John Caldigate by Anthony Trollope (1879)

After reading all of the Palliser and Barchester books, I felt a little lost among the many other stand-alone books by Anthony Trollope that I have yet to read. There was more than one book that I put up and picked down, but when I picked up John Caldigate and started to read I realised that I had found the right book. There was exactly the right balance of things that I know that Trollope does well and things that I hadn’t encountered in his books before.

John Caldigate was the only son of a widowed father, Daniel Caldigate. He was a bright and sociable young man, and while he was at Cambridge he fell into debt. His father, a serious-minded man, who had worked hard to establish himself and only married when he was well enough established to support a family, was bitterly disappointed, but he made the necessary arrangements for his son to sell his future interest in the family estate in exchange for a mortgage on said estate, to clear his debts.

Appreciating what his father had done, wanting to repay him but not wanting to wait around for an estate that he might or might not inherit, he resolved to travel to New South Wales in the hope of making a fortune in the goldfields.

C is for Caldigate

He also resolved that, if he succeeded, he would return and marry Harriet Bolton, the daughter of his father’s banker friend who had arranged the mortgage.

John Caldigate did come home, older, wiser and a great deal richer. His father was delighted to welcome the son he had thought he might never see again. The Boltons were less happy when he presented himself as a suitor, but Harriet was charmed and in time her father and her step-brothers were won over.

The couple were married, a son was born, and they could so easily have lived happily ever after; but a past indiscretion came back to haunt John Caldigate.

He and his friend, Dick Shand, had travelled to Australia third class, so that they could begin to adjust to a new life in which they would no longer be ‘gentlemen’. John met a young widow, Mrs Euphemia Smith, he was smitten with her and promised that he would find her as soon as he established himself. His attraction he her soon faded, but he remembered his promise and he travelled to find her. She was performing on the stage, as Madame Cettini.

That lady and two of his former business partners travelled to England, alleging that the mine he had sold them was worked out; that he had married Mrs. Smith in New South Wales; and that his marriage to Hester Bolton was bigamous.

John Caldigate denied the charge of bigamy, but he recognised that there was a moral, though not a legal claim for the return of part of the purchase price of the mine. He wanted to do ‘the right thing’ but he was strongly advised against ‘buying them off’.

He found himself on trial, and the case against him looked very bad.

There was much drama, inside and outside the courtroom.

The Bolton family turned against John Caldigate and, as Harriet stood firmly by her husband, they took extreme measures to bring her back to the family home and keep her there!

Dick Shand had failed as a miner and turned to drink. He came home knowing nothing about the bigamy case, he wanted to speak in his friend’s defence, but was told that his word was worthless in the light of his past!

Mr Bagwax of the Post Office travelled to Australia to test a key point of the prosecution’s case – an envelope with a stamp and a postmark – that he was sure was forged!

I have never found Trollope to be good at handling suspense, but he managed it quite well in this book. Though I had a fair idea how the story would play out I was by no means certain that it would, and I did question whether or not there had been a marriage in Australia.

There was – of necessity – a gap in the part of the story set in Australia; but what Trollope could tell of the story there I loved. I could have happily spent more time there and rather less on the voyage and the run-up to the trial. His pacing of this story didn’t quite work for me.

The central question of the story was intriguing: how should John Caldigate, who had made youthful mistakes, whose success came from good luck as much as hard work, be judged?

John Caldigate was a wonderfully nuanced character, he was a fundamentally decent man but he was horribly fallible; as was his father. I loved the way that they both changed and the way that their relationship evolved over the course of the story.

The women on this book were not so well done – I loved Harriet’s devotion to her husband, I loved that she loved her mother despite her trenchant opposition to her son-in law, but her character needed more and it simply wasn’t there.

So, my final verdict is a little mixed.

The story never failed to entertain, I loved the human drama – the gold mining scenes and the trial scenes were particularly good – but Trollope has written better books.

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope (1867)

Reaching the end of Trollope’s tales of Barsetshire left me very nearly lost for words.

The first book – The Warden – created a world and set it spinning, the books that followed illuminated different places and different lives being lived in that world, and now that I have read this book – a grand finale in the best sense of the words – I can’t quite believe that the world Trollope created isn’t still spinning and that he isn’t going to tell me more stories about it.

It was lovely that so many characters from all of the other books in the series made appearances. There were some that I missed, there were a couple I wouldn’t have missed if they hadn’t been there, but it worked.

There were so many strands, and they had so many different qualities. Some were more effective than others, I enjoyed some more than others, but they worked together and as I read I realised that Trollope knew exactly what he was doing.

The central strand – the story that you’ll read about if you pick up a paperback copy and read the words on the back cover – concerns an alleged theft by Josiah Crawley, the poor, proud and pious perpetual curate of the parish of Hogglestock. When I first enountered Mr Crawley, in Framley Parsonage, I had  read those words, he knew that he would be the central figure in this final book, and I wasn’t at all sure that he was the man for the job, but now that I have read the book I realise that he was.

BarsetWhile Mr Crawley is not high on the list of Trollope characters I would love to meet, he is one of his most complex and psychologicaly interesting creations; this man who is difficult and yet loved and supported by his wife are children, who is viewed harshly by the world and yet judges himself more harshly still.

His story in this book was compelling, and Trollope did a wonderful job of drawing others into that story.

Mrs Proudie had not doubt at all that he was guilty and that all of the weight and authority of the church should be deployed against him. When the bishop tried to explain that the church didn’t – and couldn’t – work like that she carried on regardless, but is really did seem that the time when the bishop would stand firm against his wife’s wishes had finally come.

Major Henry Grantly, the son of the archdeacon, was a widower with a young child and he had been courting Grace, the eldest daughter of the Crawley family. His father was appalled that he would not end that relationship when new of the theft broke, and father and son were at loggerheads.

Lily Dale came to the assistance of Grace; and Johnny Eames volunteered to go in search of the dean and his wife, who were travelling abroad and may be able to cast some light on the circumstances of the alleged theft …..

I liked Lily in this book much more than I did in The Small House at Allington, and though the general consensus seems to be that the story her relationship with Johnny didn’t need to be revisited, I was pleased that it was given another twist and a proper resolution.

I was less pleased with the introduction of a new story and a new set of characters in London. The story had its moments but it didn’t sit well against the story that was playing out in Barsetshire and I would have much rather spent more time with old friends there.

My only other – minor – reservation was there were echoes of earlier books in the series in a few of the characters and events of this book.

As always with Trollope, there is much joy in the details

  • Mrs Thorne giving exactly the right advice and support to young lovers.
  • Mrs Grantly talking about Mrs Proudie  – and calling her a virago!
  • The dowager Lady Lufton offering real, practical help to Mrs Crawley.
  • Mr Harding reminiscing about old bishop with Dr Grantly over a glass of port.

There is also joy in seeing how so many pieces of story fit perfectly into place – there are a great many ‘ah moments’ in this book.

That Henry Grantly was a widower with a child reminded me that his grandfather – Mr Harding – was a very old man. The story of the final act of his life and his departure from this world was beautifully told, losing him really felt like losing a member of the family, and every detail – including a final suggestion he made to his son-in-law – was exactly right.

A great deal happened in this book – I think it would be fair to say that all life is here – and though I finished reading at the end of last year I can still feel the emotions I felt when I was reading.

I meant to read another Trollope this month but I couldn’t, and I think it was because I wasn’t quite ready to let go of this one.

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope (1864)

I don’t think that I have ever found two consecutive books in a series as different as ‘Framley Parsonage’ and ‘The Small House at Allington’.

‘Framley Parsonage was bursting at the seams with everything that Trollope loved and did well – church and parliament, town and country, romance and finance – and it was a wonderfully vibrant book that built a world that I could have happily gone on living in after the final page was turned.

I explained the structure and the appeal of that book like this:

Consider a Christmas tree. A fir tree in its natural state is lovely, but when it has been adorned with a lovely mixture of old familiar and shiny new ornaments it is something else entirely …

‘The Small House at Allington’ has a great many of the same things things, but they are a much smaller part of the whole and it has a quite different character.

I might explain it like this.

Consider the same fir tree, left in its natural state, but its loveliness enhanced by an artist who has captured the beauty of its natural setting and the life that surrounds it ….

Quite lovely of course, but it took me a while to realise that I was in a different kind of environment and to settle into this book.

The Small House at Allington concerns the Dale family, who live in the Small House at Allington, a dower house in the grounds of the Great House. Christopher Dale, the Squire of Allington lived alone in the Great House and he had granted the Small House rent free, to his widowed sister-in-law and her daughters Isabella (Bell) and Lilian (Lily).

The love affairs of two sisters, of Lily in particular, are at the centre of this story.

Lily will become engaged to Adolphus Crosbie, a close friend of her cousin Bernard Dale, who is their uncle’s heir. Crosbie knows that Lily’s mother is a poor widow but he hopes that her uncle will provide a dowry to help them establish themselves in the world. He discovers that he won’t just before a visit to Courcy Castle; and when he mixes with high society he sees his future with Lily, living on his small salary as bleak.

The Countess de Courcy hasn’t heard of the engagement and she sees  him as Crosbie as a good match for her Alexandrina, her only single daughter still of marriageable age. Crosbie is steered toward making a proposal, and he leaves Courcy Castle with a second fiancée …..

When Lily’s heart is broken there is no weeping and wailing, she does not collapse under the emotional weight of her broken engagement. She carries on playing her part in family life, laughing and teasing, taking joy in others’ happiness, and not allowing a word to be said against the man she says will always be the great love of her life.

Only her mother saw the small signs that showed her daughter’s depth of feeling.

I really don’t know what to make of Lily Dale. On one hand I admired her fortitude, her devotion to her family and friends, and her willingness to plan for a future quite different to the one she had hoped for. But on the other I suspected that she was one of those people who listened to everything you said to her without argument and then did something that showed she hadn’t taken any notice at all. I think that I like her, but I don’t think I came to know her well enough to say that I love her.

I didn’t expect to feel as much sympathy for Aldolphus Crosbie as I did. He was young and ambitious, he was foolish and weak; but he was not a villain and he wished no harm to anyone.  He was punished for his foolish marriage to Lady Alexandrina – and into the de Courcy family; and he had seen enough of what love and marriage with Lily could have been to know what a terrible mistake he had made.

There are other stories in the background, and they made me think of this as Trollope’s ‘marriage’ novel as many different aspects of marriage were considered.

I was well entertained by Lily’s other suitor, young Johnny Eames; and by the residents of his London boarding house and his unintended entanglement with his landlady’s daughter. I was delighted to meet the young Plantaganet Palliser, appalled that he was besotted with Lady Dumbello, but pleased to understand him and the Duke of Omnium and the foundations of the Palliser novels a little better. I was happy that Mr Harding and the Grantleys made appearances, but I was sorry that they were brief. That made me realise that I like the Palliser books a little more that the Barchester books, because they gave me more time with the characters I love most.

That’s not to say that I’m not loving my time and Barchester, and it’s not to say that I didn’t like this book.

I have yet to read a book by Trollope that I haven’t enjoyed, because I feel so at home with that author’s voice, because his prose is always smooth and readable; and because his characters all live and breathe. I loved spending time with the family at the Small House in Allington, and I came to share their concerns and to care a great deal about what would happen to them.

This is not my favourite of his books, and it’s not my favourite of the Barchester books.

I found some of the loveliest and some of the most heart-breaking moments I have found in Trollope’s work, but I also found some of his most dull scenes. That was in some part because the de Courcy family – who I don’t think have any redeeming features – were given a great many pages; and I did wonder if the arrival of Plantagenet Palliser was a sign that the author was thinking of his other great series, or of how he would finish this series in ‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’.

I can understand that. I’m eager to move on to The Last Chronicle and I wish there were enough reading hours in the day for me to revisit the Pallisers ….

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope (1861)

History records that Elizabeth Gaskell said:

“I wish Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever. I don’t see any reason why it should come to an end.”

I’m inclined to agree with her, and I think that is because it has so very many of the things I look for in a Trollope novel done rather well:

  • Church and Parliament
  • Vicarages and Country Houses
  • New and Returning Characters
  • Town and Country
  • Financial and Romantic Intrigues

At the centre of this book is a young man named Mark Robarts.

Mark was the son of a doctor from Devon, who shared a tutor with the young Lord Lufton. The dowager Lady Lufton was delighted with the friendship, and she guided Mark towards an excellent education, a career in the church, a comfortable living at the parish of Framley in the diocese of Barchester, and a happy marriage with her daughter’s lovely friend, Fanny.

He was genial and likeable young man, but his passage though life had been so smooth that he hadn’t learned many important lessons, and that led him into trouble.

Mark was drawn into the local political set, and he was persuaded to sign a bill for a significant amount of money. He knew that the man who made the request had a bad reputation, that Lord Lufton had already had unhappy dealings with him; but he didn’t know how to say no and it didn’t occur to him that any man wouldn’t do all that he could to meet his obligations and that he would be called upon to pay money that he didn’t have.

He was, and so he signed another bill.

He knew that he had done the wrong thing, and he couldn’t bring himself to tell his wife.

It was maddening, it was understandable, it was utterly believable ….

That’s the framework of the story – what you would read about if you looked up the book;  but, as is almost always with Trollope’s big books, there was much more that he hung on that framework to make it a delight.

0140432132.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Consider a Christmas tree. A fir tree in its natural state is lovely, but when it has been adorned with a lovely mixture of old familiar and shiny new ornaments it is something else entirely …

When Mark’s father died he was heartbroken, but it occurred to him that a legacy might solve his financial problems. It didn’t, because Mark’s father believed he was well set up in life and that his siblings needed what little capital he had rather more; but it did bring him a lovely adornment to his home in the shape of his sister Lucy. She became one of my favourite Trollope heroines, with her lovely mix of intelligence, practicality and femininity.

Lord Lufton was drawn to Lucy, and she to him, but she knew that his mother disapproved and so she tried to pull away.

Though I often disagreed with her, I thought that the dowager Lady Lufton was a wonderful character. She was wonderfully active in her efforts to put the world to rights. She sent in a poor and pious perpetual curate, Mr Crawley, to try to draw Mark away from his unsuitable companions. He was not a character I could love, but his story was so well thought out that I could understand. She also promoted a match between her son and the lovely Griselda Grantly, daughter of the Archdeacon of Barchester.

Lady Lufton was formidable, but she had the best of intentions, she only wanted her son to be happy, and she could also be humble when realised that she had erred.

I was delighted to meet the Miss Dunstable, the wonderfully independently minded heiress again. She was close to the young Greshams and Doctor Thorne still, but she had been drawn into the  same local political set as Mark. She was interested in politics, and they were interested in her as a matrimonial prize who would bring them a very fine fortune.

I found the political set to be the weak link in this book, its members the least engaging of its characters; and  I suspect that they were there to allow stories to play out as Trollope wanted them to,  and not because he loved them for their own sakes.

I so hoped that Miss Dunstable’s good sense would prevail.

She was wonderfully entertained by Mrs Proudie and Mrs Grantly, as each lady wished to outdo each other socially, and as each lady had daughters to be married off. I was too, but I was disappointed that the Griselda Grantly was shallow and self-absorbed, and I really could not understand how the daughter of the archdeacon and his wife had turned out that way.

She didn’t appreciate her grandfather, Mr Harding, but I was delighted that he was given a moment in the spotlight, and even more delighted that he was given the opportunity to talk about Barchester Cathedral and Hiram’s Hospital.

There were so many wonderful moments, so many perfect details, that I really could feel that I was walking through a world that had a history that had begun long before I arrived and that would go on long after I left. Anthony Trollope made that world spin, he managed all of the characters and stories in that world wonderfully well.

He seemed a little less chatty than usual; maybe because there was so much going on.

I was caught up in the human drama from the first page to the last; and thought I had a fair idea where the story was going I wasn’t really sure until the very end.

The resolution was magnificent, I was sorry to have to leave this world, but I plan to travel back there very soon.

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope (1858)

Doctor Thorne is the third novel in Anthony Trollope’s series known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire; set in Greshamsbury, a rural town many miles away from the cathedral city the was the setting for the first two novels.

Mr Francis Gresham is the squire of Greshamsbury, and as he story begins he is celebrating the coming of age of his only son, Frank, with his family and friends. The squire is rightly proud of his son, who is handsome, good-natured, and popular; and his great hope is that Frank will marry a wealthy heiress and restore the impoverished and debt-laden family estate.

Sir Roger Scatcherd has underwritten the debt. He was a man with humble roots who had survived a terrible scandal and achieved great success through his own labour; only to learn that he lived in a land where birth and bloodlines meant much, and where lesser men would look down on him and his family. And so when he could work no more he took refuge in drink, even when his good friend Doctor Thorne told him that was killing him.

Frank understands his father’s wishes, but he is besotted with the lovely Mary Thorne, who is the niece of the local doctor,  and who grew up alongside Frank and his sisters. He would happily marry her, hope for the best, and, if the best didn’t happen, live a simpler life.

When Lady Arabella Gresham discovers her son’s interest in Mary Thorne, she is horrified. She was a De Courcey, she had been born into a family much grander than the Greshams, she understood the importance of doing the right and proper thing, and so she set about separating the young pair. It wasn’t simply a matter of money, it was also a matter of bloodlines.

When Frank made a declaration of love, Mary turned him away. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him; indeed she probably had deeper feelings for him than he had for her. She had just learned that she was illegitimate and, because she was young and idealistic, she told herself that she could not – would not – lower her young man and his family.

Doctor Thorne had made a promise, many years earlier, to keep Mary’s origins secret, and he kept that promise. He knew that if he spoke out there would be consequences for The House of Gresham and The House of Scatcherd, as well as the niece who he knows is a great lady in every way that is important. The secret is a great burden that many men would struggle with, it weighs heavily on him, but he believes that carrying it alone is the right thing to do.

Trollope spins his story around the three households – the established household of Mr Francis Gresham, the newly elevated household of Mr Francis Gresham and the professional household of Dr Thorne, caught between the two – wonderfully well; and that speaks profoundly of the workings of society and its failure to allow men and women to rise or fall, and of the wisdom and foolishness of those men and women.

The secret is fundamental and Trollope – who I am quite sure was a man could never keep a secret – sets out all of the facts for his readers early in the book, allowing them to empathise with Doctor Thorne and wonder if he really is going to be able to sort this one out satisfactorily by the end of the book.

He did – just about.

Along the way he presented some wonderful characters, relationships and situations.

I was particularly taken by Miss Dunstable, who was a wealthy woman with an independent spirit and a great deal of worldly wisdom. Frank set about courting her, to please his family, but she saw that his heart wasn’t in it, she got the truth out of him, and told him that they should be friends and that he really should follow his hear and pursue Mary Thorne.

Many authors would have made Frank the hero of this story, and Trollope acknowledges this in a wonderful aside:

“He would have been the hero of our tale had not that place been pre-occupied by the village doctor. As it is, those who please may regard him. It is he who is to be our favourite young man, to do the love scenes, to have his trails and his difficulties, and to win through them or not, as the case may be. I am too old now to be a hard-hearted author, and so it is probable that he may not die of a broken heart. Those who don’t approve of a middle-aged bachelor country doctor as a hero, may take the heir to Greshamsbury in his stead, and call the book, if it so please them, ‘The Loves and Adventures of Francis Newbold Gresham the Younger.”

I liked Frank, but the village doctor made a much better hero. He raised his niece as his own child, and he did it wonderfully well; he did what he felt was right as a doctor, while many of his contemporaries thought rather too much of their fees and their social standing; was a good friend to both Sir Roger and Mr Gresham; and he even stood up to Lady Annabel in full sail in a wonderful scene that shows Trollope at his best.

That is not to say that he was a paragon. He was something much better – a real and fallible man.

I found much to love in this book, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I had hoped I might. I think that was because the whole story was spun around one central romance that was drawn out a little too much, leaving quiet periods where I couldn’t help wondering what was going on in Barsetshire.

That’s not to say that I didn’t love the country. I did, and I would happily go back there again. But I can’t say that this book is a particular favourite, or that it is more than the sum of its parts, and I think that the next book – ‘Framley Parsonage’ is rather better constructed.

I can say that I love the memory of this book; and that it has grown on me since I finished reading.

I’m happy that I remember watching the story unfold, watching Mary and Frank mature, and reaching the ending that Trollope told me was inevitable at the start if the book.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (1857)

The first time I started reading ‘Barchester Towers’ it failed to capture me, and to I put the book to one side. When I came back to it  later, having not read any Trollope for quite some time and rather missing him, I was smitten. And I think that proves that even the greatest authors, even favourite novelists, need to be matched to your reading mood!

This story begins not long after  the end of the story told in ‘The Warden’ ends; at a time when much remains the same, but some changes have happened and more changes are to come.

Hiram’s Hospital is still without a warden, Eleanor Bold has been widowed and has a baby son, and Bishop Grantly is on his deathbed, watched over by his son, the Archdeacon Grantly, and his old and dear friend, Mr Harding.

The Archdeacon loves and respects his father, and he is also a pragmatic and practical man whose dearest wish is to succeed to the bishopric. He knows though that the government that would see him as the man for the job is on the point of collapse, and that the government likely to replace it would have rather different views.

The government fell on the same day that Archbishop left this life, and so a very new regime swept into the bishop’s palace. Dr Proudie was the new bishop, and he brought with him his formidable wife, Mrs Proudie, and a social climbing, conniving chaplain named Obidiah Slope.

barchester-towersThey were wonderfully vividly drawn characters, the kind that you probably wouldn’t want to met in real life but are gloriously entertaining in the pages of a book.

I was particularly taken with Mrs Proudie, who ably managed not only her household but every single matter in the diocese that might affect her husband, much to the chagrin of the longer standing clergy.

And I can’t help thinking that in a different age – and in the hands of a different author – she might have been a feminist icon!

The new regime is completely at odds with the old guards, and so a civil war began between Grantlyite and Proudieite forces – and between high and low church.

That drew more characters into the story.

Several members of clergy are called back to their religious duties in Barchester.

Dr Stanhope has to return from the idyllic shores of Lake Como to take up his duties in his parish. The Stanhope family add colour to Barchester, particularly his daughter Madeleine, who lost her mobility to an accident – or maybe to her estranged husband’s brutality, but has risen above that to present herself as a beautiful and seductive signora; and her brother, Bertie, who was charming and full of ideas about what he might do but too indolent to do anything but seek a wealthy bride.

The Stanhopes were wonderfully colourful, but I couldn’t quite believe in them as I did almost every other character.

Mr Arabin was called away from the ivory towers of academia by Dr Grantly, who was eager to draw more clergy who shared his views into the diocese.

I liked him, but it was a little too obvious what part he was going to play in the plot.

With all of his characters on the stage Trollope was ready to unfurl his plot, and to answer the questions he had thrown into the air:

  • Who would be the new warden?
  • Who would Eleanor Bold marry?
  • Which party – Grantlyite or Proudieite – would win the day?

So many wonderful scenes came tumbling down, one after another, as Trollope set about answering those questions and arranging all of his characters’ lives until everything was exactly as it should be.

There were so many wonderful moments, so many perfect details.

The author reassured his readers – as he so often does – that everything would be alright, but still I was anxious because  I couldn’t see quite how it would, and because I was so very involved with this world and the people who lived there.

I have a few reservations, a few reasons why this isn’t my favourite Trollope. There were a few times when characters were compromised for the sake of the plot, some of the naming of characters lacked subtlety, and I think I will always be fonder of Trollope’s drama than his comedy.

I found so much to love though; more than enough – much more than enough – to say that I had a lovely time in this book and that I am looking forward to working my way through the rest of the Barsetshire novels.

Most of all I love the way Trollope can more from comedy like this …

“Take care, Madeline,” said he, and turning to the fat rector, added, “Just help me with a slight push.”

The rector’s weight was resting on the sofa and unwittingly lent all its impetus to accelerate and increase the motion which Bertie intentionally originated. The sofa rushed from its moorings and ran half-way into the middle of the room. Mrs. Proudie was standing with Mr. Slope in front of the signora, and had been trying to be condescending and sociable; but she was not in the very best of tempers, for she found that, whenever she spoke to the lady, the lady replied by speaking to Mr. Slope. Mr. Slope was a favourite, no doubt, but Mrs. Proudie had no idea of being less thought of than the chaplain. She was beginning to be stately, stiff, and offended, when unfortunately the castor of the sofa caught itself in her lace train, and carried away there is no saying how much of her garniture. Gathers were heard to go, stitches to crack, plaits to fly open, flounces were seen to fall, and breadths to expose themselves; a long ruin of rent lace disfigured the carpet, and still clung to the vile wheel on which the sofa moved.

So, when a granite battery is raised, excellent to the eyes of warfaring men, is its strength and symmetry admired. It is the work of years. Its neat embrasures, its finished parapets, its casemated stories show all the skill of modern science. But, anon, a small spark is applied to the treacherous fusee—a cloud of dust arises to the heavens—and then nothing is to be seen but dirt and dust and ugly fragments.

We know what was the wrath of Juno when her beauty was despised. We know to what storms of passion even celestial minds can yield. As Juno may have looked at Paris on Mount Ida, so did Mrs. Proudie look on Ethelbert Stanhope when he pushed the leg of the sofa into her lace train.”

… to such wonderful emotion like this …

“The bishop had one small room allotted to him on the ground-floor, and Mr. Slope had another. Into this latter Mr. Harding was shown and asked to sit down. Mr. Slope was not yet there. The ex-warden stood up at the window looking into the garden, and could not help thinking how very short a time had passed since the whole of that house had been open to him, as though he had been a child of the family, born and bred in it. He remembered how the old servants used to smile as they opened the door to him; how the familiar butler would say, when he had been absent a few hours longer than usual, “A sight of you, Mr. Harding, is good for sore eyes;” how the fussy housekeeper would swear that he couldn’t have dined, or couldn’t have breakfasted, or couldn’t have lunched. And then, above all, he remembered the pleasant gleam of inward satisfaction which always spread itself over the old bishop’s face whenever his friend entered his room.

A tear came into each eye as he reflected that all this was gone. What use would the hospital be to him now? He was alone in the world, and getting old; he would soon, very soon have to go and leave it all, as his dear old friend had gone; go, and leave the hospital, and his accustomed place in the cathedral, and his haunts and pleasures, to younger and perhaps wiser men. That chanting of his! Perhaps, in truth, the time for it was gone by. He felt as though the world were sinking from his feet; as though this, this was the time for him to turn with confidence to those hopes which he had preached with confidence to others. “What,” said he to himself, “can a man’s religion be worth if it does not support him against the natural melancholy of declining years?” And as he looked out through his dimmed eyes into the bright parterres of the bishop’s garden, he felt that he had the support which he wanted.”

… in the space of just pages.

You have to cherish an author who can do that, who can do both of those things so well, don’t you?

The Warden by Anthony Trollope (1855)

I really didn’t mean to set out on my journey through Trollope’s Barsetshire novels this year.  I loved the Palliser novels, I planned to read a few more of his stand-alone novels before I began his other series; and, if I’m honest, I have to admit that I was a little wary of this first book, that many have said is weaker that the books that follow and that I gave up on back in the days before I came to understand what makes Trollope so very special.

A disappointing dramatisation of a book from the middle of this series – I’ll say no more because others who know and love that book have said it already, and much better than I could – made me want to read that book. Because, disappointing though it was, I could see enough in the underpinning to suggest that it was likely to be a book I would love.

That was why, with just a little apprehension, I picked up this first book in the series.

I loved it. And now that I am well into the second book in the series I have to say that I’m not enjoying it as much as I enjoyed this first book. ‘Barchester Towers’ feels rambling and unstructured after this book; I do like it, but not as much as I had hoped, and so I have put it to one side for a while.

‘The Warden’ is one of Trollope’s shorter novels, and I would liken it to a beautifully wrought miniature; not quite perfect but lovely nonetheless.

the-wardenThis story, like many a Trollope, spins around a will.  An alms house was set up under the terms of the will of John Hiram in the fifteenth century, to provide food, comfort and shelter for twelve old men who had no home and no means. They were also granted a shilling and fourpence a day for  any other wants they might have.

What surplus there was – and sometimes there was very little – was granted to the warden a clergyman responsible for the running of what would become known as ‘Hiram’s Hospital’ and for the spiritual welfare of the men who resided there.

The explaining of this took a while, and that may have been why I put the book down first time around. This time though I felt at home in the author’s company and I recalled that my aunt had been warden of a similar alms house, albeit in a different age and under very different terms.

This story begins when Septimus Harding, a respected, well-liked clergyman, was the warden of Hiram’s Hospital, and when the value of the bequest had grown significantly. That meant that Mr Harding had a very healthy income as well as a lovely house and garden; and he was happy in his work; he cared for his twelve residents and they all liked and respected him.

It is the story of the trials of Mr Harding.

John Bold, an earnest young reformer, was convinced that the hospital funds were being unfairly allocated and that the warden’s income  was out of proportion to the minimal duties he is expected to perform. Mr Harding was unworldly, he had never thought to question the financial arrangements of the hospital, though he had had used  his personal funds to increase the allowance given to the hospital’s residents to one and sixpence a day.

The popular press took up Mr Bold’s cause, it became a cause celebre, and a court case ensued.

The clerical community, with the forceful archdeacon Dr Grantly,  son of the Bishop and  husband of Mr Harding’s elder daughter at the forefront, supported the continuation of the warden’s right to the surplus income from the bequest.

John Bold took the opposite view; even though he considered Mr. Harding as a friend, even though he sought the hand in marriage of his younger daughter, Eleanor.

Mr Harding wanted to do the right thing, but he was none to sure what the right thing was.

I loved the way that Trollope told this story. He presented his characters and all of the arguments so well; his narrative voice was warm, acute and witty; and I was particularly taken with how well he created the letters and newspaper reports that illuminated his story.

I appreciated that, though I had a good idea where his sympathies lay, he presented both sides of the matter quite clearly. That made it easy to feel empathy with Mr Harding, a good man who really didn’t know  what the rightness of the case was. And to wonder what had been the intentions of John Hiram when he made his will, and what would happen to the old men at the institution the bore his name.

I was very taken with archdeacon, Dr Grantly. He was so certain of the rightness of his cause, and so formidable as he set out to fight for that cause. He was wonderfully entertaining on the printed page, and, though I’m not sure I’d like to meet him in real life, I loved his tenacity, and his loyalty to his family and the church.

I loved Eleanor Harding. She was as devoted to his father as he was to her, and she snubbed John Bold while he was in the enemy camp. She didn’t cut her ties with him though; his sister continued to be her dearest friend, and she hoped that her romance could be rekindled when the court case was over and the dust had settled. She would always be loyal to her father, but she would never lose sight of the future that she knew was ahead of her, the life she wanted to lead.

Most of all though I loved Septimus Harding. He loved his daughters, he loved the old men who were in his care, he loved the work he had been called to do, he appreciated all of the good things he had in his life; and when finally decided what was the right thing to do he proved to be as tenacious, in his own quiet way as his formidable son-in-law.

The sequence of events, as he travelled to London and found his way to the people he needed to see – very much an innocent abroad – was beautifully judged and a joy to read.,

His subsequent visit to the bishop, an old and sympathetic friend, and his return to Hiram’s Hospital were every bit as good.

There were one or two character I would have liked to spend a little more time with – Mary Bold, Susan Grantly and certain of the residents of Hiram’s Hospital – but this is a small book and there is a whole series ahead of me to see a little more of the characters in this book  and to meet others.

I’m not sure that I’ll like the next book as much as this one, but I do want to give it another chance and I do want to spend more time in this world.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)

Before I fell in love with Trollope, sometime in the spring of last year, I couldn’t have told you a great deal about his books, but I would have told you that I understood ‘The Way We Live Now’ to be his biggest, his greatest, his most enduring work. That was why I felt I should read it in the year of his bicentenary, as, in between his two famous series, I explore his stand-alone novels.

Now that I’ve read it I can’t disagree with my earlier evaluation. I found the Trollope I loved, but I found that his tone was darker, and a little more cynical, that I had ever found it before.

I discovered that this books began as a satire, when Trollope returned to London after a year and a half in Australia, and was horrified to find how much in society had changed for the worst. And I believe that is reflected in this wonderful human drama.

1171458The book opens with Lady Carbury dashing off letters to the editors of the London papers to try to secure the reviews that she knew she needed to make her newly published book, ‘Criminal Queens’, a success. She knew that it was not a very good book, but she was a widow with two children she wanted to marry well and had no illusions of being a great author; she was simply trying to bring in the money that was needed to keep her household afloat.

Trollope described her as ‘false from head to foot’, but I liked her. She put on a front, she was determined to keep up appearances, and she did her level best even when it seemed her children were set on making things difficult for her.

The satire here is glorious. I’ve read different suggestions of who might have inspired Lady Carbury’s character – including Frances Trollope, the author’s mother, and Mrs Oliphant – but much of what I read left me inclined to think that Trollope’s principal target was himself.

Lady Carbury’s greatest desire was to marry her son off to an heiress. But he, Sir Felix Carbury, was a hopeless wastrel, oblivious to his family’s situation, with a lifestyle centred around drinking and gambling his London club, the Beargarden, with other, like-minded young men. His mother was oblivious to his failings, and she and he had their sights on Miss Marie Melmotte, only daughter of financier Augustus Melmotte, recently established in London and swiftly rising through society.

But Melmotte had other plans for his daughter. He wanted her to marry well, to take a place in the upper echelons of society. He had in mind Lord Nidderdale, who could offer a title and a country estate, but  would need a handsome dowry to keep that estate afloat. It was while the men were arguing terms that  Marie, who had firm opinions of her own and was determined to chose her own husband, fell in love with the charming, attentive Sir Felix Carbury. Her father was appalled, but she was determined. It would be Felix who wavered, as he realised that Melmotte was quite capable of following through his threat of disinheriting his daughter if she did not follow his wishes.

Lady Carbury was less concerned about her daughter,  Hetta; her son was clearly her favourite. But she was determined that she should marry her cousin, Roger Carbury, who loved her dearly, who had inherited the family estates but not the family title.  Hetta was fond of him, but she had given her hear to Roger’s younger friend and protege, Paul Montague.

That was this book’s classic Trollopian love triangle; and I really couldn’t see a resolution this time. Because, though Paul loved Hetta as much as he loved her, he had made promises to an American widow, Mrs. Hurtle, and she had come to London to make sure that he kept those promises.

The emotional arc of this part of the book, and the many twists and turns, were wonderful. I had mixed emotions about the way this story played out, with acceptance on one side and heart-break on another, but I loved the journey to its conclusion.

These are the principal strands of the story, but there is a great deal more to consider.

The Longstaffe family entered a financial arrangement with the Melmottes; leasing their London home to shore up their precarious finances. Their daughter, desperate to secure a husband, saw that as a major setback, and she took drastic action with catastrophic results. She was selfish she was insensitive; but I understood her fears and what drove her and so I felt for her, even as she infuriated me.

Ruby Ruggles, the granddaughter of a tenant farmer on the Carbury estate, had caught the eye of Sir Felix; that led her to run away to London, to escape her grandfather’s beatings and the attentions of a good – but to her mind dull – suitor. She was taken in by her aunt, who also Mrs. Hurtle’s landlady.

Ruby’s story was not my favourite. It was clearly there as the ‘comic relief’ and it seemed a little detached from the other storylines. Though I appreciated that it made serious points, that it played a part in allowing characters whose paths might not otherwise have crossed to meet, and that it had to be there to allow the book to work as a whole.

I particularly appreciated that Ruby’s story brought Mrs Hurtle to the fore. Mrs Hurtle was a wonderful character; her past was dubious, but she had gained wisdom from her experiences; her spirit was strong and her heart was true.

But this book really belongs to the darkly charismatic Augustus Melmotte. The stories of  his manoeuvres through the artistocratic society that doesn’t approve of his kind  but is drawn to his wealth and power, the society that he knows he needs but can’t quite understand are darkly satirical and utterly compelling. The stories of his shady investments and financial skulduggery are less engaging, but they drive the plot forward.

And of course he is involved in almost all of the drama. There’s an elopement, there’s the election of a new member of parliament, and there’s even a visit from the Emperor of China.

Trollope created a monster, but he gave him such charisma, that after his dramatic downfall and his exit from the stage, my sense of loss was tangible.

The way he made a multitude of plots and a wealth of details work together was masterful. The cast of characters was fabulous, all utterly believable, real, fallible complex human beings. Some I liked, some I didn’t, but I could see that they were all the products of their lives and circumstances, and I couldn’t doubt for a moment that they had lives before and after this book.

The women were stronger and more distinctive than the men. I saw some echoes of the Pallisers in some of the men here, and in the stories of parliament and the press; no more than echoes though, and the stories here were different and the characters were a degree or two deeper and darker.

Trollope takes his time winding up the story, setting each character who remained on the stage on the right path to their future. Lady Carbury’s was particularly lovely, and I would so love to read more chapters and find out what happened next to Miss Melmotte and Mrs Hurtle.

I can stand by my initial evaluation of this book; and I can also say that I loved it, and that I think Trollope did what he set out to do with this book very well indeed.