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Joanna Trollope Biography

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Also writes as Caroline Harvey. Nationality: English. Born: England, 1943. Education: Oxford University, M.A. 1965. Career: Associated with Foreign Office, London, 1965-67; worked as an English teacher for twelve years and in the children's clothing business. Lives in Hampshire, England. Awards: Historical Novel of the Year Award (Romantic Novelists Association), 1979; Elizabeth Goudge Historical Award, 1980. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Inc., 136 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Eliza Stanhope. London, Hutchinson, 1978; New York, Dutton, 1979.

Parson Harding's Daughter. London, Hutchinson, 1979, as Mistaken Virtues. New York, Dutton, 1980.

Leaves from the Valley. New York, St. Martin's, 1980.

The Steps of the Sun. New York, St. Martin's, 1984.

The Taverners' Place. New York, St. Martin's, 1986.

A Village Affair. New York, Harper, 1989.

A Passionate Man. London, Bloomsbury, 1990.

The Rector's Wife. London, Bloomsbury, 1991; New York, RandomHouse, 1994.

Trollope Omnibus: A Village Affair, A Passionate Man, The Rector's Wife. London, Bloomsbury, 1992.

The Men and the Girls. New York, Random House, 1992.

The Choir. London, Black Swan, 1992; New York, Random House, 1995.

A Spanish Lover. London, Bloomsbury, 1993; New York, RandomHouse, 1997.

The Best of Friends. London, Bloomsbury, 1995; New York, Viking, 1998.

Next of Kin. London, Bloomsbury, 1996.

Other People's Children. New York, Viking, 1999.

The Brass Dolphin (as Caroline Harvey). New York, Viking, 1999.

Marrying the Mistress. New York, Viking, 2000.

Legacy of Love (as Caroline Harvey). New York, Viking, 2000.

Recordings

A Second Legacy, 1995.

The City of Gems, 1995.

Other

Britannia's Daughters: Women of the British Empire. London, Hutchinson, 1983.

Introduction, An Illustrated Autobiography: Including How the 'Mastiffs' Went to Iceland by Anthony Trollope. Glouchester, England, A. Sutton, 1987; Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, A. Sutton, 1987.

Foreword, Life, Death and Art: The Medieval Stained Glass of Fairford Parish Church: A Multimedia Exploration, edited by Sarah Brown and Lindsay MacDonald. Stoud, Gloucestershire, England, Sutton Publishing, 1997.

Foreword, Starting from Glasgow by Rosemary Trollope. Stoud, Gloucestershire, England, Sutton Publishing, 1998.

* * *

A popular author best known for her novels exploring the complexities of modern life, Joanna Trollope began her published career as a writer of historical fiction. The action of Eliza Stanhope takes place on the battlefield of Waterloo, where its heroine assists the surgeons in tending wounded soldiers, among them her cavalry officer lover, and displays the author's knowledge of the period. In Parson Harding's Daughter, perhaps Trollope's best known historical work, Catherine Harding makes the journey to Calcutta to meet a prospective husband who turns out to be an alcoholic, and their failing marriage is further endangered when she falls in love with another man. These, and her later historical novels—Leaves from the Valley, City of Gems, The Steps of the Sun—are all clearly the work of an assured, capable writer and give the impression of being thoroughly researched. As "Caroline Harvey" Trollope has also ventured effectively into the family saga, and in Legacy of Love and Second Legacy she traces the lives of several generations of women from Victorian times to the present day. From the late 1980s onwards she has continued to produce historical novels together with her contemporary works. One of the most ambitious is The Taverners' Place, whose story spans seven generations of rural landowners from 1870 to 1939 in a single volume. More recently, The Brass Dolphin depicts the adventures of a young woman in Malta during World War II, and is projected as the first of a series of novels. A talented historical writer whose work has been compared with that of Georgette Heyer, Trollope's gifts in this field are undeniable, but one cannot help feeling that she is at her best in her contemporary novels.

The Choir established Trollope's reputation as a writer concerned with modern life and relationships. With it she broke fresh ground, taking her writing to a different level and establishing a recognizable individual style. Set in the cathedral city of Aldminster, the action centers on the power struggle between the Dean and local headmaster Alex Fry to decide the fate of the choir. The Dean is pressing for its disbandment as a means of raising funds to repair the cathedral, and the intrigues that follow are shown from multiple viewpoints. As well as the Dean and Fry, these include Helen Ashworth (who turns from a failing marriage to a new life with choirmaster Leo Beckford), her choirboy son Henry and her father-inlaw, Labour Party councillor Frank Ashworth. The cathedral city setting and ecclesiastical intrigue recall the Barchester chronicles of her Victorian ancestor Anthony Trollope, who would probably have enjoyed reading the novel. Trollope handles her maze of plotlines in a deft, memorable fashion, the love affair of Helen and Leo neatly intertwined with Henry's emergence as a "star" with a hit record that saves the choir, Frank's bitter struggles with the council, and the maneuvering in higher ecclesiastical circles. Eventual resolution falls short of the "happy ending," the saving of the choir counter-balanced by the losses suffered by other characters. Still one of her most impressive creations, The Choir reveals Trollope as an accomplished modern novelist with a voice of her own.

A Village Affair marks a departure from The Choir, with Trollope choosing a small rural community as the setting for the action. Her account of the love affair between two women—one a conventional middle-class housewife, the other an aggressive, outspoken "high-flyer"—examines the relationship and its effect on the village with a perceptive restraint and confirms the author's reputation. A similar country village provides the background in The Rector's Wife, where Anna Bouverie (whose name brings Flaubert's Emma Bovary to mind) is faced by the need to find an identity of her own distinct from "the rector's wife" of the title. When her husband, disappointed in his bid for promotion, turns away from her to bury himself in parish duties, Anna makes a bid for independence that leads to their eventual separation. The Rector's Wife ranks with The Choir and A Village Affair and shows Trollope's skill in probing the complications of modern life. All three novels have been successfully televised in the United Kingdom.

In The Men and the Girls Trollope examines the relationships of two young women whose partners are both older men. Sudden career changes, illness, and a random accident bring disruption into their lives and lead to radical alteration and re-adjustment. As in The Choir, Trollope handles a large cast with skill and assurance, and her conclusion matches triumph with tragedy. The central characters of A Spanish Lover are twin sisters, the successful married mother and career woman Lizzie and unattached, unsatisfied Frances. The action of the novel brings a sudden reversal of roles as Lizzie encounters business and domestic problems while her sister finds fulfillment with the married Spanish lover of the title. Trollope describes a difficult situation with a light, sympathetic style that allows the characters to speak for themselves, and once again the story is resolved only by a painful adaptation to changed circumstances. The Best of Friends again shows her ability to control a large and varied group of characters, its story dealing with two families whose lives are disrupted when one couple separate, and the effect on children and other relatives. Trollope produces a sensitive portrayal of the nature of love and its impact on several different generations, and further confirms her mastery of the form. This ability to present the action from multiple viewpoints is also evident in Next of Kin, where a sequence of events in a remote farming community leads to a violent suicide and its aftermath. Trollope draws a stark picture of the farmer's life—its isolation, the unbearable economic pressures, and their effect on individual relationships. Her skill in handling the "cast of thousands" has never been better demonstrated than in Other People's Children, the plot of which includes a complex network of relationships centered on the role of the step-parent and step-child. Here, action is perceived at different times by the natural mother, the step-mother, a would-be stepmother, and the children of the families involved. Trollope presents her characters sympathetically, without hiding the shortcomings that render them more believable. Her latest modern novel, Marrying the Mistress, once more addresses the theme of beginning life afresh after earlier, failed relationships, and displays her familiar qualities.

In these contemporary works Trollope explores love and loss with a clear, unwavering but sensitive perception, and is at her most compelling.

—Geoff Sadler

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