Sunday, August 8, 2010

Anthony Trollope is Male Jane Austen

Barchester Towers is the chronicle of personal and political maneuvering within the Church of England in the mid-nineteenth century. The first, and perhaps the most important strand in the plot is the conflict between the high church sympathies of Barchester and the low church sympathies of the new bishop, his wife and his chaplain. The high versus low conflict shows itself very clearly in the affairs of Mr. Harding and in those of Eleanor.

The first nine chapters form the Exposition, for in them we are introduced to nearly all the major characters in the book and are given the outlines of the general situation. Chapters 10 to 32 form the Development from the origi­nal situation. The next division of the plot is concerned with the Ullathorne garden-party and is described in Chapters 33 to 42. This is the Crisis, at least in Eleanor’s affairs. After this crisis, all that is necessary is that the novel should quietly come to an end, and Chapters 43 to 53 therefore form the Conclusion.
The novel thus falls into four clearly-defined sections. The advantages of the above structure are obvious. The story proceeds in an orderly manner, developing coherently from one event to another and entering each successive phase in a natural and inevitable way.
But Trollope very largely throws away the advantages he has gained by his clear structure, for he continually doubles back in his story in order to explain events which happened long before the scene he is then describing. Admittedly, he has numerous characters and several strands in his plot, but he does not advance their fortunes simul­taneously; he does not, as it were, drive them abreast before him, as he could have done without much difficulty. His method—apparently deliberate—is to carry one strand of the story a good way forward until it is seriously affected by developments in one of the other strands; then he re­treats and traces the events in this other strand until the two converge.
This method does produce an effect of surprise at certain points, but some readers find it extremely annoying. Moreover, it is almost inevitable that considerable confusion in the time-scheme and even in the causal connexion of events will arise. This disadvantage seems greatly to out­weigh the advantage of surprise.
In life, there are three kinds of events—those that arise from chance, those that are deliberately initiated by human beings, and those that spring as necessary consequences from that initiation. Trollope’s use of chance, volition and consequence in Barchester Towers is both skilful and realistic.
In addition to this, Trollope had a remarkable range of observation as well as plenty of opportunities to observe. As he rode about the country on his Post Office work, as he hunted with the hounds, played cards in his club, or attended Church on Sunday, he was always observing the faces and characters of those around him. His eye missed very little. He would meet people of every kind of character, confident, modest, sharp, stupid, sincere, weak; of every social rank and of nearly every profession. And his accumu­lated observation would not only give him the main types of human character but also the minute shades which differentiate one person from another of the same type.
According to Sir Ifor Evans, Anthony Trollope was dominated by no such ambitious desire. In his delightful Autobiography (1883) he discussed novel writing as if it were as simple as cobbling. This modest attitude to his own art disguised for some decades after his death a true appreciation of his talent. His early life had been a struggle but he made his way to prosperity by his double career as a civil servant in the Post Office and as a novelist. His pictures of clerical life, which began with the warden (1855) and continued in Barchester Towers (1857), have gained increasing appreciation in the twentieth century. They were the reading of many people in England in the bomb-shelters of the Second World War and they have since engaged the attention of at least one Prime Minister.
Trollop’s production was continuous and included The Three Clerks (1858); Farmley Parsonage (1861); and The Eustace Diamonds (1873).  He has been increasingly admired for his political novels, particularly by historians. As Briggs in Victorian People praises his portrait of mind-century politics and electioneering in The Way We Live Now (1874-5). Further, he claims that Ralph the Heir (1870-71), contains the best election episodes in English fiction, more convincing than Dicken’s “Eatenswill”.
Trollope  wrote from first hand knowledge, for he had stood, unsuccessfully, as a Parliamentary candidate. But even with this experience he had written effectively of the corruption of elections: in Rachet Ray (1861), when the Conservative candidate was a little worried about his bad speaking, his agent told him: It doesn’t matter. It’s only done for the show of the thing and to fill up the day. If Gladstone were here he wouldn’t talk a vote out of them one way or the other, nor yet the devil himself.’ He had a very easy and quite unpretentious gift for narrative, a fertile imagination, a style that seems to carry the reader on effortlessly, and a happy imagination for creating character and incident. He is a male Jane Austen, cruder and more expansive, but equally secure in his knowledge of what he can do, and with the same clear determination not to transgress into worlds which he does not understand.
Trollope is the type of writer that is easily neglected by the historians of literature, for it has yet to be realized that his contribution to the development of the novel was far from negligible. What he did seems traditional and easy.

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