Barchester Towers is the second of the six novels which make up the Barsetshire Chronicles, a series that has as its background the conflict within the Church of England between the old High Church ways and the reforming evangelical school of thought.
Last year I read and enjoyed the first, The Warden, which was my introduction to Anthony Trollope's work.
The story begins five years after the events in The Warden. The old bishop dies and his son, Archdeacon Grantly, fully expects to step into his shoes but instead a newcomer from London, Bishop Proudie, is appointed. The new bishop is a 'henpicked husband' and soon his ambitious, domineering wife and his smarmy, scheming domestic chaplain, Mr Slope, are plotting together to influence and control the decisions of the diocese and splitting the community into factions in the process.
Mr Harding and his daughter, Eleanor, once again find themselves reluctantly at the centre of the action. Eleanor is now a mother and a widow of independent means with an annual income very attractive to potential suitors, including the obnoxious Mr Slope....
.....and Bertie Stanhope, the son of Dr Stanhope, a clergyman who went to Italy for a brief stay and spent twelve years fishing on Lake Como. The family also includes the crippled but alluring Madeline who likes to have the attention of every man focused on herself.
Anthony Trollope's style is unique and I love it. He satirizes and caricatures but in a gentle way that reveals the good and bad traits in human nature that are as relevant today as they were then. He rivals Dickens in giving some of his characters appropriate names - Dr Fillgrave and Mr Quiverful with his brood of fourteen children. It's a very funny book - a comedy of manners, intrigues and romance that reaches a climax with the brilliant portrayal of Miss Thorne's Fete Champetre which lasts for several chapters and had me laughing all the way.
I know many readers don't care for his habit of talking directly to the reader but I rather like the feeling of intimacy it gives. Barchester Towers is delightful reading - I loved it and must ensure I don't wait another six months before picking up the next in the series.
The Classics Club