Second and most famous of Trollope’s chronicles of Barset, Barchester Towers is a sequel to The Warden (1855). The story is set in the ancient cathedral city of Barchester (modeled on Salisbury), where the old bishop has died. The appointed successor is not, as some parties had hoped, the bishop’s son, Archdeacon Grantly, but an outsider, Dr. Proudie. The uxorious Proudie, his haughty wife, and their chaplain, the oily Mr. Slope, bring with them Low Church practices unpleasing to the incumbent clergymen, especially the Archdeacon and his mild-mannered father-in-law, Mr. Harding.
Like Jane Austen, his favorite among novelists, Trollope is a discerning observer of human conduct. Under his gaze, the trivial details of daily life in Barchester become entertaining and instructive. Several interlocking rivalries animate the clerical world of Barchester Towers. The bishop must choose a warden for Hiram’s Hospital, a charitable institution; and the candidates are the former warden Harding (supported by Grantly), Quiverful, (endorsed by Mrs. Proudie), and for a time Mr. Slope. Meanwhile Slope and his erstwhile patroness, Mrs. Proudie, vie for control of the impressionable bishop. Slope, though infatuated by the beautiful Signora Neroni, aspires to the hand and fortune of Harding’s daughter Eleanor Bold, a prosperous widow also pursued by Bertie Stanhope, the feckless but charming brother of Signora Neroni.
Despite vigorous support from his son-in-law, Harding does not regain his old post as warden. The novel’s remaining defeats fall to the hateful Slope, though. Mrs. Bold indignantly rejects his proposal. Signora Neroni merrily mocks his defeat in love. Mrs. Proudie, hating her former protege for presuming to cross swords with her, has him sent off to obscurity.
Before he vanishes in disgrace from the novel, Slope must endure the mortification of seeing a longtime enemy, Arabin, win both the woman and the clerical office he has coveted. Thanks to the interference of Signora Neroni, Mrs. Bold and Arabin recognize their love, which has been hidden by misunderstandings on both sides. Then, when Harding declines the deanship of Barchester, this post falls to Arabin; and the Grantly-Harding party, in eclipse as the novel began, prospers at the conclusion.
Booth, Bradford A. Anthony Trollope: Aspects of His Life and Art. London: Edward Hulton, 1958. A study of Trollope’s religious beliefs and their impact on Barchester Towers. Also examines the differences between high and low church clergy and the nature of the Church of England in general.
Clark, John W. The Language and Style of Anthony Trollope. London: André Deutsch, 1975. An excellent study of Trollope’s use of language and his recourse in Barchester Towers to English dialects, foreign phrases, euphemisms, and church language.
Glendinning, Victoria. Anthony Trollope. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. The best late twentieth-century biography of Trollope. Provides interpretations of the characters of Bishop and Mrs. Proudie, Signora Neroni, and Mr. Slope. Also connects several scenes in the novel to events in Trollope’s life.
Sadleir, Michael. Trollope: A Commentary. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1947. Uses Trollope family papers and letters as well as contemporary reviews of Barchester Towers to identify some of Trollope’s sources and discuss the book’s initial reception. Uses original documents to show the cuts in Barchester Towers that were demanded by the publisher.
Skilton, David. Anthony Trollope and His Contemporaries: A Study in the Theory and Conventions of Mid-Victorian Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972. Discusses Trollope and Barchester Towers in the mid-Victorian context. Discusses the relationship between Trollope and such contemporary authors as Charles Dickens and William Thackeray.