Where's the book?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tra-la-la Trollope

To reward myself for getting through #14, I returned to a favorite author for #15: Anthony Trollope. Revisiting Trollope is always a treat, and although Dr. Wortle's School is not considered a major work, even a minor Trollope is a pleasure. It's a relatively short (for Trollope) novel of a cleric and headmaster, Dr. Wortle, and the schoolmaster who works for him. It's a slight tale, but an enjoyable one, and an interesting and engaging exploration of Victorian morality. It's a challenge, I admit, to not find the Victorian tsk-tsking a little silly. But you have to put aside your twenty-first century vision and put on nineteenth-century spectacles while reading. It's worth it.

I admire Trollope for not only what he wrote, but how he wrote it. He disdained the concept of the starving artist waiting for the muse to strike. He rose early every day, wrote his designated number of pages (and it was always a designated number; Trollope worked on a quota system), then went off to the office. He worked his entire career for the British postal system, and is credited for having invented the mailbox -- the iconic red pillar box that is still in use. Prior to that time, you had to take your letters to a post office to send them on their way.

Trollope was one of the most prolific authors of his time (or ever): 47 novels, numerous short stories, and more than a dozen works of non-fiction. It is said that he not only wrote on a quota system, but he didn't re-read or edit. Having finished the last page of one of his massive novels (many are 500, 600, or 700 pages long), he would simply put it aside, pull out a clean sheet, and begin the next book. Perhaps these stories are apocryphal, but they, along with his discipline, lifelong postal career, and avowal that of course he wrote for money, have contributed to the derision that has often been fashionable where Trollope is concerned. A great artist doesn't write on a quota system! A creative genius waits for the muse to strike! No output that vast can be of any worth!

As Mr. Trollope would surely say: Bosh.

His work ethic is clearly admirable, as is the fact that, unlike his ne'er-do-well father who died in debt, Trollope supported his wife and two sons, had a successful career, ran for Parliament (sadly, he lost), made money from his writing, rode to hounds (his favorite pastime), and generally lived the life of a prosperous Englishman of his time. He made his reputation not by writing grand, sweeping sagas, but by chronicling the lives of people much like him: ordinary Englishmen and women.

I'm going to give another great writer of that time the last word on Trollope. Nathaniel Hawthorne had this to say about Trollope in a letter to his publisher: "Have you ever read the novels of Anthony Trollope? They precisely suit my taste; solid, substantial, written on strength of beef and through inspiration of ale, and just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were made a show of."

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