Frances Trollope, mother of the more famous Anthony, deserves to be better known. A bestseller in her day, she did not achieve fame as a writer until late in life, and when you read her books it becomes quite clear from whom Anthony Trollope inherited his talent. Like her son, she is strong on social nuance, an entertaining storyteller, and also quite wordy! Although this is probably not the best place to start an exploration of nineteenth-century fiction if you are new to the field, this is an enjoyable book if you are a devotee and familiar with the genre of nineteenth-century realism, and able to cope with the weight of words inherent in the triple-decker novel.
Most of the novel is thoroughly entertaining, sometimes amusing, in spite of the tragic element, and Trollope demonstrates her wry wisdom as she describes middle-class life in the nineteenth century, and ever so subtly nudges us to see its faults and illogicalities - in fact, the tale of Jessie Phillips is page-turning when Trollope is in full flow, and she keeps the reader guessing right to the end (although the reader familiar with novels such as Ruth, Adam Bede, Mary Barton, etc, will have more than an inkling as to the direction in which the tale is heading). Jessie Phillips is also a sad indictment of the inequalities between men and women at that time - of freedom of movement, of moral standards, and demonstrates the essential powerlessness of women of all classes to act independently.
The only weakness I would point out is that one of Trollope's stated purposes in writing this story is to illustrate the iniquities of the New Poor Law - an unjust law it certainly was, and its injustice is made quite clear in the course of the events taking place - however, the parts of the novel which are not so enjoyable (for me, anyway), and which could put off some readers are those where the gentlemen of the area sit around the table and discuss the ins and outs of the legislation. Trollope herself is not unaware of this, and writes, 'It is very difficult to touch on any of the most mischievous points of this ill-digested law without being led to dwell upon them till the thread of the story is dropped and almost forgotten; but this will be considered as excusable by all who take a real interest in the subject, and for the rest, - their disapprobation must be patiently endured.' I couldn't put it better myself!
So what I would say is, if you enjoy nineteenth-century fiction such as Gaskell, Eliot, the Brontes, etc, then do read Fanny Trollope - the best place to start with her books is with the most incorrigibly and entertainingly awfulWidow Barnaby (Nonsuch Classics) (Nonsuch Classics) (Nonsuch Classics)
- and when you read Jessie Phillips, just bear with the first few chapters which start relatively slowly, for you will be rewarded by a moving and enjoyable tale of nineteenth-century life which will have you on the edge of your seat later on. I would love to say more, but it would give the plot away too much, and spoil that element of suspense and surprise!