Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Barchester Towers – Anthony Trollope

My Trollope obsession continues apace I’ve read ‘Barchester Towers’ and loved it all, the rest of the Barsetshire chronicles have arrived (I’ll worry about paying for this latest book splurge after Christmas...) and I’m frankly drooling over them, but also trying to exercise a little bit of restraint. If I go full steam ahead I’ll get distracted by something else new and shiny and it’ll take me years to finish the series, that or I’ll end up talking like a Victorian and wearing very long skirts.

The thing I loved about ‘Barchester Towers’ is that nothing very much happens, but it doesn’t happen in the most absorbing way. Things change, feathers are ruffled, and situations are resolved until everything ends more or less happily for everyone. It’s just what I needed over the last week with work being so hectic and it’s a book that I’ve found hard to leave behind. I think ‘Barchester Towers’ would stand alone as a read, but clearly reading the series in order is the way to go because the action follows hard on the heels of ‘The Warden’ (just in case I’m not the last person to the Trollope party and there’s someone reading this who feels in need of such advice).

Mr Harding, his daughter Eleanor, Archdeacon and Mrs Grantly – they all make reappearances, Eleanor has become a widow (this isn’t a spoiler – at least I don’t think it’s a spoiler if the back cover blurb gives it away) and the old Bishop is breathing his last as the book opens. The new Bishop is a Low Church man in the High (and dry) cathedral close, worse than that the diocese now contains 4 protagonists who would be Bishop, the least of which is the actual Bishop. Archdeacon Grantly who was very much the power behind the throne when his father ruled the diocese hopes for the best, but in the Bishop’s wife Mrs Proudie, and his private chaplain – the abominable Mr Slope - he has more than worthy adversaries. Pity the Bishop who has such housemates as these.

Meanwhile Eleanor is now a highly desirable widow, with not the least of her charms being the handsome income she inherited from her husband. It seems she’s destined to be pursued for her money by various suitors including the oily Mr Slope, but will she find a knight in shining armour to protect her? And if she doesn’t will her family accept Mr Slope – not likely if the Archdeacon is to be believed, in his eyes Mr Slope might as well be the devil.

The book is around 500 pages long so I’ve only just scratched the surface of what does (and doesn’t) happen. There’s speculation and rumour, misunderstanding, intrigue, deceit, ambition, power struggles, and high ideals as well as Trollope’s particular brand of gentle humour and keen observation of character and situation. It’s this that I love about him, someone suggested that he was like a male Austen, and whilst I would agree that they have something in common Austen is faster paced and far more romantic. Trollope seems more interested in moral dilemmas, even the unspeakable Mr Slope has redeeming features of sorts, and Mrs Proudie who’s a terrific villain in the making isn’t exactly bad to the bone – which makes her all the more easy to believe in, and all the harder to defeat.

I know I’ll read this book again and probably enjoy it more each time precisely because not so very much happens apart from people going about their lives. I can’t think of anything better to have with me for a long journey than ‘Barchester Towers’ (or hopefully other as yet unread Trollope’s) and with any luck I’ll find more passages like this: “
The baby was really delightful; he took his food with a will, struck out his toes merrily whenever his legs were uncovered, and did not have fits. These are supposed to be the strongest points of baby perfection, and in all these our baby excelled.”

It might not look like much out of context, but it makes me smile and that's just what I'm looking for from a book at the moment.


  1. I was actually in need of that advice. Haven't read "The Warden", the introductory chapters of "Barchester's Towers" were perplexing, to say the least!

  2. Hurrah - I feel useful! I really enjoyed 'The Warden' and don't think I'd have got very far into 'Barchester Towers' without it.

  3. Dear Hayley, I love that you're loving Anthony Trollope! The Warden is one of my very favourite books and Barchester Towers just as delicious. I like your point about the 'villians' being not entirely bad, and thus more believable, and similar to those of Jane Austen . Enjoy immersing yourself in the other 50 something AT novels. I wonder if there is a Trollope Society near you?

  4. I've never read any Trollope - I was put off by thae fact that my Dad always packed Barchester towers to go on holiday with him, as he had a very small copy, but never ever seemed to read it. But you've written so warmly about him I feel I should borrow that small copy of BT and give it a go.

  5. You are most definately not the last person to the Trollope Party. It now makes sense as to why I struggled with Barchester Towers and as I was inspired to read The Warden from your previous post I'd have been a little confused reading it without knowing it came first.

  6. Verity - start with the warden or you'll be confused! That seems to be the concensus and I can't srgue with it!

    Merenia, I am indeed loving him. I'm not very good at joining things but find I turn to the internet more and more for like minded book fans. Trollope does make me feel like I'm at the start of a terrific journey and it's all very exciting.

    Joan Hunter Dunn, I did wonder after your comment on the warden how I'd find Barchester Towers. I think it helps that I'm very much in the right frame of mind foe these books at the moment because I can see that if you don't click with the book straight away there isn't much hope that it'll warm up for you because really so little does happen.

  7. The very best book in the series is The Last Chronicle of Barset. But you have a great treat ahead of you, because when you finish with the Barsetshire series, you can read the Palliser novels. As you can probably tell, I'm a Trollope fanatic--he is my comfort read. Right now I am just beginning The Prime Minister (5th in the Palliser series). So far I adored Can You Forgive Her, The Eustance Diamonds, Phineas Finn, and Phineas Redux. Have fun in Barsetshire!

  8. Bibliophiliac - I'm sharing your passion for Trollope - planning on taking my time over his books, perhaps two more this year, and given the length of the Palliser novels who knows how long for those, never mind the rest. Lots of good things to look forward too.