Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 · Books

Reading Challenge 2017: Fifth Book Review

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!



7 thoughts on “Reading Challenge 2017: Fifth Book Review

  1. Yes, I feel your reluctance in criticizing Trollope. Any writer that could come up with a character as adorable as Mr. Harding is surely without fault?

    But, ahem, this title is actually my least favorite the books I have read so far. I found it pretty uneven: first all the emphasis is on Alaric, then on Charley and poor Harry…I guess he is too dull to write about? Katie bothered me less. Consider she is a teenager in a society that encourages hysterical behavior in women, it didn’t seem so far-fetched.


    1. There weren’t enough pages in the book to fully develop the 6 “main” characters. I felt that Harry’s story had loose ends hanging…like did he ever come to terms with his resentment towards Aleric and now that he’s married doesn’t he feel that it all ended in his favor after all?

      Katie’s reactions did bug me. But I suppose looking at it the way you suggested does make more sense.

      So how many Trollope novels have you read?

      And still my favorite Trollope character is Mr. Harding, and Dr Thorne comes in second! But I have many more books to read so who knows if Mr Harding will remain on top.


      1. I haven’t read too much Trollope when you consider his compete oeuvre. I have read the complete Barsetshire series, the first in the Palliser series and then two stand alones: The Three Clerks and He Knew He Was RIght.

        So far Mr. Harding still has my heart. But I think he always will because The Warden was the first Trollope I read and I am sentimental about those kind of things!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I like Trollope a lot, but I criticize the early novels like this one pretty easily. The structure of this one is loose; he’s too often merely facetious; some funny names work (Chaffenbrass = to chaff (tease) + took a lot of brass to show his face here) but others not so much (The lawyer Getimthruit). I’d read this one again, mainly for the rogue epicurean Alaric, who never let worry spoil his pleasures. My review is at:

      Liked by 1 person

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