Anthony Trollope’s An Autobiography was the third book I read this year as part of my Trollope project. I am committed to read four books by Trollope this year, but the summer is winding down with several especially long novels ahead of me in the Chronicles of Barsetshire. So, I chose An Autobiography primarily because it was shorter than those behemoths. I’m actually very happy that I read it because I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it added to my estimation of Trollope (which is pretty healthy as we head toward the end of this summer).
I enjoyed several things about this book:
1. Trollope overcame a lot. From other sources that I’ve read, I know that Trollope underwent even more than he reports in this autobiography, but he really did have a difficult beginning to his life. His family went through some pretty impoverished spells and were often forced to go running from down in order to escape Trollope’s father’s creditors. In school, Trollope was bullied mercilessly by his classmates, teachers, and brothers. Anthony himself was something of a failure at school. Despite his father’s high hopes, he never got into a college. Anyway, Trollope tells his story in a very casual way, and with a touch of humor, so that it doesn’t feel whiny, and in the end, I found it to be pretty affecting and inspiring.
2. I loved Trollope’s breakdown of his writing process. Trollope famously wrote to a schedule (since he had a day job) and at an enormous pace. I doubt that I could ever keep such a rigorous schedule as Trollope, but his career is a testament to the power of good habits and everyday diligence.
3. I also enjoyed reading Trollope’s thoughts on his art. He was so lacking in pretension. He had no grand theory of his work. He just sought to imagine characters he liked in minute detail, but by introducing you to them, he would have a story. He believe that you should write only if you have a story to tell, and if he didn’t have a good story, he wouldn’t force it. Trollope, too, thought that he had a responsibility to not be sensational, particularly to have heroes who are decently moral. It all worked for him.
4. Finally, I just tend to like Trollope himself. Reading the autobiography isn’t entirely unlike reading his novels. Trollope strikes me as a person who had an essential good humor to him and lived his life pleasantly surprised that it had turned out happy and well. I think that something of his gaiety imbued both his life and his novels, and it makes this a good read.
On the whole, I will admit that An Autobiography has some parts that drag, and I’m not sure I would recommend this book to a lot of people who aren’t Trollope devotees. It added to my appreciation of Trollope, though, and I think I’ll enjoy his novels even more for having read it.