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Fanny, A Fiction by Edmund White
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Fanny, A Fiction

by Edmund White

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    Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope (thorold)
    thorold: Edmund White's historical novel explores the background to Mrs Trollope's American journey
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Here's the premise: Frances Trollope is already famous for publishing Domestic Manners of the Americans, a no-so flattering account of American society. She now sets out to write the biography of friend and feminist, Fanny Wright. Edmund White produces Fanny's biography in manuscript form and I have to say it would have been a clever twist to present this as a reworked manuscript. Trollope's notes to self, musings, and edit ideas would have been more effective had they been published as handwritten notes in the margins, scribbles, and parts crossed out. Instead, Trollope's musings are in line with the text and somewhat distracting. As it is, Trollope spends more time justifying her Domestic Manners and recounting her own family's trials and tribulations than she does on Ms. Wright's memoir. It's cleverly written. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Mar 4, 2013 |
This book is a bit of a departure of what you’d expect from a White’s novel. No auto-fiction here, no pre-aids or post-aids gay culture & history, no Paris fascination (well, this one just a bit). Better so, because, free from it’s classic themes, you can savour all White’s artistry. This 19th century novel is beautifully crafted, in a complex mirrored way: pretending to write a biography of her friend and pre-feminist Fanny Wright, writer Fanny Trollope tells her story and that of her family. But most important, Trollope tells us the story of the birth of a nation, the modern United States of America. Why America is so contradictory, how freedom and justice for all cohabits with slavery and segregation, how a nation can be simultaneously the cradle of democracy and of religious fundamentalism.
The magic of literature is that all this is written with style and humour and with an attention to detail that brings back to life the mores and manners of early 19th century. ( )
  innersmile | Jun 20, 2008 |
Well, what drew me to buying and reading this book in the first place? Two reasons really. Firstly, I’m a bit of a Trollope fan, having read and loved most of the novels of Anthony Trollope and, through him, having discovered his mother Fanny, who was also a successful novelist in her own time. Secondly, I’ve read many of Edmund White’s previous novels, though this is his first historical novel and quite a departure for him.

The novel purports to be a manuscript that Mrs Trollope was in the process of polishing at the time of her death. It is a biography of her late friend Fanny Wright but, in her rambling manner, Mrs Trollope forgets Miss Wright for much of it and talks about her own adventures – though for the period it covers, their stories do overlap somewhat. Thus it is really a tale of two Fannys (or should that be Fannies?).

The appeal of the book is not really in any page-turning plot but in the quality of the writing as Edmund White imagines how Mrs Trollope would have written about her friends and family – and most tellingly herself – as she looks back twenty years later on her adventures in America and Haiti as she attempted to rescue her family from penury and to trail in the wake of her charismatic and controversial friend.

In fact, Mrs Trollope’s first and biggest success came with the publication of a non-fiction book she wrote when she came back to England from America. Her ‘Domestic Manners of the Americans’ was a highly critical work and a huge commercial triumph in England.

So why read this novel that covers much of the same ground when you can read Mrs Trollope’s real words? Well, there are a number of reasons. Firstly, Mrs Trollope’s book didn’t really cover Fanny Wright to the same degree and she is certainly a fascinating character. Secondly, to today’s reader, her book is somewhat more plodding than Edmund White’s rolling prose. Finally, White has taken a degree of freedom with the facts that adds to the entertaining nature of the events in question. (For example, as he admits in the end note, Mrs Trollope didn’t in fact go to Haiti at all and some other family details are an invention or at least speculation.)

So how successful is his book? Well, White’s Mrs Trollope is a wonderfully engaging personality with a refreshingly brave and open but still acerbic view of those around her. Her friendship and admiration of Miss Wright does not prevent her subjecting her to constant (though clearly well-deserved) criticisms. Indeed, as the book progresses, she half-reluctantly admits she has been over-critical. Whether White has captured the real Mrs Trollope is difficult to tell, but for the purpose of the novel she is a convincing character and one you miss when the book ends.

My only criticism is that certain elements seem somewhat implausible for the time in question – even for a brave and open-minded soul as Mrs Trollope. Without giving away any of the plot, there’s one personal development towards the end that, to me, seems highly unlikely to have occurred – and even if it did occur, it seems highly improbable that Mrs Trollope would have written about it in a book that she meant for publication, albeit after her death. Still, it adds some otherwise missing spice to her story. Plus, White speculates that Mrs Trollope’s youngest son Henry was sexually ambiguous and that the family’s companion, the artist Auguste Hervieu, and Henry were in love with each other, but that Mrs Trollope, understandably, had no clue. This is plausible enough (and as a gay writer, it’s no surprise that White decided to add this element), but the point is belaboured too frequently; a subtler touch here would have made the point as effectively.

In short, if you’re looking for a rollicking page-turner, look elsewhere. But, if a sedate, beautifully observed and touching semi-comedy of political and society manners is up your street, you could do far worse. And any who already fans of Edmund White or Fanny Trollope will not be disappointed. ( )
1 vote justininlondon | Jan 23, 2008 |
A most intriguing book. It's narrated in first person by the Victorian English writer Francis Trollope, who was one of thos Europeans who toured antebellum America (a la Tocqueville) & wrote up their impressions for a curious European audience. She is supposedly writing a biography of the 19th-century European & American reformer Fanny Wright, but she keeps getting sidetracked by her own story. Trollope is in many ways obtuse, but the fascinating thing is how White somehow manages to reveal to us through her voice things (such as her son's homosexuality) that she herself does not know. It's a writing trick that I don't see how it works, but it does. ( )
1 vote mbergman | Dec 3, 2007 |
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Epigraph
He was extremely polite towards religion rather than a believer. He would have been devout had he been able to believe that he would meet his daughter Henriette again. M. le duc de Broglie said: "To me it's as if my daughter were in America." -- Stendahl, The Life of Henri Brulard
Dedication
To Joyce Carol Oates.
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Editor's note [technically the first words of the novel]: The manuscript was found amongst the papers of Mrs. Frances Trollope when she died on 6 October 1863, at the age of eighty-four.

[First words of Chapter One]: Now that her life is over I have decided to write it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060004843, Hardcover)

In her fifties, Mrs. Frances Trollope became famous overnight for her book attacking the United States. Twenty-five years later, she sharpens her pen for her most controversial work yet -- the biography of her old friend, the radical and feminist Fanny Wright. She recalls the 1820s when the young Fanny erupted into the Trollopes' sleepy English cottage like a volcano, her red hair flying, her talk aflame with utopian ideals. Before long, Wright has convinced Frances to follow her to America, a journey of extreme penury, frontier hardships, and the most satisfying sensual romance of Frances Trollope's life.

The biography soon degenerates into a settling of scores and digressions on the misadventures of Mrs. Trollope's own family. By turns noble and petty, comic and tragic, it introduces us to literary lions, battling political theorists, gamblers and escaped slaves, and even the aging General Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. With hallucinatory realism, Mrs. Trollope paints French châteaux, Belgian fogs, Mississippi mud, and the gaudy splendors and cruelties of Haiti. And throughout this sparkling narrative, we find love in all its forms -- in the family, between races and generations, and within the same sex.

Fanny: A Fiction is a wonderful new departure for Edmund White -- a quirky, dazzling story of two extraordinary nineteenth-century women, and a vibrant, questioning exploration of the nature of idealism, the clay feet of heroes, and the illusory power of the American dream.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:55 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"In her fifties, Mrs. Frances Trollope became famous overnight for her book attacking the United States. Twenty-five years later, she sharpens her pen for her most controversial work yet - the biography of her old friend, the radical and feminist Fanny Wright. She recalls the 1820s when the young Fanny erupted into the Trollopes' sleepy English cottage like a volcano, her red hair flying, her talk aflame with utopian ideals. Before long, Wright has convinced Frances to follow her to America, a journey of extreme penury, frontier hardships, and the most satisfying sensual romance of Frances Trollope's life." "The biography soon degenerates into a settling of scores and digressions on the misadventures of Mrs. Trollope's own family. By turns noble and petty, comic and tragic, it introduces us to literary lions, battling political theorists, gamblers and escaped slaves, and even the aging General Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. With hallucinatory realism, Mrs. Trollope paints French chateaux, Belgian fogs, Mississippi mud, and the gaudy splendors and cruelties of Haiti. And throughout this narrative, we find love in all its forms - in the family, between races and generations, and within the same sex."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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