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Barchester Towers

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(1857)


The second of six novels in Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire; The Warden (1855), Doctor Thorne (1858), Framley Parsonage (1861), The Small House at Allington (1864), and The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867).


Good heavens! Dr Grantly’s father is about to pass on and the bishop’s seat will become vacant. And that just at the time the government is about to fall and a new possibly Low Church minded one will come in. If he doesn’t go soon, all sorts of things could happen. When the new bishop Dr Proudie and his wife move in with their slimy chaplain Mr Slope, word gets out that the she bishop and her chaplain are raving evangelicals who love the word ‘Sabbath’ (who cares about your own opinions indeed, bishop?). They are on a clear collision course with the high and dry Grantly faction. Certainly when a new warden for Hiram’s hospital has to be appointed, now on a reduced income. Of course it is Mr Harding who will take his rightful post again, but is it, under the conditions which Mr Slope alleges are the bishop’s wish? Dr Grantly will not stand this petticoat government, and thus duly appoints Mr Slope’s archenemy Mr Francis Arabin to a vacant curacy under his jurisdiction. But alas! Disaster strikes when Mr Harding’s own now widowed daughter Eleanor is consorting with the enemy, Mr Slope! And that is not all. With £1,000 per annum at her own disposal, she is not only the object of Mr Slope’s desire (who would now move heaven and earth to counter Mrs Proudie in her wish for another meeker warden to the hospital), but she is also the object of the superficial Stanhope family: the disastrous products of a disinterested prebendary who has spent way too much time at Lake Como. As things all come together at pastoral Ullathorne and the old dean dies, maybe the bishop is not so bad after all and Eleanor may be given more credit, although it will not be down to Miss Thorne’s skill in matchmaking. And Dr Grantly was wrong, fiddlesticks! The quarrels of the High and Low Church play in the background of a delightful novel with beautiful prose and lovely deconstructive remarks, quite unique for 1857.--Submitted by kiki1982.


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For what it's worth - The Vicomte de Bragelonne

As much fun as Trollope is, I think there is something the editor in my Penguin edition has missed. In volume 2, chapter 4 Mr Arabin reads himself in at St Ewold's, Trollope mentions that, while walking through the gardens of Ullatorne Court, Mr Arabin 'explained to Mrs Bold the difference between a naiad and a dryad.' Apart from a naiad being a water nymph and a dryad being one living in oaks, it made me instntly think of Dumas's 1500-page novel Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, which features his courtier and raconteur Mr le Comte de Saint-Aignan telling a story about essentially the king and his mistress-to-be Mlle de la Vallière as well as himself and Montalais, I think. Together with Mlle de Tonnay-Charente, she and Vallière are the three ladies in waiting of Madame, the English wife of the king's brother Monsieur. The interesting thing about this passage in the novel is that you can almost cut the atmosphere. The reason being that Madame used to be the king's mistress, but as her husband was making problems, she told the king that he had to court another woman (La Valli§re, because she looked to innocent) in order to divert the attention. Of course the courting wouldn't be really genuine. He does, but falls in love and Vallière was already in love. When Madame discovers that the love is essentially reciprocal, she is furious and tells Vallière off, but of course the king is not going to have any of it and Madame is angry. Together with her mother-in-law she tries to expose the king, but doesn't succeed. This is where de Saint-Aignan's story ties in. He cleverly tells Madame to bugger off, makes his love for Montalais known and Dumas makes his character shine and sparkle. Monsieur, who is gay, is of course totally oblivious to the situation. The rumours which abound about innocent Eleanor Bold's preference for Mr Slope, Bertie Stanhpe who is also set on marrying her, Mr Slope's courtship of la Signora Neroni and Mr Arabin's quiet but as yet unaware liking for Eleanor, form a clear web, clearly similar to that of Dumas's novel. Mr Arabin is not so sparkly as Mr de Saint-Aignan, but he is definitely a pleasant man and soft man, not two-faced like Mr Slope, nor just a smooth talker like Bertie Stanope, nor even a hard and opinionated man like Dr Grantly, nor either a man essentially too soft and a tad naive like Mr Harding. The latter would have the bread stolen from his mouth if anyone asked for it. But this is not all, the similarities I think must go deeper. Le Vicomte de Bragelonne was not solely about love intrigue, it was about the making of a good king. D'Artagnan finds himself serving a king who doesn't appreciate him. Offers him his resignation. At the very start, the king wonders why D'Artagnan has called for a carriage 'he didn't ask for it'. D'Artagnan tells him he believed that's what he would want and resent the king for such a question. Surely, the task of a good servant is to anticipate? But things come to a head when the king rejects Athos's petition for marriage of his son and Vallière, who have been in love since they were teenagers. The king is selfish and wants Vallière for himself alone, throws Athos in prison and bannishes Raoul to the front line SPOILER where he is ultimately killed SPOILER OVER. The point is that the king misuses his authority for his own agenda. D'Artagnan resents him for it again. In the meantime, all kinds of other people are taking advantage of the king, such as his first minister Fouquet who is stealing from the treasury. At the point where the plot of Aramis and Fouquet (I believe) comes to a high and SPOILER the replacement king is discovered SPOILER OVER, the culprits are surrounded on an island and it is D'Artagnan who will have to capture them, dead or alive (probably dead). It is then that he sees himself mastered by a king who is more intelligent than he thought, and who knows him better than he thought he was able to due to lack of interest. It is only then that he respects his superior and it is then that he will obtain his right reward. It is then that Louis XIV will really shine as the great king he was. I believe this theme is also there in Barchester Towers. Volume 1, chapter 3 Dr and Mrs Proudie mentions 'the hospitality so peculiarly recommended to all bishops by St Paul' from 1 Timothy III, 2. However, here the editor missed a huge thing staring the readers of Barchester Towers in the face: namely that St Paul also says that a bishop should rule his own house, because how else can he be expected to lead the church properly. Indeed Bishop Proudie does not. Up till now, he has been told by his wife Mrs Proudie what to do, and he is about to be managed by his chaplin Mr Slope. Although Mr Slope is set to leave at the end, SPOILER Mr Harding is set to become dean SPOILER OVER and Mrs Proudie is already set to lose her precedence over her lord (as she calls him) halfway the novel. I wonder whether the bishop who has been portrayed as feckless until now is about to make a stand, as king Louis XIV in Dumas's Vicomte. Then he will not be the laughing stock he is any longer and be his own man, will get his due respect. I wonder...

Whatever happened to La Signiora Neroni?

Barchester Towers is one of the best books I've ever read. It is the best known novel in the Chronicles of Barset series. I am particularly overwhelmed by two female characters: the Bishop's wife and La Signora Neroni. The Bishop's wife is absolutely credible but La Signora Neroni is as rare as gold on Mars. (We need more strong women like her!). I was never fed up with the Bishop's wife although I cringed every time she interrupted the Bishop; I am sorry that Trollope, spurred on by an irate reader, has her die of a heart attack in the sixth novel. As far as La Signora Neroni is concerned, I only regret she never shows up in the subsequent novels of the series. A woman that amazing, endowed with the virtue of solertia, would have had so many unmasking replies for some of the men who try to fool others, like Mr. Slope, a real Tartuffe. One of the difficulties for readers is getting into the initial flow of the book. One should read the first chapter attentively, with curiosity about who will be the next bishop. And, although not absolutely necessary, it helps first to read The Warden , a short book in which many of the characters are introduced and the situation is set up for what happens at the outset in Barchester Towers: the delayed, but untimely, death of the old bishop. The other four books in the series have less need of being read in sequence. Those involved in church "politics" will also enjoy Barchester Towers immensely. This will provide a real catharsis for them, rarely found elsewhere.

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