I’ve just finished reading Anthony Trollope’s novel ‘The Fixed Period’. Published in 1882, it’s set in the former British colony of Britannula in 1980. Its president is John Neverbend, who has persuaded his parliament to enact a law requiring all citizens to retire from life at the age of 67, and enter a college where they would be executed during the following year. It was all to be performed with the utmost dignity, and everyone would be allowed a comfortable final year. The first to be, in the wording of the law, ‘deposited’ in the college is Neverbend’s very good friend Gabriel Crasweller. He was once a strong supporter of the plan, but his enthusiasm, perhaps understandably, has diminished now that his time has come. The whole thing is thwarted with the arrival of the Royal Navy vessel ‘John Bright’, whose captain is under orders to reclaim the republic for Britain and to install a governor. Neverbend is taken away to Britain, and he writes his account while on the voyage;
There are some similarities with Trollope’s other novels. He has his usual fun with names. As well as Neverbend himself, a cricket team visiting from Britain includes Sir Kennington Oval, Lord Marleybone and Sir Lords Longstop, and the commander of HMS ‘John Bright’ is Captain Battleax. There is a love interest involving Neverbend’s son and the condemned man’s daughter, complicated by a question of an inheritance. Apart from that, it’s quite unlike his other novels, and it is that that has prompted this post. There are no clergymen seeking advancement in quiet cathedral cities and no political intrigue of the kind found in the Palliser novels. It’s disturbing in Neverbend’s unquestioning assumption that euthanasia is a good thing, but comical in its treatment of the subject. The tone is sometimes that of Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ (kill babies to feed the poor) and sometimes that of the Grossmiths’ ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ (the humourless Mr Pooter). It’s an easy read, and I recommend it. It’s available free from Kindle, or you can read it on Gutenberg.
For more on dystopian novels, including this one, before Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, see here. For more on ‘The Fixed Period’ and on its relevance to Trollope’s life, see David Lodge’s 2012 Guardian article.