, by Anthony Trollope
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The second and most popular of Trollope
’s six Barsetshire novels, Barchester Towers
chronicles the struggles for power and position in an imaginary county in Victorian England. Passions start seething when an "outsider," Dr. Proudie, is appointed bishop of Barchester. Soon, his ambitious, domineering wife and the smarmy, scheming curate, Mr. Slope, are hatching plots and counter-plots as they try to control the choice of a new warden for Hiram’s Hospital and a new husband for Eleanor, a lovely young widow and the daughter of the former warden, Mr. Harding.
The novel combines the realism of later fiction (including Trollope’s own) with such Victorian devices as Dickensian character names and a comically interruptive narrator. The narrator’s sharply satiric comments enhance the story’s richness, while his playful, reassuring, and mocking asides subvert the reader’s expectations, giving the book an unexpectedly post-modernist flavor. Ultimately, we see that Trollope’s characters’ petty jealousies, selfishness, and meanness are not metaphors for larger issues, they are the issues—the same human failings that, in other contexts, can lead to serious social strife and civil unrest.
is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is W. H. Auden’s literary executor and has written widely on nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels.