What chronological position does this novel hold among its author's works? What contemporary reception did it receive?
Why do you think Trollope titled it as she did? Why did she not choose simply Michael Armstrong, or another such title?
What effect may its serial publication have had on the construction of the novel?
To what prior authors may she be indebted for aspects of her style? (Fielding, Dickens) Her themes? Which authors may have been indebted to her?
How would you describe this novel's manner--sentimental, picaresque, or satiric? Is it an instance of domestic realism, didactic fiction, detective fiction, documentary journalism, and/or of investigative reporting?
What is the significance and intention of the opening scene? Why is Michael chosen for special favor from among the other factory children? Would he have received attention otherwise?
Who would have been the audience for this book? With which of the characters, if any, would they have identified?
How is little Michael treated by those who interact with him, and what are the respective social classes and positions of these responders? Are any of these less demeaning than others?
What offensive differences do they observe in little Michael? (dirty and ill-matched clothes, filth, odor, his speech) What point does Trollope make by emphasizing these differences? Why does no one seem to understand that Michael is not responsible for this poverty?
Why does Sir Michael wish to change Michael's appearance without having him first bathed? When he is dressed as a member of the upper classes, how do others respond? (can't tell the difference--clothes make the man)
Of what is Michael frequently accused? (theft, deceit)
What do we learn about his actual character? his responses? his family and his concern for them?
Do his responses seem plausible for a boy of his age?
Why is the close relationship between Sir Dowling and his daughter Martha introduced?
Can you see any significance to the choice of names throughout? (e. g., Shrimpton, Armstrong, Gabberly)
How is Mrs. Armstrong presented?
What do we learn about the requirement for entering the poorhouse? Why doesn't Mrs. Armstrong desire to do so?
What instances are given of the effect of factory conditions upon workers? (death of girl who faints) What is the reaction of the overseers?
Do you think fiction would have been an effective vehicle for exposing the inequalities of industrial labor? What can it do that a treatise or investigative report cannot?
What are some stereotypes/types introduced in the novel? (Parisian flirt, 88, vain young poet, local gossip, etc.)
In what context are debates about the nature of heredity introduced? (87)
Pages 100-to end
What symbolism surrounds the writing and performance of the play? Who participates and who doesn't participate, and is this significant? Can you compare the use of drama in this novel with the play performance in Mansfield Park?
In general, what are some theatrical elements in the novel, and what purpose do they serve?
What symbolism is associated with Michael's weeping as he struggles to say the lines which praise his erstwhile tormenter? What are some practical consequences which flow from his honesty?
What do we learn about apprenticeships from Michael's experience in the stocking weaver's trade? What had been a famous earlier apprentice in Victorian fiction?
How is Trollope's account different from that of her predecessor?
Whom does he meet at the stocking weaving factory? How does little Fanny influence his life?
What enables Michael to escape, and what new occupation does he now find? What are Trollope's views on the respective merits of rural and factory labor? Is the account she presents of a farm hand's life somewhat idealized?
What do you make of the novel's frequent comparison of child labor with chattel slavery, especially in the light of her prior anti-slavery novel?
What role do the several references to Shakespeare play in the novel? What are some other allusions? What is the effect of Trollope’s use of French phrases?
What role in the novel is played by Miss Brotherton? Does she share the role of protagonist with Michael? If so, why may Trollope have chosen to make her role of equal importance?
What are some of Miss Brotherton's traits of character? Are there ways in which she anticipates the "new women" characters later in the century? (chooses to live independently)
Who serves as a mentor figure to Miss Brotherton in her search for an understanding of the situation of factory workers? Do you think his character may have been based on that of a historical figure?
What does he believe will most directly improve the lot of English workers? What Parliamentary acts passed in the decade after the publication of this novel reflect the changed public opinion which Trollope helped to create? (Factory Act of 1844, Ten Hours Bill of 1847)
Does Miss Brotherton accept his view? What structural facts does she believe will limit the amount of good she can do for others? Do he and she believe that wealthy individuals alone may change a social system?
Does this belief in the limitations of individual actions seem congruent with the novel's tone and expose of the many oppressive features of the factory system?
What example of a good factory owner whom Trollope's narrator singles out for praise?
Can you think of other novels by women of the period in which a female protagonist finds a clergyman mentor? (Mill on the Floss, Ruth)
What edifice does Michael enter directly after hearing of the death of his mother? Was this wise? Who recognizes him, and under what danger does this place him?
On what terms does he greet Martha Dowling, and for what deed has she repented? What practical aid does she attempt to provide for him, and what acts of generosity does he offer in return?
In her preface to the novel Trollope said she had originally planned for the second part of the novel to present Michael's role in the worker's movement, but recent events have caused her to deplore the violence of such protests. What do these strictures reveal about her attitudes toward Chartism?
Had she carried through her original plan, do you think the novel would have been more unified? Might it have been a better novel? In this version, what seems Michael's relationship to political descent, and to the Ten Hours bill?
What are some features of the final scene of Sir Matthew's death? What blunt and angry sentiments does he express? Which characters gather to attend or torment him at the last, and is this just? Does everyone receive their just deserts?
Can you think of another novelist who arranges his or her plots so that the good and evil characters find and continue to associate with their like-minded fellows?
What do we learn about Sir Matthew's second marriage? What has been his motive for marrying Lady Clarissa? On what grounds does she resent his behavior?
How does the final end of Sir Matthew help to organize the plot? What effect is created by the fact that one daughter remains lovingly loyal to the end?
What do you make of the fact that the novel's admired characters leave their country at its conclusion? Why may Germany have been chosen as the place of residence? (associated with intellectual and reformist women) Does emigration feature in the closure of other plots of the time?
What are some ways in which the narrator expresses her views? (sarcasm, authorial intervention, interaction and balancing of characters)