There are times when Frances Trollope seems just too prissy – offended by the easy (over)familiarity of her rough American neighbours. ‘Mohawk, as our...moreThere are times when Frances Trollope seems just too prissy – offended by the easy (over)familiarity of her rough American neighbours. ‘Mohawk, as our little village was called, gave us an excellent opportunity of comparing the peasants of the United States with those of England’ – we are not now accustomed to considering Americans of any age as ‘peasants’. One can imagine the Americans that she met considering her stand-offish and typical of the English from which they had sundered over half a century before this book was written. It certainly caused great offence to Americans when it was published in 1832. As it reinforced British prejudices however, it was a great success, and rescued the family fortunes, sorely reduced by her irresponsible husband. There is something profoundly depressing about her description of a ‘camp-meeting’; a large gathering of ranting Revivalists. This certainly reinforces the prejudices of us Europeans against the American predilection for religious lunacy, yes, it is this old. – For one of the preachers ‘the admiration of the crowd was evinced by almost constant cries of “Amen! Amen!”, “Jesus! Jesus!”, “Glory! Glory!” and the like.’ and ‘But how am I to describe the sounds that proceeded from this strange mass of human beings? I know no words which can convey an idea of it. Hysterical sobbings, convulsive groans, shrieks and screams the most appalling, burst forth on all sides. I felt sick with horror.’ We still do Frances. She liked Washington rather more than most places, and was impressed by the provision of a Ladies Gallery in Congress – ‘I must acknowledge the superior gallantry of the Americans’: in England women were ‘rigorously excluded from every part of the House of Commons’. This book is a joy; full of surprises and close observation, even if sometimes the prejudice is just a little too obvious. One is tempted towards her contempt of a society which so volubly espoused equality while adhering to slavery. This is unfair, but her waspish footnote ‘flogging Negroes is not considered a pastime’ is delightful. There is much, much more in ‘Domestic Manners of the Americans’ than just criticism. I wish I’d read it years ago.