Monday, March 26, 2007

Barchester Towers

Anthony Trollope 1815-1882

Barchester Towers is the second of six in the Chronicles of Barsetshire. Trollope created a giant mountain of literature during his life. Towers was written in 1857 during Trollope's apex in popularity. Later in life critics weren't as kind, and now his reputation is a bit overshadowed by his contemporary, Charles Dickens. This is the first Trollope book I've read, but I think he compares in style and volume of words to Dickens.
This turned out to be an excellent pick. It's incredible that Trollope is able to stuff this much intrigue, love, rivalry and humor into a story centered on a regional church appointment. We have no heroes in this book. Events are put into motion by the death of the Bishop of Barchester. Instead of selecting the bishop's son, Dr. Grantley, an anonymous nobleman selects a Londoner, Mr. Proudie (and his domineering wife Mrs. Proudie). Also included in the deal is Proudie's private chaplain, the slick Obediah Slope.
The main conflict involces Slope and Dr. Harding. Harding was warden of an old folks home and looked forward to regaining that title under the new bishop. The town supported him, but Mrs. Proudie and Slope wanted Mr. Quiverful in that office, someone they could control. But everything is thrown into disarray when Slope meets Harding's daughter, Eleanor Bold, a widow. He falls in love with her and decides to get her dad the wardenship in hopes of wooing her. This sets up a showdown with Mrs. Proudie. The waffling Bishop Proudie meekly sides with Slope, temporarily (and for the first time) giving him hand in the relationship (to reference Seinfeld). We are then introduced to the Stanhopes and Mr. Arabin. Arabin is a thoughtful, 40 year-old clergyman. He's a good guy who also falls in love with Eleanor. The Stanhopes inclue Bertie, a slacker/semi-serious suitor for Eleanor.
Another Stanhope is Senora Neroni, the most interesting character in the book. She married a lowly Italian who beat her so badly she lost the use of her legs. All she has left is playing people for intrigue. She is exceptionally beautiful and quickly ensnares any man she likes, she starts with Obediah Slope. He is scandalized by this relationship.
Eleanor is also scandalized because she is connected with slope by rumor. He is a distasteful man and she is very hurt by the insinuations that their marriage was a foregone conclusion. Eventually Slope asks her to marry him and she slaps him. Bertie doesn't press his suit and eventually Mr. Arabin steps up to the plate and proposes. She gladly accepts. Behind the scenes Senora Neroni had engineered the entire engagement. The Senora also cruelly ridiculed Slope for the slap, but he deserved it. Arabin gets the coveted deanship, Quiverful the wardenship and Harding is happy with his new son-in-law.
Trollope loves speaking directly to the reader. He totally ignores the proverbial fourth wall and talks about his editor and how many pages he's been alloted to finish the story. He doesn't give us much indication of what these people look like, but we understand how they feel. The women in this novel really stand out: powerful Proudie, sincere Eleanor, and the connivingly seductive Senora.

Rating 8/10: I didn't know what to expect from this book, but I really enjoyed the read. Trollope is good with a funny turn of phrase and the book truly is a comedy. Mrs. Proudy and Slope are the two most frequent targets of Trollope's humor. The only problem/opportunity (maybe I'll have to get one of those Chinese tattoos) is that now there are five more books in the Chronicles of Barsetshire to read.

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