Trollope has always been a popular novelist. Noted fans have included Sir Alec Guinness (who never travelled without a Trollope novel), former British Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan and Sir John Major, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, American novelists Sue Grafton and Dominick Dunne and soap opera writer Harding Lemay. Trollope's literary reputation dipped somewhat during the last years of his life, but he regained the esteem of critics by the mid-twentieth century.
Born in London, Anthony attended Harrow School as a day-boy for three years from the age of seven, as his father's farm lay in that neighbourhood. After a spell at a private school, he followed his father and two older brothers to Winchester College, where he remained for three years. He returned to Harrow as a day-boy to reduce the cost of his education. Trollope had some very miserable experiences at these two public schools. They ranked as two of the most élite schools in England, but Trollope had no money and no friends, and was bullied a great deal. At the age of twelve, he fantasized about suicide. However, he also daydreamed, constructing elaborate imaginary worlds.
In 1827, his mother Frances Trollope moved to America with Trollope's three younger siblings, where she opened a bazaar in Cincinnati, which proved unsuccessful. Thomas Trollope joined them for a short time before returning to the farm at Harrow, but Anthony stayed in England throughout. His mother returned in 1831 and rapidly made a name for herself as a writer, soon earning a good income. His father's affairs, however, went from bad to worse. He gave up his legal practice entirely and failed to make enough income from farming to pay rents to his landlord Lord Northwick. In 1834 he fled to Belgium to avoid arrest for debt. The whole family moved to a house near Bruges, where they lived entirely on Frances's earnings. In 1835, Thomas Trollope died.
While living in Belgium, Anthony worked as a Classics usher (a junior or assistant teacher) in a school with a view to learning French and German, so that he could take up a promised commission in an Austrian cavalry regiment, which had to be cut short at six weeks. He then obtained a position as a civil servant in the British Post Office through one of his mother's family connections, and returned to London on his own. This provided a respectable, gentlemanly occupation, but not a well-paid one.
Trollope lived in boarding houses and remained socially awkward; he referred to this as his "hobbledehoyhood". He made little progress in his career until the Post Office sent him to Ireland in 1841. He married an Englishwoman named Rose Heseltine in 1844. They lived in Ireland until 1859, when they moved back to England.
Despite the calamity of the Great Famine in Ireland, Trollope wrote of his time in Ireland in his autobiography:
His professional role as a post-office surveyor brought him into contact with Irish people. Trollope began writing on the numerous long train trips around Ireland he had to take to carry out his postal duties. Setting very firm goals about how much he would write each day, he eventually became one of the most prolific writers of all time. He wrote his earliest novels while working as a Post Office inspector, occasionally dipping into the "lost-letter" box for ideas.
Significantly, many of his earliest novels have Ireland as their setting — natural enough given his background, but unlikely to enjoy warm critical reception, given the contemporary English attitudes towards Ireland. It has been pointed out by critics that Trollope's view of Ireland separates him from many of the other Victorian novelists. Some critics claim that Ireland did not influence Trollope as much as his experience in England, and that the society in Ireland harmed him as a writer, especially since Ireland was experiencing the famine during his time there. Such critics were dismissed as holding bigoted opinions against Ireland and did not reflect Trollope's true attachment to the country.
Trollope wrote three novels about Ireland. Two were written during the famine, while the third deals with the famine as a theme (The Macdermots of Ballycloran, The Landleaguers and Castle Richmond respectively). The Macdermots of Ballycloran was written while he was staying in the village of Drumsna, County Leitrim.Two short stories deal with Ireland ("The O'Conors of Castle Conor, County Mayo and "Father Giles of Ballymoy" ). It has been argued by some critics that these works seek to unify an Irish and British identity, instead of viewing the two as distinct. Even as an Englishman in Ireland, Trollope was still able to attain what he saw as essential to being an "Irish writer": possessed, obsessed, and "mauled" by Ireland.
The reception of the Irish works left much to be desired. Henry Colburn wrote to Trollope, "It is evident that readers do not like novels on Irish subjects as well as on others". In particular, magazines such as New Monthly Magazine, which wrote reviews that attacked the Irish for their actions during the famine, were representative of the dismissal by English readers to any work written about the Irish.
Trollope himself wrote, about Phineas Finn's identity as an Irishman:
He left the Post Office in 1867 to run for Parliament as a Liberal candidate in 1868. After he lost, he concentrated entirely on his literary career. While continuing to produce novels rapidly, he also edited the St Paul's Magazine, which published several of his novels in serial form.
His first major success came with The Warden (1855) — the first of six novels set in the fictional county of "Barsetshire" (often collectively referred to as the Chronicles of Barsetshire), usually dealing with the clergy. The comic masterpiece Barchester Towers (1857) has probably become the best-known of these. Trollope's other major series, the Palliser novels, concerned itself with politics, with the wealthy, industrious Plantagenet Palliser and his delightfully spontaneous, even richer wife Lady Glencora usually featuring prominently (although, as with the Barsetshire series, many other well-developed characters populated each novel).
Trollope's popularity and critical success diminished in his later years, but he continued to write prolifically, and some of his later novels have acquired a good reputation. In particular, critics generally acknowledge the sweeping satire The Way We Live Now (1875) as his masterpiece. In all, Trollope wrote forty-seven novels, as well as dozens of short stories and a few books on travel.
Anthony Trollope died in London in 1882. His grave stands in Kensal Green Cemetery, near that of his contemporary Wilkie Collins. C. P. Snow wrote a biography of Trollope, published in 1975, called Trollope: His Life and Art.
When Trollope returned to Australia in 1875 to help his son close down his failed farming business, he found that the resentment created by his bragging accusations remained and, when he died in 1882, Australian papers still "smouldered". In their obituaries they referred yet again to his accusations, and refused to fully praise or recognise his achievements.
Julian Hawthorne, an American writer, critic and friend of Trollope, while praising him as a man, calling him "a credit to England and to human nature, and ...[deserving] to be numbered among the darlings of mankind," at the same time says that "he has done great harm to English fictitious literature by his novels" ("The Maker of Many Books," Confessions and Criticisms).
Henry James also expressed mixed opinions of Trollope. The young James wrote some scathing reviews of Trollope's novels (The Belton Estate, for instance, he called "a stupid book, without a single thought or idea in it ... a sort of mental pabulum"). He also made it clear that he disliked Trollope's narrative method; Trollope's cheerful interpolations into his novels about how his storylines could take any twist their author wanted did not appeal to James' sense of artistic integrity. However, James thoroughly appreciated Trollope's attention to realistic detail, as he wrote in an essay shortly after the novelist's death:
"His [Trollope's] great, his incontestable merit, was a complete appreciation of the usual...he felt all daily and immediate things as well as saw them; felt them in a simple, direct, salubrious way, with their sadness, their gladness, their charm, their comicality, all their obvious and measurable meanings...Trollope will remain one of the most trustworthy, though not one of the most eloquent of writers who have helped the heart of man to know itself...A race is fortunate when it has a good deal of the sort of imagination — of imaginative feeling — that had fallen to the share of Anthony Trollope; and in this possession our English race is not poor."James disliked Trollope's breaking the fourth wall in addressing readers directly. However, Trollope may have had some influence on James's own work; the earlier novelist's treatment of family tensions, especially between fathers and daughters, may resonate in some of James' novels. For instance, Alice Vavasor and her selfish father in the first of the so-called Palliser novels, Can You Forgive Her?, may pre-figure Kate Croy and her own insufferable father, Lionel, in The Wings of the Dove.
Writers such as Thackeray, Eliot and Collins admired and befriended Trollope, and George Eliot noted that she could not have embarked on so ambitious a project as Middlemarch without the precedent set by Trollope in his own novels of the fictional — yet thoroughly alive — county of Barsetshire.
As trends in the world of the novel moved increasingly towards subjectivity and artistic experimentation, Trollope's standing with critics suffered. In the 1940s, Trollopians made attempts to resurrect his reputation; he enjoyed a critical Renaissance in the 1960s, and again in the 1990s. Some critics today have a particular interest in Trollope's portrayal of women — he caused remark even in his own day for his remarkable insight and sensitivity to the inner conflicts caused by the position of women in Victorian society. Less compelling however, is the anti-semitism which appears in some of his work (for instance, in The Eustace Diamonds, where he refers to the character of Mr Emilius as a "nasty, greasy, lying, squinting Jew preacher"), and which exceeds anything to be found, say, in either Dickens or James.
A Trollope Society flourishes in the United Kingdom, as does its sister society in the United States.