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An Autobiography: and Other Writings (Oxford World's Classics)
Oxford University Press, 2014
368 pp., 29.95
The age of Victorian bicentennials is upon us, each year offering new occasions for readathons, wreath-laying ceremonies, and repackagings billed as "anniversary" editions. Among this year's bicentennarians is Anthony Trollope, and, to mark the occasion, Oxford University Press has issued a keepsake edition of the posthumously published An Autobiography (1883). A sturdy octavo hardcover, it features a bound bookmark and wears a red dust jacket adorned with a frilly Victorian border and an inlaid image of the author's bearded and spectacled face (with the full portrait on the back). It's the perfect gift for the Trollope enthusiast in your life. But I'm hoping that this edition will be read, not merely cherished as an object, for here at last is a modern version alive to the book's charms and schemes and thereby capable of registering its continuing interest.
For this we can thank the editor, Nicholas Shrimpton, emeritus fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Shrimpton's superb introduction, notes, and editorial practice will delight those already familiar with the book as well as newcomers. He clearly wishes us to enjoy the reading and, to this end, acknowledges that the quality of Trollope's narrative may strike some as uneven. He observes, for example, that "the later chapters are, intrinsically, rather dry and external in their focus." Few editors would make such an admission, given its tacit permission to skip or to skim the section in question. Engaging explanatory notes (indeed, if space allowed I'd quote quite a few) concentrate on the lively characters and incidents of the Victorian literary scene to the almost complete exclusion of scholarly reference. (The "Select Bibliography" stored among the front matter fulfills this office sufficiently.) Above all, this new edition punctures three myths that have dogged An Autobiography and thereby hampered its appreciation
An Autobiography severely damaged ...