BarchesterTowers is the second book in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series.
Archdeacon Grantly from the first book (The Warden) sets his sights on being named bishop when his father dies. But the new Prime Minister names a Mr. Proudie as bishop instead. Grantly and Proudie are on opposite sides of politics and church issues, thus setting up factions within the diocese.
To make things worse, Proudie is weak and overrun by his wife and his chaplain. The chaplain, Mr. Slope, is smarmy, conniving, and ambitious. He and Mrs. Proudie are allies until they differ on one particular issue: who should take over as warden of the hospital, a position vacated by Mr. Harding in the last book.
Mr. Harding’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, has married, had a son she adores, and has been widowed. Her husband left her well off, so Slope sets his sights on her and finagles to have her father reinstated as warden in order gain her favor.
But Bertie Stanhope, a ne’er-do-well but charming young man with a lot of debts, also decides to woo Eleanor.
This book was much more comedic than the other two of Trollope’s that I have read. Even the names of some of the minor characters are amusing: two farmers are named Greenacre and Topsoil; a clergyman with fourteen children is Dr. Quiverful; a lady with a temper is Mrs Clantantram.
Trollope satirizes the clergy who spend their time battling each other or manipulating events for their own purposes. That, to me, was more sad than funny, but satire is a way to bring such inconsistencies to light. Thankfully, not all of the clergy acted this way.
But there are some sweet moments, too. I can identify much with Mr. Harding, who doesn’t want to cause trouble, doesn’t want any fuss, just wants to live a quiet peaceful life. When he’s stressed (often in conversations with his son-in-law, the archdeacon), in his mind (and sometimes with his hands) he plays an imaginary violincello. The moments with him and his daughter, Eleanor, are some of my favorites.
Some of my favorite quotes:
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 inclined 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.
Mr. Slope was big, awkward, cumbrous, and, having his heart in his pursuit, was ill at ease. The lady was fair, as we have said, and delicate; everything about her was fine and refined; her hand in his looked like a rose lying among carrots, and when he kissed it, he looked as a cow might do on finding such a flower among her food.
Mrs. Proudie: “The bishop merely intends to express his own wishes.”
[The henpecked] Mr. Proudie: “I merely intend, Mr. Slope, to express my own wishes.”
In a long aside from the author on how difficult it is to satisfactorily wrap up a book: “Do I not myself know that I am at this moment in want of a dozen pages, and that I am sick with cudgeling my brains to find them?”
Trollope wrote during the same time as Dickens—he even mentions someone reading the latest Dickens publication. But his style is somewhat milder and gentler.
I listened to the audiobook superbly read by Simon Vance, who also narrated The Warden. Both books were included in my Audible subscription, so I didn’t have to buy them.
I had read the third book in the series, Doctor Thorne, last year, which set me to reading the rest of the series. I’ll take a break before finishing, but I look forward to the last three books.
I’m counting this as the humorous or satirical classic for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.