• Peter Templeton

Resource: The American Senator by Anthony Trollope

Though not an American author, Anthony Trollope’s The American Senator can tell us a lot about he relationship between the two countries. In this 1877 novel, Trollope introduces us to the Senator for the fictional state of Mickewa, Elias Gotobed. The senator comes to England with the goal of learning about English institutions, and much of the comedy of the novel comes as he causes offence to his hosts for the way that he critiques their ways. Near the end of the novel, he gives a speech that causes such commotion that he it is brought to an early, and he is given escort away from the building by the police for his own safety. But as much as we might laugh at Gotobed for moments of absurdity, a lot of what he says makes more sense than the English landowners that he offends. Trollope, too, has Gotobed attack things that he both liked and disliked about his own country, so there is no simple biographical answer to how we are supposed to read the character.

Anthony Trollope, 1815-1882

Some questions to consider:

1) How should Gotobed act as a guest in Britain? How would you feel if someone came to your country and lectured you on its institutions?

2) Would you feel differently if it were you in another country?

3) Gotobed’s main criticisms of Britain are about foxhunting, the aristocracy, and the fact that the church of England had a lot of jobs they could give away to the wealthy, regardless of qualifications. Many of these reforms were eventually made by the British anyway. Does this make any difference?

4) One of Gotobed’s defences, when challenged, is that Americans and the British are both supposed to share in the tradition of free speech – is this a valid defence for the way he criticises people in their homes? And how does it relate to the part near the end when he nearly causes a riot?

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