Friday, August 21, 2015

Mount TBR #26

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.

The Last Chronicle of Barset – Anthony Trollope

Perpetual curate Josiah Crawley is accused of stealing of check and using the money to pay off debts. Crawley is a tragic figure because his own pride and sense of grievance sorely distress him. He also feels guilt over bringing pain to his family, especially his long-suffering wife. His daughter Grace, also, refuses proposals from Major Grantley, who offers an advantageous match.

A reader of the Barsetshire novels – this is the sixth of six – needs to get accustomed to the fact that Trollope needs a lot of space to tell his stories. Trollope’s prose is unassuming, his points gently ironic. He returns to his theme of people rarely acting in their own best interests, using again the reference to moths being drawn to flame in The Small House at Allington. Johnny Eames’ “it” below is extricating himself from a dalliance with the creepily husband-hungry Miss Demolines:

He had felt that it was coming for the last quarter of an hour,—and he had felt, also, that he was quite unable to help himself. He did not believe that he should ever be reduced to marrying Miss Demolines, but he did see plainly enough that he was getting into trouble; and yet, for his life, he could not help himself. The moth who flutters round the light knows that he is being burned, and yet he cannot fly away from it.

He also returns to the story of sad fawn Lily Dale. She takes up the role of old maid despite her friends urging her toward suitable matches. The reader would feel bad for her if Lily Dale weren’t so self-important and rigidly unwavering (like Josiah Crawley). For no good reason that I can identify, she denies herself the normal pleasures of companionship with a spouse, the satisfaction of child-raising, and the comfort of not growing old and sick totally alone. For that matter, her refusal denies Johnny Eames too those consolations, though one wonders given his caddish behavior with Amanda Roper and Miss Demolines, he himself deserved a chance at matrimonial bliss.

Speaking of matrimonial bliss, Trollope examines two marriages. Mrs. Crawley stands by the difficult Josiah through it all. She’s a paragon but genuine and admirable all the way. The marriage, however, of the Bishop and Mrs. Proudie reaches a bad place after she humiliates him in public. He withdraws from her and the rest of the family into a slough of despond. And the reader even feels for the she-Beelzebub by the end.

My reservations were only three. Sometimes the dialogue was too high toned. Given Lily’s determination to stay away from marriage, the Lily, Johnny, Adolphus Crosbie triangle started to feel mildly tedious. Trollope’s grammar with respect to piling up negatives started to grate:

He could not give up Grace Crawley; and unless he were to do so he could not live at Cosby Lodge.

It is seldom that servants are not good in such straits as that.

That was a day which Posy will never forget,—not though she should live to be much older than her grandfather was when she thus left him.

But I quibble. After all, I stillread the pages with Lily, Johnny, and Crosbie. And shook my head to clear it of cobwebby “nots” and “seldoms” and “unlesses.” I was surprised that Trollope could keep us readers rapt over the course of about 900 pages with the thinnest of plots, whether or not a poor clergyman took money that wasn’t his. Trollope, by the way, thought this was his best novel.

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