September 24, 2002

The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire, by Anthony Trollope

I tend to enjoy long series of novels with complex plots and varied characters. Dorothy Dunnett and Sharon K. Penman's historical series are two examples. But 19th century British literature is also full of long, complex books that can totally wrap themselves around my imagination and allow me to live in the story while it lasts. This novel is roughly 900 pages long. It ties together the previous novels in the series so tightly that if you haven't read them you will miss much of the richness of the story and the subtle references made to the past. It's long and involved and very Victorian.

With that said, I barely could put it down long enough to eat or get some sleep. The essential storyline revolves around Rev. Josiah Crawley's indictment on theft charges for allegedly stealing a check and using it to pay off bills. Crawley is a perpetual curate in a Hogglestock, a small village on the periphery of Barsetshire. He and his wife and kids are near starvation and crushed under the shame of poverty--shame that is made much, much worse by the fact that he was raised a gentleman and is highly educated. But he has a fatal flaw. His gentleman's pride makes him refuse any help and his personality is so prickly with it that he puts off anyone wanting to help him. He even refuses a lawyer for the trial since he doesnÂ’t have the cash to pay for one and won't take the charity of his friends. And he has become depressed to the point of being nearly psychotic.

That's the skeleton that Trollope fleshes out with the love story of Grace Crawley and Henry Grantly, the adventures of Conroy Dalrymple and Clara Van Siever, the broken romance of Lily Dale and Johnny Eames and the marital relationships of Archdeacon Grantly and his wife and Bishop Proudie and his wife. Mrs. Proudie is absolutely the best female character I have read in a long time. She's an interfering, prideful, domineering, sneaky woman who so totally overwhelms her husband that she, in fact, is the real Bishop of Barsetshire and he only a figurehead. Everyone, including her husband, hates her with a passion. I did too. Her fate in the end is wonderfully apt. Trollope puts some hysterically funny episodes in this novel, including a scene where Johnny Eames, a minor character, has to escape the clutches of an admiring woman on the make for a husband by crawling out a window because her mother has locked him in. But when Trollope made Mrs. Proudie, he pulled out all the stops.

Posted by Deb English at September 24, 2002 06:34 PM