It’s only two weeks since I finished this, but it feels like a lifetime – a lot’s been happening since I got back and I have found myself longing to be in Barsetshire, I’m flirting with ‘Can You Forgive Her’ but I want old friends (and enemies) and that’s a good part of the appeal of Trollope for me – a complete little world full of incident and interest that welcomes and comforts the reader. I read ‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’ in every spare moment that came my way over my two weeks of freedom (including in the car outside a house which turned out to be called Lily Dale)
Normally I take a pile of books away with me but there was something very appealing about really just having the one to be getting on with, coupled by the time to do it justice – it’s the potential investment of time that held me back from reading the last chronicle for the best part of six months and which is making me think twice about throwing myself straight into the Palliser series; happily it will keep (although oddly I didn’t have a problem with working through Mrs Oliphant’s Carlingford chronicles one after the other.)
So far ‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’ is the best Trollope I’ve read; quite a lot happens, he doesn’t repeat himself as much as in some other books, and Mrs Proudie gets her comeuppance. The major plot strand concerns Mr Crawley, the very poor perpetual curate at Hogglestock – he cashes a cheque made out in another man’s name and then cannot account for how it came into his possession. Has it been stolen or is there an explanation? The county is torn over the issue as is Mr Crawley who honestly doesn’t know what’s happened and who accordingly driven to the deepest of despair. Meanwhile Mr Crawley’s daughter Grace has caught the eye of Major Grantly and he determines that she will be his wife even if it’s in the teeth of a scandal and at the risk of cutting himself off from his own family. (Exciting stuff, Grace has her own ideas about sacrifice and honour which further complicate the path of true love.)
Other loose ends needing to be tied up include John Eames and Miss Lily Dale. John is still pursuing Lily, and she’s still having none of it (although she weakens a little bit). I think it’s possible that even Trollope got a bit fed up with Lily as his last word on the subject appears to be that she’s had her chance and blown it, but before that happens she has a few painful realisations to make and in the process becomes a marginally more sympathetic character. John still hasn’t entirely learnt his lesson regarding dalliance with low females whilst declaring a true love for Lily and gets himself into a mess with one Madalina Demolines; these episodes border on farce and are just brilliant. And then there is Mrs Proudie, as the novel opens she’s still an undefeated arch villainess but fate and the author are cruel to her. Mrs Proudie’s power over her husband is entirely and very effectively domestic in its nature, all his comfort in life depends on her good will, too maintain it all he needs to do is be compliant. Formidable as she is however the other men of the diocese do not have to acquiesce as the bishop does and when her interference in Episcopal matters reaches a point they feel cannot be tolerated they simply ignore her.
Silence defeats Mrs Proudie, but it also destroys her marriage and then suddenly Trollope simply strikes her dead and does what he’s best at – showing things in shades of grey rather than black or white. For anyone else working their way through the series – don’t hold back, this is a wonderful, rich, nuanced, big, splendid, book and I loved every sentence of it.