Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Can a novel about 19th-century church politics still be of interest?
Starting Trollope's Barchester Towers and it really helps to have recently finished reading The Warden, as BT picks up sometime after The Warden ended and the complex back story would be hellacious for someone starting BT fresh. BT is about the next generation of the leaders of the Anglican church in the fictional town or county of Barchester. The kindly Bishop Grantly has died and his snooty and priggish son, Archdeacib Grantly, expects to be appointed to fill his father's shoes but as his father is dying the government is in an upheaval and the PM gets dumped and the new PM passes over Grantly jr and puts in an outside who becomes Bishop Proudie. As I understand it Proudie is a liberal on some church doctrine but under the influence of his protege and sidekick, The Reverend Slope, he becomes a proselyte and fanatic on the issue of sabbath observance. Is there anything more selfish and pointless, and in fact more self-serving than that? Of all the issues and cares in society, that's what the church will now focus on: making sure nobody rests or has fun on Sunday but that the entire day is about devotion. OK, great for the church leaders - build up your own business and prestige - but what about the poor workers in factories and fields, not to get a moment's pleasure on the day of rest? Naturally, Grantly, despicable as he was in The Warden, becomes Proudie's gravest antagonist, so this time he's on the right side of the moral equation. Hard to believe a novel about church politics will hold my interest for 800 pp., but then again Trollope tells his stories through people, through characters, so even if the dispute in hand doesn't matter a whole lot to 21st-century readers it's kind of fun to watch these opponents fight it out to the death.