Barchester Towers, Trollope's most popular novel, is the second of the six Chronicles of Barsetshire.The Chronicles follow the intrigues of ambition and love in the cathedral town of Barchester. Trollope was of course interested in the Church, that pillar of Victorian society - in its susceptibility to corruption, hypocrisy, and blinkered conservatism - but the Barsetshire novels are no more`ecclesiastical' than his Palliser novels are `political'. It is the behaviour of the individuals within a power structure that interests him. In this novel Trollope continues the story of Mr Harding and his daughter Eleanor, adding to his cast of characters that oily symbol of progress Mr Slope,the hen-pecked Dr Proudie, and the amiable and breezy Stanhope family. The central questions of this moral comedy - Who will be warden? Who will be dean? Who will marry Eleanor? - are skilfully handled with that subtlety of ironic observation that has won Trollope such a wide and appreciativereadership.
But I'm glad I gave heed to the Trollope fans and persevered, because once Trollope gets all his pieces set things do start moving. Not in a spectacular or dramatic way, but as outside events begin changing the relationships, I found myself drawn in. Despite his very-much-present authorial opinions, Trollope draws his characters with a light hand and drops little truths about them so casually. In one passage he says of Mr. Harding and his daughter Eleanor that "there was little confidence between them, though neither of them knew why it should be so." This so perfectly describes a relationship in my own life that I just stopped at that sentence to marvel over Trollope's insight into how we interact with the people we love.
Trollope always takes pains to defend his characters (at least, the ones he likes) in the eyes of his readers. I'm still not sure why I don't think Mr. Arabin a complete cad for his attendance on Signora Neroni, but so it is. Trollope makes him too sympathetic to admit of such a judgment. But on the other hand, Trollope makes sure we know his distaste for characters like Mr. Slope. Though Dr. Proudie is indicted for his weakness, next to Mr. Slope he seems quite benign and we, like Dr. Grantly, feel rather inclined to give him a pat on the head.
Trollope definitely has a fascination with the idea of the termagant wife. In The Warden the strong wife is Mrs. Grantly, and she wields her power wisely. The nightcap/bedroom discussions are so amusing. But in Barchester Towers we see wifely power gone wrong in Mrs. Proudie, whose domination of her husband — while quite funny — is also a bit sad. Despite this, I never could dislike Mrs. Proudie. She's too much fun in her battles with the odious Mr. Slope.
One of the fascinating things about Trollope's style (not that I'm an expert; I've only read this and The Warden thus far) is his approach to the relationship between the author and reader. Trollope openly scorns the devices many authors employ to heighten suspense and keep their readers gasping until the denouément — which is in such cases, he maintains, always a disappointment. He puts it so gracefully: "Our doctrine is that the author and reader should move along together in full confidence with each other" (127). I think readers do like to be tricked sometimes (how else would the mystery genre survive?), but reading an author who so frankly tells you right at the start that the heroine is not going to marry either of her fulsome suitors is a nice change.
Though I quite liked the novel, none of this is effusive praise. I have enjoyed the first two Barsetshire novels, but there is something so mild about the sensibility and humor that I respond to it in kind. Trollope is not an author to recommend to a reader new to classics; he requires patience and the ability to see small events as big to the characters living them. There are no flashy special effects in a Trollope novel, I'm finding — and the sensation is pleasant.
In the second book in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series, the action picks up some five years after the conclusion of the previous book, The Wardenand many of the same characters appear. The inclusion of some new, rather dynamic characters adds tremendous interest and propels the action forward in unexpected ways.
For the uninitiated, perhaps a little information about what Trollope’s themes involve in these first two books. Heavy doses of the differences between the High and Low church dominate the narrative, just as it raged at that time in the 1850s in England. I know what you’re thinking….could anything be more borrringgg? Well if that was all Trollope talked about, it certainly would not hold my, OK anyone’s, interest, for very long. Fortunately, he has created a cast of characters that is nothing short of brilliant: complex, fully fleshed, three-dimensional characters that provided the necessary fireworks when they interacted. For instance, take the thoroughly slimy Obadiah Slope (with a Dickensian name like that, you know right away he is beneath contempt). He’s new to the cathedral town, and brings with him new, and bleak ideas, that he tries to push on the locals through his role as chaplain to the (also new), henpecked and bullied Bishop Proudie, whose nagging wife has the kind of irritating personality that makes it so easy to imagine her as the true Bishop, rather then her diffident and easily intimidated husband. Everything of any consequence flows through her. There’s no going around this over-sized personality and the one time that Slope tries to, he discovers his powers are completely ineffective.
Add to the mix the completely dysfunctional Stanhope family, recently forced back from a 12 year stint in Italy where Bishop Stanhope was recovering from a sore throat(!?). Mother, father and three adult children, they provide unending glimpses into the reasons why this family is in for a rude awakening at some point, as resources quickly diminish, and no one seems to want to figure out how to acquire, well, a living. Eldest daughter Charlotte manages the household and realizes she has the hopeless task of getting her indolent brother Bertie married to the lovely and wealthy widow Eleanor Bold and she goes about the task diligently. It’s not important to her whether or not her unmotivated but charming, brother has any interest in getting married. But Trollope created perhaps his most fascinating character when he created Charlotte and Bertie’s sister Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni. She’s left her abusive husband, responsible for her inability to walk, and returned home to live with her parents. She is fully aware of her beauty and flirts with any man who comes within striking distance of her couch, where she rules her world, leaving fawning men in the wake of her powerful personality. The fact that she feels the need to be carried around just adds to the mystique.
The local high church members are no match for the flamboyance of the interlopers and make up the solid citizen brigade. They are, for the most part, warm, loving characters who struggle to understand what’s happening to their quiet little cathedral town. Trollope puts everyone together and stirs the pot and the proverbial sparks fly. There’s a love story, a comeuppance or three, misunderstandings galore, a good men are hard to find scenario…well you get the idea. And all told with ironic humor that often had me laughing out loud.
”The features of Mrs. Stanhope’s character were even less plainly marked than those of her lord. The far niente of her Italian life had entered into her very soul, and brought her to regard a state of inactivity as the only earthly good. In manner and appearance she was exceedingly prepossessing…Her dress was always perfect: she never dressed but once a day, and never appeared till between three and four; but when she did appear, she appeared at her best. Whether the toil rested partly with her, or wholly with her handmaid, it is not for such a one as the author to even imagine….But when we have said that Mrs. Stanhope knew how to dress and used her knowledge daily, we have said all. Other purpose in life she had none.” (Page 91)
As readers, we’ve steeled ourselves for the most gut-wrenching, depression-inducing, tear-jerking endings imaginable because modern fiction has led us to that expectation. But there’s much to be said for the good, old-fashioned, happy ending. It happens so seldom in my reading anymore that it takes me completely unawares when it does occur. I was happy to be reminded of the satisfaction that accompanies that development. Very highly recommended.
This is the kind of story where you take sides and cheer your side on. You also become immersed in the complicated social world of Barchester, and discover the very human side of the High and Low Church of that time and place. An interesting comparison is brought out between the self-serving, power-hungry chaplain Mr Slope (on the villain side), and the self-centred, well-meaning, rich and worldly Archdeacon Grantly (on the 'good-guy' side). Trollope is not actually giving us any 'shoulds' and 'should nots' regarding the clergy; rather, he is presenting us with the range of people one finds anywhere - and these just happen to belong to the clergy.
The Stanhopes are a wonderful set of characters, and do not fall into the villain vs hero category at all. Never could you find a more self-serving, careless, clever set of people than these, so manipulative and yet so fascinating, so selfish and yet so likeable. Bertie's proposal is Class A, as is Madeleine's final scene with Mr Slope and her showdown with the Countess. The book is worth reading for these characters alone.
I enjoyed this book very much. It makes comments on society without being a rant, or indeed, a deep groundbreaking study. It's a book set in an immersive world, about conflicting values in religion and society, personality clashes, self-interest, and right and wrong according to different people.
I haven't even touched on Mrs Proudie and her husband, or on the delightfully eccentric Miss Thorne, or the scholarly but innocent Mr Arabin, or the Quiverfuls and their fourteen children (a fact we are told rather too often, which was the only thing that annoyed me in the book). All these characters and more are well worth meeting. I look forward to moving onto Dr Thorne, the next in the series.
I was massively entertained by the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of the oily and ambitious Mr Slope and the autocratic Mrs Proudie as they each sought to capture the bishop and become the acknowledged éminence grise of the diocese - for all the world as
Leaving aside the wannabe éminences grises, the other characters were also splendidly rendered. There's a realism to all of Trollope's characters that I love. They are very human: neither wholly bad nor wholly good, but instead full of ambitions, foibles, faults and graces which make them very complex and very realistic.
The plot is straightforward - the arrival of a new bishop causes conflict between High and Low church parties in Barchester - but the twists and turns as the characters interact make it very entertaining. The writing is wonderful - vivid and rich, with lots of literary and political allusions. (I recommend reading an edition with notes - especially if you're unfamiliar with the Church of England, Victorian politics, and the history and literature of ancient Greece and Rome - and keeping a dictionary close at hand.) It also has a warm, conversational tone and no small amount of humour and tension, despite the serious moral, political and social comment woven into the narrative throughout.
I think that that there are several tests of great literature, and in my opinion all the social comment and technical linguistic skill in the world are of little merit if the book is easily put down and forgotten about. I finished this book just before 2 o'clock this morning because there was NO way on God's green earth that I was putting it down and going to sleep without having reached the end. Not negotiable, no matter what time the alarm was set for. Sleep? Irrelevant. Who needs to sleep when there are books like this to read? The narrative was compelling, the writing addictive and the comment insightful. This is great literature and a great read.
'There were four persons there, each of whom considered himself the most important person in the diocese -himself, indeed, or herself, as Mrs Proudie was one of them -and with such a difference of opinion it was not probable that they would get on pleasantly together. The bishop himself wore the visible apron, and trusted mainly to that -to that and his title, both being facts which could not be overlooked. The archdeacon knew his subject and really understood the business of bishoping, which the others did not, and this was his strong ground. Mrs Proudie had her sex to back her, and her habit of command, and was nothing daunted by the high tone of Dr Grantly's face and figure. Mr Slope had only himself and his own courage and tact to depend on, but he nevertheless was perfectly self-assured, and did not doubt but that he should soon get the better of weak men who trusted so much to externals, as both bishop and archdeacon appeared to do.
And the archdeacon's fury at the machinations of Mr Slope are compounded when it seems that a close connection of his is looking rather more favourably on him. Is Mr Harding's younger daughter Eleanor considering marriage with the hated enemy? Rather conveniently left a rich young widow with £1,000 a year following the early death of her husband John Bold, Eleanor can now be considered a great catch for an ambitious but impecunious young clergyman, or any other young gentleman with need of a steady income.
Once again, the great strength of this book is not in the plot, but with the host of marvellous characters with which Trollope fills his pages. And not only in the main characters, the lesser characters can be equally delightful. The beautiful but crippled Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, whose only delight is to snare men into her web as a spider might do, and her brother Bertie Stanhope who has failed at most careers (and religions) known to man, are both delightful. So I will be continuing with my Trollope experiences after just a very brief break to catch my breath!
As in The Warden, the plot involves minor Anglican appointments in the town of Barchester. Familiar characters also turn up – Mr. Harding, the saintly ex-warden, his newly widowed daughter Eleanor and his son-in-law, the imperious archdeacon Dr. Grantly. After Dr. Grantly’s father the bishop dies, he expects the position but instead it goes to an outsider, Dr. Proudie. The appointment leads to a split in the town between Grantly and his conservative if somewhat indifferent High Churchmen and Proudie with the fervent evangelical Low Church faction. Actually, it isn’t Bishop Proudie – amiable and conflict-phobic – leading the charge, but his memorably bossy wife Mrs. Proudie and the great Mr. Slope – her slimy, hypocritical, hubris-filled chaplain. Of course, with two such strong-willed personalities, conflict is bound to arise. Romantic troubles plague Eleanor, courted by Slope, poor dandy Bertie Stanhope and Grantly adherent Mr. Arabin.
But the plot isn’t the important thing in a Trollope novel – something he states in one of his comic asides –
“And what can be the worth of that solicitude which a peep into the third volume can utterly dissipate? What the value of those literary charms which are absolutely destroyed by their enjoyment?”
The author even goes so far as to inform readers of Eleanor’s choice in marriage at the beginning. Henry James disliked Trollope’s asides and his insertion of himself as the narrator, but that’s one of the best parts, especially to a fan of more-represented-later metafiction (not counting Tristram Shandy). Trollope’s smooth, comfortable prose and his comic take on mundane matters are what set apart his books. The author describes Slope and Grantly’s conflict as an epic war, gently mocking the militant stance immediately taken up. Signora Neroni, Bertie’s sister, provides more overt humor with her excessive love of drama and the fact that she has to be carried everywhere on her sofa. There’s a psychological depth to his characters, with each minute emotion described. His isn’t the inner monologues of Virginia Woolf or Henry James’ texture of consciousness or the clause-laden, exhaustively described, nuanced, run-on prose of Proust or even the complicated erudition of fellow Victorian George Eliot (all of which I like), but solid detailed descriptions that almost hide the skill in constructing them.
For example, Mr. Harding’s ambivalence about Eleanor and Mr. Slope – he almost hates Slope and genuinely hoped the marriage would not go through, but recognized that there was nothing shameful socially in a union. To Grantly, he half-defended his daughter, wanting to believe she’d never consent to a marriage but trying to say it was appropriate in case it did happen. Similar anguish is endured by Eleanor, the Grantlys and Mr. Arabin as they attempt to talk civilly but avoid the mention of marriage. Trollope is remarkably effective in his sweet and sour thoughts of Eleanor gradually recovering from her husband’s death
"How much kinder is God to us than we are willing to be to ourselves! At the loss of every dear face, at the last going of every well beloved one, we all doom ourselves to an eternity of sorrow, and look to waste ourselves away in an ever-running fountain of tears. How seldom does such grief endure! How blessed is the goodness which forbids it to do so! 'Let me ever remember my living friends, but forget them as soon as they are dead,' was the prayer of a wise man who understood the mercy of God. Few perhaps would have the courage to express such a wish, and yet to do so would only be to ask for that release from sorrow, which a kind Creator almost always extends to us."
or Mr. Arabin’s disillusionment after devoting himself to religion at the expense of all else
"Not for wealth, in its vulgar sense, had he ever sighed; not for the enjoyment of rich things had he ever longed; but for the allotted share of worldly bliss, which a wife, and children, and
happy home could give him, for that usual amount of comfort which he had ventured to reject as unnecessary for him, he did now feel that he would have been wiser to search."
Really, the whole book is a barrage of good lines.
I love the way that Trollope uses names to represent character. Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful are the parents of 14 children. Mrs. Lookaloft thinks of herself more highly than she ought. Trollope also excels at descriptions of character, as in these passages describing the bishop's wife:
It is not my intention to breathe a word against the character of Mrs. Proudie, but still I cannot think that with all her virtues she adds much to her husband's happiness. The truth is that in matters domestic she rules supreme over her titular lord, and rules with a rod of iron. Nor is this all. Things domestic Dr. Proudie might have abandoned to her, if not voluntarily, yet willingly. But Mrs. Proudie is not satisfied with such home dominion, and stretches her power over all his movements, and will not even abstain from things spiritual. In fact, the bishop is hen-pecked.
In truth, Mrs. Proudie was all but invincible; had she married Petruchio, it may be doubted whether that arch wife-tamer would have been able to keep her legs out of those garments which are presumed by men to be peculiarly unfitted for feminine use.
Barchester Towers picks up where The Warden left off. It isn't absolutely necessary to read The Warden first, but it would be helpful to do so.
The novel opens as the Bishop of Barchester lays dying. His son, Archdeacon Grantly, hopes to be appointed to the position, but it is awarded instead to Dr. Proudie, who arrives in Barchester with his formidable wife and her protege, Mr. Slope. This new contingent's top-down, low church declarations and insinuations rankle the established high church clergy, and lead the outspoken Dr. Grantly to wage a war of sorts with the Bishop's set. Meanwhile, the Bishop himself has been effectively neutered by his wife, who looks forward to reigning as de-facto Bishop, and by his chaplain Mr. Slope, who has the same ambitions. Initially, Mrs. Proudie and Mr. Slope are of the same mind, however eventually, Barchester Close proves not to be big enough for the both of them, and they wage their own bitter war for the Bishop's obedience. The plot, however, revolves mainly around gentle Mr. Harding (the father-in-law of Archdeacon Grantly), who may or may not be restored to the post of Warden of Hiram's Hospital he relinquished in The Warden, and his daughter Eleanor, recently widowed and in possession of such a fortune as to make her a highly desirable prospective wife. Among Eleanor's suitors are the odious Mr. Slope, and the hapless Ethelbert Stanhope, whose father Dr. Stanhope is recalled to Barchester by the new regime from his 12 year-long convalescence from a sore throat in Italy. The entire Stanhope family returns to Barchester, including Mrs. Stanhope, who rarely appears before dinnertime, daughter Charlotte, who keeps the family running, the idle son Ethelbert, and daughter Madeline, the self-titled La Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, who following a marriage and crippling accident now reclines on a sofa full-time and ensnares men like a funnel spider. Eleanor's connections with Mr. Slope, which in her mind are slight, enrage the Grantly faction, and the perpetuated and perhaps willful misunderstanding provides much of the book's conflict.
The book was just a delight from start to finish, with the author and the reader sharing the great comedy the ridiculous characters provide, and their small and large sufferings, which the author draws with great compassion. Along with the story are pearls of wisdom from which the reader can learn about marital harmony (obedience to and compliance with the wife in all things), and the fate of the characters in the hands of the novelist as anticipated by the reader ("And here, perhaps, it may be allowed to the novelist to explain his views on a very important point in the art of telling tales. He ventures to reprobate that system which goes so far to violate all proper confidence between the author and his readers, by maintaining nearly to the end of the third volume a mystery as to the fate of their favorite personage."). This last is used to assure the reader early on that Eleanor Bold will not make herself a fool by marrying either of her two dubious suitors, though the wooing and its attendant gossip occupy much of the narrative.
I think LTers will appreciate my favorite moment from listening to this book: yesterday I was in the car with my 11 year-old, who was thoroughly engrossed in her own book. She is one of those readers who, when so occupied is completely deaf to the world, so I asked her if it would be okay if I listened to my book. She said it would, but not two minutes later she exclaimed, "Mom, that's Simon Vance!!!" Our very first foray into audiobooks was years and years ago when I bought a couple of the Green Knowe books. I had not remembered that they were narrated by Mr. Vance, but my daughter recognized him instantly, and proceeded to tell me what a wonderful performer he was! That was the cherry on top, as it were, of the delightful treat that was Barchester Towers.
I'm quite enjoying the way
Looking forward to heading back to Barsetshire before too long ...
There is a BBC adaptation of this and The Warden, titled "The Barchester Chronicles" from 1982-
Entangled in the dispute is mild Mr. Harding, formerly warden of the Barchester hospital, providing bed and care for 12 worthy aged men. A scandal forces him from his position and threatens to split the town in half. Mr. Harding's widowed daughter Mrs. Bold is another focus of the story, this time providing the romance. With three eligible men seeking her hand - or is it her fortune - she remains oblivious until her hand is almost literally forced.
I was surprised to find myself really enjoying this book. The beginning was rather rough, started as it does with solely ecclesiastical matters. I know nothing at all of the organization of the Anglican church and was bewildered by the politics involved. But once the personalities behind the offices began to emerge, I was really hooked. The style is rather old-fashioned, but not so much that I couldn't read it quickly. Highly recommended - lots of fun.
Most of the main characters from The Warden, first book in the series, are back, and it’s part of the fun to see how they are getting on with their lives, but there are many new and wonderful additions too, including a bishop cowed by his wife and curate, the oily manipulative Mr. Slope, the steeped in ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition Thorne siblings, and the scheming Stanhope family fresh from Italy and full of continental ways. Trollope writes characters who can be silly, weak, selfish, stubborn, pompous, and irresponsible and still you feel some sympathy for them. Like many Victorian novels Barchester Towers is long, but the ending is perfect, with every character arc and plot thread resolving in a way that is highly satisfying.
This is the second novel in the series and should be read after The Warden. We meet the same characters a bit later. The've now become old friends - Trollope's characterisation is so good. There's not much of a plot but what there is Trollope makes the most of. However this doesn't matter - the strength of the novel is in the way the characters interplay with each other.
If I have a criticism it is that Trollope takes the easy way at the end and ties everything together in a happy ending for everyone. Even the odious Mrs Proudie and Slope don't lose out.
A good read. I'm already well into the third in the series - Dr Thorne.
Barchester Towers picks up a few years after The Warden. Eleanor has become a widow and now has a son. No one has taken over the wardenship that her father, Mr. Harding, left at the end of the first book. The race is on to see who will be named the new Warden and who will become the Dean in Barchester. We also meet a new cast of characters including the hapless Bertie Stanhope and his sister, the conniving Mr. Slope, the unhappily married Proudies and a vicar from Oxford, Francis Arabin.
In that same Pride and Prejudice vein, Obadiah Slope is Mr. Collins. The Bishop's chaplain is working hard to move up in the world, but he is just not a likeable character. Even when Eleanor is attempting to be kind to him, she still can’t make herself like him. He bases his search for a wife on income instead of love and so he sets his sights on the newly widowed Eleanor who is now a wealthy woman. In order to woo her he attempts to get her father’s wardenship back for him. Poor Reverend Quiverful has already been offered the wardenship, which would go a long way to feeding his 14 children.
Septimus Harding, the main character from The Warden, once again demonstrates his excellent character in this book. No matter what people offer him or what they tell him he deserves, in the end he always wants what is best for the community. He is such a kind man. Even when his daughter’s taste in gentlemen callers is being questioned, he makes his loyalties clear without yet knowing her thoughts. He stands by her and supports all of her actions. Eleanor’s relationship with her father is one of the highlights of the novel for me.
The thing I'm beginning to realize I love about Trollope's work is his collection of female characters. He creates vibrant women who are the real strength behind the weak or petty men they are married to. Mrs. Proudie might be a bit of a villain, but she's also a force to be reckoned with. Everyone in Barchester knows that her husband, the Bishop, isn’t the real decision-maker in their household. As he struggles with the question of who should get the wardenship, she makes the decision and moves forward with her choice without him.
Mrs. Quiverful does the same thing, but out of her concern for her children’s welfare. She sees her husband's unwillingness to fight for what she believes is rightfully theirs as weak and selfish. She decides to make her own plan and go about getting the wardenship for him.
My favorite female character, of course, is Eleanor Bold. She turns down multiple suitors who are after her money. She stands up to her stuffed shirt brother-in-law, Archdeacon Grantly and remains loyal to her father above all. She is at times righteous, sarcastic, and vulnerable, a fully realized character with a complicated range of emotions. We watch her fall in love and we root for her to end up with the right man. I've grown to admire her for her strength and principles throughout the first two books. In The Warden she was willing to give up her love for her fiancé in order to protect her family dignity. In this book she stands up for her right to privacy and freedom when Grantly believes her acquaintance with Slope is inappropriate. She doesn’t love Slope, but she’s furious that someone thinks they have the right to tell her who she can or can't associate with.
BOTTOM LINE: Just like The Warden, it took me a minute to get into this one, but once I did I loved it! Eleanor Bold is one of my favorite characters I’ve encountered in a long while. I hope she plays a role in the upcoming books as well!
“How many shades there are between love and indifference, and how little the graduated scale is understood!”
“Till we can become divine, we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for change we sink to something lower.”
"But let the gentle-hearted reader be under no apprehension
"I can only say that if some critic who thoroughly knows his work, and has laboured on it till experience has made him perfect, will write the last fifty pages of a novel in the way they should be written, I, for one, will in future do my best to copy the example. Guided by my own lights only, I confess that I despair of success."
Also, Barchester Towers has the Signora Neroni, and Bertie, both of whom I am in love with. How Harding manages to write characters who he clearly disapproves of but represents so generously is a core part of his charms.