Monday, January 29, 2018

The Chronicles of Barsetshire

I've finally finished reading all of Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire and Palliser novels. Trollope is enjoying a resurgence of popularity and I know lots of others are reading these books. This post is a little summary of the Barsetshire novels, to be followed with a second post about the Palliser series.

The Chronicles of Barsetshire are all set in and around the fictional cathedral town of Barchester, located somewhere in the southwest part of England. As far as series are concerned, this one is loosely constructed. Some key characters appear in each novel, but each one has an independent story line and works more or less as a stand alone.

The Warden (1855) Many Trollope readers express affection for this short (for Trollope) novel. It introduces us to the characters who will feature in all the following Barsetshire books and who can help but love the kindly Mr. Harding, the novel's main character. This book is about a manufactured church scandal. Mr. Harding presides over a "hospital" (really just a charitable home) for indigent old men. He receives a handsome salary and free house in exchange. The papers get ahold of the story and present it as a scandal of monstrous proportions - blood sucking clergyman getting rich on backs of old men, etc. Mr. Harding's daughter Susan is married to archdeacon Grantley, and the Grantleys are the family around which all the Barsetshire novels revolve. There's also a love story concerning Mr. Harding's younger daughter Eleanor, and the church reformer John Bold.

Barchester Towers (1857) In this novel, the Grantleys grapple with the appointment of a new bishop of Barchester. Archdeacon Grantley is the son of the late bishop and has some expectation of filling the role himself. Instead, Bishop Proudie is appointed and he comes with an odious wife, Mrs. Proudie, who will provide entertainment in all the following Barchester novels. In addition, there's their sanctimonious assistant, Obadiah Slope, who pursues the widowed Eleanor Bold. (Alan Rickman played Obadiah Slope in the BBC series based on the Barsetshire Chronicles.)

Dr. Thorne (1858) This novel takes us outside of Barchester itself and away from the Grantleys. Dr. Thorne, respectable, but without an excess of money, lives with his niece Mary, who is illegitimate. Her mother is dead, her father unknown. Mary and Frank Gresham, the son of the local squire are in love. Frank's mother is one of the aristocratic de Courcy family and she is not going to accept a marriage with a penniless girl of dubious birth. This book has a plot twist that I don't want to spoil, but ultimately it's a satisfying love story and I've seen it mentioned several times as the favorite of the Barchester books.

Framley Parsonage (1860) I've seen people mention this as their least favorite Barchester novel, but I enjoyed it. It concerns the young clergyman Mark Robarts, who, although not born into any great wealth, enjoys a happy marriage and a position as the rector of Framley, which comes with a comfortable income. It's painful to watch him make a series of stupid financial mistakes and bring his family to the brink of ruin. Perhaps this is why some people have difficulty with this book. There's also a love story, involving Mark's sister Lucy and his friend, Lord Ludovic Lufton. This book has a secondary plot involving the marriage of Archdeacon Grantley's daughter Griselda, to Lord Dumbello, which allows for some brilliantly catty scenes between Mrs. Grantley and Mrs. Proudie. Finally, this novels ties up the story of Dr. Thorne in a most satisfying way.

The Small House at Allington (1864) A love triangle between Lily Dale, Johnny Eames, and the caddish Adolphus Crosbie. We also return to the family fortunes of the de Courcys from Dr. Thorne. I loved this book at the outset, but later grew frustrated with Lily Dale, who is absolutely bent on self-destruction. We are also introduced to Plantagenet Palliser, the young man who will be the focal character of the Palliser series. He considers (shocking!) a dalliance with the married Lady Dumbello, or Griselda Grantley of Framley Parsonage.

The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) This novel concerns Reverend Josiah Crawley, the curate of Hogglestock, a less-affluent region of Barsetshire. We first meet Mr. Crawley in Framley Parsonage, when his wife becomes ill and Lucy Robarts moves in to take care of her. The Crawleys are desperately poor, and Mr. Crawley is of a stern and upright nature and firmly resists any efforts to help him. In this book, Mr. Crawley is accused of stealing a check for fifty pounds. Now, it's obvious to everyone that Mr. Crawley is the last person to steal anything, but the stolen check is in his possession, he can't say how he got it, and he refuses to bestir himself to fight for his innocence. To add to Mr. Crawley's troubles are Mrs. Proudie and a sycophant clergyman who has an eye for stealing Crawley's curacy, once he's in jail. The love story (because there's always a love story) concern's Mr. Crawley's daughter Grace and Henry Grantley. The Grantleys all agree that Grace is a lovely girl, but they don't want to be connected with the daughter of an accused thief. We're also treated to the conclusion of the Lily Dale/Johnny Eames love story and some glorious angry scenes between Mrs. Proudie and Reverend Crawley.

I can't name a favorite Barsetshire novel. I loved them all. These books are the comforting sort that you long to get back to at the end of a long day, but not so comfortable that you're bored. You'll rage at the injustice that some characters face at the hands of Mrs. Proudie and others of her ilk, and you'll laugh as Trollope mocks annoying human traits that are easily recognizable among your own acquaintance.


  1. Oh girl, I agree, I love all the Barset novels and this post reminds me to read them all again. Mr. Harding is my favorite character in all fiction, and Lily Dale is very frustrating to me. I am now reading Trollope's Palliser novels and the first two are fabulous, as expected. I am in the Facebook Trollope group, are you?

    1. Yes! I'm in the Anthony Trollope Society facebook group. I mostly just lurk though.

  2. I loved everything about the Barsetshire novels... every single one of them! I'm making my way through the Pallisers now. After finishing 4 of 6, my preference is clearly Barsetshire.

  3. I'm currently alternating between YA books and books about wine. I probably should expand, but it's working for now.