Friday, February 4, 2011

Framley Parsonage – Anthony Trollope

When Elizabeth Gaskell declared: “I wish Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever. I don’t see any reason why it should come to an end” she quite clearly didn’t have the pay day spoils of a visit to the book farm and an amazon binge sitting next to her, or a tempting looking pile of hitherto neglected Christmas gifts. I’ve ended up feeling a lot like I have been reading it forever.

On the whole this is no bad thing (although I did feel by the end that Trollope’s repeated mentions of lame Nemesis limping along was actually my Nemesis). The more Victoriana I read the more I enjoy it, every book gives a deeper insight into the period as language and landscape becomes increasingly familiar but it’s still a world that presents challenges to me. Books originally conceived to fill two or three volumes possibly after serialization, tend to be lengthy (‘Framley Parsonage’ is a relatively modest 560 pages) and if I have a niggle with Trollope it is that he does repeat himself. Repeatedly. Sometimes this works to great dramatic effect and I can see that it’s not an altogether bad thing in a complex, multi-stranded narrative spread over 600 or more pages to have the author remind one of what’s going on. Sometimes it’s quite annoying.

Having said that ‘Framley Parsonage’ is the Barchester Chronicle I’ve enjoyed most after ‘Barchester Towers’. It’s not as consciously funny (although the exchanges between Mrs Grantly and Mrs Proudie are just genius) but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in there and I wouldn’t wanted to have rushed through it even if I could have. Once upon a time I picked up books like this read a hundred pages or so and then got distracted and started something else, the shortest and most sensational books got finished and the result is I have dozens of part read great works of literature propping up the shelves. ‘Framley Parsonage’ is exactly the reason I try and be more disciplined – any effort expanded on it has been more than repaid (but heaven’s am I ready for a couple of novellas).

This one isn’t as plot driven (and I use that term loosely with reference to the Barchester books) as The Small House at Allington, or at least it doesn’t concentrate so specifically on one plot. Instead there are almost four books in one – there’s the story of Mark Robarts the unfortunate clergy man backed into signing bills for a dodgy politician who leaves him high and dry. There’s the story of Miss Dunstable the fabulously wealthy heiress to a cosmetics fortune – she’s middle aged and none too attractive – will she find a man to like her for herself or will she succumb to a fortune hunter? Then there’s Griselda Grantly (somehow the Grantly’s have lost 2 children since ‘Barchester Towers’ and Griselda has turned into a cold hearted beauty) and her adventures on the marriage market and finally there’s Lord Lufton; will he be beguiled by Griselda’s looks or will he succumb to the more subtle (but worthy) charms of Mark’s sister?

Almost a p.s. – I finished ‘Framley Parsonage’ last night, started writing about it straight away, and have since started reading something very different only to find myself missing Trollope. I’m really not ready to tackle ‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’ yet but I absolutely want to know what happens next - I have much more sympathy for Mrs Gaskell’s point of view than I did 24 hours ago. I should also say that Victorian Geek has also just written about Framley Parsonage – her response to it is altogether more educated than mine (she uses quotes and all sorts) and is undertaking a challenge to finish all of Trollope’s novels (which she’s doing at a pace that I’m frankly envious of) it’s possibly my favorite blog at the moment and on the off chance that anyone has a passion for the Victorian and doesn’t know it – well go and have a look.

And finally (I promise) my penguin edition features George Elgar Hicks 'Woman's Mission: Companion To Manhood' on the cover. It's an apt choice for 'Framley Parsonage' and is almost a novel in itself.


  1. Repetitive - is he ever! That was easily the one big stylistic problem with Barchester Towers, too.

    Although there was one point where I kind of figured out what he was doing with a grossly blatant repetition, deliberately frustrating the reader's impatience to get to the Proposal Scene. So if I combed the book, there might be more of those.

    But I bet not many.

    One can imagine how it really could have gone on forever, like a television series. I would want smaller doses, though - a couple of chapters a week, something like that.

    I am amazed and impressed at the way the Victorian Geek is reading Trollope in bulk, so to speak.

  2. I've yet to pick up a Trollope even though I'm a Victoriana aficionado. His books never interested me but recent reviews on various blogs have piqued my interest. This is a great review and it does sound interesting from my perspective. The waffling and repetitiveness will no doubt annoy me but it sounds like a satisfying read.

    I haven't heard of this series before but it sounds a little similar to Gaskell's Cranford?

  3. I've never got as far as 'Framley' having ground to a halt with 'Dr Thorne'. Overall I didn't find that the Barchester novels grabbed me as much as the Palliser sequence, which I've read twice and have permanently on my Kindle. I have the BBC radio dramatisation of the entire series on my I-Pod. Perhaps if I start with that I might get into the books themselves more easily.

  4. Many thanks for your kind comments about my blog, Desperate Reader.

    Yes, I know what you mean about Trollope repeating himself. I think it's down to the fact that the story (and many of his others) was serialised in a monthly magazine, so readers could easily forget key facts in between issues. Also, quite often authors would still be writing it when the first installment was published, so there was no opportunity to go back and revise earlier episodes. The publisher in this case was very keen for Trollope to spin it out for as long as possible, as 'Framley Parsonage' had attracted so many subscribers.

    As Amateur Reader says, it's probably better in smaller doses, as that's how it was originally designed to be read.

    The Trollope Challenge has now slowed down to a less alarming pace, but I'm pleased to report a full complement of mini Grantleys in 'The Last Chronicle of Barset'.

  5. Victorian Geek - quite pleased about the mini Grantleys.

    One thing I've wondered whilst reading through the Barchester chronicles is if they should have been edited before they went into novel form to cut out some of the repetition? If I thought for a moment I was disciplined enough I'd set out to read them in serial form but fear that I would either get distracted or read ahead.

    Annie - I was told that 'Dr Thorne' was a weak link in the Barchester Chain which I'm inclined to agree with 5 books in. I'm looking forward to the Pallisers as there seems to be a consensus that it's a more exciting read - it also makes me think better to start in Barchester and work up.

    Madbibliophile - despite some frustrations I find Trollope immensly satisfying to read. So far it's all very human and very involving.

    I have a copy of 'Cranford' but so far have only watched the television version so can't really judge how different they are. I'm probably safe saying though that if you like Gaskell you won't hate Trollope.

    Amateur Reader, reading Trollope makes me think of soap operas - specifically 'The Archers' all very gentle and occasionally something happens.