I'm so pleased that there is currently some literary buzz about Anthony Trollope. (By "buzz" I mean that other bloggers are reading him and there's an Anthony Trollope Society facebook group.) His books are so pleasing and they deserve to be read. I was fortunate to have a college English professor assign us Barchester Towers in a British Lit class. I went into the assignment expecting to be bored and came out a decided Trollope fan.
Years later, I decided to read through all six novels in the Barchester Chronicles, got as far as Framley Parsonage, and gave up for some reason. So I added them (including Framley Parsonage as a re-read because I couldn't remember much about it) to my fifty classics list.
The Barchester Chronicles is a series of novels concerning church (and national) politics centered around the fictional cathedral town of Barchester, in the fictional British county of Barsetshire, which seems to be located vaguely west of London. The titles are:
The Warden (1855)
Barchester Towers (1857)
Doctor Thorne (1858)
Framley Parsonage (1861)
The Small House at Allington (1864)
The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)
"Church politics" sounds super-boring, but the novels are really gently comic romances. I hate to do the inevitable "Jane" comparison, but these novels do put one in the mind of Jane Austen's works in that they are heavily peopled with clergymen and each one involves a young lady in need of a husband. Trollope also had a Jane-level aptitude for poking fun at the foibles of human nature.
In Framley Parsonage, young Mark Robarts has it all. Educated since childhood with Lord Luften, the two men become good friends and as a result, Lord Luften's indomitable mother, Lady Luften provides him with the "living" (i.e. he becomes her vicar) of Framley and also finds for him an eminently suitable wife, Fanny. The living comes with a handsome income and Fanny and Mark settle down to married bliss, housekeeping and babies.
Unfortunately, Mark and Lord Luften are both young and foolish and fall into the clutches of their financially-embarrassed MP, Mr. Sowerby, who talks them into signing loans for him. Lord Luften, since he's a lord and all, can get out of the trouble with relatively little inconvenience, but Mark is brought to the brink of ruin and scandal. It is uncomfortable to read about some of the foolish things Mark does, and you have to keep reminding yourself that it's Trollope and everything will work out in the end.
The young lady in need of a husband is Lucy, Mark's sister, and her great romance is the second major plot line in the book. There are also numerous diverting side-plots, and in the last chapter ("How they all got married") there are four weddings for Trollope to relate.
Framley Parsonage is a stellar example of the comfort read, or a cozy book. All conflict is expressed in polite language. Two ladies who would like nothing better than to kill each other will still address each other as, "my dear." Indeed, Trollope is absolutely brilliant at depicting ladies at war, particularly the ongoing, cross-novel conflict between Mrs. Proudie, the Barchester bishop's wife and Mrs. Grantly, wife of the archdeacon. Delicious reading.