Barsetshire Chronicles, Book 2
Signet Classics. 1963. 535 pgs with afterword by Robert W. Daniel.
Originally published in three volumes in 1857.
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.
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!