08 September 2011


Thank you, Michael Sullivan, for telling me to read Anthony Trollope's delightful Barchester novels--and for sending me a spare Everyman's Library copy of The Warden.

Thank you, Housing Works Bookstore, not only for helping me keep my bookselling skillz honed by volunteering the past few months, but for having a copy of Barchester Towers on the 50-cent cart.

And thank you, WORD, for setting up an affiliate program--click away on the covers above and you can order the books from them right away! (They also have Google ebooks, should you want all six books for...wait, 99 cents? Somebody get me a Nook for Christmas, OK?) If you don't have a beloved local indie bookstore, I'm happy to share mine.

I promise that while I read the next up in the Barchester novels (Doctor Thorne), I will be Proactive and Professional enough to underline all the marvelous quotes, and keep a list of all the nifty words I learned--because there were a lot of both, dang it, and they've fallen clean out of my brain! (Though luckily I appear to have preserved the theme song to Perfect Strangers intact.) Here's a bit towards the end of Barchester:
And who can apportion out and dovetail his incidents, dialogues, characters, and descriptive morsels, so as to fit them all exactly into 439 pages, without either compressing them unnaturally, of extending them artificially at the end of his labour? Do I not myself know that I am at this moment in want of a dozen pages, and that I am sick with cudgelling my brains to find them? And then when everything is done, the kindest-hearted critic of them all invariably twits us with the incompetency and lameness of our conclusion. We have either become idle and neglected it, or tedious and over-labored it. It means nothing, or it attempts too much. . . .
I could go on--just such easy, playful prose, for all its vocabulary. A joy to read.

Trollope's wit and authorial asides can hold their own against Austen, as can his quirky characters: the adorable Mr. Harding (the warden of the first novel), prone to playing an invisible cello when he's anxious; Miss Thorne, who considers anything invented after the Elizabethan era suspiciously modern. Too, their country-dwelling middle-class settings and concerns are similar. There's a lot more mid-Victorian High Church/Low Church intrigue and less romance in Trollope (although these first two books actually feature woo-and-win subplots involving the same woman, whose first husband dies between the volumes). I dream of someday editing series of tiny books covering historical subjects geared specifically towards puzzled readers, e.g. The Church of England for Nineteenth-Century British Novels or Russian Orthodoxy for Dostoevsky. Trust me, you have never read the word "prebendary" so many times.

But then there's this: in Barchester, when the odious clergyman proposes, our heroine SLAPS HIM ACROSS THE FACE. Advantage: Trollope!


  1. Hooray, another Trollope lover is born! I think it's monstrous that Dickens is still so famous and most people barely recognize the name Trollope.

    Dr Thorne is next - that's exciting. If I remember rightly it's the first one to prominently feature the old Duke of Omnium and his heir Plantaget Palliser, the center of the companion-series Palliser novels. Those are all political where the Barchester ones are ecclesiastical. All of them are pretty romance-heavy too, though, although other themes are definitely woven in thick.

    I liked Dr Thorne a lot; I think I liked Framley parsonage even more. Your enjoying these is making me want to go back to them; it's more than five years since I've read them now.

  2. I wonder if the sticking power of Dickens hasn't something to do with a lot of his work being a Total Bummer? There aren't a lot of canonical "classics" that are laugh-out-loud funny, like Trollope. I mean, there's Moby-Dick, but that's a well-kept secret.

  3. Ha ha, Moby Dick! That's a good one.

    Other great funny books: Chaucer, Tom Jones, the Icelandic Family Sagas, Italian Reniassance epics.


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