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Domestic manners of the Americans by Francis…

Domestic manners of the Americans (original 1832; edition 1984)

by Francis Trollope, Richard Mullen

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Title:Domestic manners of the Americans
Authors:Francis Trollope
Other authors:Richard Mullen
Info:Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1984
Collections:Your library
Tags:non-fiction, travel, read in 2012

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Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope (1832)

  1. 10
    Fanny, A Fiction by Edmund White (thorold)
    thorold: Edmund White's historical novel explores the background to Mrs Trollope's American journey

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I take book suggestions from all sorts of sources. In the case of Domestic Manners of the Americans by Fanny Trollope, the recommendation came tucked into The Cat Who Robbed a Bank by Lilian Jackson Braun. Trollope's book was featured in a game of twenty questions that piqued my interest.

Frances Trollope, mother of Anthony Trollope, and author of twenty-five novels, as well as travelogues, got the writing bug during her stay in the United States with three of her six children. The idea behind the trip was two fold — take a break from marital issues and rebuild some of the waning family fortune.

The Trollops landed in New Orleans and from there traveled north via a commune in Tennessee to Cincinnati and later other urban centers in the area. Throughout her journey she remarked on the people she met, the mode of transportation, the weather, the food and pretty much anything else that either intrigued her or pissed her off.

As this was the early days of United States and things were still pretty damn rural even in the big cities (note her descriptions of pigs as garbage disposal units), she of well established Britain, took her visits as something of an adventure into untamed, barbaric lands.

Her travelog inspired Edmund White to pen Fanny: A Fiction. If I am to keep following the thread of recommendations from Braun to Trollop to White, I suppose I should read his book too. It is now on my wishlist to read as time permits. ( )
  pussreboots | Feb 27, 2014 |
I never saw any people who appeared to live so much without amusement as the Cincinnatians. Billiards are forbidden by law, so are cards. To sell a pack of cards in Ohio subjects the seller to a penalty of fifty dollars. They have no public balls, excepting, I think, six, during the Christmas holidays. They have no concerts. They have no dinner parties.
They have a theatre, which is, in fact, the only public amusement of this triste little town; but they seem to care little about it, and either from economy or distaste, it is very poorly attended. Ladies are rarely seen there, and by far the larger proportion of females deem it an offence against religion to witness the representation of a play. It is in the churches and chapels of the town that the ladies are to be seen in full costume; and I am tempted to believe that a stranger from the continent of Europe would be inclined, on first reconnoitering the city, to suppose that the places of worship were the theatres and cafes of the place.

Near the end of the book, the author devotes some time to discussing American reactions to a book by Captain Basil Hall, commenting on their inability to tolerate the slightest criticism of their country, and how it seemed as if everyone in the country had bought the book and was enraged at the calumnies of that despicable author. As I read this, I was picturing Fanny Trollope with dollar signs in her eyes and the sound of cash registers ringing (much like Scrooge McDuck in the cartoons). I am sure that she thought about her opinions on the uncouth citizens of American, with their constant spitting, strange ideas of how to run hotels and lack of enthusiasm for anything except politics and making money, and realised that she was perfectly capable of writing in bitchy, condescending and scornful tones, so why shouldn't she write a book that would infuriate the American public and make herself just as much money as Captain Hall had.

The Chatham is so utterly condemned by bon ton, that it requires some courage to decide upon going there; nor do I think my curiosity would have penetrated so far, had I not seen Miss Mitford's Rienzi advertised there. It was the first opportunity I had had of seeing it played, and spite of very indifferent acting, I was delighted. The interest must have been great, for till the curtain fell, I saw not one quarter of the queer things around me: then I observed in the front row of a dress-box a lady performing the most maternal office possible; several gentlemen without their coats, and a general air of contempt for thedecencies of life, certainly more than usually revolting.

This is actually a very readable book, as Fanny's bitchiness and condescension when discussing the people and their way of life contrasts with her descriptions of the beauties of the mountains, rivers, waterfalls and autumn foliage. And her scorn can cut to the heart of things when she compares the Americans' constant lauding of their freedom with their acceptance of slavery and the breaking of every legal agreement made with the Native Americans.

Had I, during my residence in the United States, observed any single feature in their national character that could justify their eternal boast of liberality and the love of freedom, I might have respected them, however much my taste might have been offended by what was peculiar in their manners and customs. But it is impossible for any mind of common honesty not to be revolted by the contradictions in their principles and practice. They inveigh against the governments of Europe, because, as they say, they favour the powerful and oppress the weak. You may hear this declaimed upon in Congress, roared out in taverns, discussed in every drawing-room, satirized upon the stage, nay, even anathematized from the pulpit: listen to it, and then look at them at home; you will see them with one hand hoisting the cap of liberty, and with the other flogging their slaves. You will see them one hour lecturing their mob on the indefeasible rights of man, and the next driving from their homes the children of the soil, whom they have bound themselves to protect by the most solemn treaties. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Jan 17, 2014 |
I think the only thing in America that really impressed Mrs. Trollope (in a good way, at least), was Niagara Falls. And she had a very sharp tongue indeed. ( )
  SusannainSC | Mar 31, 2013 |
The great Scots poet, Robert Burns, who wrote in both English and in Scots, wrote the oft-quoted words: “O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us!” Citizens and residents of the 19th Century United States actually had two opportunities to experience just that. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans. The first work was ultimately two volumes long and contained a great deal of detailed information with analysis and commentary on life in America based upon the French author’s two year visit begun in 1831. The latter work is much shorter and more anecdotal, recounting Mrs. Trollope’s personal experiences traveling and living in the United States from 1828-1831. Frances Trollope was the mother of two prominent English authors, her oldest son Thomas Adolphus Trollope and third son Anthony Trollope, and this work launched her own writing career in England after it was published there in 1832. Although acclaimed in England, it was widely criticized in America.

Mrs. Trollope’s travels in America extended from her arrival in New Orleans in 1828, a voyage up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she lived for two years as she and her family struggled to succeed in managing their department store, the Bazaar. Finally abandoning this attempt and resolving to return to England, she voyaged again up the Ohio River to Wheeling, Virginia and from there traveled overland (via Hagerstown, Maryland) to the Atlantic seaboard. She spent time in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, before finally sailing for England and home where she wrote and published this memoir of her visit in 1832.

Mrs. Trollope presents her story as a chronological narrative, frequently using the telling of a particular anecdote to then address a broader theme such as the role and practice of religion in America, or how the conduct of relations between the genders in America compares and contrasts with how they are conducted in England. The work is available in various editions from a number of publishers, but I would encourage you to look for one that includes the original illustrations that clearly augment Mrs. Trollope’s comments in the text (and I would encourage Dover Publications to include them in its edition as its editors apparently overlooked one passage in the book that is in fact useless and uninformative without Mrs. Trollope’s illustrations!). ( )
  RobertMosher | Mar 22, 2010 |
Mrs Trollope (the mother of Anthony) was one of the earliest and most enterprising members of the stream of European intellectuals who visited the USA in its early years and wrote about their experiences. She didn't originally set out to be a tourist, though: she travelled to darkest Tennessee with her children in 1828, intending to join Fanny Wright's Nashoba Commune. When she saw the commune, she packed her bags and left at once, appalled at the conditions there, and then found herself stranded in Cincinnati for a couple of years before she could raise the money to travel back to England. These circumstances are only vaguely hinted at in the book, but obviously go a long way to explain her generally negative impression of Americans and the United States.
Trollope's views aren't entirely negative, of course: she is full of admiration for much of the natural scenery she sees, and considers at least Washington, Philadelphia and New York to be very attractive cities, in their different ways. But she sees the "egalitarianism" of a society that keeps slaves and oppresses native Americans as repugnant and hypocritical, she is very scathing about the excesses of American religion, and (aptly, given the reception her book got in the US) teases Americans about the way their devotion to free speech crumbles if an outsider should venture to criticise their country. Perhaps that's not a uniquely American failing, though.

Mrs Trollope consciously tries to stick to social observation and does not get involved in detailed discussions of US politics. Her account of life in the mid-west in the 1830s makes it sound like Afghanistan under the Taliban, mutatis mutandis: American men are consistently described as ill-mannered, constantly spitting, putting their feet on the seats, gambling, and smelling of onions and whisky. They are also apparently devoted to the pursuit of the almighty dollar to the exclusion of all more aesthetic pursuits. Women are domestic drudges, tied to their kitchens and laundries because of the prejudice against working as domestic servants (by white people). If women ever go out, it is to attend endlessly long church services and revival meetings. Men and women are segregated rigorously in public places, and strict dress regulations are enforced on women (ankles may not be displayed). Pleasant diversions (theatre, art, music, education, etc.) are either banned by law, boycotted on prudish religious grounds, or avoided as a waste of time that could be employed in making money. In short, for a modern European reader seeking to have prejudices confirmed, it's a goldmine! ( )
  thorold | Dec 3, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140435611, Paperback)

"I am convinced there is no writer who has so well and accurately (I need not add, so entertainingly) described [America] ... as you have done"—Dickens to Fanny Trollope, 1842

When Fanny Trollope set sail for America in 1827, she took with her three of her children and a young French artist. She left behind her son Anthony, growing debts and a husband going slowly mad from mercury poisoning. But her hopes of joining a Utopian community of emancipated slaves were soon dashed, and she and her children were forced to live by their wits in Cincinnati, then a booming frontier town on the Ohio River. What followed was a tragicomedy of illness, scandal and failed business ventures that left them destitute.

Nevertheless, on her return to England, Fanny turned her misfortunes into a remarkable book. Domestic Manners was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. A masterpiece of nineteenth-century travel-writing, it is also a timeless satire on a society torn between high ideals and human frailties. It remains as perceptive and funny today as it was when it was first published.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:51 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Frances Trollope, mother of the great Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, wrote more than 40 books in her lifetime, including landmark novels dealing with important social issues. She is best known today, however, for this witty, entertaining, and controversial account of American life and culture. Published in 1832, this book presents a lively portrait of early nineteenth-century America as observed by a woman of rare intelligence and keen perception. The author left no stone unturned, commenting on American dress, food, speech, politics, manners, customs, the landscape, architecture, and more.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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