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Introduction by Victoria Glendinning
'Inferior to The Warden, Barchester Towers has no plot... The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art, is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a 'lady' or 'gentlemen' among them. Such a bishop and his wife as Dr and Mrs Proudie have certainly not appeared in our time ... But in noticing these defects I am far from saying that it is uninteresting.
On the contrary, there is a fatal facility in the execution that makes you fancy that the author is playing with his reader, showing how easy it is for him to write a novel in three volumes ... It would be quite impossible to compress the three volumes into one without much detriment to the whole'.
This was the reader's report on Barchester Towers, the second in Trollope's Barchester series, and it resulted in a flurry of nerves at the publishers Longmans, who at one point demanded that the author cut the manuscript by a third! It is an odd reaction, given the enduring popularity of Trollope's six novels, and this volume in particular.
Old Bishop Grantly has died, and into the vacuum left by his demise -- to the horror of some of the inhabitants of Barchester -- steps his replacement Thomas Proudie, and his formidable wife. Along with the Proudies comes the Bishop's chaplain, the oily Mr Slope, and the stage is soon set for a titanic struggle for supremacy in the diocese between Mr Slope and Mrs Proudie. This forms the heart of the novel, but Trollope added into this delightful dish some new and fresh ingredients. Dr Stanhope and his family are called over from Italy, and of particular note are the portraits Trollope draws of his second daughter, the fascinating Madeline Neroni, and Dr Stanhope's feckless charming son Bertie. Eleanor Harding returns from The Warden and her romances within the book form a major part of the plot.
The Warden was really a prologue to Barchester Towers and, while there is little evidence to suppose that Trollope had initially planned a series of books, he clearly enjoyed the creation of Barchester and its characters which evidently stimulated his imagination:
'In the writing of Barchester Towers I took great delight. The Bishop and Mrs Proudie were very real to me...'.(The Autobiography).
Mrs Proudie was arguably Trollope's greatest creation albeit admitting that she was 'a tyrant, a bully, a would-be priestess, a very vulgar woman...'
Publication Price: £36.00/$72.00
Introduction by P. D. James
Doctor Thorne remains indisputably one of Trollope's greatest achievements. Paradoxically, it was not a favourite with its author, but then, as so often, he was a poor judge of his own work. Interestingly, the plot was devised not by the author but by his brother Tom with whom he was staying in Florence when, as he confessed, 'I was cudgelling my brain for a plot'.
Frank Gresham is heir to Greshamsbury Court, once a very rich estate but now much depleted, mortgages on the estate being held by the self-made millionaire Sir Roger Scatcherd. Frank is consequently under a great deal of pressure to marry money; particular pressure is applied by his mother, the snobbish sister of the Earl de Courcy, but Frank is in love with Mary Thorne, niece of the eponymous Doctor with whom she lives. However, it is known only to Doctor Thorne that Mary is in fact Sir Roger's eldest neice, albeit illegitimate: Sir Roger, a stone-cutter who has made his fortune through ruthless business dealings and has been ennobled because of his success, is paradoxically a drunkard and an ex-convict, a result of killing his sister's seducer, Mary Thorne's father, many years before. Sir Roger is unaware of Mary's true identity, or even that she survived. The portrait of Sir Roger shows Trollope writing at the very peak of his craft; this drunken reprobate is no mere pantomime scoundrel, but a fully three dimensional and deeply contradictory character, and one that the author cannot quite bring himself to condemn. Sir Roger is also reminiscent of Melmotte in The Way We Live Now, although a more modern paradigm might be the late Robert Maxwell. The revelation of Mary's true parentage helps the eventual resolution of all the obstacles in her path towards marrying Frank Gresham, and revitalising his family's fortunes.
In this, the third Barchester novel there are very few clerics -- Mrs Proudie, for example, having what amounts to a cameo appearance -- and this is chiefly because the author found himself more concerned with the county families. The happy result is the widening of the series' scope in unexpected directions, most notable in the portrayal of Frank's selfish mother Lady Arabella Gresham, the slightly enigmatic figure of Dr Thorne, and particularly the depiction of Mary Thorne herself, Trollope's heroine. Subtly drawn, beautifully understated, the true irony of this story rests upon the fact that, despite her illegitimacy, Mary is the most noble of the protagonists.
Introduction by Lady Antonia Fraser
529 pages with 24 original illustrations by John Everett Millais
Mark Robarts, an easy-going young vicar, is given the living of Framley by his old school friend Lord Lufton. He foolishly signs two notes of guarantee for the unscrupulous MP Nate Sowerby for a considerable sum of money. Sowerby makes little or no attempt to pay this note, leaving Mark facing scandal and ruin. Mark's sister Lucy comes to live at Framley parsonage and Lord Lufton soon falls in love with her, much to the displeasure of his mother. Lady Lufton has other plans for her son, specifically Griselda Grantly, daughter of the Archdeacon.
Lord Lufton spurns such manipulations and instead proposes to Lucy. Mindful of Lady Lufton's feelings, and knowing through common sense and her own keen intelligence that her displeasure is almost insurmountable, Lucy turns her suitor down, declaring that she cannot marry him unless Lady Lufton herself sanctions the union. It is only through Lucy's selfless and tender ministrations to Mrs Josiah Crawley, wife of the penurious 'perpetual curate of Hogglestock', that Lady Lufton begins to perceive, through the thick veil of habitual snobbery that she wears, the real merit of Lucy's character. It is she who asks Lucy to accept her son's offer. Mark Robarts, meanwhile, as a result of his foolishness, finds the bailiffs breathing down his neck, and it is left to Lord Lufton to step in and save his friend and his future brother in law from scandal and disgrace.
'I had got into my head an idea of what I meant to write, - a morsel of the biography of an English clergyman who should not be a bad man, but one led into temptation by his own youth and by the unclerical accidents of the life of those around him. The love of his sister for the young lord was an adjunct necessary, because there must be love in a novel. And then by placing Framley Parsonage near Barchester, I was able to fall back on my old friends Mrs Proudie and the Archdeacon. Out of these slight elements I fabricated a hodge-podge ....
There was little fox-hunting, and a little tuft-hunting, some Christian virtue and some Christian cant. There was no heroism and no villainy. There was much Church, but more love-making.'
The story is thoroughly English, and is told with a tremendous exuberance, particularly in its depiction of the ointment Heiress Martha Dunstable, which betrays the author's joy in finding himself once more in the environs of Barchester.
The Small House at Allington
Introduction by Margaret Markwick
606 pages with 18 original illustrations by John Everett Millais
This, the fifth of the six Barchester Chronicles, concerns Lily Dale and her sister Bell, living with their widowed mother in The Small House at Allington, supported by old Squire Dale. The Squire wishes Bell to marry his nephew and heir Bernard. However, through Bernard, Lily meets the opportunistic cad, Adolphus Crosbie and they become engaged. The cold-eyed De Courcy family soon interfere, seeking the social-climbing Crosbie as a husband for their own, not very saleable, eldest daughter.
The novel also follows the fortunes of Johnny Eames, something of a portrait of the author in his early guise as a young 'hobbledehoy'. The novel is about thwarted love. Johnny Eames' love for Lily Dale is unrequited; Lily's love for Adolphus Crosbie is rejected when he jilts her; Crosbie's marriage to Lady Alexandrina De Courcy is a loveless, social-climbing merger. The misery this causes is never better expressed than in the sub-plot concerning Johnny and Amelia Roper, whose mother runs a seedy London boarding house. The portrait of this establishment and its clientele found little favour with the reviewers of the day who found Trollope's versions vulgar: yet to our sensibilities they seem very contemporary. Johnny's harsh treatment of Amelia is almost as cruel as Crosbie's treatment of Lily Dale, but it serves as a contrast to their story. This is thwarted love at its most pathetic, Johnny trifling with Amelia yet having no intention of real commitment. Amelia poignantly sums up the problems that inevitably arise from unrequited love:
'I don't know what's the good of feelings. They never did me any good.'
Adolphus Crosbie on the other hand, despite being a snob, effortlessly draws attention whenever he appears. His is a very realistic character.
The reverse is true of the book's nominal heroine, Lily Dale. Every indication would suggest that Trollope intended Lily to be enchanting, but characters have a habit of developing lives beyond their author's control. As Lily's self-regarding passion for Crosbie begins to pervade the book she becomes irritating, and she evidently began to annoy Trollope too. In his Autobiography he called her 'somewhat of a female prig.' Reading the novel has been described as 'like entering some magic house with many rooms and many windows', and Trollope pauses to show us surprising aspects. We have a glimpse of Plantagenet Palliser and Lady Glencora; Archdeacon Grantly reappears, and there is a surprising 'cameo' appearance from Warden Harding. The Saturday Review concluded that the author 'can do, in fact, what Miss Austen did, only that he does it in the modern style with far more detail ... and analysis of character.'
The Last Chronicle of Barset
Introduction by A N Wilson
800 pages with 12 illustrations by George H Thomas
For his last excursion to his fictional county, Trollope chose to centre the story on a character first encountered in Barchester Towers six years previously, the penniless Reverend Josiah Crawley, Perpetual Curate of Hogglestock. As the book opens the Reverend has been accused of stealing a cheque, yet after many twists and turns in the plot, he turns out to be entirely innocent.
Trollope did not have to look very far for a real-life model upon whom to base his portrait: noble-minded, religious, arrogantly revelling in his poverty in a half-mad way, Josiah Crawley was partly based on the author's own father. Yet, like Fanny Trollope, Mrs Crawley endeavours to maintain in her children a certain respect for their crazed father. Although Trollope did not care for the way in which he ultimately proved Crawley's innocence, he conceded:
'I claim to have portrayed the mind of the unfortunate man with great accuracy and great delicacy.'
For this last tale, Trollope calls back some of his best-loved characters: Johnny Eames unsuccessfully tries to woo Lily Dale; Mrs Proudie locks horns and finally meets her match, with Mr Crawley and Dr Tempest; Major Henry Grantly, first met as a boy in The Warden and Barchester Towers,falls in love with Grace Crawley much against the wishes of the Archdeacon, although father and son are reconciled by the closing chapters.
The author reserved his greatest surprise, however, for his most famous character, Mrs Proudie. It has often been told how Trollope, writing this novel in the drawing room of the Athenaeum Club, was prompted to kill off the formidable lady upon hearing two clergymen calling his Barchester characters tired and overfamiliar. But it is worth noting that he had already been similarly attacked for this in the Saturday Review, so it is highly likely that Mrs Proudie's death had been planned some time earlier. Whatever the motives, the chapter describing Mr Thimble's discovery of Mrs Proudie's body, upright, one arm clasped around the bedpost, with her eyes wide open, is a tour-de-force; even in death Mrs Proudie dominates. Trollope, by all reports, regretted killing her off:
'I have never dissevered myself from Mrs Proudie, and still live much in company with her ghost'.
But he had already begun to concentrate instead on the Pallisers, and was also concerned with resigning from the Post Office in order to devote himself to writing. In letting go of Barsetshire, and his favourite characters, he was making conscious changes in his own life. He said of The Last Chronicle of Barset that
'I regard this as the best novel I have written ... there is a true savour of English life all through the book'.
Publication Price: £40.00/$80.00
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