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: http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-04132005-192550/unrestricted/King_dis.pdf

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

Author: Descartes Baker

Graduate in English with Creative Writing. Loves Victorian literature, poetry, watching the clouds go by, travelling, numismatics, and reading long forgotten and obscure novels.

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