Lord Tennyson commented on Trollope’s novels, ‘But they’re so dull – so prosaic: never a touch of poetry.’ I have always rather inclined to this view, while tremendously admiring some of the better novels, like The Last Chronicle of Barset. Trollope is brilliant at capturing the humdrum anxieties which keep us awake at night, but which are not usually thought of as subjects for great fiction: money worries, domestic boredom, minor social snubs, awareness of one’s own moral cowardice. He certainly knew about the human condition but one feels that he took it too much for granted to penetrate its tragedy or to scale its sublimity, and it was no surprise to learn that he is John Major’s favourite writer.
Nothing wrong with that, and Trollope’s books are as realistic and as uninspired and as crowded as a detailed canvas by Frith. They were really the Victorian equivalent of The Archers, and like The Archers they could sometimes be extremely moving, as well as entertaining. When we read of the