In her essay on The Manuscipt included in the companion Commentary to the new Folio Society edition of The Duke’s Children, Susan Lowell Humphreys notes that there is “no definitive proof” that any publisher ever demanded the cuts that have been restored to recreate the full four volume novel. She asserts, in the absence of such proofs, that he chose to make the cuts of his own volition based on his belief that that the contemporary market at the latter part of the 1870s would not receive it well in its uncut form. The market expected three volume novels not four.
This seems to me implausible.
Would Trollope, who was noted for his workmanlike attitude to his craft – taking word-counting to obsessive limits not touched by his fellow authors – have allowed himself to have incurred all the days of extra writing this entailed? The extra 65,000 words represents some four weeks’ work in the writing, even at Trollope’s prodigious speed. And that is before the subsequent time spent – one might say wasted – in going through the work and making cuts after the fact. There seems to be no apparent hint of such a plan in the working diary Trollope prepared to plan his writing of the book across eighty chapters.
If Trollope were of the opinion that a three volume novel was what the market demanded then he would have written it in that form from the outset. Lowell suggests that Trollope came to this conclusion based on the poor reception and reviews of the previous Palliser novel The Prime Minister. But if this was indeed the spur for Trollope’s take on the market conditions, it was a view based on information available to him in mid-1876 when The Prime Minister was published, which is precisely when Trollope was sitting down to write The Duke’s Children. If the poor reviews were such an influence, surely it would be a simpler process to write a three volume novel from the outset than to write a four volume novel and cut a quarter after it has been completed.
To use Trollope’s own analogy of the cobbler. It would seem perverse in the extreme for a shoemaker, knowing the demand was for a size 9 pair of boots, to craft so carefully a pair of size 12s and then, once having completed them, to cut them down to a pair of size 9s.