The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

by Anthony Trollope

The Last Chronicle of Barset is the conclusion of Anthony Trollope's six-volume Barsetshire series, set in a fictional English cathedral town, and the book he regarded as his best novel. If you think Trollope is all about lightweight poking fun at ridiculous people, this book will disabuse you of that preconception. There's very poignant suffering of the main character and his family. Josiah Crawley is a conscientious but absent-minded clergyman; when he cashes a check that maybe wasn't supposed to be his and is accused of theft, he can't come up with a convincing recollection of how he came to get it. He's a complex character: poor but proud, religious but gloomy, courageous, stubborn, perhaps half-mad. His long-suffering wife comes close to sainthood as she tries to bolster his self-respect in the face of ecclesiastical persecution and public suspicion. His older daughter won't marry the man she loves because she doesn't want her family's shame to taint his family.

Of course, since it's Trollope, there are also people to scorn, particularly Mrs. Proudie, the wife of the bishop, who would be laughable if she did not do real harm. That virago (Trollope's own word for her), who appears in previous Barsetshire books, in this one gets her comeuppance — in more ways than one.

The bishop's spouse isn't the only strong wife in the book, and the others are more admirable. Mrs. Crawley, wife of the accused clergyman, has already been mentioned. Mrs. Grantly, wife of the archdeacon, manages her husband's temper with level-headedness and wisdom. In truth, the women for the most part come off looking better than the men. You might even respect Lily Dale, at the center of one of the subplots, for not marrying Johnny Eames even though she loved him "next to mamma . . . better than all the world" (a comment that hints at what was lacking in her feelings toward him).

If you come to love the characters in this book, you can find more of them in the earlier Barsetshire books (The Warden, 1855; Barchester Towers, 1857; Doctor Thorne, 1858; Framley Parsonage, 1861; The Small House at Allington, 1864). Despite the recurring characters, the books can be read separately, as is also true of Trollope's Pallister series, which feature politicians rather than clergy. Trollope (1815–82) wrote 47 novels, and his style is straightforward and lucid, giving a fan lots of easy-going — yet substantive — reading.


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