Our JASNA Jane Austen Reading Group has wandered astray and is currently reading Anthony Trollope. We have started with Barchester Towers and will be discussing this on Wednesday night, though we know the series really starts with The Warden, which some have already read – some have seen the 1982 BBC production with Alan Rickman playing Slope [perhaps a prerequisite for playing Snape?], and some have listened to it on audiobooks – we most certainly shall have a lively discussion this week!
Anyway, I have had a few complaints about this Trollope read and have asked a member of the famed Men’s Austen Book Group from Montpelier [they started out with Austen and have gone onto Eliot and now Hardy, and now call themselves ‘Finches of the Grove’, from Great Expectations] – John is in another co-ed off-shoot of that group and they have wandered into Trollope as well – I have asked him to share with us why he loves Trollope so much. You can also see the blog of two members of this group, Sarah and Michelle, who write about their collective reading – here are their thoughts on Barchester Towers at Two Girls Fishing .
So I welcome John Bollard, on Anthony Trollope:
You asked me a while ago to write something about why I like Anthony Trollope so much, which I will now attempt to do. Share with others if you wish.
One thing I really like is the narrator. Trollope’s narrator is always very much a character, although not a character who participates in the action–so the point of view is not quite omnipotent, but not quite first person either. I love the way he (the narrator) invites the reader into the story, invites him to take a particular view of this or that character or situation–to be not too hard on this character because of that circumstance, or to remember that this other character has shown a certain weakness in the past, and so forth. It’s a device that’s very much out of fashion these days, but I find that it draws the reader in, and creates a unique intimacy between the reader and the story. Sitting down to read a Trollope novel is like sitting down for a cup of tea with a good friend who knows all the news and gossip and talks about it in the most charming, entertaining way.
Another thing I like is Trollope’s heroines. They are very nuanced characters–always good, of course, but not without flaws. They tend to succeed by courageous adherence to principle–in fact, stubbornness is probably their most common failing, vide Eleanor Bold. In this they are more like Jane Austen’s heroines than like anyone else’s. All Trollope’s characters, even the comic ones, are complex. Villains tend to be more ignorant or blind than really evil. Heroes have their weaknesses, their vanities, etc. Trollope, through the narrator, always has a very gentle touch with his characters. Virtue is rewarded and vice punished, but there is always affection and sympathy even for the most difficult people.
Many of the novels involve whole networks of relationships, and do not simply follow the progress of a single hero and heroine; Trollope often chooses to comment on a particular relationship by contrasting it or setting it in conflict with another. Many of the books revolve around an Austen-style marriage plot, but Trollope is also very interested in marriages per se, especially the inner dynamic versus the outer appearance.
Look at all the marriages in Barchester Towers: the Grantlys, the Stanhopes, the Proudies, the Quiverfuls, even the quasi-marriage of the Thornes of Ullathorn. Quite a cast, you must admit, and quite an elaborate social scene in which to bring the love and the money together at the end.
Since I discovered Trollope, a couple of years ago, I’ve read a dozen of his novels, and the only one I have not cared for is The Way We Live Now. I mention this because many critics have claimed that this is his greatest, so any of your members who enjoyed Barchester Towers, and were looking for more might be steered that way. I would suggest rather sticking with the Barsetshire series and going on to Dr. Thorne, which is a delightful book, although not at all a continuation BT. (Books 3 through 5 in the series deal mainly with other characters in the county, and the BT characters are mentioned only casually. Things come together a bit in the final book with a return to the affairs of Barchester and the clergy.) Or, the first novel of the Palliser series: Can You Forgive Her?, which is wonderful, and typical Trollope. (Three heroines! Six suitors!) There is sly, gentle humor in all his books, however Barchester Towers is by far the most overtly comic, and is in that sense not quite typical.
Some have wondered why Trollope is not more widely read, and I have no real answer for that. Perhaps in part because he rather deprecated his own work. Perhaps he is more read in England than here, but I don’t really know that. I always imagine there is a book group in England who are scratching their heads, wondering why nobody reads Mark Twain.
Thanks John for sharing your love of Trollope with us! – Anyone out there who is a Trollope reader? – please comment and offer your reasons for liking him – I love John’s comment about Mark Twain – anyone in the UK who is scratching their head about him??
- For cheating: a synopsis of Barchester Towers
- More info at Wikipedia
- There is of course a Trollope Society, where there is much to read…
and if you must, there is this: