The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope —Curtain Falls On Old Friends
It took Anthony Trollope almost fourteen years to write The Chronicles of Barsetshire. It’s taken me about eight to read the 3469 pages that make up his series of six books set in the fictional rural English county of Barsetshire. But now, having finished The Last Chronicle of Barset, I can declare my work is done.
Trollope claimed in his autobiography that The Last Chronicle of Barset was “the best novel I have written …there is a true savour of English life all through the book’.”. I can’t judge whether that’s true since I’ve not yet read his other major series — the Palliser novels — but it’s certainly one of the best in the Chronicles. I’d been hoping after the disappointing fifth book — The Small House at Allington — that Trollope’s final visit to Barsetshire would mark a return to his previous form. He didn’t fail me.
The main storyline of The Last Chronicle of Barset concerns the plight of the Reverend Josiah Crawley, an impoverished curate of a small parish, who is accused of stealing a cheque. He doesn’t deny that used it to pay debts to local tradespeople. But he’s at a loss to understand how the cheque came to be in his possession in the first place.
His case sends ripples through the world of Barsetshire. Some members of the community shun him, others want more decisive action, including the Bishop’s wife, Mrs Proudie. So certain is she that Cawley is guilty, that she schemes to get the man instantly dismissed. The Reverend does have friends who would come to his aid if only he would let them. But Cawley is a proud man, refusing all assistance and almost enjoying his new status as local martyr.
Meanwhile there are affairs of the heart that demand our attention.
The Reverend’s daughter Grace Crawley wins the love of Major Grantly, son of the Archdeacon. But she refuses to accept his offer of marriage because she doesn’t want to damage the Major’s reputation through any association with her family. It’s not the only obstacle the Major faces in his path to the altar: his father threatens to cut him off if he marries Grace because she is so far beneath him in social status.
A second romantic sub plot, which picks up from The Small House of Allington, sees John Eames once more in pursuit of Lily Dale. Will she accept him this time or is she still pining for the cad Adolphus Crosbie who ditched her once before when he saw a more adventagous match within his grasp.
As always, Trollope draws the reader in with these multiple interwoven plots which all connect to themes of pride and dignity. Just like the earlier titles, he captures the essence of Victorian society, showing its concerns about property, status, connections as well as its social conventions.
The principal attraction of the novel for me however, is his cast of characters. We’ve met many of them in the earlier titles like the clergyman Mark Roberts from Framley Parsonage, Archdeacon Grantly from Barchester Towers and Dr Thomas Thorne the titular character of book two.
They’re never portrayed as anything other than thoroughly human, a mix of virtues and flaws.
Some of those who feature prominently in the Last Chronicle of Barset are irritating —Grace Cawley was just too nice and insipid to hold my attention. Some are despicable, particularly Augustus Musselboro, Mrs. Van Siever and Dobbs Broughton, the three partners in a dodgy moneylending and stockbroking enterprise. Others are gentle, kind and thoughtful like Mrs Dale.
The Last Chronicle of Barset sees a welcome return for my two all-time favourites: the Bishop’s wife Mrs Proudie and the former warden Septimus Harding.
Mrs Proudie has always worn the trousers in the palace but in this novel she is more redoubtable than ever, imperiously making decisions about the Reverend Crawley’s future without the Bishop’s approval. Even this weak-willed man has his limits however and Mrs Proudie discovers she has exerted her authority for the last time.
The Mr Harding we meet in this final novel is but a shadow of the man who began the series in The Warden. There’s a distinct note of sadness attached to his appearances in The Last Chronicle of Barset. He’s in the twilight of his years, gradually losing all the pleasures that once meant so much to him. Physical frailty means he has to stop attending the Cathedral services each day and he packs his beloved cello away, finding no comfort in this once treasured instrument. His life is reduced to games of cat’s cradle with his young granddaughter. As he takes to his bed, awaiting the inevitable outcome, his one wish is see his favourite daughter once more, praying she returns from Italy in time.
It’s left to his son in law, the Archdeacon, to pay homage to Mr Harding. Though the two of them were never close, the Archdeacon shows at the end a full appreciation of Mr Harding’s qualities:
I feel sure that he never had an impure fancy in his mind, or a faulty wish in his heart. His tenderness has surpassed the tenderness of woman; and yet, when occasion came for showing it, he had all the spirit of a hero…The fact is, he was never wrong. He couldn’t go wrong. He lacked guile, and he feared God – and a man who does both will never go far astray. I don’t think he coveted aught in his life – except a new case for his violincello and somebody to listen to him when he played it.
I’m going to miss this kindly clergyman and all his acquaintances. I’ve followed them through good times and bad, through marriages and deaths, and through love affairs and scandals. The novels are not perfect — Trollope sometimes doesn’t know when to stop writing and he falls too often into the trap of too many sub plots. But I still feel sad to be leaving the world of Barset.
Trollope puts it perfectly on his final page:
… to me Barset has been a real county, and its city a real city, and the spires and towers have been before my eyes, and the voices of the people are known to my ears, and the pavement of the city ways are familiar to my footsteps.
The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope: Footnotes
The Last Chronicle of Barset was serialised in The Cornhill between 1866 and 1867 and later published as a 2 volume work in 1867 by Smith, Elder and Coas. it’s the final book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire which began with The Warden published in 1855. My edition has 890 pages, making it the longest of all the books. The shortest is The Warden at about 300 pages.
The Chronicles are said to have been inspired by a visit Trollope made to Salisbury while working for The Post Office, though he didn’t actually begin writing until the following year. The first two books were not a huge success though did sell better than Trollope’s earlier work. It was not until the third title, Dr Thorne, that Trollope star began to rise . As a result he was approached by The Cornhill to request he write a novel for serialisation in the magazine.
38 thoughts on “The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope —Curtain Falls On Old Friends”
I have read Barchester Chronicles, a couple of times, and I’ve seen the BBC series, a couple of times – but, have never found the time to read more. I’d be interested to. I’m impressed that you read through the whole series. I seem to always give up on series at around the third or fourth book mark unless some other reason is there to make me read more.
I think it’s only this series and the Raj Quartet that I’ve completed though there are a few I have started, the longest one of which is Emile Zola’s Rougon Macquet cycle of 20 novels. Of which I have read 9 so a long way to go yet
I loved this series and thought that it would definitely be Trollope’s best, then I read the Palliser series and loved that even more.
Good to heart that because I wasn’t sure about the Pallisers – it sounds heavy on the politics
Bravo for finishing such a lengthy series!
I have most of the books on my TBR pile for one day, but in the meantime, Angela Thirkell’s stories are keeping me going 🙂
I’ve read a couple by her but didn’t feel they grabbed me. I suspect my mistake was to delve in mid way through the series so I didn’t see the characters develop
I haven’t started the Barsetshire novels yet, but I am enjoying the Pallisers very much and also loved The Way We Lived Now, so I am delighted to hear that I have these to look forward to once I’ve finished the current series (probably some time in about ten years at the current rate).
Our situations are exactly in reverse – I’ve yet to read the Pallisers. I read Can You Forgive Her but it was so so long ago that I remembe nothing about it. Good to hear that its a treat to read this series
I am reading The Small House at Allington having binge read the previous four in the series and am looking forward to The Last Chronicle although will be sad to leave these characters. I have read The Pallisers but enjoy the Barchester people more. Many thanks for your review.
I don’t think I could binge read Trollope – I felt I needed a break between books because they were so long. Trollope isn’t a man who understands writing briefly does he?
Such a long time since I read these novels, I did reread The Warden and Barchester Towers some years ago, but that’s probably longer ago than I realise. I loved these stories of Victorian English life, far more my thing than Dickens though I read them too. I did also read the Palliser novels and lots of other standalones. He could certainly write a good story.
Interesting to compare him with Dickens. I enjoy both though I do get frustrated with Dickens sometimes when he goes off on a tangent .
I was also sad to farewell to these characters who had become old friends, but I still have the Pallisers to get to
I’m wondering how big a factor the politics is in The Pallisers – there was a touch too much of it in one or two of the Barsetshire books
3469 pages? Oh My! Good for you for keeping at it and finally finishing it all!
Well I did space it out over very many years
Hey… no shame in that!
I have quite a number of 3,500 pages that I would put before Trollope, but I enjoyed your review, it can be my cheat notes if anybody ever asks me a question about Barsetshire (except, who is the other writer who set stories there? It has completely slipped my mind)
You’re thinking of Angela Thirkell who set her novels in Barsetshire. I’ve read only one or two, didn’t engage me all that much but maybe I should have started with the first book rather than delve in mid way
I love this series… I read it when I went through my Trollope phase and binged on everything in the library, out of order because that’s the way it sometimes happens at the library, but it didn’t matter. And I re-read some of the Chronicles when the BBC did the TV series — who can ever forget Mrs Proudie, or dear Dr Thorne? I have them all now on DVD and watched it again last year.
I wish the BBC still made series like it. These days they don’t seem to be able to stop themselves from sexing everything up and making the women more feminist than they could possibly have been in that era.
If you can lay hands on it, Trollope’s autobiography is good reading too.
Heather Peace’s novel ALL TO PLAY FOR goes a long way to explaining why things are different at the BBC. I too miss those wonderful series.
Hehe, I have an amusing BBC TV mockumentary series called W1A which explains it too…
It’s superb – wish there were more episodes! I applied to join the BBC as a trainee journalist. They didn’t want me partly because I suspect I didn’t have the right accent at the time. Now they would be falling all over themselves to be more inclusive
I’ve not heard of that one, but just reading the review it does sound like a book I would enjoy. Thanks Guy.
I’ve seen the TV adaptation of the first two books -wasn’t Alan Rickman brilliant as Slope? Did the Beeb go on to adapt any of the others?
Some of the recent BBC adaptations have been dire (Sanditon in particular), as you say they are trying to be so woke and completely ignoring the attitudes and speech patterns of the period.
I’ve got a boxed set of BBC comprising 3 Trollope adaptations: 7 episodes in The Barchester Chronicles, covering the first two novels The Warden and Barchester Towers; then 4 episodes of the novel The Way We Live Now, and 4 episodes of He Knew He Was Right. I’ve also got the complete Palliser series. There’s also an adaptation of Dr Thorne, but I haven’t got that one.
Just found the collection – I didn’t know about this. You’ve made mr Bookertalk very happy because he now has an extra birthday present he can get for me….
Glad to have been of service!
So you still have DVDs too? I wouldn’t part with my collection for all the streaming services there are!
We have two large bookcases full of them which causes my nephew and niece (both in their early twenties) to roll their eyes when they visit because of course they come from a generation that relies on streaming. But if the internet is down, our DVD player can still be relied upon to provide entertainment
Exactly. I accidentally bought a couple of German DVDs with no subtitles and offered them, well, I won’t say where. Response was: don’t know anyone with a DVD player.
*Everyone* I know has a DVD player.
I can’t even watch them on my laptop now since few of them come with disc trays. CDs are just as difficult – my car doesn’t have a CD player and neither does the laptop.
I reckon I’ve got the last Mazda in captivity with a CD player!
Hold onto that because my new Mazda doesn’t even give an option to install a player.
Yes, I know. The new models for that year didn’t have one. They offered to put all my CDs onto an iPod (now also about to be extinct) and I said no thanks and bought the last remaining model from the previous year. (I think they thought I was mad.)
Thanks for mentioning that Barsetshire is fictional… I was wondering where on Earth it was!
I know who Anthony Trollope is, but I’ve never read a single book written by him. I should probably start to.
If you decide to read him, then do start with The Warden – it sets the scene well and introduces you to characters who play a part in the later novels.
Hmm, I have a copy of The Warden nagging at me, though I have no end of other classics also giving me a hard stare. Well, it looks short, so I might – after your mammoth and obviously enjoyable achievement – risk a peek soon. 😁
Yes it’s shortish and an easy read – it doesn’t have as many sub plots as his later books