The people of England have taken a rough view toward the manners, taste and sophistication of Americans since they themselves became the first colonists. Almost two full decades before witches started suddenly popping up with shocking frequency there, British travel writer John Josselyn had this to say about the routines of daily life in Salem under the governing authority of Puritan leaders: “Quakers they whip, banish, and hang if they return again. Anabaptists they imprison, fine and weary out.” Almost from the very moment those British citizens seen as rough-hewn outcasts had set sail for the New World, most of those staying put were glad to be relieved of such rabble, especially with an entire ocean between them and any desire to return back home.
Not all British writers made the trip to just what this thing called America was all about return to England with disposition toward the former colonists as chattel for good riddance. Both Dickens and Oscar Wilde certainly had their reservations certain defining aspects of the American character, but for the most part they seemed more charmed than alarmed.
And then there’s Frances Trollope, mother of wildly successful British novelist Anthony Trollope.
Frances—known to admirers as Fanny—was no slouch herself, having written 34 novels that would represents just a fraction of the more 100 books to eventually bear her name as author. Frances was moved to publish out of sheer economic necessity. Her husband’s seeming ability to fail at every connected to taking financial care of his family became the driving force behind a sudden breathtaking ambition combined with an astonishingly prodigious output. Perhaps there is a certain artful inevitability that the subject Frances took serious aim at writing about was “domestic manners” as ultimately the publication of Domestic Manners of the Americans proved to be very thing that kept the family falling into financial ruin with a looming bankruptcy threat that could at least be postponed thanks to the income generated by what proved to be an almost feral appetite for caustic—if wittily written—criticism of their American cousins by a larger chunk of the British population.
A dozen years into their marriage and now past the half-century mark, that hunger for her examination of a society and culture in a country which was only a few years older than herself suddenly made Fanny the Trollope family’s breadwinner and source of economic stability. It would be a role she held for the rest of her life.
Although it probably does not even need to be mentioned, for the sake of clarity it will be mentioned here: American reader did not respond to Mrs. Trollope’s book in quite the same way. Perhaps the most notable fan of Trollope’s book on this side of the Atlantic was another writer given to constructing often very corrosive critiques of American society through a humorous lens. While Mark Twain may have been one of the very few Americans to buy the book and then actually keep it the good news for the financially burdened Trollope fan was the earned by a copy tossed into a fireplace was every bit as good as the money earned by a British buyer.