<div style="display:inline;"> <img height="1" width="1" style="border-style:none;" alt="" src="//googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/viewthroughconversion/1028731116/?value=0&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0">
CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hampshire Life today click here

Catching up with Joanna Trollope ahead of her Jane Austen talk at Winchester Festival 2017

PUBLISHED: 15:48 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 15:48 12 June 2017

In awe of Austen: Bestselling author Joanna Trollope

In awe of Austen: Bestselling author Joanna Trollope


Who better to tell us about Jane Austen on the 200th anniversary of her death than a writer who’s often been compared to her? Faith Eckersall caught up with our own Joanna Trollope, ahead of her talk about Austen at the Winchester Festival

If cut glass could talk it would sound like Joanna Trollope. Her accent is exquisite and her diction and use of language a joy to those of us who adore the written and spoken word.

There are other joys, too, about this writer who is so famed for chronicling middle-class lives, and one of them is her absolute generosity in forgoing the chance to plug her latest book to big-up a literary rival. Even if that rival did pass away two centuries ago.

It’s true that Trollope, who has written 20 novels under her own name and more under the name of Caroline Harvey, has been compared to Hampshire’s most feted daughter. It’s an idea she modestly brushes aside as ‘ludicrous!’ but they were both born in rectories, lived in this county (Trollope in Medstead) and, like Austen, Trollope writes in longhand. It may also be because Trollope’s particular trope – the intricate detail of middle-class female lives told with divine wit and care – echoes Austen’s rapier observation of similar folk in Georgian England.

The reason for her devotion to Austen is simple – she admires her to the point of reverence. She has re-written her novel Sense and Sensibility for a modern audience and is an ambassador for Jane’s Fund, which supports the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. “I could not believe you could actually stand in the place where Jane sat to write those books, see the views she saw and then there was the little table she wrote on,” says Trollope, of her visit there. “I almost felt like kneeling.”

She is amused by those who dismiss Austen as a romantic novelist. “That is so ignorant, because she was writing in a literary genre that had only just been invented, the novel was tremendously new,” she says, explaining that Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, generally regarded as one of the earliest English novels, had only been written around 30 years before Austen took up her pen.

“There she was with this new genre of literature and she understood that romantic love, money and class were going to be the great preoccupation of this new genre, and she was completely right,” says Trollope.

And it’s Austen’s concerns about money and economics (it’s been argued that she had read economist Adam Smith’s ground-breaking work The Wealth of Nations) which Trollope’s Winchester Festival talk will examine.

Essentially, she says, Austen wrote about money and finance as well as personal relationships. “I want to emphasise in this talk how tough and practical Jane was because it seems to me that her novels were not just about romantic love,” she says, “They were about personal economics.” Money was always tight in the Austen household, says Trollope. “I don’t think she ever lived in a house that she or the person she was living with owned.”

She cites the letters from Austen to her sister, Cassandra, in which the price of almost everything is discussed, including ribbons. And she touches on the humiliation Jane, her mother and sister must have felt after their father’s death when their brother moved them into what Trollope describes as ‘essentially a farm cottage’ – the house in Chawton.

“The fact is that for women like Jane and her friends, life would have been perilous; you’d have to rely on a man to put a roof over your head, either by marriage or some other way,” she says. “To marry for love, like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, was an absolute dream, mostly women had to live as Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lucas did, marrying men to get that all-important home.”

Trollope is no fan of the traditional view of Austen as frivolous – she sees her as an independent, working woman who earned her own money in an era when such behaviour was almost unheard of.

She’s also interested in where the money belonging to Austen’s wealthier characters may have came from. She believes the fortune possessed by Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice came from sugar – with its dark implications of slavery – and that Pemberley, the iconic home of Mr Darcy, was: “Built on the proceeds of mineworkers, I should think. And what was the life of an 18th century mineworker?” You can almost hear her shudder.

The reason Austen was successful, however, is because she did not marry, Trollope says. “Marriage meant babies and you couldn’t control how many babies you had and so many women then died in childbirth.”

The contrast between this life and that of a modern writer couldn’t be starker, which is partly why she dismisses any comparisons between herself and Austen. “I’m good on a good day but she’s great and she is in another category,” she says, firmly. “What I think we might have in common is that both of us are saying it’s no good disregarding domestic life as a measure of your success.”

She quotes Virginia Woolf who said it was a ‘grave mistake’ to believe there is more significance in great things rather than small things. “How you live your life at home is a measure of the sort of person you are. So swanking about thinking you are going to rule the world like Alexander the Great is not actually any more successful in human terms than being Mrs Tittlemouse!”

It is typical that Trollope is willing to spend so much time praising Jane Austen and has to be prodded into talking about her own new novel, City of Friends, about four female friends who work in the City of London. “I did all the research in the City and in Canary Wharf because it’s set in the finance industry,” she says. “I found it fascinating because women don’t work the way men work – they make relationships whereas men tend to compartmentalise.”

Each character gets a chapter in turn and the book begins with one of them being made redundant – a shock that rocks the woman to her foundations and forces a secret betrayal to emerge in the lives of the friends. It may be a 21st century tale but the issue of women’s independence is pure Austen.

I tell her that I think Austen would have enjoyed her books. “It would be the most enormous compliment if she had, wouldn’t it?” she says. “She would have loved the liberalism of life now, and the way that women can work. But she’d have been streets ahead of the rest of us, and quite right too!”

Joanna Trollope is at the Festival on Thursday July 13 at the Theatre Royal, Winchester.


Celebrating Jane Austen 200 years on: 10 top events - As global attention turns to July’s 200th anniversary of the passing of Hampshire’s poster girl, Viv Micklefield finds out how Jane Austen’s beloved home county is going all out to do her proud


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hampshire visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hampshire staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hampshire account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Mon, 16:16

As much a part of Christmas as presents under the tree, mince pies, turkey and sprouts, Emma Caulton asks what makes the traditional panto so special

Read more
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Treat yourself to a digital subscription to Hampshire Life and enjoy access to a huge archive of over 100 issues of the magazine!

Read more
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Some of Hampshire’s best known personalities have revealed what they most love about the county. Here, we compile some quotes from our interviews over the years

Read more
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

We announce our 2017 winner of 2017 Hampshire Food Hero at the Hampshire Life Food & Drink Awards

Read more
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

When the Hon Ralph Montagu inherited the country’s most famous family estate and motor museum two years ago, he already felt right at home. Viv Micklefield meets the man destined to be the driving force behind Beaulieu’s future

Read more
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Writer Kathy Lette promises full frontal frankness in her show Girls Night Out, as Faith Eckersall explains

Read more
Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Once a familiar face on local news bulletins, former journalist Caroline Hall now stands in front of a canvas instead of a camera. Sandra Smith met the woman who has sweeping ambitions for her art

Read more
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The harvest is almost at an end and in Hampshire that means an abundance of food and drink to enjoy from local producers. Claire Pitcher meets a few of them

Read more
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Faith Eckersall meets two siblings attempting to row 3,000 miles unsupported across the Atlantic to highlight the deadly effects of skin cancer and raise £100,000 in memory of a very special man who lost his life to the disease

Read more
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How a shepherds hut helped master cabinet maker Terry Lynch fight his way back to health and launch a business that’s now booming

Read more
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Art is a passion and a business for Emma Dunbar, whose colourful and vibrant work is in demand from private clients and galleries. As Sandra Smith discovers, this is an artist who really delivers the goods

Read more
Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The detective writer who chose Southampton as the setting for his dark novels tells Faith Eckersall why the city - and the New Forest beyond - are a perfect fit with his ‘fractured’ heroine, Detective Inspector Helen Grace

Read more
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Events to mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death reached a peak in Basingstoke with a statue of the author being unveiled. A colourful art trail also gives visitors a tour of an area she knew well, says Simon O’Neill

Read more
Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Deep below the Test Valley, natural mineral water is waiting to begin its journey to tables around the globe. Viv Micklefield meets the royally appointed company bringing about a refreshing change to our drinking habits

Read more
Its Christmas advert link
Pure Weddings advert link
South West Life advert link
A+ South & South West
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
Hampshire Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Hampshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Property Search