Traveling in China back in the early 1990s, I was waiting for my westbound train to take on water at a lonely halt in the Taklamakan Desert when a young Chinese woman tapped me on the shoulder, asked if I spoke English and, further, if I knew anything of Anthony Trollope. I was quite taken aback. Trollope here? A million miles from anywhere? I mumbled an incredulous, “Yes, I know a bit” — whereupon, in a brisk and businesslike manner, she declared that the train would remain at the oasis for the next, let me see, 27 minutes, and in that time would I kindly answer as many of her questions as possible about plot and character development in “The Eustace Diamonds”?
Ever since that encounter, I’ve been fully convinced of China’s perpetual and preternatural power to astonish, amaze and delight.
It doesn’t actually seem that preternatural to me that a young, presumably educated woman read a novel and liked it. What he should have been convinced of is Anthony Trollope’s perpetual and preternatural power to astonish, amaze and delight people separated from him by vast spans of culture and time. “The Eustace Diamonds” is ace. Probably “He Knew He Was Right” or “Can You Forgive Her?” (my own first Trollope) are better places to start. Free Gutenbergs of both here. Was any other Victorian novelist great enough to have the Pet Shop Boys name a song after one of their books? No. None other was so great.