A piece in today’s Times:
The queen of the “Aga saga” has come up with a plot twist that may make many of her readers boil.
Joanna Trollope has suggested that women are “emotionally ambitious” and then have the audacity to become resentful when their partners assume a dependent role.
And to add fuel to the Aga, the author also suggests that despite decades of purported desire to dominate the workplace women do not actually want to lose domestic control.
Trollope, 76, who is twice married and divorced and is one of Britain’s bestselling novelists, told The Lady magazine that attitude was “no good”.
“You can’t have it every way,” she told the magazine, and, presumably, the entire female population.
Trollope’s comments are likely to ignite a similar debate to that of four years ago when the historian of the Women’s Institute suggested that modern women were increasingly embracing domesticity.
Maggie Andrews said during a talk at the Hay Festival that “elements of the domestic have become much sexier” with women realising that “the workplace is not as much fun as we all thought”.
In this week’s interview Trollope declaimed the merits of domestic drudgery to overcome the misfortunes of relationships. “When you’ve had your heart broken almost the best thing you can do is clean the bathroom — because tap-polishing is one of the things you can control,” she said.
Trollope — whose books, in her words, did come with a “tinkling teacup label” on account of their setting in what some may regard as a twee Middle England — was speaking about her latest novel, Mum & Dad. The book explores the issues of the so-called sandwich generation of middle-aged people who are caring for their children and elderly parents.
The lead female character has “mothered” her husband to “create a dependency”. “That’s because women are emotionally ambitious,” Trollope said. “They want to make a man or a child dependent on them and then they resent them for being dependent.
“That’s no good — you can’t have it every way. And it’s classic passive- aggressive behaviour.”
She added: “Women don’t necessarily want to surrender their domestic roles, which means they sometimes make a rod for their own backs.
“Women want to control a lot of things in the domestic area because it’s a manageable control.”
In the same interview Trollope recounted her early experience of marriage after becoming betrothed at the age of 22 to a City banker. “Married women weren’t considered up to it,” she said. “We were supposed to go home, make jam tarts and have a baby.”
Before her first marriage Trollope worked at the Foreign Office, conducting research on the Chinese influence on the Third World for the purpose of briefing ministers and journalists. She began writing while pregnant with her first daughter.
Trollope said that her literary success, which began in the early 1990s with the publication of The Rector’s Wife, had affected her relationships.
“My success did make both my husbands feel threatened,” she said. “They were brought up in a certain way. And I don’t blame them for that.”
She was now, she added, content with her single status. “I have reached an equilibrium,” she said. “At last I’ve come to a realisation that I’m stuck with myself and might as well make something of that.”
Trollope, who has always rejected the “Aga saga” description — which was coined by a male critic — said this week that her books were “actually quite subversive” and “handbooks for how we live now”.
They dealt with “uncomfortable subjects but were dismissed as roses-round-the-door potboilers”, she said.
Trollope, who is a distant relative of the 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope, has described how she was put off studying at school only to win a scholarship to read English at Oxford.
She studied at St Hugh’s College, where she had tutorials with Lord David Cecil and JRR Tolkien. “I don’t remember much about them — I was too in awe,” she once said.
The writer, who is the mother of two daughters and stepmother to two sons, said recently that there was still plenty of work to be done and told how the author PD James had inspired her to keep writing.
“I saw PD James just before she died, aged 94, and she was writing another Adam Dalgliesh novel.
“I shall just go on writing,” she told The Sunday Telegraph.
“My output will get slower. There will be a book every two or three years, then every five, but that’s enough for me and certainly those poor readers.”
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