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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 27 February 2016

"Barchester Towers" by Anthony Trollope

The blurb on the back mentions Trollope's "matchless handling of plot" yet I have never known an author more prone to the spoiler! The plot such as it is revolves around the widow Bold and whether she will marry the odious Mr Slope or the feckless Bertie Stanhope or the saintly Reverend Arabin and since we are told at the end of chapter 15 (about a third of the way through) that she will marry neither Slope nor Stanhope we are left with the sub-plot which is will Mr Slope become Dean? Trollope spoils this too! At the beginning of Chapter 38 we are told that he has no chance to be Dean and yet Trollope wishes his characters to act as if they don't know this almost until the end of the book.

It is hard to forgive Trollope for being such a snob. "Could Mr Slope ... even have learnt the ways of a gentleman, he might have risen to great things." (Ch 8) Slope is damned by his lower class origins, and this in a novel devoted to the Church! Slope himself is snobbish, suggesting that "for people of that class [lower class people who talk funny] the cathedral service does not appear to me to be the most useful"; they are to be excluded from the cathedral (Ch 12).

But he does give us some delightful characters:
  • Bertie Stanhope the young waster who is still too honourable to propose to Eleanor Bold without first telling her that this is her sister's idea and that he is only after her money
  • The wonderful Reverend Obadiah Slope who is as oily as Uriah Heep and as contriving
  • The beautiful Signora Neroni, Bertie's crippled sister, who married an Italian good for nothing and gained her disability and a child who is the last of the Neros. The signora is a beautiful siren who lures, plays with and destroys men.
  • The formidable Mrs Proudie the Bishop's wife who contests with Mr Slope for the control of her husband and wins.
Unfortunately, like Dickens, Trollope finds it much more difficult to create good characters. Septimus Harding, meek and mild milk sop hero of the previous book, The Warden, in this Barsetshire series, is too good to be true; Mr Arabin, virginal Fellow of an Oxford College who throws it all up to become a little parish priest, is likewise unflawed. At least Eleanor Bold, Harding's daughter, who goes on to marry Arabin (why should I care about spoilers when Trollope doesn't?), is stubborn and headstrong, especially when she is misunderstood. But Trollope is orchestrating a morality play rather than anything more visceral.

The series continues with Doctor Thorne, where I am heading next but without any expectation of  more than a meander.

I have also read and reviewed Trollope's political Palliser novels:

  • Can You Forgive Her? in which Alice Vavasor oscillates backwards and forwards between goody two shoes John Grey and her wicked cousin George Vavasor. This book is blessed with a humorous counterpoint as rich and merry widow Mrs Greenow oscillates between rich farmer Mr Cheesacre who repeatedly tells everyone how well to do he is and penniless chancer and fraud 'Captain' Bellfield; the funniest of the palliser books
  • Phineas Finn, Irish charmer Phineas enters parliament and seeks marriage with Violet Effingham (he fights a duel over her) or Laura Standish (who rejects him for dour Scot Mr Kennedy whom Phineas subsequently saves from muggers) whilst being pursued by a poor Irish girl from home. Phineas suffers political tribulations but the best part of the book is the sadness over Laura's marriage.
  • The Eustace Diamonds, The wonderful minx Lizzie Eustace, who has married a dying man for diamonds and is determined to keep them despite legal attempts to win them back for the family, is Trollope's best character. She lies, she manipulates and she breaks the law to retian what she has convinced herself is rightfully hers.
  • Phineas Redux  Phineas returns, is again embroiled in woman trouble, and stands trial for murder. This should be the most exciting of the Trollope books were it not for the fact that Trollope writres his own spoilers.
  • The Prime Minister Plantagent Palliser, Duke of Omnium, becomes Prime Minister of a coalition but he is too concerned for his honour to be a successful leader and he struggles on the rack of his own conscience
  • The Duke's Children in which Plantagenet's children do their best to make unsuitable matches. The Duke finds it hard to apply his own liberal principles to his children.

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