My Thoughts on Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles Series

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It took me two years, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally finished the set of six novels that collectively form the Barchester Chronicles series.

The genre of novels I enjoy, mostly modern classics written by women, tending to focus on matters of home and hearth and human psychology, frequently referred back to this seminal work by Trollope. So, for this reason I was eager to discover his writing. A group of fellow Trollope enthusiasts who decided to readalong with me, enabled me to finally find out what all the fuss was about.

 

The Chronology of the Barchester Novels

The six books in the series, in chronological order consist of The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington and lastly, The Last Chronicle of Barset.

 

Favourite Books in the Barchester Chronicles Series

It’s hard to pick favourites, but if I was compelled to, I would choose The Warden for being memorable and the Last Chronicle of Barset due to its poignant, soul-searching subject.

 

The Subject Matter of the Series

Though the focus of each individual novel differs, on the whole, the series addresses problems within the ecclesiastical system of Victorian England. Trollope pinpoints various gaping defects in church matters in the obvious hope for reform. The clergy are depicted as flawed individuals, sometimes greedy for power, sometimes prone to  earthly pleasures like other mortals. In this sense, the world that Trollope paints is incredibly real and believable.

Trollope’s female characters are no mealy-mouthed individuals. They have plenty of spunk, force of character and show that they can and will marry for love alone. For this reason the names of Lily Dale, Mrs Proudie and Eleanor Bold are memorably penned in the annals of Victorian literature.

In short, without revealing too much of the plot, here is what each individual novel focuses on:

The Warden

‘The Warden’ takes place in a fictional cathedral town in Victorian England-Barchester. It highlights the plight of an elderly man, a church employee. As he is suddenly thrust into the middle of a much publicized national scandal surrounding his (suspected) inflated salary, thereby cheating several bedesman, under his direct care, out of the stipulated income in an old will. It is a story involving several Victorian institutions: the government, the press, the church, the law, and several tiers of society. But at the heart of the matter, it is the story of a man’s desire to quell his conscience.

Barchester Towers

‘Barchester Towers’ takes us back to the hallowed precincts of Barchester, a few years after where ‘The Warden’ left off. The main plot centres around three key events- 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.

There is a struggle for ecclesiastical power which highlights the power hunger greediness of the clergy.

Another plot line is that of the love interests of newly widowed Eleanor Bold- who unfortunately falls prey to several bachelors, some of who are interested in acquiring Eleanor’s substantial private income.

Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne is one of the most romantic books in the series and deals with the story of Frank Gresham and Mary Thorne. Frank Gresham is the son of a bankrupt landowner, so it is highly derrière by his family that he marry for money to revive the family’s fortunes. However, he falls in love with a lovely girl, Mary Thorne, said to be illegitimate and certainly with no claims to fortune. The story has an excellent twist and is highly readable.

Framley Parsonage

This, the fourth book in the series deals with the ambitions of a young clergyman, Mark Robarts, who quite naively strives to climb the social ladder and lands himself in woeful monetary trouble due to the dubious company he keeps.

The Small House at Allington

The main issue that the novel deals with is the question of whether or not a person should marry solely for the purpose of money. The two sisters in the novel have two very distinct personas. There is Lily Dale- a Victorian version of Elizabeth Bennet/Marianne Dashwood (bubbly and impetuous) and we have the more cautious figure of her sister Bell. Each of the sisters is part of a unique love triangle. The novel largely deals with the love interests of each sister.

Virginia Woolf describes ‘The Small House at Allington’ as perhaps ‘the most perfect of English novels’ alongside Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

The Last Chronicle of Barset

The last book in the Barchester Chronicles and Trollope’s most soul-searching, heart-rending book about a man’s effort to preserve his integrity in the face of extreme adversity.

 

Who Should Read This Series?

Readers Who Love a Good Love Story

Trollope is surprisingly eloquent when he expresses the feelings of love between men and women. Nearly each novel has a central love theme and Trollope waxes quite lyrically during the innumerable love scenes.

Readers Who Enjoy Long Detailed Novels

The Victorians loved their long novels, many of which were published in serial format in many reputed newspapers and journals of the time. Trollope is no exception to the rule. The Warden is the only slim volume in the pack.

Readers Who Love Cozy, Comforting Books

People might be taken aback by the length and breadth of Trollope’s bibliography, but fear not! Trollope’s writing is incredibly comforting and cosy. Once you get used to the Victorian language, the writing is very easy to follow,

Readers Who Love Learning About Details of Victorian Living

How Victorians dressed, what they ate, their education and most importantly, how they managed their money, are all subjects of interest in these novels.

 

Favourite Quotes

What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?…Was ever anything so civil?” – The Warden

 

“Don’t let love interfere with your appetite. It never does with mine.”- Barchester Towers

 

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”- Barchester Towers

 

“Rest and quiet are the comforts of those who have been content to remain in obscurity.”- Doctor Thorne

“And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.”- Small House at Allington

Further Reading

If you enjoyed Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’, the good news is that he wrote lots, lots more novels- over and above 50 novels! Other Victorian writers who come to mind who remind me of Trollope are Mrs Gaskell and Dickens- although Trollope’s characters ate more middle-class than Dickens’ poor people. The novelist who perhaps was the most influenced by Trollope was George Eliot.

Later Angela Thirkell set her series of loosely linked novels in the fictitious county of Barsetshire. Several Trollopian characters reappear in different avatars in her books, Great fun!

 

Trollope was one of the most prolific of Victorian writers. Her wrote exactingly and untiringly about the quotidian details of provincial life. And he sought to highlight some glaring flaws in ecclesiastical order. He deserves to be read more widely by modern audiences.

December 2015, Book Wrap Up

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Here is a round up of book related favourites for the month of December, 2015. For a glimpse into November, 2015’s Bookish Favourites please see here.

1. Books

 I  read a total of five books in December.

1) The Sweet Dove Died (4/5*) by Barbara Pym.

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#currentlyreading 'The Sweet Love Died' by the inimitable Barbara Pym. (By the way, could we have a vote for the ugliest book cover ever?!😀) ——————————————– 'How do you think of me, then?' Leonora asked. 'Just living in your perfect house, leading a gracious and elegant life,' said Meg. 'It's hard to explain,' she said, seeing a shadow of displeasure cross Leonora's face. 'You make me sound hardly human, like a kind of fossil,' Leonora protested. ———————————- Leonora Eyre, a middle-aged woman of independent means, finds herself confronted with the unusual predicament of becoming romantically entangled with a uncle and nephew pair. Both the uncle and nephew vie for her attention and when she chooses to bestow her affection on the young nephew, she is confronted with the unhappy truth that she may not be in a position to have a future with him.

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2) The Thirty Nine Steps (4.5/5*) by John Buchan.

3) Emma- A Modern Retelling (3.5/5*) by Alexander McCall Smith.

4) Mystery in White (4/5*) by J. Jefferson Farjeon .

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The gloaming hour is upon us. Time to light up those golden candles, forsake the 'to do list', sip the warming honey green tea and slip into that delicious mystery novel that is set on the eve of Christmas. Several passengers are stuck on a train that gets trapped in the snow on Christmas Eve. Some passengers, rather foolishly, decide to venture out into the blizzard enveloping the immediate countryside. They stumble upon an empty country house and decide to seek shelter there. The fire is lit, the tea table set and the kettle is on the boil. But the owner of the house is nowhere to be seen. Trapped in the house due to the deep, all encompassing snow, there is an eerie sense of impending doom surrounding the house and it's inhabitants. What will happen next? ——————————————– 'Mystery in White' by J Jefferson Farjeon is a terrific, atmospheric read. Reading this as a buddy read with my dear friend @louised_1987 and so far, I think we both agree it is a terrific book!

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5) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp.

2. Blogposts

 I published nine blogposts excluding this round-up post this month. Two were reviews of  children’s books: The Story of Babar and Miss Rumphius. The rest included reviews of the books-  Family Roundabout and Illyrian Spring. I also published bookish list posts: 12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016Top 10 books of 201512 Classics I Want to Read in 20165 Endearing Christmastime Scenes from the Best Children’s Books and 2015: A Diary of Reading in 30 Instagram Pictures.

I wrote a blogpost for Mustlovefestivals.com interviewing the Latvian Tourism Board regarding the best upcoming Latvian Festivals in 2016. It was lovely chatting to Lelde Benke and learning about the Staro Riga Festival of Lights and the Cesis Town Fair.

3. Movies

The whole family sat down to watch ‘Home Alone‘ and the recent Disney adaptation of ‘Cinderella‘ during Christmas time. We adults watched ‘Brief Encounter‘ directed by David Lean. I highly recommend this movie, adapted from a minor play by Noel Coward. After reading Buchan’s ‘Thirty-nine Steps‘ we also watched the Hitchcock film by the same name. The story has been slightly modified for the big screen but both the book and film are exceptional.

4. Audiobooks

 I listened to the excellent BBC dramatization of Dodie Smith’s ‘Dear Octopus’ on BBC radio this month. I also listened to the BBC dramatization of a ‘Brief Encounter‘.

5. Miscellaneous

I purchased a number of Noel Coward plays on audible this month.

I did a few paintings for my art journal on Instagram.  It is my favourite social media platform!

Wish you all a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

Have you been reading/listening or watching anything nice this month?

September 2015 Favourites : Books, Audiobooks, Bookish Blogposts, Movies, Library Hauls and Much More.

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September 2015 was a slow but good month for new books, audiobooks and movies. It took a little time getting into our normal routine after our month long trip to India. Here is a round up of my September (and a little bit of August) favourites …

In the month of August the only two books I had read from my Holiday Reading List were coincidentally Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (a fantastic read) and Tempestuous April by Betty Neels.  Both of them contained April in the title but here the similarity end. I will leave you to arrive at your own conclusions…

Enchanted April is the perfect read for a summer vacation and found it into my September blogpost that lists Eight Books that Remind Me of Summer. Set in Portofino, Italy, Enchanted April tells of a sort of ‘re-birth’ of four different women who travel to Italy to spend time in a rented medieval castle, to find solace in the beautiful surroundings.

In September we frequently visited our library.

Little M and I are continuing to read from the Time Magazine’s list of Top 100 Children’s Books. Two books on this list are Tuesday by David Wiesner and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.

Tuesday is more of a picture book with terrific illustrations. It tells the tale of a series of animal invasions that strike at a particular time and place, namely Tuesday evening at around eight o’clock in a small suburb. Frogs invade the skies in hundreds of thousands, flying along on lilypad aircraft. They invade backyards, dark sitting rooms where people are dozing off in front of the television. Neither the press nor the police know what to make of it the day after, when the town is strewn with abandoned lilypads. All is well until next Tuesday at the same time… when a shadow of a flying pig is seen eerily set against a barn door…

Owl Moon is another wonderfully atmospheric book. It tells the story of a young child setting out on her very first owling expedition with her father. The night sky glows with the golden glow of a full moon- the best time to view an owl in the deep, snow laden woods. It is a tale of patience and forbearance, excitement and anticipation.

We are really enjoying all the books on the Time Magazine’s list of Top 100 Children’s Books. I cannot recommend them enough. Not on the list but of great entertainment value to Little M, is another installment of the Sofia the First entertainment series (she missed her a great deal whilst in India).

My reading in September was slow. I’ve started The Land Where Lemons Grow  by Helena Attlee which is a history of the introduction of citrus fruit in Italy. In great detail it researches how this fruit  has invaded the Italian imagination, from Calabria’s Diamante citrons, the blood oranges of Sicily, to the bergamot thriving on narrow strips of coastline. There is a bit of everything in this part history, part horticulture, sociopolitical culinary book offering.

I finished the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh series featuring philosopher Isabel Dalhousie called ‘The Novel Habits of Happiness’. As usual the book has a little bit of everything that I love, scenes from a Scottish city, romance, a light mystery, memorable characters and very large doses of reflection. It is the first book I reach for when I come back from our holiday.

Another book that I have started is a ‘cozy’ post-WW1 mystery set in Leeds called ‘Dying in the Wool‘ by Frances Brody. Speaking of mysteries, September marked the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dame Agatha Christie which I celebrated with my blogpost ‘An Ode to Agatha Christie: Celebrating Her 125th Birth Anniversary with Eight Memorable Books’.

I bought an audiobook from Audible in September called ‘In and Out of the Kitchen’ by Miles Jupp and cannot recommend it enough. It is a BBC 4 radio drama about a ‘cookery writer’ Damien Trench and his writing and domestic struggles.The writing is so very funny in a wry sort of way… really enjoying it.

As the mother of a 3 year old I find it impossible to visit the cinema nowadays and watch ‘non-princess themed’ movies. One of the bonuses of the Emirates flights to and from India was the excellent selection of current movies . On the way to India I watched ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ which I loved and has inspired me to give this favourite Hardy a re-read. On the way back to the US, I was lucky enough to watch the dramatized version of Vera Brittain’s poignant WW1 memoir ‘Testament of Youth’ which was epic. I cannot recommend these two movies enough.

Lastly, the whole family watched not one but two dramatized versions of C.S. Lewis’s classic -The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe… and Aslan made it into my art journal.

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Hope you had a wonderful September. See you in October xxx.

An Ode to Agatha Christie: Celebrating Her 125th Birth Anniversary with Eight Memorable Books

If you love to read crime fiction novels, chances are you will most definitely have read an Agatha Christie novel. Growing up, my group of school friends loved to read and share different books together. Agatha Christie was a great favorite. A quick and guaranteed good read. Someone you could rely on to divert you away from all those fat textbooks and the required English reading list.

Agatha Christie was definitely the writer who developed my love for vintage crime fiction. She was someone I read before venturing to read the works of Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, Patricia Wentworth, Nicholas Blake and Edmund Crispin.

To celebrate Christie’s 125th birth anniversary I have chosen some of our best-loved childhood reads that we read many years ago and continue to read today. As one friend recently remarked, “I still read a lot of Christie. It’s my comfort reading when I’m miserable…”

Here in no particular order are some of our most memorable Christie novels.

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1)And Then There Were None- this along with the ‘Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ has to be one of the best loved Christie novels. It has a unique plot: ten guests with seemingly little in common, are invited to a millionaire’s house on a private island, off the coast of Devon. One by one, quite systematically, all the guests are killed until nobody is left…

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2)Murder on the Orient Express- the luxurious backdrop of the Orient Express forms the setting of this spinechiller. In the dead of the night, a traveller on the Orient Express is brutally murdered in a locked compartment and further investigation reveals that he has been stabbed many many times. Enter Poirot to the rescue.

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3)The Pale Horse- this is a nice stand alone novel. It doesn’t feature either Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple but instead showcases Ariadne Oliver as the detective in charge. This book has a hint of the supernatural and the occult, has references to witchcraft and is nice to read during Halloween (another book that comes to mind for this season is Halloween Party). A dying woman bequeaths a list of names to Father Gorman and shortly after receiving the list he is killed. Mark Easterbrook along with Ariadne Oliver try to decipher the clues locked inside the list- a thankless task, because the people have nothing in common, except for the fact that they are being serially marked for murder.

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4)4.50 From Paddington- this is another Agatha Christie featuring a murder associated with trains but this time Miss Marple comes to the rescue. It seems Miss Marple’s character was based on Christie’s grandmother. Miss Marple definitely reminds me in certain ways of Patricia Wentworth’s elderly sleuth- Miss Silver. I love the storyline of this particular mystery: two trains traveling in opposite directions pass one another in the evening. The occupant of one train, an elderly lady called Mrs. McGillicuddy, sleepily observes something quite sinister occurring on the opposite train, a man strangling a woman. When she reports the incidence to her friend, Miss Marple, they are unable to uncover a missing body but further sleuthing proves that what Mrs. McGillicuddy saw, might have been correct.

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5)The Murder of Roger Ackroyd- this supposedly is the mystery that launched Christie’s career as the ‘Queen of Mystery’ and brought her great popularity. A young widow commits suicide in a small village and her death sparks rumours of her having been blackmailed regarding her affair with wealthy Roger Ackroyd- another inhabitant of the village. Very soon, Roger Ackroyd is found dead in his locked study after having discovered the identity of the unknown blackmailer. The identity of the blackmailer/killer is called into question by village inhabitant Hercule Poirot. What makes this mystery stand apart from all other Christies is the ingenious plot and very surprising identity of the killer.

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6)Hercule Poirot’s Christmas- I usually reach for this one during the festive season even though the book is completely lacking in ‘christmas spirit’. Simeon Lee gathers his large family to his large country house during the holidays, only to be brutally murdered in a classic locked room mystery. I also enjoy watching the dramatized version of this book featuring the inimitable David Suchet as Poirot.

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7)Murder in Mesopotamia- This has always been one of my favorites. I love the Christie mysteries set in Egypt and the East. The have a distinctive flavor and resonate with Christie’s own experiences on archaeological digs with her second husband- Max Mallowan- a renowned archaeologist. This book has a surprising solution to a clever plot.

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8)Endless Night- This is a book I actually read recently and was struck by its very mature and spine-chilling narrative. It has a dark, pent-up psychological tension that is similar to that found in a Hitchcock thriller. Do read this book if you are interested in reading a Christie with a difference.

Which Agatha Christie novels are your favorites?

Poirot or Marple?

Hats off to Agatha Christie for creating two such original, memorable detectives along with a host of other characters.