From the Archives: The Noble Jilt, by Anthony Trollope

AnthonyIn honor of Anthony Trollope’s 200th birthday this Friday, April 24th, I am writing today about a little known work of his, a play entitled, The Noble Jilt, a first edition copy of which can be found in the Archives & Special Collections.

Born in London in 1815, Trollope’s family experienced a rather drastic downfall over the course of his lifetime. His father, originally a barrister, lost his practice, as well as an expected inheritance. As a result of the family’s declining circumstances, Trollope changed schools frequently, and though he tried to attain University scholarships, he was unable to get one. While Trollope’s father was never very successful, his mother actually had a moderately successful writing career, and is most famous for her first book, Domestic Manners of the Americans. For a number of years, the family was largely supported by Frances Trollope’s career.

As an adult, Trollope wound up working as a clerk in a post office and was eventually transferred to Banagher, Ireland as a deputy postal surveyor in 1841. It was here in Ireland where Trollope first began writing. Introduced to the political discontent of the Irish, Trollope hoped to explore this through his novels. He began his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran in 1843, and it was first published in 1847.

In the early years of his writing career, in 1850, Trollope wrote one of only two plays, The Noble Jilt. Plays were not Trollope’s strong suit- The Noble Jilt would not be published until 1923, when Michael Sadleir, a British novelist and book collector, edited and published the first edition of the play based on Trollope’s original manuscript. The first edition of the play was limited to only 500 copies, one of which now resides in Special Collections here at UPS.

In his preface of the first published edition, Sadleir defends Trollope’s failed play, writing that:

So far as is known, Trollope wrote only two plays during the prolific five and thirty years of his life of authorship. The genre was uncomfortable to him. It limited his elbow room and forbade him the accumulation of detail that was his genius. He liked a large canvas and a crowded one. . . The limitations of dramatic form cramped him intolerably

Despite the failure of his attempts at writing plays, Trollope adapted The Noble Jilt as a novel entitled, Can You Forgive Her? which explored the success of traditional Victorian marriages, and questioned the importance of the sexual aspect of marriage, something which would have been a relatively dangerous thing to do with his Victorian audience. So, I suppose you could say that out of the ashes of The Noble Jilt, the phoenix of Can You Forgive Her arose 🙂 Happy 200th to Mr. Trollope!

By Kara E. Flynn

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