February 1st, 2011


Book Review: The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

One-line summary: A grand Victorian melodrama with all of Austen's cynical wit and Sinclair's scathing social critique.

Originally published in 1875. Approximately 353,000 words (800 pages). Available for free at Project Gutenberg.

In this world of bribes and vendettas, swindling and suicide, in which heiresses are won like gambling stakes, Trollope's characters embody all the vices: Lady Carbury, a 43-year-old coquette, 'false from head to foot'; her son Felix, with the 'instincts of a horse, not approaching the higher sympathies of a dog'; and Melmotte, the colossal figure who dominates the book, a 'horrid, big, rich scoundrel...a bloated swindler...a vile city ruffian'.

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Verdict: Anthony Trollope's been added to my "Need to read more of this author" list. Like Dickens, he is only considered "literary" a hundred years later -- he was writing the mass market paperbacks of his day. Anyone who likes Victorian novels should read The Way We Live Now, especially if you like biting social commentary. Trollope takes shots at everyone from the clergy to Parliament, and while he's at it gets a few digs in on literary critics as well. It's not really a romance, but there are plenty of romantic subplots. It's funnier than you'd expect, and enormously entertaining -- despite the wordiness and some barely-relevant chapters, it never dragged for me.

ObPlug: The Way We Live Now is apparently considered by many to be Trollope's best work, but it's not on the 1001 books list. Four other Trollope novels are, though, so if you'd like to see reviews (or possibly write them yourself), please join us at books1001!