Top novelist Joanna Trollope saves her manuscripts for England... by giving them away to the Oxford library where she used to study

  • Joanna Trollope has given her manuscripts to Oxford's Bodleian Library
  • She made the move to ensure the works stay in England
  • The novelist hopes her originals will show people how the novels evolved

By Chris Hastings

Joanna Trollope, one of Britain’s most celebrated authors, has donated the handwritten manuscripts of her novels to Oxford’s Bodleian Library in order to stop them leaving the country.

Miss Trollope’s gifting of the material puts her at odds with writers such as David Hare and Salman Rushdie, who sold their archives to overseas libraries and universities which easily outbid their cash-strapped British counterparts.

Miss Trollope, 70, said: ‘It is up to people whether they sell it or give it away but I very much wanted the papers to stay in England.

The novelist wants to ensure her works stay in England
She is the fifth-generation niece of Victorian playwright Anthony Trollope

Miss Trollope, left, fifth-generation niece of playwight Anthony Trollope, right, wants to keep works in England

‘I am English, the novels are English and as a nation we still read a vast amount of fiction...The fact is British institutions struggle when these things are put up for sale.’

In recent years the University of Texas at Austin, in particular, has seen off the British Library to snap up prized papers including those of playwright Sir Tom Stoppard.


Experts say that institutions around the world would have bid for the archive and it could have attracted a price tag of £100,000.

Miss Trollope, whose works include The Choir and The Soldier’s Wife, said the collection had sparked an ‘amicable tussle’ between the British Library and the Bodleian.

Miss Trollope used the Bodleian as a student at Oxford in the 1960s. She said: ‘I know people let their material go to Austin but I wanted my archive to go to somewhere personal to me.’

Joanna Trollope has donated the manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, where she used to study

Joanna Trollope has donated the manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, where she used to study

Her donation contains the manuscripts to all 30 of her novels, as well as her extensive research for each book, including anonymous interviews with the people who inspired her characters.

Richard Ovenden, Director of Library Services or ‘Bodley’s Librarian’, said he hoped other writers would follow Trollope’s lead.

He added: ‘We are delighted that Joanna Trollope is gifting her archive to the Bodleian. She is one of the most successful novelists of her generation and as somebody who graduated in English literature at Oxford we are immensely proud of her success as a writer.’

And Friends of the National Libraries chairman Lord Egremont said: ‘Manuscripts of our literary heritage are our nation’s DNA: Joanna’s gift is important and very generous.’

Miss Trollope said she can spend up to two years working on a book. ‘The research is a big deal for me. I am trying to get across the authenticity of the people I am writing about and I don’t want the reader to be tripped up by mistakes in the background.’

She worked at the Foreign Office prior to becoming a full-time writer in 1980 and has already sent 50 boxes of material to the Bodleian, which was established in 1602.

Sir Salman Rushdie is one writer who has sold his manuscripts abroad
Sir Tom Stoppard is a high profile name whose manuscripts are no longer in England

Sir Salman Rushdie, left, and Sir Tom Stoppard, right, are high profile writers whose manuscripts are abroad

In the past five years Miss Trollope has written five books and has promised to donate material relating to all her future novels.

She still pens all her novels by hand, saying: ‘I write newspaper articles and speeches on a computer but when I am writing a novel, I still do it by hand. I just need the silence of writing a novel because I am kind of describing a movie I can hear and see in my head.’

The author, who is a fifth-generation niece of the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, hopes her own technique will help anyone studying the material to realise literary success does not come overnight.

She said: ‘I write on the right hand of the page and I leave the left hand blank and that is where I make  my notes and alterations. I hope people who study the manuscripts will be able to see how the novels are evolving.’

Miss Trollope added that she is ‘appalled’ by the closure of local libraries, which she insists still have a role to play. She said: ‘What they symbolise as well as what they are is ever more important. In this increasingly digitised world they represent something solid and safe in communities.

‘In the old days we went into a church for sanctuary and I think librarians are going to represent that sort of sanctuary in the future.’