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Anthony Trollope

It’s a pity he never got to Westminster

Encyclopaedia Britannica/Uig/Shutterstock

In 1868 Anthony Trollope tried to become a Liberal MP, says Lucy Hughes-Hallett in UnHerd. The Tories won in a landslide and the author described his hustings as “the most wretched fortnight of my manhood”. But really “it was his country’s loss”. As his personal life suggests, Trollope “would have been an eminently well-qualified prime minister”. 

He was the son of an “ineffectual father”, Thomas Trollope, who had a failed career as a barrister-turned-farmer. But his mother, Fanny, was “formidably energetic”. She supported the family financially, writing more than 40 books and travelling Europe in the process. “If Trollope could have had his way, and if 19th-century law had allowed it,” I like to think a large chunk of his cabinet would have been female, says Hughes-Hallett. “He certainly knew that men had no monopoly on cleverness.” 

Trollope inherited his mother’s work ethic – he was “prodigiously industrious”. At 19 he took a job at the post office, where he remained there for 32 years. To juggle his work and his writing, he would wake up at 5am and dash off 2,500 words before he left the house. And when he finished a novel, he wasted no time; he simply reached for a fresh page “and started the next one there and then”. Needless to say, “a prime minister’s packed schedule wouldn’t have daunted him”. 

As for his novels, Trollope had “been writing about politics for years” and had a deep understanding of Westminster. “He saw how his well-intentioned characters’ good manners and self-delusion made them easy to manipulate, and he was fascinated by the sharper-minded string-pullers who exploited them.” Maybe Westminster needs more novelists. They’re imaginative, empathetic and understand the human condition. If only Anthony Trollope had won – “what a wise statesman he might have made”.