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Tony Grist

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Carrying On With Barchester Towers [Apr. 15th, 2015|01:09 pm]
Tony Grist
I had Trollope all wrong. I'd throught he was a Dickens without the fizz- and he's not- not at all.

Dickens paints in oils, with heavy impasto. Trollope is a watercolourist- muted colours and subtle washes.

He's a humorist, but not in the Dickensian style. The humour is wry, sidelong, rarely explosively funny. The only Dickensian thing about him is his fondness for giving his characters grotesque and significant names- Slope, Proudie, Quiverful- that sort of thing. It's misleading. Because the people with the grotesque names are never grotesque in themselves.

Slope for instance. The name suggests something in the vein of Uriah Heep. Now Heep is a wonderful gargoyle but that's all he is- and Slope affects us as a human being. We don't like Slope, and Trollope doesn't mean us to- but we're made aware of his better qualities. Courage, for instance. There's something Napoleonic about the way he single-handedly sets out to conquer Barchester. His new ideas may be rather ghastly- Sabbath schools and all that- but they're ideas and they're new- and Barchester has been dozing in the sun for rather too long.  Mr Harding- much as we love him- is lazy, complacent and weak- and is it such a terribly bad thing that he should be taken up by the scruff of the neck and worried?

Then there's Slope's love affair with Signora Vesey-Neroni. Heep in love is a hideous idea; the idea of Slope in love is unpleasant too- the man is physically unattractive and emotionally clumsy- but his lust (because we can call a spade a spade even if Trollope has to be circumspect) makes him some sort of a man and a brother. It's against his professed religion and against his worldy interests to be paying court to a married woman- but he can't help himself. Yes, he's a hypocrite, but not a calculating one. And the stress and strain of it has him whizzing round- in Trollope's vivid phrase- like a cockchafer on a pin. He suffers pain- and- to a certain extent we feel it with him.

Trollope sees things all sides round. The affair of Hiram's hospital is damnably complicated. Mr Harding may have some sort of moral right to the job, but Mr Quiverful's needs are close to desperate. Slope and Grantly and Proudie are using these people as pieces in a game of chess. And meanwhile everyone is hurting. I have to say I was unprepared to be taken to such high levels of emotional truth. I expectedTrollope to be agreeable and entertaining, I never thought he would move me.
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Comments:
From: artkouros
2015-04-15 12:44 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah - being an American teen in the 70s, I know all about Uriah Heep.


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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-15 12:56 pm (UTC)
I wonder if they actually read David Copperfield before choosing the name.
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From: artkouros
2015-04-15 01:13 pm (UTC)
They were probably art school drop outs.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-15 02:33 pm (UTC)
That was a very common career trajectory.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2015-04-15 05:17 pm (UTC)
Peter Capaldi, for instance.
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2015-04-15 01:51 pm (UTC)
I had long ignored Trollope on the grounds that he was like Dickens and I didn't like Dickens, but as you say, he's not at all like Dickens because his characters are very real and neither all good nor all bad. And even when people act unwisely, you can see why they are doing it and sympathise. If you haven't already read it, I can recommend The Way We Live Now, which is a wonderful critique of capitalism.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-15 02:39 pm (UTC)
I haven't read TWWLN, but it's on my list.

I'm planning to stock up on Trollope in the next few days. There's a bookshop in Eastbourne I go to when I'm after second-hand "classics".
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2015-04-15 05:17 pm (UTC)
Surprise, surprise. It happens in The Warden, too.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-15 05:25 pm (UTC)
I'll be looking out for a copy of The Warden when I go shopping....
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2015-04-15 08:19 pm (UTC)
I love Trollope and have never ever finished a book by Dickens other than A Christmas Carol. You are rights about heavy-handedness versus lightness of touch. I recommend "The Small House at Allington" which made me cry, and "Phineas Finn" - a tale of politics and forbidden love. Absolutely masterful prose from the man from the Post Office.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2015-04-15 08:58 pm (UTC)
They are very different, but I don't see why one shouldn't love them both.

I'm planning a visit to a second-hand bookshop in Eastbourne with a view to buying a lot more Trollope.
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[User Picture]From: redatt
2015-04-16 10:00 am (UTC)
My husband is a huge Trollope fan and says much the same about him. Perhaps it's time I gave his books a whirl myself.

A link to this Trollope quiz scrolled passed me on twitter this morning (I actually got 5/10): http://blog.oup.com/2015/04/anthony-trollope-quizanthony-trollope-quiz. I thought it may amuse others.
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