One of the books that I read while on holiday was Trollope’s AUTOBIOGRAPHY. I had read it long ago, but I re-read it with fresh eyes. I first read it as an academic planning a thesis on Trollope and read it this time as a writer. It has its longeurs – discussions of writers long lost sight of – but for the most part I read it with rapt attention. Trollope had a wretched boyhood. His background of genteel poverty and his own awkwardness made his schoolday miserable and lonely. His father was an embittered failure (the bailiffs arrived at one point), a sister and a brother died of consumption. The family was kept afloat only by the efforts of his extraordinary mother, Fanny Trollope, who became a best-selling writer in her fifties. Even as she writing the novels that kept the family afloat she was nursing first her husband, then her son and then her daughter on their deathbeds.
Trollope himself looked set to be a failure too in his early working life as a disreputable debt-ridden clerk at the Post Office, and it was only when he offered to take a post in Ireland at the age of twenty-six that his fortunes changed. Professional success both as a public servant and a novelist and a happy marriage were to follow, but his painful early life was never forgotten and it helps to explain his deep understanding of human nature and his empathy and perceptiveness as a writer.
His account of those early years is touching. He has much to say too about the writing life and I’d recommend the AUTOBIOGRAPHY to any writer. One thing that especially endears him to me is his admission that he was virtually incapable of plotting his novels in advance. After hours, even days, of cudgelling his brains and driving himself almost to distraction he would abandon the attempt, and simply rush headlong into the writing.
I closed the books, feeling, as I have so often felt about Trollope, that of all the writers who have been important to me over the years, he is perhaps the most lovable.