Barchester Towers (1857)

by Anthony Trollope

Perhaps the best known of Trollope’s 47 novels, Barchester Towers introduced two of his most memorable characters, the hypocritical Obadiah Slope and the insufferable Mrs. Proudie, wife of the bishop. Characters met in The Warden return—among them, Archdeacon Grantly and Mr. Harding and his daughter Eleanor.

This second novel in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series satirizes the infighting between Church of England clergy in the fictional cathedral town of Barchester. The bishop dies; a change of government in London keeps his High Church son, Archdeacon Grantly, from succeeding him as expected. The Low Church–leaning Thomas Proudie becomes bishop and, on his wife’s recommendation, brings Slope on as personal chaplain. It’s not long before Slope and Mrs. Proudie, who considers herself co-bishop, offend Grantly and Harding.

As in The Warden, the position of warden of Hiram’s Hospital is the center of controversy. The bishop thinks about reappointing Harding, but the bishop is weak and doesn’t enforce his choice. Mrs. Proudie favors a clergyman with 14 children. Changing his preference with his perceived self-interest, Slope argues for Harding when he finds out Harding has a wealthy widowed daughter, and in doing so he makes an enemy of his former patron, Mrs. Proudie.

Out of decency, Eleanor doesn’t rebuff Slope’s attention, naively oblivious of his motives for addressing her. Her father, sister, and brother-in-law misinterpret her behavior and are horrified that she might marry Slope. While pursuing Eleanor, Slope can’t stay away from Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, the beautiful, disabled younger daughter of another diocesan prebendary. Madeline’s sister plots to marry off Eleanor to her brother to solve his money problems.

It’s all good fun; Trollope is satirical without being cynical. His characters may not face moral dilemmas as serious as those of his Victorian contemporaries, but he is their equal in what he knows about human nature.


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