Barchester Towers

My beloved Latin teacher thought I would enjoy reading Anthony Trollope.  Since he and his wife have a 100% record for recommending good books, I perked up and began looking.  My rural library had one offering (on tape) of Anthony Trollope and a huge selection of Joanna Trollope (a descendant of AT’s).  I listened to An Old Man’s Love with great enjoyment. Next, I logged on to Librivox and listened to The Warden, the first of his six Barset Chronicles. 

Barchester Towers is the second book in the Barset Chronicles.  Happily, I purchased this book and could make it my own by marking it up.  I like Trollope better than Dickens, and I like Dickens very much.  Trollope, like Dickens, employs descriptive names:  Mr. Slope for an oily clergyman,  Dr. Fillgrave,  Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful,  Dr. and Mrs. Proudie.  Trollope doesn’t surpass Jane Austen, but then who does?

Trollope inserts authorial comments, breaking the rule I pounded into my students: “Don’t write about your writing.”  Some critics (Henry James and W. H. Auden) found this very off-putting; it made me chuckle.  Trollope writes about everyday, ordinary life with grace and perception. What I particularly appreciate is that his bad characters are not entirely evil; his protagonists have failures. And the humor!  Wry observations are crammed with humor.  The best thing is to give you some samples:

The venom of the chaplain’s harangue had worked into his blood, and sapped the life of his sweet contentment.  p.114

Considering how much we are all given to discuss the characters of others, and discuss them often not in the strictest spirit of charity, it is singular how little we are inclinded to think that others can speak ill-naturedly of us, and how angry and hurt we are when proof reaches us that they have done so.  It is hardly too much to say that we all of us occasionally speak of our dearest friends in a manner in which those dearest friends would very little like to hear themselves mentioned; and that we nevertheless expect that our dearest freinds shall invariably speak of us as though they were blind to all our faults, but keenly alive to every shade of our virtues.   p. 185

Mr. Arabin declared that the morning light at any rate was perfect, and deprecated any interference with the lime trees.  And then they took a stroll out among the trim parterres, and Mr. Arabin explained to Mrs. Bold the difference between a naiad and a dryad, and dilated on vases and the shapes of urns.  Miss Thorne busied herself among her pansies; and her brother, finding it quite impracticable to give anything of a peculiarly Sunday tone to the conversation, abandoned the attempt, and had it out with the archdeacon about the Bristol guano.  p. 220

Mrs. Quiverful did not mention the purpose of her business, nor did the farmer alloy his kindness by any unseemly questions.    p. 237

He wished to be what he called “safe” with all those whom he had admitted to the penetralia of his house and heart […] His feelings towards his friends were, that while they stuck to him he would stick to them; that he would work with them shoulder to shoulder; that he would be faithful to the faithful.  He knew nothing of that beautiful love which can be true to a false friend.    p. 269

By seven [a.m.] she was dressed and down.  Miss Thorne knew nothing of the modern luxury of déshabilles.  She would as soon have thought of appearing before her brother without her stockings as without her stays; and Miss Thorne’s stays were no trifle.  p. 346

He [Mr Slope] longed in his heart to be preaching at her.  ‘Twas thus that he was ordinarily avenged of sinning mortal men and women. Could he at once have ascended his Sunday rostrum and fulminated at her such denunciations as his spirit delighted in, his bosom would have been greatly eased.  p. 399

What’s An Austen Reader Supposed To Do?

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

So you love Jane Austen.  You’ve read all her novels and plan to re-read them with great pleasure the rest of your days.  When you come to the end of Austen, you always have an appetite for…more!  You start in with the Brontes and read through their works.  This is a good thing.  There are many, many good books in different genres, true.  But there are times you want a nice cup of tea and a little touch of Britain in the night. 

It was because Anthony Trollope’s name was said in the same sentence as Austen’s, and from a friend I trust, that I decided to go exploring.  I’ve only read one book (audio book), so I’m no Trollope expert.  But–BUT– I thoroughly enjoyed An Old Man’s Love, which was unfortunately the extent of our rural library’s Trollope collection.  This work seems a little obscure: Frank Magill’s Cyclopedia of World Authors didn’t list the title among Trollope’s principal works.

An Old Man’s Love was a sweet romance, a lovely love story.  Here’s the gist: A young woman, Mary Lawrie (20 something), is left orphaned.  A friend of her father’s, the 50 year old bachelor, William Whittlestaff decides to take her in and provide for her.   He  falls in love with her and asks her to marry him.  She hesitates and acknowledges to him that her heart is with a young man, John Gordon, from whom she has not heard a word in three years, and with whom no words of love were ever exchanged.  Whittlestaff presses Mary, confident that her infatuation was a childish one and sure that he can give her a good life.  She reluctantly agrees and decides to do her duty to the man who has been so kind to her, a man for whom she has genuine affection. Within hours of giving her promise to marry Whittlestaff, John Gordon, home from the diamond mines, knocks on the door asking for Mary.

The ensuing conflict between Mary’s love for Gordon and her promise given to Whittlestaff occupies the rest of the book. A promise is a promise! Trollope portrays so accurately that inner impulse to be a martyr  that seems so noble at night, but sticks like a bone in the throat in the daylight. Hearing the tale unfold was like riding a see-saw; it was impossible to guess how it would come out.  Each man is so certain that it would be in Mary’s best interest to be with himself. There are two Dickensian characters, the housekeeper and the vicar, which add comic relief to the drama.
From An Old Man’s Love “Here he was wont to sit and read his Horace.  And think of the affairs of the world as Horace depicted them.  Many a morsel of wisdom he had here made his own.  And to then endeavor to think whether the wisdom had in truth been taken home by the poet to his own bosom, or had only been a glitter of the intellect, never appropriated for any useful purpose.”

“A novel should give a picture of common life enlivened by humor and sweetened by pathos.”  Anthony Trollope

“His great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual.” Henry James on Anthony Trollope.

It isn’t the satisfying protein of Austen, but we still need some carbs in our life, and Trollope is a good carb.