Trollope is usually seen as a faithful mirror of Victorian England, both in providing details of contemporary life and in endorsing the moral attitudes and certainties of the period. His powers of empathy make his characters convincing and knowable. Yet the Victorians restricted women to the house and severely limited their rights and opportunities. This text examines the conundrum of how a great novelist could both accept the conventional values of the time and yet be able to see and sympathise with the impossible situations that Victorian women often found themselves. The author shows the individuality of Trollope's women: even conventional Angel in the House heroines, like the eponymous Rachel Ray and Mary Lowther in "The Vicar of Bullhampton", can surprise us at times. More tellingly, he cannot help giving some of his less angelic characters, such as the vivacious Lizzie Eustace in "The Eustace Diamonds" and the dauntless Mrs Hurtle in "The Way We Live Now". His range extends beyond simple romance to the realistic handling of marriages, both happy and unhappy, and to the treatment of bigamy and scandal. He shows men and women getting on together as well as fighting bitterly.
Nor are Trollope's novels as devoid of sex as has often been thought. Not only are hidden jokes made about the subject, men in the novels clearly think about women's bodies - something that women reciprocate. While in his plots and in his authorial asides, Trollope usually supports conventional Victorian attitudes, in his handling of women he shows himself capable of a real understanding of their restrictions and problems: the imperative to catch a husband; women's powerlessness (as experienced by Emily Trevelyan in "He Knew He Was Right" where a marriage failed; and the double standards applied to them throughout their lives.
Why read Trollope?; the way they lived then; virgins; false women; sex; husband hunting; marriage; unholy alliances; women's choices.