Trollope’s life was transformed in 1841 when he went to Ireland as an Assistant Postal Surveyor. He enjoyed his work, riding in all weathers round Galway to inspect local post offices, he married, and he began to write.
In Ireland Anthony got married, to Rose Hestletine a quiet, unspectacular girl who belived as implicitly as he did in the duties of a submissive Victorian wife, bearing him two sons and providing him competently with the calm and comfort necessary for his work and pleasures so that in the autumn of 1843 he could start work on his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, a ponderous, excessively pedagogical effort which only got into, print as a result of his mother’s special influence. Two more novels, a play and a try-out for a guidebook followed, but they were no more inspired than the Macdermots. Not until 1851 when the Post Office moved Anthony, now in his mid thirties, back to England were his earnest attempts at authorship rewarded; when riding about Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire he finally struck the vein that was to make his name even proverbial than his mother’s. The gentle roll of the countryside which he covered acre by acre, the hierarchy that went with the manor house, the servility and pomposity of the town tradesmen, the ethos of the rural rectory and the cathedral close, Trollope studied it all as he rode, and encapsulated it for all time in The Warden, the first of his six Barsetshire Chronicles. ‘Not a very promising subject, one might infer at first sight,’ declared the reader at Longmans to whom Anthony sent the manuscript ‘But such is the skill of the author he has contrived to weave out of his materials a very interesting and amusing tale … The characters are well drawn and happily distinguished and , the whole story is pervaded by a vein of quiet humour and (good-natured) satire … In one word, the work ought to have a large sale.’
On that last point the Longmans reader was wrong. The Warden had only- a moderate success when it was published in 1855. ‘But,’ wrote Trollope, ‘it had not failed as the others had failed. I could discover that people around me knew I had written a book.’ Its sequel, Barchester Towers, did better -‘it was one of the novels which novel readers were called upon to read’ – and Trollope felt self-confident enough when it came to negotiating terms for his next book to break away from Longmans – then, as now, a powerful and respected publisher – because they would not agree to his terms, £200 against royalties. It was not the first time that Trollope had argued over his remuneration as a writer, and he became famous, not to say notorious, for the importance he attached to the commercial aspects of his literary activities. He was proud to be labourer worthy of his hire, a fact he made defiantly clear in his Autobiography.
I am well aware that there are many who think that an author in his authorship should not regard money – nor a painter or sculpt or composer in his art. I do not know that this unnatural self sacrifice is supposed to extent itself further. A barrister, a clergyman, a doctor, an engineer a even actors and architects, without disgrace follow the of human nature and endeavour to fill their bellies and clothe their backs, and also those their wives and children, as comfortably as they can by the excercise of their abilities and the crafts … It is a mistake to suppose that a man is a better man because he despises money. Few do so, and those few in doing suffer a defeat. Who does not desire to be hospitable to friends, generous to the poor, liberal to all, munificent to his children and to be himself free from the carking fear which poverty creates? The subject not stand an argument.
© British Broadcasting Corporation 1974.
The Pallisers Radio Times Special