Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Last Chronicle of Barset is the last of a series of novels that Anthony Trollope wrote about the ecclesiastical community in the fictional county of Barsetshire, based on the Anglican Church life in and around Salisbury in southwestern England in the mid-nineteenth century. It was preceded by The Warden (1855), Barchester Towers (1857), Doctor Thorne (1858), Framley Parsonage (1860-1861, serial; 1861, book), and The Small House at Allington (1862-1864, serial; 1864, book). Many of the characters appear in all six novels, so the ideal way to read this novel is as the conclusion of Trollope’s accumulated tale of nineteenth century social and professional life, particularly among clergymen and their families.

Trollope was aware of the possibility that any of the Barsetshire novels might be read outside that context, however, and each of the books provides sufficient information as the story progresses for it to be read alone. Repetition of incidents from previous novels is a common practice in Trollope’s works, but one that can be irritating at times for readers who are not accustomed to detailed repetitions of matters they may view as long since settled. This is part of a more serious difficulty common to nineteenth century novels in general: They tend to be very long, as during the time when they were written, narrative alone was not considered to be adequate for the experience of reading novels. There was a taste for novels of extraordinary length in a society that had plenty of time for reading, given its lack of other forms of entertainment. In addition, many novels, including The Last Chronicle of Barset, were originally published in magazines in serial form, a few thousand words at a time. The authors knew that readers might easily forget details between readings, and so they repeated important information.

In this novel, Trollope provides comment on the narrative as it takes its leisurely time unfolding. The story is told with considerable detail and much measured, sophisticated, philosophical rumination by the wise narrator. The novel is also a contemplation of ethical and social insight and an opportunity for witty, sometimes satirical, commentary on the eccentricities and cruelties of supposedly civilized characters. Trollope does not attack the structures of British society or of the Anglican Church, which follows similar patterns of privilege. What he is against is the way in which power often falls into the hands of ambitious, thrusting careerists who are more interested in exercising power for personal gain and...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)