In the last half a decade a detectable hum of intellectual activity has arisen around the figure of Anthony Trollope. Readers curious about this developing phenomenon could do no better than to consult this anthology, which was developed from papers presented at a conference at the University of Exeter in 2006. The conference attracted a wide audience and made it clear just how many serious readers and writers were becoming occupied with Trollope’s capacious and much disputed oeuvre. Those not in attendance there, and especially those puzzled by the rising energy of Trollope studies, could do no better than to begin at the end of this book with Regenia Gagnier’s essay, which serves as an Afterward to the collection as a whole. There’s nothing lacking, I should point out, in the volume’s introduction, co-written by Margaret Marwick and Deborah Denholz Morse, who along with Gagnier edited the collection. The Markwick/Morse essay provides a highly compressed account of Trollope’s critical reception, highlighting the most provocative and influential views of the last century, and so laying out a history of the debate which the volume seeks to enter, and to change. Gagnier’s Afterward, on the other hand, renders this debate in an especially potent way, spurred on by the sharp angles so characteristic of her prose. She begins by noting that fully half of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet were members of the Trollope Society (235). Mrs. Thatcher herself, judging from a letter Gagnier quotes, once gave serious consideration to joining, and John Major remains the Society’s Vice-President. However, while conservatives throughout the era of conservative resurgence have professed strong allegiance to Trollope, “in North America … [Trollope’s] liberalism on issues of gender, race, reform, sexuality, and so on, is subtly appreciated by scholars” (235). Trollope’s fiction has forever been accused of complacency, of accepting or celebrating the society whose moral norms it so exactingly charts. It is the complacent way of reading Trollope which seems to prove so comforting to English readers under certain embattled conditions: Elizabeth Bowen’s short radio play, broadcast by the BBC in 1945, lays out this phenomenon, showing how younger readers during the Second World War felt hungry for the England that Trollope depicted, to the great surprise of their parents and grandparents. Cultural conservatives in an era of neoliberal market expansion may find themselves similarly soothed. On the other hand, readers from the beginning have found in Trollope a scrupulous analysis of English narrowness and bigotry. Gagnier finds the dual warrant for these antithetical ways of reading in Trollope’s fiction itself. Taking The Prime Minister
as her sample text, Gagnier argues that “Trollope’s plot affectively recuperates the world that his politics rationally repudiate” (243). She is referring to the way that, although readers loathe the prejudice surrounding Lopez, they loathe Lopez as well, and in this way become focused on the social force of this loathing, and the ensuing resentment that shapes Lopez’s actions. She identifies this kind of double movement as typical of Trollope’s work, concentrated on the disruptive effects of liberalism’s own internal logic. Liberalism’s reliance on rational debate and rational choice always seems to produce a chaotic remainder, which Gagnier calls “passional” (246), and this affective by-product becomes the focus of much of Trollope’s work. Many of the essays in this volume look specifically at Trollope’s engagement with movements of economic, political, or social liberalization. Kathy Psomiades’ chapter positions He Knew He Was Right
within a Victorian debate about the sexual contract, a debate that persistently uses marriage—and especially marital violence—as a means of theorizing the political. In her analysis, the novel emphasizes the ...
Gordon Bigelow is T. K. Young Professor of English Literature at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of Fiction, Famine and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (2003) and co-editor with John O. Jordan of Approaches to Teaching Dickens’s Bleak House (2009). He wrote a chapter on Trollope and Ireland for the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Anthony Trollope, and he is currently working on Trollope’s Irish fiction.