ABSTRACT

Anthony Trollope’s (1815–1882) novel He Knew He Was Right focuses upon the marriage of a jealous husband and a stubborn wife. Trollope toured the British Empire in his life and wrote accounts of these that were published. Beginning in the 1840s he wrote a cluster of novels set in Ireland, where he had been employed as a postal surveyor’s clerk and ultimately wrote over 40 novels alone. His first travel book was West Indies and the Spanish Main (1859) followed by works that related conditions in South Africa and Australia and New Zealand. The author thought the work a failure but in the long term became one his best-known works (HKHWR). The plot takes a wealthy young Englishman named Louis Trevelyan to the fictious Mandarin Islands (which, though sounding Chinese, is probably based in the West Indies). He falls in love with the daughter of the governor of the island, Emily Rowley, a Black Englishwoman. There are several subplots but the main story is that of Trevelyan’s descent into madness due to jealousy of his wife’s relationship with Colonel Osbourne. It has been suggested that Trollope was influenced by the case of Governor Eyre, who had overseen a brutal repression of men, women and children in Jamaica in 1865 after a popular uprising on the island. His trial was proceeding during the writing of the novel. The plot of the novel reverses the Eyre affair, for as Deborah Denenholz Morse has noted, rather than imprisoning West Indians:

Over the course of the story, the masterful Englishman Louis Trevelyan instead enslaves and imprisons himself, exoticizing his self-starved, self-tortured body in a cruel parody of the colonized bodies of the insurrectionists at Morant Bay in Jamaica, who were emancipated slaves and the children of former slaves – and the victims of Edward Eyre’s tyranny. 1

In the novel Sir Marmaduke Rowley is revealed to be a poor, ill-informed and bumbling governor of the Mandarins. The novel is therefore something of a satire on the quality of governance of the colonies.