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Anthony Trollope's literary reputation : its development and validity Grant, Ella Kathleen

Abstract

This essay attempts to trace the course of Anthony Trollope's literary reputation; to suggest some explanations for the various spurts and sudden declines of his popularity among readers and esteem among critics; and to prove that his mid-twentieth century position is not a just one. Drawing largely on Trollope's Autobiography, contemporary reviews and essays on his work, and references to it in letters and memoirs, the first chapter describes Trollope's writing career, showing him rising to popularity in the late fifties and early sixties as a favourite among readers tired of sensational fiction, becoming a byword for commonplace mediocrity in the seventies, and finally, two years before his death, regaining much of his former eminence among older readers and conservative critics. Throughout the chapter a distinction is drawn between the two worlds with which Trollope deals, Barsetshire and materialist society, and the peculiarly dual nature of his work is emphasized. Chapter II is largely concerned with the vicissitudes that Trollope's reputation has encountered since the posthumous publication of his autobiography. During the decade following his death he is shown as an object of complete contempt to the Art for Art's Sake school, finally rescued around the turn of the century by critics reacting against the ideals of his detractors. There follows a description of his unsteady rise to popularity and esteem through the next forty years, and of his extraordinary popularity during the Second World War. Two estimates of Trollope emerge from the controversy: the one which praises him as the supreme escapist creator of Barsetshire; and the one which exalts the courage and honesty of the Autobiography. It is suggested that neither of these can provide a just evaluation of Trollope's importance as a novelist, since the first ignores the greater part of his work and the second concentrates on the man rather than upon his novels. The final portion of this chapter is devoted to a brief discussion of certain of Trollope's major novels, and argues that the evidence derived is sufficient to prove both these gradually developed views of Anthony Trollope invalid as estimates of his worth as a novelist.

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