the fifth of seven children of Thomas Anthony Trollope (1774–1835), barrister and gentleman farmer from a family of gentry and clerics, and his wife, Frances (Fanny) Trollope (née Milton; 1779–1863), writer. Trollope's early life was overshadowed by his father's financial incompetence, which was encouraged by expectations of inheritance from a wealthy uncle (who unexpectedly remarried and begot an heir at an advanced age). Anthony was educated at Harrow School 1823–7, returning as a charity pupil 1830–34, after a period at Winchester College, because of his father's declining health and finances. During his school career Trollope was a dirty, untidy, unpopular boy, isolated and bullied (not least by his elder brother Thomas). He developed a habit of solitary daydreaming, which he afterwards saw as the foundation of his literary career; he always maintained that a novelist could not draw characters effectively unless he lived in their company all the time, not just at the writing desk. Mrs Trollope's success as an author (beginning with a sardonic travel book, The domestic manners of the Americans (1832), the material for which was gathered during an ill-conceived business venture in Ohio) failed to reverse her husband's financial decline. In 1834 the family was obliged to decamp to Belgium to escape its creditors; Thomas Anthony Trollope died in Brussels in 1835.
In November 1834 Trollope was appointed to a post office clerkship through his mother's influence. His consistent and vehemently expressed view that civil servants should be appointed by patronage rather than competitive examinations (which he believed incapable of detecting the true qualities of a gentleman) was related to awareness that he himself would never have been appointed under a competitive system. (He habitually gave his profession as ‘gentleman’.) The next seven years of his life were dominated by mild amusements, extortionate moneylenders, a sense of pointless drift, and an attempt on his family's part to bully him into marriage. His mother and surviving brother moved to Italy after paying some of his debts; his principal patron died early, and his superiors regarded him as deadweight. These experiences, coupled with his father's fate, gave Trollope a firm conviction of the importance of financial stability and the folly of believing that romantic sentiment could derive happiness from an impoverished marriage. He was proud to itemise his profits from his books, declaring these a natural motive and fruit of authorship. (In the same manner he expressed contempt for novelists who failed to convey young men's enjoyment in courting women or women's enjoyment of being courted.)
The turning-point in Trollope's life came in August 1841, when he volunteered to replace the dismissed clerk to the post office surveyor for the west of Ireland (a position recently created as part of administrative reform). His superiors were happy to fill an unpopular posting and simultaneously to remove him from headquarters. He was initially based in Banagher, King's Co., a market town on the Grand Canal; his job involved extensive travel around the country inspecting postmasters’ accounts, and he soon became known as a diligent and effective worker. He also acquired the brusque and bullying manner – partly self-protective – which marked his official career; he was generally affable, but had periodic fits of frightening anger. His position as a state official gave him a higher social standing than he would have possessed in Britain; he moved in provincial society through fox hunting and the order of freemasons (of which he remained a lifelong member). He was, however, disconcerted to discover that he was expected to socialise with catholics or protestants, but not both (a restriction he disregarded). He also acquired an Irish servant, Barney McIntyre, who throughout most of his later life roused him at 4 in the morning so that he could begin writing by 5.30.
On 11 June 1844 Trollope married Rose Heseltine (1820–1917), daughter of a bank manager from Rotherham in Yorkshire; they had two sons. Theirs was a successful union though to posterity it appears somewhat shadowy; Rose made fair copies of his novels and sometimes toned down ungentlemanly expressions. In autumn 1844 the Trollopes moved to Clonmel, and in 1848 to Mallow. (In 1860 Trollope was smitten with an intense though unconsummated emotional attraction to the Irish-American feminist Kate Field; their disagreements about America and feminism are mirrored in the light-toned mockery of Americans, and heavy-handed ridicule of suffragettes in several late novels.)
Trollope's first two novels were set in Ireland. The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848) is a panoramic portrayal of pre-famine Ireland. The romantic plot is characteristically marked by Trollopean realism; the heroes’ motives for pursuing their prospective brides are not altogether unmercenary, but the alternatives to marriage facing the women are considerably worse. The MacDermots of Ballycloran (1847) was inspired by a visit to Drumsna, Co. Leitrim, in 1843, where Trollope saw the ruined house of a bankrupt middleman family. The story's hero, burdened by the useless half-built relic of his family's former pretensions, by a senile father, and by an uneducated sister seduced by an unscrupulous customs officer, draws on Trollope's own memories of failure and isolation; he is hanged unjustly for murder. Ribbonism is portrayed with some sympathy as an understandable though brutal and futile response to poverty and oppression; the novel reflects whig ideology in attributing Ireland's misfortune to maladministration by brutal, bigoted and pseudo-aristocratic Orange tory squireens and looks forward to their replacement by impartial bureaucrats and hard-working commercial farmers. (Trollope himself was driven by an unrelenting work ethic; some friends believed his unremitting composition shortened his life, while his iron daily schedule of composition and his frankly-expressed view of writing as an artisan pursuit like shoemaking damaged his reputation among the more aesthetically-minded generation which succeeded his own. He despised those whom he considered idlers – from West Indian ‘negroes’ to self-indulgent aristocrats – though he had a soft spot for Irish beggars.)
The darker side of this ideology was willingness to acquiesce in considerable suffering as the price of social reconstruction; between August 1849 and May 1850 Trollope defended the whig government's famine policy against ‘philanthropist’ critics such as Sydney Godolphin Osborne in a series of letters to the London weekly Examiner. This defence is reiterated in his 1860 famine novel Castle Richmond, set in north Cork; the work is marked by a series of heart-rending descriptions of famine misery, which coexist awkwardly with a standard romantic plot and assurances that the famine served a divine purpose in displacing the squireens, while labourers and landlords benefited by the resulting transition to a more commercialised agricultural economy. In the late 1840s Trollope also proposed to write an Irish guidebook and was an occasional contributor to the Dublin University Magazine.
In the period 1851–3 Trollope was stationed in south-west England, where he oversaw the development of the postal system and played an important role in the introduction of pillar boxes to Britain. In September 1854 he was promoted to surveyor for the north of Ireland and posted to Belfast. Here he completed his first Barchester novel, The warden (1855), making his first literary profit, and wrote The New Zealander, a book of essays criticising contemporary British society as lacking in honesty. Trollope saw society as ultimately resting on the sense of honour represented by the figure of the ‘gentleman’; a central theme of his novels is the question of what constitutes true gentility and how it may be discerned. He even criticised the adversarial justice system as dishonourable because it promoted falsehoods, suggesting that judge and counsel should meet as gentlemen beforehand, agree where truth lay, and do their best to bring out what they regarded as the true situation – a view which might have caused inconvenience to non-gentlemen clients. The book's imagery of industrial fire and smoke owes much to Belfast, and the book contains a critical profile of the numerous ultra-evangelical clerics exported by the Church of Ireland to seek richer pickings in Britain. Trollope, a tolerant and sceptical anglican broad churchman, disliked evangelicalism as ungentlemanly and life-denying. He regarded catholicism with mildly wistful tolerance and was on friendly terms with priests in Ireland (his story ‘Father Giles of Ballymoy’ describes the awkward start of one such friendship). He was not uncritical of priests but restrained by reluctance to go too far in criticising clerics of a church not his own. (The warden comments satirically on the agitation which led to the Ecclesiastical Titles Act in its cameo of an opportunistic government breaking up an alliance of Irish catholic and protestant MPs by introducing an outrageous and insincere proposal to have nuns strip-searched for superstitious objects.) The New Zealander was rejected by publishers and only saw print in 1972.
In June 1855 Trollope was moved to Dublin, where he wrote Barchester Towers (1858) and his breakthrough novel Dr Thorne (1858). The Trollopes returned permanently to England in November 1859, where Trollope co-founded the Fortnightly Review (1865) and edited St Paul's Magazine (1867–70), as well as producing numerous novels about contemporary British society. Trollope left the post office in November 1867, having invested enough to guarantee an income equivalent to the pension forfeited by premature retirement.
Irish characters in Trollope's British novels include (most famously) Phineas Finn, a political and romantic adventurer from Killaloe. The hero of Phineas Finn: the Irish member (1869) and Phineas Redux (1874) appears in the other ‘Palliser’ novels centred on Plantagenet Palliser, duke of Omnium and whig statesman, and his vivacious wife, Lady Glencora (who secretly regrets not having been allowed to marry the dissipated Burgo Fitzgerald). Alleged originals for Phineas include Sir John Pope Hennessy (qv), William Gregory (qv) (a Harrow contemporary with whom Trollope hunted at Coole in the late 1840s), and Chichester Fortescue (qv) (whose marriage to Lady Waldegrave resembles Phineas's union with Madame Max Goesler), though he also reflects Trollope's own political dreams.
In 1857 Trollope contested the east Yorkshire borough of Beverley as a ‘conservative liberal’. He was defeated in a rowdy contest (portrayed in Ralph the heir (1871)), which led to the abolition of the constituency because of its wholesale corruption. Trollope's political heroes were Lord Palmerston, Cicero, and (to a lesser extent) Gladstone. He disliked radicalism as reckless and vulgar and thought toryism excessively selfish and opportunistic. Trollope can be seen as representing the social and political consensus of mid-Victorian Britain (somewhat precarious but genuine in comparison with the clearer divisions of the periods immediately preceding and following it). Although he was a relentlessly contemporary writer, whose themes include aristocratic decadence and reckless financial speculation, his rediscovery from the mid-twentieth century was originally inspired by nostalgia for the comparative confidence and security of the Victorian era; this was reinforced by the popularity of the Barchester novels, which are set in a self-conscious backwater. Trollope's most famous depiction of a speculator – Melmotte in The way we live now (1875), whose shady deals corrupt the whole of mid-Victorian society – is partly based on John Sadleir (qv) and described as Irish-American, though there are also hints that he is Jewish. The general air of humane common-sense in his novels makes his belief in the desirability of exterminating Australian aborigines and his mockery of many (not all) his Jewish characters for being Jews all the more disturbing.
From the mid 1870s Trollope's literary earnings declined as his style of fiction became less fashionable. His later works, which reflected a growing pessimism and sense of ageing, exacerbated by ill health (he suffered from a hernia and heart trouble), experienced a critical rehabilitation towards the end of the twentieth century. They include An eye for an eye (1879) in which a young officer stationed in Co. Clare seduces a local young woman, tries to compromise his duty to her and to his station in life in a way honourable to neither, and is pushed off the Cliffs of Moher by her mother; the novel is sometimes read as allegorising British neglect of Ireland.
In his autobiography, written in the late 1870s, Trollope remarked that Irish nationalism had been in decline since the famine and described Isaac Butt's (qv) home rule party as the last relapse before a final cure. He was disillusioned by the land war and opposed Gladstone's 1881 Irish Land Act. In the last year of his life he began a final Irish novel, The landleaguers (incomplete at his death, but published in 1883). This displays a complete reversal of sympathies from The MacDermots of Ballycloran. The landlord case is presented in the best possible light: the target of the agitation has purchased under the Encumbered Estates Act and – unlike the majority of Irish landlords – has invested heavily in land improvement. The agents of the state (represented by a resident magistrate modelled on Clifford Lloyd (qv)) are uniformly brave and incorruptible; the tenants engage in wanton destruction, flooding reclaimed land, disrupting fox hunts, employing a psychopathic professional assassin to perform cold-blooded killings, ultimately carrying out a massacre based on the Maamstrasna murder. The heroine is an Irish-American, whose idealistic father becomes a Parnellite MP before realising his error.
Trollope suffered a stroke on 3 November during an after-dinner reading of a humorous novel at a friend's London house; he died 6 December 1882 in London. He is one of the many English individuals whose attachment to Ireland reflected memories of it as a place for self-definition. His Irish writings are intertwined with the achievements and limitations of the mid-Victorian whig project for Irish regeneration, and give him a characteristically equivocal place among interpreters of nineteenth-century Ireland.