Book Review – “The Indomitable Mrs. Trollope” by Eileen Bigland (1953)

This highly entertaining biography is on the Chautauqua Book List which encouraged me to track it down. Frances Trollope was a prolific writer in the mid-19th century and the mother of another famous writer, Anthony Trollope. She began her writing out of economic necessity, attaining success much to the astonishment of her husband and family.

When Frances married Thomas Anthony Trollope, a barrister, she expected that he would become a successful judge and that they would never have any financial problems. That dream did not materialize. He was reduced to spending his days on his favorite hobby, creating an Ecclesiastic Encyclopedia. When last we heard of him, he had reached the letter D in his Encyclopedia.

Fanny and Thomas Anthony were blessed with five children, three of whom Fanny took with her to Cincinnati, Ohio with the thought of making their fortune with a Bazaar, a large department store which she planned to build near the Ohio River. The plan failed and after three years, she returned to England to start life anew.

Fanny was fond of hosting teas, picnics, luncheons and social gatherings in her home where she put on lavish, expensive meals and courted the upper crust of the region. As money was becoming scarce, she decided to tell the tales of her time in America and was able to convince a prominent publisher, Richard Bentley, to promote her book. “Domestic Manners of the Americans” came out in 1832 and was lauded in England, but was objectionable in America as she spoke with derision about American habits. Richard Bentley was so pleased with her efforts that he commissioned her to write her reflections on several other countries where she spent several months gathering notes. These excursions resulted in three other successes – “Belgium and Western Germany,” “Paris and the Parisians,” and “Vienna and the Austrians”. A fifth book on Florence, Italy was also in the works. Frances also composed several novels; her total literary output consisted of forty books.

Her oldest son, Thomas Adolphus, was clearly her favorite, much to the consternation of her son Anthony who later achieved fame for his writings. Thomas Adolphus also became a writer, accompanying his mother on her literary travels. Sadly, three of her children – Henry, Emily and Cecelia – succumbed to a disease known as phthisis, which was later termed tuberculosis.

Frances spent the last 20 years of her life in Florence, Italy which she loved. Thomas Adolphus married and brought his wife and her father to live in Florence with Frances. Frances developed symptoms of what we would now term Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1863. The story of her life is an example to all of us of what a woman can accomplish out of necessity and out of love.

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“The Indomitable Mrs. Trollope” by Eileen Bigland (1953)