I thought that since I haven’t posted in over a month, I would write a quick post about one of my favorite authors, Anthony Trollope.
I do not think he is particularly well-known. This is a great misfortune, for his books are numerous, amusing, plain, and comfortable. He wrote in the great days of Queen Victoria; the golden age of English novelists, producing Dickens, George Eliot, Thackeray, the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, and various others. (Preceding the golden age, we had the novels of Jane Austen, which are probably at least equal to the best novels of the golden age, as well as Sir Walter Scott, who, I am told, was excellent also; I have not read enough of him to either confirm or contradict that statement.)
He is best known for his excellent Barsetshire series, beginning with The Warden and ending in, most suitably, The Last Chronicle of Barset. His books, being Victorian, are acceptable reading for even the straitlaced (though they do deal with mature themes on occasion, such as adultery or illegitimacy). His characters are delightful. I point out with especial affection his portraits of Anglican clergymen and elderly noblewomen. Although C. S. Lewis would probably sigh sadly to read this (well, perhaps not, but he would not like it), I thoroughly enjoy his love-stories. There are usually at least two or three in each novel, and frequently more – at the end of one book, there were four weddings. There are also usually some romances that fizzle out by the end, or have already been commenced at the beginning of the book.
His novels have many subplots. If you have trouble keeping up with many characters, then it is perhaps wise to write them out on a sheet of paper, for there are certainly quite a few. He has ample time to keep up with them all, for his books are rarely less than 450 pages long, and generally more like 700 or 800.
If you are to start reading them, I recommend starting with The Warden and reading through the whole Barsetshire series. His other series is the Palliser novels. I have read only the first one and The Eustace Diamonds; neither was his best work, though I suspect Phineas Finn is better; I have only read a very small portion of that work, however.*
I’ve never actually read The Warden – I started with Barchester Towers – but you had probably better begin with it. Both novels deal largely with Anglican clergymen, and Barchester Towers is very funny.
After you’ve finished those, I recommend The Way We Live Now. It is long, relatively serious, and has about fifty million characters. I have also read Ayala’s Angel and Orley Farm. The first is rather weak. The second has some good pathos, but is not really one of his best. Just now I am reading He Knew He Was Right; I will endeavor to make known my opinion of it when I am finished. If by some miracle you read all of these books before I finish it, go ahead and read Can You Forgive Her?. I liked it when I read it, but in retrospect it seems tedious.
*I mention it here, because Catholicism is mentioned in the beginning of Phineas Finn (the title character being Irish); Trollope rarely mentions Catholics, in the novels I have read, but there is a part in Barchester Towers where he writes a page or two, perhaps more, about Cardinal Newman’s conversion. Skip it. I did, and I don’t believe I missed anything important. There’s a minor priest character in The Way We Live Now, also, and I believe I skipped some of the conversations that began to veer into Protestantism vs. Catholicism, because I do not like that sort of thing. Several of the other few references are by a character in the Barsetshire novels who is both anti-Catholic and a negative character. So if that kind of thing bothers you, Trollope doesn’t mention it much, though like I said, it does come up at the beginning of Phineas Finn and I don’t know if it stays up. Maybe it comes up in The Warden.