As I said earlier I set some reading goals for myself for 2015. Having never done this before I knew it would be quite interesting to see how many books I would actually read from my original list. I’m happy to report that I finished the first book from the list, Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. And not only that, I also read another, The Warden, by Trollope. Unfortunately that book wasn’t on my original list … so does it count?
The Warden is the first book in a series of 6, also known as The Chronicles of Barsetshire, and Barchester Towers, which is actually the most famous of the series, is the second.
Anthony Trollope was a contemporary of Charles Dickens and at the time his books were very popular. He wrote more than 45 novels in addition to numerous short stories, essays, and even some non-fiction.
|Portrait of Anthony Trollope by Samuel Lawrence, circa 1864|
The Chronicles of Barsetshire take place in 1850’s England and revolve around the fictional county of Barsetshire, of which Barchester, a cathedral town, is located. Since the books revolve around the cathedral and many of the main characters are clergy you will find all manner of Anglican ecclesiastical terms. If you are as unfamiliar as I was with Anglican hierarchy you can expect a fair amount of confusion. Among the terms in the book that can be perplexing are bishops, deacons, archdeacons, vicars, prebendaries, canons, chaplains, curates, deans, precentors, and probably a few more that escape me at the moment. Just what is the difference between all of them? About the only term that I had a solid understanding of before I began reading was bishop. Trollope is not much help either, as he does not define any of them, expecting his readers to understand and know the differences.
I read both books on a Kindle and many times I wished that I’d had either a good hard copy with footnotes at the bottom of the pages explaining terms and historical context, or I had invested more than $0.99 for the Kindle version of the complete Barsetshire series. Instead I relied on the built in dictionary on the Kindle, which was somewhat helpful, and found Google to be indispensable, with this site helping with simple definitions.
I began my reading with Barchester Towers but after reading maybe 3 or 4 chapters, I decided to go back and read The Warden first. I’m so glad I did. The Warden properly introduces the reader to the main characters who will follow later in Barchester Towers, and I presume beyond. And it makes sense to begin at the beginning after all!
The Warden is primarily the story of Mr. Harding, the warden, or trustee, of the hospital. The word hospital as it’s used in the book is not used in the same context as most would normally think of a hospital. Mr. Harding’s hospital was more of a nursing home, or alms-house.
In the opening pages of The Warden we learn that John Hiram, who died in 1434, left a will that provided estates that were to be farmed and rented. Over the subsequent 400 plus years the terms of the will were being followed, more or less. And the proceeds of the rentals went to provide support for
“…twelve superannuated wool-carders, all of whom should have been born and bred and spent their days in Barchester; he also appointed that an alms-house should be built for their abode, with a fitting residence for a warden, which warden was also to receive a certain sum annually out of the rents of the said butts and patches…”
None of the current 12 men were actually retired wool-carders but they were men in good standing, with good reputations who had worked all their lives in and around Barchester. All in all it was a good arrangement for all concerned. The men were cared for, their material and spiritual needs met, and the warden was supplied with a good living. But then trouble rears its ugly head and the book is the story of that trouble, and how it impacts Mr. Harding and the hospital.
To say that Mr. Harding was my favorite character would be an understatement. In fact after finishing both The Warden and Barchester Towers he remains my favorite character.
The second book of the series, Barchester Towers, was a delightful read. Trollope incorporates sarcasm and humor throughout. He pokes fun with many off-hand comments and has an often dry and understated sense of humor. He often speaks directly to the reader. While he’s narrating the story he will suddenly turn to the reader, and give behind the scenes information and details. He even reveals, what is coming ahead, many chapters before it actually happens, in order that “the reader won’t be mislead.” You would think this would somehow spoil the story but it has just the opposite effect. He makes it plain, that although the readers know what is coming the characters in the book do not, so we get to watch it unfold.
I laughed out loud many times.
Like John Bunyan of Pilgrim’s Progress, Trollope gives names to some of his characters that define who they are…
Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful ~ the parents of 14 living children
Dr. Fillagrave ~ Would you want him as your doctor?
Bishop Proudie ~ Bishop of Barchester … Can you guess which virtue he is lacking?
Mrs. Proudie ~ also referred to as the “Bishop of Barchester” “priestess” and “her lordship”
The Lookaloft family ~ simple farmers who think very highly of themselves
Farmer Greenacre ~ perfect name for a farmer, don’t you think?
The book tells the story of the coming of Bishop and Mrs. Proudie to Barchester, along with Mr. Slope, the Bishop’s chaplain, the major villain in the story. Interactions between the bishop, his wife, Mr. Slope, Mr. Harding, and his son in law, Archdeacon Grantly cause all manner of distress. The story of Eleanor, the young widow and youngest daughter of Mr. Harding, and the 3 men who wish to marry her is also woven throughout the book.
This was one of those books in which I kept pestering my husband and daughters to allow me to read a passage to them; “Oh, please, can I just read you one paragraph? Please?” The story was so enjoyable I just had to share it!
I don’t want to give the story away so I won’t say too much more. Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed these books. And I hope to continue on through the rest of the series. But before I read any more about the comings and goings of Barchester I decided I’d better read another book on my original list. I don’t want to get too side-tracked after all.
Have you read any Anthony Trollope novels? If not, I hope I’ve encouraged you to include these books on your list of “to be read.”