Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

Anthony Trollope has often been viewed suspiciously by critics because of his rapid rate of composition. Could a man who produced forty-seven major novels in his late-starting career be a genuinely first-rate talent? Trollope’s reputation has fluctuated and although he is still not considered one of the greatest English novelists, he is judged to be a highly gifted, professional, and sometimes even brilliant writer.

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THE VICAR OF BULLHAMPTON embodies some of the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of his work. Unfortunately, the plot of the novel is a patchwork affair; there are two strands of action, and the one concerning the relationships between Mary Lowther, Harry Gilmore, and Walter Marrable, has little to do with the core of the novel: the figure of Carry Brattle. Trollope himself was aware of this deficiency. In fact, he remarks in his AUTOBIOGRAPHY that his purpose in writing the novel was to explore the situation of a “fallen woman” and to expose and remedy some of the terrible attitudes to which such a woman is exposed. He did not expect his readers, so he said, to look very carefully at his nominal heroine.

It should also be noted that Trollope was not interested in the process of Carry’s “fall” or in the feelings that led to it. Instead, through the opposing attitudes of the Vicar and Carry’s father, the reader is led to an understanding of another moral dilemma: How should others react to Carry’s “crime”? The unbending, destructive, unforgiving prejudice of Carry’s father is clearly not good, and Trollope takes pains to reject it. The Vicar, who is absolutely willing to forgive and even to excuse, represents an opposite but not necessarily superior position in Trollope’s eyes; for the logic of the Vicar leads him to deny that Carry is responsible for her actions at all, a patronizing and perhaps dehumanizing viewpoint.

Apart from the treatment of his theme, which is the main interest of THE VICAR OF BULLHAMPTON, Trollope displays ingenuity and perception in his portrayal of characters. His description of Walter Marrable’s father, for example, is a small masterpiece. Despite its outcome, however, the atmosphere of the novel is not a happy one; there are too many unpleasant characters who give a depressing tone to the work as a whole. If Carry has been brought to “decency,” as Trollope intended her to be, the reader is still left to wonder whether the rest of Bullhampton has been.

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