Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442
In the Barsetshire novels, Anthony Trollope reveals the dark underside of small-town Victorian English society. His primary theme in The Last Chronicle of Barset is the harm that comes from acting based on assumptions. This theme extends into his criticism of the hypocrisy of Barset society. Appearances can be deceiving, Trollope reminds the reader, and justice requires taking time to assemble and evaluate the evidence. A particular angle to the hypocrisy theme is the double stands that apply in religious institutions; he specifically points to the Anglican Church. At the same time, the theme of the harmful effects of human weakness is also presented: some of Reverend Crawley’s problems are of his own making, not just the result of other people leaping to conclusions. Finally, the theme of true love triumphant threads through the novel.
In the Hogglestock parish, Reverend Crawley and his family try to make do on his poorly paid living. Thanks in large part to his wife’s support and frugal householding, they have managed to raise a lovely daughter. Grace is a school teacher who is being courted by Major Henry Grantly; it seems likely they will soon marry. The apparent serenity of the tiny town is disrupted when Reverend Crawley is suspected of theft. Perennially short of cash, he has received a surprise windfall but when he uses this check, he is accused of stealing it. The aptly named Mrs. Proudie, wife of the bishop of Barchester, makes it her mission to see that her husband pursues prompt and decisive punishment. Henry, whose wealthy father is the powerful archdeacon of Barchester, sticks with Reverend Crawley and proposes to Grace. Because she is an honorable person, however, she refuses to commit as long as there is a cloud over her father.
As community members take sides in the Crawley situation, Reverend Crawley shows himself a committed cleric, albeit rather absent minded. While some people continue to support him, the powers that be soon apply not only church sanctions but legal charges. The ironically named attorney, Mr. Toogood, is engaged to defend Crawley. His actions ultimately yield a solution. He hires a clerk, John Eames, who is a Crawley relative, to go to Europe and find the Arabins, from whom the check had allegedly been stolen. After he does so, Mrs. Arabin admits to an oversight that had precipitated the entire crisis. Once she explains the misunderstanding, Crawley’s name is cleared. Major Grantly, who had never given up on them, and Grace can finally marry. In addition, her father is transferred to a more lucrative living and, the reader hopes, a community where people are less petty.