Michael Williamson

Michael G Williamson JP DL

Former Trollope Society Chairman

Tell us a bit about yourself

I had an early career in Librarianship and Information Studies ultimately moving into the training and development aspects and acting as Senior Examiner and Chief External Verifier in the field. I have a strong interest in the theatre and spent many years associated with the Shakespeare at the George Trust in Huntingdon, as an actor, director, administrator and, ultimately Chairman. I also spent a long time as a Regional representative for NODA (National Operatic and Drama Association). I am currently Senior Adjudicator at the annual Hunstanton One-Act Drama Festival. I am a local Parish Councillor and occasional Chairman of the Council. I also served on my local Parochial Church Council and in this capacity co-ordinated a major restoration programme for my local Church. On my local Bench I have served as a Presiding Justice of the Peace and was Chairman of the Family Panel within Cambridgeshire for several years. I was appointed to the Cambridgeshire Police Authority as a Magistrate Member and served for 14 years, ultimately as Chair of the Authority. I now serve as a Deputy Lieutenant for my County.

Are you a member of the Society

I became a Founding Member of the Society at the time of its foundation in the eighties, thirty years ago. Eventually I became a Trustee and Committee Member and have been Chairman for the last eight years. I will be stepping down from the Chair at the next Annual General Meeting but have enjoyed meeting fellow Trollopians particularly during the bicentenary of Anthony Trollope’s birth.

Are you a Trollope fan?

I seriously discovered Trollope in my late teens and, more or less, immediately became a lifelong fan. I spent many happy hours searching antiquarian bookshops for any available titles. My collection has now grown to substantial proportions! As with many other Trollope enthusiasts, this began as a relatively private hobby for my own enjoyment. I was, therefore, surprised and delighted when the Society suddenly came into existence with the initial aim of producing the first complete uniform edition of the works. As it has developed into a significant literary society it has been a great pleasure to share my enjoyment with other like-minded people.

Why is he relevant today?

Trollope stands out among other Victorian novelists in that he was able to create very real and believable characterisations within his works which are as familiar today as when they were created. Many of his stronger characters re-occur in more than one work so that the reader can comfortably feel that they are entering a complete world. His skill in characterisation is such that he is equally able to describe the innermost feelings of both his male and female characters and we can easily relate to them. He has a compassion for mankind which shines through and, in general, none of his characters are altogether bad or altogether good. In addition to this, as with any significant writer, throughout all his considerable output there are moments of greatness that can stir the soul.

What might put people off?

Some might deplore the length of some of the works caused to a certain extent by the need to recap when the initial publication came out in separate parts. Others will take an opposite view and never want the novel to end. Because of Trollope’s enormous output over a relative brief period of time, he had little time to proof read and tended to rely on his publishers for spotting errors. When we study the development of any manuscript to the serial parts and then into the printed versions we can see how easily some of these errors have occurred and can appreciate that there is a good case for going back to the original manuscripts. This was demonstrated to a considerable extent during the work to produce the recent extended version of ‘The Duke’s Children’ where mistakes appeared all along the way. I am sure that Anthony would have been delighted to know that corrections have now been made and perhaps this exercise needs to be undertaken more often?

Do you think that there are any typical Trollope fans? If so, what are they like?

Perhaps surprisingly, you can discover extreme Trollope enthusiasts within any age group and equally among men and women. We also have many keen members all around the world and this has been the case since the first publications appeared. Somebody recently said that all lovers of Trollope would be sure to be very agreeable, compassionate and friendly people and I can honestly say that I have always found this to be the case.

Who do you think that the Society should target as a way of increasing awareness and enjoyment of his works?

It is good to see that social media is enabling us to reach new areas of interest and this needs to develop. Making sure that Trollope receives sufficient attention within Schools and Universities is perhaps a harder challenge but one that we should not neglect and, hopefully, perceptions are already changing.

Do you attend Trollope Society seminar groups and events?

I was involved in the foundation of the Cambridge Discussion Group and still regularly attend. I also try to attend all the other seminar groups at least within a two or three year cycle. We owe a great debt of gratitude to all the local organisers for enabling us to operate so effectively as a more traditional literary society. Of course, as far as possible, I currently attend and enjoy all the other events and participate actively in as many of our current projects as possible.

What format of books, TV or radio adaptations do you enjoy most?

All formats and adaptations are important as they serve a good purpose in raising the general profile of Trollope across the board and in the most unlikely places. TV and Radio adaptations can only achieve so much and there will always be omissions and/or questionable decisions. However, a good presentation can lure the viewer or listener to actually searching for a copy of the book itself where they will certainly find a more accurate and comprehensive version. I would always prefer a hard back version but also have the complete works on Kindle for journeys. The errors contained in electronic versions are unfortunate but, again, can encourage a return to the book itself.

Do you read ‘Trollopiana’?

There have been some good articles and pieces of genuine academic research over the years and I have always found something of interest. I have kept every copy from the first issue and bind them eventually so that I can refer easily to any particular reference. Our voluntary Editors do a consistent and excellent job for which we should all be grateful.

First published April 2018

Main photo: Michael Williamson presents Sir John Major with a copy of Barchester Towers