||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (March 2013)|
Mrs. Proudie speaking to Archdeacon Grantly at their first meeting
|Series||Chronicles of Barsetshire|
|Preceded by||The Warden|
|Followed by||Doctor Thorne|
|Text||Barchester Towers at Wikisource|
Barchester Towers, published in 1857, is the second novel in Anthony Trollope's series known as the "Chronicles of Barsetshire". Among other things it satirises the then raging antipathy in the Church of England between High Church and Evangelical adherents. Trollope began writing this book in 1855. He wrote constantly, and made himself a writing-desk so he could continue writing while travelling by train. "Pray know that when a man begins writing a book he never gives over," he wrote in a letter during this period. "The evil with which he is beset is as inveterate as drinking – as exciting as gambling." And, years later in his autobiography, he observed "In the writing of Barchester Towers I took great delight. The bishop and Mrs. Proudie were very real to me, as were also the troubles of the archdeacon and the loves of Mr. Slope." But when he submitted his finished work, his publisher, William Longman, initially turned it down, finding much of it to be full of "vulgarity and exaggeration". More recent critics offer a more sanguine opinion. "Barchester Towers is many readers' favourite Trollope," wrote The Guardian, which included it in its list of "1000 novels everyone must read".
Barchester Towers concerns the leading clergy of the cathedral city of Barchester. The much loved bishop having died, all expectations are that his son, Archdeacon Grantly, will succeed him. Instead, owing to the passage of the power of patronage to a new Prime Minister, a newcomer, the far more Evangelical Bishop Proudie, gains the see. His wife, Mrs Proudie, exercises an undue influence over the new bishop, making herself as well as the bishop unpopular with most of the clergy of the diocese. Her interference to veto the reappointment of the universally popular Mr Septimus Harding (protagonist of Trollope's earlier novel, The Warden) as warden of Hiram's Hospital is not well received, even though she gives the position to a needy clergyman, Mr Quiverful, with 14 children to support.
Even less popular than Mrs Proudie is the bishop's newly appointed chaplain, the hypocritical and sycophantic Mr Obadiah Slope, who decides it would be expedient to marry Harding's wealthy widowed daughter, Eleanor Bold, and hopes to win her favour by interfering in the controversy over the wardenship. The Bishop, or rather Mr Slope under the orders of Mrs Proudie, also orders the return of the prebendary Dr Vesey Stanhope from Italy. Dr Stanhope has been there, recovering from a sore throat, for 12 years and has spent his time catching butterflies. With him to the Cathedral Close come his wife and his three adult children. The younger of Dr Stanhope's two daughters causes consternation in the Palace and threatens the plans of Mr Slope: Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni is a crippled serial flirt with a young daughter and a mysterious Italian husband whom she has left. Mrs Proudie is appalled by her and considers her an unsafe influence on her daughters, her servants and Mr Slope. Mr Slope is drawn like a moth to a flame and cannot keep away. Dr Stanhope's son Bertie is skilled at spending money but not at making it: his two sisters think marriage to rich Eleanor Bold will provide financial security for him.
Summoned by Archdeacon Grantly to assist in the war against the Proudies and Mr Slope is the brilliant Reverend Francis Arabin. Mr Arabin is a considerable scholar, Fellow of Lazarus College at Oxford, who nearly followed his mentor John Henry Newman into the Roman Catholic Church. A massive misunderstanding occurs between Eleanor and her father, brother-in-law, sister and Mr Arabin: they all believe she intends to marry the oily chaplain Mr Slope. Mr Arabin is attracted to Eleanor but the efforts of Grantly and his wife to stop her marrying Slope also interfere with any relationship that might develop. At the Ullathorne garden party of the Thornes, matters come to a head. Mr Slope proposes to Mrs Bold and is slapped for his presumption; Bertie goes through the motions of a proposal to Eleanor and is refused with good grace, and the Signora has a chat with Mr Arabin. Mr Slope's double-dealings are now revealed and he is dismissed by Mrs Proudie and the Signora. The Signora drops a delicate word in several ears and with the removal of their misunderstanding Mr Arabin and Eleanor become engaged. The old Dean of the Cathedral having died, Mr Slope campaigns to become Dean, but Mr Harding is offered the preferment, with a beautiful house in the Close and fifteen acres of garden. However, Mr Harding considers himself unsuitable and, with the help of the archdeacon, arranges that Mr Arabin be made Dean.
With the Stanhopes' return to Italy, life in the Cathedral Close returns to its previous quiet and settled ways and Mr Harding continues his life of gentleness and music.
Characters of the novel
The High Church faction
- Archdeacon Grantly, Dr Theophilus Grantly, is the son of the former Bishop of Barchester, Dr Grantly senior, who passes away at the start of the novel. Married to Susan Harding, he has three sons (Charles James, Henry, and Samuel) and two daughters (Florinda and Griselda) and lives at Plumstead Episcopi. His sister-in-law is Mrs Eleanor Bold, née Harding.
- Mrs Susan Grantly, Mr Harding's elder daughter and the Archdeacon's wife.
- Mr Septimus Harding is the meek, elderly precentor of Barchester and Rector of the church of St. Cuthbert's near the Cathedral Close. He was formerly Warden of Hiram's Hospital, but resigned in The Warden.
- Mr Francis Arabin, vicar of St Ewold, Fellow of Lazarus College and former professor of poetry at Oxford University. He is a former follower of John Henry Newman and adheres to the High Church faction of the Anglican Church. Arabin is sought out by Dr Grantly as an ally against the evangelical faction of Bishop Proudie, his wife and chaplain Obadiah Slope.
- Dr Gwynne, Master of Lazarus College, another ally.
The Low Church faction
- Bishop Proudie, a henpecked, weak-willed bishop who is constantly influenced by his wife Mrs Proudie and his chaplain Obadiah Slope concerning the matters of the see.
- Mrs Olivia Proudie, his wife. A proud, vulgar, domineering wife, who promotes evangelical causes such as Sunday schools, and is adamant in eliminating high-church rituals.
- Mr Obadiah Slope, a wheedling oily chaplain who has much influence over Bishop Proudie. Midway in the novel Slope decides that he will marry Mrs Eleanor Bold (née Harding), and sets about courting her. Formerly Mrs Proudie's ally, he comes into conflict with Mrs Proudie over the wardenship of Hiram's Hospital and she regards him as a traitor. The narrator speculates that he is a lineal descendant of Doctor Slop from the novel Tristram Shandy.
- Mrs Eleanor Bold, widow of John Bold with an infant son. She is Mr Septimus Harding's younger daughter. She has three potential suitors in Barchester Towers: Mr Obadiah Slope, Mr Bertie Stanhope and Mr Francis Arabin.
- Dr Vesey Stanhope is the rector of Crabtree Canonicorum and of Stogpingum, both in the diocese of Barchester and a Prebendary of Barchester Cathedral. He and his family lived for twelve years in Italy before being recalled by Bishop Proudie on Obadiah Slope's advice. He has two daughters, Charlotte and Madeline, and a son, Bertie (Ethelbert).
- Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni née Madeline Stanhope is the beautiful younger daughter of Dr Vesey Stanhope. Lamed by her abusive Italian husband, she is a cripple who needs to be carried around the house on a sofa, although it does not stop her constantly flirting with all men. She has a young daughter.
- Ethelbert "Bertie" Stanhope is the only son of Dr Vesey Stanhope. An idling, carefree man who never settles down in anything he does, although he is a gifted artist, and who borrows and spends a great deal and earns nothing. His sister Charlotte advises him to woo the rich and beautiful widow Eleanor Bold.
- Charlotte Stanhope is the elder daughter of Dr Vesey Stanhope. She is the manager of the family and a good friend of Eleanor Bold until Eleanor realises Charlotte is the primary instigator of her brother wooing her.
- Mr Quiverful, a poor clergyman with 14 children who becomes the new Warden of Hiram's Hospital.
- Mrs Letty Quiverful, his wife.
- Wilfred Thorne, the squire of St Ewold's. A bachelor of about fifty who comes under the charms of Signora Neroni.
- Miss Monica Thorne, his spinster sister of about sixty, who is an extreme traditionalist. She throws a party at their residence for the notables of Barsetshire.
- All these quotations and facts are from Victoria Glendinning, Trollope (2011)