May 9, 2013
Frances Trollope, painted by Auguste Hervieu
In 1827 Frances Trollope — the mother of novelist Anthony Trollope — brought three of her children to the young United States. She stayed for four years, spending much of the time in the frontier city of Cincinnati. Then she went home and wrote a book about it: Domestic Manners of the Americans. It was a best seller in England, but the Americans hated it.
I have prepared a slide-show presentation about Francis Trollope and her book — and very opinionated she was. I have also put in a little bit about Charles Dickens and his American Notes , written just 10 years later.
Click here for the slide show.
February 22, 2012
The title of Edmund White’s novel is Fanny: A Fiction. Who is Fanny and where is the fiction? We have two Fannies. The popular female name Frances was “Fanny” in the 19th century. In this “fiction” Frances Trollope (Fanny) is supposedly writing a biography of Frances Wright (Fanny). But it’s not really a biography, and it’s not really about Fanny Wright, but Fanny Trollope mostly talking about herself.
Intrigued by tales told about the (real) Frances Trollope’s account of her visit to the early United States, I recently enjoyed her Domestic Manners of the Americans. I followed it up with a real biography, Pamela Neville-Sington’s Fanny Trollope: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman. This led me to sample the (real) Frances Trollope’s novel The Widow Barnaby. A good time was had by all. Frances Trollope was resourceful, enterprising, hard working and smart. She led three of her children off to the United States in the 1820s. From this misguided adventure she derived a best-selling book and a subsequent career during which she wrote 35 books in 24 years.
I cannot find this (real) Frances Trollope in White’s Fanny: A Fiction. I find a fussy old woman who comments and then comments on her comments.
Like Byron he laughed at ordinary human limitations — a bit easier to pull off if one is a rich English aristocrat rather than a poor French orphan. [Eliminate nationalities? Illogical?]
Some of her remarks are elaborated by a really irritating editor who fortunately disappears during the second half of the book. While many of the events are historical, White adds characters and incidents to spice up his tale. Fanny is given a very improbable romance in Cincinnati and the two Fannies go off together to newly-independent Haiti. Fanny Wright, the supposed subject of the book comes and goes, a goddess ex machina who never fails to produce disaster. If there was any real affection between the two women, it is not apparent here. Fanny herself (this unreal Fanny, that is) recognizes this at the end of the book.
I am afraid now that my mind is clouding over more and more rapidly and I judge this manuscript to be an unshapely muddle. There is too much spite in it, the best passages must be censored and Fanny herself remains irritatingly elusive.
Her mind is not cloudy — this judgement is entirely correct.