Simon Winchester in today’s New York Times Book Review:
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.
Hmm, I wasn’t even aware of this author. What differentiates him from other 19th C. authors? Where does he fall in the Gothic/Romantic/Realist spectrum of that century?
“Trollope’s downfall in the eyes of the critics stemmed largely from this volume. Even during his writing career, reviewers tended increasingly to shake their heads over his prodigious output, but when Trollope revealed that he strictly adhered to a daily writing quota, he confirmed his critics’ worst fears. The Muse, in their view, might prove immensely prolific, but she would never ever follow a schedule. Furthermore, Trollope admitted that he wrote for money; at the same time he called the disdain of money false and foolish. The Muse, claimed the critics[who?], should not be aware of money.”
It’s sad that this author’s legacy could be smeared by an attitude like this. There were other, much more famous, authors in this period who also wrote with a lot of discipline and needed (sometimes desperately) the income from their writing. Did they really think that true artists, like true aristocrats, do not dirty their hands with work?
I recently stumbled on another English author that I had never heard of: Matthew Lewis. Around 1800 he wrote a Gothic masterpiece called The Monk. What makes this novel especially amazing is that it was his first and only novel, and he finished writing it by his early twenties. He was put on trial for blasphemy and later editions were censored. If you’re already considered to be the most virtuous of the virtuous monks in Madrid, where can you go from there? Down. Way way down. The Penguin Classics version is unabridged and does not capitalize all pronouns like the Oxford World’s Classic version.
I believe I have written at least two stackexchange/mathoverflow answers with Trollope characters as pseudonyms.