The Widow Barnaby

By Frances M. Trollope

Volumes one, two, and three


It is possible today to get classical books for free from sources such as amazon and many, such as The Widow Barnaby by Frances M. Trollope, are fun to read. I encourage readers of good literature to take advantage of these sources. The books are now public property because their copyright has expired. I will give an example of one of the books here.


Frances M. Trollope (1779-1863) was an English novelist who published over 100 novels, including an anti-slavery novel that influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe.


She gained notice for her first book “Domestic Manners of the Americans” (1832) that disparaged Americans, but was very witty, as are most of her novels. While popular in her own day, she is little known today, which is a shame because her novels are quite funny and reveal life as it was lived in the early nineteenth century. Her son Anthony is better known today than his mother.  Some scholars believe that people began to think that her books couldn’t possibly be good since she published so many. Her son Anthony (1815-1882), famous for his The Warden, as well as the better-known Charles Dickens, also published many books, which raised the eye-lids of many readers, and Anthony feared he would suffer the same fate, but fortunately Anthony and Dickens did not.


Frances Trollope’s books contain some of the elements of melodrama, but not all, and where her works resemble commonplace melodrama, she alters the common version in a delightful manner. Melodrama is characterized by (1) exaggerated emotions, (2) stereotypical characters, (3) interpersonal conflicts, and (4) an emphasis of plot or action over characterization. The Widow Barnaby does exaggerate emotions and its characters are somewhat stereotypical, but this is done, at least in so far as the widow is concerned, to heighten the humor of the tale. The conflicts in the novel, and there are several, are interpersonal, but the plot and actions are by no means emphasized over characterization. Trollope delves deeply into the character or her characters and, in fact, this depth is what carries the drama of the tale.


Volume one of The Widow Barnaby introduces readers to this remarkable woman, her upbringing, parents, her husband and his death, other relatives, and her general attitude about herself and other people. The first volume of the book focuses especially on widow Martha Barnaby’s relationship with her father’s sister, Miss Compton, who she despises and is despised in return. Martha thinks her aunt is very poor, while actually she is extremely rich, and unknown to all, she hasn’t decided to whom she will leave her wealth. The book also focuses on the widow’s sister’s child, Agnes, who is quite plump during her early years and afraid to talk, and how the widow and her aunt treat her.


Widow Barnaby is an extremely self-centered person. She has no respect for anyone. She thinks very highly of herself: that she is beautiful, well-formed, well-liked, sophisticated, educated, considerate, open-handed, and truthful, with a happy disposition and easy-going temper. But she is wrong about each of personality traits. This gives Frances Trollope an opportunity to let us enjoy the Trollope wit as she shows how the widow is often acting bizarrely. In this volume, the widow leaves her small town after her husband’s death and travels to a large city with the hope that she will make a huge favorable splash in its society, but most people see her as absurd and vulgar.


While in her youth Agnes was plump and certainly no beauty, in volume two, now age 16, she is the most extraordinary beauty ever seen by men or women, and she attracts members of both sexes. Wherever she goes she is able to find a very nice girl her own age who wants to be and who becomes her friend. Three men are attracted to her. Two are very rich. One is more than twenty years her senior and the other about her own age.


Widow Barnaby is still absurdly self-centered. She treats Agnes as her personal slave, and Agnes suffers greatly. She takes Agnes to a new town while she seeks a husband for herself. She lies about her wealth, making believe that she is enormously wealthy to attract wealthy suitors. But she buys very little for Agnes, and forces her to wear the same dress constantly. Most people see her as ridiculous, as will readers, both enjoying the humor involved in her activities. She does attract a man who tells her he is also extremely rich and she spends huge sums to attract him.


In volume three, the fat and ridiculous Barnaby widow and her very attractive niece Agnes travel to London. Both the widow and Agnes are at the lowest point of their lives. The widow thinks of saving herself with marriage. Agnes seems to be left without any hope of happiness, poor and abandoned.


Readers will enjoy the drama and the humorous way it is presented.