Anthony Trollope – Barchester Towers (1857)

Septimus Harding’s daughter Susan is married to archdeacon Grantly (whose father, the Bishop, recently died). His other daughter, Eleanor, had married John Bold, who is dead, but she has a child. Mr. Slope, a chaplain to Dr. and Mrs. Proudie is the primary antagonist, embodying everything about the church that is back-handed and hypocritical. Dr. Proudie is inept and weak-willed, is ruled by his wife when he is not ruled by Slope.

Slope falls in love with Signora Neroni, who is part of the Stanhope family. She is a crippled femme fatale that married an Italian Prince of some sort. She demands that a couch be ready for her at all times and is likened to an immobile spider. Her brother, Bertie, is a loafer with no prospects. Along with Bertie and Slope, Mr. Arabin, a studious clergyman from Oxford, all try to woo Eleanor, who is the central heroine of this novel, along with her father, who is a strangely passive anti-hero. Not-taking is his credo…cf. ALF Open Secrets. [Compare with Vanity Fair “without a hero”]

Also of importance is the Thorne family living at Ullathorne. They are old gentry committed to merry old England, intimating a time before religious squabbles. Miss Thorne is a “druid,” and dreams of Sir Walter Scottesque events (that go horribly wrong). One senses their dominance, which is trumped only by Lady de Courcy, who enters the scene, intimating even grander titles. A similar escalation of power occurs in the conclusion, when the mystery of perferement spreads from the small town of Barchester to a “carpet in Windsor.”  The point here is that greater powers are maneuvering (or at best ignoring) the internal combustion of Slopes, Proudies and Grantlys.

The novel dissects the inner-workings of ecclesiastic strife: between evangelicals and those more sympathetic to papal forms. The narrator, who intervenes constantly with advice and commentary on his trade, seems reluctant, to bring about a conventional ending that nevertheless does occur. There is a disturbing coincidence between traditional hymeneal reconciliation and the settlement of property rights…as if the novel works against what Trollope himself wants to consistently deny—that is, that the good get what they deserve.

Narrator is constantly hedging his authority, drawing attention to his own qualified PERSPECTIVE (105 and 151 with regard to Slope; on 217 “point of view” is mentioned explicitly). Implies the both narrator and the reader hate Slope, thus implicating/constructing the reader. On (198) the reader is described as a tourist and Ullathorne’s windows are talked about at length [connect this with the frame/window scene in Emma]. This also connects with brief discourse on MIMESIS (167), in which narrator claims that no perfect representation is possible. “It is to be regretted that no mental method of daguerreotype or photography has yet been discovered by which the characters of men can be reduced to writing and put into grammatical language with an unerring precision of truthful description.” The concession is to the advantage of the novelist however, since it installs the REAL as something to be represented.

Narrator also draws attention to his role: now “following” a certain character (240); veiling (294, cf. Vanity Fair); narrative temporal constructions, “we must go back a little” (415); the progress and temporal expectation of the reader with regard to descriptive and interpretive labor (458);

The PRESS plays a huge role in arbitrating decisions. The Jupiter is the main organ, though it seems to be fairly disinterested (114). Registered as more powerful than clergy or state in determining popular opinion (at least in the Warden), though finally fails to set up Slope as dean.

PLOT: denigrates plot as most important/determinate feature. “The story shall have lost none of its interest” if you read the last couple of pages. Double-edged: b/c we already know what occurs, or because the knots Trollope ties are sufficiently frustrating to solicit a different type of reading. Novel CONVENTIONS are flaunted throughout: love-making (245)

Inside and outside: wit as a shell, etc. Contrast with “I believe in no belief that does not manifest itself in outward signs (246), as depth reading.

Trollope is prone to introduce his characters show-and-tell style, with plenty of warning that so-and-so is going to be important—unwilling to catch the reader off-guard. See description of Bertie (71)

PROPERTY is a central category. (192 for corn laws, free trade etc. the immaculate 53 that resisted the legislation in 1852)

Much is made of women and their agency. Signora is a Hermioniac statue throughout, tightly sealed impervious and penetrating (83, 85, as spider 242). Much attention given to tears, blushing, color, etc.

Interesting use of domestic space, converting pathetic fallacy into strangley ontic terms: uncomfortable conversation becomes correlated with a cramped drawing room. (84)

Humor works by compressing the grand and the petty. For example, Signora’s demand for a sofa (77) Also (234)

Critique of senseless sermons, platitudes, etc. (46)

A lot of wine is drunk, including champagne, claret, marsala, etc. usually associated with release, festivity, rashness, but also says something about the subject-matter characteristic of Trollope novel: the landed and professional class. (63, 78)

Wages: Money domaintes, much as it does in Vanity Fair, but the stakes are different, more fundamental. Here, the very concept of wage is thrown into question (98), or perhaps it just becomes a question. ??? All this is associated with the NEW (103), “carting away the useless rubbish of past centuries.” Trollope associated this new with a paired down, formless Puritanism. Ironically, Harding refuses the position of dean precisely because he is unable to accommodate the new.

Mentions “pulpy gelatinous matter,” I assume in reference to primordial soup. (160)

David Skilton (2005) points out that Trollope primarily dealt with the professional and landed class: even in his day, critics thought that his novels would be historical time-capsules for future generations. One reviewer described his portrayal of English upper-middling as a “natural history” of social man. The accuracy of his depiction, the concreteness of detail, the attention os mall things make country communities tick, have caused some modern readers to impose the nostalgic gaze on Trollope’s fiction: but Barchester, one should note, is being encroached on by modernity: it exists in the time of the train. Further, his characters are not from the tight enclosure of Southern England, but include people from australia and the other colonies.  Further, the economies of these communities is far from stable: all characters are at risk of sinking into poverty, even if they are able to also socially rise. Trollope is also modern, almost post-modern, to the degree that he is self-conscious about novelistic construction. Henry James called his frequent allusions to the “rude mechanicals” of fiction-making “suicidal.” In this way, the fictional and social convention are shown to just that: fictional, covering over, suturing the rapidly changing structure of Victorian England. Beneath the comedy of manner is the transience of social change.


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