Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
Last post I said that the only Trollope I had in hard copy was The Warden. I was wrong. I also had #123 Barchester Towers.
At night it was hard to read the spine on this book, as you can see it is dark. But I discovered it when I put The Warden back. Happily, this is the next in the Barsetshire series, so I figured it was fated that I read it.
This edition is a 1945 Doubleday Literary Guild version.
It has lots of color illustrations – these, I strongly suspect, were added in this edition. I enjoyed them, although of course, the people didn’t look how I imagined them. But I found it interesting to think of them how the artist created them. I actually probably don’t tend to visualize faces or even, really, body types as I read (do you?).
It also has lots of little line drawings. Again, I don’t think these are original (so to speak). The color and black and white picture style reminded me so much of the books I read growing up – I think it is a style from the mid-century (20th) and maybe earlier. Because I was a desperate reader (and by this I mean that I had to always be reading in a spare moment – I read and re-read cereal boxes at breakfast – and lived in an area with a small, but excellent library which I exhausted) I read lots of older books. These came from my parents (Laddie of Sunnybank Farms and the whole Albert Payson Turhune series – note many are in the public domain and free for laptops and ereaders), grandparents (I inherited some of my grandparents’ 19th century childrens books that they gave me as a child), and as gifts (I got a classic children’s book series that my parents picked up at an auction – do you know the one, I’ve found it in recent years, but couldn’t today – it had Toby Tyler (10 weeks in the circus) and Black Beauty, about 20 or so young adult books…). So, I was used to these kinds of drawings – it brought back memories.
Barchester Towers is not for the faint of heart – it is 500 pages long! I read it over the weekend. It continues the story of many people encountered in the first book – The Warden. Mr. Hardy and his daughters Eleanor and Susan (Mrs. Grantly) are back, as is Archdeacon Grantly. Funny that Trollope gave Dickens such a hard time for his characterizations – Trollope is more subtle with people’s descriptions, but he takes just as much liberty with names! The bishop and his wife are the Proudies. There is a doctor named Dr. Fillgrave. And a man with 14 children named Mr. Quiverful (did you know there is a current Quiverfull movement in the US – it aims to encourage people to have big families. I suspected Trollope didn’t invent the name – a quick Wikipedia check says that this is a recent movement, but based on a biblical quote: “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them [them being children]” – but maybe he did… I couldn’t find earlier roots (other than the biblical one).
Barchester Towers is a good, long romp. Trollope wraps his reader around his little finger – getting you caught up in the plight of Mr. Hardy (will he or won’t he get his wardenship back?) – in what has to the longest sequence of ups and down, tricks, and other roller coaster rides in the history of literature. You see so many people ostensibly working to do one thing, doing the thing that will undo themselves, out of pride. In the course of reading Trollope you get something of an education in the Church of England and other 19th century issues – the Corn Laws, for instance, and high versus low church (a huge! issue at the time and in the book). You don’t HAVE to understand the references, but I found consulting Wikipedia a few times on the ins and outs of things very helpful – it helped me understand the subtleties. I’m not a religious person, so if Trollope can make the intricacies of Anglican doctrine interesting to me, he can fascinate anyone. Actually, I always really enjoy fleshing out and connecting the dots – things you have a word for or a little bit about, but getting more of a sense of the context and details. That was an enjoyable aspect of the book for me. As always, Trollope is incomparable at portraying power relations. I was thinking that we could move the story to a university and it would work PERFECTLY.
I do have to say, and I’m not the first to say it, Trollope got a bit wordy with this book (500 pp!) – it would have been a better book at 300 or 400 pages. But he was learning his craft. I think he was flushed with the success of the much shorter (just right length) The Warden and gave himself license to overdo it a bit on this book. Many consider Barchester Towers his best book, but I think The Warden is better. They are both excellent, but The Warden is faster-paced and superb.
But patience rewards us, whether when reading a very good, lengthy book or when waiting with bated breath for another dog to drop a rawhide.
Happy Reading, Ruby