Trollope’s Daily Grind



Anthony Trollope (24 April 1815 – 6 December 1882) was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. In his day, he was as famous as Dickens. Among his best-loved works is a series of novels collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, which (unsurprisingly) revolves around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote perceptive novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters.
He says in his autobiography:
“It had at this time become my custom,—and is still my custom, though of late I have become a little lenient of myself—to write with my watch before me, and to require of myself 250 words every quarter of an hour… This division of time allowed me to produce over ten pages of an ordinary novel volume a day, and if kept up through ten months, would have given as its results three novels of three volumes each in the year…”
He kept up this routine from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. every day. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next. Three hours does not seem like a very taxing routine, you might think, but he also held down a full-time job with the postal service. Under this regimen, he produced forty-nine novels in thirty-five years. Having prospered so well, he urged his method on all writers:
“Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.”
As a postal worker Trollope is said to have been unpunctual and insubordinate. He applied for a job as a postal inspector in Ireland and his boss was eager to be rid of him. From then on he had a slightly different regime. His postal job required long train journeys and, to pass the time, Trollope wrote on the train. It is said that if he arrived at his station while he was in the middle of a sentence, he would stop right there, get off, do his day’s work, then continue where he left off on the train journey home.

When Trollope published his autobiography and the reading public discovered that he took such a clinical approach to writing, his reputation plummeted. By the time the book was published the public had gained an image of the writer as a tortured artist who relied on his muse to intervene in order to produce works of literary genius. The idea of someone treating writing so mechanically was a turn-off. So his literary reputation dipped somewhat during the last years of his life. But he regained the esteem of critics by the mid-twentieth century and people began reading his books again.

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