Thursday, November 23, 2006

Domestic Manners of the Americans

Frances Trollope (1779-1863).

I've begun reading one of the masterpieces of English snobbery toward Americans, Fanny Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832). Mrs. Trollope, the mother of novelist Anthony Trollope, travelled to America in 1827 with the intention of settling down at Nashoba, a utopian community in the Tennessee backwoods. She ended up settling in Cincinnati, where a series of disastrous business ventures left her bankrupt and forced her to return to England. Back home, she vented her spleen in a book that became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Dickens loved it, and after his own trip to the States was forced to concur with her low opinions of Americans. Even Mark Twain later agreed that Trollope's sharp eye had captured the uncouth nature of the America of his youth. She detested the American habit of spitting and of rushing through meals, and condemned the great American hypocrisy of permitting slavery in a self-proclaimed land of liberty. Nonetheless, she had her own peculiarly British prejudices; thus, sharing a steamboat with a group of Kentuckians from New Orleans to Memphis, she remarks: "Whatever their moral characteristics may be, these Kentuckians are a very noble-looking race of men; their average height considerably exceeds that of Europeans, and their countenances, excepting when disfigured by red hair, which is not unfrequent, extremely handsome."

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