The Classics Circuit’s Anthony Trollope tour is in full swing. It began Monday, December 6 and will end Friday, December 17. The button comes from the frontspiece of the first publication of The Last Chronicle of Barset (published 1867). Anthony Trollope was born in London in 1815. When he died in 1882, he’d written 70 major works, including novels, stories, sketches, essays, and travelogues.
Here’s my review of Barchester Towers, followed by some more comments on the tour.
I’d never read Trollope before, and chose to read Barchester Towers for this blog tour. First, because it was a familiar title. It’s part of The Chronicles of Barsetshire, one of Trollope’s best-known series. And second, because I had a copy on my shelves that has gathered dust for something like 20 years. I thought it was high time I read it!
And … I made it through 140 pages of this 533-page tome before throwing in the towel.
I typically enjoy classic English literature, and the storyline was promising. When a bishop dies, his son expects to be appointed successor, but another man is chosen. This causes a bit of controversy, and the new bishop stirs things up by actually expecting clergy to work. Trollope’s tongue is firmly lodged in his cheek as he paints vivid character portraits, such as this description of the new bishop and his wife:
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 ads 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 henpecked. (p.23)
But the humor was not enough to compensate for the glacial pace. In 140 pages a new bishop was appointed, and the bishop and his wife had a party. In between these epic events, various characters were introduced. Trollope spent 11 pages describing five members of a notable family in exhaustive detail. The bishop’s party received similar treatment, except that took twice as long. I just lost patience with it.
At first I was disappointed in myself for giving up, for not appreciating the detail and use of language. Then I thought about Charles Dickens, a contemporary of Trollope. I don’t particularly like reading Dickens either, but I adored dramatizations like Bleak House (2005), and Little Dorrit (2008). These films brought Dickens’ world to life in a way the books never did. As I was struggling with Trollope, a bookish friend recommended the 1982 BBC production of Barchester Chronicles. If nothing else, I think I’ve learned that the best way for me to experience Victorian literature is through film.
Despite trying very hard to get past it, there was another aspect of Trollope’s writing that put me off. As LifetimeReader said, “Trollope reflects many of the assumptions and prejudices of his time. Sometimes his portrayals of gender or race can be kind of off-putting.” And Falaise was even more direct: “Let’s make no bones about this. Trollope is a racist and he’s not afraid to show it. Not for him the subtle sneer or the coded comment. No, sir.”
I couldn’t agree more. One of the characters in Barchester Towers dabbled in Judaism (as if that even makes sense), giving Trollope a forum for overt racist comments about Jews as “dirty” people. It was unbelievably offensive, and even though I know it’s unfair to hold Trollope to today’s standards it was a complete turn-off.
But who knows, maybe I’m alone in my views on this book. I’m looking forward to visiting these blogs for more thoughts on Barchester Towers, and I hope you’ll join me!
- Monday, December 13 She Reads Novels
- Wednesday, December 15 Books and Chocolate
- Thursday, December 16 A Literary Odyssey
To learn more about Trollope’s entire body of work, check out all the tour stops.