Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trollope, Frances
TROLLOPE, FRANCES (1780–1863), novelist, born at Stapleton, near Bristol, on 10 March 1780, was the daughter of William Milton, afterwards vicar of Heckfield, Hampshire. Her mother, whose maiden name was (Frances) Gresley, died early; her father married again, and, although in no respect at variance with her stepmother, Frances after a while removed to London to keep house for her brother Henry, who had obtained an appointment in the war office. On 23 May 1809 she married.
Her husband, Thomas Anthony Trollope (1774–1835), was the son of Anthony Trollope (d. 1806), rector of Cottered St. Mary in Hertfordshire, by his wife, Penelope, sister of a Dutch immigrant, Adolphus Meetkerke; from the latter the Trollope family had pecuniary expectations, which were not destined to be realised. (The Rev. Anthony Trollope was a younger son of Sir Thomas Trollope of Casewick, the great-uncle of Admiral Sir Henry Trollope [q. v.]). Thomas Anthony, a Winchester scholar of 1785, was called to the bar from the Middle Temple in 1804, having graduated B.C.L. from New College, Oxford, in 1801; but his irritable temper frightened away the attorneys, nor was he more successful as a farmer in Harrow Weald. After remaining there ten years and building a house for himself, he determined to employ the remains of his fortune in another speculation, still less promising, that of establishing a bazaar for the sale of fancy goods in Cincinnati. The scheme was not improbably suggested by the enthusiastic Frances Wright [see Darusmont], whose acquaintance the Trollopes made through common friends who went out to America in the same ship. The Cincinnati scheme failed as completely as the Harrow farm, and Trollope returned to England; but his investments in house property in London were even more disastrous, and his unsuccessful efforts at money-making seem to have swallowed up a considerable portion of his wife's literary earnings. ‘Failure seemed to follow him with almost demoniac malice’ until his death from premature decay, partly induced by an injudicious course of medicine, at the Château d'Hondt, near Bruges, on 23 Oct. 1835. He was buried in the cemetery outside the gate of St. Catherine at Bruges. He was a most industrious man, and to the last he was labouring with ridiculously insufficient materials upon ‘An Encyclopædia Ecclesiastica, or a complete History of the Church,’ of which one quarto volume (Abaddon–Funeral Rites) appeared in 1834. His likeness appeared ten years earlier as one of the lawyers in Hayter's well-known picture of the ‘Trial of William, Lord Russell.’ A somewhat gloomy portrait is given of him by his sons, Thomas Adolphus and Anthony, in their reminiscences. Thomas Anthony and Frances Trollope had five children: Thomas Adolphus [q. v.]; Henry, who died at Bruges in December 1834; Arthur, who died young; Anthony [q. v.], the well-known novelist; Cecilia (d. 1849), who married (Sir) John Tilley, assistant secretary of the general post office, and published in 1846 ‘Chollerton: a Tale of our own Times;’ and Emily, who also died young.
The novel aspects of colonial society, which she witnessed during her visit to America between 1827 and 1830, stimulated in Mrs. Trollope remarkable powers of observation. The hope of redeeming the disastrous pecuniary failure involved by the expedition, inspired her with the idea of writing a book of travels.
‘Domestic Manners of the Americans,’ written before her return in the summer of 1831, was published in the spring of 1832, and brought her immediate profit and celebrity (it was favourably noticed by Lockhart in the ‘Quarterly,’ and it was subsequently translated into French and Spanish; the ‘American Criticisms’ on the work were published in pamphlet form in 1833). The authoress's opportunities for producing a valuable book were considerable. She had spent four years in the country, travelled in nearly every part of it, associated with all classes, and unremittingly exercised a keen faculty for observation. If it notwithstanding fails to offer a completely authentic view of American manners, the reason is no want of candour or any invincible prejudice, but the tendency, equally visible in her novels, to dwell upon the more broadly humorous, and consequently the more vulgar, aspects of things. Mrs. Trollope was personally entirely exempt from vulgarity, but she knew her forte to lie in depicting it. Americans might therefore justly complain that her view of their country conveyed a misleading impression as a whole, while there is no ground for questioning the fidelity of individual traits, or for assuming the authoress's pen to have been guided by dislike of democratic institutions. Much of the ill will excited by the book was occasioned by the freedom of her strictures on slavery, which Americans outside New England were then nearly as unanimous in upholding as they are now in denouncing.
But for this success Mrs. Trollope's prospects would indeed have been dismal. Apart from her literary gains, the financial ruin of the family was complete. The house they had retained at Harrow (the ‘Orley Farm’ of Anthony Trollope's novel) had to be given up. Her second son, Henry, long a consumptive, had died in December 1834, and her husband in October 1835. Mrs. Trollope evinced an extraordinary power of resistance in bearing up against these trials. She wrote to travel, and travelled to write, going systematically abroad, and producing books on Belgium (1834) and Paris (1835)—good reading for the day, but of little permanent value. A chapter on George Sand, however, is remarkable. ‘Vienna and the Austrians’ was added in 1837. Mrs. Trollope was nevertheless well advised in devoting herself principally to fiction. ‘Tremordyn Cliff’ appeared in 1835; in 1836 she used her experiences of American slavery in the powerful story of ‘Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw.’ In 1837 and 1838 appeared her best known novels, ‘The Vicar of Wrexhill’ and ‘Widow Barnaby.’ Both exemplify her power in broad comedy, and confirm the criticism that the further from ideal refinement her characters are, the better she succeeds with them. This is especially the case with ‘The Widow Barnaby,’ a powerful picture of a thoroughly coarse and offensive woman, but so droll that the offence is forgotten in the amusement. A French version appeared in 1877. It is difficult to believe that Wrexhill (Rakeshill) and its vicar are not Harrow-on-the-Hill and the Rev. J. W. Cunningham; but the circumstance, taken for granted during the authoress's life, has been denied since her death. However this may be, the book is a vigorous and humorous onslaught upon the evangelical party in the church, untrue to fact, but not to the conviction of the assailant.
Mrs. Trollope's position as a novelist was now assured, and for twenty years she poured forth a continual stream of fiction, without producing any book which, like ‘The Vicar of Wrexhill’ or ‘The Widow Barnaby,’ achieved the reputation of a standard novel. If, as some of her friends thought, she possessed invention and depth of feeling, these endowments remain unused, and her works are generally successful in proportion as they reproduce her own experiences. ‘The Robertses on their Travels’ (1846), ‘The Lottery of Marriage’ (1849), ‘Uncle Walter’ (1852), ‘The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman’ (1854), are perhaps the most remarkable of these later writings. But these also included in the department of fiction alone: ‘One Fault’ (1839); ‘Michael Armstrong’ (1840); ‘The Widow Married,’ a sequel to ‘The Widow Barnaby’ (1840); ‘The Young Countess’ (1840); ‘The Blue Belles of England’ (1841); ‘Ward of Thorpe Combe’ (1842); ‘The Barnabys in America’ (1843); ‘Hargrave, or the Adventures of a Man of Fashion’ (1843); ‘Jessie Phillips’ (1844); ‘The Lauringtons, or Superior People’ (1844); ‘Young Love’ (1844); ‘Attractive Man’ (1846); ‘Father Eustace, a Tale of the Jesuits’ (1846); ‘Three Cousins’ (1847); ‘Town and Country’ (1847); ‘Lottery of Marriage’ (1849); ‘Petticoat Government’ (1850); ‘Mrs. Matthews, or Family Mysteries’ (1851); ‘Second Love, or Beauty and Intellect’ (1851); ‘Uncle Walter’ (1852); ‘Young Heiress’ (1853); ‘Gertrude, or Family Pride’ (1855). Nearly all of these passed through several editions.
Mrs. Trollope's later years were uneventful. Her circumstances were now easy, her novels producing on an average upwards of 600l. each, and some of her own property having apparently been recovered from the wreck of her husband's affairs. She passed much time on the continent, and in 1843 settled at Florence with her eldest son, Thomas Adolphus [q. v.] She died there on 6 Oct. 1863, being buried in the protestant cemetery. The ‘Villino Trollope’ (as her son's house was called) in the Piazza dell' Indipendenza is marked by a tablet to her memory, erected by the municipality.
Mrs. Trollope's success in a particular department of her art has been injurious to her general reputation. She lives by the vigour of her portraits of vulgar persons, and her readers cannot help associating her with the characters she makes so entirely her own. There is nothing in her letters to confirm this impression. She writes not only like a woman of sense, but like a woman of feeling. Though shrewd and observant, she could hardly be termed intellectual, nor was she warmly sympathetic with what is highest in literature, art, and life. But she was richly provided with solid and useful virtues—‘honest, courageous, industrious, generous, and affectionate,’ as her character is summed up by her daughter-in-law. As a writer, the most remarkable circumstance in her career is perhaps the late period at which she began to write. It can but seldom have happened that an author destined to prolonged productiveness and some celebrity should have published nothing until fifty-two.
A portrait painted by Auguste Hervieu is reproduced in the ‘Life’ of 1895, together with another portrait from a drawing. A portrait sketch in watercolours by Miss Lucy Adams was acquired by the British Museum in 1861; it has been engraved by W. Holl.[The principal authority for Mrs. Trollope's life is ‘Frances Trollope, her Life and Literary Work,’ by her daughter-in-law, Frances Eleanor Trollope, 1895. See also the autobiographies of her sons, Anthony and Thomas Adolphus Trollope; Jeaffreson's Novels and Novelists, ii. 396; Horne's Spirit of the Age, 1844, i. 240; Atlantic Monthly, December 1864; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature.]