English Critic of
American Domestic Life
While Frances Trollope was a respected author in England , she has not been a favorite of most Americans. She is best known by Americans for her unflattering portrait of the young nation in “Domestic Manners of Americans”, which she wrote after a living in the United States for three years.
Francis Trollope was the daughter of a clergyman born in Hampshire , England , in 1780. She was married to a prominent lawyer and together they had six children. When she was fifty-two years old, her husband’s business failed and the family came to Cincinnati , Ohio seeking to restore their wealth by selling luxury imported goods. At this time Francis turned to writing books. She believed that novels should deal with important social issues and she stayed true to that ideal her entire writing career. Francis gained financial success with her first volume and continued to write until far advanced in years. Her novels were very popular and it wasn’t long before she was able to pay off her husband’s debts.
Francis was a keen observer, especially of faults, and she described what she saw in a most scathing manner. In her “Domestic Life of the Americans” she pictured Americans as coarse, selfish, intemperate, insincere, indelicate, and generally ridiculous. The descriptions were overdrawn and were a bitter medicine to the people she described, while they provided a vast fund of amusement to the English. Even though it was harsh, America probably profited from Mrs. Trollope’s satire.
After a few years she renewed her attack on America by writing “The Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw”. This was well founded in fact, for she pictured the miseries of the blacks in the Southern States. “The Vicar of Wrexhill”, a novel that tackled the subject of church corruption is counted by most as her best work. Other books came at the rate of two or more a year. she wrote “A Visit to Italy ” in much the same caustic style as her books about America , but people had too much reverence for that classical country and did not appreciate her ridicule as they did when she dealt with the new nation of America .
At length she proceeded to satirize people of her own land in “Hargrave”, dealing with a man of fashion, “Jessie Phillips”, dealing with the new poor-laws, and “The Lauringtons”, dealing with the “superior people” of society.
In 1839, Francis became involved child labor campaigns. After visiting several factories in Manchester and Bradford , Trollope wrote the novel “Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy”. She was highly criticized for this work, many considering it vulgar and in bad taste, believing it encouraged people to hate factory owners. Some even suggested that Francis be sent to prison for writing it!
Among her most successful novels were “The Widow Barnaby” and “The Widow Married”. By the time she died in 1863, Francis Trollope had written forty books. Her son, Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) was also a successful novelist whose books dealt with English politics, society, and the civil service. He is still widely-read today.