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IN HER OWN WORDS: Fanny Trollope

Cynthia Miller Coffel’s essay Fanny Trollope: ‘Tested as Few Women Have Been’” reveals how the mother of Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope took up writing in her fifties to support her children and make up for the losses caused by her ill-tempered, financially incompetent husband. Six travel books and over thirty novels followed, and her work often touched on matters of culture and social justice on both sides of the Atlantic.


“How is it that the men of America, who are reckoned good husbands and good fathers, while they themselves enjoy sufficient freedom of spirit to permit their walking forth into the temple of the living God, can leave those they love best on earth, bound in the iron chains of a most tyrannical fanaticism? How can they breathe the balmy air, and not think of the tainted atmosphere so heavily weighing upon breasts still dearer than their own? How can they gaze upon the blossoms of the spring, and not remember the fairer cheeks of their young daughters, waxing pale, as they sit for long sultry hours, immured with hundreds of fellow victims, listening to the roaring vanities of a preacher, canonized by a college of old women? They cannot think it needful to salvation, or they would not withdraw themselves. Wherefore is it? Do they fear these self-elected, self-ordained priests, and offer up their wives and daughters to propitiate them? Or do they deem their hebdomadal freedom more complete, because their wives and daughters are shut up four or five times in the day at church or chapel?”

—Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832)

“As the days and the weeks roll over us we begin to get filled into the places that fate and fortune have been pleased to choose for us, and so blessedly flexible is the—fancy, spirit, imagination—or whatever I should call that part of us which best endures change, that we each of us have already learned to fix ourselves in some selected corner of our different rooms, and believe ourselves at home. The old desks have found new tables to rest upon, and the few favorite volumes that could not leave us are made to fill their narrow limits in orderly rows that seem to say—‘here we are to dwell together’—All this is very well—I am quite satisfied with our house and have almost learned to think the square garden, with its labyrinth walks through overgrown shrubs, a very pretty bocage—It has in truthe some features that I should love any where—it is full of roses and nightingales, and the beautiful acacia trees bloom as freely as in America—All this prettiness I look down upon from the little room I have chosen to replace the one you have not yet forgotten with its balcony for the summer, and snug chimney corner for a winter cause and if I cannot like it as well, it is not because I see windmills in the distance, instead of Westminster, but because the roof of your dwelling is not in sight.”

—Letter to friend and former neighbor Colonel Grant, written from her new home in Bruges, 1834

“The hours devoted to this occupation (writing her journal) were always stolen from the night. A little boudoir, occupying one floor of a turret to which her bedroom opened, was the scene of this nightly confession . . . So sacred had she taught her attendants to consider this retreat, that none ever ventured to enter it.”

—Tremordyn Cliff (1835)


—One Fault (1840)

“‘Do you mean, that the children work till they are so tired as to fall asleep standing?’

‘Yes, ma’am. Dozens and dozens of ’em every day in the year except Sundays, is strapped, and kicked, and banged by the billyroller, because they falls asleep.’

‘But, surely, parents are greatly to blame to let children young enough for that go to work at all?’

‘They must just starve, ma’am, if they didn’t,’ replied the girl.

‘How many years have you worked in the factory yourself, Sophy?’

‘Just twelve, ma’am, this last spring.’

‘And how old are you?’

‘Seventeen, ma’am.’

‘Twelve from seventeen ? — You mean to say that you began to work at the factory when you were five years old?’ said Mary, with some appearance of incredulity.

‘I was five years and three months, ma’am,’ answered the girl firmly.”

Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong (1840)

“Perhaps I shall hear that I am turned Catholic, if I confess that the treasured symbols of that demonstrative faith,which I saw there [in the female ward of the Hospital of St. John, Bruges] so fondly cherished in the hour of suffering and of death, touched my heart more than it offended my orthodoxy. The dying eye, in expending its last beam in a look of confiding hope at the image of the Redeemer, at that moment suggested no idea of superstition.”

Belgium and Western Germany in 1833: Visits to Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden, Cassel, Hanover, the Harz Mountains, &c., &c. (1835)

“’Tis strange, philosophy has found no pen

To teach how women best can govern men:

The sex, ’tis true, by inborn genius led,

Already on this theme some light have shed,

But not enough. Though precious as her life

Is the dear art that makes a maid a wife

Few yet have learned how far, by care and skill,

A well-taught girl may marry whom she will.”

The Mother’s Manual; or Illustrations of Matrimonial Economy, An Essay in Verse (1833)

“When more of the commercial wealth of American magnates is devoted to the patronage of sculptors and painters, a very brilliant knot of their own countrymen will be found ready, and most perfectly able, to remove the imputation which has hitherto lain rather heavily upon the country, of paying too little attention to the graces and refinements of life.”

A Visit to Italy (1842)

“Age eighty, (minus not quite three) thermometer eighty, (plus rather more than four) must be accepted as an excuse my very dear Anthony both by you and my highly valued correspondent for not having acknowledged your very precious packet earlier. I am in truth grown most woefully idle, and, worse still, most woefully lazy, and this symptom is both new and disagreeable to me. But the degree of activity of which I have been wont to boast, and on which I have so often been complimented might have been accounted in my very best days as positive idleness when compared to what you manifest. Tom and I agree in thinking that you exceed in this respect any individual that we have ever known or heard of—and I am proud of being your mother—as well for this reason as for sundry others. I rejoice to think that you have considerably more than the third of a century to gallop through yet before reaching the age at which I first felt inclined to cry halte la!

—Letter to Anthony Trollope, written from Villa Trollope in Florence, summer of 1856


Bloom Post End Click here to read Cynthia Miller Coffel’s feature on Fanny Trollope.

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