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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Authorial asides and diversions from the plot in Trollope

For all the strengths and quirks of Trollope's novels, and I've mentioned many in previous posts, you also have to recognize that these novels, by today's standards and probably even by those of the 19th century, are what I'd call "baggy" - lots of extraneous material, lots of sections that could an editor could tighten or cut altogether. Trollope was writing in serial format and paid by the page or word or installment, so it was not in his interest to rush the plot or make a virtue of concision. The Warden is a bit of an exception, a short novel for T., but Barchester Towers shows T at his best and his most wheel-spinning self indulgence (it may have been that at some periods when installments were due he had no idea where to take the plot so he took it on a tangent). In BT we therefore get, quite late in the novel, a long side trip into a grand party that the Thorne brother and sister throw for the near-entire populace of their village of Ullathorne. All the major characters do attend this event, and we do see their interactions - pushing forward, if ever so slightly, the courtship narrative of this strange novel - 3 suitors for the hand of the widow Eleanor Bold, two of whom are being let into temptation by the beautiful flirt Signora Neroni (the one not tempted by her is her brother, Bertie Stanhope) - but essentially this whole long chapter, or chapters, are a side channel in which Trollope can skewer some of the class prejudices of his time - much discussion about where to seat and entertain the guests, according to their rank - and to question with his wry authorial asides the whole practice of entertaining: not only is it hard work that everyone dreads to throw a big party, but nobody really likes to go to these parties, either, so why do we do this?, he asks. Good question - but let's get on with the story.

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