In the late 20th century, Britannula, an island near New Zealand, has achieved its independence from Great Britain. Settled by a group of young men some 30 years before the action of this novel, Britannula has developed into a prosperous land governed by a President and a single-house legislative body, the Assembly. They have adopted a great social experiment called the "Fixed Period," by which the society and its citizens will avoid the suffering, decrepitude, and expense of old age. At age 67 each person will be "deposited" into a lovely, carefree "college" (Necropolis) where he or she will spend one delightful year before being euthanized.

The story takes place just as the time approaches for Gabriel Crasweller, a wealthy landowner and good friend of President Neverbend, to be deposited. Crasweller is the first citizen to have lived out his Fixed Period, and the President, whose brainchild the Fixed Period is, experiences a conflict between his love for Crasweller--who inexplicably does not want to die--and his determination to carry out the law. Mounting resistance to the Fixed Period among the older citizens (including his wife) also surprises Neverbend, although the Assembly, composed mostly of young people, reaffirms the law. Just as Crasweller is led off to Necropolis, a British gunship arrives in port to relieve Neverbend of his duties as President and re-establish direct control of Britannula.


The Fixed Period was published in 1882, Trollope's 67th year and the year he died. Critics considered the book "essentially ghastly" and "an elephantine attempt at a joke," although the author is said to have claimed, "I mean every word of it." (Quotes are from the book's introduction.) Unlike most of Trollope's 47 novels, The Fixed Period is often out-of-print. For example, on on 6/25/01 only used copies were available.

Why is this novel by one of the world's most popular novelists so obscure? Probably the most important reason is that it lacks almost all of the features that make this author's work so popular. It is far from being a leisurely domestic comedy and there is little or no character development. The book is, in essence, a social tract or allegory. Moreover, it doesn't even succeed very well at that level. There isn't much "zip" in this utopian novel, perhaps because it deals with a stalled, one-issue utopia.

Nonetheless, The Fixed Period presents the social dynamic of ageism fairly clearly. Young people, in the guise of relieving suffering and benefiting society, devise a system that discriminates against the elderly. It all makes perfect sense. However, when these young folks grow older, they suddenly become aware that age has benefits, too. In this case, they no longer appreciate the "honor" of being "deposited," when their turn comes around. Likewise, family members also rebel against the "honor" to be bestowed upon their loved ones.

The non-voluntary and ageist euthanasia described in The Fixed Period is so antithetical to today's voluntary euthanasia movement that the book is probably not a useful contribution to that particular debate. Rather, the story fits more readily into the genre of dystopian literature, such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Island (see annotations), or George Orwell's 1984. However, in this case the dystopia never actually materializes because the good old Brits (Higher Civilization) step in with their gunboat to quash it.


First published: 1882



Place Published

New York



Page Count