Trollope pops up for The Bodies From The Library Conference


You might be forgiven for thinking that there can be little in common between one of the great Victorian authors and golden age detective fiction other than his prolific output which bears comparison with Agatha Christie (47 novels from Trollope against 66 for Christie with 6 more as Mary Westmacott).

Indeed Trollope thought nothing of reassuring his readers almost from the outset of a novel that the hero and heroine will get together in the end whatever trials and tribulations they might go through during the course of the novel, whereas the detective fiction genre by its very nature seeks to conceal and misdirect the readers about the ending. However, closer reading reveals some interesting points in common.

There is a prevailing sense that there is a rightness and orderliness to which life should conform. Trollope was by nature conservative and liked the social order to be maintained. He may show internal struggles between high and low church camps in the Church of England but does not like to see this struggle spill over into the public domain disturbing the population of Barchester at large. The same desire for order to be restored after it has been disturbed by the events related in the crime novel is a core part of the appeal of golden age detective stories – the killer is caught and justice is done (though not always through the formal judicial system).

There is an understanding of money as a key motivator in human events. Whether it is the agonising of Mark Robarts over the debts he has brought upon himself in Framley Parsonage or in the colossal swindling of Melmotte in The Way We Live Now, Trollope shows how money, the greed for more of it, and the painful exigencies to which the lack of it drives people is behind so many of our actions. Often there is dependence of one generation on the prospective inheritance from the previous generation that drives people to act as they do.

So what type of detective fiction might Trollope write. Some might suggest he would be into “cozies”. Few would consider him “hard-boiled” or “noir”. And though his plots might not be as tightly wrought as “golden age” authors, his psychological insights, especially into women, would place him alongside the finest writers of the genre such as Ruth Rendell or P D James. 

“Discuss!” As they used to say on exam papers. 

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