I’m reading Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope. It isn’t as good as Barchester Towers, but everyone has to have a peak and Barchester Towers may well be that peak. This is my fifth Trollope novel, so there must be some reason I continue. He’s a good author, not a great one. His best, like Barchester Towers, are still of the second rank. I could be re-reading Jane Austen or Middlemarch.
So why read five Trollope novels and look forward to the sixth? Trollope’s virtues are known—he has a marvelous grasp of everyday life and his characters are always individuals even when intended as caricatures, like “Dr. Fillgrave”. But that isn’t why I come back. You can get all you need of everyday life and individuals in Barchester Towers and The Way We Live Now.
Partly, I come back for the confections of plot. There is a marvelous stretch in Barchester Towers when four different people are each satisfied that they have said something very clearly and every one of them has been misunderstood. Even better, in each scene, you can clearly see what was intended and what was understood. It is all believable and at the same time a fine parlour trick from the author. [They missed getting this across in the otherwise excellent BBC production, Barchester Chronicles.]
Also, Trollope is alert to technology and communication to an interesting degree. Courcy town is languishing because of the railroad. Turns of plot in Barchester Towers depend on the telegraph being faster than letters and on trains being faster than carriages.
Again, that isn’t really enough. I think I read Trollope mostly because of the pace. Trollope is no particular hurry, but he doesn’t dawdle or go on for pages in digressions. He takes time to describe Courcy Castle and then also describe the town and the state of business there. He’ll gladly spend a paragraph or so to assure you that there will be a happy ending for the heroine. Except for the occasional archaic word or concept, he is easy to read. I know that he wrote on a strict schedule, producing novels to keep the money coming in, but that is not at all apparent in his writing. When reading Trollope, I fall in step with his pace. I become a person who has time to read unhurriedly, who isn’t re-writing for the perfect five-sentence e-mail. When I need to slow down for a bit, I read Trollope.