Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope.
~ The Chonicles of Barsetshire ~
"Wars about trifles," said he, "are always bitter,
especially among neighbours."
It was, strangely enough, largely composed on train journeys. Trollope wrote in his autobiography (An Autobiography, 1883):
It was while I was engaged on Barchester Towers that I adopted a system of writing which, for some years afterwards, I found to be very serviceable to me. My time was greatly occupied in travelling, and the nature of my travelling was now changed. I could not any longer do it on horseback. Railroads afforded me my means of conveyance, and I found that I passed in railway-carriages very many hours of my existence... I made for myself therefore a little tablet, and found after a few days' exercise that I could write as quickly in a railway-carriage as I could at my desk. I worked with a pencil, and what I wrote my wife copied afterwards. In this way was composed the greater part of Barchester Towers and of the novel which succeeded it, and much also of others subsequent to them.
|First page of Barchester Towers.|
The story begins with the death of Bishop Grantly, the father of Archdeacon Grantly, who is Mr. Harding's son-in-law (Mr. Harding, we remember, was the main character of The Warden). It is generally assumed that his son, Dr. Theophilus Grantly, will be his successor. However, the influence of a new Prime Minister means that Bishop Proudie 'gains the see' and is the new Bishop of Barchester. This is but the first conflict in Barchester Towers. Another: Bishop and Archdeacon Grantly represent the 'High Church' Anglicans, generally conservative (with a small "c"), whereas Bishop Proudie represents the 'Low Church', a derogatory term for the faction of the Anglican church that placed less emphasis on ritual, tradition and formality. As Trollope writes in Barchester Towers,
It appeared clear that High Church principles, as they are called, were no longer to be surest claims to promotion with at any rate one section of statesmen, and Dr. Proudie was one among those who early in life adapted himself to the views held by the Whigs on most theological and religious subjects. He bore with the idolatry of Rome, tolerated even the infidelity of Socinianism, and was hand and glove with the Presbyterian Synods of Scotland and Ulster.It's worth noting, at this point, that Trollope appeared not to have sympathy with either, writing later in the novel of Bishop Proudie and Archdeacon Grantly,
Both men are eager, much too eager, to support and increase the power of their order. Both are anxious that the world should be priest-governed, though they have probably never confessed so much, even to themselves. Both begrudge any other kind of dominion held by man over man.
Nevertheless, the 'High Church' / 'Low Church' was a significant conflict among Anglicans in the mid-19th Century and Trollope writes on it in his own Trollope-style: witty, intelligent, sharp, and, my favourite thing about Trollope's novels, informal, which for me makes it all the more engaging. I'm reading Proust still, and whilst I'm enjoying it, I don't feel a part of it as much as I do with Trollope. Through Proust's vivid prose I can picture the details he shares, but with Trollope it feels like a real conversation, and a remarkable pleasant one at that. His characters are so well-drawn. I said in The Warden review that Septimus Harding was one of my most favourite characters in literature. It is impossible to say that Olivia Proudie or Obadiah Slope, two central characters of Barchester Towers could ever be favourites because, frankly, they're obnoxious, however they will stay with me along with Septimus.
|Obadiah Slope. His name is a reference|
to Mr. Slop in Tristram Shandy.
Mr Slope (who was played by Alan Rickman in the 1982 BBC dramatisation) is a chaplain who exerts much influence over Bishop Proudie. Trollope describes him as "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 sides 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 of 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 capacious and high, but square and heavy and unpleasantly shining. His mouth is large, though his lips are thin and bloodless; and his big, prominent, pale-brown eyes inspire anything but confidence. His nose, however, is his redeeming feature: it is pronounced, straight and well-formed; though I myself should have liked it better did it not possess a somewhat spongy, porous appearance, as though it had been cleverly formed out of a red-coloured cork.
|Mrs.Proudie, by George Housman|
Thomas (from The Last Chronicle
of Barset, 1867).
He is central to quite a number of conflicts within Barchester Towers: in the question of who will be the new warden, Slope pushes for Mr. Quiverful, however, on finding that Eleanor, Harding's widowed daughter, is wealthy, he pushes for Harding to resume the wardenship in order to gain Eleanor's favour (all the while being fascinated with Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, Dr. Stanhope's daughter) . Mrs. Proudie, on the other hand, remains firm in her desire to appoint Mr. Quiverful (you'll find that Bishop Proudie rarely gets a say in anything). As Trollope writes,
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.
Like Mr. Slope, Mrs. Proudie causes great disharmony in Barset, and Mr. Harding, Eleanor Bold (Harding's daughter), and others get caught up. If George Eliot wrote of the webs of rural England, Trollope wrote the webs of clerics. It is, after all, about the society: the fact that these men and women have some association with the church could almost be incidental. There is, as ever, many important elements that I haven't included: this is a complex novel, I suppose in a way like Middlemarch, it's a story of a time, a social group, men and women, their relationships and conflicts with each other, their church, their society, and wider society. George Eliot once wrote,
We ought to respect our influence. We know by our own experience how very much others affect our lives, and we must remember that we in turn must have the same effect upon others.
This novel is an example of this sentiment. And it is not a difficult read, despite what I may appear to be suggesting. Far from it, I very much enjoyed it. I have to confess, I did on the whole prefer The Warden, but I would still recommend this book.
So, that's Barchester Towers! I'm really looking forward to starting Doctor Thorne in May, and, although they're awful, I hope to see more of Mr. Slope and Mrs. Proudie.
On Trollope's Barchester Towers by Annalise K. Walker.