Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Unknown Frances Trollope

This English writer who was famous in her day (1779-1863), especially for her travel books, is now relatively forgotten and only her most notorious book is still published, Domestic Manners of the Americans, which came out in 1832 and made her reputation.  She was forced to make a living at writing due to the incompetence of her husband who seemed to torment everyone.  It is a shame her books are pretty much unavailable now except a few in OCR versions that are full of mistakes.  She was quite the outspoken observer who knew how to write humorous stories that beguiled the public of her day.  However after her novelist son Anthony disparaged her output in his autobiography, her reputation sank as his continued to rise.

Aside from many true insights about American culture of the early 1830's, she also wrote a witty novel called The Widow Barnaby that combines comedy with realism.   It would make a great TV show or movie.  There is a careful analysis of it here.  Her novel about American slavery probably inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  She wrote the first novel about child labor in the factories of England which caused an uproar leading to the Factories Act of 1844.  While personally pretty hard to get along with, she nevertheless saw though the absurdities of revivalism and slavery and could not make a living in Cincinnati because of that.  When she was on her way back to England through Virginia  she stayed with a slave-holding family.  When a black slave girl accidentally swallowed poison and was dying, Frances gave the girl mustard and water as an emetic saving her life, and then held the girl in her arms and tried to comfort her.  She noticed the white members of the household were amazed at her actions and even laughed at her concern.  Just goes to show how twisted cultures can become.

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