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Literature / The Chronicles of Barsetshire

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Map of the County of Barsetshire

The Chronicles of Barsetshire are a series of six novels by Anthony Trollope, written between 1855 and 1867. Set in the fictional English county of Barsetshire, home to the cathedral town of Barchester, they are focussed on the various political, amatory, and social manœuvrings occurring in the dealings of the clergy and the gentry. The second novel, Barchester Towers, is the most famous.

  1. The Warden
  2. Barchester Towers
  3. Doctor Thorne
  4. Framley Parsonage
  5. The Small House at Allington
  6. The Last Chronicle of Barset

The first two novels were adapted in 1982 into a BBC television serial, Barchester Chronicles, starring Donald Pleasence, Janet Maw, Nigel Hawthorne, Angela Pleasence, Barbara Flynn, Geraldine McEwan, Alan Rickman and Susan Hampshire. The third novel, Doctor Thorne, was adapted for ITV in 2016 by Julian Fellowes.

Incidentally these books are probably the first novel series written in English. They certainly popularised the idea of separate novels linked by settings and characters; Margaret Oliphant followed Trollope's lead in 1861 with her Chronicles of Carlingford, and many other novelists have done the same ever since.

The series provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The book describes Mr Slope as 'not specially prepossessing', with lank hair, a beef-coloured face, and always sweaty. In the BBC serial, he's played by Alan Rickman, with none of these characteristics.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Sir Roger Scatcherd in Doctor Thorne, who celebrates his baronetcy by drinking "a dose of alcohol sufficient to send three ordinary men very drunk to bed".
    • His clerk Winterbones is equally alcoholic, though he's addicted to gin where Sir Roger favours brandy.
    • Sir Roger's son Sir Louis is also an alcoholic, in spite of Dr. Thorne's efforts to make him stop drinking.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The Signora's backstory.
    "As is so often the case, she had married the very worst of those who sought her hand. Why she had chosen Paulo Neroni, a man of no birth and no property, a mere captain in the Pope's guard, one who had come up to Milan either simply as an adventurer or else as a spy, a man of harsh temper and oily manners, mean in figure, swarthy in face, and so false in words as to be hourly detected, need not now be told."
  • All Love Is Unrequited: In The Small House at Allington, the majority of prospective relationships founder on this — Amelia Roper is sweet on Johnny, who only has eyes for Lily, whose heart is set on Adolphus. And Bernard wants Lily's sister Bell, who doesn't want him.
  • Anti-Villain: Mrs. Proudie. She is haughty, cold, manipulative and unforgiving, dominates her husband the bishop, and attempts to assert control of Barchester through the church. She also (successfully) campaigns against Mr. Harding's re-enstatement as warden, but she does so out of concern for another vicar who has a large family to feed.
    It is ordained that all novels should have a male and a female angel and a male and a female devil. If it be considered that this rule is obeyed in these pages, the latter character must be supposed to have fallen to the lot of Mrs. Proudie. But she was not all devil. There was a heart inside that stiff-ribbed bodice, though not, perhaps, of large dimensions, and certainly not easily accessible.
  • Awful Wedded Life:
    • Crosbie's punishment for dumping Lily in The Small House at Allington is to be married to Alexandrina de Courcy; they quickly find that they bore each other to tears.
    • Alexandrina's mother, the Countess de Courcy, who is constantly verbally abused by her husband and fears he might even resort to physical violence, thinks Alexandrina has it easy by comparison.
  • Barsetshire: The Trope Namer.
  • Betty and Veronica: The Small House at Allington:
    • For Lily Dale, Johnny Eames (a shy, awkward young man whom she's known since they were children) and Adolphus Crosbie (a handsome, articulate, reasonably well-off civil servant).
    • For Adolphus Crosbie, Lily Dale (a sweet country girl) and Alexandrina de Courcy (an aristocrat with a well-connected family).
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At one point in Barchester Towers, Trollope describes how he has sat and passed time in the titular cathedral and expressed personal enmity to one of the characters, at another he is telling us he needs to pad out the novel by 12 pages.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Ethelbert Stanhope.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Dr. Grantley utters "Good heavens!" rather frequently, as does his wife to a lesser extent.
    • Mrs. Proudie often begins sentences with "But surely, surely..."
  • The Comically Serious: Mrs. Proudie at times.
  • Creator In-Joke / Self-Deprecation: In Barchester Towers, Trollope mentions an author who, "wishing to sustain his interest to the last page, hung his hero at the end of the third volume. The consequence was that no one would read his novel." The author was Trollope himself, and the novel was his debut, The Macdermots of Ballycloran.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Some readers have wondered just how far Lily Dale went with Adolphus Crosbie, when they were alone together in the laurel avenue.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Modern readers of Doctor Thorne are often shocked when Trollope steps away from the church politics for a moment to frankly describe a woman dying of breast cancer, described as such. In his time, it wouldn't have been shocking.
  • Disposable Love Interest: Eleanor's husband from The Warden is dead by the beginning of Barchester Towers so that she is open for marriage again.
  • Domestic Abuse: The Signora may or may not suffered this from her husband to an extreme even before her introduction, leaving her both paraplegic and seemingly immune to falling in love again.
  • Doorstopper: The later books increasingly fall into this category. In most editions, The Warden is around 250 pages, but Barchester Towers is nearly twice that, Doctor Thorne and Framley Parsonage are over 500 pages, The Small House at Allington is over 700 pages, and The Last Chronicle of Barset is over 900 pages.
  • Double Standard: In The Small House at Allington, Crosbie proposing to Lily only to jilt her is seen as an unforgivable act. The similar course of Johnny's relationship with Amelia Roper hardly raises a ripple. The difference: Lily is a gentleman's daughter, Amelia is working class.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • At the end of The Warden, major character John Bold has just married into an influential Barsetshire family and can be expected to play a major role in future novels. By the beginning of the next book, Barchester Towers, he's dead of causes never mentioned in the book, leaving behind a plot-convenient widow and young child.
    • In The Last Chronicle of Barset, Alexandrina Crosbie has died so that the Lily - Adolphus - Johnny love triangle from The Small House at Allington can be rerun.
  • Drunken Master: Sir Roger Scatcherd's admirers believe that his business instincts are at their best when he's drunk.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Chapter 23 of The Small House at Allington features the debut of, and is named for, a young MP named Plantagenet Palliser. He is a minor character in the rest of the book, in which he contemplates a dalliance with Archdeacon Grantly's daughter Griselda (who, since her marriage in Framley Parsonage, has been Lady Dumbello) despite a threat from his bachelor uncle, the Duke of Omnium (first introduced in Doctor Thorne), to disinherit him if he goes through with it, but he becomes a major character in the six-volume Spinoff series collectively known as the Palliser novels. Trollope evidently had bigger plans for Palliser from the start, as the end of Chapter 55 (the last one to feature Palliser) includes a short description of the Love Triangle that forms between Palliser, Lady Glencora MacCluskie, and Burgo Fitzgerald in the first Palliser novel, Can You Forgive Her?.
  • Emotionless Girl: Griselda Dumbello in The Small House at Allington, who comes across as somewhat creepy in her lack of emotional reactions. When she hears that there are rumours circulating about her and Palliser, she isn't angry, or worried, or offended; she simply considers how best to turn the situation to her advantage.
  • Exact Words: When asked by Mr Slope about Sunday schools, the Archdeacon brushes him off, claiming there isn’t one in his parish. The narrator notes that there is a school attached to his church, and the children attend on Sunday - it’s just not specifically a Sunday school.
  • Femme Fatale: The Signora. Even though she is sofa-bound, she is so alluring that every man who looks at her falls for her.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Doctor Thorne is the responsible one; his brother Henry was a rake who, after seducing a Barchester woman, met his end at the hands of her infuriated brother.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Most of Palliser's resolve to flirt with Lady Dumbello comes from the fact that his uncle the Duke told him not to do anything of the kind.
  • Good Is Boring: In the words of Dr. Grantley, referring to Mr. Harding:
    Dr. Grantley: On the contrary, no man has ever given less cause for forgiveness then Septimus Harding. He is not a hero, not a man that is widely talked about, not a man who should be toasted at public dinners, not a man who should be spoken of with conventional absurdity as "the perfect divine". He's simply a good man, without guile, believing humbly in the religion he has striven to teach, and guided by the precepts he has striven to learn. My friends, I give you our Mr. Harding.
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Proudie.
  • Henpecked Husband: Dr. Proudie.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: At the beginning of the second book, Eleanor's husband has died and left her with a baby-and enough money to be pursued by multiple suitors.
  • Humble Hero: Mr. Harding.
  • Humiliation Conga: Mr. Slope is subjected to a well-deserved one at the end of Barchester Towers, thanks to Eleanor Bold, the Signora, and Mrs. Proudie.
  • Hypocrite: Mr. Slope. It is mentioned that he suffers pangs of conscience about it.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Archdeacon Grantly, who fails to get his promotion to Bishop.
  • It's the Same, Now It Sucks!: In the Autobiography (ch. XV), Trollope explains that he did in Mrs. Proudie in The Last Chronicle of Barset after overhearing two men complaining about her in particular and the repetitiveness of his novels in general.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Dr. Grantley comes across as this.
    • The Signora Madeline Neroni. She loves to play with her admirers' feelings and is especially cruel to Mr. Slope, but ultimately she gives Eleanor indispensable relationship advice about Mr. Arabin.
    • Squire Dale honestly cares for his nieces, but his dour and undemonstrative nature makes it hard for him to show it.
  • Kick the Dog: Mr. Slope's first sermon, in which he insults Mr. Harding's music.
  • Lonely at the Top: Why Sir Roger Scatcherd is more than half-inclined to drink himself to death.
    Such a life as mine makes a man a fool, and makes him mad too. What have I about me that I should be afraid to die? I'm worth three hundred thousand pounds; and I'd give it all to be able to go to work to-morrow with a hod and mortar, and have a fellow clap his hand upon my shoulder, and say: 'Well, Roger, shall us have that 'ere other half-pint this morning?' I'll tell you what, Thorne, when a man has made three hundred thousand pounds, there's nothing left for him but to die. It's all he's good for then.
  • Love Redeems: While John Bold from The Warden is a Well-Intentioned Extremist rather than a villain, falling in love with Eleanor induces him to give up his campaign against her father.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: The Toogoods have twelve children.
  • The Matchmaker: Miss Thorne and Signora Madeline Neroni, with regard to Eleanor Bold and Mr. Arabin.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • John Bold, Mrs. Proudie (notably averted with her husband), and Mr. Slop(e).
    • One of Dr. Thorne's competitors in the medical profession is named Dr. Fillgrave. The Last Chronicle of Barset expands on why his name is appropriate: he's invariably called on to attend the terminally ill, not so much to prolong their life, but "to add a grace to the hour of departure."
    • Characters in The Warden include Sir Abraham Haphazard, Dr. Pessimist Anticant and Mr. Popular Sentiment; the last two are parodies of Carlyle and Dickens.
    • The Small House at Allington has committee members Mr Optimist and Major Fiasco.
    • The Last Chronicle of Barset has Mr. Toogood.
  • The Mourning After: John Eames and Lily Dale are a very tragic though nonfatal example. She falls in love with a cad who abandons her so he can marry a rich girl. She decides to remain perpetually single, and Eames, who loves her, also remains single for her sake.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Dr. Fillgrave.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: We aren't told exactly what epithet the Archdeacon used to describe Mrs Proudie after their first meeting, but...
    The archdeacon hereupon forgot himself. I will not follow his example, nor shock my readers by transcribing the term in which he expressed his feeling as to the lady who had been named [...] There was a pause, during which the precentor tried to realize the fact that the wife of a Bishop of Barchester had been thus designated, in the close of the cathedral, by the lips of its own archdeacon; but he could not do it.
  • Nice Guy: Mr. Harding.
  • The Nondescript: Alexandrina de Courcy in The Small House at Allington — she's beautiful, but her face is completely unmemorable.
  • Old Flame Fizzle: In The Last Chronicle of Barset, Lily Dale sees Adolphus Crosbie again, for the first time since he jilted her, and realises how far he falls short of her idealised memory of him.
  • One-Steve Limit: Aversion in The Small House at Allington, with Amelia Roper and Lady Amelia Gazebee. Fortunately they move in very different social circles, so there's never any doubt which Amelia is being referred to.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The Crawleys had many children, but only three are still alive by the time of The Last Chronicle of Barset. Sadly Truth in Television for the nineteenth century.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Archdeacon Grantley's attempt to nix his son Henry's marriage to Josiah Crawley's daughter Grace in The Last Chronicle of Barset.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: The following exchange:
    Signora Madeline Neroni: (to Mr. Slope, referring to Mrs. Proudie) Is she always like this?
    Mrs. Proudie: Yes — always — madam, always the same — always equally adverse to impropriety of conduct of every description. (turns to leave)
    Signora: (laughs loudly after her)
    Mrs. Proudie: Mr. Slope, I am surprised you should leave my company to attend on such a painted Jezebel as that.
  • The Place
  • Pre-Approved Sermon: The Bishop of Barchester is so dominated by his wife that she has significant input into the sermons he preaches.
  • Punny Name: Barchester Towers gives us Sir Lamda Mewnew and Sir Omicron Pye.
  • Self-Made Man: Sir Roger Scatcherd in Doctor Thorne, who started as a stonemason and rose to become the wealthy owner of a construction business.
  • Sexless Marriage: Strongly implied in The Small House at Allington, with Alexandrina Crosbie comforting herself that, no matter how awful her married life is, at least she doesn't have to worry about the possibility of babies.
  • Shipper on Deck: In The Small House at Allington, Squire Dale would like Bernard to marry Bell, and Johnny to marry Lily. The latter aim is shared by Lord de Guest.
  • Sinister Minister: Obadiah Slope.
  • Same Surname Means Related: Signora Neroni claims, based on her husband's surname, that he was descended from the Emperor Nero.
  • Smug Snake: Obadiah Slope.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: The second book opens with Eleanor's husband having died, leaving her completely devastated. Until their baby was born. "And thus the widow's deep grief was softened, and a sweet balm was poured into the wound which she had thought nothing but death could heal."
  • Spell My Name with a Blank: Barchester Towers has a scene where the government has just fallen. It names both the defeated Prime Minister, and the incoming one, as the Earl of _____. In the audiobook version, they are the Earl Russell and The Earl Of Derby, respectively.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: Both Dr. Grantley and Mr. Arabin incorrectly assume that Eleanor is romantically involved with Mr. Slope. She is too angry about this to bother disillusioning them.
  • Twice Shy: Eleanor Bold and Mr. Arabin in Barchester Towers. Giving both of them a nudge is Signora Madeline Neroni's kindest deed.
  • Unrequited Love Lasts Forever: In The Small House at Allington, this seems to be a family trait with the Dales — if they can't marry the person they've decided on, they won't settle for anyone else.
  • The Vicar: The series is full of vicars, including Smug Snake Obadiah Slope, Henpecked Husband Bishop Proudie, and Archdeacon Theophilus Grantley.
  • Wardrobe Malfunction: Mrs. Proudie amusingly suffers one at the clumsy hands of Bertie Stanhope in Barchester Towers.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's stated repeatedly in the first nine chapters of the second book that the new bishop will spend most of the year with his wife in London, leaving the actual running of the diocese to his assistant Mr. Slope. But the bishop and his wife never actually leave. (The reason is that Trollope put the book aside for a year, and when he returned changed his mind about what would happen without bothering to rewrite the first nine chapters.)

Alternative Title(s): Barchester Towers, The Warden