The Three ClerksThe Three Clerks

Anthony Trollope
Edited and with an introduction by Paul Delany

ELS 112. ISBN 978-1-55058-626-8
(Kindle 978-1-55058-627-5)

 Anthony Trollope wrote two autobiographies. One was in the standard form, written when he reached the age of sixty in 1875, but only published after his death seven years later. The other was The Three Clerks (1858), a portrait of his life when he was in his twenties, not yet successful in his career as a civil servant, published as an author, or married. The Three Clerks shows life as it appears to Charley Tudor, a clerk in the Internal Navigation Office, and an obvious surrogate for Trollope himself. Charley Tudor’s loss of happiness comes partly from external events. But the overall tone of The Three Clerks reveals the young Trollope’s profound sense of being a failure, both at work and in his private life. And not just a failure, but a guilty failure, for which he feels a need to confess, and to atone.

Among Trollope’s novels, The Three Clerks is unusual for being published in two versions. In the later 1850s he gained rapid success as a commercial novelist, but he was also willing to accept suggestions about revisions from his publishers. When asked to shorten the Trollope to make substantial cuts to the three-volume first edition to reduce production costs for a cheap edition. Nonetheless, he marked about 13,700 words for deletion—about six percent of the text—including the entirety Chapter II.12, “The Civil Service.” The shortened Three Clerks is a significant record of Trollope’s self-criticism, which is why the present edition marks his cuts in italics. He had to decide which parts of his text were disposable and which essential; or even just which parts he liked more than others. In his Autobiography he boasted that few writers had written more words than him; the present edition shows his performance at the opposite task, of writing fewer.

Paul Delany is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University.

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