The American Senator – Anthony Trollope

I love Trollope & I have great plans to read all his novels – I just don’t know how long it’s going to take! At least now I have all his novels on my e-reader, so many of the lesser known ones are out of print. However, I do love my OUP editions & I’ve just read another one from the tbr shelves – The American Senator.

This is the story of a few families in the country town of Dillsborough. Contrary to the titles, none of the book takes place in America. As Trollope himself says at the end of the book, it should really have been called “The Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough“. The Senator of the title is Elias Gotobed, who is visiting England as the guest of John Morton, a diplomat who has spent very little time in his home town for many years. Morton & Gotobed met in Washington, where Morton has also become engaged to Arabella Trefoil, an attractive but impecunious young woman who has arrived at the age where she really should marry. Arabella & her mother are in an uneasy alliance. They don’t get on well at all but Lady Augustus knows that Arabella must marry money so they find themselves locked together doing the social rounds, squabbling incessantly. John Morton has now inherited Bragton Hall & returns to Dillsborough with his fiancée, her mother & the Senator in tow.

In Dillsborough, there’s much speculation about the new Squire of Bragton Hall. There has been a long-ago breach between two branches of the Morton family & John’s cousin, Reginald, decides to try to heal the breach when the new Squire arrives at the Hall. Reginald’s aunt, Lady Ushant, is also keen to restore family ties but John’s formidable grandmother will not budge, even when tragedy threatens. Local solicitor, Mr Masters, finds himself entangled in the Morton’s affairs as his daughter, Mary, once lived at the Hall as companion to Lady Ushant. Mr Morton’s second wife is not unkind to Mary but she is determined to see her well married & off her hands so she can concentrate on her own daughters. She pushes Mary to marry local landowner, Larry Twentyman, who loves Mary devotedly. Mary likes Larry but she is secretly in love with Reginald Morton & so refuses to become engaged.

Meanwhile, Arabella Trefoil is hedging her bets & refusing to commit herself finally to marriage with John Morton in case someone richer comes along. Hunting plays a large part in this novel – it was one of Trollope’s passions – & at a meet, Arabella meets Lord Rufford, one of the most eligible & wily bachelors in the county. When the Morton party is invited to Rufford Hall, Arabella begins stalking her prey. She deftly manages to entice Lord Rufford while keeping Morton in reserve, just in case her plans fail. But has she met her match in Lord Rufford who has famously eluded every trap laid for him in the past?

Senator Gotobed, meanwhile, is observing English society & he’s not impressed by what he sees. His function in the novel is to expose all the ills of society. The inequalities between the farmer & the lord who can send his hunt over another man’s land without recompense or permission. The irregularities of the electoral system. The fine distinctions between families & their social position based on mistakes made by their ancestors years before. I admit, I found the Senator tedious & wished he would go back to America so I could get back to the far more fascinating adventures of the Mortons, Arabella, Mary & the Ruffords.

Mary’s story is conventional & it wasn’t too hard to see who she would marry. Arabella, on the other hand, is one of the most exciting heroines (or anti-heroines) I’ve come across in Trollope’s novels. Trollope obviously disapproved of her. He wrote, “I wished to express the depth of my scorn for women who run down husbands, – an offence that I do fear is gaining ground in this country.” However, even the author’s disapproval can’t prevent Arabella being the most vital character in the book. I genuinely wasn’t sure until the end who she would marry. Arabella is like a more canny Lily Bart, intelligent enough to play the cards she has to win the prize she has set her sights on. Whether she will have her way with Lord Rufford kept me on tenterhooks throughout.

The American Senator is not one of Trollope’s better-known novels but I loved it. The character of Arabella lifts it above the conventional country house novel with a romance plot. It’s also quite short for Trollope, only 550pp, which isn’t as daunting as some of his other novels. I’ve read 17 of Trollope’s novels now – only 30 to go!

15 thoughts on “The American Senator – Anthony Trollope

  1. I love Trollope too! I've finished Barchester & am 2/3 of the way through Palliser, but I've only read a couple of his stand alones. This one sounds lovely: thank goodness I have an ereader to fill up! 😀


  2. I forgot to mention, have you read any Charlotte Yonge? I just recently tried her (The Heir of Redclyffe) & found her quite intriguing. I'll definitely be reading more.


  3. Isn't it funny how book titles draw us in (and sometimes lead us astray!) I'd have been more inclined to read it by the title it should have had …:) … but your description makes me want to read it either way. I just have to finish the Barsetshire series first.


  4. Eva, I know most of Trollope is available as free ebooks but I'm a fan of the Delphi Classics. They put together great collections of complete works, often with obscure or rare titles. My complete Trollope has all his short stories, his autobiography & travel writing as well as all the novels. I only pay $5AU for them which I think is a bargain. They're properly formatted as well which the free ebooks often aren't & they also sometimes include the original illustrations. I like to think I still have lots of Trollope to read.


  5. I've only read The Daisy Chain although I have THOR on the tbr shelves. I enjoyed TDC & there is at least one sequel which I must get to one day.


  6. I agree Audrey, the original title is more enticing (especially as the Senator is so tedious) but it was an enjoyably book so I'm glad I got past the title in the end.


  7. I recently read this and loved it too. And 17 Trollopes read, how impressive!! I've only read eight so far (Barchester plus this one and The Way We Live Now). I'm hoping to get to the Pallisers soon but would like to cross a few standalones off my list first.)

    Which Trollopes are your favorites so far? Mine were TWWLN, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, and The American Senator.


  8. As usual, the bad girls of Victorian fiction are so much more interesting than the good girls! I think Trollope was fascinated by Arabella even though he disapproved of her.


  9. It's hard to pick a favourite Trollope & I've read them over a very long period. I think TWWLN, Miss Mackenzie, Phineas Finn & Phineas Redux but I also loved Doctor Thorne & The Last Chronicle of Barset… I still have the last two Palliser novels to read so they may be next.


  10. Getting sidetracked is an occupational hazard, I think! I have so many authors whose complete works I want to read but they have to wait in an orderly queue. I just have to live another 100 years to get through them all.


  11. You're welcome, Hope. I think it's a shame that Trollope is mostly known for the Palliser & Barsetshire series, wonderful as they are. He wrote so many interesting standalone novels & one of these days, I'll have time to read them all.


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