hings did not go well for Fanny Trollope. One can see why she acquired the nickname "Old Madam Vinegar": Circumstances were difficult enough in England. Her husband had headaches and was impossible to live with. A hoped-for inheritance never materialized, so money was scarce, but Trollope children were not.
But all, she hoped, would be set to rights in America when, in 1827, Mrs. Trollope embarked upon an ocean voyage with three of her children to seek her fortune in that land of opportunity. She had heard it said that America was a country in which man's noblest aspirations were realized. No one was poor or underprivileged there. It was a veritable Elysium, a land of noble-minded, progressive, and kind-hearted liberals — a Britain devoid of its flaws. The reformer Frances Wright had spoken rapturously of the place. Her 1821 book Views of Society and Manners in America brimmed with unbounded praise. She spoke so very highly of Robert Owen's Nashoba Colony in Tennessee that Mrs. Trollope was convinced. Utopia seemed the perfect solution.
But it proved a maddening misadventure.
A river trip did little to dispose her to a charitable frame of mind. As Mrs. Trollope tartly wrote, "Let no one who wishes to receive agreeable impressions of American manners, commence their travels in a Mississippi steamboat; for myself, it is with all sincerity I declare, that I would infinitely prefer sharing the apartment of a party of well conditioned pigs" (Domestic Manners of the Americans, 34). Everything about the south rankled. The air was inhabited by mosquitoes. Mississippi was a morass of mud in which colossal crocodiles luxuriated. Nashoba itself was a melancholy place, a miserable collection of log cabins located in sludge over which one had to leap by way of slimy stumps. Clammy air, stiff mattresses, acrid smoke, and monotonous meals of Indian corn pudding and fried fat pork did little to alleviate the lady's displeasure (Bigland, 83).
Putting ideals aside, she abandoned utopia and took herself off to Cincinnati. Accompanying her and the children throughout her ordeals was Auguste Hervieu, a young French artist who was to be the drawing instructor at Nashoba, but declined to remain there as well. Cincinnati was considered a highly favorable city in which to settle. The British press had labeled it a place of unsurpassed opportunity. Determined to exploit that opportunity — and in desperate financial straits — Mrs. Trollope, with mercantilistic zeal, obtained the necessary capital and set out to establish a bazaar, selling fancy European goods and adding a touch of culture, too. The emporium would include an exhibition gallery, a ballroom, an orchestral gallery, and lecture and reading rooms. It would have Egyptian columns in the style of temples of the Nile. Mr. Trollope, back in England, would select European merchandise for the venture. The structure was erected, pronounced an eyesore, and became known as "Trollope's Folly." The unfortunate enterprise ended in bankruptcy, and the temple and its contents had to be sold at a Sheriff's auction for it could bring.
As Pope-Hennessey has aptly queried, "Can one be surprised that Mrs. Trollope had no kindly feeling for the people of a place in which she had suffered so much?" (Pope-Hennessey, 86).
Mrs. Trollope vents her wrath
Mrs. Trollope's subsequent scheme promised to be a fiscally sound way to vent her wrath on America. She had heard of Captain Basil Hall's Travels in North America, an anti-American travelogue that generated immense ill will and marvelous sales. The book was so hostile that it was said that the British government had commissioned Hall to write it in order to stop the growing admiration of the British people for the American way of life. The financially foundering Mrs. Trollope decided to take advantage of the copious personal notes she had amassed during her journey, and try her hand at invective. (She had never written a book before.) She thus produced the Domestic Manners of the Americans. The book's effect was such that "No English name has been held in greater execration among Americans than that of Fanny Trollope" (Pope-Hennessey, 23).
Mrs. Trollope was unambiguous when it came to Americans. She firmly recorded, "I do not like them. I do not like their principles; I do not like their manners, I do not like their opinions" (Domestic Manners, 321). She was particularly unforgiving when it came to table manners:
The total want of all the usual courtesies of the table, the voracious rapidity with which the viands were seized and devoured; the strange uncouth phrases and pronunciation; the loathsome spitting, from the contamination of which it was absolutely impossible to protect our dresses; the frightful manner of feeding with their knives, till the whole blade seemed to enter into the mouth; and the still more frightful manner of cleaning the teeth afterward with a pocket knife, soon forced us to feel that we were not surrounded by the generals, colonels, and majors of the Old World; and that the dinner hour was to be any thing rather than an hour of enjoyment. [36-37]
On the matter of principles, one suspects a bit of tergiversation when the subject was Mrs. Trollope's own comforts. She was an adamant abolitionist whose book of anti-slavery propaganda, Adventures of Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw, would become the prototype of Uncle Tom's Cabin. A heated critic of Thomas Jefferson, she branded him a heartless libertine and an unprincipled tyrant who fathered children by almost all of his female slaves. Of slave-owners she wrote, "you will see them with one hand hoisting the cap of liberty, and with the other flogging their slaves" (Domestic Manners, 180). Yet she did concede that the condition of domestic slaves did not generally appear to be bad, and she had to acknowledge that "much kind attention" was bestowed upon the health of slaves (198).
Principles notwithstanding, Mrs. Trollope decided that life was far more agreeable when one had slaves in attendance. After the discomforts of Nashoba, she was happy to note in Virginia that "our rooms, with fires in them, were immediately ready for us, and refreshments brought, with all that sedulous attention which in this country distinguishes a slave state" (153). Finding little to carp about there, she admitted that her earlier perception of slavery as an abomination was misguided:
I left England with feelings so strongly opposed to slavery, that it was not without pain I witnessed its effects around me. At the sight of every Negro man, woman, and child that passed, my fancy wove some little romance of misery, as belonging to each of them; since I have known more on the subject, and become better acquainted with their real situation in America, I have often smiled at recalling what I then felt. 
Mrs. Trollope, in effect, departed for America a Progressive and came back a Conservative, a transformation that occurred in some not insignificant number of travelers to the United States at the time, according to Edmund White (White, 11).
Mrs. Trollope comes out against equality
As she sojourned among what she called the "'I'm-as-good-as-you' population" of America, Fanny Trollope cogitated upon the notion of equality. Her conclusion, enough to make an American angry and a liberal Englishman squirm, was that
the theory of equality may be very daintily discussed by English gentlemen in a London dining-room, when the servant, having placed a fresh bottle of cool wine on the table, respectfully shuts the door, and leaves them to their walnuts and their wisdom; but it will be found less palatable when it presents itself in the shape of a hard, greasy paw, and is claimed in accents that breathe less of freedom than of onions and whiskey. [Domestic Manners, 109]
One would assume that inequality is unequal whether one imbibes whisky or wine. Expanding upon her views of equality, Mrs. Trollope found little of merit in the notion that, in America, a woodcutter's son could become a member of Congress.
Any man's son may become the equal of any other man's son, and the consciousness of this is certainly a spur to exertion; on the other hand, it is also a spur to that coarse familiarity, untempered by any shadow of respect, which is assumed by the grossest and the lowest in their intercourse with the highest and most refined. This is a positive evil, and, I think, more than balances its advantages.In having thrown off the yoke of Great Britain, Americans relinquished her glorious institutions as well, in exchange for what Mrs. Trollope could only see as lawlessness:
They knew not, they cared not, for her kings nor her heroes; their thriftiest trader was their noblest man; the holy seats of learning were but the cradles of superstition; the splendour of the aristocracy, but a leech that drew their "golden blood." The wealth, the learning, the glory of Britain, was to them nothing; the having their own way every thing.
Can any blame their wish to obtain it? Can any lament that they succeeded?
And now the day was their own, what should they do next? Their elders drew together, and said, "Let us make a government that shall suit us all; let it be rude, and rough, and noisy; let it not affect either dignity, glory, or splendour; let it interfere with no man's will, nor meddle with any man's business; let us have neither tithes nor taxes, game laws, nor poor laws; let every man have a hand in making the laws, and no man be troubled about keeping them; let not our magistrates wear purple, nor our judges ermine; if a man grow rich, let us take care that his grandson be poor, and then we shall all keep equal; let every man take care of himself, and if England should come to bother us again, why then we will fight altogether" .
Mrs. Trollope on American evangelical religion
Inspecting a religious camp-meeting, Mrs. Trollope found it resonant with sexual overtones. She described distorted figures lying on the floor and wailing convulsively in the throes of evangelical fervor, whilst opportunistic preachers offered succor with caressing touches:
Many of these wretched creatures were beautiful young females. The preachers moved about among them, at once exciting and soothing their agonies. I heard the muttered "Sister! Dear sister!" I saw the insidious lips approach the cheeks of the unhappy girls; I heard the murmured confessions of the poor victims, and I watched their tormentors, breathing into their ears consolations that tinged the pale cheek with red. Had I been a man, I am sure I should have been guilty of some rash act of interference; nor do I believe that such a scene could have been acted in the presence of Englishmen without instant punishment being inflicted .
These sable ministers walk from house to house, or if the distance be considerable, ride on a comfortable ambling nag. They are not only as empty as wind, but resemble it in other particulars; for they blow where they list, and no man knoweth whence they come, nor whither they go. When they see a house that promises comfortable lodging and entertainment, they enter there, and say to the good woman of the house, "Sister, shall I pray with you?" If the answer be favourable, and it is seldom otherwise, he instals himself and his horse till after breakfast the next morning. The best meat, drink, and lodging are his, while he stays, and he seldom departs without some little contribution in money for the support of the crucified and suffering church. 
The familiarity associated with everyone being tagged a brother or sister was particularly distasteful to Mrs. Trollope.
When not insinuating that there was something salacious in the religious rituals of Americans, Mrs. Trollope held that chapels and meetinghouses were a form of entertainment, and an opportunity for the fashionable to flaunt their costumes. As she airily wrote, "surely there is no country in the world where religion makes so large a part of the amusement and occupation of the ladies" (221). In her mind, the hysterics and convulsions of the pious were something of a show for the entertainment-starved Americans. The spiritual was spectacle, and faith a façade:
I believe I am sufficiently tolerant; but this does not prevent my seeing that the object of all religious observances is better obtained, when the government of the church is confided to the wisdom and experience of the most venerated among the people, than when it is placed in the hands of every tinker and tailor who chooses to claim a share in it. Nor is this the only evil attending the want of a national religion, supported by the State. As there is no legal and fixed provision for the clergy, it is hardly surprising that their services are confined to those who can pay them. The vehement expressions of insane or hypocritical zeal, such as were exhibited during "the Revival," can but ill atone for the want of village worship, any more than the eternal talk of the admirable and unequalled government, can atone for the continual contempt of social order. Church and State hobble along, side by side, notwithstanding their boasted independence. Almost every man you meet will tell you, that he is occupied in labours most abundant for the good of his country; and almost every woman will tell you, that besides those things that are within (her house) she has coming upon her daily the care of all the churches. Yet spite of this universal attention to the government, its laws are half asleep; and spite of the old women and their Dorcas societies, atheism is awake and thriving. 
Harriet Martineau, also a writer on America at the time, held that Mrs. Trollope's attack on the religious camp meeting was an assault on Nonconformity in general: Mrs. Trollope apparently knew only the Established Church and thus all else seemed wrong to her (Pope-Hennessey, 78). The New Monthly Magazine found Mrs. Trollope's comments to be indecent and revolting, alleging that the most outrageous, malicious, and inexcusable portions of her book in fact related to religion. The periodical called into question Mrs. Trollope's own piety, asserting, "It is difficult to conceive of any real reverence for religion existing in a mind capable of treating even the fanatical extravagances of its misguided followers with heartless levity" (Heineman, 95).
Mrs. Barnaby and Mrs. Trollope
Heartless levity is a fitting description of Mrs. Barnaby, the main character in Frances Trollope's The Barnabys in America, who is actually Mrs. Trollope in disguise. The Barnabys are an English pair who come to America for financial gain. In the South, Mrs. Barnaby claims to be writing a pro-slavery book, thus winning the favor — and beneficence — of her hosts. In the North, she convinces some deeply righteous Quakers that she is going to write an anti-slavery book — and the noble-minded Quakers open their purses to fund the worthy project. Neither book comes to light. Misrepresenting themselves, swindling their hosts, and making hasty retreats, the Barnabys manage to return home $10,000 richer.
The Barnabys in America is a satire on American greed, and, like many British travelers of the day, Mrs. Trollope cast a harsh eye on the lust for lucre. She recorded the statement of an Englishman who had never heard Americans conversing without the word "dollar" being pronounced between them (a questionable claim, it could be argued), and she adds that such "unity of purpose, such sympathy of feeling, can, I believe, be found nowhere else, except, perhaps, in an ants' nest" (Domestic Manners, 242). Yet Fanny Trollope's own impetus in coming to the States had to do with the alarmingly increasing impecunious circumstances at home, and her travel book was conceived solely to plump up the family purse.
The quest for capital in itself can hardly be faulted when one has servants' wages due, creditors to pay, rent in arrears, a failed barrister of a husband, and no inheritance, but Mrs. Trollope's attitude was inconsistent. She asserted that a sordid object — that of money — produced a sordid tone of mind. She warned against the low tone of morality that was generated by the pursuit of wealth. Yet she herself was motivated by monstrous mammon to the detriment and discomfort of others. In her mind, it was perfectly acceptable to incur the ire of the States if it bolstered up the billfold.
The American Reaction
Mrs. Trollope was accused of being squalid-minded and disreputable. An editor of the Domestic Manners of the Americans wrote that there were "various portions of the book of a nature strongly to excite my suspicions that the author is not what she pretends to be, an English lady." And, "No lady...of any nation, would stand godmother to a book embellished with such illustrations." The illustrations, penned by her traveling companion Hervieu, were of "gross and indelicate characters" depicting, for example, the ample posterior of a fat American seated on the balcony in a theater. The same editor took Mrs. Trollope to task for being hypocritical in ingratiating herself with her hosts — and then spying on and disparaging them (Domestic Manners, Preface). The Western Monthly Review found Mrs. Trollope "singularly unladylike" (Pope-Hennessey, 71). New Monthly Magazine called the texture of her mind "essentially gross," referring to stories in her book that offended modesty (Heineman, 96). Harriet Martineau, working on her own manuscript of America at the time, wrote, "I will not dirty my pages with her stories, even to refute them" (Pope-Hennessey, 78). And although Mrs. Trollope maintained that the standard of moral character in the United States was greatly lower than that of Europe, she herself was considered something of a profligate woman. She was traveling, after all, with a man who was not her husband. Why was she not in the custody of her husband?
Mrs. Trollope's coarse frankness was off-putting, and some claimed that she had never been received in the better circles because she lacked refinement, fine clothing and acceptable manners. With no credentials or letters of introduction, she was ostracized. In her experience, the class-consciousness that was so prevalent in England was present in America as well. (She has her character Mrs. Barnaby declare that Americans just doted upon titles and rank as much as she ever did.) If Mrs. Trollope failed to find enough of intellectual interest in the United States, it was partly because she was barred from the sophisticated circles and literary clubs of the day. Harriet Beecher Stowe was granted membership in the Semi-Colon Club of Cincinnati, but Frances Trollope was not. And although America was admittedly a young country less concerned with culture than in carving out a life in the wilderness, there were nonetheless some number of literary coteries, debating societies, and musical groups that one could join. But Mrs. Trollope insisted that Americans were woefully deficient in taste and learning, and this because she had little access to the educated class. After visiting the exhibitions in New York, she concluded that "The Medici of the republic must exert themselves a little more before these can become respectable" (Domestic Manners, 275). And while she was quick to criticize the exhibition rooms and academies that were hung "with all the unutterable trash that is offered to them," one might question her own judgment and taste in decorating her exhibition room at the bazaar with the work of the young Auguste Hervieu, simply because it was offered.
Pope-Hennessey has alluded to a kind of veil that hangs between English and American minds and makes them inscrutable to each other, and suggests that Frances and Anthony Trollope reside in that tradition. Certainly from Anthony Trollope's perspective, America and Britain appear to be great gulfs apart. Yet Frances Trollope, in so vigorously attempting to establish the inferiority of Americans, seems to be decidedly American herself.
She was evidently in possession of those traits that she found so reprehensible in the American character. She was hypocritical, superficial, unprincipled, of dubious moral quality, avaricious, ill mannered, and uncouth. She was far more blunt than the despised Mr. Gotobed in her son's American Senator. She liked money as much as Melmotte ever did in The Way We Live Now, and she had no scruples about how she acquired it. She had the aggressive nature of a Mrs. Hurtle.
A contemporary letter claimed that Mrs. Trollope quarreled with everybody, became disgusted with every thing, and vented her spite upon the whole country in place of herself, from her folly, ignorance, and presumption (Heineman, 95). Her Domestic Manners of the Americans caused deep offense in the United States — and much laughter at home. Harriet Martineau called the book "vituperative," and described Mrs. Trollope as the woman who "thought fit to slander a whole nation" (Pope-Hennessey, 77).
There is some justice, however — in life, in this case, if not in art. In Mrs. Trollope's morally hollow sphere, the character Mrs. Barnaby goes sailing home with glee at her ill-gotten gains. A villain such as that in Dickens — Quilp, for example — would find himself dispatched to the nearest swamp and duly submerged to meet an ignominious death. The moral order would be restored. Mrs. Barnaby could have come to such an appropriate end as well. There were certainly enough swamps down south, as Mrs. Trollope noted so witheringly back in her "utopia" days. But the nasty Mrs. Barnaby triumphs.
Alas, Mrs. Trollope herself did not. This woman who "thought fit to slander a whole nation" continued to live a life of desperation. She derived no benefit from the transatlantic circulation of her Domestic Manners of the Americans, as it was not protected by copyright, and thousands of Americans were reading it. There was much to grouse about in the book's earnings. Things did not go well for Fanny. Those were the days of imprisonment for debt, and the Trollopes eventually had to flee from Britain, and relocate in Bruges.
Bigland, Eileen. The Indomitable Mrs. Trollope. Philadelphia: J.B.Lippincott and Company, 1954.
Heineman, Helen. Mrs. Trollope: The Triumphant Feminine in the Nineteenth Century. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1979.
Pope-Hennessy, Una. Three English Women in America. London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1929.
Stebbins, Lucy Poate and Richard Poate Stebbins. The Trollopes. New York: Columbia University Press, 1945.
Trollope, Frances Eleanor. Frances Trollope: Her Life and Literary Work from George III to Victoria. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895.
Trollope, Mrs. Domestic Manners of the Americans. London: Whittaker, Treacher, and Company, 1832.
Trollope, Mrs. The Barnabys in America, Vols. I-III. London: Henry Colburn, Publisher, 1843.
White, Edmund. Fanny: A Fiction. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2003.
1 April 2008