The Domestic Manners of the Americans

The Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances (Fanny) Trollope 1832


On a mahogany bookshelf in the lower Birmingham Library sit two elegantly bound volumes which
created a sensation and earned the author about £800 which was phenomenal for a first book by an
unknown author. Fanny Trollope was the mother of Anthony Trollope and was 52 years old at the
time. She had faced poverty and sorrow yet managed to subsequently support her family by her
writing. She never took herself too seriously and was monstered by intellectuals such as Harriet
Martineau. However her account of her travels in America are amusing and caustic. She dislikes
servants who have republican views and are rude to her. Spitting is universal and gross. She abhors
slavery. She finds American religion, manners and society appalling.
She goes to America with three children and feminist and abolitionist Frances Wright who had
established Nashoba, a ‘political utopia’ for emancipated slaves. ( Is she the model for Mrs Hominy
‘the ‘modern Gracchi’ of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit?) Fanny Trollope is scathing of Nashoba as a
disastrous slum in a swamp and it had indeed fallen into ruin. She later sent her older son to work at
Robert Owen’s New Harmony where he almost starved to death.
This was a time of the beginnings of socialism and also the Democratic party. The UK Reform Act
was passed in 1832 so Fanny Trollope had her ‘finger on the pulse’ so to speak. In his
autobiography Anthony Trollops writes: ‘The American to her were rough, uncouth and vulgar,- and
she told them so. Those communistic and social ideas, which had been so pretty in a drawing room,
were scattered to the winds. Her volumes were very bitter; – but they were clever and they saved the
family from ruin.’

Gill

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