Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1062
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 and Mr. Slope advocating Low Church practices, it is necessary to build up the strength of the High Church forces. Mr. Arabin is a bachelor of about forty years. The question arises as to what he will do with the parsonage at St. Ewold’s.
Mr. Harding’s widowed daughter, Mrs. Eleanor Bold, has a good income and is the mother of a baby boy. Mr. Slope attempts to interest her in the work of the Sunday schools. At the same time, he asks Mr. Quiverful of Puddingdale to take over the duties of the hospital. Mr. Quiverful’s fourteen children are reason enough for his being grateful for the opportunity. Mrs. Bold, however, learns how her father feels about the extra duties imposed upon him, and she grows cold toward Mr. Slope. In the end, Mr. Harding decides that he simply cannot undertake the new duties at his age, so Mr. Quiverful, a Low Churchman, is granted the preferment, much to Mrs. Proudie’s satisfaction.
Mr. Slope is not the only man interested in Mrs. Bold. The Stanhope sisters, realizing that Bertie can never make a living for himself, decide that he should ask Mrs. Bold to be his wife. Meanwhile, Mr. Slope is losing favor with Mrs. Proudie. She is furious that he would throw himself at the feet of Signora Neroni, and his interest in Mr. Harding’s daughter, who refuses to comply with her wishes, is disgraceful.
At a large gathering one day at the Thornes of Ullathorne, an old and affluent family, Mrs. Bold finds herself in the same carriage with Mr. Slope, whom by this time she greatly dislikes. Later that day, as she is walking with him, he suddenly puts his arm around her and declares his love. She rushes away and tells Charlotte, who suggests that Bertie speak to Mr. Slope about his irregularity; but the occasion for this discussion never arises. Bertie himself tells Mrs. Bold that his sister Charlotte urges him to marry Mrs. Bold for her money. Naturally insulted, Mrs. Bold is angered at the entire Stanhope family. That evening, when Dr. Stanhope learns what happened, he insists that Bertie go away and earn his own living or starve. After Bertie leaves, Signora Neroni writes a note asking Mrs. Bold to come to see her. When Mrs. Bold enters the Stanhope drawing room, Signora Neroni tells her that she should marry Mr. Arabin. With calculating generosity, she decided that he will make a good husband for Mrs. Bold.
The Dean of Barchester, who suffered a stroke of apoplexy, is not expected to recover. It is understood that Dr. Grantly will not accept the deanship. Mr. Slope wants the position, but Mrs. Proudie refuses to consider him as a candidate. When the dean dies, speculation runs high. Mr. Slope feels encouraged by the newspapers, which say that younger men should be admitted to places of influence in the church.
Mr. Slope is sent off to another diocese, for Mrs. Proudie can no longer bear having him in Barchester. Mr. Arabin, through Oxford influences, is appointed to the deanship, which is a victory for the High Churchmen. With Mr. Slope gone, the Stanhopes feel safe in returning to Italy.
Miss Thorne asks Mrs. Bold to spend some time at Ullathorne. She also contrives to have Mr. Arabin there. It is inevitable that Mr. Arabin will fall in love with Mrs. Bold and ask her to be his wife. Dr. Grantly is satisfied. He threatened to forbid the hospitality of Plumstead Episcopi to Mrs. Bold had she become the wife of a Low Churchman. In fact, Dr. Grantly is moved to such generosity that he furnishes the deanery and gives wonderful gifts to the entire family, including a cello to his father-in-law, Mr. Harding.