Domestic Manners of the Americans
First edition title page
|Author||Frances Milton Trollope|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback) & E-book|
|Pages||c.200 pp (May change depending on the publisher and the size of the text)|
Domestic Manners of the Americans is a 2-volume 1832 travel book by Frances Milton Trollope, which follows her travels through America and her residence in Cincinnati, at the time still a frontier town. The text now resides in the public domain.
Frances Trollope traveled to America with her son Henry, "having been partly instigated by the social and communistic ideas of a lady whom I well remember, a certain Miss Wright, who was, I think, the first of the American female lecturers" (Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography). She briefly stayed at the Nashoba Commune, a utopian settlement for ex-slaves set up by Frances Wright in Tennessee, but was dismayed by the primitive conditions.
The book created a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, as Frances Trollope had a caustic view of the Americans and found America strongly lacking in manners and learning. She was appalled by America's egalitarian middle-class and by the influence of evangelicalism that was emerging during the Second Great Awakening. Trollope was also disgusted by slavery, of which she saw relatively little as she stayed in the South only briefly, and by the popularity of tobacco chewing, and the consequent spitting, even on carpets.
Her views were understandable for a number of reasons. It had been only 15 years since the United Kingdom was at war with the United States and the earlier American Revolutionary War was still remembered; as her own views on church, politics and social values were overtly conservative, she did not feel at ease with much in American religion, government and culture; and while in America she was unhappy as a result of financial and marital difficulties.
Final analysis of the USA
After enjoying much of the natural beauty and abundance of the land, the friendliness and kindness of many people she met and the dramatic material advances, her overall impression was not favourable. At the end of the book, she tried to summarise what she found wrong in the American character:
A single word indicative of doubt, that any thing, or every thing, in that country is not the very best in the world, produces an effect which must be seen and felt to be understood. If the citizens of the United States were indeed the devoted patriots they call themselves, they would surely not thus encrust themselves in the hard, dry, stubborn persuasion, that they are the first and best of the human race, that nothing is to be learnt, but what they are able to teach, and that nothing is worth having, which they do not possess.
Trollope "had no profundity of thought ... but she had a seeing eye and a lively pen". Her descriptions are "never boring: she makes us see the lonely clearings and farms, the huge silent rivers, Niagara, untamed and unvulgarised, the clear bright air ..."
The book was both highly controversial and highly successful, selling "like wildfire". It also enabled its author to become a wage-earner and save her family from penury. American author Mark Twain was amused and impressed by Trollope's observations of the Antebellum frontier America he grew up in: "Mrs Trollope was so handsomely cursed and reviled by this nation [for] telling the truth... she was painting a state of things which did not change at once. ... I remember it." 
... Nothing is so easy as speculating in our closets on the probable effects of any given arrangement of public affairs; and if the results of such imaginary politics were confined to the Utopias in which their ingenious authors gave them birth, we should have no objection to their theories. But when they are boldly obtruded upon the notice of the country as formulæ for actual practice, we feel it our duty, not to take these speculative conclusions for granted, but to turn the ' telescope of truth' to the existing facts themselves, and through the medium of an intelligent traveller's optics, ' bring life near in utter nakedness.' In this spirit we have read Mrs. Trollope's book with interest and instruction—we may add, with great amusement; for it is written with much humour, and is eminently graphic throughout,—touching with singular skill, a vast variety of topics, which, perhaps, only a female eye could correctly appreciate, or a female pen do justice to in description.
- Trollope, Frances Milton (1832). Domestic manners of the Americans. London: Whittaker, Treacher & Co.
- Moore, Katherine (1974). Victorian Wives. London, New York: Allison & Busby. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-85031-634-0.
- Bibliography Books 'T...'
- "Review of Domestic Manners of the Americans by Mrs. Trollope". The Quarterly Review. 47: 39–80. March 1832.
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