The American Senator by Anthony Trollope

The American Senator cover

The American Senator by Anthony Trollope was first published in 1877 and this was my second attempt at reading it, which is strange as I ended up loving it. Obviously my brain just wasn’t in the right place when I lost interest in it first time around. What I love about Trollope’s writing is that he wears his heart on his sleeve and he chose to highlight different aspects of British culture that he found to be unfair and distasteful. In this book it’s the way young women were put on the marriage market at the age of 18 and often pressurised into being ‘settled’.

Arabella Trefoil is from an aristocratic family but is penniless and she has been chasing after various wealthy men for years and it has all come to nothing. She’s now getting on for 30 and is worn out with it all so she plumps for an engagement with an older man, John Morton, a diplomat, but she makes no attempt to even be pleasant to him, she thinks he’s mean with money and is having second thoughts. When another man who’s a wealthy young lord comes into view she’s tempted to try to manipulate him into a marriage proposal and lies her head off to everyone, including herself.

Mary Masters is a lot younger, just 18 or so and her step-mother is pressurising her to marry a local farmer. It would be a hard life for Mary who would be expected to do a lot of the farm/dairy work on her own, but apart from that Mary just doesn’t love the man. Her step-mother doesn’t see that as a problem.

Meanwhile Elias Gotobed is an American senator who is in England visiting John Morton and writing to a friend in America about his observations on British society and culture. He’s critical of the way the eldest male in any family inherits everything leaving the other children to make the best of it, usually by joining the army or the church.

The way the Church of England is organised is another thing that appalls him. This is a subject that obviously weighed on Trollope’s mind as his Barchester books are about the same thing.

He’s critical of fox-hunting, the cruel ‘sport’ which entails riders trampling crops and trespassing, ending with a fox being ripped apart.

He’s critical of the House of Lords as they’re unelected. The voting system is bizarre and basically corrupt.

Unfortunately the senator doesn’t keep his criticism for his American friend. While at a dinner party he’s keen to share his thoughts with the other guests. Mr Gotobed has no tact or sense of diplomacy whatsoever. Freedom of speech is more important to him, no matter how much he upsets his hosts. His bad manners shock the guests.

This was a great read although it’s slightly depressing that one of the things that obviously annoyed Trollope still hasn’t been improved as the House of Lords is still an unelected house. It’s a really ridiculous state of affairs but I read somewhere that in British politics things are usually spoken of for around 200 years before any change ever takes place, so there can’t be too long to go now surely!

I read this one for the Classics Club.

7 thoughts on “The American Senator by Anthony Trollope

  1. This sounds like a great read! I have really enjoyed the Trollope books I’ve read so far. His observations of real life issues is so refreshing.The one you write about is a new one to me, but your description and review have definitely piqued my interest especially since it involves an American.:)

    Are you familiar with The Small House at Allington? I found a copy at a used book sale but haven’t read it yet. Any thoughts?

    • Paula,
      I read The Small House at Allington years ago, before I started blogging and I never took any notes, but I seem to remember I liked it although it wasn’t one of my favourites. It’s part of his Chronicles of Barsetshire series but can be read as a stand alone book I think. Apart from that series I also loved the Palliser series.

    • Joan,
      I forgot to say it is funny – in parts. That surname is indeed pronounced as in ‘go to bed’. I’m sure it’s a real name and that I’ve seen it elsewhere but J thinks it’s made up!

  2. I admire the cover of this Oxford edition; it’s quite handsome and, of course, anything with horses on the cover makes me want to read the book. I do intend to read Trollope in the future, but as for length, he has the Russians to compete with. I have a number of 800+ page Russian novels waiting, and chunksters do slow me down. But I’m still very, very interested in Trollope because of all the bloggers I follow who have been reading him over a period of years.

    • Judith,
      Trollope’s books are almost all chunksters, but I seem to be able to read them fairly quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing which Russian books you’re going to be reading. Trollope is much better than Dickens I think – whom T nicknamed Mr Sentimentality!

      • Oh, that is funny–Mr. Sentimentality!
        But I think those who live in glass houses should not throw stones–even though sentimentality is probably not one of Trollope’s sins. I must read a Trollope soon!

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