A short biography of Anthony Trollope, told in five interesting pieces of trivia
1. Trollope invented the postbox. Well, sort of. Born in 1815, Trollope worked for the Post Office for 33 years until his retirement in 1867 – by which time he was making so much money from his writing that he could afford to live by his pen full-time. During his time as surveyor general of the Post Office, he introduced the pillar box to Britain when they were trialled on the island of Jersey in 1854 (they were introduced to mainland Britain a year later). The pillar boxes were originally painted green, but in 1874 they were changed to red – supposedly because people kept bumping into them.
2. He wrote every day before going to work. Anthony Trollope began his writing day at 5.30 every morning, and would write for three hours before going off to his day job at the Post Office. He wrote 250 words every 15 minutes, pacing himself with a watch. He paid his servant an extra £5 a year to wake him up with a cup of coffee. Such productivity would enable him to write 47 novels, as well as an autobiography and, like his mother Frances Trollope, travel books. When a young Henry James met Trollope on a transatlantic voyage in 1875, he found that Trollope shut himself up in his cabin every morning in order to write. Because of his astonishing productivity as a novelist, some critics haven’t considered Trollope a serious writer – partly because he treated writing so much like a business, rather than as an art.
3. He has attracted some pretty famous fans. Trollope’s admirers over the years have included Queen Victoria, Elizabeth Gaskell, Virginia Woolf, Harold Macmillan, and J. K. Galbraith. Even Tolstoy declared: ‘Mr Trollope kills me with his excellence.’ P. D. James was also a fan, as was another James, Henry James, who thought Trollope a genius, one of the writers ‘who have helped the heart of man to know itself.’ Throughout his work, Trollope had a strong moral conscience and saw it as the writer’s duty to convey this moral sense to the reader, in a fair and balanced way. So, although he was a moral writer, he was not dogmatic or didactic in his approach – less so than, say, Dickens, whom he lambasted as ‘Mr Popular Sentiment’ in his first big success, The Warden (1855). (We include The Warden in our list of 10 Classic Victorian Novels Everyone Should Read.) For Trollope there was no black and white, no sharp dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Indeed, The Warden, which focuses on the misuse of church funds and the ensuing clerical dispute, is a good case in point: neither the zealous reformers nor the staunch conservatives are portrayed as the ‘villains’ of the piece, as both sides have their good and bad points. (The Warden would form the first of a six-part Barsetshire series, which would continue with Barchester Towers and conclude with The Last Chronicle of Barset. Trollope’s other great series of novels was another six-parter, the Palliser novels, focusing on British politics.) Such moral nuances in his work probably helped to attract the appreciation of Henry James.
4. Long before George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, he wrote an early example of the dystopian novel. The Fixed Period, published in 1882, was Trollope’s last novel to be published in his lifetime (he died later the same year), and is set almost a century in the future, in 1980. Mandatory euthanasia is introduced for all inhabitants of the isle of Britannula when they turn 67 years of age, perhaps reflecting Trollope’s own awareness of his advancing years (he was 67 when the book appeared).
5. He died following a fit of the giggles. Shortly after laughing heartily at F. Anstey’s 1882 comic novel Vice Versa, Trollope suffered a stroke and died just over a month later, having never really recovered. He left a loving wife and children – Trollope’s wife read almost everything he wrote (and there was a lot of it) before he sent it off to the publisher. His son published his Autobiography after Trollope’s death, the royalties from the book acting as a sort of inheritance for Trollope Junior.
Further reading: if you enjoyed these Anthony Trollope facts and want to know more about his life, check out this short biography of Trollope on the Victorian Web.