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Trollope, Orley Farm, and Dickens' marriage break-down

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    Rights statement: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in English Studies on 21/9/2018, available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0013838X.2018.1492228.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
JournalEnglish Studies
Early online date21 Sep 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Sep 2018


Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm (1861-2), the plot of which the novelist thought the best he had ever conceived, is peculiarly aware of Charles Dickens, the seemingly unsurpassable celebrity of English letters in the 1850s. This essay firstly examines narrative features of Orley Farm that indicate Dickens was on Trollope’s mind—and then asks why. My first answer is simply that Trollope was, as he began Orley Farm, remarkably and newly confident and was ready to test himself against the towering presence of Dickens. My second answer is that Dickens was on his mind for a different reason. Orley Farm, I propose, covertly responds to the public revelations in 1858 of Dickens’ marriage break-down and, presently, his affair with a much younger woman. Trollope plots this, implying a coded rebuke to Dickens and sympathy for his abandoned wife. But this element of Orley Farm is also, I conclude, a coded admonishment to himself since he was conscious of his affection for the much younger Kate Field, whom he had met the year in which he signed the contract for the new novel. A Dickensian text in form, appearance, mode, and plot, Orley Farm is also an unusual essay for Trollope on marital infidelity that was, I think, prompted by his cloudy anxiety about the implications of Kate and, more clearly, by his vexation with what he perceived to be Dickens’ shameful disloyalty.

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