Study Guide

Barchester Towers

by Anthony Trollope

Barchester Towers Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After the death of Bishop Grantly of Barchester, there is much conjecture as to his successor. Bishop Grantly’s son, the archdeacon, is ambitious for the position, but his hopes are defeated when Dr. Proudie is appointed to the diocese. Bishop Proudie’s wife is of Low Church propensities as well as being a woman of extremely aggressive nature, who keeps the bishop’s chaplain, Obadiah Slope, in constant tow.

On the first Sunday of the new bishop’s regime, Mr. Slope preaches in the cathedral. His sermon concerns the importance of simplicity in the service and the consequent omission of chanting, intoning, and formal ritual. The cathedral chapter is aghast. For generations, the services in the cathedral were chanted; the chapter can see no reason for discontinuing the practice. In counsel, it is decreed that Mr. Slope never be permitted to preach from the cathedral pulpit again.

The Reverend Septimus Harding, who resigned from his position as warden of Hiram’s Hospital because of moral scruples, now has several reasons to believe that he will be returned to his post, although at a smaller salary. Mr. Harding, however, is perturbed when Mr. Slope tells him that he will be expected to conduct several services a week and to manage Sunday schools in connection with the asylum. Such duties will make arduous a preferment heretofore very pleasant and leisurely.

Another change of policy is effected in the diocese when the bishop announces, through Mr. Slope, that absentee clergymen should return and help in the administration of the diocese. For years, Dr. Vesey Stanhope left his duties to his curates while he remained in Italy. Now he is forced to return, bringing with him an ailing wife and three grown children: spinster Charlotte, exotic Signora Madeline Vesey Stanhope Neroni, and ne’er-do-well Ethelbert (Bertie). Signora Neroni, who is separated from her husband, is disabled and passes her days on a couch. Bertie studied art and was at varying times a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew. He amassed sizable debts.

The Proudies hold a reception in the bishop’s palace soon after their arrival. Signora Neroni, carried in with great ceremony, captures the group’s attention. She has a fascinating way with men and succeeds in almost devastating Mr. Slope. Mrs. Proudie disapproves and does her best to keep Mr. Slope and others away from Signora Neroni.

When the living of St. Ewold’s becomes vacant, Dr. Grantly makes a trip to Oxford and sees to it that the Reverend Francis Arabin, a High Churchman, receives the appointment. With Mrs. Proudie...

(The entire section is 1062 words.)