The Last Chronicle of Barset - Anthony Trollope (1867)

Trollope tends to be one of those writers you hear about but never read. Less well known, perhaps, than Jane Austen, William Thackeray and Charles Dickens, he was nevertheless a prolific (the introduction to The Last Chronicle of Barset claims that at his death he had written more words than any other English novelist) and successful author. His reputation staggered after his death, but then somehow righted itself and now marches on apace.

Barsetshire is the setting for many of his forty-odd novels, and The Last Chronicle is the final one in that series. The novel is, in many respects, a typical novel of the time. It is wordy and at times discursive, the characters are often fixated on issues that seem to the modern eye to be insignificant or simnply quaint, and it is long. It is somewhat unusual, at least to my not-too-educated-eye, in that there are numerous subplots in the narrative, all at least tangentially related to the central character and plot point. This allows the author considerable scope for digression and reflection of plot and character.

As with much of this type of literature, the plot is secondary to character. Essentially the plot is this: a poor clergyman is accused of pilfering a 20 Pound check and no-one can seem to find a way to clear him. Even he, himself, seems unable to account for his acquisition of the check. In my edition, this is good for nearly 900 pages. The real interest though is in the remarkably human stories affected by this simple problem. A clergyman accused of theft - much less convicted! - is a social pariah, and thus his daughter's wedding is endangered. His situation is use as a gambit in the ongoing power struggled between two factions who are genteelly, but dedicatedly, at war. It provides an opportunity for gallantry by those who are otherwise only involved via distant blood relation. Mixed in with all this, naturally, is social commentary on country life and the inequities and iniquities which afflict mankind.

It is, all in all, remarkably readable. Someone who has never dipped their toe into Victorian literature may find it takes a bit of time to get used to the flow and structure, but since there are more than 800 pages to accomplish this task, time is available. Those who have already essayed Austen or Dickens should find it easy enough to get stuck in. In fact, the style is, if anything more accessible than Austen and more character-driven than Dickens. The time and effort to read the book and make the acquaintance of Trollope - and the inhabitants of Barsetshire - are well rewarded.

Overall Grade: B+

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