Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Comfort reading

I've just finished rereading Anthony Trollope's novel, Dr Thorne. I think it's the fourth time I've read it. I used to half-joke that you could tell if I was feeling stressed or depressed because you'd find me reading one of Trollope's novels. For me they're the ultimate comfort reading.

This latest rereading has nothing to do with stress or depression - it's simply that in packing and unpacking my books for moving I realised just how many copies of Trollope's novels I have. I couldn't bring myself to discard any of them, so I think I felt obliged to reread to justify their space on my bookshelves. I've just counted, and I have 31 of the 47 novels he wrote during his very productive life - with duplicate bound copies of eight of them. I also have his autobiography, a most comprehensive biography by Victoria Glendinning, two critical studies, and a novel by his amazingly prolific novelist mother, Fanny Trollope. You can undoubtedly describe me as a Trollope fan.

Dr Thorne is one of my favourites. It's part of the Barchester Chronicles series, but unlike the better-known The Warden and Barchester Towers, it focuses on the landed gentry of Barsetshire rather than clerical society. At its centre are issues of class and birth and money and honour and the changing balance amongst these forces as society modernises and changes. Trollope somehow manages to be deeply conservative but also humane. His insight into the complex motivations of human behaviour enables him to show empathy even for unpleasant characters - and even for characters he satirises.

Trollope visited Australia twice in the 1870s. His much-loved son, Fred, came to Australia as a young man and settled as a squatter on land just west of the town in which I grew up, Grenfell. Despite frequent subsidies from his novelist father and a great deal of hard work, Fred's unsuccessful farming experience in Australia foretold that of so many others - too little land, low prices and drought led him to sell his farm, Mortray. [There is still a farm of this name in the area]. Trollope wrote a not-so-successful novel based on his son's experiences in Australia - Harry Heathcote of Gangoil. Rather unreasonably, I feel a very distant personal connection to Anthony Trollope.

I think Lady Anna might be next on my Trollope rereading list. I love the story of how this excellent novel was written. Trollope was an astonishingly industrious writer. No sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike for him. This is what he writes in his Autobiography:
When making long journeys, I have always succeeded in getting a desk put up in my cabin, and this was done ready for me in Great Britain, so that I could go to work the day after we left Liverpool. This I did; and before I had reached Melbourne I had finished a story called Lady Anna. Every word of this was written at sea during the two months required for our voyage, and was done day by day - with the intermission of one day's illness - for eight weeks, at the rate of 66 pages of manuscript in each week, every page of manuscript containing 250 words.

That's a publishable manuscript of 132,000 words in eight weeks. Rather impressive. My hero.


Rose Red said...

Love the Australian connection. I'm sure you are probably related to him, Lyn!

My comfort reading is Jane Austen. Somewhat predictable I know, but that's the way it is!

M-H said...

Lovely story. On my "holidays" I am attempting to spend 3-4 hours at work on my thesis every morning - so far with about 50% success. When my son stayed with us recently he worked at his paid editing 4-6 hours every day. It is the key to success with self-directed work, I thinK; regular and often.

Anonymous said...

What a great tale Lyn. He was an amazing writer, just the thought of that kind of output gives me RSI. I love rediscovering the classics (I do it regularly!). I think Elizabeth Gaskell must be my comfort reading.

Bells said...

You know, last time you mentioned Trollope I made a mental note to read him. He is a glaring hole in my reading.

Mental note being scratched in again!