Another Challenge Read Done! Loving Trollope….

BarchesterTBarchester Towers

Anthony Trollope

Barsetshire Chronicles, Book 2

Signet Classics.  1963.  535 pgs with afterword by Robert W. Daniel.

Originally published in three volumes in 1857.

Guardian 1000 challenge.  Comedy titles.

Other Trollope books I’ve read:  The Warden (blogged, 11/4/13) and The Way we Live Now (blogged, 10/12/13).

I know I’ve said this before but at the risk of being a little repetitive, I love, love, love this challenge for leading me to books and authors I would never have picked up — but ended up so happy with.

Regarding this particular title, I’m not alone.  Barsetshire Towers is considered one of Trollope’s most-loved, most accessible, books.  It is very funny.  For once I wished I was reading it on the Kindle so I could have marked out the laugh-out-loud passages; there were many!  The book is about power.  Whether it be between church colleagues (huge fighters, here!), husbands and wives, men and women, masters and servants — there is a constant struggle for who has the upper hand.  But Trollope keeps this theme light; no one is going to get deeply hurt here.

Mr_Slope

See more good Trollope goodies and info at this cool website: http://www.anthonytrollope.com/

This is the second book of Trollope’s six novel series, the Barsetshire Chronicles.  The first,  The Warden (1855),  introduced us to several key characters who I assume (and hope) will reappear in the rest of the series.  The Warden focused on Mr. Harding, a sweet and gentle churchman; his son-in-law, fire-breathing and hard-charging Archdeacon Grantly; his lovely but firm daughter, Eleanor, and a host of other characters.  Barchester Towers continues their story and adds in more drama represented by the arrival of a new bishop, Rev. Proudie.  Bishop Proudie’s entourage includes his obsequious and conniving chaplain, Mr. Slope and his strident, forceful and dictatorial wife, Mrs. Proudie (the real bishop!).  A power struggle ensues between the forces of Grantly (high-church) and Slope (low-church).  I confess that the intricacies of nineteenth-century English church politics escapes me, but there are enough references that I can discern the basic principles.  However, these concepts take second place to the human characters who struggle for the upper hand in such a spiritual, religious manner!  I thought a few times, hey, WWJD?

  • Pros:  lots of social satire, wonderful characterizations.  I also love, love Trollope’s use of last names as a clue to the characters:  domineering Mrs. Proudie, slimy Slope, social ladder-climbing Mrs. Lookaloft, and the Quiverful family (fourteen kids!) and many others.
  • Cons:  well, wordy.  Even my Trollope-love gets worn down by the many side-plots and asides.  Trollope likes to appeal to the reader in a blatant way which sometimes grated on my nerves when it didn’t advance the story.

Only one more Trollope on the Challenge list:  book six of the Barsetshire Series.  Now, this will represent a challenge to my OCD tendency to strictly read books series in order….should I read the intervening three books to get at the last one?  I think I’ll spend some more time at:  Anthony Trollope.com to get a feel for the intervening books.  Maybe I’ll reward myself by checking out the BBC’s lovely miniseries based on the first two books, as well!  Stay tuned!

 

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The Warden

WardenThe Warden

Anthony Trollope

Barsetshire Chronicles, Book 1

1855.

I’m reading a public domain version downloaded from Amazon.

The only wardens I know are in charge of prisons — so, boy, I had a lot to learn once I picked up this first novel in Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles.  Since I must get cracking on the Guardian challenge and I have an OCD aversion to reading books in series out of order I realized I can’t get to my other two Trollopes on the Guardian list without first reading The Warden.  Because I loved The Way We Live Now I dug right into The Warden — another book I probably would never have read except for the Challenge.

From what I’m learning about Anthony Trollope, this guy was prolific!  He could crank out the stuff — and The Warden was one of the first books that brought him commercial notice.  Trollope got the idea for the story after a visit to Salisbury Cathedral:

Creative Commons license by Ashley Pomeroy.  Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Salisburycathedral0246.jpg

Creative Commons license by Ashley Pomeroy. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Salisburycathedral0246.jpg

The story:  Septimus Harding is the elderly, gentle and music loving “warden” (director) of a “hospital” (almshouse) — a Victorian version of a nursing home, located adjacent to Barchester Cathedral (aka Salisbury Cathedral).  Reading this book got me in touch with reams of Victorian English Church vocabulary, which isn’t exactly useful in my life right now, but hey, you never know.  As Warden, he receives a nice salary from the bequest that set up the hospital, and pays for the maintenance and upkeep of its “bedesmen” (inmates) — about a dozen elderly working men.  Warden Harding takes loving care of his old guys and also takes care of music duties at the Cathedral.  His life is serene and focused on his duties, music, and devotion to his younger daughter Eleanor, who lives with him.

But this is not to last.  A young reformer, John Bold (who also has an eye for Eleanor), digs up the fact that the bequest that set up the hospital didn’t really parse out the Warden’s salary in such a generous proportion.  Additionally, it seems that the old men in the hospital are due some money.  Warden Harding becomes immediately concerned and wonders how to rectify the situation.  The bequest that established the hospital is ancient — dating from the middle ages and there was probably some misinterpretation in its terms at some point.  The old guys in the hospital become restive when they learn about the prospect of more cash.  To complicate matters — Mr. Harding’s son-in-law, the strident and know-it-all Archdeacon of the Cathedral, becomes involved and is dead-set on a big time fight with John Bold over the power of the Church.  Lawyers get called and trips get made back and forth to London.  Stories get published in the newspaper.  In general, its a mess.

In the middle of this turmoil is the Warden, a gentle but strong soul.  This story is about questioning the whole premise of your life — was it right or wrong?  Was everything you believed correct?  If it was not, would you have the courage to change almost everything in your life and start over?  Even if you are bullied, ridiculed, and despised for your actions?  I don’t know if I could or not.

I loved this book — another terrific surprise thanks to the Guardian Challenge!  On to Barchester Towers, Book 2!

Trollope’s The Way We Live Now

way we liveThe Way We Live Now

Anthony Trollope

1875.  According to Wikipedia, The Way We Live Now was one of the last major Victorian novels to appear in serialized form.

I read a public domain version, downloaded from Amazon.  This is a very long novel — with 100 chapters.  A 2012 paper reprint counts it in at 890 pgs.

Other books I’ve read by Trollope:  none!  But the Guardian list contains at least three — and once again, thanks to the List I’ve read something absolutely fantastic that I would never have picked up.  So, more from Trollope as soon as I can get to them.

Guardian 1000 Challenge.  State of the Nation titles.

Where do I begin to try to summarize this huge, fantastic story??  First of all, Trollope’s life is interesting — an unhappy childhood dominated by broke, creative, volatile parents — his father failed taking the bar because of his bad temper and his mother actually went off to America to try to make the family fortune.  She then returned home and wrote novels to try to support them.  Despite not making ends meet, Anthony’s parents were both very concerned with maintaining their gentry status — so Anthony was sent off to the best schools where he was bullied for being the poor kid.  Then, Anthony began a long and somewhat up and down career as

a civil servant in the British Post Office.  He was said to be responsible for establishing the the famous red postal boxes.

Trollope was really upset about the financial crisis of 1873, some of which was caused by speculation—especially in railroad building.  The plot of The Way We Live Now revolves around a huge swindle concerning this very same subject.

Augustus Melmotte has come to London with his family to set up a financial house in the City. He is rumored to be a Jew, fantastically wealthy and somehow connected to the failure of a bank in Vienna — or maybe in Paris.  No one is sure, but every broke aristocrat is dying to get in good with him.  (Shades of Bernie Madoff??).  His daughter, Marie, is rumored to be an heiress worth millions — which attracts a raft of worthless, stupid noblemen hoping to make their fortunes.  Mixed in with this crowd are the Carbury’s — broke gentry who pin their hopes on son Felix (one of the most dissolute, ridiculous characters you will ever meet in fiction) snatching up Marie.  Of course Melmotte has no intention of giving his rich child over to the penniless Felix — never mind the fact that he is Sir Felix — but Melmotte is also intent on playing his own game of stocking a board of directors for his Grand South Central Mexican Railway with stupid and quiescent nobility.  So, Melmotte will use Felix for his own purposes for a while.  What Melmotte doesn’t count on is:

  • Marie’s infatuation with Felix and her own ruthless ambitions
  • Paul Montague’s nagging questions about when actual building on the railway will begin
  • Some impertinent questions from a jealous newspaperman
  • Questions from his faithful and usually complacent clerk about actually how far Melmotte is going to go this time…

This story really has everything:  greed, power, status, love, politics, finance, bigotry, a visit from the Emperor of China….I could go on and on.  There must be almost 50 substantive and fascinating sub-characters, each with his or her own story to tell.  But in the center of it all sits Melmotte.  Is he a swindler?  An anti-hero?  A fatally flawed adventurer who is merely the instrument to punish a corrupt and valueless society?  Read this fantastic story and be the judge yourself.

I have to also add that the BBC produced a luscious adaptation of TWWLN in 2001 starring David Suchet as Melmotte and Mathew Macfadyen as Felix Carbury.  I made myself the read the whole book before watching it, though, and hope you will also.