I just finished the fifth book in the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge for 2017. And it was a joy to read. Another Anthony Trollope book. Anybody who knows anything about me knows I am a Trollope fan and this most recent title was another winner!
The Three Clerks, published in 1857 in three parts, falls under the category of a book with a number in the title. It was the third book Trollope published after The Warden and Barchester Towers.
This is the story of three clerks who are all employed in England’s civil service system. Interestingly, the novel is often referred to as the most autobiographical of any of his works. He, too, worked in the civil service system, as a clerk in the Postal Service which certainly gave him first hand experiences to draw from.
Some of the funniest parts of the story revolve around the bureaucracy of government jobs and the examinations necessary for employment. I laughed out loud frequently and even my husband, who graciously submitted to my reading portions to him, and a civil servant himself, appreciated the humor too.
Harry Norman and Aleric Tudor are employed in the Weights and Measures Office, while Charley Tudor, Aleric’s cousin, is employed in the office of the Internal Navigation, an office whose employees are not particularly known for upright living.
In addition to the three clerks there are also three sisters, Gertrude, Linda, and Katie Woodward who figure largely in the lives of these three clerks. Their stories of love and unrequited love are woven throughout the novel.
Aleric Tudor’s story is the most prominent of the three men. His rise in the ranks of the civil service, his marriage to one of the sisters, his misadventures with stocks and trading, his ambition and greed, his unscrupulous handling of money, and the consequences he suffers as a result make up a large portion of the story. I found myself both sympathizing with him and wanting to shake him at various times throughout the book.
This story contains all of the typical Trollope-ness that I’ve come to love and appreciate; humor, sarcasm, making snide comments about the characters, and speaking directly to the reader. He has no qualms about passing judgment on the actions of a character.
Trollope, as usual, comes up with some funny names for his characters, my favorites of which are Mr. Gitemthruet a defense lawyer, and Mr. Neverbend, an official who believes even meals should be conducted with work in front of you. How would you like him for a boss?
One character, Undecimus Scott (Undy, for short) is the villain of the story. It has been observed by many Trollope fans that the characters you find on the pages of a Trollope novel are neither ALL good nor ALL bad, but in the case of Undy that is not so. He is ALL bad. Several pages are devoted exclusively to comparing him to Bill Sikes, Dickens’ infamous villain of Oliver Twist. Trollope would like nothing better than to see Undy, “swinging from a gibbet at the broad end of Lombard Street…” And I quite agree!
There is one character, however, whose reactions I found difficult to swallow on occasion; Katie Woodward, the youngest of the three sisters. I’m afraid my twenty-first century sensibilities had difficulty with her at times and I thought Trollope took it a bit too far.
(Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to say something critical of my beloved Trollope?)
Without going into detail I will just say that she was hard to take every now and then. I wanted to tell her to just get a grip!
That said, this is a book whose pages I’d gladly revisit! The story is fun, laugh out loud fun at times, and at other times a page turner. Towards the end I slowed my reading down as I have done before when I didn’t want the book to end too quickly.
This is another happily ever after Trollope novel well worth your time. Do not miss it!