The Vicar of Roost (1859)

This epistolary novel, published together with ‘The Curate of Cumberworth’ is  a thinly-veiled, half satirical work that mocks the British Establishment. The author, Francis Edward Paget, attacks what he considers to be the slovenly neglect and unsound doctrine of the mid-Victorian Church. In the character of Mr. Soaper, the vicar of Roost, we can perhaps glean what Paget perceived were some of its major faults during this period. Unlike a few of his earlier works he reveals his concerns through sarcasm and humour rather than his usual diatribe, and although the plot is weak, the narrative is light-hearted and entertaining, and the characters are well developed.

Milston Church.JPG

Spoiler Alert

The novel opens with Mr. Dove writing in his journal. Dove is telling the story of his family’s misfortunes. Once destined to be the squire of Verdon Hall, Dove writes how his father, a wealthy merchant, had invested his fortune into a local bank, only to lose every penny when it folded in bankruptcy. Dove recounts how his father disappeared soon after the news, and how his mother frantically searching for him outside, had slipped in the snow, leaving her a paralysed and bed-ridden cripple for life. The servants later found the elder squires walking stick floating in the river, and then of course his body. After settling with their creditors, Dove and his mother leave Verdon Hall, with ‘nothing but their clothes, their poor father’s picture, and perhaps a score of books’. Mrs. Dove is unexpectedly left a small legacy from one of her servants in their will, and the money pays for Dove to attend university. After his studies, Dove is offered a privately tutorship (found by the Provost), and a curacy by the Vicar of Roost, Mr. Soaper, with rent-free lodgings in the village school-house.

Dove arrives in the village of Roost and is ambushed by a group of ‘shoeless children’ who throw stones at his horse. He chats with them briefly before bumping into Mr. Soaper at the local butcher’s shop. Paget dedicates the rest of the chapter to the witty ramblings of Mr. Soaper and his shallow conversations with Dove, and we learn a lot about Soaper’s Anglican philosophy. It appears Soaper lives an extravagant and comfortable lifestyle on the tithes of his parishioners. He is grossly overweight, falsely modest, and clearly inactive in his clerical duties. He has expensive folios of the Church Fathers which he’s never opened, and he repreaches old sermons written by his grandfather. One can truly appreciate his slovenly attitude when he says ‘he left behind him nearly a hundred sermons. I have been preaching them over and over again these twenty years, and shall continue to preach them til my congregation follows the advice contained in them’. In stark contrast, Dove arrives at the school-house and is given a small bedroom beneath a sloping roof, and a sparsely furnished living room facing the noisy playground, with a faulty fire-place that fills his digs with smoke!

Mr. Dove has an unpromising first meeting with the vicar’s wife and his daughter.  Mrs. Soaper has strong and definite opinions about people’s rightful stations ‘there can be no question that the beneficed and unbeneficed clergy stand it totally different positions’ – and it would appear a curates place is definitely beneath hers. She advises that a curate must ‘work, obey orders, and remain in the background’. She also goes out of her way to thwart all her husband’s promises to the curate.

The Soapers take a holiday to Brighton and Dove is left in charge of the parish. He reflects on the difficulties he will likely encounter in the village, and tries to convince himself he is content under the vicar’s rule. He muses ‘in the Navy I might have been promoted, but in the church I can feel myself quite safe’.  He resolves to ‘go on quietly…keeping out of rows and bothers’. During the Sunday service Dove notes the many flaws of the church (like a good Anglo-Catholic!) and ponders why all the rest of the population doesn’t attend. When he asks the clerk why this might be, he is told ‘some can’t come; some could if they would, but don’t’, and ‘some make Sunday their pleasuring day’. Paget leads us to believe there is a complete reticence in the parish, from both the clergy and the congregation. Against the wishes of the clerk, Dove then makes a brief parish visit to the father of one of the boys he first met when he arrived in the village. He is shocked by the squalid conditions he finds in ‘the Moorcot hovels’ and decides to act. After the visit he calls on Mr. Tite, the steward, to ask if anything can be done. Tite, becomes angry with this interference, and tells Dove he is acting above his station.

Dove writes to the Soapers while they are away on holiday and makes several parochial visits to the Ashe family.  When he receives Mr. Soaper’s response it is trivial and absurd. Soaper sympathises with the Ashe family, comparing their life-threatening illnesses to his mild indigestion after eating dressed crab (timballes, au veloute) late in the night! He continues with a pompous lecture about Isaac Ashe, and of his particular aversion to the family. This is followed by a warning not to upset his seniors (the steward and the Marquis), and how visiting the sick can cause contagion amongst the upper classes and must be avoided! Soaper also states that if there are any repercussions from this incident, he will deny any knowledge.

In Chapter V. Dove receives some unexpected but welcomed visitors. His old friend Harry has brought the Marquis of Kingsbury to visit. His Lordship was keen to talk to Dove after receiving his letter about the conditions at ‘the hovel’. Dove takes the high-principled and decent Lord Kingsbury to inspect the dwellings, and afterwards Kingsbury promises to solve the issues through his steward. Harry warns Dove that ‘Tite and Soaper will now lay their heads together to bowl you out, and make Roost too hot to hold you’ once this affair gets abroad. This indeed is the case as within a week Dove receives another scathing letter from the vicar of Roost, which curiously begins as a strong condemnation for his actions, but ends on a rather pleasant and jovial note. Dove discovers that the first and second parts of the letter are written on different types of paper, and concludes ‘in spite of his care to adapt his paper to his correspondents, Mr. Soaper had inclosed (sic) a sheet in my letter which was never intended for my eye; and I have most unluckily perused what was designed for another person’.

The narrative rolls forward ten months and we find Dove reminiscing on his time in the parish. He recalls how his relationship with the Soaper’s has remained the same: cold and formal, and how his ‘interference with the hovel’ has ruined any chance of that changing. Dove elaborates on how his hands are still tied when it comes to any parish improvements. His requests to set up a formal night-school have been denied (on the pretext that it would undermine the vicar’s importance), and he is deprived of holiday (due to the vicar’s supposed illnesses). On several visits to the Soaper residence, Dove encounters Miss Soaper alone (as Mr. Soaper has been too ill to receive him and Mrs. Soaper has been away). Although nothing more than monosyllabic sentences are exchanged between them, Dove is called to account for his improprietous meetings, and leaves the house confused and amazed at the misunderstanding.

There is then an amusing scene where the Marquis and his family (along with Henry) come to church unexpectedly on a Sunday that Soaper is too idle to prepare a sermon. It puts the Soapers’ completely out of humour seeing their curate being praise for his preaching! Of course, the following Sunday, Dove is sent to the parish of Sunnymede ‘to be out of the way’, but the Marquis and his folks have also decided to attend there. As one can imagine this exasperates Mr. and Mrs. Soaper. Dove is also invited to the Marquis’s Castle after the service, but refuses to accept as he doesn’t wish to further antagonise the Soapers. Walking home in inclement weather after church, Dove is taken ill with pleurisy and is laid up for the next few weeks. Although he receives no words of sympathy from the vicar or his wife he does receive a number of nursing offers from the women of the village, and small gifts from the children which helps to lift his spirits. After his illness, Dove takes a short reprieve with Harry and the General, much to the irritation of the selfish Mr. Soaper. Dove returns to a still sulking vicar, who then tries to dismiss him from the curacy. Totally bewildered, Dove denies all accusations thrown at him by Soaper and his wife, and asks that the matter is referred to the bishop. He is so shocked by Soaper’s unreasonableness that he will not agree to resign until he is either condemned or acquitted.

On the following morning Dove meets a rather indignant Mrs. Soaper at the station, who has decided to fight her husband’s corner with the bishop herself. Mrs. Soaper refuses any assistance from Dove, and proceeds to board a first class carriage with a stranger. During the journey she is taken hostage in the long tunnel and told to exchange clothes with the stranger, or she will be shot dead. She nervously complies and on arriving at Chadminster is mistaken for the fugitive, and detained by the detectives. Dove assists Mrs. Soaper by visiting her milliner, before notifying the bishop of the situation. Mrs. Soaper finally shows contrition for her behaviour, and accepts Dove’s assistance in seeing her home.

In the concluding chapter we finally see clerical harmony in Roost. Mr. Sidney, the vicar of Sunnymede, has now passed away, and Mr. Soaper has ridden over to the bishop to solicit the position. In the mean time, Dove receives a letter apparently written by the Marquis offering him the vacancy. As Dove receives this communication on April Fools’ Day, he presumes it’s a hoax, and disregards the letter. Dove is finally called to the Bishop’s palace and formally offered the incumbency. The novel ends with Mr. Dove reflecting on his good fortune, and of his intentions to serve the parish to the best of his abilities – following conscientiously in the footsteps of the late Mr. Sidney.


A Crown of Friendship (1921)

Although slightly later than the Victorian period I usually write about, I wanted to post a little blog about an obscure poet called Fabian S. Woodley, who wrote the unusual and extremely scarce anthology A Crown of Friendship. It’s unusual in the sense that all his poems have a distinctively ‘Uranian’ tone. Woodley clearly had a passion for young men, and declared that ‘Boyhood was the only ideal worth following’. This is apparent in all his extant poems.

After the First World War, Woodley wrote for a local newspaper, the Somerset Country Gazette, before settling on a teaching career (I’m not sure this was entirely appropriate given his penchant for youth!). He worked as an English teacher at several well-known schools, including Wellington College, and it was during this period that he published his collection A Crown of Friendship. I have chosen to share his poem ‘The Beautiful’, as it’s the best piece in the collection, IMO.


The Beautiful

Long years ago there came to me in sleep
The vision of a boy divinely fair;
His eyes were moon-kissed seas, serene and deep,
Elysian blossoms crowned his golden hair;
Light flowed around him, gently fell his voice
Like a soft-singing shower of silver dew,
Long time he gazed, then smiling, spoke ” Rejoice!
Seek only Me, for I alone am true!”


Straightway he fled upborne within a maze
Of mighty wings and music wonderful,
Whilst all the air grew dizzy with the praise
Of voices crying loud, ” The Beautiful.”
Heavenward he vanished — but his radiant face
Still haunts me — a pure spiritual joy,
And well I know he makes his dwelling-place
In the clear honest eyes of any boy.

Oscar Wilde and Masking

Masking and disguise in Oscar Wilde’s plays ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’. What might these masks and disguises tell us about Victorian Society?    (D.P. Baker)

Oscar Wilde is reported to have said ‘I will never outlive the century. The English people will not stand for it.’ He is now more frequently thought of as a man born into the wrong time, a heroic but ultimately doomed castaway in an unsympathetic age, set against the repressive forces of a period’ (Warwick, 2007, p.2).  He led a double life, being both married and having a relationship with an aristocratic man. He led a deceptive life in the higher class society of London, but he wasn’t careful enough.  His tempestuous relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and his sexual relations with rent boys led to his eventual arrest and imprisonment. This was the society Wilde lived in. The strict moral and social rules that regulated Victorian society led to a whole section of society that lived double lives, deceiving their friends, their families and sometimes even themselves. It is within this context that both The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan were written and ultimately performed. Both plays satirically depict Victorian aristocratic life. By giving examples from the two texts I hope to demonstrate how masking plays an important part in high society during the 1890s.

It has been said that the ‘social reality of the 90s was one of power, dominators vs. dominated, and in every passage of The Importance of Being Earnest there is continuous conflict’ (Stone, p.33). Wilde tackles these themes with his epigrams and witty puns which permit his audience to ‘vicariously participate in a sparring contest between “X” and “Y.” These points and counterpoints fluctuate until their blurred differences create an alternative ‘other’’ (Crawford, 2005). This ‘other’ is an important point to remember if we are to take Wilde’s use of language and humour and to see beyond it to the figurative masks worn by the characters.  Although The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan can both be considered comedies, the plays resonate on many different levels of understanding. In a letter to the St James Gazette (26th Feb, 1892) Wilde wrote (on Lady Windermere’s Fan) that he did not want the play to be viewed as ‘a mere question of pantomime and clowning’ but that ‘he was interested in the piece as a psychological study’ (Mason, 2007, p.390). As for the Importance of Being Earnest it has been suggested (Crawford, 2005) that the play is a satire of Wilde’s own life and that Jack’s actions quite often mimic Wilde’s personal life. ‘Jack as an infant is literally exchanged for a manuscript; Wilde exchanges himself and his sexuality for the ‘cucumber sandwiches,’ ‘smoking cases,’ and ‘Bunburyism’ of his characters’.

If we begin by looking at The Importance of Being Earnest we notice that the two principle characters Jack and Algernon are leading double lives. Jack is a land owner, dependable and respectable who has invented a fictitious brother called ‘Earnest.’ He uses this invention to escape his responsibilities and to indulge in immoral behaviour in London. Likewise, Algernon, who is a delightful but idle bachelor has invented a fictional ‘invalid’ character that he can run off ‘visiting’ to escape his commitments. Both of these alternative personas have been created to allow the characters to fulfil their needs and natural instincts in a strict and moral society. In addition to these restraints there was also the issue of class divide. At the opening of the play we are introduced to Algernon and his manservant Lane. Algernon is playing the piano and addresses his servant ‘did you hear what I was playing, Lane?’ To which Lane replies ‘I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.’ Here we can see ‘regulative social conventions’ (Crawford, 2005) at work with the lower class ‘knowing their place.’ In the first instance it would not have been ‘polite’ for Lane to have ‘listened’ and in the second, he is not really being asked his opinion anyway. Whether Lane is telling the truth about hearing the music or not is irrelevant as it is the correct social convention to follow.

Jack and Algernon’s discussion on Algernon’s imaginary, invalid friend, Bunbury, introduces another case of masking within the play. We see in the line ‘My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist.’ One interpretation of this phrase could be ‘you are orally-fixated’ to which Algernon replies: ‘Well that is what dentists do… I have always suspected you of being a confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it now.’ They continue with this guarded and heavily disguised language culminating in Jack saying ‘what on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist’ and Algernon replying: ‘I’ll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable expression as soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in the country’. This coded language is understood by both men but could be read as nonsense if not a little baffling to anybody outside of their ‘circle’.

The play if rife with homosexual and homoerotic masking. According to Demarest (2007) The Importance of Being Earnest exists like a secret code, within and between the words, sharp and teasing and seductive, for the enjoyment of gay society that had to remain so carefully concealed in the margins of society. Of course, homosexuality was illegal in Britain during this time and it was considered a custodial offense if one was found guilty of physical consummation.

A cigarette case was considered a potent symbol for homosexuality in Victorian England and this item plays an interesting part in The Importance of being Earnest. The silver cigarette which Algernon and Jack fight over in Act 1 was a gift Oscar Wilde was known to have given to several of his lovers. If we look at an extract from this scene we see a visible case of homosexual masking and deceit being played out between the two characters. Algernon begins with: ‘Yes; but this isn’t your cigarette case. This cigarette case is a present from some one of the name of Cecily, and you said you didn’t know any one of that name’. To which Jack retorts: ‘Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt!’ So who was Cecily? According to Demarest (2007) ‘Cecily, the name of Jack Worthing’s ward, was a contemporary term for a young male prostitute’.

There are further examples of homosexual masking in the play. For instance when ‘Jack and Algy fight over buttered muffins, apparently blissfully unaware of all the double entendres for buttocks and lubrication or the fact that food is such a very obvious symbolic substitute for sex’ (Demarest, 2007).

If we now look at the second play Lady Windermere’s Fan we notice that this play follows similar themes to that of The ‘Importance of Being Earnest’. And like The Importance of Being Earnest there is a ‘baffling combination of perfect seriousness in its internal structure with perfect frivolity in its apparent structure’ (Stone, p.31). Again we find conflict and pretence, people hiding from the truth and people with mistaken or secret identities. The lies and deception paint a vivid picture of society in Victorian England. The upper classes often had no occupation other than an endless round of social engagements and pleasure seeking activities. Their conversations reveal the boredom which existed within their class system and gives us a view into the world of appearances in which Victorian people lived.

The character of Mrs Erlynne is a major theme in the play. There are numerous opinions about this mysterious woman including her identity, her moral values and her social position. The artificial world of social protocol and etiquette and the hierarchical structure of Victorian society was a game that every member of the upper classes adhered to. It would appear that most ‘decent’ people wore their conventional figurative masks ‘publically’ to retain their place in society. We only have to examine the different attitudes to Mrs Erlynne to see this. At the end of Act 1 we see Lord Windermere agonising over whether he should reveal the identity of Mrs Erlynne to his wife to change her negative opinion, only for him to declare: ‘Margaret! Margaret! [A pause.] My God! What shall I do? I dare not tell her who this woman really is. The shame would kill her. [Sinks down into a chair and buries his face in his hands].’In Act 2 we find further evidence on how important ‘image’ was in Victorian England when Lord Augustus Lorton (brother of the Duchess) asks Lord Windermere how Mrs Erlynne can gain ‘respectability’ as he wishes to marry her!

As with The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde also uses the power of ambiguity in Lady Windermere’s Fan. Wilde often uses meta-language to hide the true intentions of the characters. Stone (p.28) explains how ‘analogically the concept of meta-language can be extended into literature by differentiating between an actual and an implied statement or word-set. Meta-activity is occurring when actual and implied word-sets and the reality they both claim to relate to are being dealt with together.’ A good example which supports this argument is Lord Darlington’s quote in Act 1 ‘Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.’  Another good example can be found in Act 3 where Mr. Dumby consoles Lord Darlington ‘I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.’

Marriage is another theme explored by Wilde in Lady Windermere’s Fan. In Act 1 we have Lord Darlington announcing to the Duchess of Berwick: ‘It’s a curious thing, Duchess, about the game of marriage – a game, by the way, that is going out of fashion- the wives hold all the honours, and invariably lose the odd trick.’ And in Act 3 we have a rather interesting conversation between Dumby, Lord Windermere and Cecil Graham where Dumby announces ‘Good heavens! how marriage ruins a man! It’s as demoralising as cigarettes, and far more expensive’. Both these quotes suggest a view marriage as an ideal that men felt obliged to mock publically even if their private views were totally different.

The various disguises and masks adopted by the characters in both The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan reveal an artificial world of protocol, reputation and petty upper class concerns which seemed to dominate their day to day existence. Perhaps this was due to a lack of occupation which invariably led to boredom and idleness.  Another reason might be the fascination the aristocracy had with fashion and role playing. Whatever reasons Wilde had in mind when writing these two plays, what is certain is that he demonstrated aptly the hypocrisy prevalent in Victorian society and used witty language and dialogue to reveal the extent to which people masked their intentions, their true feelings and often their weaknesses.


CRAWFORD, J. 2005. Point, Counterpoint, Thrust: Wilde’s Pun Burying in The Importance of Being Earnest [www] (10/01/12/12)

DEMAREST, J. 2007. Directors Notes, The Importance of Being Earnest [www] (10/01/12)

MASON, S. 2007. Bibliography of Oscar Wilde. New York: Haskell House Pub Ltd, p.390

STONE, G. n.d. Serious Bunburyism: The Logic of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ [www] (10/01/12)

WARWICK, A. 2007. Oscar Wilde. Writers and their Works. Devon: Northcote House Publishers, pp.1-2

WILDE, O. 1974. Oscar Wilde Plays. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd


SULLIVAN, N. 2003. A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.



The Curate of Cumberworth (1859)

Short Review

In this rather amusing novel by Francis E. Paget we follow the arrival of the ambitious and well-meaning curate, the Rev. John Smith, who is met with opposition at every corner. At loggerheads with the entire village of Cumberworth, from the aristocracy to the village sexton, before his first week is even over, we read how even a simple task like regulating the church clock can impact an entire community.


Spoiler Alert

Here is the first plot spoiler from my list of Victorian novels about clergy and parish life. This Mid-Victorian book by Francis Edward Paget is both entertaining and mildly satirical. In a series of witty anecdotes the author explores the theme of time and perception, and reveals the indolent and complacent attitudes of the Anglican Church during this period.

In the first chapter we see the new curate Mr. John Smith complaining about the train’s delay. He is so pedantic about time that in arguing with the train official he alights without some of his own luggage, and accidently takes a parcel containing a bonnet, which causes him embarrassment later in the story. He meets Mr. Gibson, the Rector of Cumberworth, and from their very first meeting there is already a subtle tension. Smith is young, restless, and enthusiastic about his placement. Gibson, of course is elderly, cautious and self-satisfied. They have opposing views about religion and ministry. After expressing his wish to jump straight into parish life, Smith is offered the lightest of duties: the care and maintenance of the church clock.

Smith takes his lodgings with a Mrs. Finch who is petulant, reactionary, and very particular in her ways. Pretty much like everyone else in the village. There is instant friction between Smith and Mrs. Finch, but they manage to keep things cordial, well… at least for now! On the following morning Smith goes to see Mrs. Beccles about the key for the clock tower and is met with a curt refusal. In fairness, Mrs. Beccles is eccentric and possibly even insane. When he tells Mrs. Beccles he would like to regulate the church clock in keeping with London Greenwich time, Mrs. Beccles argues: ‘why should the clock be regulated’ to which Smith answers: ‘because my good madam, it is half an hour too fast’. Mrs. Beccles retorts: ‘honoured sir, to make such a change as that would throw the whole parish out of their reckonings!’.

The next day, Mr. Smith, again with no useful occupation decides to explore the village. On crossing a field he startles some of the squire’s animals and is chased across the river. During this escapade he tears his clothes and arrives at the other side quite drenched and splattered with mud. He also damages the fence of the aforementioned squire, Sir Tukesbury, who hearing the disturbance, mistakes him for an escaped convict! Their misunderstanding is soon cleared up and Smith is invited to dinner the following evening. When he returns to Mrs. Finch’s home in his dishevelled state, she becomes hostile. Mrs. Finch will not budge an inch on any of her views! After his tiring adventure, Smith’s reasonable request for tea is met with ‘I beg your pardon, sir, but we don’t drink tea until seven’. When he compromises and asks for water, he is met with an equally unreasonable answer ‘you’ll excuse me, Mr. Smith, but you are much too warm to drink water’. They eventually descend into a heated debate about the placement of Mr. Smith’s books. The author muses ‘when Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war’.

After his libations, Smith proceeds to his engagement at Sir Tukesbury’s mansion and happens to overhear the disgruntled villagers discussing how they missed the visit of the Prince of Wales due to the church clock being wrong. The villagers initially blame Mrs. Beccles, but she firmly puts the blame of Smith, saying ‘he but her up to it’. He disappears after hearing their curses and threats, and arrives at the squire’s mansion ‘extremely late’ for dinner. During the party he overhears the Major discussing the disappearance of his sister’s bonnet and the distress it has caused. Smith is gallant enough to admit he was the culprit, and the Major reluctantly accepts his apology.

It transpires that Mr. Smith has indeed upset the whole village with his clock meddling. The changes to the squire’s stable clock and the church clock have definitely put everybody out of their reckoning! And when he returns to Mrs. Finch’s after the dinner party, he is again lectured about the propriety of keeping an early hour, and the two debate the likeliness of Smith getting his own latch key. Obviously, he doesn’t get one – and Mrs. Finch retires to bed informing Smith that Mrs. Beccles called for him twice that evening. Things come to a head after Smith visits Mrs. Beccles the following morning, and she suspiciously resigns the key. Now summoned by the imaginary ‘Gentleman in drab’, the insane Mrs. Beccles puts stones into the church tower lock during the night, and on the following morning, when nobody is able to get into the tower to ring the bells, or indeed wind up the clock, the curate obstinately starts the Sunday service early (to an empty church), still unable to accept his own watch is wrong! The villagers finally get their own back on the curate, and tolling the bell for evening service, they send a messenger to Smith’s lodgings, requesting his presence for evensong. Off his guard, he rushes out, leaving Mrs. Finches’ house unlocked, and during the interim his infamous watch is stolen!

Towards the end of the novel he finally has his epiphany and realises his watch must have been broken during the escapade with the cows! In the concluding chapter, Smith, summoned by the rector (who’s incidentally received a letter from the bishop accusing the curate of High-Church practices), explains how he’s made a terrible hash of his parish duties, but had no intention of extolling popery. The Rector and the curate reach a mutual understanding – and one is left hoping that the remainder of the Rev. John Smith’s curacy went smoother than his first couple of weeks!


Fathers, Sons and Hobbledehoys

Fathers, Rebel Sons and Hobbledehoys – a Study of the Paternal and Filial Characters and Relationships in Anthony Trollope’s Novels (D. P. Baker)


Anthony Trollope was a prolific, successful and respected Victorian writer. He wrote forty-seven novels – three times as many as Dickens, along with a large number of short stories and an eclectic range of biographies. In his lifelong career as a postal surveyor’s clerk he also travelled extensively and wrote many non-fiction works based on his trips abroad. Trollope’s father was called Thomas. According to Kimball (1992, p.10) Thomas Anthony Trollope ‘was an intelligent though failed barrister who suffered from migraines and a foul temper’. Trollope’s autobiography goes on to reveal how his father was initially a relatively wealthy man, but his failed and mismanaged ventures into farming led the family into trouble and Thomas to the poverty and unshakable depression that dogged him for the rest of his life. Trollope comments ‘everything went wrong with him…the touch of his hand seemed to create failure’ (Trollope, 1923, p.2). Thomas’s problems stemmed from the fact he was the son of landed gentry and the disparity between his social position and his relative poverty had a detrimental impact on his health, and on his family. In fact Thomas’s negativity and depression had a major impact on the young Anthony Trollope, and it greatly damaged their relationship and according to Anthony, his childhood too.

Since his death over a century ago much has been written about Anthony Trollope including a vast range of biographies covering different aspects of his life and writing. The biographies are important as they give us some insight into his relationship with his father, a troubled relationship which is perhaps played out in his canon of work. I have decided to utilise two recently published and excellent biographies which offer accounts of Trollope’s early life and family relationships. The first is Glendinning’s Anthony Trollope (1993) which gives awonderful blend of Trollope’s personal life and literary career within the context of Victorian England’s cultural and social climate. The other source is Hall’s Trollope: A Biography (1993) which gives an exhaustive account of his life and literary works. It runs chronologically and contextualises his life and literary achievements. I have mainly focused on Hall’s biography as a major source in this study as his evidence and supporting conclusions have been reached through a biographical interpretation of Trollope’s life and writings similar to the approach I have chosen. Hall also heavily references Trollope’s posthumously published An Autobiography and Donald D. Stone’s essay Prodigals and Prodigies from the collection Victorian Perspectives (1989) when writing about his early life. In a similar manner I have decided to use Trollope’s An Autobiography and extracts from the essay Prodigals and Prodigies in my own study as they offer a valuable perspective into his life, and in the case of the autobiography, an insight into his personal views. I then reviewed Trollope’s published letters as a further primary source to see if these could offer any further evidence.It appears Trollope was a prolific letter writer. He wrote hundreds of letters to publishers and to leading writers and politicians of the day. Along with business letters he also wrote regularly to his friends and to his mother and siblings.Interestingly, of the 931 recorded letters published in Booth’s (1951) The Letters of Anthony Trollope not one is addressed to his father or even makes reference to him. There are of course a number of possible explanations for this. They may have been too private and never revealed by the family, or they may have been lost or destroyed, but it is interesting to highlight how many letters to his mother and siblings sign off with:‘give my love to x’ with curiously never one mention of his father. Could this be a sign of a strained relationship? Whether this is the case or not Trollope has a lot to say about how his father’s apparent failings contributed to his own unhappy childhood. In An Autobiography (Trollope, 1923, p.2) he states ‘my boyhood was, I think, as unhappy as that of a young gentleman could well be, my misfortunes arising from a mixture of poverty and gentle standing on the part of my father.’ And while he was at Winchester College his father’s troubles went from bad to worse. Due to his family circumstances the young Anthony Trollope considered his time at school as ‘a daily purgatory.’ He explains how he had ‘little in the way of pocket money and clothes’. It was during this period that his mother and siblings moved to Cincinnati in the United States. Trollope writes (Trollope, 1923, p.7) ‘my mother went first, with my sisters and second brother. Then my father followed them, taking my elder brother before he went to Oxford.’ Trollope felt abandoned by his family and blamed all his unhappiness on his father failures (Trollope, 1923, p.8) ‘my school books were not paid…they were told not to extend their credit to me.’ And according to Trollope this also affected his social status at school ‘my school-fellows of course knew that it was so, and I became a Pariah.’ There is evidence to suggest that Trollope also experienced difficult times during the school holidays. With his father caught up in his own miseries and misgivings Trollope explains (Trollope, 1923, p.11) ‘there was a parlour in which my father lived, shut up among big books.’ He continues ‘of amusement … he never recognised the need. He allowed himself no distraction, and did not seem to think it necessary to a child.’

By building on this evidence I plan to further illuminate this difficult relationship with exploration of the various paternal and filial relationships in his fictional work. There are many instances of fathers and sons at loggerheads across the spectrum of Trollope’s writing, and although Hall compiles what is probably a definitive list, this study is limited in focus toa survey of the different father/son types, their aspects, and how they respond to each other. It does not represent a study of all known cases in Trollope’s vast canon of literature. Although reference will be made to a number of novels, there are three specific texts which will be analysed in greater depth. These are The MacDermots of Ballycloran, Trollope’s first novel published in 1847, The Last Chronicle of Barset, published in 1867, and John Caldigate, which was published by in 1877. By reviewing these in light of the biographical sources I hope to find comparisons which mirror his own multifaceted relationship with his father.

Before starting an analysis it is perhaps useful to consider the role of the author within the process of reading texts and to highlight how any study of an author and their works has its limitations and is likely to raise a number of complex questions and concerns.  It was only during the twentieth century that literary theorists became ‘sceptical about whether the author should be considered as part of the process of creating meaning in the text’ (McCaw, 2008, p.67). It was argued that readers could create their own meaning. In denying the importance of the author, Barthes disputed that ‘language had a life of its own, that it performs the creation of meaning in its own right, divorced from authorial intentions’ (p.115). This approach along with ‘reader-response criticism’ loosely accepted that the reader was the key figure in understanding texts understood. They assumed ‘texts have no single, fixed meanings; that reading is not about uncovering the ‘truth of the text’ (McCaw, 2008, p.71). However McCaw points out that there are several critical approaches such as the biographical that help illuminate the text. He explains that ‘biography allows a particular way in to texts that can be a useful supplement to contextual readings’ (McCaw, 2008, p. 73). With this in mind I intend to reverse the process by using text to illuminate Trollope’s biography. As a counterweight to Trollope and these sources, it may also be worth considering ideas stemming from psychological literary theory developed by Freud in his essay Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming (1907) in which he argued ‘texts were the result of authorial anxieties and psychological tensions’ (McCaw, 2008, p.65). For this approach we are asked to imagine all texts as autobiographical with the life of the author woven into the text. At this time Freud also developed an idea which he called the ‘father complex’ to explain the ambivalent feelings for the father on the part of the male child. While working on his essay The Father Complex and the Solution of the Rat Idea (1909) he came to a personal realisation that ‘a reactivation of childhood struggles against paternal authority’ (Richards, 1988, p.80) was standing at the heart of his latter-day compulsions.Later twentieth-century psychoanalytical literary criticism continued in this analytical direction ‘focusing on (for instance) difficult parent-child relationships within texts, depictions of sexual development and maturation, and a sensitivity to the distinction between the conscious and unconscious levels of experience’ (McCaw, 2008, p.66). It is equally important perhaps to bear in mind that as this dissertation explores Trollope’s portrayal of paternal and filial relationships how ‘psycho-analytic methods can be used to interpret texts in terms of the unconscious objectives and desires of both author and characters’ (McCaw, 2008, p.66). Having outlined a range of critical approaches for this study, we can proceed with healthy scepticism acknowledging the role the author has to play in creating meaning.

This dissertation will begin with a broad survey of the different aspects of the father found in Trollope’s novels. I will examine their relationships in context to their story and environment. The second survey will explore the range of filial relationships characterised by Trollope in his novels. These will also be viewed in light of their circumstances. The third part of this study will question who wins out between the fathers and sons, before concluding and referring back to what has been uncovered. The conclusion will attempt to look at evidence found during the study, and along with the biographical sources, try to illuminate Trollope’s own relationship with his father in light of his fictional characters.


 It might first be useful to explore here the character of Anthony Trollope’s father Thomas, and indeedfathers in general from the Victorian era. There is evidence to suggest that Thomas Trollopefittedthe stern paterfamilias stereotype of the early and mid Victorian period, and like manygood fathers of the age he was shaped by the Victorian family values of decency and wholesomeness. According to Anthony’s elder brother Tom ‘all was respectability and propriety…their father was never the worse for drink’ (Hall, 1993, p.15). Indeed he was veryanxious for his children to be educated well and desperate to retain the high status of the Trollope family. Even so he wasa man who clashed with the socio-economic realities of the time, and his farming failures and prolonged depressionhad a negative impact onhis entire family. It would not be unfair therefore to summarise Thomas Trollope as a complex father with good intentions that were ultimatelycrushed by personal and financial misfortunes.

Interestingly, in Trollope’s published novels there are also awide range of complex fathers. At one end of the spectrum we find the aristocratic fathers like the Duke of Omnium from the Barsetshire Chronicles or the Earl De Courcy from The Small House at Allington. This type of father is often characterised by Trollope as ‘unregenerate, haughty and debauched, full of old fashioned pride and noblesse oblige’ (Hagen, 1958, p.2). Throughout the novels they find themselves in total opposition to their sons, who were born into the rebellious mid-Victorian age of reform. These sons embody a spirit of greater freedom and democracy which has ‘weakened the old sanctions, loosened the familiar ties, and made more flexible the time-honoured social patterns’ (Hagen, 1958, p.2). In some respects we can see Trollope’s own father, Thomas,illuminated through these characters.  Trollope’s fictional conservative fathers (and clearly stern paterfamilias) felt a responsibility to educate their modern-minded children to the duties of their rank. This seems to fit with Trollope’s own appraisal of his father. Trollope also created many father figures who were at a loss on how to stop their sons from forming ‘unsuitable’ marriages outside their own social class, like the squire Mr Gresham and his son Frank in Doctor Thorne. Another example is Archdeacon Grantly and his son Henry, who wanted to marry a disgraced parson’s daughter named Grace in The Last Chronicle of Barset. Grantly tries to stop his son by using blackmail and the threat of being disinherited. Often Trollope’s aristocratic fathers and sons seem totally irreconcilable. We might mention here the Duke of Omnium and his son Lord Porlock who ‘hated each other as only such fathers and sons can hate.’

At the other end of the spectrum we have the father figures who are stubborn, proud, self-pitying and impoverished men living under ‘crushing disadvantages’. Examples of these include Larry MacDermot in The MacDermots of Ballycloran and the Rev Josiah Crawley in The Last Chronicle of Barset. It is perhaps in these two novels that one can best see biographical similarities between Anthony Trollope and his father Thomas. The MacDermots of Ballycloran was Trollope’s first novel and concerns an Irish landowner who adversity and debt had crushed into feeble mindedness. Stone (1989, p.52) suggests that ‘the impoverished MacDermot’s are heavily stylised versions of Trollope and his father, living in continual debt to his landlord and to the tradesmen he employed’. Whether this is the case or not it was certainly one of his most tragic tales. It has also been surmised that the novels power ‘derived from a frightening awareness of [Trollope’s] own miseries and of his father’s near madness; expressing these things exorcised such unrelieved blackness from his fiction’ (Hall, 1993, p.33). The novel centres on the MacDermot family, and we soon learn that both the father and the son are utterly unable to talk to each other; old Larry MacDermot simply cannot understand what his son Thady is about. We learn that Larry is only fifty years of age, but his financial worries, and his constant fretting have made him appear much older. He is literally paranoid and mentally crippled by his misery, and he has lost any sense of being rational. Every argument seems to return to his ‘unjust’ pecuniary affairs with his creditor Mr Keegan to whom he pays his interest on the estate. ‘When the poor man thought of these things – but he did little else now – bitterly, though generally in silence, he cursed him whom he looked upon as his oppressor and incubus’ (Trollope, 1993, p.8). Living in a desperately impoverished part of Ireland most of his tenants were unable to pay their rent which sees Larry MacDermot constantly worrying about his own finances.  He has given up sensible conversation even with his own children and he constantly dwells on his hardships. We see Larry’s persecution complex appearing very early on in the book ‘Poor things!’ said the father, ‘and aint I a poor thing? and won’t you and Femmy be poor things?  Hard times too! who is the times hardest on?’ (Trollope, 1993, p.8). Later as events unfold we realise that old Larry has become much worse through alcohol and that he has given up on his family. He ‘was too broken-hearted a man, and too low spirited … he had not heart enough to be energetic on any subject’ (Trollope, 1993, p.17). Although his son Thady works tirelessly collecting money from the tenants to feed both his sister and father, he remains unappreciated by the both of them. The sister believing Thady is meddling unnecessarily in her affairs, and worse still, the father, Larry, believing Thady is a good for nothing traitor who has turned on his own father. After Thady kills Captain Usher to protect his sisters honour, his own father (who by this time is mentally paralysed by his lunacy) responds ‘well, he was the only friend you’d left me, and now that you’ve murdhered him, you may go now; you may go now – but mind I tell you, they’ll be sure to hang you’ (Trollope, 1993, p.223). This is certainly the response of a crushed man no longer able to separate important concerns from the not so important. By the end of the novel his daughter Femmy is dead and his son Thady is waiting for his execution. When the parish priest Father John breaks the news to Larry, we find a very moving account of the father, and we are left in no doubt about his insanity. Indeed Larry is described as ‘the idiot, grinning’ and we find him shouting ‘they’ve gone away from me, they’ve gone away to Thady and now I’ll never see them again… curse her!’ (Trollope, 1993, p.351).In The Last Chronicle of Barset we are introduced to another father figure who like Larry MacDermot is overwhelmed by crushing financial problems.  According to Hall (1993, p.35) ‘Trollope would draw most extensively, and tenderly, upon his own father for the creation of the Revd Josiah Crawley’. He is described as ‘a strange, stubborn, learned, self-pitying and impoverished man.’ Always poor, Crawley cannot forgive those who relieve his poverty. He is most anxious about his own children’s education, taking it upon himself to teach them both Greek and Latin, yet he has no skill with children, and although he loved them, he ‘was not gifted with the knack of making children fond of him’ (Framley Parsonage, Chapter. 36). In the introduction to The Last Chronicle of Barset (1984, p.22) we are told that Crawley ‘never permitted the slightest interference with his own word in his own family’. The main focus of the novel is his undeserved adversity and his near descent into madness. After being falsely accused of cashing a cheque to pay his debts, facing public hostility, and a lengthy wait for a trial to be held by his peers, he is asked to resign his curacy at the parish of Hogglestock. Crawley will not take advice from his friends, or indeed from his wife and children. He will not even listen to family concerns about his deteriorating physical and mental health. He fears ‘only God and his conscience,’ refusing even the advice of an attorney before the trial. Naturally he also refuses to resign his parish responsibilities, citing that it was not in the bishop’s power, and claiming that he was not breaking any rules or ecclesiastic legislation. Trusting in divine providence, but suffering from human interference and opinion, the reader never once doubts that Crawley is a man in whom ‘pride and integrity are inextricable’. He has been described as ‘stoicism run mad, but it is the madness of tragic dignity’ (Trollope, 1984, p.22). This becomes even more apparent when we learn that he would not even accept food or provisions for his own children as a matter of principle, and that all wife and filial concerns (whether welfare or emotional) were of no significance if they contradicted his already single-minded views. Be that as it may, Trollope was immensely satisfied with his creation of the character Josiah Crawley. We can read it in his own words (Trollope, 1923, p.251) ‘the pride, the humility, the manliness, the weakness, the conscientious rectitude and bitter prejudice of Mr Crawley were, I feel, true to nature and well described’.

Lastly we should also consider the rational fathers who have to contend with unreasonable and wild sons who face ruin and disgrace through excessive gambling and drinking, often when they are at university with clearly too much freedom and money at their disposal. This is almost the inverse of Trollope’s own early situation in life. In these paternal characters he seems to paint idealistic portraits of a father. Perhaps these characters were to compensate for what he considered his own father’s inadequacies? A good example can be found in the novel John Caldigate, where the character of Daniel Caldigate seems to initially represent Trollope’s own father. On the very opening page of the novel we read ‘they two could not live together in comfort in the days of the young man’s youth.’ It continues ‘the misfortune was so great as to bring crushing trouble on the both of them’ (Trollope, 1972, p.9). We learn that Daniel Caldigate was ‘a man who knew how to live alone, – a just, hard, unsympathetic man’ (Trollope, 1972, p.9) and like Trollope’s father we learn that he was a man ‘always constant with his books, that he had never been seen to shed a tear, or been heard to speak to those who had been taken from him (Trollope, 1972, p.9).’ Later in the chapter he is described as ‘a stout, self-constraining man, silent unless when he had something to say’. But there is also a more sensitive and misunderstood side to this father figure.  We learn that Caldigate was ‘always anxious for every good thing on his children’s behalf, but never able to make the children conscious of his anxiety (Trollope, 1972, p.9).’ Here in these passages we can recall Thomas Trollope’s own tireless efforts to educate and worry about a young and very different Anthony Trollope. As the narrative continues, we read that squire Caldigate married when he was a poor man and that he didn’t return to the family estate at Folking until he was clear of debt and ready for his responsibilities. By this time he was approaching forty. He had lost both his wife and daughter and by the start of the novel we learn that he had only one remaining son, John. It is also apparent that he is constantly frustrated by his son’s indifference to everything that he holds important. In chapter I, we read of the father’s views on outdoor pursuits ‘if he could only convince the boy that politics were better than rats’ (Trollope, 1972, p.10). Daniel Caldigate’s persistence in forcing his moral values on his own son only drove him to his uncle Babington’s estate, a more pleasant environment for the holidays, where there was ‘a pony on which he could hunt, and fishing rods, and a lake with a boat’ (Trollope, 1972, p.10). As the years went by the father began to feel resentment towards the Babington family ‘he despised the whole race of them’ (Trollope, 1972, p.10) and during the brief visits from his son he was sarcastic and disagreeable. When his son proceeds to Cambridge University, he reduces his allowance and after John becomes heavily in debt he ‘expels him from his heart and from his house’ (Trollope, 1972, p.13). It is eventually agreed that he will buy his son out of the entail and will pay him a sum of money. The son John Caldigate agrees to the settlement and decides to try his fortune gold mining in Australia. In chapter III both the father and son wrongly conclude that each has ‘no special regard for the other’ (Trollope, 1972, p.23). But what was different in this novel to Trollope’s own experiences with his father was the happy reunion, the mutual acceptance. We read that after the son returns from Australia now a wealthy and changed man, there was reconciliation between father and son.

It appears to me that Trollope drew extensively from his own father in creating many of the fictional fathers in his novels. According to Stone (1989, p.45) ‘the years Trollope spent scrutinising, and later meditating on his father, helped him to sharpen his gifts as a psychological realist’, and nowhere does this seem more poignant than in the three novels analysed above. Thomas Trollope the stern paterfamilias is brought to life in Archdeacon Grantly, a man firmly rooted in his noblesse oblige; we see Thomas Trollope in Larry MacDermot, a stubborn, proud, self-pitying and impoverished man crushed by adversity, and we see the father  Thomas Trollope in the Rev Josiah Crawley for whom ‘pride and integrity are inextricable’.  Even in such characters as Daniel Caldigate we are perhaps viewing a manifestation of Thomas Trollope, albeit a modified and rational version with only partially superimposed aspects of his own father.


 In this chapter I will look at how sons are portrayed in Trollope’s novels and how these might illuminate the character of the young Anthony Trollope in relation to his father. I have divided the fictional sons into four types. The first are the ‘rebel sons’ defined by their deliberate opposition to their fathers. The second group are the ‘prodigal sons’ who lived reckless and often immoral lives before returning to their fathers and their father’s moral and social expectations. The third group are the ‘hobbledehoy sons’ who due to their difficult adolescences are unable to live up to their fathers expectations. They may lack confidence, experience and motivation, but they do not deliberately rebel against their fathers. The last group are the sons from families crushed by adversity.

If we are to try and categorise Trollope’s early life we should perhaps consider his own views on the subject. He would refer to his adolescence as his ‘hobbledehoyhood,’ and to his own early adult years as the most lonely and miserable of his life. The novelist’s difficult transition from boy to man was ‘not just fraught with tension, but was rather a gangling and self-conscious nightmare netherworld’ (King, 2005, p.39). Although he had attended some of the most elite schools (including Harrow and Winchester) he lacked both the financial and social advantages that usually accompany those from the upper middle classes. He was bullied for being unkempt, and for being gangling and unconfident, and he was often ostracised by his peers. Being mocked and excluded almost certainly had a detrimental effect on the young Anthony Trollope, and Trollope firmly placed theblame for this on his father and on his father’s failures.

I will now look individually at four fictional son types that Trollope created in his novels. If we begin with the ‘rebel sons’ it would be easy to make the assumption when defining ‘rebel’ to imagine sons in opposition to the law, or even sons that are immoral, or individuals moving up in the world and motivated by their own selfish agendas, but this is not what I have intended by the term. As I mentioned above I have defined ‘rebel son’ as a son who puts himself in opposition to his father or to his father’s social expectations. Trollope regularly created these difficult sons for a number of aims. Perhaps the most important was the radical social change spreading throughout the British Empire during mid-Victorian England. These changes mainly affected the aristocratic families – those higher up the social scale who were perhaps expected to adhere to more conservative views. A son was expected to fulfil his duties and follow the social mores. It appears that many of Trollope’s fictional sons were indeed very dutiful sons, but as a result of the social upheavals their new ideas and notions often saw them in opposition to their more traditional fathers. We find a good example in the character of Henry Grantly, son of the Revd Archdeacon Grantly from The Last Chronicle of Barset. In chapter II we see the archdeacon arguing against his sons choice of woman from the perspective of his family’s image and reputation ‘There is nothing against the girl’s character …and the father and mother are gentle folks by birth; but such a marriage for Henry would be very unseemly’ and ‘to make it worse, there is this terrible story about him’ (Trollope, 1984, p.45). Their relationship becomes increasingly strained as the novel progresses until Archdeacon Grantly effectively threatens to disinherit his son. Henry Grantly, who is obstinate and unable to accept his father’s noblesse oblige, decides to auction his own possessions and give up his comfortable and privileged life to start a family with Grace from the proceeds of the sale. The sight of the auction posters upset the archdeacon, but Henry is unwilling to change his stance for the sake of the ‘Grantly’ name, and he is not prepared to give up his romantic attachment to Grace Crawley because of his father’s conservative views. Aristocratic rebel sons appear again and again in Trollope’s vast canon of works and one could surmise that this recurring theme says something about Trollope as a man. Perhaps Trollope created these characters to counter his own inadequacies as a young man. We can of course question whether Trollope would have rebelled if he had been in a better position like his fictional protagonists, but this is hard to prove. He may have just been content on an equal footing with his peers.  Equally, if Thomas Trollope hadn’t set the bar so high for his children (by sending his sons to less prestigious schools with fewer expectations), maybe Anthony Trollope would not have suffered such terrible self esteem.

In the second group we have the ‘prodigal sons’ who pay no heed to their fathers, or to their own social position in the world. They leave their fathers and ‘waste their substance with riotous living’. They appear actively rebellious and are guided by their whims and by the influences of their peers. Some prodigals like Lord Silverbridge in The Duke’s Children eventually leave off their riotous ways and return reformed, but others, like Mountjoy Scarborough in Mr Scarborough’s Family, are incapable of reform. Another good example of a rebellious son can be found in the eponymously named novel John Caldigate.  The young John is constantly in opposition to his father, and as previously mentioned, he preferred to hunt and spend his free time outdoors rather than being cooped up with his father discoursing on the politics of the day. He finds he has much more in common with his uncle Babington, and as a teenager he spends all his school holidays at the Babington estate. This situation greatly perturbs the father, who begins to resent his brothers influence on his own son. The jealousy becomes so acute that the father and son become estranged, and when John Caldigate proceeds to University, his father decides to impose sanctions by reducing his allowance. This naturally causes his son to rebel even more, and during his studies while mixing with other unscrupulous young men at university he manages to accumulate debts of gigantic proportions through drinking and gambling. We read he ‘owed something over £800 to the regular tradesmen of the University, and a good deal more to other creditors who were not so regular’ (Trollope, 1972, p.13). Ashamed of his affairs, John accepts a large sum of money in lieu of his entailed rights on the family estate and heads off on a gold digging venture in Australia. Even John admits at this stage of the novel that ‘he had certainly made a failure of his life so far’ (Trollope, 1972, p.21). Fearing that his father also considered him a failure, and convincing himself that he didn’t care much for the family estate at Folking anyway, he travels abroad in an attempt to create a new life free from the embarrassment of his failures. For Anthony Trollope this leisurely lifestyle was never an option. He began his career as a low paid postal clerk with little financial assistance from his parents who quite simply had no spare income to support him. Perhaps Trollope would have projected a ‘prodigal son’ image had he been given the opportunities in his youth. Certainly later in life after he had achieved phenomenal success and wealth from his writing he was known to have indulged in expensive aristocratic pursuits like hunting.  It became as much a ‘duty’ as his work for the Post Office with ‘neither the writing of books, nor the work of the Post Office, nor other pleasures’ (Hall, 1993, p.85) standing in the way of his hunting. Trollope may well have projected his rebellious desires through his fictional characters, but one might also consider rebellion as a natural rite of passage for most young men.  With superfluous income and free time on their hands it was a viable option for his carefree fictional sons to take risks and make bad choices before returning to their more conventional lifestyles.

In the nineteenth century the transition between boyhood and manhood was a difficult period. The Victorians had little conception of what we would call ‘adolescence’. For those living during this period ‘duty, conviction, responsibility, and the advantages of a solid public school education were believed to be all that was necessary’ (King, 2005, p.39) to launch an eighteen year old boy into the adult Victorian world. Those that struggled with the transition were labelled by Trollope as ‘hobbledehoy’ or ‘awkward young man’ and it became a recurring motif in many of his popular and esteemed novels. Examples can be found in Phineas Finn (1869), The Three Clerks (1857), The Way we Live Now (1875), The Small House at Allington (1864), and in the novel The MacDermots of Ballycloran which will be explored later.

What makes a young man a hobbledehoy? In Trollope’s fiction it seemed to stem from bad parenting and difficult upbringings. Some of his young men were just too sensitive and didn’t fit in. Others had no male role models when they were growing up. In fact Trollope created a great number of orphaned characters, and a good example is John Eames from his novel The Small House at Allington. We read that Eames grew up with his mother and that he sustains himself with a small undistinguished living. Lily Dale later describes him at the start of chapter II as being a ‘mere clerk.’ Trollope uses the opening of chapter IV to explore the concept of the hobbledehoy, and to describe John Eames’s position in the world

‘there is a class of young men who never get petted, though they may not be the less esteemed, or perhaps loved. They do not come forth to the world as Apollos, nor shine at all, keeping what light they may have for inward purposes. Such young men are often awkward, ungainly, and not yet formed in their gait; they straggle with their limbs, and are shy; words do not come to them with ease, when words are required, among any but their accustomed associates. Social meetings are periods of penance to them, and any appearance in public will unnerve them. They go much about alone, and blush when women speak to them. In truth, they are not as yet men, whatever the number may be of their years; and, as they are no longer boys, the world has found for them the ungraceful name of hobbledehoy’ (Trollope, 1950, p.30).

It seems Trollope did not intend to elaborate on the paternal/filial dynamics of the Eames family in this novel. We are told Eames is fatherless, but that when his father was alive he occupied a large tract of land, and that he had lost much money in experimental farming. This sounds remarkably similar to Trollope’s own father who was ‘a man of many misfortunes, having begun the world almost with affluence, and having ended it in poverty (Stone, 1989, p.48). We can find further evidence for this in Trollope’s autobiography (Trollope, 1923, p.12) ‘his mental and physical health worsened his farming as ineffectual as ever.’ But unlike Trollope, we learn that John Eames’s was subsequently raised by his mother with few advantages. Trollope probably deployed the hobbledehoy characteristics in John Eames to contrast him with the more successful and confident Adolphus Crosbie. Both men are in love with Lily Dale, and the love triangle becomes one of the central themes in the novel. By fighting for Lily Dale and defending her honour, John Eames learns much about what it means to be a man, and although he is ultimately unsuccessful in his pursuit of Lily, he remains unswerving in his love for her. Later in the novel he also courageously saves an old Earl (Lord De Guest) who has been cornered by a dangerous and enraged bull. After this pivotal event Eames is welcomed into higher social circles and begins to make his mark on the world. He gradually loses his ‘hobbledehoy’ insecurities and become a successful and confident adult with the very best social connections and prospects ahead of him.In some respects the character of John Eames illuminates the young Anthony Trollope and reveals a lot about his younger days. We see him bumbling through life with a low income and few opportunities. But Trollope liked to conclude his novels with ‘happy endings’ and this included positive endings for his hobbledehoys. Regardless of their upbringings and circumstances they beat adversity and rise to their full potentials not dissimilar to the actual life of their creator Anthony Trollope.

The final category concerns Trollope’s fictional sons from families crushed by misfortune and adversity. These desperate sons are entirely at the other end of the spectrum to Trollope’s more aristocratic creations, and it is interesting to see how he develops their characters through poverty and misfortune. In Thady MacDermot from The MacDermots of Ballycloran we find in many ways another similar character to the young Anthony Trollope. It becomes apparent early on in the novel that Thady certainly has a tough time with his father and with his position and responsibilities in society.  In the narrative we are told ‘with all his faults, Thady was perhaps a better man than his father.’ It continues ‘had he been brought up to anything, he would have done it; he was more energetic (than his father), and felt the degradation of his position: he felt that his family was sinking lower and lower daily; but as he knew not what to do, he only became more gloomy and tyrannical’ (Trollope, 1993, p.6), a truly debilitating situation. We are told his father Larry is incapacitated with alcoholism and worry, and also that the estate and the collection of rents is the responsibility of Thady. If this wasn’t enough for one man there are further aggravating factors. In the novel the estate of Ballycloran lay in the West of Ireland during the 1830s, a place of dissipation, economic disaster and political mismanagement. The farmers and tenants are unable to pay the MacDermot’s their rents and in turn the MacDermot’s are unable to pay their landlord Mr Keegan. Thady has to balance an enormous range of roles: bread-winner, carer to his father, brother and acting squire – under difficult circumstances, and with little to no appreciation. His sister Feemy considers him an interfering nuisance, and his paranoid father believes he is a traitor forever plotting to sell the estate. Even though Thady is an honest and hardworking young man, he becomes involved with a group of criminals but he is not mentally strong enoughto resist their blackmailing and threats. After he misinterprets an attack on his sister honour, he kills Captain Ussher his sisters fiancé, and resorts to hiding in the isolated mountains with the criminals.  Thady turns to the local priest Fr John for spiritual and moral advice but he receives no sympathy or guidance from his actual father. Thady is deeply troubled by his father’s lack of parental empathy. He tells Fr John ‘when my own sisther spurned me—and when my father told me I was a murdherer, you wouldn’t wonder at my flying, av it were only for an hour’ (Trollope, 1993, p.254).This is quite possibly one of Trollope’s bleakest novels, and there is little comfort for our protagonist. Thady was undoubtedly flawed, yet he strives hard to fulfil his filial duties, even when ostracised by his own father and faced with crushing adversity.

What can this novel and in particular the character of Thady MacDermot tell us about the young Anthony Trollope? What we do know is that the novel was inspired by Trollope’s postal visits to Ireland, and that being his first published book it obviously predates his later fame and wealth. It has been suggested that Trollope came frequently to draw ‘partial self-portraits in his male characters and, though they are always done with irony and frequently with satire, he never again created a young man so pitiable, inept, helpless, or bungling as Thady MacDermot’ (Hall, 1993, p.33). At a time when Trollope could see no further than a life of long clerical hours and hard work, it is perhaps no surprise that he created a character so absolutely trapped within his miserable circumstances.

It is possible that Trollope may have created these fictional sons and their difficult relationships to explore the anxieties he felt about his own father. The high volume of hobbledehoy characters in his novels suggests an affinity with their situation and struggles, and of course seems to correlate with his own early life experiences.


There is an opinion expressed by Stone (1989, p.42) that Trollope’s ‘fictional protagonists live in a world of relationships; and in that world, accommodation between father and son is seen as a necessity if each is to attain maturity of vision’. Perhaps this view goes part of the way in explaining why so many of Trollope’s novels conclude with ‘happy endings.’ This seems to apply to both his protagonists and his minor characters. If a novel has reached a natural conclusion but there are still unanswered questions, Trollope makes no apology about writing a prologue, tying up the loose ends, and explaining what eventually happened to each of his characters.

If we look at Trollope’s relationship with his own father Thomas, it is interesting to note that there was never a satisfactory reconciliation between the two of them. In 1835,when Anthony Trollope was only twenty years old, his father died in Bruges, after a short illness, and according to Hall (1993, p.58) ‘Trollope was not summoned to the funeral’. He recalls years later in his An Autobiography how he sometimes looked back ‘meditating for hours on his father’s adverse fate: when he started in the world, everything seemed in his favour, but everything went wrong for him’ (Trollope, 1923, p. 31). Anthony Trollope continues ‘but the worse curse to him of all was a temper so irritable that even those whom he loved the best could not endure it.We were all estranged from him … his life as I knew it was one long tragedy’ (Trollope, 1923, p.32). His father’s death must have seemed like a welcomed release to the entire family.

The young Anthony Trollope now fatherless, was living on a small income of only £90 a year, and on that was expected to ‘live comfortably in London, keep up his character as a gentleman, and be happy’ (Trollope, 1923, p.32). Trollope continues by reflecting how unfair it seemed, and how he felt unprepared to face the challenges of the world. With these biographical sources in mind I will now explore his fictional father/son relationships to see what they might further illuminate.

Trollope’s remarkably full and candid treatment of the father-son theme stems from his understanding of both sides of the generation gap, and it would appear that Trollope was liberal minded and usually sided with his fictional sons. Rather than supporting the ‘old order’ to which he was born into himself, it appears he supported, at least through his fictional writing, the social reforms of Mid-Victorian Britain. Even the most socially conservative characters like Archdeacon Grantly eventually give way to their sons. In The Last Chronicle of Barset Mr Grantly is able to convince Henry to stop auctioning the property, and after the Rev Josiah Crawley (whose daughter Grace, Henry is in love with) is found to be innocent of any wrong doing in regard to the missing cheque, he finally accepts Henry’s choice of romantic attachment and the father and son are happily reunited.In Trollope’s literature the sons usually win out.

There are also reconciliations between the ‘prodigal’ or ‘rebellious son’ and their fathers. If we refer back to the novel John Caldigate, we learn that John returned from Australia with a large amount of money thus proving to his father that he was capable of hard work and industry. He marries Hester Boltonwho becomes pregnant with an heir, and they move into Folking fully reconciled with the old squire. But Trollope didn’t end the novel here – there is a further twist to the plot. His former gold digging friends then followed him back to England to blackmail him. They believed that John had given them a bad deal so they blackmail him and perjure the court claiming he married a woman in Australia. Most of his friends and family begin to turn against him during the trial except for his true wife Hester and his father who remain steadfast in their convictions that John is innocent. He is eventually found guilty of bigamy by the jury and sentenced to prison. But even after this verdict his loyal father and wife do not believe John would be capable of such immorality. After an interesting couple of chapters where new evidence comes to light, John is eventually freed via Royal pardon. He is reunited with his wife and father and during the final few chapters of the novel he is also reconciled to his family and friends. This is a truly remarkable story showing the growth of John Caldigate from rebellious young man to responsible father and figure head in society. Although Daniel Caldigate the old squire acknowledges that he and his son were very different people and always in opposition in their early days, he now retires happy in the knowledge that the Folking estate remains within the immediate family, and after the birth of John and Hester’s child, that it probably will remain so for the next couple of generations. Here again we see Anthony Trollope portraying accepting and forgiving fathers – happy endings with sons now fully reconciled with their once stubborn and proud fathers. This theme is so common that one has to wonder once again if Trollope perhaps created these reunions to compensate for his own unresolved issues with his father.

Lets us now look at the hobbledehoy sons fictionalised by Trollope. We might first consider the eponymous hero from the novel Phineas Finn who starts life with a modest living from his father and rises to great heights in the political world. This novel appears to be at least a partial success story. Then we have the protagonist John Eames from The Small House of Allington who by a series of unlikely but fortunate eventsachieves his goals. In a country still very much governed by the class system his friendship with Lord De Guest and other aristocratic connections helps to launch him into a privileged society unknown to his colleagues and peers. He also learns a great amount about his own character by staying steadfast in his love for Lily Dale. And like many of Trollope’s fictional hobbledehoy sons we can read how the novelists own life story formed a quintessential Victorian success narrative. Trollope was born into a family of limited resources and modest connections, but ‘blessed with perseverance, resolve, will, and, most of all, an unflagging commitment to the redeeming qualities of work. Anthony Trollope had risen from dishevelled and slovenly schoolboy to the very pinnacle of success’ (King, 2005, p.1). Through sheer determination and industry Trollope progressed from lowly postal clerk to successful civil servant, ending up as a highly acclaimed and wealthy novelist by the end of his life. And looking at his fictional sons one can almost imagine him nurturing and empathising with his hobbledehoy creations. Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacle they usually succeed. They beat the odds and with a measure of charm and good luck, they find their rightful place in society.

Although most of Trollope’s fictional sons find success and are eventually reconciled with their fathers there are a small number of examples where there are no winners. An example of this can be found in Trollope’s novel The MacDermots of Ballycloran which is tragically bleak in every possible way. The father Larry ends up mentally incapacitated, utterly ruined by the end of the book. His daughter Femmy literally dies of a broken heart unable to recover after losing her fiancé, and his son the young protagonist Thady MacDermot is sentenced to death by Judge Hamilton for murdering Captain Ussher. At its conclusion Thady is hanged for his crimes and the reader is left contemplating how miserable and unjust were the circumstances of the MacDermot family.  This novel is unparalleled in its wretchedness and as already stated Trollope was never to write such a pessimistic tale again. Written in his early life, it comes from a period when he was still very much a self-proclaimed hobbledehoy character himself.

Although Trollope was never able to prove his own worth or demonstrate his successes to his father, many of his fictional sons were indeed given the opportunity, and one can surmise that Trollope may have created these characters as a way for him to gain some closure, and to perhaps explore the ambivalent feelings he felt for him.


There is a line spoken by one of the characters Madame Max Goesler in Trollope’s novel Phineas Finn ‘how odd it is how often you English father’s quarrel with your sons.’ An interesting quote when you consider the high volume of paternal/filial differences of opinion found in Trollope’s work. Even though he uses opposing fathers and sons as a regular motif these are often interwoven with other themes to give the reader an insight into the complex and realistic lives of his characters.

Trollope was a very capable realist who was able to demonstrate the early Victorian period through its leisureliness, and love of detail – especially of domestic detail. It has been written of Trollope’s fictional characters that ‘once summoned into being, they retained a lifelong intimacy with their creator; major and minor figures return in book after book’ (Stone, 1989, p.50).

If we first look at Thomas Trollope in his paternal role, I have found that his character is perhaps best illuminated through the fictional aristocratic fathers. These are the stern paterfamilias, the men ‘full of old fashioned pride and noblesse oblige’ who stand in opposition to their more liberal minded sons. Through these dominating fathers we perhaps see clearer Thomas’s dogmatic and inflexible attitude. We see a man who places obligation, family image, success and education over everything. Interestingly, Thomas Trollope’s personality is also sometimes seen illuminated through many of the fictional fathers crushed by adversity. We see him vividly in the character of Larry MacDermot from The MacDermots of Ballycloran, and in the Rev Josiah Crawley from The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire. These stubborn, proud, self-pitying and impoverished men (living under crushing disadvantages) are some of the deepest, most developed and realistic characters that Anthony Trollope ever created. Perhaps the great care that he put into creating these fathers suggest how often Trollope thought about his own father and about the issues of fatherhood?

It is possible that Trollope may also have fictionalised his own desires and insecurities through the personalities of his son characters. We can certainly see some elements of him in his hobbledehoy creations which reappear again and again throughout his novels. It could also be argued that some of his other fictional son types like the ‘rebel sons’ and the ‘prodigal sons’ may also have been created as a means for Trollope to express his own conflicting feelings for his father.

There are of course the biographical sources like Glendinning (1992) and Hall (1993) which go some way to supporting this argument. Some of these sources positively suggest that Trollope’s fictional characters were often self-portraits of his younger self. We also see biographical evidence which seems to advocate the same for Trollope’s father, Thomas. Additionally there is of course Trollope’s An Autobiography, where he has much to say about his father, about their difficult relationship, and about his early adulthood. It would appear that Trollope’s fictional characters viewed in light of these biographical and autobiographical sources seem to offer us an insight into Trollope’s own relationship with his father that was both complex and ambivalent, and with this theme recurring so often in his published works, it suggests it was an unresolved issue that haunted Trollope for his entire life.


BOOTH, B. A., ed. 1951. The Letters of Anthony Trollope. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

HAGEN, J. H. 1958. The Duke’s Children Trollope’s Psychological Masterpiece. Nineteenth Century Fiction. 13 (1), pp. 1-21. California: University of California Press.

HALL, N.J. 1993. Trollope: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

KIMBALL, R. 1992. A Novelist Who Hunted the Fox: Anthony Trollope Today. The New Criterion. 10(3), pp.10-12.

KING, M. 2005. The Hobbledehoy’s choice: Anthony Trollope’s Awkward Young Men and Their Road to Gentlemanliness. [Unpublished PhD thesis]. Louisiana: Louisiana State University. Available from:

RICHARDS, A., ed. 1988. Case Histories II: Penguin Freud Library Vol. 9. London: Penguin

STONE, D.D. 1989. Prodigals and Prodigies: Trollope’s Notes as a Son and Father. In: CLUBBE, J. & MECKIER, J. ed. Victorian Perspectives. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.

TROLLOPE, A. 1923. An Autobiography by Anthony Trollope. The World’s Classics Vol. CCXXXIX. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

TROLLOPE, A. 1972. John Caldigate. London: The Zodiac Press

TROLLOPE, A. 1984. The Last Chronicle of Barset. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.

TROLLOPE, A. 1993. The MacDermots of Ballycloran. London: Penguin Books.

TROLLOPE. A, 1950. The Small House at Allington. London: Chatto and Windus


COCKSHUT, A.O.J. 1968. Anthony Trollope: A Critical Study. New York: New York University Press

GLENDINNING, V. 1992. Trollope. Nottingham: Hutchinson

SADLEIR, M. 1977. Trollope: A Bibliography. Kent: Wm Dawson & Sons Ltd

TERRY, R.C., ed. 1999. Oxford Reader’s Companion to Trollope. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

TRACEY, R. 1978. Trollope’s Later Novels. California: California University Press

Mrs. G Forsyth Grant

Here’s a little post about one of my favourite Victorian authors: Mrs. G. Forsyth Grant.

Largely forgotten now, she wrote five mawkish and sentimental novel length boy’s school stories that were quite popular in their day: The Boys of Penrohn (1893); The Hero of Crampton School (1895); Burke’s Chum: a Story of Thistleton School (1896); Chums at Last (1898); and The Beresford Boys (1906).

A contemporary review in the Spectator said of The Boys of Penrohn that ‘boys and girls, except the hysterical ones, could only laugh at the excessively feminine idea our author has of the young men and the way they behave’. To some extent I would agree with this statement, and there are indeed some flaws: her descriptions of cricket matches and sporting events are both naive and inaccurate. She also depicts a surprisingly large number of sensitive boys in her works, and she places too much emphasis on their looks.

The novels are set in fictional British boarding schools with classrooms that abound in romantic friendships. This is evident in dialogue such as ‘Jolly little fellow. Hasn’t he got a jolly little face. Look at his hair … isn’t it pretty and curly’, and in soppy descriptions like ‘Arnold was exceedingly pleasant looking, a nice mannered boy, who was very much liked and respected’, and ‘Burke had a sort of secret admiration for Arnold – an admiration suppressed and hidden’. Be this as it may, her books also have merit. She creates many enjoyable boyish adventures with ‘moral dilemmas and their consequences’ that are aptly suitable and interesting for young readers.


There is something quite beautiful about her quaint and tender-hearted novels, but after reading all five of them, I am definitely left wondering if Mrs. Grant ever met a real boy!

Vicars, Rectors & Curates

If you’re anything like me, and fascinated with the trials and tribulations of Victorian clergy and parish life, or just enjoy disappearing into the world of Victorian realism, then here’s a little bibliography that may be of interest. I shall be reading through this list over the next year, and writing some reviews and spoilers on my blog.


The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) – Oliver Goldsmith

The Curate of Elmwood (1795) – Anthony Pasquin

The Country Curate (1830) – G.R. Gleig

The Vicar of Wrexhill (1837) – Frances Trollope

Milford Malvoisin, or Pews and Pewholders (1842) – Francis Edward Paget

The Warden of Berkingholt, or Rich and Poor (1843) – Francis Edward Paget

The Parish Rescued (1845) – W. F. Wilkinson

My Uncle the Curate (1849) – Marmion Savage

The Rector of St. Bardolph’s, or Superannuated (1852) – F. W. Shelton

The Warden (1855) – Anthony Trollope

The Village Curate: an Interesting Tale (1855) – Joseph Crawhall (Chapbook)

The old Grey Church (1856) – Caroline Lucy Scott

The Curate of the Holy Cross (1857) – Ernest Richard Seymour

Philip Paternoster (1858) – Charles Maurice Davies

The Curate and the Vicar (1859) – Elizabeth Strutt (American)

The Curate of Cumberworth and The Vicar of Roost (1859) – Francis Edward Paget

The Rector (1863) – Margaret Oliphant

The Perpetual Curate (1864) – Margaret Oliphant

The Curate’s Friend – A Story (1867) – Mrs. J. C. Wilson

The Vicars Courtship (1869) – George Walter Thornbury

The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870) – Anthony Trollope

The Rector of St. Marks (1874) – Mary Jane Holmes (American)

The Curate in Charge (1876) – Margaret Oliphant

Thomas Wingfold, Curate (1876) – George Macdonald

The Care of Souls (1879) – J.M. Cobban

Philip Hazelbrook, or the Juniour Curate (1887) – Henry Faulkner Darnell

Robert Elsmere (1888) – Mary Augusta Ward

The Vicar of Berrybridge (1889) – Charles R. Parsons

The Curates Home (1889) – Agnes Giberne

The New Rector (1891) – Stanley J. Weyman

The Little Minister (1891) – James Barrie

The Mystery of the Rat-Tailed Grey, or the Curate in Charge (1891) – WJ Hodgson

My New Curate (1899) – Patrick Augustine Sheehan

An Obstinate Parish (1899) – M. L. Lord

The Cathedral (1922) – Hugh Walpole