Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Carrying On With Barchester Towers

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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