It all started with Barbara Pym.
You might ask: what relation does Barbara Pym have to Anthony Trollope? You would be right in asking the question.
A few years ago, I read Excellent Women by Pym and immediately fell in love with her style of writing. On discovering she had not written many books, the research scholar in me decided to find ‘Pym-esque’ authors.
The search uncovered Angela Thirkell- described by Alexander McCall Smith as:
“perhaps the most Pym-like of any twentieth-century author, after Barbara Pym herself, of course.”
The setting of Thirkell’s novels, in the rural setting of provincial England, a fictitious place called Barsetshire made me aware of that county’s close relation- the original Barchester of Trollope’s novels.
To put a long story short, I came to Anthony Trollope quite by accident and in a roundabout way but I am very glad that this happy accident occurred.
I purchased the whole gamut of books that comprise the Chronicles of Barchester series and announced my intentions on Bookstagram (Instagram for Book Lovers). I was met with an overwhelming enthusiasm from Bookstagram friends and the Trollope Club (Just a Bunch of Trollopes) was born and along with it much discussion and merriment. We have a hashtag (#trolloping) and are currently reading our third book, Dt Thorne in July 2016.
But now to Barchester Towers, the book, itself.
Barchester Towers takes us back to the hallowed precincts of the cathedral town of Barchester a few years after where ‘The Warden’ left off.
The position of Warden at Hiram’s Hospital is still unoccupied, the Bishop of Barchester is on his deathbed and John Bold has left for his heavenly abode.
In short, these three facts set up the series of events that form the majority of the plot of Barchester Towers.
Even before the Bishop has expired, several people are plotting to steal the Bishopric for themselves, even the Bishop’s son-the Archdeacon, Dr Grantly.
The bishopric falls into the hands of a Dr Proudie: a man in good standing with men in high positions in the government and incidentally endowed with an amazon of a wife. Mrs Proudie not only holds the strings of her household in her able hands, she also has first say in all matters related to her husband’s affairs, much to the chagrin of the clergy in Barchester. To add insult to injury, Bishop Proudie’s obnoxious chaplain, Mr Slope, decides to subject his parishioners to a lengthy lecture on various religious matters during his first sermon.
The clergy of Barchester, particularly Archdeacon Grantly, are up in arms against Mr Slope and Bishop Proudie and their combined reforms. Several members of clergy are called back to their religious duties in Barchester. One of them. Dr Stanhope has to return from the idyllic shores of Lake Como to take up his duties in his parish. The Stanhope family and their contingent of exotic characters bring a touch of foreign excitement to the goings-on in Barchester, particularly Dr Stanhope’s married, crippled, seductive daughter who takes up the title of Signora. Her brother, the lazy, good for nothing but charming Bertie Stanhope is looking for an easy way to relieve his debts.
He sets his cap at Eleanor Bold, who has been widowed for over a year due to the untimely demise of John Bold who was introduced to us in The Warden. Eleanor has quite a substantial annual income and though she can live quite comfortably with her infant son and sister-in-law, this income unfortunately enables her to fall prey to several bachelors who are looking for an easy way to acquire money.
Two bachelors, Bertie Stanhope and the slippery Mr Slope woo her to achieve their own ends- financial gain. A third- A Mr Arabin, a clergyman placed newly in charge of the small parish of St Ewolds, a great favourite of Archdeacon Grantly and rival of Mr Slope is also added to the mix and we have the recipe for great entertainment and drama.
However, Barchester Towers is more than just an elaborate marriage plot. We are introduced to a large cast of captivating characters, each with their own very distinct characteristics. For me the highlight of the story was the introduction to the excellent host of characters.
Trollope uses a very unusual form of narrative whilst telling the story. Frequent authorial intrusion led to the disruption of the otherwise smooth narration. However, the dialogue between author and reader led to several instances of comedic comment from Trollope. He also frequently tried to manipulate the reader to adopt his way of thinking. I cannot think of any other novel where I have witnessed so many authorial asides and interjections.
Without giving too much away, we have a very satisfying conclusion to the story, leading me to agree with the author that
“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”
Backstabbing, politics, humour, romance, conversation and Victorian social etiquette combine very effectively in this most excellent of novels, Barchester Towers.
I wonder, what will come next in the saga?