Frances Garrood started writing as a child. She had a career in nursing, but continued to write (and to publish) short stories while bringing up her four children. She trained as a Relate counsellor but has now stopped counselling to concentrate on her writing. Frances is the author of Dead Ernest and The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets. Here she writes about Anthony Trollope's Lady Anna.
Frances Garrood on Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
Anthony Trollope is my fall-back novelist; my literary rock. If I can't find anything entertaining to read, if the last novel (or two) that I've read have been disappointing, if I want to regain my faith in wonderful writing and good story-telling, then Trollope is the writer I know I can trust. True, he never uses one sentence when two will do, and (for me at least) some of the legal and political wranglings are more drawn out than I would like, but he manages to take a simple plot and create a wonderful novel. Every time. He is witty and perceptive, and he knows human beings, with all their failings, better than any writer I know.
I happened upon Lady Anna quite by chance. It was written when Trollope was at the height of his powers, and he himself is said to have declared that 'Lady Anna is the best novel I ever wrote! Quite far above all others!!' I wouldn't go so far as to agree with him (and history hasn't borne out his optimism, since this novel is little known), but it is the only one of his novels that has had me literally on the edge of my seat, because the resolution is in the balance right up until the end.
The eponymous Lady Anna is born to a woman of ordinary birth and her supposed husband, the Earl, Lord Lovel. But shortly after she is born, the Earl abandons mother and daughter and goes to live abroad, leaving them to move out of the big house into a much smaller one, and to live on a vastly reduced income. There follow rumours that the Earl was already married when he met Lady Anna's mother, and that another wife is alive and living in Italy.
There are two main story-lines in the novel; two questions to be answered. The first is whether the heroine really is Lady Anna - whether her mother's marriage to Earl Lovel was valid - or whether the rumours of a first Lady Lovel are true, and Lady Anna is illegitimate, and thus a nobody. She has been brought up in poverty; without her title, how can she lay claim to any position in society? Her mother, known throughout the novel as the Countess (although for much of the book her right to the title is in doubt) spends years trying to prove the legitimacy of her only daughter, to the detriment of the relationship between the two of them. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that she is prepared to compromise her daughter's happiness in the interests of gaining social status, and thus is shown to be a thoroughly unlikeable character.
The other - and perhaps more important - question is Lady Anna's choice of suitor. The first of these is Daniel Thwaite, a journeyman tailor, who together with his father has befriended Lady Anna and her mother throughout the latter's childhood. Daniel is attractive and pleasant, and loves Lady Anna, but his manners are rough, he has no position in society, and he has no money of his own.
Lady Anna's other suitor is her cousin, the new Earl, who succeeds to the title upon her father's death. If Lady Anna is proved to be the legitimate daughter of the late Earl, then she will inherit the estate, while her cousin inherits only the title. The Countess longs and schemes for this union, for if Lady Anna's legitimacy can be proved, her money together with his (and thus her) title will solve all their problems. Lady Anna will take the place in society which her mother has always wanted for her, and the young couple will be wealthy due to Lady Anna's inheritance. Besides these obvious advantages, the young Earl is a thoroughly likeable character. He is attractive, well-bred, has charming manners and is deeply fond of Lady Anna. The scene at Bayham Abbey in Yorkshire where the couple walk together and the Earl does his courting is charming and convincing, and Lady Anna appears to be won over. How can she fail to accept the hand of such a suitor?
The blurb on my copy of the novel says that in the matter of Lady Anna's marriage, the conclusion is a forgone one, but I was kept guessing until the very end as to which of these two young men would win the day. I did make a guess, but my guess was wrong. You will have to read the novel to find out more.
Both these story-lines are treated with skill and just the right amount of uncertainty. And if Lady Anna is similar to many of Trollope's heroines (beautiful, kind, intelligent and long-suffering), isn't a virtuous heroine what we all want? Fans of Trollope are sure to enjoy this much underrated novel; those who haven't tried him could do a lot worse than to start with Lady Anna. For me, the novel was a delightful discovery, and a book I shall no doubt read again.
[All the pieces that have appeared in this series, with the links to them, are listed in the index here.]