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Anthony Trollope’s The Fixed Period: Victorian Dystopia

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle examines a most unTrollopian Trollope novel

Anthony Trollope was a prolific writer. He wrote 47 novels, as well as numerous works of non-fiction including autobiography and travel writing. And he did much of this while holding down a job at the Post Office, by getting up at 5.30 every morning and writing 250 words every 15 minutes, pacing himself with a watch. (Clearly such industriousness ran in the family: Trollope’s mother, Frances Trollope, woke at 4 o’clock every morning and got her day’s writing finished in time to serve breakfast.) Not everyone was a fan of his work, which was considered too workmanlike for such an artful writer as Henry James. In response to the title of one of Trollope’s novels, Can You Forgive Her?, James is said to have quipped: ‘Yes, and forget her, too.’ Yet his novels of provincial life, British politics, and ecclesiastical scheming remain in print, with his Chronicles of Barsetshire and his Palliser novels still firm favourites with many readers.

The Fixed Period (1882), Trollope’s last novel, is an oddity among Trollope’s other works of social realism documenting contemporary life. Set in 1980 in the fictional republic of Read the rest of this entry


Five Fascinating Facts about Anthony Trollope

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.  Read the rest of this entry

The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 11

Yesterday we considered that gastronomic phenomenon that is the Christmas dinner, and revealed Dickens’s early piece of journalism about Christmas time, written some eight years before A Christmas Carol. Today, on to pudding – yes, today’s literature fact might be considered the dessert course in our feast of festive literary morsels.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known use of the phrase ‘Christmas pudding’ is in Anthony Christmas puddingTrollope’s 1858 Barsetshire novel Doctor Thorne. Trollope wrote six novels set in the fictional English county of Barsetshire, and Doctor Thorne, the third in the series, is slightly less famous than the previous book in the saga, Barchester Towers. Perhaps this pudding-themed nugget is the most famous thing about it…

Christmas puddings predate the Victorians – like many Christmas traditions – with the earliest recipes for plum pudding dating from the seventeenth century. But the Christmas pudding as we know it appears to have taken shape in the Victorian era, hence Trollope’s claim to the inaugural use of the term.

It was not an auspicious beginning for the phrase: the sentence containing the OED‘s first recorded instance of ‘Christmas pudding’ reads, ‘But what did Mr Oriel think when doomed to eat his Christmas pudding alone…’

Image: Christmas pudding, via Pixabay; public domain.