(The cover shown is not the cover of the copy I read, which was a 1950 red volume containing both The Warden and Barchester Towers)
From: the public library
In a nutshell:
Barchester Towers takes place several years after the events described in The Warden. The Bishop of Barchester has died. The new Bishop brings with him a controlling wife and an ambitious chaplain named Mr. Slope. Mr. Slope’s views and manner put him in sharp opposition to Archdeacon Grantly and his allies. Meanwhile, the well-off widowed Eleanor (Harding) Bold finds herself pursued by two designing suitors. Other characters of note include a beautiful, worldly-wise clergyman’s daughter who calls herself Signora Neroni, the scholarly Mr. Arabin who is called in to reinforce Grantly’s ranks, and the elderly, eccentric Miss Thorne who wishes Saxon customs were still practiced in the present day.
I loved dwelling in the pages of Barchester Towers. I can’t keep track of the ecclesiastical positions and titles – the nuances of prelate, curate and precentor are lost on me – but I liked the church drama overall. I have never been a member of a ‘high church’ denomination like the Church of England, but especially as a former pastor’s daughter, I personally connected with a few of the observations.
Barchester Towers is a considerably longer book than The Warden and boasts a wider range of characters, and this is all to the good. Trollope excels both at describing the interior thoughts and motivations of his characters as well as at describing how people act within their families, society and the community at large. Reading it reminded me of reading Middlemarch, though Barchester Towers has a lighter touch than George Eliot’s book.
I find the lightly comedic style of Trollope suits me well. He pokes fun at his characters but in a fond manner. At times, he speaks directly to the reader saying things like “I cannot say that with me John Bold was ever a favorite.”
One of my favorite of these direct addresses is a passage where Trollope decries novelists’ practice of “maintaining nearly to the end of the third volume a mystery as to the fate of their favorite personage.” In this passage, he assures the reader that Eleanor Bold will not be won by either of her unsuitable suitors. Furthermore, Trollope exhorts the reader to
take the last chapter if you please – learn from its pages all the results of our troubled story, and the story shall have lost none of its interest, if indeed there be any interest in it to lose.
I actually don’t mind if a book keeps me in mystery or suspense, but I also value books that maintain interest even if one knows what is going to happen.
I love Barchester Towers for its focus on small-scale ethics. Trollope gets into the mind of his characters as they try to figure out what to do in everyday situations and what to say to each other. Some characters are very concerned with doing and saying the right thing, like Eleanor’s father, Mr. Harding. Other characters are careless and care not.
The conversations in the novel are always a treat, because Trollope is able to get across the tone and atmosphere, as well as convey the characters’ inner reactions to what is being said. Well-written dialogue is certainly a prize because it often seems to be the one thing lacking in otherwise good novels that I read.
For all that Barchester Towers is generally a comedic novel, it is certainly capable of conveying more melancholic thoughts and realities: Mr. Harding missing his old friend, the bishop; Mr. Arabin admitting to himself his desire for the settled family life of his friends and wondering if it is too late for him to find the same for himself.
My sister who is reading this series as well is at least two books ahead of me right now. She said to me on Facebook a week ago: “I’m in the middle of Framley Parsonage. I’m really enjoying the way Trollope develops characters. Not all of his main characters are likable but you can understand their motivations: good, flawed, or despicable.”
With that, I will move on to excerpts of other book bloggers’ reviews:
A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books – “As always, Trollope is incomparable at portraying power relations.”
Desperate Reader – “I know I’ll read this book again and probably enjoy it more each time precisely because not so very much happens apart from people going about their lives. I can’t think of anything better to have with me for a long journey than ‘Barchester Towers’ . . . ”
Shelf Love (Jenny) – “There’s comedy in these pages, and scandal, and humility, and strength of character, and romance. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s human nature, gathered in the shadow of the cathedral.”