Warm patrons of literature

It seems that in the early days of our city’s European history, it was very much the fashion for visiting luminaries to make a progression through the country, stopping at every town to meet the locals and be wined and dined.

NPG Ax18230; Anthony Trollope by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company
Anthony Trollope by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, albumen carte-de-visite, 1870s NPG Ax18230 © National Portrait Gallery, London CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Anthony Trollope, who turns 200 this year, was one such celebrity, and passed through New Zealand in August 1872. He notes in a book about his travels that he visited every county and province except Hawke’s Bay. You can trace his journey through the country in Papers Past, a treasure-trove of archived newspapers dating from 1839 to 1948, although there is surprisingly little in the press about his visit to Christchurch – he seems to have arrived and left our city without much fuss at all. This is in contrast to some of his other appearances: he “and wife” attended the Queen’s Birthday Ball in Wellington; was the subject of a great deal of heated discussion around who was paying for his visit, and whether this payment was impacting politically on his writing; and disappointed Dunedinites by failing to attend a celebration of the anniversary of Sir Walter Scott, at which he had promised to speak.

The disappointment seems to have gone both ways, however. The book he wrote while here (rather creatively named Australia and New Zealand) is tucked away in our archives, but we have a copy of AH Reed’s book about Mr Trollope’s visit in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre at Central Library Manchester. It’s full of pronouncements on our wee country, mostly political, and some quite scathing. Trollope described the trip from Waimate to Christchurch as being “an uninteresting journey as far as scenery is concerned”; advised “no young lady to go out to any colony either to get a husband, or to be a governess, or to win her bread after any so-called lady-like fashion”; and noted that the greatest fault of New Zealanders was that they were excessively keen on blowing their own trumpets, and that if the New Zealander “would blow his own trumpet somewhat less loudly, the music would gain in its effect upon the world at large”. Despite this, he did manage to redeem himself somewhat by complimenting us on our reading – while speaking at a banquet in his honour at the Northern Club he noted that ” … his own works, and those of other leading writers, were in every house he entered ..” and that there were “… more warm patrons of literature in the colonies in proportion to population, than in Great Britain.”

Reed’s book is well worth a read, if only to find a reason to feel self-defensively patriotic. And if you don’t feel like a bit of flag-waving, there’s always Trollope’s fabulous works of fiction to pick up and enjoy.

Cover of The Warden Cover of Barchester Towers Cover of Phineas Finn Cover of The Way We Live Now

Fickle Fiction

Cover: The sea the seaHappy Birthday, Iris Murdoch! She was pretty much up there with Doris Lessing for a while and was worthy of being played by Dame Judi Dench in the biopic about her tragic battle with Alzheimer’s. But then Lessing won the Nobel Prize and it seems Murdoch has gone out of fashion and few people read her now.

Fashion is just as fickle in books, or rather in writers, as it is in clothes. A movie or television adaptation can send a writer who has been ignored for years into the best seller lists, and a new biography, preferably with a few salacious details, can do the same.

Dickens keeps on keeping on and probably didn’t need a push from The Invisible Woman, but Trollope seems to have lost the impetus Barchester Towers gave him a few years ago. Swings and roundabouts – Anthony’s time may come again if a director with an eye for a great story decides to film The Eustace Diamonds.

Cover: The Fairy DollChildren’s books seem to ride the winds of fashion better, perhaps because they get a new set of readers every generation and parents and present-buyers hark back to what they loved when choosing.

A nice new cover helps, like the lovely Jane Ray illustration gracing Rumer Godden‘s The Fairy Doll, first published in 1956. Virago should have taught that lesson years ago when they single-handedly brought some unfairly ignored women writers back to readers’ attention.

Do you have a favourite who has dropped out of fashion, one you dream of bringing back?