Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope was published in 1857. This is the second book in a series of six books set in the fictitious cathedral town of Barchester, collectively known as The Chronicles of Barsetshire. This is the best known and perhaps the most popular book from the series.
Barchester Towers tells of the ‘upheaval’ caused by arrival of the new Bishop, Bishop Proudie, in Barchester. The new Bishop’s wife and his chaplain’s struggle for power, the many suitors of Eleanor Bold and her family’s anxiety over them, the return of Dr Stanhope and family after an interval of twelve years and much more form the rest of the story.
The book preceding Barchester Towers in the series is The Warden. In many ways Barchester Towers is a direct continuation of The Warden. The main problem faced by the characters in The Warden gets constantly mentioned in BarchesterTowers. It is because of that that this book can be read as a stand alone work. The plot of the first book becomes pretty much clear after it has been discussed from so many different angles so many times.
How Eleanor Bold’s private life goes out of control was interesting to watch. Eleanor and her family do not speak their mind but keep assuming things when clear communication could have cleared everything up. Their anger, egotistical behaviour and refusal to admit mistakes felt real.
Among the characters I found Eleanor Bold, Archdeacon Grantly and Mrs. Grantly to be irritating at times and insipid at others. Mr. Arabin felt one dimensional.
Mr. Harding is a good natured if weak character. Misunderstanding the nature of his favourite daughter and his subsequent reactions are quite apt for a man like him.
There are a bunch of villains in Barchester Towers but most of them are not completely black. They are streaked with shades of grey. Mrs Proudie with her meddling ways gets on most people’s nerves but the one thing she most bullies her husband about helps provide for large family in need. Signora Neroni surprised me. She is instrumental in bringing about many of the changes in the lives of the characters. What she does is apparently for her own amusement but she also brings about good in her own strange way. In the end she ends up playing sort of a fairy god mother to certain characters. Only Mr. Slope can be said to be without any redeeming qualities.
Mr. Slope is simply slimy. He is power hungry (but so is a lot of other people in this book), crafty and calculative. Of course, none of his complicatedly devious schemes bear any fruits but he is left undaunted by his failures.
Bertie Stanhope is the typical happy-go-lucky, ne’er-do-well son of the Stanhope family. His character is nothing novel. Charlotte Stanhope’s character felt wooden.
There are no, as one might say, ‘weak’ female characters in this book. Most of the women do as they please and most of the men in their lives are pretty much bullied into doing as they are told. There is just one man, Archdeacon Grantly, who is somewhat of a bully himself but even there his wife is his equal and his confidante. I found this way of portraying gender relations to be quite remarkable considering this is a Victorian novel. Of course, there are a few smatterings of lines like,
…She had found the strong shield that should guard her from all wrongs, the trusty pilot that should henceforward guide her through the shoals and rocks. She would give up the heavy burden of her independence, and once more assume the position of a woman and the duties of a trusting and loving wife… (Chapter Forty-nine- The Beelzebub Colt.)
But overall the women rule the roost and browbeat the men into submission.
This is one long book. My Penguin Popular Classics edition is more than 470 pages long.
I found Trollope to be extremely money minded. Issues such as who has how much money, who is poor and how they can get some money gets relentlessly examined. The fact that Eleanor Bold is young and pretty pales in comparison to the fact that she is rich. The rush to gain the hand of a rich woman in marriage is unbelievably aggressive!
Generally I love reading Victorian authors. At least three of my favourite authors come from that era. However I have a feeling Trollope may not become one of my favourites. Having said that I don’t dislike him either. I will read more of his books. I already have his Framley Parsonage (the fourth book in the series) on my shelf. Let’s see if I grow to like him better with time.
Overall I found Barchester Towers to be quite satisfactory if a bit tiresome at places.
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