Friday, June 19, 2015

Mount TBR #17

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Barchester Towers – Anthony Trollope

Late in this novel, the second of the Barsetshire Chronicles, a poor clergyman’s wife and the mother of fourteen children elucidates “the upshot of her practical experience:”

Oh, that's the way of the world, my dear. They all do just the same. You might just as well be angry with the turkey cock for gobbling at you. It's the bird's nature.

Trollope describes characters who act terribly - Mrs. Proudie, Obadiah Slope, and Charlotte Stanhope. With genial irony, he implies the question, Can we imagine a world in which people don’t act ambitiously, graspingly, venally? And he asks similarly of the protagonists – Mr. Arabin, Mr. Harding – can we imagine meek people who don’t act in soft, yielding, spineless ways?

How about a world without energetic bullies like Archbishop Grantly? Without feeble Romeoes like Bertie Stanhope? Without clueless rich people like the Countess de Courcy?

Such a world is unimaginable. It’s like imagining a world without mendacity.

Trollope’s other message, I think, is that fallibility is our lot. We all think and do dubious things that we’re not proud of. Trollope gently tells us, implicated in greed and conceit as we are, not to judge – not one of us is completely good or completely bad. We are as we are made and can’t help ourselves.

To lessen the sting of the latent gloomy message, another of Trollope’s assumptions – a comic one, mercifully -  is that confusion and misapprehensions are a natural part of life. We proceed assuming our mere opinions and misgivings are correct instead of just asking someone else their take on a situation. Their take may be more correct than ours. Eleanor Bold is assumed to have a close relationship with the odious Slope simply because she takes his part in a couple of conversations. Her family rashly assumes that she will marry Slope, which leads to funny misunderstandings.

Well worth reading, though Trollope frankly admits as tedious certain slow spots such as the interminable description of Ullathorne manor’s decorations and Miss Thorne’s endless fête.  His admissions are rather winning, as are his statements that tell us he is not an omniscient narrator. His other appeal is that he so clearly enjoys the characters that we readers can’t help but enjoy them too.

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