Becoming Jane Austen – Jon Spence

I’ve read a lot of biographies of Jane Austen. She’s one of my favourite authors &, in some ways, one of the most unknowable. Famously, her sister, Cassandra, burnt most of her letters after her death & the letters that remain are, with a few exceptions, concerned with domestic matters, fashion & a little polite gossip. The first biography was written by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in the Victorian period & portrays a genteel woman who may have written novels but did everything in the best possible taste. In the 20th century, biographers have variously seen Jane Austen as a sour spinster or a radical feminist. Jon Spence’s biography, written in 2003, looks at Austen as a writer & searches for the people & places that may have inspired her fiction.

Becoming Jane Austen became famous or notorious as the basis for the film, Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway & James McAvoy. I quite liked the movie but it didn’t completely satisfy me. Some of the plot elements seemed unbelievable although I did like the relationship between Jane & Cassandra & between Jane & her mother. They had the ring of truth & I found the same ring of truth in this book. Of course, the central premise of the movie & book was that Jane Austen fell in love with Tom Lefroy, a young lawyer, but they couldn’t marry because she had no money & he was at the beginning of his career & couldn’t support a wife. This lost love was the basis for the romantic relationships she wrote about in her novels.

Jon Spence builds up a convincing case for the idea that Jane was attracted to Tom. There are joking references to their meeting & dancing at parties in Jane’s letters to Cassandra. I don’t find it inconceivable that Jane was infatuated with an attractive young man & every experience is useful to a novelist. Spence doesn’t give the relationship more weight than it can bear on the basis of the letters & family tradition & I found his theory persuasive. He doesn’t make the mistake of assuming that Jane Austen couldn’t have written about love if she hadn’t experienced it herself. She wrote about many things she couldn’t have experienced including marriage & motherhood. She was a novelist, she had imagination.

Her imagination carried her out of herself, not only into those fictional worlds and characters she created, but into the real world and into the feelings and thoughts and situations of many other people, making her life richer and more varied than might casually appear. She was not limited by the emotions and experiences that were directly her own. In observing Jane’s habits of mind and imagination at this time we see how she practised imaginative engagement as a moral activity – an exercise in turning outward from herself.

He also doesn’t go down the route of more romantic biographers of single lady novelists who can’t bear the thought that their heroines never experienced romance. Emily & Anne Brontё have suffered from this as well!

The reality of Jane & Cassandra Austen’s lives was that they had no money of their own & could only marry men who could support them. Cassandra became engaged to a young clergyman, Tom Fowle. He went out to the West Indies as a chaplain to further his career so that they could marry but died of fever. It’s a tragic story but they could not have married without money. Jane accepted a proposal of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, a family friend. The next day she retracted her promise because she didn’t love him. The marriage would have been a good match, financially secure. It would have meant security for Jane & Cassandra but she wasn’t prepared to sacrifice her feelings. That was the reality for women in early 19th century England. Jane Austen uses this reality brilliantly in the story of Charlotte Lucas in Pride & Prejudice. Charlotte’s options are limited. Already in her 20s, plain & with no fortune, she accepts dreadful, sycophantic Mr Collins & makes the best of her life with him. This was the more realistic future for someone like Elizabeth Bennet instead of the gorgeous fairytale of marriage to Mr Darcy.

When their father died, Jane & Cassandra (& their mother) had to rely on their brothers to contribute to their support. Eventually this led to the happy years at Chawton Cottage but they lived in uncomfortable circumstances in Bath & Southampton for several years before that happened. It’s significant that, although Jane had written juvenilia & probably the first versions of several of the novels in earlier years, she published nothing until she felt secure at Chawton. The story of Jane’s career as a novelist is well-told here. Jane was a clever businesswoman who made her reputation with Sense & Sensibility & used the word-of-mouth success of her first novel to good effect when publishing her masterpiece, Pride & Prejudice, on better terms. Her satisfaction in her earnings reflects her desire for independence. She left everything she owned to Cassandra in her will.

Jon Spence begins his book with a look at Jane’s ancestors. When a biography begins with a ramble through the family tree of the subject, it usually makes my eyes glaze over & I start skimming. However, this time it was fascinating. The stories of her ancestors found their way into the novels, especially the story of old John Austen, who left all his fortune to his eldest grandson, ignoring the boy’s half-siblings, whose widowed mother had to scrape & save to give them the education they would need to make their way in the world. Jane Austen knew this story & used it in Sense & Sensibility.

Jane’s relationship with her lively cousin, Eliza, is also explored. Eliza was about 10 years older than Jane, just the right age for heroine-worship & Eliza became almost a fantasy figure to Jane as she flirted with her favourite brother, Henry, married a French Count who was guillotined during the Revolution, & eventually returned to England & married Henry. Spence relates this relationship to some of the characters in the juvenilia & also characters like Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. It sent me back to the juvenilia which I hadn’t read for years. That’s what I loved about Becoming Jane Austen. Jon Spence tells the familiar story of Jane Austen’s life in a fresh way. By focusing on her family history & her relationships with significant people like Tom Lefroy & Eliza, he encouraged me to look at Jane Austen in a more rounded way.

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four Book…and Five

Simon at Stuck in a Book came up with this lovely meme a little while ago & now he’s invited us to do it again. It’s a great way to see what everyone else is reading & focus my mind on what I want to read next. So, here goes.

1. The book I’m reading now.

A Lighthearted Quest by Ann Bridge, one of the Bloomsbury Reader e-books I downloaded the other day. As it’s an eight book series, I thought I should make a start. I’ve almost finished it & loved it so I’ll be posting about it soon.

2. The last book I finished.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley which I loved & posted about here.

3. The next book I want to read.

Now, this is the hard part! As it’s almost November, I’ve put a couple of books about WWI on the tbr pile. I’ve had these books for over 5 years so I’d like to read them soon. A VAD in France by Olive Dent was first published in 1917 & An Airman’s Wife by Aimee McHardy is based on the letters between Aimee & her husband.

However, as it’s Halloween, I probably should read a ghost story or two tonight if I’m brave enough. Maybe something by M R James as I have this newly reissued volume of his stories.

4. The last book I bought.

Well, I’ve been on a bit of a spree lately with e-books & other goodies but I can’t go past the new Persephone titles for Autumn/Winter. Dinners for Beginners by Rachel & Margaret Ryan, No Surrender by Constance Maud & the one I’ll probably read first, Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple.

5. The last book I was given.

Well, no one gives me books as I’m so hard to buy for. I can’t imagine why that would be. Anyway, I’ve been sent a review copy of Victoria Hislop’s new novel, The Thread. So, that will have to count as a gift, which it is in a way.

Roses in bloom

The first roses from Abby’s rose garden are sitting in a honey jar next to me on the desk so I thought I’d share a few photos. The photos are a little blurry & they don’t really capture the gorgeous colours & unfortunately you can’t smell the glorious scent but I have successfully grown roses & I’m thrilled. These are Sophy’s Rose & Noble Antony. They’re covered in raindrops because it’s been a showery morning. I took a chance & went out for a walk about an hour ago  – it was just as well I took my umbrella. I wanted to get these few roses inside before the wind blew them away altogether. The first of many honey jars full of roses this summer, I hope.

Sunday Poetry – Doomed Love

I was spoilt for choice in this section of Antonia Fraser’s anthology of Scottish love poetry. Some of my favourite ballads were there – The Daemon Lover, Clerk Saunders & Lord Randal. But, I chose a poem I hadn’t come across before by a poet I’m not familiar with. J F Hendry (1912-1986) was a writer & editor. Born in Glasgow, he served in the Royal Artillery during WWII & lived in Canada after the war, working at Laurentian University. The image of the compass in The Constant North reminds me of the metaphysical poets of the 17th century, especially John Donne, one of my favourite poets.

Encompass me, my lover,
With your eyes’ wide calm.
Though noonday shadows are assembling doom,
The sun remains when I remember them;
And death, if it should come,
Must fall like quiet snow from such clear skies.

Minutes we snatched from the unkind winds
Are grown into daffodils by the sea’s
Edge, mocking its green miseries;
Yet I seek you hourly still, over
A new Atlantis loneliness, blind
As a restless needle held by the constant north we always have in mind.

The Rose Garden – Susanna Kearsley

I love time slip stories & I’ve enjoyed all of Susanna Kearsley’s novels so I was predisposed to enjoy The Rose Garden. And I did! It’s a beautifully romantic, engaging story that I read in 100 page gulps. Eva Ward is a PR consultant living in Los Angeles. Her parents are dead & her sister, Katrina, is dying. After Katrina’s death, Eva takes her sister’s ashes back to the house in Cornwall where they had spent happy summers with family friends. Trelowarth House is home to the Halletts. Uncle George is dead but his second wife, Claire, lives in a cottage in the grounds while her stepchildren, Mark & Susan, live in the big house. Mark runs a rose nursery & Susan has returned from Bristol to help, full of plans for tea rooms & enticements for tourists.

As Eva relaxes into the familiar rhythms of life at Trelowarth, she becomes aware of voices in empty rooms & one day she steps back into the past, back to Trelowarth in the early 18th century. She meets Daniel Butler & his brother, Jack, Daniel’s friend & ally, Fergal O’Cleary, & Constable Creed, who will do anything to see the Butlers hang. The Butlers are smugglers but they’re also distantly related to the Duke of Ormonde, who is planning a rebellion to put the Pretender, James Stuart, back on the English throne. It’s 1715 & the death of Queen Anne has seen the Protestant House of Hanover preferred over the Queen’s Catholic half-brother, James. James’s supporters, the Jacobites, are plotting to overthrow King George & the Butlers are in the thick of it.

Eva’s presence is disconcerting but she’s soon accepted by Daniel & the immediate attraction between them grows stronger. Even Fergal, suspicious & anxious, accepts Eva & she masquerades as his mute sister, just over from Ireland, as she learns the ways of an 18th century household. Jack, with his easy ways & loose tongue, isn’t allowed into the secret, & Constable Creed, who hates Daniel for personal as well as political reasons is a threatening presence in all their lives. Eva’s knowledge of the future is a heavy burden as she researches the Butlers in the present day & becomes more involved in their lives when she slips through the barrier. Time moves differently in the past. Eva spends days with Daniel in the past but when she returns to the present, she’s only been absent a split second. As her love for Daniel grows stronger, Eva has to make a decision about where her future lies & find a way to make it happen.

The Rose Garden is full of the magic of Cornwall. There are echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornish novels, Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek & The House on the Strand especially. I loved all the detail about the roses & Susan’s plans to make the business a success. I was equally interested in the modern & 18th century stories & that isn’t always the case with time slip novels. Although, I must admit, Daniel Butler was such a romantic figure that I wouldn’t have minded spending more time in his company. I could fully understand Eva’s desire to stay with him & her growing dissatisfaction with the present. The 18th century Trelowarth was as real to me as the 21st century house. The characters were convincingly historical, their speech was different without any thees & thous which can be jarring. I could understand why Daniel & Fergal didn’t want Eva to speak to strangers – her speech & manner would have been so strange. There’s excitement, adventure, tragedy & romance in The Rose Garden, it’s a compelling read.

Bloomsbury Reader

I was beside myself with excitement to discover Bloomsbury Reader, a new initiative of Bloomsbury Publishing to resurrect some fantastic authors in print on demand & e-book editions. Simon at Stuck in a Book posted about this last week & I couldn’t wait to whiz through their list here. I’d read some months ago about Bloomsbury reprinting Monica Dickens who has enjoyed a little mini revival with Persephone reprinting Mariana & The Winds of Heaven in recent years. Then, when I saw the list & realised that I could download my choices onto my e-reader instantly, I was even more excited.

There are a few downsides to the Bloomsbury Reader website. There’s no rhyme or reason to the listing. It’s not alphabetical or any other order I can make out. There’s no way to limit your search just to e-books so the same titles pop up twice in both formats but not together. There’s no subject listing, not even fiction & non-fiction. You can search by author but you need to know who’s there to do a usable search. There are no blurbs – well, there were no blurbs on any of the titles I looked at. With 57 pages to go through, it’s a bit frustrating.

However, all is not lost. I pasted the ISBN into the search engine at The Book Depository & there are blurbs for most of the titles I was interested in. AND, the e-books are around 40% cheaper than the RRP so that makes them around $6.60AU. Much more reasonable than the print on demand physical books which I think are expensive at around $18 & I’d have to wait for them to arrive in the post. I can buy the Virago edition of Rose Macaulay’s Told by an Idiot for $18 so why would I choose a POD edition instead?

So, I’ve had a little splurge & bought 9 titles. Personal Pleasures & Letters to a Friend by Rose Macaulay, Faster! Faster! & Late & Soon by E M Delafield, The Queens & the Hive by Edith Sitwell, Company Parade & The Road from the Monument by Storm Jameson, Kate & Emma by Monica Dickens & A Lighthearted Quest by Ann Bridge (because I read Fleur Fisher’s review here & it sounds wonderful & if I enjoy it, the whole series is available from Bloomsbury Reader. So, quibbles about the website aside, I’m thrilled with this new venture & hope it’s a success & that Bloomsbury keep adding authors to the list (in some sort of order & with blurbs please).

I’ll leave you with a question. Margaret Irwin is one of the authors on the list & I loved her historical novels which I read many years ago. Does anyone know anything about another of her books called Still She Wished For Company? It looks contemporary rather than historical from the only cover I can find on the internet but I can’t find anything on the plot. I’m also tempted by Phyllis Bentley’s novels. I always remember her from Vera Brittain’s diaries of the 30s. They had a tentative friendship wrecked by Vera’s superiority & Phyllis’s lack of self-esteem & touchiness. She was famous for her historical, regional saga, Inheritance, & there are more of her novels on the list. But, I have enough to be going on with at the moment. At least the tbr shelves on my e-reader are invisible.

Cats, roses, spring etc

We’ve had very changeable spring weather over the last week. It was almost summery midweek then a cool change with rain swept through. Saturday was cool with a thunderstorm in the afternoon. Phoebe slept through the whole thing, Lucky burrowed under her blanket until long after it was all over. Abby was frightened of thunder too, she used to hide under my bed. Yesterday morning we woke up to fog but that cleared & it was a warm, humid day with more storms late in the day. Very tropical. So, as we were out early enjoying the sunshine before it got too hot, I thought a few pictures of the girls & an update on the roses was in order. There’s no reason for this picture of Phoebe in the (thankfully) empty laundry basket except that she looks gorgeous.

I can’t believe that it was only a month ago that the big tree in the front garden looked like this. Here’s Phoebe in almost the same spot. Even a week ago there were only a few leaves & a little blossom. It always seems that overnight it shakes out its green glory.

Lucky always finds a sunny spot to start the day. In the garden…

or on the back porch.

And here’s a picture of the girls together, one of the few I have as they’re still happier in their own space. Actually, I think Phoebe has just invaded Lucky’s space here…

Now, enough of this cat worship. The roses are looking wonderful & here are a couple of pictures of Sophy’s Rose, buds just about ready to blossom, still sparkling with raindrops from Saturday night’s storm. I can’t wait!

Sunday Poetry – Fainthearts

An anonymous poem this week about a fair lady & a knight (picture from here) who thinks he’s going to get his heart’s desire but is outwitted. If only he’d been bold instead of baffled! I always have questions about these ballads. Why was the knight out riding with two horses? Was he looking for an opportunity to take off with a willing young lady? Or did he make his squire walk?

Although the setting is medieval, the language & the repetition of “sir” sound more Victorian to me. The last two lines also remind me of the verse inscribed on the little Victorian box that Wilmet receives in Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings. The gift is anonymous & Wilmet has a lovely time speculating as to who the giver might be.

The Baffled Knight

There was a knight, and he was young,
A riding along the way, sir,
And there he met a lady fair,
Among the cocks of hay, sir.

Quoth he, Shall you and I, lady,
Among the grass lye down a?
And I will have a special care
Of rumpling of your gown a.

‘If you will go along with me
Unto my father’s hall, sir,
You shall enjoy my maidenhead,
And my estate and all, sir.’

So he mounted her on a milk-white steed,
Himself upon another,
And then they rid upon the road,
Like sister and like brother.

And when she came to her father’s house,
Which was moated round about, sir,
She stepped straight within the gate,
And shut this young knight out, sir.

‘Here is a purse of gold,’ she said,
‘Take it for your pains, sir;
And I will send my father’s man
To go home with you again, sir.’

‘And if you meet a lady fair,
As you go thro the next town, sir,
You must not fear the dew of the grass,
Nor the trumpling of her gown, sir.

‘And if you meet a lady gay,
As you go by the hill, sir,
If you will not when you may,
You shall not when you will, sir.’

The Camomile – Catherine Carswell

Ellen Carstairs is a young woman living in Glasgow in the early 20th century. She’s an orphan & lives with her brother, Ronald, & their evangelical Aunt Harry. Ellen is ambitious. She longs to write but her mother was a very unsuccessful novelist & Aunt Harry is alert for any signs of the same unsuitability in Ellen. She did manage to escape to Frankfurt for several years to study music & returns to Glasgow to earn her living as a music teacher at her old school. She also takes private pupils although it’s not music that stirs her soul but writing. She rents a cold, miserable room from a neighbour just so that she can work without Aunt Harry interrupting her. The Camomile takes the form of a letter-journal Ellen writes to her friend Ruby, a fellow student in Frankfurt now living in London.

Ellen hasn’t much in common with her old school friends in Glasgow or with her fellow teachers. She spends time in the Mitchell Library just so that she can be free to read what she wishes without enduring Aunt Harry’s disapproval. There she meets a man she nicknames Don John, John Barnaby, an ex-priest & scholar who lives on the edge of poverty, sustained only by his love of books. John Barnaby encourages Ellen’s writing & sends her stories to a London editor. It’s John who explains the title of the book when he likens Ellen’s writing to the camomile. “I see. It is like the camomile – the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows.” And when I asked him who had said that, he smiled again and said, “An observant fat man called Falstaff.” Ellen is conflicted about her writing. She feels compelled to do it but also knows how Aunt Harry & conventional Glasgow society feels about it.

There is no doubt writing makes me more irritable with her. Today I have felt quite desperate whenever she came near me. Now is this a sign that writing is wrong for me? I am deeply worried these days about this old question. Is writing – serious writing – simply a mistake for a woman? Ronald, as you know, thinks it is. But Ronald, I do think, is influenced here by Mother’s unfortunate example. The worst of it is I know so terribly well what people mean when they say it is “a pity” that a woman should write. I can feel why it is so different from, for instance, a woman’s singing or acting. Because, however severe the technique of these arts may be, they are in their effect womanly. But writing!

Ellen becomes engaged to Duncan, the brother of an old school friend. He’s a doctor, on leave from his post in India. They’re instantly attracted to each other & Ellen gradually finds herself swept up in the excitement of her first love affair. Once they’re engaged, however, she begins to consider what marriage to a conventional man like Duncan will mean. They have lunch with a couple Duncan knows from his Indian station & it’s a disaster. Duncan is desperate to impress them & encourages Ellen to look sophisticated, even buying her pearls for the occasion. Ellen realises that only a girl who will be sociable, go to parties & dances & not be “too intellectual” could be a suitable wife for Duncan in the middle-class hidebound colonial society he lives in. When the wife asks her if she’s fond of reading, Ellen struggles to hide her real tastes because she knows they are too intellectual for this woman who despises trash & only pretends to know the authors Ellen mentions. Duncan doesn’t share Ellen’s misgivings,

He thinks I have grown “just a wee bit morbid,” being too much alone with my thoughts, which is “bad for women.” He believes the life in India, with its tennis and riding, jolly, rather superficial chatter and determined suppression of serious talk, will be the best possible antidote for me. How I hope and try to believe that he is right!… But he warns me to beware of one thing as of the devil. In India I must not speak of anything abstract or “superior,” or of “high-brow works of art,” unless I am content to be regarded as a bore and a blue-stocking.

Ellen’s doubts only increase as she attends the conventional weddings of her friends & then when Duncan has to return to India early & refuses to marry her immediately so she can return with him. Duncan’s complacent assumptions & the disapproval of a few people like Don John who Ellen respects, gradually lead her to realise that she has to make a decision. Does she have the courage to follow her dream of being a writer at the expense of the conventional happiness that society expects of her?

The Camomile is a very engaging novel. Written in 1922, Ellen is a radical misfit in the conventional world of narrowly religious Aunt Harry. Ronald is sympathetic but his sights are set on going to America. Her school friends follow the expected path to marriage without ever feeling the need to express themselves. Only her former music teacher Miss Hepburn is outraged by her decision to forego a career for marriage. Don John is quietly disappointed & retreats from Ellen’s life. I enjoyed Ellen’s determination to write & her descriptions of her great plans for the future & her struggle to find somewhere congenial to work & read. Ellen wants experience but marriage to Duncan may be too high a price to pay. It would also mean the end of her writing as Duncan’s assurances that Ellen could continue to write have a a very hollow ring.

Catherine Carswell (photo above from here) wrote only two novels, this one & Open The Door! Both were reprinted by Virago in the 80s. She was a friend of D H Lawrence & lost a job at the Glasgow Herald when she praised his novel, The Rainbow. She later lived in London with her husband & son & was friends with writers including Storm Jameson & Rose Macaulay (of whom I’ll have more to say soon). Canongate have since reprinted Open the Door! as well as Carswell’s unfinished autobiography, Lying Awake. I downloaded The Camomile for free from Open Library. I was inspired to read The Camomile by Desperate Reader’s review.

An Autobiography – Anthony Trollope

I pulled Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography off the tbr shelves a couple of months ago after reading Elaine’s enthusiastic review. But, the moment passed, I went on to other things & eventually Anthony went back to the shelves. Then, last weekend, I read Christine Poulson’s review at her blog, A Reading Life, & suddenly I knew what I would be reading that afternoon. I settled down & read almost half the book in one sitting. Reading impulses are like that! I’d read other biographies of Trollope, most memorably, Victoria Glendinning’s, but reading about his life in his own words was an absorbing experience. I can only agree with Christine’s description of Trollope as “the most lovable of writers.”

I admit to rushing through his miserable childhood. My heart ached for the awkward, poor, ignorant, badly dressed, neglected boy who was sent to one dreadful school after the other. His father was a bad-tempered, difficult man with no business sense so the family was often on the edge of ruin. His mother, Fanny, was a formidable woman. She took some of the family off to America to start a bazaar, of all things, to set her son, Henry, up in business. She also wrote a book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, which caused a scandal with its blunt assessments of Americans & their way of life. The book was, of course, wildly popular in England & started Fanny on a career as a writer which kept the family afloat. Neither parent seems to have had much time for Anthony & never seemed to have noticed his misery. The family even had to move abroad to Bruges, where Fanny nursed her dying husband & two children suffering from consumption, all the time writing constantly.

Anthony’s fortunes improved when he was employed as a clerk at the General Post Office in London. He got into debt as he struggled to live in London with no family support & earning a little money for the first time. He applied for a job as a Surveyor’s Assistant in Ireland, was sent there with dreadful references from his superiors at the GPO but met with success. Living was cheap in Ireland, he enjoyed the work which entailed riding around the countryside planning mail delivery routes & he met with great kindness & hospitality from the local people. He also met his wife, Rose, although we don’t get much sense of his family life at all from the book. He mentions children & says he was happy but we hear much more about his literary friends than we do about his family.

As the son of writers, Anthony always had ambitions to be a writer. He thought novels would be easier than poetry or plays (although he did attempt a play which was rejected by a theatre manager. He reused the plot of The Noble Jilt in Can You Forgive Her?) It took some years before he made any money by his pen. His first two novels were published at half-profits & he saw no profits from them at all. His first quiet success came with the publication of The Warden & Barchester Towers. Trollope had a very workmanlike attitude to the writing life. This shocked some of his original readers as his emphasis on writing as a profession rather than a vocation was not what was expected. He writes of his delight in earning his first £100 for Barchester Towers,

I am well aware that there are many who think that an author in his authorship should not regard money,- nor a painter, or sculptor, or composer in his art. I do not know that this unnatural self-sacrifice is supposed to extend itself further. A barrister, a clergyman, a doctor, an engineer, even actors and architects, may without disgrace follow the bent of human nature, and endeavour to fill their bellies and clothe their backs, and also those of their wives and children, as comfortably as they can by the exercise of their abilities and their crafts.

Trollope’s descriptions of the tables he drew up at the commencement of each book showing how many words per day he needed to write to finish the book in a certain time; his descriptions of finishing a novel one day & starting a new book the next day, led to accusations that he was nothing but a writing machine, devoid of inspiration. Trollope advises young writers to be disciplined, not waiting for inspiration but writing a set number of words a day. Success means hard work although that doesn’t mean that there weren’t times when the excitement of his story didn’t carry him away from his tables & careful plans,

When my work has been quickest done,- and it has sometimes been done very quickly – the rapidity has been achieved by hot pressure, not in the conception, but in the telling of the story. Instead of writing eight pages a day, I have written sixteen; instead of working five days a week, I have worked seven. I have trebled my usual average, and have done so in circumstances which have enabled me to give up all my thoughts for the time being to the book I have been writing…. And I am sure that the work so done has had in it the best truth and the highest spirit that I have been able to produce. At such times I have been able to imbue myself thoroughly with the characters I have had in hand. I have wandered alone among the rocks and woods, crying at their grief, laughing at their absurdities, and thoroughly enjoying their joy. I have been impregnated with my own creations till it has been my only excitement to sit with the pen in my hand, and drive my team before me at as quick a pace as I could make them travel.

Once Trollope had moved his family back to London, where he felt he needed to be in order to pursue his literary career, he found himself part of a literary milieu that included Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot & George Henry Lewes among many others. He was still working for the GPO & regarded his literary earnings as the cream that allowed him some luxuries like his beloved hunting. He became a member of clubs & associations like the Garrick Club & he enjoyed his popularity with the enjoyment that only a man who remembered a lonely, friendless childhood can enjoy it.

I think that I became popular among those with whom I associated. I have long been aware of a certain weakness in my own character, which I may call a craving for love. I have ever had a wish to be liked by those around me,- a wish that during the first half of my life was never gratified. In my school-days no small part of my misery came from the envy with which I regarded the popularity of popular boys. They seemed to me to live in a social paradise, while the desolation of my Pandemonium was complete… My Irish life had been much better. I had had my wife and children, and had been sustained by a feeling of general respect…. It was not till we had settled ourselves at Waltham that I really began to live much with others. The Garrick Club was the first assemblage of men at which I felt myself to be popular.

What a disarmingly honest & touching thing to have written. Although Dickens’s childhood was just as miserable & he was just as much an outsider, I can’t imagine him ever writing anything so revealing about his feelings.

Trollope writes a lot about his method of writing, his relations with publishers & his opinions of other writers of the period. I found all this fascinating. His appraisals of Dickens, Eliot & Thackeray are so interesting. He doesn’t seem to be a big fan of Charlotte Brontё (although he does admire the second volume of Jane Eyre set at Thornfield) but I was amused & surprised at this perceptive comment about Villette, “The character of Paul… is a wonderful study. She must herself have been in love with some Paul when she wrote the book...” Charlotte’s unrequited love for M Heger had not, of course, been mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte & her letters to him would not be published until 1913.

This is such a good-humoured book. Trollope was writing near the end of his life, although he still had many books to publish. He left the manuscript (written in 1878) to his son, asking that it be published, unchanged, after his death. Trollope died in 1882 & the Autobiography was published the next year. Although Trollope had listed all the books he’d written at the end of the manuscript, his son could add another 13 titles published in the last 4 years of his life! Prolific, indeed. I’ve read quite a few of Trollope’s novels but there are a lot more to read. I’ve been hoarding the last two Palliser novels for a few years now, not wanting to reach the end but I think I need to read The Prime Minister very soon.