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A Less-Beaten Path.


Hybridity and Naturalism in Anthony Trollope’s West Indian Short Fiction.

Winner of the 2019 Trollope Prize (Undergraduate)

“TROLLOPE,” HENRY JAMES praised, faintly, in his 1883 memorial, “never wearied of the pre-established round of English customs—never needed a respite or a change” (101). At first glance James’s misapprehension is understandable; almost all of Anthony Trollope’s novels were set in comfortable British environs, and Trollope himself admitted to including moral instruction to his works. “I have ever thought of myself as a preacher of sermons, and my pulpit as one which I could make both salutary and agreeable to my audience.” (Autobiography 94). But Anthony Trollope was also an acute and honest observer of the world who, in the service of Britain’s Post Office, would extend that domain considerably beyond Britain’s shores and Britain’s familiar cultural discourse. The increasingly cosmopolitan Trollope would use his expanding world view to author five travel books and more than twenty short stories, all set far afield of Britain.1 Three pieces of this collection of short fiction address European immigrants in the West Indies. These remarkable works, “The Journey to Panama,” “Returning Home,” and “Aaron Trow” all illuminate Britain’s problematic occupation of the West Indies and reify the destabilizing effect colonization presents for the colonizer. To do so, these short stories travel very far afield of James’s “preestablished rounds of English customs.” They are meticulously crafted tales of subversion, where nature physically, culturally, or spiritually redefines her intruders, and tropical environs introduce destabilizing elements that appear in later novels.

When Anthony Trollope penned his first travel book, The West Indies and the Spanish Main, he was joining a discourse of ethnology and biological and cultural hybridity already inhabited by authors as diverse as Charles Darwin, Thomas Carlyle, and Robert Knox. Like Knox, Trollope noted an enervating effect of climate on Anglo-Saxon settlers.2 While in Bermuda he wrote “The sleepiness of the people appeared to me the most prevailing characteristic of the place. There seemed to be no energy among the natives, no idea of going a-head (373)”. Worse still for the famously productive Trollope, “I must confess that during the short period of my sojourn there, I myself was completely overtaken by the same sort of lassitude” (373). But the threats presumed to the colonizers of the West Indies were not merely climatological. Robert J. C. Young explains that, in an age when racial polygenesis was widely accepted, Knox and others warned of the dangers of “reversion”. In what was accepted as an inescapable effect of racial hybridity, reversion occurs when “the products of inter-racial unions are either infertile, or if fertile, after a few generations will revert ‘to one or other of the species from which they sprang.’ This thesis,” Young adds, “was to prove an extremely influential one, and became the dominant view throughout the rest of the century and beyond” (Colonial Desire 15).

In considering the dangers of miscegenation, Anthony Trollope chose to be informed by the evidence of his own eyes. In Jamaica, he noted “when the old planter sits on the magisterial bench, a coloured man sits beside him; one probably sits on each side of him” (West Indies 95). “[T]he coloured people do stand on strong ground . . . . They have forced their way up, and now loudly protest that they intend to keep it. . . . I think they will keep it, and that on the whole it will be well for us Anglo-Saxons to have created a race capable of living and working in the climate without inconvenience” (96). Despite the patriarchal assumption of colonial authorship carried in the phrase “us Anglo-Saxons . . . have created a race”, Trollope actually viewed the existence of the culturally and racially hybridized “coloured” population as the design of the divine. “Providence has sent white men and black men to these regions in order that from them may spring a race fitted by intellect for civilization; and fitted also by physical organization for tropical labour. The negro in his primitive state is not, I think, fitted for the former; and the European white Creole is certainly not fitted for the latter” (75).

The cultural mimicry that Trollope observed on the magisterial bench is…much more of a threat to the colonizer than any spurious effects of racial hybridity.

Of course, the cultural mimicry that Trollope observed on the magisterial bench is, in postcolonial theory, much more of a threat to the colonizer than any spurious effects of racial hybridity. When Homi Bhabha speaks of the menace of mimicry, he speaks of the devaluation of colonial authority; the loss of the essential nature of an unquestioned inherent ascendancy when “the look of surveillance returns as the displacing gaze of the disciplined, where the observer becomes the observed and the ‘partial’ representation rearticulates the whole notion of identity and alienates it from essence (156).” This slippage of identity occurs as the colonized assume the behaviors of the colonizer, and it is credible to postulate that Trollope is unconsciously responding to it when he cedes future governance of the islands to the Creole population.3 But what Trollope consciously chooses to address in his West Indian short fiction is the action of reverse mimicry; the destabilization of the identity of European-born settlers when their accustomed signifiers of identity such as religion, nationalism, or gender roles are challenged or supplanted by the seemingly regressive climes of the islands.

Indeed, wilderness and chaos become the formative authorities in “Aaron Trow” (1861), set on the penal colony of Bermuda.4 It is a carefully crafted, naturalistic narrative of regression and reverse mimicry played out beyond the borders of civilization, where the subject whose behavior is assumed is a transported felon, and the identities redefined belong to a Presbyterian minister and his fiancée. Trollope explores the retrogression of the missionary using a motif of doubling. Removed from its customary gothic environs, and given a surprisingly compassionate handling of the prisoner, the doubling becomes a forensic examination of the soul’s capacity for corruption and redemption.

Trow, the felon, is presented at his very introduction as being one whose life could have gone very differently, given the change of a few circumstances. Although he has killed a man, the act was committed during a strike in a manufacturing town. Trollope describes the murder as having “courage in the doing of the deed, and probably no malice” (Complete Shorter Fiction 273), which is an extraordinary characterization from the author Henry James had condemned as conventional. But Trow’s time in the tropical penal colony increases his barbarism, until “[h]is heart was sore to death with an idea of injury, and he lashed himself against the bars of his cage with a feeling that it would be well if he could so lash himself till he might perish in his fury” (273). Trollope’s portrayal remains sympathetic, even as Trow’s savagery increases. Ellen Moody notes that Trollope even gives his Trow his own initials (97).5 After escaping from prison, the increasingly desperate Trow finds an unprotected woman to rob. This woman, Anastasia Bergen, is of European extraction but Creole by birth. She is affianced to Caleb Morton, a Presbyterian missionary sent from Canada, and is often left alone by her merchant father when he travels for business. Entering her home in search of food, Trow immediately hurts her. Objecting that she would have fed him regardless, out of pity, Anastasia is told “[I]t is I that pity you. I must cut your throat unless you give me money” (Complete Shorter Fiction 279). When she lets him know there is no money in the house, he attacks her in a prolonged struggle in which Anastasia is raped, beaten, and stabbed. Although she had “hitherto been a sheer woman, all feminine in her nature”, in her hour of need she becomes as “wild and savage as the beast of the forest” as “the foam came to her mouth, and fire sprang from her eyes, and the muscles of her body worked as though she had been trained to deeds of violence” (281). When the assault is finally interrupted by two young servant girls, Trow flees with “the instinct and with the timidity of a beast” (282), and bolts like a wounded animal to hidden cave.

When Anastasia’s physical and spiritual degradation is over, Caleb Morton’s begins. Confronted with Anastasia’s brutalization, the missionary reverts to a savagery commensurate with Aaron’s, and assumes his position as Trow’s double. Trow had used “a short, thick poker” (278) in his attack on Anastasia; Morton has “short iron bar with which he had armed himself” (284-85). During Trow’s assault on the girl, “the passion of the beast was aroused within him” (282); Morton is a “beast thirsting for blood” in his pursuit (289). Trapped afterwards in a cliff-side cave, Trow leaps into the sea below “with head well down… he plunged down into the waves,” followed by Morton “head foremost, right on to the track in the waves which the other had made” (289). As they battle each other in the water, “[i]t was easy to see that . . . when [Trow] went down Morton must go with him. If indeed they could be separated, —if Morton could once make himself free from that embrace into which he had been so anxious to leap, —then indeed there might be a hope” (290). Morton’s salvation comes, not from within, but from the action of another man, who stuns the convict with an oar and leaves him to drown. In the aftermath of the battle, Morton is horrified at the depths to which he both literally and figuratively sank. When recovered, he marries Anastasia and flees the degenerating wilderness that stripped him of his veneer of civilization, a chastened man.

Lisa Niles is impressed with this very unique effort of Trollope’s, and finds it notable that he “situates the event in a radical context, providing a chillingly sympathetic portrait of the rapist.” (81).  Trollope’s empathy is surprising only because Niles misses the biblical allusions that would have been obvious to his Victorian Christian readership. In naming his two male characters “Aaron” and “Caleb”, he references the Old Testament story of the Exodus, where the Jews were forced to wander in the wilderness (or in Trow’s case, the colony of Bermuda) for forty years before gaining entrance to the Promised Land. The biblical Aaron remains flawed despite a lifetime of service to God. Like his equally flawed Trollopian namesake, he is fated to die in the wilderness, by the side of a mountain, denied entrance to Canaan because of his past transgressions. The faithful Caleb, however, who was willing to follow God’s command to fight the monstrous Nephilim, is granted entry to the Promised Land, which for Trollope’s Caleb is ironically not the verdant, fertile island, but the safety of civilization in Nova Scotia. But Caleb Morton is in fact a hybrid himself, a Canadian colonial of Scottish extraction, proselytizing the natives on behalf of his nonconformist church. In Trollope’s hands, his dissenting beliefs are not strong enough to save him from his inner barbarity. Years after his travels, in a conversation with biographer T.H.S. Escott, Trollope would assert that “the thinnest possible partition divides human contact in the most civilized society from primitive savagery” (quoted Glendinning 399). These are concepts he first saw embodied in the West Indies.

Trollope will again move from his familiar, comfortable realism to bleak naturalism in “Returning Home” (1861), where the dangers of female marginalization are carried to a subversive extreme.6 Fanny Arkwright has been living with her husband in Costa Rica for four years, but has never ceased longing to return to “her mother’s fireside” (Complete Shorter Fiction 232). The infantilizing desire so dominates her that it is referenced at least half a dozen times in the tale. When given the opportunity to return to England, her sense of urgency is so overpowering that she persuades her husband to take a faster, but more dangerous route to the port city of Greytown. The word “home” will take on a different and more sinister meaning as the party travels down a mountainside, through a dark forest evocative of Dante’s selva oscura, toward a bearded, wild-haired, bright-eyed boatman ready to help them traverse the Serapiqui river. Before they can reach their waiting Charon, however, their descent through the clearly stygian forest begins to reshape the puerile Fanny. The rainy season had been prolonged, and the travel is particularly difficult, the path so deep in mud that it seems the very earth is trying to reach up and swallow them. Soon battered into helplessness by the primeval surroundings, Fanny must be carried in a litter, riding in her makeshift cradle just as her infant daughter rides in hers. At night, “they undressed and tended her like a child” (240). Fanny’s reversion to utter submission is ensured by the countryside of Costa Rica, a land that renders impotent any would-be colonizers. The party stays in several deserted huts, in a “rough scrap of undrained pasture ground from which the trees had been cleared” (239), and a ranch of “some forty or fifty acres . . . . stripped of the forest trees. But . . .  the place was at that time deserted. There were cacao plants, but there was no one to pick the cacao” (242). The authority here is not the ineffectual colonizers, but the “thick forest, which had stood there untouched by man since nature first produced it” (239).

This subversion to wilderness and a primitive state is a phenomenon Trollope notes repeatedly in The West Indies and the Spanish Main:

Are Englishmen in general aware that half the sugar estates in Jamaica, and I believe more than half the coffee plantations, have gone back into a state of bush?—that all this land, rich with the richest produce only some thirty years since, has now fallen back into wilderness?—that the world has hereabouts so retrograded?—that chaos and darkness have reswallowed so vast an extent of the most bountiful land that civilization had ever mastered, and that too beneath the British government? (105)

The British settlers in “Returning Home” are stripped of agency as the signifiers of their civilized identities slip during their descent through the primeval forest. Indigenous people may choose to assist them, as when the infant daughter is placed in the care of an Indian man for the course of the journey. Or they may simply display their superiority to the intended conquerors, as does the group of “three strong men carrying great weights on their backs, suspended by bands from their foreheads,” (Complete Shorter Fiction 242) who traveling on foot easily pass the British travelers on their mules. These men are actually carrying mail for the post office, and rather than offer aid, they create further difficulty for the party, as the boats the travelers hope to meet must depart with the arrival of the post. The textual reference to Trollope’s goal of increasing postal efficiency in the West Indies is an ironic touch.  It is one used with an uncharacteristic ruthlessness, amplifying the travelers’ need for a timely arrival and increasing the tension in a tale already laden with portents of degeneration and death. Fanny Arkwright’s reversion is profound, but it does not reach its culmination until the party actually does reach the border of Hades, the Serapiqui river bank.

True to the foreshadowing that litters the story (Fanny has presentiments of her impending death; the term “resting place” is used repeatedly) Fanny reaches the river only to use it as her vehicle to the next world. When the boat she is in tips over in the water, she is drowned, not only through her physical debilitation, but by the weight of her European dress. The fearsome, heavily-bearded German boatman, Trollope’s Charon, enters the river to save her but also passes in the attempt, ensuring that he accompanies her on their crossing. It is the colonizers who are marginalized in “Returning Home”, the would-be displacers themselves displaced by an unrepentant, deterministic Nature. Here, as in West Indies and the Spanish Main, Trollope presents the transformative effects on British identity that Anglo-Saxons risk when they inhabit these very foreign soils.

The destabilizing distance from Britain has quite a different effect on the evolution of Emily Viner in “The Journey to Panama” (1861).7 Family pressure and social expectations have put her onboard The Serrapiqui to join her little-known and less-loved fiancé in Peru.8 The engagement was negotiated a decade earlier, granting a set of conditional circumstances that have all come to pass, and Miss Viner is now out of options. “You do not know what it is to have friends—no, not friends, but people belonging to you—just so near as to make your respectability a matter of interest to them, but not so near that they should care for your happiness,” she tries to explain to her shipboard confidant, Ralph Forrest. To assist in his understanding, she objectifies herself: “Emily Viner married to Mr. Gorloch in Peru is put out of the way respectably. She will cause no further trouble, but her name may be mentioned in family circles without annoyance” (Complete Shorter Fiction 359). Bereft of choice, she counts down the days until their arrival. “I have five more days of self and liberty left me,” she tells Mr. Forrest. “That is my life’s allowance” (358).

Mr. Forrest is sympathetic, and even a little smitten, but still cannot comprehend her position. “’Miss Viner,’ he said after a pause . . . ‘in the name of all that is good, and true, and womanly, go back to England . . . . With your feelings a poorhouse in England would be better than a palace in Peru’” (358-59). But Miss Viner’s constraints are transactional as well as merely social; the Peruvian fiancé has paid for her passage and trousseau. When she finds he is not waiting for her at the travel junction in Panama, she is not surprised by his apparent lack of courtesy. “He has bought me, as he would a beast of burden, and has, I suppose, a right to treat me as he pleases,” she says grimly (362).

Emily Viner is not the only Trollopian heroine to make such a comparison about herself. Two years later, when we first meet Lady Glencora Palliser, she is a young bride similarly trapped by tradition, familial expectation, and centuries of British custom into a marriage she, too, does not want.9 When introduced in Can You Forgive Her?, Lady Glencora bitterly resents her treatment, framing it as something that has debased her identity. “I did it [marry] like a beast that is driven as its owner chooses. I know it. I was a beast. Oh, Alice, if you know how I hate myself,” she exclaims to a friend (232-33).

Like Emily in Panama, Lady Glencora Palliser is herself a portrait of hybridity, but here one fully instantiated in the British Isles. The Scottish heiress is the only child of the aptly named “Lord of the Isles,” and all the entailed property that went with her late father’s title, that which is home to the oldest parts of her family,  is located in the most primitive, liminal areas of Scotland—remote Hebridean Islands or the northernmost, least developed counties. Robert Young explains that “[a]fter the Act of Union of 1707, and the creation of the ‘United Kingdom’, Scotland was often referred to as North Britain (the North British Review was founded in 1844). At this time many North British (that is, Scottish) intellectuals argued that the Lowlands of the South, were Saxons, and that only the Highlanders, whose origins, like that name Scotland itself, lay in Ireland, were Celts” (English Ethnicity 30).

It is the wild blood of the Celts that mingles with Saxon in Glencora’s veins, and asserts itself in her struggle to settle docilely into her suitable, arranged marriage. But Lady Glencora, for all her wealth and position, lacks the one crucial advantage which Emily Viner seizes. Miss Viner is on the Isthmus of Panama, 5000 miles removed from the borders of England, and 5000 miles from social mores and family connections which compelled her safe disposal in matrimony. Liberated by the distance, Emily is able to take the news of the fiancé’s sudden passing, and her subsequent small legacy, with a subdued determination.  When Mr. Forrest nobly offers her his protection instead, her answer is blunt.

“Not for the world,” she declares (Complete Shorter Fiction 363). Within the tropical junction Emily has found the agency denied her in Britain, and avoids the yoke that Lady Glencora could not. Trollope’s ending of the story is equally abrupt: “Thus alone she took her departure for England, and he went on his way to California” (363). The sentence suggests the social disruption that a single, independent, Emily Viner can introduce, as she carries her personal act of reverse colonization back to her native shores. It is a disruption Trollope will begin to graft into his more mainstream novels.

Ramona Denton notes that while many of the women in Trollope’s early novels found purpose and fulfillment in marriage, “beginning in the 1860’s with the Palliser novels, Trollope does introduce a brand of ‘new woman’ into his fiction. She is . . . . a human being in search of a vocation, one who does not look solely to wifedom and motherhood for her satisfactions” (1). She is Mme. Max Goesler, Alice Vavasor, Lady Laura Kennedy, or Glencora MacCluskie, women who are either clear demonstrations of hybridity, those who seek refuge beyond Britain’s shores—or both.10 But the reason behind Denton’s observation is Trollope’s newly cosmopolitan status, the evidence is first visible in his West Indian short fiction, and the genesis is in his reflections on hybridity he was refining in The West Indies and The Spanish Main.

Anthony Trollope’s 1859 travels through the West Indies was a generative time for the author. It not only expanded his horizons beyond continental Europe, it provided him with experiences and characters to populate multiple stories. In the languid heat of the tropics, Trollope conceived of worlds darker and more uncertain than those he had previously put to paper. Within the still-evolving genre of the short story, he found the freedom to move from his comfortable realism into a desolate naturalism he would never transport into his novels, and to explore potentials of hybridity that he did. The destabilizing hybridity that informed some of his later characters, particularly his female characters, has its roots in the surveying trip for the British Post Office. This is not James’s condescendingly familiar author with “a wholesome mistrust of morbid analysis” (102). His short fiction is rife with both experimentation and careful artistry, and it deserves a much closer study than it has been accorded.

Nyssa Ruth Fahy is a student at Penn State, Brandywine. This essay is the winning undergraduate entry in the Trollope Prize competition, 2019. For other Trollope Prize-winning essays in this collection, see here.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man.” Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, edited by Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler, University of California Press, 1997, pp. 152-160

Denton, Ramona L. “‘That Cage’ of Femininity: Trollope’s Lady Laura.” South Atlantic Bulletin, vol. 45, no. 1, 1980, pp. 1-10.

Dougherty, Jane E. “An Angel in the House: The Act of Union and Anthony Trollope’s Irish Hero.” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 32, no. 1, 2004, pp. 133-145.

Flint, Kate. “Queer Trollope.” The Cambridge Companion to Anthony Trollope, edited by Carolyn Dever and Lisa Niles, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 92-112.

Glendinning, Victoria. Trollope. Hutchinson, 1992.

Goodlad, Lauren M. E. “Trollopian ‘Foreign Policy’: Rootedness and Cosmopolitanism in the Mid-Victorian Global Imaginary.” PMLA, vol. 124, no. 2, 2009, pp. 437–454.

James, Henry. “Anthony Trollope.” Partial Portraits. Macmillan and co., London, 1888.

Moody, Ellen. “On Inventing a New Country: Trollope’s Depiction of Settler Colonialism.” Antipodes, vol. 31, no. 1, 2017, pp. 89-101.

Niles, Lisa. “Trollope’s Short Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Anthony Trollope, edited by Carolyn Dever and Lisa Niles, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 71–84.

Stone, Donald D. “Trollope as a Short Story Writer.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 31, no. 1, 1976, pp. 26–47.

Tintner, Adeline R. “James’s “The Patagonia”: A Critique of Trollope’s “The Journey to Panama.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 32, no. 1, 1995, pp. 59-66.

Trollope, Anthony. “Aaron Trow.” The Complete Shorter Fiction, edited by Julian Thompson, Carroll & Graf, 1992, pp. 271-91.

—. Can You Forgive Her? Trollope Society, London, 1989.

—. “The Journey to Panama.” The Complete Shorter Fiction, edited by Julian Thompson, Carroll & Graf, 1992, pp. 347-63.

—. “Returning Home.” The Complete Shorter Fiction, edited by Julian Thompson, Carroll & Graf, 1992, pp. 231-46.

—. The West Indies and the Spanish Main. Cass, London, 1968.

Trollope, Anthony, and Nicholas Shrimpton. An Autobiography and Other Writings. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014.

Van Dam, Frederik. “Anthony Trollope and the Risorgimento.” ELH, vol. 85 no. 1, 2018, pp. 171-189.

Young, Robert. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race. Routledge, 1995.

—. The Idea of English Ethnicity. Blackwell Publishing, 2008.


  1. This James must have been aware of, as he adapted one of Trollope’s stories, “The Journey to Panama,” into his own novella “The Patagonia” (1888). See Adeline R. Tintner’s analysis of the two works in “James’s ‘The Patagonia’: A Critique of Trollope’s ‘The Journey to Panama.’” Ironically, in “Trollope as a Short Story Writer,” Donald D. Stone refers to “The Journey to Panama” as “Jamesian in its subject matter” (38) and compares the two stories as such without, presumably, noticing the dates of publication.
  2. Knox’s “An Inquiry into the Laws of Human Hybridité,” 1862, is cited by Young in Colonial Desire 14-17.
  3. Lauren Goodlad comes close to suggesting this in her essay ““Trollopian ‘Foreign Policy’: Rootedness and Cosmopolitanism in the Mid-Victorian Global Imaginary,” p. 448, as she posits that his “novels of the 1870s are sites of breached sovereignty and spatiotemporal annihilation.”
  4. Trollope discusses his views of the prison colony, including an uprising and an escape similar to those in the story, in chapter XXII of West Indies and the Spanish Main, pp. 380-81.
  5. Moody in the late 1990s ran a moderated listserv, Trollope-l. Their lively discussions of the short fiction can still be viewed here.
  6. Frederik Van Dam in “Anthony Trollope and the Risorgimento” also finds Trollope using a naturalistic treatment in a short story set abroad, “The Last Austrian Who Left Venice” (185). The basis of “Returning Home” can be read in The West Indies and the Spanish Main, chapter XX, pp. 316-318.
  7. The genesis of the story, Trollope’s own task of informing a shipmate of the passing of her fiancé, is discussed in Complete Shorter Fiction pp. 347-48.
  8. The ship in “The Journey to Panama” bears the same name as the river in “Returning Home,” with a minor change in spelling.
  9. My timing here refers to the serialized version of the novel. Per Trollope’s Autobiography, “In August, 1863, the first number of Can You Forgive Her? was published as a separate serial” (110).
  10. Lady Laura’s hybridity is seen as gender-based in Jane Elizabeth Dougherty’s “An Angel in the House” (138-39). Trollope initially explores gender hybridity in his short fiction “A Ride Across Palestine” (1861). Cross-dressing is a major plot point, and is discussed in Kate Flint’s article “Queer Trollope” (108-09).
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