Jerri's Reviews > Domestic Manners of the Americans

Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3772565
's review
Jun 06, 10


Frances Trollope was, as Mark Twain put it, "handsomely cursed and reviled by this nation." Yet she did no more than tell the truth as she knew it. Dame Trollope came from England in 1827 to make her fortune by opening a department store on the American frontier. She settled in the booming town of Cincinnatti, Ohio, then with a population of 20,000, where she thought a fortune could easily be made. Failing to see the real needs of the settlers she didn't yet know, she did not make that fortune and was made all but destitute by the experience. Her disparagement of America is thus suspected by many of her critics to have rooted in malice. Such motives are futile to prove, however, and it is sufficient to consider her criticism stems from her reputably refined sensibilities as and Englishwoman, one who observed with some disconcertion the comparatively unbridled ways of Americans. Whatever her prejudice, her scrutiny of life in the new world nonetheless equals that of her exceedingly more favored contemporary from France.
The reproval she elicits from Americans in part has to do with how her book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, was received in England. Released to the public in March 1832, it auspiciously concurred with debates in the British Parliament over democratic reform, when agitation for a new Reform Bill modelled on American government feverishly gripped the Whigs and the Tories. The Tories, seeking to curb democratic privileges, seized at Trollope's belittlement of American democracy, what she painted as no more than the pretense and propaganda of the economically endowed landower. The Whig supporters of the Reform Bill countered by denouncing her undemocratic cast. Ordinary Britons, meanwhile, were eating her book up for its lurid account of American life. Mrs. Trollope had found her success at last: at the age of fifty-two she became a literary sensation, thereupon setting her course on the writing of travel books and novels. The fact is, Domestic Manners outraged most contemporary American readers because they saw it as irresponsible and unfavorably disposed in its reporting. Still, newspapers all over the country quoted long sections from her book along with reviling commentaries. Today we value her vivid picture of travel and accomodations as much as her opinion on postcolonial American politics and society while keeping in mind that her experiences were not, by and large, fortunate.
What counts here, however, is the detail with which she embroiders the records of her travel. After leaving Cincinnatti, Mrs. Trollope and her party traveled by stagecoach over the Alleghenies. A harsh journey, Trollope vividly describes it in what may be one of the more surprisingly favorable passages of her entire two-year visit. Also known as the Cumberland Road, this was the greatest artery of American traffic in the first half of the nineteenth century. Commencing at Cumberland, Maryland, in 1808, it was in nine years to stretch some 130 miles across the Alleghenies to Wheeling, Virginia. In 1833 it extended to Columbus, Ohio, and twenty years later to Vandalia, Illinois. Today this National Road can be found to weave in and out of U.S. Highway 40. Then it was a sometimes perilous and turbulent ride, but always sublimely picturesque. So inspiring was it, it assuaged this lioness with charms bestowed both through nature and labor. Witness how Trollope gradually progresses from rancor to rapture, though, of course, always retaining her faculty for precision and minutia and her talent for enunciating what most people only vaguely sense.
5 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Domestic Manners of the Americans.
sign in »

No comments have been added yet.