Trollope, Frances Milton (c. 1779–1863)

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Trollope, Frances Milton (c. 1779–1863)

English novelist and travel writer who began writing in middle age out of dire financial necessity and went on to enjoy wide popularity in a career that lasted over 20 years. Born on March 10, around 1779 (some sources cite 1778 or 1780), in Heckfield, near Bristol, England; died on October 6, 1863, in Florence, Italy; daughter of William Milton (a minister) and Frances (Gelsey) Milton; married Thomas Anthony Trollope, on May 23, 1809 (died 1835); children: Thomas Adolphus (1810–1892, a novelist who married Theodosia Garrow Trollope and Frances Eleanor Ternan ); Henry (1811–1834); Arthur (b. 1812); Emily (b. 1813, died in infancy); Anthony Trollope (1815–1882, a novelist); Cecilia Trollope Tilley (1816–1849, who wrote one novel); Emily Trollope (1818–1836).

First traveled to United States (1827); opened Trollope Bazaar (1828); published first book (1832); retired in Florence (1844); published last book (1856).

Selected works:

Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832); The Refugee in America (1832); Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw (1836); The Widow Barnaby (1839); Michael Armstrong (1839); The Widow Married (1840); The Barnabys in America (1843); Jessie Phillips (1843); Father Eustace (1847); Petticoat Government (1850); The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman (1854); Fashionable Life (1856).

Frances Milton Trollope was an extremely prolific writer, publishing 34 novels and 6 travel books in her later life. She began writing seriously only in her 50s, after raising a large family. Born on March 10, around 1779, Frances Milton was the youngest daughter of Frances Gelsey Milton and William Milton, a well-to-do minister. Her mother died shortly after Frances' birth, leaving her father to raise her and her siblings alone. The Reverend Milton, an optimistic man educated at Oxford who took much pleasure in studying literature, science, and mathematics, seems to have given Frances and her sister Mary Milton the same classical education their older brother received. Had her mother been alive, it is most likely that Frances' education would have been aimed at fitting her for a domestic life as wife and mother. Instead, Frances and Mary took advantage of the reverend's extensive library and were tutored in French, Italian, and Latin, in addition to literature, art, and writing.

Frances thus grew up much better educated than most young Englishwomen of her time, a fact which prepared her for her future writing career. Along with her brother and sister, she inherited her father's cheerful, easy-going personality. As she would in later life, Frances traveled often in her youth; the family had homes in Heckfield and Bristol, and the children followed their father on his many trips to other parishes as well. Reverend Milton seems to have been in no hurry to have his daughters married, although most women at the time married young, and Frances was free to do much as she pleased.

In 1802, Reverend Milton remarried, an event which for the most part broke up the tight family unit. Frances and Mary moved to London the next year (their brother Henry already lived there), both to escape the awkwardness of living with their stepmother and for the cultural opportunities offered by the capital city. The three siblings shared a home, quickly becoming part of the social scene of London's gentry. They entertained often and were patrons of London's many museums, theaters, and other cultural attractions.

Frances was introduced to Thomas Anthony Trollope, a friend of her brother, in 1808. Trollope, a young lawyer, had broad intellectual interests and a quiet, serious demeanor. Despite the difference in their personalities—Frances being a fun-loving, high-spirited woman—they became interested in one another. After a brief engagement, they married on May 23, 1809. Frances was 30 years old, well past the usual age for women to marry. The newlyweds remained in London, leasing a home only a few houses from the one Frances had shared with her brother and sister.

Over the next seven years, Frances fulfilled the primary duty of a 19th-century English wife by giving birth to five children, four sons—Thomas, Henry, Arthur, and Anthony—and a daughter, Emily, who died in infancy. To accommodate this growing family, Thomas Anthony purchased a farm near Harrow in 1816. There, two more daughters were born, Cecilia Trollope (Tilley) in 1816, and a second Emily in 1818. Frances was clearly the dominant force in family life at Illots Farm. She taught all of her children herself, fostering in each a love of the same fields she had studied with her father, especially literature. Each child was encouraged to try his or her hand at writing; three of them excelled at it. Thomas went on to write historical romances, while Cecilia also composed novels. Anthony Trollope is by far the best known of Frances' children, the renown of his novels having earned him a place as one of England's finest 19th-century novelists. When they were not studying under their mother's tutelage, the children often acted as the entertainment at the Trollopes' parties, performing skits which Frances wrote for their guests.

As wife and mother, Frances often was forced to serve as the intermediary between her children and her husband. All six showed Frances' warm, open personality, which led them into conflict with Thomas, who became more reserved and less inclined to enjoy life's pleasures as the years passed. Frances tried to keep the household running smoothly while maintaining peace between its members.

During the years at Illots Farm, Thomas' law practice flourished, and the Trollopes enjoyed a high standard of living. However, this was to change unexpectedly. In 1820, the first of their economic troubles began. The family had moved in 1818 to a custom-built home called Julian Hill, in Harrow. Thomas had leased the farm as a temporary second residence for his family with plans to relocate to a large estate which he expected to inherit from an elderly uncle. However, after the lease was taken out on Julian Hill, he was disinherited when his uncle remarried in 1820. Since Thomas could not cancel the lease on the farm, the family was forced to rent out the new home they had built and move to an old farmhouse on the property, where they lived off Thomas' legal fees and the sale of farm produce. The Trollopes would remain there for several years. Despite a lower standard of living, the Trollopes initially were happy at Julian Hill. They continued to socialize with a wide circle of friends and often entertained guests.

In 1823, the entire family traveled to Paris. There they became acquainted with Frances "Fanny" Wright , a radical utopian socialist with whom Frances Trollope became friends. During her stay in Paris, Trollope kept a journal of the people and places she encountered; it was her first substantial piece of writing, and its detailed observations reveal keen insight which would serve her well in her professional life. Back home at Julian Hill, the Trollopes' financial situation was worsening steadily. Thomas Trollope suffered from intense, recurring headaches (apparently caused by a brain tumor) which affected his ability to practice law. He alienated friends, family, and clients with his increasingly argumentative, irritable behavior. In 1827, fate struck the Trollopes another blow when a severe depression hit England. Thomas' practice failed completely, and the family could not make ends meet; they rented out Julian Hill and moved to a smaller home at Harrow Weald. Frances, sensing that their situation was not going to improve anytime soon, decided that drastic measures were needed to keep the family going.

Thus, she and the four children still living at home set sail in November 1827 for the United States. She had been invited by her friend Fanny Wright to join the work at Nashoba, Mississippi, a community of white social activists seeking to educate former slaves in an effort to push for the eradication of slavery. The project appealed to Frances Trollope for several reasons: she loved to travel, she wanted desperately to escape from her financial problems as well as from her embittered husband (who was opposed to the trip), and she believed in the abolitionist movement. However, she was totally unprepared for the harsh living conditions at Nashoba. There was little food, only primitive huts for sleeping in, an unhappy and demoralized population of ex-slaves, and rampant disease. The Trollopes remained there for only ten days, after which they fled north to Cincinnati, Ohio—which Frances had heard described as the "Athens of the West"—having no money left to return to England.

After waiting in vain for money from her husband, who had ceased answering her letters, Frances realized that it was up to her to support herself and her four children. She had no job skills, but she did have her classical education, and so she proposed to a Cincinnati museum owner that she and her family put on exhibitions at his museum, for a share of the admission receipts. One attraction involved an unseen oracle (played by Frances' son Henry) who answered questions from the audience in five languages; the other involved mechanized wax figures representing scenes from Dante's Inferno. These attractions became fairly successful and enjoyed a long run.

The Cincinnati Bazaar was Frances' next enterprise, a much more costly and ambitious endeavor. Now called America's first mall, the Bazaar was Frances' original idea for a combination retail-residential-cultural building. It opened in 1828, after Frances culled the funds together from a variety of sources, including her husband, who had finally contacted her and had come to Cincinnati himself to bring her some money. The Bazaar included, in one building, apartments, retail shops, museums, concert halls, restaurants, a ballroom, and meeting spaces. Despite the imaginative concept and the extensive planning that went into its creation, the Bazaar failed for a number of reasons. Primarily it failed because Thomas Trollope, having gone back to England, declined to provide promised monies from Frances' inheritance from her father; as a result, Frances defaulted on her mortgage, and the building was foreclosed. Another reason was a lack of support from the citizens of Cincinnati, who felt that Frances was trying to alter American social customs which kept men and women in separated spheres of daily life; there was truth in this charge, for the Bazaar was advertised as a place for both sexes to mingle on equal terms, and for women to conduct business as men did. Frances found America's separation of the sexes and insistence on women's subordination culturally backward and frustrating, an opinion her books would comment on at length.

The closing of the Bazaar led to other troubles for Frances and her children: her furniture and other possessions were seized by debtors and they had to sleep at a neighbor's house. Destitute, without hope of aid from her husband, Frances made one last bid to support her family. She decided to write a memoir of her travels in America with the hope of getting it published.

Thus out of desperate financial need she entered upon her new career.

In 1831, after touring more of the United States on borrowed money, the Trollopes returned to England, facing great debts. There Frances managed to find a publisher for her manuscript, a collection of notes on the people, events, and places she had encountered during her four-year stay, including her comparisons of America to England, in which England usually fared better. Domestic Manners of the Americans, with its pro-English viewpoint and fine quality of description and detail, became a bestseller in 1832, when its author was 53. The royalties allowed Frances to move her family back to their old farmhouse at Harrow and to provide her husband and children with the comforts they had done without for so long, such as candles and bed pillows. But Frances, realizing that eventually the royalties would cease and that Thomas, suffering from poor health, would never work again, resolved to continue writing regularly, hoping to sustain her good fortune. She made it a habit to begin her daily writing period every morning at four o'-clock, before her family awakened. With this strict regimen, which continued the rest of her career, she was able to complete full-length works in only a few months.

Her first novel, The Refugee in America, was published in late 1832 to positive reviews and good sales. A second novel, The Abbess, came out in 1833. Next Frances hoped to duplicate the success of her first travel book with one on Belgium and Germany. She made a long visit to those countries, taking note on everything from the character of the inhabitants to the landscape. The result, Belgium and Western Germany, was published to good reviews in 1834. However, the year 1834 was to see more tragedy than joy for Frances and her family. Despite strong sales of her books, the family's finances suffered from the depressed English economy. Thomas' health was deteriorating, and Frances' earnings were insufficient to care for him and the three children still at home, as well as to pay the educational expenses of her sons Thomas and Anthony away at college and to cover the high rents due on Julian Hill.

In spring 1834, the Trollopes' landlord foreclosed on their mortgage and seized most of their possessions in payment of their debts. Thomas and Frances fled to Belgium after a warrant was issued for Thomas' arrest; the children were sent to stay with relatives. The family managed to save only a few of their belongings by hiding them with friends. Frances and Thomas settled in Brussels, then brought the children over. However, their financial problems were soon compounded by the tragedy of death. Frances' second son Henry died in December 1834 at age 23, after a long bout with consumption. The next spring, his grieving mother visited Paris to gather material for her next travel book, Paris and the Parisians, published in 1835.

In October, her husband Thomas died as well, after many years of poor health; his son Anthony would later lament Thomas Trollope by noting in his Autobiography that his father was a good man who had suffered many misfortunes, his life "one long tragedy." Frances then returned to England, settling in Hadley. Only three months later, in February 1836, 18-year-old Emily died of consumption. Frances had nursed all three of them throughout their last months, continuing her pre-dawn writing periods both as a means of earning money and as an escape from her grief. Between Henry's death and Emily's death, Frances had completed three new books. The third of these, Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw, was one of her best works, an antislavery novel set in America. It reflected Frances' belief in the need for social reform and was the first of her novels to explore the theme of emancipation, both for women and for slaves.

Later in 1836, Frances set off on her next foreign tour, to Austria and Italy, accompanied by her son Tom and daughter Cecilia. While they were still in Vienna, the trip had to be canceled when Cecilia's health began to fail. Back home in England, Frances moved to London in 1838, after the publication in 1837 of three new books: Vienna and the Austrians, A Romance of Vienna, and an anti-evangelical novel, The Vicar of Wrexhill. She spent the he following year in Manchester, researching her next novel, Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy, which addressed the problems of child labor.

The years 1839 and 1840 saw the publication of the first two volumes of the "Widow Barnaby" series. These books garnered much attention, most of it negative, but enjoyed strong sales. They followed the life of the widowed Martha Barnaby, a strong-willed, educated woman who did not follow the conventional pattern for fictional heroines. Critics attacked the series for its portrayal of an aggressive, strong, "vulgar" woman who enjoyed being a widow, with the freedom and wealth it gave her, far more than she had being a wife. It appears that the Widow Barnaby was in many ways an autobiographical character; like Frances, the Widow enjoyed great personal autonomy, an improved financial situation, and the freedom to travel and indulge her intellect as much as she wished. In fact, most of Frances' novels could be termed antimarriage, as they centered around women suffering unhappy marriages.

Frances remained in England between 1836 and 1842, building a home in Penrith close to her daughter Cecilia and Cecilia's new husband. After the "Widow Barnaby" series, Frances completed three more novels in 1840. By this time, the woman who had begun to write only for money had attracted a strong and loyal following of readers and was enjoying a degree of fame. Frances would never gain critical acclaim from her Victorian-era male colleagues, however, despite the praise of her readers: her style was not lyrical, her characters were too "real," her themes were concerned with social realities, not philosophical ideas. Often the critics were ruthless in their condemnation of her novels and criticized the author as much as the work; the writer R.H. Horne charged in his book The New Spirit of the Age: "Nothing can exceed the vulgarity of Mrs. Trollope's mob of characters," who were "hideous and revolting," and referred to Frances' "constitutional coarseness." But Frances had faced too much real tragedy and hardship in her life to let the words of critics bother her; she took their attacks as proof that her books were worthy of critique and rejoiced in the admiration of her many devoted fans.

In 1842, Frances traveled to Italy with her eldest son Tom, who had left his job in Birmingham and moved back in with his mother, now in her 60s, to act as her companion. They were so taken with the beauty and culture of Italy, captured in A Visit to Italy, that they decided to remain in Florence indefinitely. The Trollopes became popular hosts in Florence, echoing earlier days at Julian Hill. Despite a busy social life, Frances continued to write as much as ever, completing 12 novels during her stay in Italy from 1842 to 1848. In 1847, Cecilia joined her mother and brother in an effort to cure the consumption which was beginning to destroy her health. The remedy was ineffective, and she returned home the next year; in 1849, word came from England that Cecilia was dying. Frances, as committed as ever to caring for her family, even at the age of 70, made the arduous journey back to England and nursed Cecilia through her last months.

Trollope, Theodosia (1825–1865)

English writer. Born Theodosia Garrow in 1825; died in 1865; married Thomas Adolphus Trollope (1810–1892, a novelist), in 1848; daughter-in-law of Frances Milton Trollope (1779–1863).

Theodosia Trollope write on "Social Aspects of the Italian Revolution" for the Athenaeum; she also contributed to other periodicals and was the center of a salon in Florence.

She returned to Italy at the end of 1849. There she took up residence in Florence with Tom, his new wife Theodosia Trollope , and his father-in-law. For the next six years, Frances enjoyed fairly good health despite her advancing age and, as always, continued to publish novels on a regular basis, nine in all. In 1856, her last book, Fashionable Life: or Paris and London, appeared. She told her family that finally, at age 77, with 34 novels and 6 travel books behind her, she was putting down her pen for good. With both Anthony and Tom successfully publishing their own novels, she felt that it was time to slow down. Her range of activities was sharply curtailed after 1856, and she eventually slipped into senility. Frances Milton Trollope died at her home in Florence on October 6, 1863.


Bigland, Eileen. The Indomitable Mrs. Trollope. NY: J.B. Lippincott, 1954.

Heineman, Helen. Frances Trollope. Boston, MA: Twayne, 1984.

——. Mrs. Trollope: The Triumphant Feminine in the 19th Century. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1979.

suggested reading:

Neville-Sington, Pamela. Fanny Trollope: The Life and Adventures of a Clever Woman. NY: Viking, 1998.

Sadleir, Michael. Trollope: A Commentary. NY: Farrar, Straus, 1947.

Trollope, Anthony. An Autobiography. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Trollope, Frances. Domestic Manners of the Americans. NY: Alfred Knopf, 1949.


Correspondence of Frances Milton Trollope, in the Garnett-Pertz Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Correspondence of Frances Milton Trollope, in the Anthony Trollope Collection, University of Illinois Library, Urbana, Illinois.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California