The Last Chronicle of Barset

The Last Chronicle of Barset is the sixth and final novel in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

There are several plot threads in this winding up of everyone’s stories. But the overarching plot involves Mr. Crawley, a curate who has been accused of stealing. Mr. Crawley was a minor character in Framley Parsonage, the fourth book in the series. He’s a curate in a small town who is very stern, proud of his poverty, critical of those who have wealth, especially other clergymen.

A twenty-pound check came into his possession, which he used to pay a bill. But then the check was found to have belonged to the lord of the manor house. The problem is, Mr. Crawley can’t remember how he got the check. First he thought Lord Lufton’s agent must have dropped it when he visited, then he thought his friend the dean must have given it to him. Unfortunately, the dean and his wife are out of the country, and Lufton’s agent insists he did not drop it.

Most people don’t think Crawly actually stole the check or confiscated it for his own use. They think it was a mix-up. But the case goes to court (not due to Lord Lufton. He would rather the whole thing had not come to light). Unfortunately, the bishop, or rather, the bishop’s wife, Mrs. Proudie, who wields actual control, thinks Crawley did steal the check and should be removed. Crawley himself almost wonders if he is going mad since he can’t remember for sure how he got the check.

Mr. Crawley was not one of my favorite characters, so at first I wasn’t terribly excited that much of the book focused on him. But after reflecting, I felt this plot line could not have worked with anyone else. And it is used to affect and bring out the personalities and motives of many other people.

The other major plot line is that Archdeacon Grantley’s son has fallen in love with Crawley’s daughter, Grace. The Grantleys are some of the wealthiest people in the area, and the thought of their son joining with a possible criminal’s daughter causes conflict between everyone involved.

Lily Dale from the fifth book, The Small House at Allington, shows up in this story as Grace’s friend. Lily had loved someone who jilted her for someone else richer and higher in society. But she still loves him. John Eames had loved her since childhood, but Lily only thinks of him as a brother. Then when Lily visits friends in London, she runs into the man who jilted her.

There is a totally unnecessary plot thread about a young artist’s flirtatious interactions with a married lady. Neither of them really care for each other romantically and consider their flirtations a game. But the relationship still causes problems when he falls in love with someone else and her husband begins to suspect something. The only connection between any of these people and the other characters is that the artist was a friend of John Eame’s. I don’t think flirting is a harmless game, especially among people married to others, so I could have done without this whole thread.

The Proudies, in all the books til now, have been almost humorous with him as a henpecked husband. They’re on the opposite sides of the fence politically and concerning church matters as many of the other people, and Mrs. Proudie is manipulative, so they’re ofttimes the “villains.” But things come to a very sad head for them.

Mrs. Crawley’s cousin, Mr. Toogood, a lawyer, has suspicions about where the check might have come from, and his pursuit reminded me a lot of Charles Dickens (who was a contemporary of Trollope).

Mr. Harding was the main character of the first book, The Warden. I think he may be the only clergyman in this series that doesn’t have a major flaw. He does tend not to stand up for himself even when he should, but whether that’s a flaw or not depends, I guess, on your point of view. It was said of him by his son-in-law, the Archdeacon: “He lacked guile, and he feared God,—and a man who does both will never go far astray. I don’t think he ever coveted aught in his life.” He has appeared throughout the series as a kindly older man. Now he is nearing his last days, and that all is handled in such a touching way.

Two of my favorite characters were the wives of difficult men in opposite circumstances: Mrs. Grantly and Mrs. Crawley. I would almost say they knew how to “handle” their husbands, but they were not manipulative like Mrs. Proudie. They each knew their husbands’ quirks and foibles and knew how to help them see reason and bring out their best. Mrs. Crawley knew her husband was very proud and unwilling to accept help, but she could find ways of accepting help without violating his desires. She didn’t complain of their poverty, though she had come from a more prosperous home. “She had been very strong through all her husband’s troubles,—very strong in bearing for him what he could not bear for himself, and in fighting on his behalf battles in which he was altogether unable to couch a lance; but the endurance of so many troubles, and the great overwhelming sorrow at last, had so nearly overpowered her.” Archdeacon Grantly is a blustery person, as well as a man of wealth and authority. Mrs. Grantly is about the only one who can speak plainly to him and point out where his thinking might be wrong, yet in a way that doesn’t disrespect him or undercut his authority. It was said after one of their encounters, “He knew very well that he could not get the better of her, and was apt at such moments to think that she took an unfair advantage of him by keeping her temper.”

I had wondered about the fact that Trollope doesn’t show his clergymen (who are the main characters in all most of the books) doing religious things. Mr. Crawley is shown in his religious duties more than anyone else, preaching, teaching in the school, visiting those in his parish. Evidently others wondered the same thing, “accusing” Trollope, “always without bitterness, and generally with tenderness—of having forgotten, in writing of clergymen,” to show “their professional duties, their high calling, their daily workings for the good of those around them.” Trollope answers that he had wanted to “paint the social and not the professional lives of clergymen,” just as he would write of lawyers’ and doctors’ lives without going deeply into their professions. Some also said all the clergymen in the books were flawed to some degree. Trollope answers, “Had I written an epic about clergymen, I would have taken St. Paul for my model; but describing, as I have endeavoured to do, such clergymen as I see around me, I could not venture to be transcendental.” But, he says, for his part, he would be happy to spend time with any of them.

Just a couple more samples of Trollope’s writing: He says of one Mr. Thumble, an ambitious lackey of Mrs. Proudie’s who hopes to take Mr. Crawley’s place, “who, having heard his own voice once, and having liked the sound, thought that he might creep into a little importance by using it on any occasion that opened itself for him.” One man’s wife dies in the book, and at the end of his story line, Trollope says, “We will now say farewell to him, with a hope that the lopped tree may yet become green again, and to some extent fruitful, although all its beautiful head and richness of waving foliage have been taken from it.”

The last couple of books had a similar feel to Mitford, Jan Karon’s books, except set in Victorian England. But it took the previous four books to get to this place.

I am very glad I read (or listened to) the last three books in succession. When I read the fourth, it had been a while since I read the previous books, and I had to remind myself who everyone was and how they were related. So I wanted to read the last three one after the other so I didn’t have to go through that process with each one.

My favorite of the series is Doctor Thorne, the third book. Wikipedia says it was that book that caused the series to take off. The site also says that Trollope didn’t originally intend to write a series. But he set later books in or near the same place as the first couple, and later on, publishers asked him for another book in the same area or with related characters. The last three novels were first released serially in magazines.

I listened to all the books via audiobook, all but the third wonderfully narrated by Simon Vance. Most, if not all of them, were included in my Audible subscription, so I didn’t have to use my credits on them. Most of the Kindle versions were free or 99 cents, so in some cases I would go back and forth between e-book and audio.

I’m sorry in many ways to see the series come to an end, and I’ll miss these characters. But I’m happy to become acquainted with Trollope and look forward to reading more of his books.

I’m counting this book for the “wild card classic” category of the Back to the Classics Challenge.

The Small House at Allington

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope houses three occupants in the 1860s. Mrs. Dale is a widow with two teenage daughters, Lily and Bell. Lily is lively and outgoing, almost a little saucy, and rash sometimes. Bell is quieter and more mature.

The “small house” belongs to the manor house owned by Squire Dale, Mrs. Dale’s brother-in-law. The squire had not cared for his brother’s wife, but he wants to care for her girls since his brother died by giving them a place to stay and introducing them to society they otherwise would not have encountered. Mrs. Dale and the squire maintain a polite atmosphere but avoid each other as much as possible.

Bernard Dale, the squire’s nephew by another brother, stays with the squire several months out of the year and is in line to be the squire’s heir. Lily and Bell don’t mind the squire’s preference for Bernard: they’re simply grateful for the squire’s beneficence toward them.

On one of Bernard’s lengthy visits, he brings a friend, Adolphus Crosbie. Crobie falls in love with Lily “with all his heart,—with all the heart that he had for such purposes.” And though he thinks she is a dear, sweet girl, he has high ambitions. Crosbie knows Lily has no money or rank and therefore would not be welcome in the circles he aspires to. They become engaged, and Lily gives her whole heart to Crosbie. However, inwardly he wonders about an earl’s daughter he met from de Courcy castle.

Johnnie Eames is a neighbor of the Dales’ and has loved Lily since childhood. But he dares not speak to her of his feelings. He knows he has nothing to offer. Lily senses his regard and is kind to him, but does not encourage him. John is now a clerk living in a boarding house in London. His landlady’s daughter sets her cap toward him, not out of love, but to entrap him into a commitment. It seems if a girl had written proof of a man’s matrimonial intentions towards her, and then he backs out, she could sue him.

Doctor Crofts is a dear friend of the family and loves Bell, but he is early in his practice and does not have much money.

Meanwhile, Squire Dale wants Bernard and Bell to marry (I guess cousins could wed in those days). Bernard doesn’t love Bell, but he’s amenable to the arrangements. Bell, however, only thinks of Bernard as a brother and does not want to hear about marriage. It’s not until Bell refuses, multiple times, that Bernard begins to be in earnest about wanting to marry her,

Whew. Though much of the book traces this romantic heptagon, there are other strands of plot as well. There are a couple of other romances—or at least flirtations—not involving these characters.One young man helps an earl out in a crisis, and the earl becomes a patron and mentor of sorts. One young man rises in others’ regard while another sinks, though they make similar mistakes. Some of the office politics of both are seen.

I especially enjoyed the growth in Mrs. Dale’s and the squire’s relationship. He is described as one of those men who comes across as gruff, but really does have a tender heart.

All of these happenings are couched within the times. Trollope makes wry observations regarding class consciousness, gossip, hypocrisies, city vs. town life, etc. A couple of examples: when two of the young men come to blows over the wrongs of one of them, an older lady who is a righteous, upstanding woman and the moral center of her set expresses “by the light of her eyes anything but Christian horror at the wickedness of the deed.” When the police are called over the incident: “‘What’s all this?’ said the superintendent, still keeping on his hat, for he was aware how much of the excellence of his personal dignity was owing to the arrangement of that article.”

The ending was disappointing to me. One character got his comeuppance in a away. But one couple I was rooting for didn’t come to the end I had hoped. I saw one character’s name in some chapter titles of the next book, so perhaps their happy ending comes later.

Still, I enjoyed the book as a whole.

This book is the fifth and next to last in Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series. Though several of the characters are new, it was fun to see several old friends from earlier books. When I read the fourth, Framley Parsonage, I decided maybe I’d better go ahead and read the rest of the series in succession so I didn’t have to remind myself of who the characters were and their relationship with each other with each book.

The Kindle edition of this book is free at this time, and the audiobook was included as part of my Audible subscription. They were synced so that I could pick up where I left off in either one, which worked out nicely. Simon Vance was the excellent narrator for this, and I think for all the Barsetshire series I’ve listened to.

I’m counting this for the “Classic set in a place you’d like to visit” for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Framley Parsonage

Framley Parsonage is the fourth of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles.

The story opens with Mark Robarts, boyhood friend of Ludovic Lufton. Lady Lufton, Ludovic’s mother, thinks Mark would make a fine vicar. So she pays for his training, gives him the living connected with Framley, and even finds a wife for him.

Mark is grateful for Lady Lufton’s graciousness to him, but he wants his own way occasionally. The one area he steps outside of Lady Lufton’s preference is in his friendships. He feels that to move up in the world, he needs to seek our relationships with some from higher society, introduced to him by Ludovic. Lady Lufton feels that these associates are not of high moral character, beside their being opposite from her politically. Nevertheless, Mark feels, and convinces his wife, that he needs to move in the circles of the elites.

It’s not long before Mark gets into trouble. He realizes that these people do not have the same values he has. But then he gets himself entangled in a mess when a Mr. Sowerby urges him to sign a bill for him (essentially to cosign a loan). Mark knows he doesn’t have the money to pay the bill if it should come to him, and he knows Sowerby has an awful reputation for running up debts. Yet Mark lets himself get talked into signing the bill.

Another plot line involves Mark’s sister, Lucy. When their father dies, Mark and his wife, Fanny, take Lucy into their home. Ludovic tries to draw out the quiet young women and soon becomes attracted to her. But his mother has another bride in mind for him—the statuesque beauty, Griselda Grantly, daughter of the archdeacon. Ludovic accommodates his mother by dancing with Griselda, but he finds her cold.

As these two plot lines develop and intersect, a few subplots wind in and out as well: a political falling out, a severe parson “proud of his poverty” whose family needs help that he won’t accept, two mothers trying to one-up each other in the choice of their daughters’ suitors, and even a visit from Dr. Thorne, the main character from the previous book in the Barsetshire Chronicles which bears his name.

It took me a little while to get into this story. I was not much interested in the political aspect and got irritated by Mark’s lack of backbone. But when his circumstances began to catch up with him and affect him, I began to sympathize with him more. Lucy was my favorite character, and I loved her story. The book has a heart-warming ending, with even Lady Lufton seeming more human and less severe.

Trollope continues to have his narrator speak as one of the community, though he never inserts himself into any of the scenes. The narrator also often breaks the “fourth wall” to speak directly to the reader.

Some of my favorite quotes:

It includes two populous villages, abounding in brickmakers, a race of men very troublesome to a zealous parson who won’t let men go rollicking to the devil without interference (p. 93).

I know it will be said of Lord Lufton himself that, putting aside his peerage and broad acres, and handsome, sonsy face, he was not worth a girl’s care and love. That will be said because people think that heroes in books should be so much better than heroes got up for the world’s common wear and tear. I may as well confess that of absolute, true heroism there was only a moderate admixture in Lord Lufton’s composition; but what would the world come to if none but absolute true heroes were to be thought worthy of women’s love? What would the men do? and what—oh! what would become of the women? (p. 136).

She confessed to herself that Griselda’s chance of a first-rate establishment would be better if she were a little more impulsive. A man does not wish to marry a statue, let the statue be ever so statuesque (p. 164).

She was so glad she knew it, that she might comfort him. And she did comfort him, making the weight seem lighter and lighter on his shoulders as he talked of it. And such weights do thus become lighter. A burden that will crush a single pair of shoulders will, when equally divided—when shared by two, each of whom is willing to take the heavier part—become light as a feather. Is not that sharing of the mind’s burdens one of the chief purposes for which a man wants a wife? For there is no folly so great as keeping one’s sorrows hidden (p. 218).

To endure with her lord all her lord’s troubles was easy to her; it was the work to which she had pledged herself. But to have thought that her lord had troubles not communicated to her,—that would have been to her the one thing not to be borne (p. 218)

So he went his way . . . thinking as he went which was most unreasonable in her wretchedness, his friend Lady Arabella or his friend Lady Scatcherd. The former was always complaining of an existing husband who never refused her any moderate request; and the other passed her days in murmuring at the loss of a dead husband, who in his life had ever been to her imperious and harsh, and had sometimes been cruel and unjust. (p. 254).

Wounds cannot be cured as easily as they may be inflicted (p. 271).

At the time of this writing, the Kindle edition of this book was free and the Audiobook was included as part of my Audible subscription. I mostly listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Simon Vance, but I read a few parts in the Kindle edition.

I’m counting this book for the Classic from the 19th century category for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.