Frances Trollope Biography

Personal Life

Frances Trollope, Frances Milton, or Fanny as she was known to her friends and family, the child of William Milton and his first wife Mary Wilton who died shortly after giving birth to a son when fanny was five to six years old, was born on 10th March 1779 in Bristol.

Frances bore the closest resemblance to her father than her other siblings as is recalled by their family and friends. Both of them shared an incapacity for idleness. Her father, William, a vicar by trade had a keen interest in science and mathematics. As many would say he would “prefer inventing gadgets over saving souls. Whereas Frances unlike the girls of her age took fancy to English, French, and Italian Literature.

Around 6 years after Mary( Fanny’s mother) died, William got married to Sarah Partington who was disliked by Frances as a result of which not long after the marriage she along with her sister decided to move to Bloomsbury in London where her brother Henry was employed in the War Office.

She met Thomas Trollope there and after about a year of courtship, she finally married him on 23rd May 1809. They had seven children together.

Frances Trollope was known for her loving nature, great intelligence, and a delightful sense of humour. “Frances Trollope’s nature was such that welcomed every ray of sunshine and diffused it again liberally around her. To her children no holiday was preferable to a tete-a-tete with her” says her daughter-in-law in her biography of Frances.

The Trollope family initially residing at Keppel Street moved to Harrow-on-the-Hill which was a 160 Acre farm leased by Thomas in 1817. Unfortunately, because of the lack of farming expertise, the family soon ended up in a huge debt.

Frances became friends with Fanny Wright who invited her to move to America with her son Henry who dropped out of college and to give him a safe and secure future and to earn some money to solve her family monetary issues she finally moved to America with her two daughters, Henry and her dearest friend Auguste Hervieu in 1827 to join Wright’s utopian community followed by her husband and son, Tom.

While living in Cincinnati she opened what is called “America’s first shopping Mall”, The Cincinnati Bazaar which was supposed to end the family misery but ended up adding to it as it failed with the Wright’s utopian scheme and the family of Trollope’s drowned further in debt. With that, the family returned to England in a worse condition monetarily than before in 1831.

Frances Trollope
Frances Trollope

Domestic Manners of Americans by Frances Trollope

After her return to England from America in 1831 Frances wrote her first and most successful travelogue, “Domestic Manners of Americans” in which she criticized the hypocrisy of American men and expressed concern for American Women who she believed were more confined to the domestic sphere than their English sisters.

“[On New York City:] Were all America like this fair city, and all, no, only a small proportion of its population like the friends we left there, I should say that the land was the fairest in the world.”

“With one hand hoisting the cap of liberty, and with the other flogging their slaves. You will see them one hour lecturing their mob on the indefeasible rights of man, and the next driving from their homes the children of the soil, whom they have bound themselves to protect by the most solemn treaties.

“How is it that the men of America, who are reckoned good husbands and good fathers, while they themselves enjoy sufficient freedom of spirit to permit their walking forth into the temple of the living God, can leave those they love best on earth, bound in the iron chains of a most tyrannical fanaticism? How can they breathe the balmy air, and not think of the tainted atmosphere so heavily weighing upon breasts still dearer than their own?

How can they gaze upon the blossoms of the spring, and not remember the fairer cheeks of their young daughters, waxing pale, as they sit for long sultry hours, immured with hundreds of fellow victims, listening to the roaring vanities of a preacher, canonized by a college of old women?

They cannot think it needful to salvation, or they would not withdraw themselves. Wherefore is it? Do they fear these self-elected, self-ordained priests, and offer up their wives and daughters to propitiate them? Or do they deem their hebdomadal freedom more complete, because their wives and daughters are shut up four or five times in the day at church or chapel?”

“Is it to be imagined … that women were made for no other purpose than to fabricate sweetmeats and gingerbread, construct shirts, darn stockings, and become mothers of possible presidents? Assuredly not. Should the women of America ever discover what their power might be, and compare it with what it is, much improvement might be hoped for.”

This book of hers was widely appreciated as well as criticized as her morality was questioned over her friendship with August Hervieu while she raised allegations over the moral character of the American men in her book.

“Although Mrs. Trollope maintained that the standard of moral character in the United States was greatly lower than that of Europe, she herself was considered something of a profligate woman”. The praise and abuse both led to their family becoming famous eventually.

Frances Trollope’s Writing Career

From the age of 52 until thirty years later when she died, she had written around 40 books, six of them being travelogues namely Belgium and Western Germany in 1833 (1834), Paris and the Parisians (1835), Vienna and the Austrians (1838), A Summer in Western France (1841), and A Visit to Italy (1842) and the rest being fiction novels.

Her writing helped her pay off her husband’s debt and also support her family. She continued to travel as she went on with writing her books. She loved to travel and as few would say, “she wrote to travel and she traveled to write”.

Fanny’s novels always expressed concern over the moral and ethical concerns of her time. Her work reflects on her as a strong believer of maternal feminism. She believed in publishing novels with a strong social message in it by combining witty social commentary along with strong and often melodramatic plots.

Frances Trollope’s writing style was very subtle yet she always managed to bring out the foibles and follies of human nature and of English Manners, in particular, describes Pamille Neville-Sington.

The Widow Barnaby(1839) and The Widow Remarried(1840) are her most successful novels. The Vicar of the Wrexhill(1837), Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw(1836), Michael Armstrong: The Factory Boy(1840) and Jesse Phillips: A Tale of the Present Day(1843) are some of her novels which were a major hit because they dealt with the great social issues of that time namely bastardy clauses, poor laws, employment of children in factories, the abolition of slavery and church corruption.

Her novel Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw was the first anti-slavery novel that inspired the work of American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her novel Michael Armstrong: The Factory Boy was the very first industrial novel to be published in Britain.

Although Frances Trollope did not get enough scholarly attention as her son Anthony, critics describe her as a woman of profound intellect and she gained a lot of fame in her prime time.

As Pamella Neville-Sington writes, “At one time or another in her life, her popularity matched, and even exceeded that of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and her son Anthony.” Her novels rose public conscience and incited social reforms that could protect women and children. Her novels shaped subsequent women writing.

The demise of Frances Trollope

After fulfilling her dream of visiting Italy, Frances finally settled in Florence permanently where she lived until her death on October 6th, 1863.