Introduced by Kathryn Hughes
Illustrated by Bill Bragg
The most celebrated of Trollope’s Barsetshire novels is vividly brought to life by Bill Bragg’s characterful illustrations.
Till we can become divine, we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for a change we sink to something lower
When the kindly old bishop of Barchester dies, he does it at a most inconvenient time. The political ministry has changed, and instead of the mitre being offered to his son, the stern Dr Grantly, it goes to the ineffectual Proudie and his insufferable wife. In their wake comes the vile, power-hungry Obadiah Slope, determined to win himself a wealthy wife and to interfere in every aspect of church life. Barchester will never be the same again.
Barchester Towers continues the story of Eleanor and her father Septimus Harding from The Warden, but it introduces a host of other characters, delightfully comic and appalling by turns. The manipulative Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni, who reclines on a sofa all day, but ensnares plenty of hearts; the anxious Mrs Quiverful with her 14 children to maintain; Miss Thorne, obsessed with reviving the art of jousting… The inhabitants of Barchester are irresistible, and never more so than when they are locked in furious struggle.
No one dissects 19th-century English society and the machinations of Church politics with more subtlety and humour than Trollope. In this, one of his finest works, he exposes the absurdities and vanities of both parties. Yet while his pen is razor-sharp, his heart is gentle – Trollope always shows the reader the kinder values that should prevail, as they do in the happy ending he offers to his best-loved characters.
‘One of the most acute and humane chroniclers of public and private life in the High Victorian period’
Click here to read a blog post by the illustrator, Bill Bragg.
‘I almost fear’, wrote Anthony Trollope in Framley Parsonage, ‘that it will become necessary, before this history be completed, to provide a map of Barsetshire for the due explanation of all these localities.’ In his Autobiography, Trollope reveals that he began work on such a map during the writing of Framley Parsonage (1860). Yet Trollope’s sketch did not come to light until 1927, when it was reproduced in Michael Sadleir’s Trollope: A Commentary. Before 1927, Trollope scholars had puzzled over the inconsistencies within the Barsetshire novels, in which the wealth of geographical detail is sometimes vague or contradictory: the eagleeyed reader will notice a moving cathedral, a shrinking distance between two villages and a railway with an implausible detour built into its tracks.
Ronald Knox, who continued Trollope’s Barsetshire narrative in his own novel Barsetshire Pilgrimage (1935), first mapped the fictional county in 1922. American enthusiast Spencer van Bokkelen Nichols published his critical essay ‘The Significance of Anthony Trollope’ in 1925, featuring a map based on his research into the texts and painted by George F. Muendel. When Trollope’s sketch was published, various differences between this and earlier maps were immediately clear, most noticeably the placing of Greshamsbury, which Nichols and Knox located in west Barsetshire, but which Trollope drew in the east. The map reproduced as endpapers to the Folio edition is based on Trollope’s sketch and was drawn by Lynton Lamb, an English author, lithographer and illustrator who designed book covers, postage stamps and posters, and exhibited at the 1951 Festival of Britain.
‘In the writing of Barchester Towers I took great delight,’ recalled Anthony Trollope in his Autobiography and, indeed, you can feel that pleasure bubbling up in every line of the book. Barchester Towers is not a cruel or satirical cackle so much as a gentle pondering of the absurdities of life, whether or not you happen to wear a clerical collar or know someone who does. Who can forget the great comic creations of Mrs Proudie, the interfering bishop’s wife, or Obadiah Slope, her appalling chaplain who oozes clamminess and spiritual pride? And then there are all those other Barchestonians, associated with the Church by community and familial ties, who are struggling to come to terms with the blistering pace of social and institutional change. Some characters, like Francis Arabin, will accommodate themselves to the new order without compromising themselves, others, like Miss Thorne, the squire’s sister, will find themselves forever bewildered and left behind. Trollope charts their journeys with a blend of perception and empathy that gives a sense of wholeness to the book. For many devoted readers Barchester Towers is quite simply the jewel in the Trollopian crown.
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