Barchester Towers

Yes, I’ve finished my first Classic! Let’s hope the keen spirit endures for the remaining 11 months. My first pick was Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers.

When I discovered this Classic

I concentrated on Victorian Literature for both my BA and PGDip, but Trollope never made it onto the reading lists. He was often mentioned as one of the great popular authors of his time in the secondary reading, so he’s been on my radar for years, but I never got around to reading his novels. Until now.

Why I chose to read it

Although he wrote a number of novels, Barchester Towers is the one I’d most often heard about, and I was curious to know why it was so popular.

What makes it a Classic

I think that this is probably a Classic in the sense of being old, and having been popular when it was newly published, rather than in the sense that it’s a novel, or a novelist, that is widely known anymore. Personally, I think it’s a Classic Victorian novel, in terms of its style (plenty of authorial digressions) and content (a social question examined through a romance in a country town).

What I thought of this Classic (may contain spoilers)

Although Barchester Towers is technically a sequel to The Warden, Trollope spends a lot of time providing context and introducing characters; while the reader doesn’t miss much by starting with Barchester Towers, the beginning is slow as a result. There is, at the same time, an expectation on Trollope’s part that his readers will understand the divisions within the Anglican church at that time. I followed all of this quite easily, but couldn’t help wondering what someone less familiar with Church history would make of it all. The novel did liven up once all of the main players had been introduced, and the final third turned into a romp of a romance that I could never have predicted from the opening. The characters were pleasingly complex, and the moral dilemmas were actual dilemmas – the choice of new warden for the hospital is more than just a battle between Mrs Proudie and Mr Slope, because both candidates are worthy of the post. I was annoyed that Trollope decided to spoil his own novel, by assuring us, immediately after introducing rival suitors for Eleanor, that she wouldn’t be marrying either of them, as I would have enjoyed the opportunity to agonise over her fate. Since Trollope was writing back in the days of triple deckers, when most people had to wait to borrow books from a lending library, perhaps he worried about losing readers if he didn’t give them a preview of the ending.

Will it stay a Classic

I’m not convinced that this will stay a Classic, or be much read outside of University courses, because the subject matter is unlikely to draw wide interest any more. That said, I enjoyed it enough that I’d love for it to prove me wrong.

Who I’d recommend it to

I feel like the subject matter is niche, and the style old-fashioned, so I’m not sure it would suit anyone who didn’t already read a lot of Victorian novels.

 

I’m moving on to short stories, and science fiction thrillers for the rest of January. My TBR Classics pile now consists of The Lusiads, Titus Groan, and Oliver Twist, but I’m thinking I may go with popular opinion, and pick out an Agatha Christie novel for February. Murder on the Orient Express, and And Then There Were None, are both front-runners, but please feel free to suggest others over the next few weeks.

Happy Reading!

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