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on 5 February 2010
The picture given as a cover to this edition is really a better representation of the heart of the book than the title Trollope gave it. In eulogising the English countryside, and conveying to those of us who will never hunt, even over modern countryside, the passionate joys of that pastime it stands with his best works. It also boasts perhaps the best of Trollope's bad girls - Arabella Trefoil, a heartless beauty determined to sell herself to best advantage, even at the price of sending a man who really does love her to an early grave (and whose reward is to end up with a less distinguished husband than either the man she wants or the man she throws over). The American Senator Elias Gotobed (who also has a bit part in the Duke's Children) is really a plot device serving two purposes. The first is to be the eyes of the reader, in that because he is an observer Trollope has an excuse for the unusually full descriptions of English country life which are the strength of the book. The second (less worthy) device is that he is a butt for English humour. Trollope of course came from a family who were less than polite about the Americans (see his mother's famous "The Domestic Manners of the Americans"), and as so often he portrays his US character as lacking the sensibility to appreciate the finer points of English life, and making criticisms which must amuse and annoy the English reader in roughly equal measure. For good measure here he makes Gotobed a hypocrite - as soon as he returns to the US he overflows with praise of all things English ...
Meanwhile in the background the worthy but impoverished heir and his worthy but impoverished love stay true to each other and reap the reward of wealth and happiness in due course.
I believe some people regard this as one of Trollope's finest books. I can't remotely subscribe to this view - but if you enjoy Trollope, it is definitely worth a read.
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on 11 December 2010
'The American Senator' is the eighteenth novel by Anthony Trollope I've read over the last 2 or 3 years, and I must confess I simply cannot get enough of him. It is in all probability not one of his 'great' novels such as Barchester Towers (Oxford World's Classics),The Duke's Children (Oxford World's Classics) or The Way We Live Now (Penguin Classics) but if you are partial to Trollope you will greatly enjoy 'The American Senator' too, and if you're new to Trollope it will give you a perfect sample of what to expect in his other novels. In 'The American Senator' Trollope demonstrates superbly those qualities that keep me coming back to him.

I mentioned a 'mixed bag' in the title of my review because in fact Trollope interweaves 3 story-lines which are only loosely connected, though all of them are (largely) set in the rural village of Dillsborough during one winter. First of all there is Mr. Gotobed, the American senator of the book's title, who is on a visit to England and observes all aspects of English (country) life: all sorts of people (nobles and their tenants, curates, innkeepers, huntsmen, ...) in all sorts of aspects of their lives. Secondly, there is the story of John Morton, diplomat and friend of Mr. Gotobed, who is engaged to Mrs. Arabella Trefoil. She, however, considers herself engaged to him only insofar as she is not yet sure that she will be able to induce the local magnate, Lord Rufford, to propose to her. And thirdly, there is the story of Mary Waters, daughter of Dillsboroughs' lawyer Mr. Waters, who is secretly in love with Reginald Morton (cousin to John) while she is being courted herself by a local gentleman-farmer Lawrence Twentyman.

These different stories interweave, and give Trollope ample scope to introduce a wonderful assortment of characters. And each of these, though they may only play a minor part, is wonderfully brought to life. There are some very lovable characters (the adorable Mary Waters, Reginald Morton and his aunt Lady Ushant, the soft-spoken and tenderhearted Mr. Waters), some charming ones (Lord Rufford), and some very wicked ones (Arabelle Trefoil and her mother Lady Augustus), but to whichever category they belong they are all so vividly painted that you'll feel you know them in the flesh.

Thematically too everything is connected: Mr. Gotobed is most of all shocked by what (to his mind) is the rampant greedy materialism of English society, and this is precisely what Arabella Trefoil embodies. She is - in all her dishonesty and ruthless manoeuvering to secure a rich husband - nothing but the product of her society. Simultaneously, there is (as so often with Trollope) a study into the different aspects of love and marriage, and in this respect the honesty of Mary Waters (who cannot bring herself to accept Lawrence Twentyman, though he loves her ardently, because she does not love him) is sharply contrasted with the total absence of morality in Arabella Trefoil.

Add to this the easy but subtle style and diction of Trollope, and the net result is the perfect novel to snuggle up with in bed!
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VINE VOICEon 5 December 2011
This is the 9th Trollope I have read this year, having fallen in love initially with the Barset novels. Whilst this is by no means his best work, Trollope's very best is such a high standard that even his "second-rate" novels are really fine examples of his craft and well worth reading.

The American Senator of the title is actually not the main focus of the story, but more a vehicle through whose eyes Trollope exposes the highs and lows of British life of the period and indeed some of the flaws which exist in our society even now. The Senator, the wonderfully named Elias Gotobed, is paying a visit to Britain to study British society, and whilst here ruffles the feathers of the great and good of British society. There are certain parts of the novel where the Senator's expostulations are clearly a diatribe of Trollope's own grievances with British society, and indeed these areas are some of the weakest in the novel, but they are small and interspersed with some very funny instances of the Senator committing numerous faux pas.

However, the main thrust of the novel actually comes with a number of the characters who the Senator encounters on his visit. The "heroine" of the novel is Mary Masters, one of the sweet young things who Trollope creates, though thankfully not as annoying as his most famous example of this type of character, the Pollyanna-ish Lily Dale. Mary has become like a surrogate daughter to Lady Ushant and falls in love with her nephew Reginald Morton. Meanwhile, she is being courted by Larry Twentyman, a local farmer and fine young man who, despite his desperate and repeated attempts which are encouraged in particular by Mary's stepmother, fails to capture Mary's heart.

This main plot is pleasant enough to read and the main protagonists are all likeable characters. However, the real treat of the novel actually comes with its sub-plot, the story of the machinations of anti-heroine Arabella Trefoil. The novel has a slow start, but please do persist through that because you will then get to the point of meeting the delightfully naughty Arabella and be introduced to one of the most complex, intriguing and ultimately endearing female characters in literature.

Arabella is a beauty but without any fortune of her own, and clocking on a bit by the standards of the time (she is only 30). However, she carries hopes of making a brilliant marriage and is encouraged to this end by her heartless mother. However she has refused too many men who couldn't give her just the fortune she desired, or didn't have as high rank society as she desired and so is now in the later, desperate stages of trying to secure a husband. She carries on these machinations throughout the novel, despite being engaged to a well respected diplomat and local squire John Morton. John has a country estate, a decent fortune and is very well respected both as a man and diplomat. But Arabella is all the time trying to trap Lord Rufford into marriage, as he can provide her with a larger house, more money, and a title.

Through Arabella, Trollope provides a brilliant study and criticism of the "marriage-market" of the time. He evokes images of women "fishing" for husbands, whilst also showing a compassion for the fate of women such as Arabella in having to effectively sell themselves to the highest bidder. The novel is a great study of society at the time, but also just a darn good story.

There are one or two elements I did not like here though. As I said previously, the novel is a slow starter and it really took a good 100 pages to get going and really grip me. Also, there are some prolonged scenes of hunting, in which Trollope took a great interest, which are not really to the tastes of the modern reader (and I say that as someone who has no gripe with fox hunting). They just to do not seem relevant or interesting to our less rural society now and I happily skipped over some of his. The other slightly annoying element was the Senator himself. At times he was a little "preachy" for my liking, and perhaps not as funny to the modern sense of humour as when he was first written. Trollope is certainly at his most cynical, bordering on bitter, in this novel and this does make for at times a more uncomfortable read than we are used to in his work. However, it also does give an interesting glimpse into, and indictment of, the political system of the time.

All in all, The American Senator was an enjoyable read. However, if you are new to Trollope I would recommend starting with the Barset or Palliser novels and come to the American Senator when you are more familiar with Trollope's work as you will then be able to appreciate this novel more.
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on 31 August 2013
The publisher and critics were certainly right to question the title. Trollope himself almost apologizes for it at the start of the final chapter. The subject matter is only incidentally and marginally the American view of 19th century British life. The heart of the novel is love, marriage, fortune and hunting in rural England – a typical Trollope confection. In fact the American senator is an absurd intrusion. His criticisms of English life are not particularly profound and he is also not a credible figure. The notion that any culture could accept such direct criticism without taking offence or that any such guest could be so insensitive and stupid as to speak his mind in the way Mr Gotobed does is not believable. The American senator is as much an irritation to the reader as to the many unfortunate Englishman to whom he opens up his mind in the novel.
Arabella Trefoil is rightly recognized as the triumphant creation of the novel. Although the reader never doubts that she will fail in her social climbing, the narrative of her attempts and the exposure of her state of mind are the most gripping aspects of Trollope’s writing here.
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on 13 July 2016
In some ways the very best Trollope novel that I have read. Nice copy now passed on to grandson as I have managed to find a Folio edition
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