Friday, June 5, 2015

Novelist Trollope felled by stroke while laughing merrily at dinner party

Until he was in his mid-thirties, Anthony Trollope was a loser in life.  He was born in London April 24, 1815, to an impecunious, ill-tempered lawyer, who barely scraped together enough to send him (as a reduced-fee day student) to two classy schools, Winchester and Harrow. At both of them Anthony found himself friendless and without spending money, and he was bullied so savagely that he considered suicide.

When Anthony was twelve, his mother and siblings left him and his father in England and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Mrs. Trollope opened an unsuccessful emporium before giving up and returning to England four years later. Trollope’s father, meanwhile, had abandoned his law practice and failed as a farmer, and the whole family fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution by creditors.  Mrs. Trollope—Frances—had begun to write novels and earned enough from them to provide a modest living for the family.

Through the influence of a family friend, Anthony wangled a job as clerk in the postal service, and he returned to England when he was nineteen. He earned a reputation for lateness, incompetence, insubordination, and constant financial indebtedness. To get rid of him, the postal service exiled him to a low-level job in a remote part of Ireland. He met a Yorkshire girl named Rose Heseltine, who was vacationing in Ireland, and after a ten-year courtship, they were married in 1844.

During these years Trollope got his act together, won promotion in the postal service, and began writing novels in his spare time.  His work regimen was precise: he arose each morning at 5:o0 and wrote for three hours before going to the post office. “Three hours a day,” he declared, “will produce as much as a man ought to write. But he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours - so have tutored his mind that it, shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas.'” 

Trollope was transferred back to England in 1851, and he began to travel a great deal on postal business, from Egypt to the West Indies.  At last in 1855 he had his first great literary success with The Warden, the first of his novels set in the fictional county of Barsetshire.  This was followed by several more Barchester novels over the next decade, including his most famous work, Barchester Towers. In all, Trollope wrote more than three dozen novels, including the Palliser series of six novels about a hero named Plantagenet Palliser.  

By 1867 he was successful enough to resign from the post office and devote himself fulltime to the literary life. He became a close friend of fellow novelist William Makepeace Thackeray and of artist John Everett Millais. He was a prominent member of the Athenaeum and Garrick Clubs, and he purchased a posh estate in Hertfordshire, where he lived with his wife and two sons.

As expressed in his works, as well as in his life, Trollope’s known religious views were conventional for the Victorian period, best characterized as moderate Broad Church Anglicanism. One of his biographers described it as: "Tolerance within a broad spectrum of belief and interpretation; a high regard for the individual conscience; moderation in face of extremism; [and] a recognition that truth may sometimes lie in both extremes rather than somewhere in between."

His pleasant life came to a sudden end in 1882. On November 3, he was enjoying a lively dinner party with friends, and after a sumptuous meal, they settled with their brandy and cigars to read aloud some excerpts from Trollope’s latest best-seller.  Trollope was known for his hearty laugh, which punctuated the reading. After one especially merry passage was read, it was noticed that he was not laughing. On close inspection, his friends found him immobilized in his chair, the victim of a massive stroke. He lingered for another month and died, at the age of sixty-seven, on December 6, 1882. He was buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery.

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