November 18, 2017


The Trials and Triumph of Trollope (Dwight Longenecker, 11/18/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Trollope began to write as he traveled around Ireland for his work. He wrote constantly and made himself a writing-desk so he could continue writing even while traveling by train. Persistent in his work he wrote in a letter during this period: "Pray know that when a man begins writing a book he never gives over.... The evil with which he is beset is as inveterate as drinking--as exciting as gambling." His determination, hard work, and eventual success makes him one of English literature's most prolific novelists and a prime candidate for patron saint of struggling writers.

Eventually, Trollope moved back to England, and after a spell working in Salisbury, he wrote his most famous work, the six-volume Chronicles of Barsetshire. Concerned with the intrigues of the cathedral clergy and the landed gentry, The Chronicles of Barsetshire portrays Victorian English life with all its high moral values and noble ideals as well as its greed, snobbery, and hypocrisy.

As a former priest of the Church of England, The Warden and Barchester Towers hold a favorite place in my library. The politics and personalities of the Victorian Church of England were still very much alive in the Church of England I inhabited in the 1980s and 1990s. I could name my own versions of the unctuous and ambitious Evangelical Rev. Mr. Slope (he added the 'e' to his name for euphony). I knew well the urbane and gentlemanly cathedral canons like Septimus Harding and the strident and striding Archdeacon Grantly. Anyone who had met a certain Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs. Archbishop would recognize the reincarnations of Bishop and Mrs. Proudie. My visits to the Church of England now are rare, but when I'm there I still espy the ghosts of Barchester haunting the towers of the Church of England today.

The third novel in Trollope's series is Doctor Thorne. This story veers away from the cathedral and deals with the hard times of the country doctor's niece, Mary. Having grown up with the children of the local squire, Gresham, she falls in love with his heir, Frank. Mary is lovely but illegitimate, and therefore an unworthy match for Frank. The Greshams are in dire straits because, while they are from the top drawer, their bottom line is blank. They are in debt to a local working-class man made good--the itchingly named Sir Roger Scratcherd. The plot unfolds with the poor aristocrats trying to marry money, and the rich parvenus longing for social acceptance. A fairly predictable plot twist means everyone lives happily ever after, but the work is a delightful turn on Victorian England, and for my money, is far more enjoyable than Dickens' often didactic and shallow fiction.

Amazon has launched into film production and recently hired the English Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes to produce a four-part film version of Trollope's tale. Filmed with the impeccable taste we have come to expect from British costume-dramas, the Amazon film features excellent acting, gorgeous British country homes, actors with cut-glass accents and drawing-room manners interrupted by boorish behavior and bold ambition.

Trollope's characters and plot are not cardboard cutouts. He is kind to all--observing the snobbery and greed with a tolerant, dry humor. Even the villains are shown to have some redeeming traits, and if they have faults they are caused by circumstances beyond their control. The terrible ones die humbly, and the frightful snobs are redeemed. And at the end of Fellowe's film version is a scene of repentance and forgiveness that is truly moving.

Posted by at November 18, 2017 6:52 AM