Anthony Trollope's Autobiography

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This is wonderful book, to own, to treasure, to read and re-read for a lifetime!

Trollope's Autobiography is a perennial source of wisdom--besides being inspirational--to writers, but in particular to fiction writers. The book in general is an ABC of perfect, round sentences, and sentence variation, which of course makes for agile prose.

However, personally, I find three chapters that are unsurpassed in English letters: Chapter VII which contains his 'Scheme of Work;' Chapter X deals with language and the homage to Thackeray; and Chapter XII with Novels and the Art of Writing them.

Chapter VII

Chapter VII of his Autobiography is the most poignant as it shows how this humble man wrote so much --and all of excellent quality-- by sheer determination. And let's keep in mind that he accomplished all that immense literary output while holding a full time job with the Post Office from which he retired in 1867. Can you imagine what his output would have been, had he not been burdened with that job?

Trollope wrote 47 novels, 16 other books among which we find travelogues and serious commentaries on Cesar and Cicero. Trollope discovered that "A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules." And never did he deviate from his allotted daily writing. This quotation is taped on top of my computer to remind me to do my own "small daily task," faithfully.

Nothing can be more admirable in a person -one who accomplishes things, who gets things done rather than talk-- than self-discipline and constancy. How true Trollope's words are: "But I have been constant and constancy in labour will conquer all difficulties." Now, this for most human beings is easier said than done-but not for this humble man whose evidence of greatness is his literary output.

But not just quantity is on the good side of the ledger, but quality also, as he himself recognized: "That in the writing of books, quantity without quality is a vice and misfortune..."

Although I love all his novels, this is the book--An Autobiography--I would save from an all consuming holocaust. No writer's library should be without it.

Chapter X

From this chapter I learned that a writer has to keep his language simple but correct. Sometimes I read novels and articles with such elevated and pretentious language that mars the themes and content of the books. Here's what Trollope said:

An author can hardly hope to be popular unless he can use popular language. That is quite true; but then comes the question of achieving a popular -in other words, I may say, a good lucid style. How many an author best acquire a mode of writing which shall be agreeable and easily intelligible to the reader? He must be correct, because without correctness he can be neither agreeable nor intelligible."

By correctness he means not only the use of correct grammar and syntax, but also language that is appropriate to his audience. Nowhere will you find offensive, vulgar, or profane language in all of his enormous production. You'll only find sober, terse, cadenced language that transport meaning in a clear and transparent manner.

If you love W. M. Thackeray's writing, you're in good company, for Trollope considered Esmond, "the greatest novel in the English language..."

Chapter XII

The title of this chapter is "On Novel and the Art of Writing Them." No writer of fiction should attempt to write one single line without having read this chapter. I learned much from this chapter, but in particular a few useful pointers:

  • Don't be boring. Be pleasing. Be entertaining.

  • Teach. And teach virtue and delight readers. Make virtue alluring and vice ugly.

  • Include danger in the work.

  • Let the work be about young people and love.

  • Plot and characters delight readers and Trollope's tell you how to do it.


Trollope's Autobiography is a book that delights and teaches. Being a treasure, one can always find golden nuggets with every reading. If you saw my copy you wouldn't believe the number of notations I have on the margins. I love this book and I hope you will, too.

Retired. Former investment banker, Columbia University-educated, Vietnam Vet (67-68).
For the writing techniques I use, see Mary Duffy's e-book: Sentence Openers.
To read my book reviews of the Classics visit my blog: Writing To Live

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Occupation: Retired
Retired. Former investment banker, Columbia University-educated, Vietnam Vet (67-68), Writer, Blogger, Accountant, College professor.

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