Review published on August 11, 2015.
Oxford World Classics have re-issued The Barchester Chronicles with spectacular covers based on designs from the V&A. Unfortunately the print has not been so successfully updated, so the cover price of £10.99 is somewhat steep!
However, the contents are superb. Trollope finishes his Barchester series brilliantly. It is not necessary to have read the other five novels in order to appreciate this one, but if you are familiar with these, and the Palliser novels (they do overlap) then that can only add to the enjoyment.
The main theme of the book is the plight of the Permanent Curate, Josiah Crawley, who is accused of the theft of a cheque for £20.00. He is by nature a morose and introspective man, beset by extreme poverty, and during the course of his tribulations comes to doubt his own sanity. Those who are determined to ruin him are headed by the formidable Mrs. Proudie, wife of the Bishop (who is terrified of his wife). The community is split over the issue and the infuriating Curate constantly refuses sound advice and practical help. To complicate matters, his beautiful daughter is in love with Major Grantly, son of the Archdeacon (and not Archbishop as described on the back cover!). Grace Crawley refuses to marry him because of the scandal surrounding her father. In addition a second romantic thread continues the story of Lily Dale (of The Small House at Allington) and her suitor Johnny Eames, who is desperately in love with her, and hopes she will return his affection, having been jilted by her previous fiancé.
The novel brings all these threads to a satisfactory conclusion, including (and this is perhaps a spoiler alert, but the work has been in print for nearly 150 years) the death of Mrs. Proudie, with, perhaps for the only time in her life, “her mouth rigidly closed, and her eyes open”. This has a surprising affect on both the Bishop and the reader. He is torn between feeling relief that she is no more, and utter desolation. Mrs. Proudie was a masterpiece of Trollope’s talent, and could be said to dominate all 800+ pages of the novel.
Readers and reading groups would gain a wonderful experience from the choice of this book. It is the “fine dining” of literature.
Ruth Ginarlis, Winchester (Barset!)
Personal read *****
Group read *****
THE LAST CHRONICLE OF BARSET by Anthony Trollope
Oxford World Classics (11 Dec. 2014) pbk