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The Last Chronicle of Barset: Anthony Trollope (part I)

It was time for my last visit to some familiar characters with Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset. This rich, multi-plot novel examines the social fabric and morality of Victorian England through the complex layers of money, debt, and materialism. In this novel, some of Trollope’s characters are shown in London, a place in which the moral issues afoot in Barsetshire are magnified.

The main plot of the novel concerns the Reverend Josiah Crawley, a morose, joyless man who appeared earlier in this six-novel series. Crawley, the perpetual curate of Hogglestock, his long-suffering wife and surviving children live in great poverty, for the living at Hogglestock is but 130 pounds a year. Crawley has become scarred by his poverty, his inability to provide for his wife and children, the deaths of many of his children, and also the promotion of those men who are less educated than he.

Crawley is a fascinating, complex character. When it comes to religion, this is a man who walks the talk. He is “hardworking, conscientious” and will tramp miles in the rain and cold to visit the poor. The farmers in his parish discuss Crawley “as though he were a madman,” and even his wife sometimes deals with him as she would “with an acknowledged lunatic.” He doesn’t patronise the poor, but rather actually helps the women with their chores. And it’s telling that the poor in the area respect Crawley as they realise he’s “sincere.” These are Crawley’s good points, but he also has many bad points–pride arguably being the worst of the lot. Whereas other ecclesiastical characters in Crawley’s age-cohort, Dr Arabin and Mark Robarts, both have excellent livings (make more money), they also mingle in higher society. Arabin for example and his wife Eleanor are on an extended trip through Europe and the Holy Land for most of the novel, and Mark Robarts, at one point known as the hunting curate, who is the protégé of Lady Lufton (his story is in Framley Parsonage) lives a very privileged life which is unblighted by the sorts of tragic events that have marred Crawley’s past. It’s easy to see why Arabin and Robarts have done well in life as they can both hold their own in local society. Crawley cannot. Yes, it’s partly that his clothes are shabby etc., but even if he were to show up to a party (not in a million years), he’s a natural born killjoy. Over the years, Crawley has become bitter, and while he’s a very moral man, he’s inflexible and prideful, wearing his hardships and poverty as badges of honour.

The Reverend Crawley is accused of stealing a 20 pound cheque which he used to pay his butcher bill. The cheque was written by Lord Lufton and was in the possession of his “man of business,” Mr. Soames. Mr Soames swears that he lost the cheque at Crawley’s house, and since the cheque was used to pay Crawley’s butcher (who was demanding payment and threatening public scandal if he did not get his money), the case against Crawley is strong. To make matters worse, Crawley, who is always his own worst enemy, cannot remember where he got the cheque. Crawley’s wife and Reverend Mark Robarts both beg Crawley to employ a lawyer, but with the ever-acrid smell of burning martyr, Crawley refuses. He has very definite opinions on the subject of lawyers.

And presuming an innocent man to have the ability to be ruined root and branch, self and family, character and pocket, simply because, knowing his own innocence, he does not choose to depend on the mercenary skill of a man whose trade he abhors for the establishment of that which should be as clear as the sun at noon-day!

The local magistrates agree to hold a trial.

As the case, with its dreadful ramifications, against Crawley gains momentum, all of Barchester hears of the scandal. A few people who know Crawley believe him to be innocent, but muddled or even possibly mad. Factions are formed with popular opinions rooted in ecclesiastical loyalties rather than knowledge of Crawley’s rigid character. The Bishop’s wife, Mrs Proudie, is determined to oust Crawley from Hogglestock even before the trial. Lady Lufton, who loathes Mrs Proudie (a “vulgar virago“) sides with the Crawleys. A very funny scene takes place at the Bishop’s palace when the Bishop summons Crawley (per Mrs Proudie’s demands) and she insists on joining the meeting between the Bishop and Mr. Crawley. Mr. Crawley decides to just ignore Mrs. Proudie until he can do so no longer and then he basically tells her to be quiet.

As usual with Trollope, there are sub-plots galore. One subplot concerns the widower, Henry Grantly who is in love with Grace Crawley. When Grace’s father faces trial, Henry believes he should step up and propose to Grace as a sort of protection. Henry’s father, Archdeacon Grantly, realising that he could soon have a felon in his family, threatens to cut Henry from the will if he continues with his plan to marry Grace. Another sub-plot takes us back to Lily Dale who was so cruelly jilted by Adolphus Crosbie in The Small House at Allington. Lily has sworn to remain an old maid, but John Eames, who also appeared in the same novel, still loves Lily and still holds hope that she will marry him one day. Adolphus Crosbie, however, having married into the horrid de Courcy family is now a widower. Will he leave his law suits against the de Courcy family long enough to pursue Lily again?

Another sub-plot concerns John Eames who, while hoping for Lily, amuses himself with a dangerous flirt, Madalina Demolines. Another sub-plot concerns the society painter, Conway Dalrymple, who is enjoying a flirtation with the married Mrs. Dobbs-Broughton. Mrs. Dobbs-Broughton who loves drama has decided to arrange a match between Conway and the heiress Miss Van Siever, the daughter of a very strange woman who is involved in lending money at high rates of interest. Mrs Van Siever is loud and bizarrely dressed:

She was a ghastly thing to look at, as well as from the quantity as from the nature of the wiggeries which she wore. She had not only a false front, but long false curls, as to which it cannot be conceived that she would suppose that anyone would be ignorant as to their falseness.

And I must mention a modest hero in this tale, the lawyer, Mr. Toogood. He is Mrs. Crawley’s cousin and he acts as detective in the case–yes his family’s reputation is at risk, but he’s also genuinely intrigued by the case.

Usury, suicide, bankruptcy, adultery, skullduggery, theft all these elements are in the novel. But through all these darker aspects of human nature, Trollope weaves the tale with his usual humour and generosity. We see John Eames cleverly managing his awful, blustery employer, Sir Raffle Buffle, which renders the pompous bully quite impotent, and we see Mr Toogood making financial sacrifices to get to the bottom of the Crawley case. John Eames seems to be destined to have horrible troubles with women, and that theme continues here to great comic entertainment. It’s noteworthy to see the lifestyle of Henry Grantly, the son of the Archdeacon. The Archdeacon prides himself on the fact that his son is as well heeled as many a young lord, and this affluence is one of the things Crawley abhors. We see some clergymen able to take extended holidays on the continent while Crawley has to walk in the mud and the rain. The vast inequities amongst the ecclesiastical community are highlighted by Crawley’s case. Certainly no one can accuse Crawley of being a clergyman for lucrative reasons, and yet ambition brews in many a clergyman’s heart in this series. This book is a wonderful conclusion to the Barsetshire series, and I was reluctant to say goodbye. More on some of the great characters in the book to follow. …


			

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The Small House at Allington: Anthony Trollope

Back to Barsetshire for the 5th novel in the 6 book series: The Small House at Allington. From the plot description, I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy this book as much as the others in the series, but this book, while it has one subplot that’s rather sad, is also full of humour. Plus some characters get their just desserts, and that’s always satisfying. The theme of marriage dominates here, and there are many aspects to the subject: young women compromising men into marriage, a toxic marriage between two combatants, a man who thinks he’s been cheated by the absence of a dowry he expected, and a couple of old bachelors who have managed to avoid marriage.

At the centre of the novel are two sisters: Lily and Bell Dale. They are the daughters of Mary Dale, a widow whose husband died and left her with little means of support. She has accepted the ‘small house’ at Allington from Squire Christopher Dale, her dead husband’s brother, who lives at the big house. Squire Dale did not approve of his younger brother’s marriage to Mary Dale, and while he loves his nieces and allows the widow and her daughter to live on his bounty, there is no love lost between the squire and his widowed sister-in-law. Squire Dale is unmarried and his nephew Bernard will eventually inherit his uncle’s estate. Squire Dale hopes that Bernard will marry Bell, his favourite niece.

Bernard brings a friend, Adolphus Crosbie, to stay at Allington, and while the Dale sisters at first make gentle fun of Crosbie, even thinking he gives himself “airs,” he all too soon wins Lily’s heart. Crosbie proposes to Lily assuming that she will receive some sort of dowry from her uncle. Crosbie, playfully nicknamed “Adonis” by the two Dale sisters, is a bit of a dandy. He earns 800 pounds a year and while he lives well on that amount as a bachelor, it’s insufficient income to support a wife–at least not without significant sacrifices: such as Crosbie’s clubs and clothes, and Crosbie, a self-worshipping creature, winces at the idea of any self-deprivation. Getting cold feet, Crosbie asks the Squire flatly if Lily is to receive a dowry, and when he discovers that she will not, Crosbie feels that he’s been tricked, or deceived somehow into making a proposal. His ‘love’ for Lily is overshadowed by his resentment, and he immediately starts backpedaling. He accepts an invitation to de Courcy Castle and there, feeling resentment about the lack of Lily’s dowry, he’s lured into the snares of Lady de Courcy and one of her unmarried daughters. …

Continuing on the theme of the turbulent layers of matrimony, John Eames, another young man who loves Lily, has become embroiled with his landlady’s wily daughter, Amelia Roper, while fellow lodger Cradell has foolishly fallen into the snares of Mrs Lupex, a conniving married woman who also lives at the boarding house. Mrs. Lupex is married to a drunkard, but there are indications that he’s been driven to drink. The prompt for Mr. Lupex’s vice is of little importance as both Mr and Mrs Lupex are trouble and are only too happy to drag others into the drama of their marital torture chamber.

On the subject of marital torture chambers, mention must be made of the ghastly Earl de Courcy. Before Trollope gives us a peek at the de Courcys’ miserable marriage, Lady de Courcy is not a sympathetic character at all. She manipulates and mistreats Crosbie (not that we mind that much) and pokes fun at Lily Dale (a low blow). Lady de Courcy is seen primarily as a snob who rides high on local society when in reality the de Courcys are an awful family–one might even say trashy. Lord de Courcy is a nasty old man, a tyrant, who insists that he has an audience with his wife every morning. These conferences, which are ostensibly to discuss the household, were “almost too much for her,” as her spouse shouts and gnashes his teeth. She tells her daughter that sometimes she is “going mad” while she listens to his tirades. Here he is exploding about his son, George.

“How long is George going to remain here with that woman?” he asked.

“I’m sure she is very harmless,” pleaded the countess.

“I always think when I see her that I’m sitting down to dinner with my own housemaid. I never saw such a woman. How can he put up with it! But I don’t suppose he cares for anything.”

“It has made him very steady.”

“And so he means to live here altogether, does he? I’ll tell you what it is–I won’t have it. He’s better able to keep a house over his own head and his wife’s than I am to do it for them, and so you may tell them. I won’t have it. D’ye hear?” he shouted at her.

Yes, of course, I hear. I was only thinking you wouldn’t wish me to turn them out –just as her confinement is coming on.”

I know what that means. Then they’d never go. I won’t have it; and if you don’t tell them I will.

The de Courcys create the idea of the power of hierarchy within relationships: Crosbie could lord it over Lily Dale and act as though he’s doing her a favour by agreeing to marriage, but the de Courcys act as though Crosbie’s lucky to share their oxygen. In other words, some characters are nice when subordinate and they have to be pleasant but then they are nasty when off leash. Lady de Courcy treats Crosbie like some sort of peasant go-fer whenever she gets a chance, but then she stands there and takes it when her husband rails at her daily just for fun. Gazebee is in awe of the de Courcys, his in-laws, and yet when it’s his job to reel Crosbie into the family web, he relishes the role, and Crosbie, who used to look down on Gazebee, finds that he’s lower on the de Courcy ladder than even Gazebee.

Crosbie, leaning on the questionable models of Lothario, Don Juan, and Lovelace, abandons Lily in favour of an alliance with the de Courcys. He erroneously thinks he’s made the better bargain but all too soon finds that he is firmly on the “grindstone of his matrimonial settlement.” Serves him right. While some characters dive to the lowest depths of their characters, others rise: Squire Dale learns some painful lessons, and Johnny Eames has his heart broken but grows up in the process. And the de Guests, who are bystanders on the sidelines of others’ lives, become involved in the fallout of Crosbie’s scandalous behaviour, but in their case, it turns out to be a fortuitous arrangement. The de Guests, Bernard’s relations, are not particularly interesting characters–in fact Trollope tells us that Lady de Guest is a “tedious, dull, virtuous old woman” and yet she has a heart. Her brother, the Earl de Guest, has great sympathy for Lily and considers Crosbie to be a blackguard. The initially uninteresting de Guests rise in the reader’s estimation while the de Courcys plummet.

I was a little annoyed with Lily after she is jilted. I wanted her to be angry. I wanted her to heal. But then I decided that perhaps she’s a little mad. Her behavior rings alarm bells in spite of her outward serenity (or even because of it?). There’s also a subplot concerning Plantagenet Palliser and Griselda Dumbello which is a segue into the Palliser series. Towards the end of the book, the Battle of the Manure which involves Hopkins the loyal, territorial, irascible, gardener is very funny, and his character emphasizes the good, true, steady side of life.

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Framley Parsonage: Anthony Trollope

“The game is not worth the candle.”

Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage is the fourth novel in the Barsetshire series. It’s a return to old friends with some new acquaintances thrown into the mix. It’s also a return to some familiar Trollope themes: the mixing of classes, the insidious nature of debt, the power of the press and ecclesiastical inequities. The hero, if there’s a hero here, is Mark Robarts, who, as a young man, made friends with Ludovic, a young man who was destined to become Lord Lufton. Ludovic’s mother, Lady Lufton, took to Mark and so began an advantageous acquaintance.

Between Mark’s father, a doctor and Lady Lufton, it was decided that Mark should enter the church. Hardly coincidentally, Lady Lufton was then able to give the living at Framley to Mark which comes with the princely sum of 900 pounds a year. When the novel opens, Mark is married to Fanny, and while he loves his wife, he’s not exactly content with his lot on life. Could it be that the early exposure to wealth and position influenced Mark’s ambition to ‘get ahead in life?’ While Lady Lufton has been a marvellous patroness to Mark, he chafes, mildly, at her control, and perhaps that, along with some misplaced ambition, explains why he insists on visiting Chaldicotes even though he knows that Lady Lufton disapproves. Chaldicotes House, the seat of Mr. Sowerby, is, according to Lady Lufton, a veritable den of inequity, with the Chaldicotes set “gall and wormwood to Lady Lufton who regarded them as Children of the Lost One.” Part of her dislike resides in political differences and part in religious differences. Plus the Luftons reside in East Barsetshire while Chaldicotes is in the “Western Division of Barsetshire.”

Lady Lufton wishes her son to marry:

In her mind every man was bound to marry as soon as he could maintain a wife; and she held an idea–a quite private tenet, of which she was herself but imperfectly conscious–that men in general were inclined to neglect this duty for their own selfish gratifications, that the wicked ones encouraged the more innocent in this neglect, and that many would not marry at all, were not an unseen coercion exercised against them by the other sex.

Lady Lufton didn’t exactly arrange Mark’s marriage, but she organized it, let’s say, and she’s trying to ‘organize’ another marriage–this time it’s between her son, Ludovic and Griselda Grantly, the daughter of Archdeacon Grantly. Lady Lufton dislikes her son mingling with the Chaldicotes set as that old bachelor, one of the group, the Duke of Omnium “was the very head of all such sinners.” As it turns out Lady Lufton may not have a precise knowledge of why the culture at Chaldicotes is BAD, but her intuition is correct. It’s not a set for nice young men. Lord Lufton found that out the hard way and Mark Robarts is about to fall victim to the seductions of the loose company.

It’s at Chaldicotes that Mark finds himself aggressively befriended by Mr Sowerby, the owner of the house. Even though Mark knows Sowerby is a “dangerous man,” heavily in debt “and that he had already entangled Lord Lufton in some pecuniary embarrassment,” he can’t quite turn away from Sowerby’s society. Mark is persuaded to visit the Duke of Omnium at Gatherum Castle, and that upsets Lady Lufton even more. Framley Parsonage illustrates that patronage from the wealthy and influential is a great thing but it comes with a price.

Trollope tells us that “it is no doubt very wrong to long after a naughty thing.” Mark Robarts is a man who finds himself a clergyman, and yet there is no evidence that this is a life that suits him or one that he would have chosen for himself. There is no evidence of him being any sort of spiritual advisor, and indeed Mark seems to find the clergy an ill fit, and he’s soon riding to hunt, buying an overpriced horse from Sowerby, and signing notes for Sowerby’s debts. The novel is very strong indeed in its depiction of Sowerby–a man who inherited wealth and an estate and has run through all of his money, and now he’s running through friends and acquaintances. Debt is a way of life for Sowerby, and he hops from one loan to another in stepping stone fashion. Yet since this is Trollope, his customary generous view of human nature reigns:

Let not anyone covet the lot of a spendthrift, even though the days of his early pease and champagne seem to be unnumbered; for that lame Nemesis will surely be up before the game has been all played out.

And if Sowerby runs out of friends to sign notes of debt for him, then no matter, he can always marry Miss Dunstable, the Oil of Lebanon heiress. But the problem with that plan is that Miss Dunstable is besieged by impecunious suitors and she has a very good head for money and business.

Sowerby lives like a rich man and seems to not have a care in the world, but inevitably his debts catch up with him and he can juggle them no longer. Trollope shows how a debtor is a veritable black whole in space sucking in anyone foolish, weak or soft hearted enough to sign for debts.

One subplot concerns Lucy Robarts, Mark’s sister, who comes to live at Framley Parsonage following the death of her father. She falls in love with Lord Lufton but is not considered a suitable bride by Lady Lufton. After all, Lucy is the sister of Lady Lufton’s “pet” clergyman. Another notable character is Mr. Crawley, a dour, impoverished clergyman whose joylessness infects everyone around him. Yet it’s through Crawley we see the contrast (and the injustice) of how one clergyman lives in such circumstances that his (large) family can barely survive (a great deal drop off like flies) while another buys horses and hunts with the gentry. And once again we see the insufferable Bishop’s wife, Mrs. Proudie–a woman so thick-skinned and full of herself she even upends and coopts a lecture about South Sea Islanders. It’s an hilarious scene.

“It is to civilization that we must look,” continued Mr. Harold Smith, descending from poetry to prose as a lecturer well knows how, and thereby showing the value of both–“for any material progress in these islands; and –“

“And to Christianity,” shouted Mrs. Proudie, to the great amazement of the assembled people, and to the thorough wakening of the Bishop, who, jumping up in his chair at the sound of the well-known voice, exclaimed, “Certainly, certainly.”

A great deal of the humour comes from Mrs. Proudie; she’s as horrid as ever, and her acid comments lash many another inhabitant of Barsetshire. We see the marriage market through Griselda Grantly, Lucy and Miss Dunstable, and the machinations of parents who cannot, alas, insist that their children marry by decree. Mr Sowerby’s fall from respected landowner to total penury is a formidable study in human nature. He seduces Mark by his friendship and then squeezes him like a lemon. Yet Trollope makes certain that we know that this action is not personal, this is simply Sowerby’s Modus Operandi, and as long as there are innocents like Mark Robarts in the world, Sowerby will live to spend another day. The Duke of Omnium has made slight appearances in the earlier Barsetshire novels, but here we see a wolfish appetite under the seemingly benign, disconnected persona.

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Doctor Thorne: Anthony Trollope

You lawyers never like to give an opinion without money.”

Doctor Thorne, the third novel in the Barsetshire series, follows on the heels on the marvellous, Barchester Towers. While the first two novels in the series focused on the ecclesiastical “aristocracy” of Barsetshire, Doctor Thorne is a complete change of pace. In Barchester Towers, we met the Thornes of Ullathorne, an elderly brother and sister who are unwilling to be dragged into the nineteenth century. The Thornes pride themselves on their breeding, and although the hero of this novel, Doctor Thorne is a “lesser cousin” of the wealthy branch of the family, he is, nonetheless, very proud of his blood. In the first chapter, Trollope gives the background of the Gresham family, and explains how Frank Gresham, a heir with 14,000 pounds a year, married Lady Arabella de Courcy and became seduced by the grandeur of his snooty in-laws. He ploughed money into politics and lost big-time. Then tragedy struck the Gresham nursery repeatedly, which brings Doctor Thorne into the picture as he attends the sickly children.

There’s a back story with Doctor Thorne. Doctor Thorne’s brother, Henry, seduced the beautiful Mary Scatcherd, and she became pregnant. When Roger Scatcherd, a stonemason, with a teensy drinking problem discovers his sister is pregnant, he kills Henry in a drunken rage. Roger goes to prison and Mary gives birth to a girl. A local man offers to marry Mary and whisk her off to America, but only if she will leave her child behind. The doctor offers to raise the child, also named Mary, but he keeps her parentage secret. Roger is told by his sister that the child is dead. Poor Roger’s wife lives in horrendous poverty while her husband is in jail, but later, Doctor Thorne recommends her as a wet nurse for the sickly Gresham heir. So we have connections between The Greshams, the Scatcherds and the Thornes.

So that’s the back plot. Fast forward … Mary has grown up, lives with her uncle Doctor Thorne, and is a frequent companion to the Gresham children at Greshamsbury Hall. Squire Gresham inherited a fortune but managed to lose most of it, and this has resulted in debt gradually built up against the estate. Doctor Thorne, who attends the squire’s wife, Lady Arabella, is in the awkward position of helping the squire broker loans, and these loans are held by … none other than Sir Roger Scatcherd, who is now, post prison, a phenomenally wealthy railway tycoon. Problems arise when Mary and Frank Gresham fall in love. Since the estate is heavily in debt, Lady de Courcy, Frank’s snobbish aunt, declares that Frank “must marry money,” and Lady Arabella leaps eagerly into the scheme. Soon Frank is invited to Courcy Castle to meet Martha Dunstable, “the oil of Lebanon” heiress, a woman who is considerably older than Frank. Snobbery and pride are rife in these pages: it’s perfectly acceptable to marry a person of ‘low birth’ as long as here’s a high bank balance in view. So it’s acceptable for the nauseating Mr Moffat to marry Lady Augusta Gresham, but Frank must not cast his eyes towards Mary. Frank isn’t much of a hero. He chases too many women to carry much weight as a earnest lover.

Trollope asserts that Doctor Thorne is the hero of this story, and he is indeed. While this is essentially a love story between Mary Thorne, Doctor Thorne’s niece and Frank Gresham, the focus here is on the actions of Doctor Thorne, a man of principle. Mary and Frank, must, according to his mother and aunt, be kept apart, and Mary bears the burden of blame–and she doesn’t deserve it.

At several points in the novel, Doctor Thorne makes moral choices, and he does this regardless of other incentives. There is some humour here in the rivalry between the local doctors. Doctor Thorne is disapproved of by other members of his profession as he is also an apothecary, and this ‘taints’ him with the stain of trade rather than a profession. Thorne is not well-off at all, and although his fees are much lower than those of Dr. Fillgrave, nonetheless, Thorne is seen as:

always thinking of his money, like an apothecary. […] A physician should take his fee without letting the left hand know what his right hand was doing; it should be taken without a thought, without a look, without a move of the facial muscles; the true physician should hardly be aware that the last friendly grasp of the hand had been made more precious by the touch of gold. Whereas that fellow Thorne would lug out half a crown from his breeches pocket and give it in change for a ten-shilling piece. And then it was clear that this man had no appreciation of the dignity of a learned profession.

In spite of the fact that the plot forms around a love story (and a rather drippy one at that) I enjoyed this tale a great deal. IMO, it does not match the quality of Barchester Towers, but there are some great characters and many wonderful scenes: the riotous elections, the snobby De Courcy family and their dreary, pretentious ‘castle,’ the larger-than-life Roger Scatcherd (“When money’s been made, the next thing is to spend it. Now the man who makes it has not the heart to do that.”), Louis the drunkard Scatcherd son and heir, Joe, Louis Scatcherd’s dreadful valet who meets his comeuppance at the end of a rolling pin, and the hilarious dinner party scene at Greshamsbury in which Louis Scatcherd gets drunk. Trollope recreates this robust period and shows the reader how industrialization changed not only the face of commerce, but also the ‘gentry.’ Trade is marrying into the landed gentry: Mr. Moffat, the son of a tailor is considered a good match for Lady Augusta Gresham, Martha Dunstable’s wealth from the ‘Oil of Lebanon’ guarantees she will be welcomed in the ‘best’ homes, and then there’s Louis Scatcherd… whose money was made by his railway building tycoon father murderer/baronet. Yet… with all these inroads of the trade classes into the gentry, they are still expected to behave, and Louis Scatcherd’s dinner invitation to Greshamsbury is ill-conceived and therefore great entertainment.

While there’s a lot drama and various romantic relationships, the book is also a character study of Doctor Thorne, a man “who had within him an inner, stubborn, self-admiring pride, which made him believe himself to be better and higher than those around him.” While this sounds unpleasant, this pride mainly manifests itself in setting a certain standard of behaviour and sticking to it. In Trollope’s autobiography, he said this was “the most popular book that I have written.” The love affair between Mary and Frank goes on a bit too long and with many bumps along the way. Trollope presents a rather rosy, generous view of human nature, but that’s part of Trollope’s great, enduring charm.

How frequent it is that men on their road to ruin feel elation such as this! A man signs away a moiety of his substance; nay, that were nothing; but a moiety of the substance of his children; he puts pen to the paper that ruins him and them; but in doing so he frees himself from a score of immediate little pestering, stinging troubles: and therefore, feels as though fortune had been almost kind to him.

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Barchester Towers: Anthony Trollope

There is no happiness in love except at the end of an English novel.

Time for a revisit to Barchester Towers. I’m glad I re-read this after recently re-reading The Warden. Many of the characters appear in both novels, so reading Barchester Towers reunites us with those in The Warden. But also in reading the two novels close together, I was struck by issues that appear in both books. The plot of The Warden focuses on the humble, meek Reverend Septimus Harding, a man in his 60s, a widower and father of two daughters, who has the wardenship of Hiram’s Hospital. Harding lives in a lovely home on the premises of the hospital and receives 800 pounds to boot. All the trouble starts when local reformer, Dr. Bold, takes issue with the amount of Harding’s wages. So the main dilemma in the novel is what is going to happen to Harding and the wardenship. Another issue is whether Harding’s daughter, Eleanor, will marry Bold or not.

In Barchester Towers, the old Bishop dies and although Archdeacon Grantly, the Bishop’s son, and also Harding’s son-in-law expects to be made the new Bishop, that position falls elsewhere. So there’s a new Bishop in Barchester–namely Bishop Proudie, but… wait… is he indeed the Bishop? The Bishop’s fearsome wife, Mrs. Proudie controls the reins and then there’s Mr. Slope, a chaplain who has ingratiated himself into Mrs. Proudie’s good graces but whose ambition dictates that he will run the diocese. Barchester Towers, then is a novel which explores the struggle for ecclesiastical power in the town. Barchester Towers is incredibly funny. Some of the humour resides in the fact that while religion is the profession of many of the main characters, religion has very little to do with what takes place. Try ambition, pride, class and status. And even add a bit of lust.

The book opens with Archdeacon Grantly at his father’s bedside calculating his “chances” of securing the Bishopric, knowing that much depends, for political reasons, on the timing of his father’s death. The Archdeacon was one of the more unappealing characters (IMO) in The Warden, but in Barchester Towers, he seems rather defanged, or at least his more unpleasant characteristics are swamped by Mr. Slope’s queasy obsequiousness. Archdeacon Grantly is obviously bruised when the Bishopric falls to another, but an initial social visit to the Bishop’s palace turns into a verbal skirmish. The vulgar, bossy, “despotic” Mrs. Proudie, with the insufferable Slope as her henchman, is determined to put the Archdeacon into his place and let him know that while her husband may have the title of ‘Bishop,” it is she who rules the palace.

As for the Bishop, he has learned for the sake of peace and sanity, to submit to his wife’s tyranny: “all hope of defending himself has long passed from him.” Mrs Proudie is not a particularly intelligent woman, but her lack of intelligence is compensated by her fierce bossiness and complete absence of manners. So while the Bishop could outmaneuver her in the brains department, he has learned that independence comes with a price he’s not willing to pay. Mr. Slope appears to be Mrs. Proudie’s creature, but he sees his allegiance to her as a stepping stone. His allegiance is temporary and serves only to gain the position of chaplain. Now in Barchester, Slope intends to wield the power. He intends to liberate the Bishop from the thrall of his wife (and place the Bishop under his thrall), but the Bishop must choose domestic comfort over marital liberation. And Mrs. Proudie plays to win.

Mr. Slope is tall and not ill-made. His feet and hands are large as has ever been the case with all his family, but he has a broad chest and wide shoulders to carry off these excrescences, and on the whole his figure is good. His countenance however is not specially prepossessing. His hair is lank and of a dull, pale reddish hue. It is always formed into three straight lumpy masses, each brushed with admirable precision and cemented with much grease, two of them adhere closely to the side of his face and the other lies at right angles above them. He wears no whiskers and is always punctiliously shaven. His face is nearly the same colour as his hair though perhaps a little redder. It is not unlike beef. Beef, however one would say, of a bad quality. His forehead is captious and high but square and heavy and unpleasantly shining.

The whole question of who has the power, Mrs. Proudie or Mr. Slope, erupts over who will get the wardenship of Hiram’s Hospital. So once again who will run Hiram’s hospital is a central plot dilemma.

Trollope seems to have great fun with this novel, and it’s when I read a book such as this, I realise how fantastic it must be to create this hodge-podge of characters, throw them together and then describe what happens. The lines between the characters (the Slope party, the Grantly party) are sharply drawn, and the battle scene seems set, but then Trollope throws the Stanhope family into the fun. Dr. Vesey Stanhope is the prebendary of Barchester cathedral but he’s been living, with his awful family, in Italy for the last 12 years. Mr. Slope advises the Bishop to recall Stanhope and so the Stanhopes reluctantly arrive in Barchester.

Ahhh.. the Stanhopes. What a perfectly dreadful family; yet they are not completely dreadful; some of them have a sort of malicious, toxic, seductive and destructive charm. They move to Barchester and their exoticism sends its warping tendrils into society. Who will emerge unscathed?

The great family characteristic of the Stanhopes might probably be said to be heartlessness but this want of feeling was, in most of them, accompanied by so great an amount of good nature as to make itself but little noticeable to the world. They were so prone to oblige their neighbors that their neighbours failed to see how indifferent to them was the happiness and wellbeing of those around them. The Stanhopes would visit you in your sickness, provided it were not contagious, would bring you oranges, French novels, and the last new bit of scandal and then hear of your death or your recovery with an equally indifferent composure. Their conduct to each other was the same.

Bon vivant,” Dr. Stanhope’s main concern in his life is his dinner. His well-dressed wife doesn’t appear before three in the afternoon. They have three children: Charlotte, the eldest daughter manages the household. She is the one who appears ‘normal.’ There’s a wastrel “idle” son, Bertie whose lackadaisical pursuit of various careers (poet, art) is secondary to running up huge debts. The younger daughter is Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, a very beautiful woman, who ran off to marry some ne’er do well, impoverished Italian with “oily manners.” She returned home after having a child and sustaining some sort of crippling accident. In any other woman, such an injury would be a deficit, and yet she manages to turn this injury into a mystery, and the old injury is a powerful weapon in terms of being the centre of attention. She has reinvented her past, and her penniless husband has become the scion of a noble family while her child is “the last of the Neros.”

Madame Neroni, though forced to give all up all motion on the world, had no intention of giving up the world itself. The beauty of her face was uninjured and that beauty was of a peculiar kind. Her copious rich brown hair was worn in Grecian bandeau around her head, displaying as much as possible of her forehead and cheeks. Her forehead, though rather low, was very beautiful from its perfect contour and pearly whiteness. Her eyes were long and large and marvelously bright. Might I venture to say bright as Lucifer’s. I should perhaps express the depth of their brilliancy. They were dreadful eyes to look at such as would deter any man of quiet mind and easy spirit from attempting a passage of arms from such foes. There was talent in them and the fire of passion and the play of wit but there was no love. Cruelty was there instead and courage. A desire of masterhood, cunning and a wish for mischief and yet as eyes they were very beautiful.

Madeline Neroni, now she’s shackled by marriage, and hampered by physical limitations, is left with one hobby: to enchant, seduce and torture her many male admirers. Mr. Slope, whose dominant characteristic is ambition, makes himself a complete idiot for Madeline, and she, like a spider, draws him in, leads him to make overtures and then, when the opportunity is ripe, twists the knife into Slope, delivering the coup de grace But, hell, he deserves it. But since this is Trollope, even the villains have some degree of humanity. While Madeline Neroni, that latter-day Cleopatra, and the nasty Slope steal the show here, I cannot forget the Thornes, siblings violently set in their ways or the desperate Quiverfuls, a large needy family whose poverty is in contrast to the Stanhopes.

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The Warden: Anthony Trollope (1855)

Anthony Trollope’s The Warden is the kick-off novel for the 6-book series, The Chronicles of Barsetshire, so it’s an introduction to the social environment of the region with an emphasis on the clergy and gentry. The plot of The Warden is simple: mild, unassuming Reverend Septimus Harding is the warden of Hiram’s Hospital and preceptor of Barchester cathedral. He’s a widower and has two daughters: Mrs Susan Grantly who is married to the indefatigable Archdeacon Grantly (son of the Bishop of Barchester) and unmarried Eleanor who lives with her father in a very pleasant home on the grounds of Hiram’s Hospital. Hiram’s Hospital, an almshouse established in the 15th century for elderly wool-carders, houses 12 men. Recently, the warden stepped in and gave each man an extra tuppence a day which is added to the meagre amount of one shilling and fourpence each resident receives from the almshouse. Septimus Harding, who has been warden for ten years, receives 800 pounds a year, and in addition has 80 pounds a year as preceptor of Barchester.

All the trouble starts when John Bold, a local doctor whose practice has not exactly taken off, launches a campaign of legal action and social awareness regarding Harding’s pay. Bold contends that it was never the intention of the hospital founder that the lion’s share of the money should go to a warden while the residents receive a relatively meagre amount. The whole Hiram Hospital set-up is somewhat wobbly for the manner in which its mission has strayed from the founder’s original intent. Wool-carders in Barchester no longer exist, and now the residents are handpicked “so the bishop, dean and warden, who took it in turn to put in the old men, generally appointed some hangers-on of their own: worn-out gardeners, decrepit grave-diggers, or octogenarian sextons, who thankfully received a comfortable lodging and one shilling fourpence a day.” The fact that Harding was appointed by his old friend the Bishop and that Harding’s elder daughter is married to the Bishop’s son smacks of nepotism, and those facts add to the argument that Harding is wildly overpaid. Harding is a humble, sweet man, and he’s horrified to find himself the subject of public censure. He investigates the veracity of Bold’s legal argument, and all this is complicated by the fact that Bold is courting Harding’s daughter Eleanor.

While the plot is simple, The Warden is a study in human nature: the lambs vs, the wolves. Pride, power, stubbornness, the power of the press, the misguided machinations of the reformer, and the absolute authority of the church all come under scrutiny. The peaceful, well-established structure of Barsetshire is disrupted when Bold, a “strong reformer,” turns his energy towards Hiram’s Hospital:

His passion is the reform of all abuses; state abuses, church abuses, corporation abuses (he had got himself elected a town councillor of Barchester, and has so worried three consecutive mayors, that it became somewhat difficult to find a fourth), abuses in medical practice, and general abuses in the world at large. Bold is thoroughly sincere in his patriotic endeavours to mend mankind, and there is something to be admired in the energy with which he devotes himself to remedying evil and stopping injustice.

Bold’s directed attack on Harding’s pay–although acutely personal, is undertaken with a blind zeal which ignores the likely consequence. After all, Bold loves Eleanor, and yet it’s pride that blinds him to the consequences of his actions. But then reformers are so often about tearing down without consideration of the human consequences. Then there’s Harding, a doddery man who is happy to take this generous living until it’s pointed out that the pay he receives for is basically given for doing ‘nothing.’ And that’s an argument which festers on both sides of divide–the Archdeacon thinks his father in law is mad to give up this cushy job that requires so little of him, and yet it’s the very same argument, great pay, no labour, that the reformers and the press use. Most of the humor here comes from the insufferable Archdeacon Grantly who tries to bully his father-in-law, Harding into keeping the job. His very argument that Harding gets 800 pounds for basically nothing is exactly the argument to make Harding cringe and run. The Warden examines the layered structures of society: Law, Church, Clergy–those who prop up those structures, those who pontificate and tear them down, and the finally the humans who are supposed to be helped by both established structure and reformers but who are far more likely to be victims:

Did you ever know a poor man yet better for Law or for a lawyer?

The warden

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