Anthony Trollope’s Best Novels: Timeless Literary Gems

Anthony Trollope, the renowned 19th-century English novelist, left an indelible mark on literature with his prolific and insightful works. His novels continue to captivate readers, offering a window into the complexities of Victorian society, politics, and human nature. In this exploration, we delve into some of Anthony Trollope’s best novels, shedding light on the timeless brilliance that has made him a literary icon.

The Prime Minister: A Political Masterpiece

Trollope’s “The Prime Minister” takes us on a journey through the political landscape of 1875, offering a stark contrast to the politics of our own time. In an era when a Liberal Prime Minister could sit in the House of Lords, the political dynamics were significantly different from today’s parliamentary systems. The novel immerses us in this historical context, allowing us to witness the nuances and peculiarities of 19th-century politics.

  • One remarkable aspect highlighted in the novel is the efficiency of the Post Office during that period. Trollope’s meticulous attention to detail, informed by his own experience working in the Post Office, shines through in the narrative. The mention of a letter posted in central London at 3 am and received in rural Herefordshire on the same day showcases the impressive postal service of the time, a far cry from the postal systems we know today.
  • As the political narrative unfolds, Trollope skillfully weaves in the personal stories of characters like Emily Wharton and Ferdinand Lopez. Their experiences and choices provide a human dimension to the political drama, emphasizing the consequences of financial recklessness and personal ambition.
  • Moreover, Trollope’s exploration of political ideas and the character of the Duke of Omnium, a conservative Liberal, enrich the novel with intellectual depth. The Duke’s advocacy for decimal coinage and his nuanced approach to political equality reflect the author’s own views and contribute to the novel’s thought-provoking nature.

In sum, “The Prime Minister” is a classic that not only entertains with its political intrigue but also offers a fascinating glimpse into the political and social landscape of 19th-century England. Trollope’s ability to blend historical accuracy with compelling storytelling continues to make this novel a valuable exploration of the past and a source of timeless intrigue.

He Knew He Was Right: A Tale of Jealousy

“He Knew He Was Right” is a lesser-known gem in Trollope’s repertoire, recommended by Oliver Ford Davies, a Trollope enthusiast. This novel delves into the corrosive power of jealousy, drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s Othello. Louis Trevelyan’s obsession with his wife’s friendship with Colonel Osborne sets the stage for a gripping exploration of the power dynamics within a Victorian marriage. As Louis’s jealousy spirals out of control, we witness the destructive force it wields over his health and sanity, making this novel a captivating study of human emotions.

Can You Forgive Her?: A Heroine Worth Knowing

“Can You Forgive Her?” introduces us to Lady Glencora Palliser, an unconventional heroine who defies Victorian norms. Despite her impulsiveness and unconventional choices, Glencora becomes an endearing character. Trollope’s portrayal of her journey, her love interests, and her witty interactions make this novel a delightful exploration of Victorian society’s expectations for women.

Phineas Finn: Love and Intrigue in Politics

“Phineas Finn: The Irish Member” takes us into the world of politics, where Phineas Finn, a parliamentarian, spends more time falling in love than in the House of Commons. Trollope skillfully weaves together themes of romance, political ambition, and Irish tenant rights. This novel provides a unique glimpse into the tricks of the parliamentary trade and the timeless theme of love versus political ambition.

Orley Farm: An Analysis of Justice and Duty

“Orley Farm” is a powerful novel that showcases Trollope’s ability to dissect complex legal processes. The intricate lawsuit at the heart of the story, involving forged signatures and revenge, draws readers into a world of objective clarity. Trollope examines the clash between principles and human frailty, leaving us to contemplate the demands of justice versus the cruelty of duty.

Orley Farm Novel.

Barchester Towers: Politics and Eccentric Clergy

“Barchester Towers” offers a vivid portrayal of clergymen in a society where low church battles high church and the Oxford Movement is in full swing. Trollope’s characters, from the villainous Reverend Mr. Slope to the noble Mr. Harding, make this novel a rich tapestry of ecclesiastical and political intrigue. The novel’s exploration of the clash of ideas among clergymen mirrors the societal challenges of the time.

The Last Chronicle of Barset: A Complex Tapestry of Human Behavior

“The Last Chronicle of Barset” is a remarkable work that adds depth and complexity to Trollope’s Barsetshire series. In this novel, Trollope masterfully weaves together the lives of various characters, creating a tapestry of human behavior, morals, and societal norms. The book centers around the financial and moral struggles faced by Reverend Josiah Crawley, a clergyman in Barsetshire.

  • Reverend Crawley’s predicament, accused of stealing a cheque, serves as the focal point for exploring themes of honor, integrity, and the judgment of others. Trollope delves deep into the emotional turmoil of Crawley and his wife, Grace, as they grapple with the accusations and societal scorn. The novel’s portrayal of the legal system and the impact of false accusations is both compelling and thought-provoking.
  • Trollope’s ability to create multifaceted characters shines in “The Last Chronicle of Barset.” Whether it’s the steadfast Mr. Harding, the ambitious Archdeacon Grantly, or the complex and morally conflicted Reverend Crawley, each character is painted with nuance and depth. This richness of character development allows Trollope to explore the intricacies of human nature, including pride, humility, forgiveness, and redemption.

As with many of Trollope’s works, “The Last Chronicle of Barset” provides a window into the societal norms and expectations of Victorian England. It delves into the roles of clergy, the power dynamics within the church, and the challenges faced by individuals trying to navigate a complex web of moral and social obligations. Trollope’s exploration of the clash between tradition and modernity, duty and personal integrity, remains relevant and thought-provoking even in contemporary times.

Miss Mackenzie: A Subtle Satire

“Miss Mackenzie” is a novel that showcases Trollope’s talent for subtle satire and keen social commentary. The story revolves around Margaret Mackenzie, an unremarkable spinster who unexpectedly comes into a substantial inheritance. This newfound wealth catapults her into a world of financial independence, where she becomes an object of desire for suitors and a target for evangelical groups.

  • Trollope’s portrayal of Margaret Mackenzie is both sympathetic and satirical. While Margaret is unassuming and modest, the novel’s cast of characters, including her suitors, provide ample comedic material. Trollope’s witty observations on the evangelical movement of the time, as seen through Margaret’s interactions with these groups, add layers of humor and commentary on the societal norms of Victorian England.
  • The novel also explores the theme of choice and agency for women in a society that often limited their options. Margaret’s newfound wealth gives her the freedom to make decisions about her own life, including her romantic prospects. Trollope deftly navigates the expectations placed on women in the 19th century and highlights the complexities of navigating social pressures while pursuing personal happiness.

“Miss Mackenzie” may not be as well-known as some of Trollope’s other works, but it offers a delightful blend of humor, satire, and social commentary. It reminds readers of Trollope’s ability to capture the nuances of human behavior and societal expectations with wit and charm.

The Warden: A Surprising Rediscovery

“The Warden” serves as a testament to the capacity for rediscovery in literature. Many, like Michael Symmons Roberts, may have initially overlooked Trollope’s works, dismissing them as lacking the edge and passion of other Victorian authors. However, delving into “The Warden” reveals a novel that possesses its own unique charm and depth.

  • At the heart of “The Warden” is the character of Mr. Septimus Harding, the titular warden of Hiram’s Hospital. The novel explores the ethical dilemma faced by Mr. Harding when questions arise about the legality and morality of his income as warden. Trollope skillfully navigates the clash between principles and pragmatism, making Mr. Harding’s journey a compelling study of moral introspection.
  • What sets “The Warden” apart is its exploration of everyday life in a small English town. Trollope excels in capturing the idiosyncrasies of the town’s inhabitants, from the well-meaning but misguided reformer John Bold to the colorful and opinionated residents of Barchester. The novel provides a vivid snapshot of rural England in the 19th century, complete with its quirks and contradictions.

Trollope’s ability to find depth and drama in seemingly ordinary situations is on full display in “The Warden.” The novel offers a glimpse into the power of community, the complexities of human relationships, and the moral dilemmas that can arise from seemingly straightforward decisions. It serves as a reminder that sometimes the most profound stories are found in the quiet corners of everyday life.

The Way We Live Now: A Tale of Financial Intrigue

“The Way We Live Now” is a novel that resonates with contemporary relevance. Set against the backdrop of rampant financial speculation in 1870s London, the story revolves around the rise and fall of Augustus Melmotte, a super-financier who seduces the British establishment.

  • This novel’s enduring appeal lies in its exploration of greed, deception, and the consequences of unchecked ambition. Trollope’s portrayal of Melmotte as a charismatic and morally bankrupt figure serves as a cautionary tale about the allure of wealth and power. The novel’s multiple interlocking subplots add complexity to the narrative, reflecting the interconnectedness of financial dealings and personal lives.
  • As a politician in the midst of a general election, Jesse Norman finds “The Way We Live Now” particularly relevant. The novel offers insights into the machinations of finance and politics, where influence and manipulation often blur the lines between right and wrong. Trollope’s depiction of journalists like Quintus Slide, willing to publish even if the truth is uncertain, highlights the enduring challenges of media ethics and sensationalism.

In a world where financial scandals and corporate intrigue continue to capture headlines, “The Way We Live Now” remains a powerful examination of the timeless themes of greed, ethics, and the consequences of moral compromise. Trollope’s ability to illuminate the darker aspects of society through his storytelling makes this novel as relevant today as it was in the 19th century.

Anthony Trollope’s Legacy: A Literary Giant Revisited

Anthony Trollope’s enduring legacy in the world of literature is a testament to the timeless quality of his work. His novels, brimming with nuanced characters and astute social commentary, continue to captivate readers and scholars alike. In this extended exploration, we will delve deeper into the impact of Trollope’s writing, his contributions to the Victorian literary landscape, and the enduring relevance of his themes.

Trollope’s Unique Literary Voice

One of the defining characteristics of Trollope’s writing is his distinctive narrative voice. His prose is marked by clarity and accessibility, allowing readers of various backgrounds to engage with his stories. Trollope had an uncanny ability to depict the everyday lives and struggles of ordinary people, making his works relatable to a broad audience.

Moreover, Trollope was unapologetically prolific. His dedication to his craft and his daily writing routine—rising at 5 am to produce 3,000 words before his day job at the Post Office—demonstrate his commitment to storytelling. He viewed writing as a disciplined endeavor, challenging the romantic notion of the tortured artist waiting for inspiration to strike. This work ethic allowed him to produce a staggering 47 novels in just 35 years, solidifying his reputation as a literary giant.

Trollope’s Exploration of Moral Complexity

Trollope’s novels are characterized by their exploration of moral complexity. He did not shy away from depicting flawed characters who grapple with ethical dilemmas. For example, in “The Last Chronicle of Barset,” Reverend Crawley’s struggle with false accusations and his ultimate decision to maintain his integrity resonates with readers because it reflects the universal tension between doing what is right and facing societal judgment.

In “The Warden,” the ethical quandary faced by Mr. Septimus Harding regarding his income as warden reveals Trollope’s keen interest in the clash between principles and pragmatism. Trollope did not provide easy answers to these moral dilemmas but rather allowed his characters to wrestle with them, inviting readers to reflect on their own ethical compass.

Trollope’s Insight into Victorian Society

Trollope’s novels serve as valuable historical and sociological records of Victorian society. Through his keen observations and satirical wit, he offered a window into the intricacies of the time. His exploration of the role of the church in “Barchester Towers” or the challenges faced by women in “Miss Mackenzie” provides insights into the social norms, gender roles, and power dynamics of Victorian England.

Moreover, Trollope’s works often revolved around political themes, showcasing the complexities of the political landscape in the 19th century. His Palliser series, which includes “Phineas Finn,” offers a deep dive into parliamentary politics, reflecting the power struggles and intrigues of the era. In “The Way We Live Now,” Trollope’s examination of financial speculation and media manipulation feels remarkably prescient in our contemporary world of finance and media.

Trollope’s Contribution to Literature

Anthony Trollope’s contribution to English literature extends beyond his novels. He was a pioneer in the development of the series novel, where characters and storylines span multiple books. His creation of the Palliser and Barsetshire series allowed for a more comprehensive exploration of characters’ lives and societal changes over time. This approach influenced later writers, including modern television series creators who employ a similar episodic format.

Furthermore, Trollope’s ability to blend realism with humor and satire set a precedent for subsequent writers. His wit and keen observations of human behavior paved the way for authors like P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, who incorporated humor and social commentary into their works.


Anthony Trollope’s literary legacy is one of depth, complexity, and enduring relevance. His novels, whether exploring the corrosive effects of jealousy, the intricacies of love and politics, the clash of principles and duty, or the subtleties of social satire, continue to resonate with readers of all generations. Trollope’s keen observations of human behavior, societal norms, and moral dilemmas have cemented his place as a literary icon.

From the intricate legal dramas of “The Last Chronicle of Barset” to the satirical humor of “Miss Mackenzie” and the rediscovery of the charm in “The Warden,” Trollope’s works offer a diverse range of experiences. “The Way We Live Now” serves as a timeless cautionary tale about the perils of unchecked ambition and greed. As readers, we are fortunate to have a treasure trove of Trollope’s novels to explore, each offering a unique lens through which to view the human condition.

Larson Sylvia