It’s TrollopeFest here at Shelf Love! (Boy, that doesn’t sound as good as I’d hoped.) Teresa and I have had some near misses, reading the same books just a few months apart, and this time we have managed to read two different books by the same author at the same time. Always nice to co-author a blog when your hearts beat almost as one.
I read The Warden some years ago, and while the characters were delightful, I found the story a bit slow. It has therefore taken me some time to get to Barchester Towers, the second in Trollope’s Barsetshire series. And now I regret that it took me so long to pick it up, because I read this hugely enjoyable 500-page novel in just a few days, thanks to my eagerness to return to the ecclesiastical world of Barchester.
The story revolves around the main characters of The Warden: the gentle Mr. Harding, ex-warden of Hiram Hospital; his daughter Eleanor Bold; and the high-tempered archdeacon Grantly and his wife. A few new characters have also come on the scene: intelligent Mr. Arabin, the milquetoast bishop Proudie and his virago wife, the feckless and scheming Stanhopes, and, of course, the unforgettably odious Mr. Obadiah Slope. At the beginning of the novel, the much-loved bishop has died, and everyone expects that Dr. Grantly will take his place. Instead, Dr. Proudie exerts his patronage and gets the see (though Mrs. Proudie has the power of it), and he brings his chaplain, Mr. Slope, with him. The struggle for power among these supposedly respectable clergymen and their wives makes the heart of the story, while the struggle for wealth by marriage makes the highly entertaining rest of it. Trollope is a wonderful storyteller. Even when he spoils his own story, divulging the outcome chapters in advance, he insists that the whole pleasure is in the telling – and he’s quite right. 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.
My one complaint was about the edition I chose. I bought a Barnes and Noble Classics edition, and honestly, it was annoying. It glossed words I thought should be obvious to most moderately educated readers (didn’t you learn what a deus ex machina was in 8th grade?) and defined words in foreign languages that most people could easily guess (don’t you think you could guess that “couleur de rose” meant “rose color”?) This interrupted the flow of the text badly. Worse still, it wasn’t always accurate in its definitions, especially in French. I wish I’d found a Penguin Classic or some other edition to read. Still, I became absorbed readily enough, and forgot the flaws.
This is one of the few cases where I had actually seen the BBC series, “The Barchester Chronicles,” before reading the book. For once, this wasn’t a mistake. Donald Pleasence, who usually plays Bond villains, was a perfect Septimus Harding, and Nigel Hawthorne couldn’t have been bettered as the combative Dr. Grantly. But best of all was a young, a very young Alan Rickman as the odious Mr. Slope. As I read Barchester Towers, I kept hearing that distinctive Rickman drawl reading the dialogue. What a pleasure! And now I promise not to let so many years go by before I read the next in the Barsetshire series!