Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518
In his biting and insightful commentaries on British Victorian society, Anthony Trollope creates the fictional world of East Barsetshire, with its capital Barchester. The Last Chronicle of Barset is one of a series of novels set in that world. Trollope offers a scenario in which just the wrong combination of characters, coincidences, and pettiness jeopardize everything that one good but befuddled man tries to accomplish. Both in the miserable hamlet of Hogglestock and in glittering London society, people with bad motives interfere with those who strive to live moral lives. Trollope balances his scathing criticism with humor and even affection for human foibles. The novel generally has a happy ending, although Trollope stops short of tying up all the loose ends. In his fiction, as in reality, neither is all villainy punished nor all virtue rewarded. For the protagonists, Josiah Crawley and his family, things turn out well, but the author makes us question why Josiah had to suffer so much along the way.
The bon vivants of London society are easy targets; Trollope does not skimp on pointing out the shallowness of their intrigues and affairs. The artists and elites engage in a harmful co-dependency, such as shown by the portrait painter, his wealthy patron, and the lovely lady he is contracted to paint. But these characters factor into a sub-plot, which provides a counterpoint to the main story, set in an insignificant little village.
Josiah Crawley is an unlikely hero in many ways. He is an endearing character who often seems too frail to endure the tribulations visited upon him. The curate is genuinely devoted to his parishioners, especially the poorest ones, and nothing will keep him from ministering to them. The core conflict in the novel arises not so much from the accusation of theft leveled against Josiah as from his insistence on continuing with his ministry in the face of disgrace. Crawley correctly notes that other people’s opinions, no matter how negative, are not sufficient reason for him to abandon his calling. Were he to do so, he would be guilty—in the eyes of God, which far outweigh any human’s views. While not falling into false humility, Crawley understands that the poor of his village are, and have long been, far more unfortunate than he is. His temporary suffering—as he is certain of being exonerated—matters little compared to the hardships they endure daily.
Trollope reserves his harshest criticism for the Church hierarchy and organization. Both the Bishop and the Archdeacon abandon Crawley at a very early stage. The Bishop is pushed by his unscrupulous wife, and the Archdeacon worries that his son might make an unsuitable marriage. While not all members of society judge Crawley harshly, the Church authorizes a rush to judgment. But though Crawley is correct in wanting to continue performing his duties, Trollope suggests that pride plays a strong role: the curate is not completely blameless in his own misfortunes. In contrast, his daughter Grace, who both stands by her father and refuses to potentially dishonor her beloved, is presented as an unrealistic paragon of virtue.
Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490
Barchester. Episcopal seat of the Church of England’s diocese of Barset, the site of the bishop’s palace as well as all the ecclesiastical politics, which involves the Reverend Josiah Crawley’s trials after being accused of stealing a bank draft. Bishop Proudie and his wife are the chief powers of the town. In fact, Mrs. Proudie leads the bishop by the nose and is actively working against the honest but obtuse Crawley. Barchester is also the site of the dean and chapter, who also wield influence in matters spiritual and temporal.
Hogglestock. Small bleak parish of which the Reverend Josiah Crawley is the perpetual curate. While no one in his right mind could aspire to live in this god-forsaken hamlet, Crawley serves his poor parishioners well. Nevertheless, Mrs. Proudie conspires to oust him for malfeasance and insert her obsequious dependant, the Reverend Caleb Thumble, in his place.
Silverbridge. Town on the railway line in Barset where Crawley is taken to face legal charges after he is accused of stealing a bank check. His daughter Grace, the romantic heroine of a subplot of the novel, teaches at the Misses Prettyman’s School in Silverbridge but resigns her post in shame because of her father’s accusation.
*London. Great Britain’s capital city is the site of the office of the barrister Thomas Toogood, a member of a respected law firm and cousin to the Reverend Crawley’s wife. Toogood defends Crawley and solves the mystery of the missing check. His urban offices provide a contrast to the rural milieu of Barset.
Allington. Small Barset village that is the home of Squire Dale and his daughter Lily, who persuade Grace Crawley to live with them after she resigns her teaching post in Silverbridge. Archdeacon Grantly’s son, Major Henry Grantly, courts Grace at Allington and eventually persuades her to marry him after her father’s name has been cleared.
Bishop’s palace. Site of many ecclesiastic and domestic struggles between Bishop Proudie and his lady wife, Mrs. Proudie. Other ecclesiastical disputes take place there as well. Mrs. Proudie’s dominion at the palace is virtually complete until she is told to be silent by Crawley—which spurs Bishop Proudie finally to rouse himself and begin to assert his prerogatives. Mrs. Proudie repairs to her room in the palace and expires suddenly of a fit of pique at her waning influence over her husband. Thus dies one of Trollope’s greatest comic inventions, the odious Mrs. Proudie.
Dragon of Wantly
Dragon of Wantly. Pub owned by Mrs. Eleanor Harding Bold Arabin, wife of the Reverend Francis Arabin. The Dragon of Wantly is the site of the theft of the check the Reverend Crawley is accused of stealing. A dishonest employee of the pub steals the check and puts in motion the central mystery, which drives the plot of The Last Chronicle of Barset.
Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 180
apRoberts, Ruth. The Moral Trollope. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1971. Discusses Trollope’s efforts as a moralist; helpful in thinking about this particular novel.
Booth, Bradford A. Anthony Trollope: Aspects of His Life and Art. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958. Discusses how Trollope’s view of the world, particularly the religious and political world, affected his fiction thematically and aesthetically.
Cockshut, A. O. J. Anthony Trollope: A Critical Study. London: Collins, 1955. Trollope’s entire career, with substantial discussion of the Barsetshire series and this novel in particular.
Davies, Hugh Sykes. Trollope. London: Published for the British Council by Longmans, Green, 1960. Short pamphlet that provides an accurate, succinct introduction to a long, complicated career.
Edwards, P. D. Anthony Trollope. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968. Short study of Trollope’s work with a section on The Last Chronicle of Barset. Uses extracts from the novels to discuss specific topics. A good starting place.
Gill, Stephen. Introduction to The Last Chronicle of Barset. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1980. Attractive, short introduction to the novel and its relation to the other works in the Barsetshire series.
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