In April 2010 I read my first Anthony Trollope novel, The Warden, and now here I am, three years and six books later, at the end of the Chronicles of Barsetshire at last!
Being the final book in this series, characters from all five previous novels are brought together in this one, so if you have yet to start reading the Chronicles I would strongly recommend leaving this one until last. If you approach this book having already read the first five, you will be as excited as I was to discover how many old friends reappear in The Last Chronicle…Archdeacon Grantly, Mr Harding (probably my favourite Trollope character) and his daughter Eleanor, Mark Robarts, Bishop and Mrs Proudie, Dr Thorne and too many others to list here!
The main storyline follows the Reverend Josiah Crawley, a poor clergyman who has been accused of stealing a cheque for twenty pounds from Lord Lufton to pay his debts to the butcher. Crawley is unable to explain how it came into his possession but he insists that he didn’t steal it. As news of the scandal begins to spread through Barsetshire, some people believe that Crawley is guilty while others are convinced that he is innocent.
Most of Trollope’s characters are fully developed, three-dimensional people with believable motivations and emotions, but I thought Mr Crawley was particularly complex and fascinating. He did appear earlier in the series, in Framley Parsonage, but we get to know him much better here, with all his conflicting flaws and virtues. He has a lot of admirable qualities but at the same time he is very frustrating; he’s too proud to accept help from anyone, he insists on walking all the way from Hogglestock to Barchester rather than letting a friend drive him (even though it nearly kills him), and stubbornly refuses to have a lawyer defend him. This is what Trollope has to say about him:
“I think that at this time nobody saw clearly the working of his mind,—not even his wife, who studied it very closely, who gave him credit for all his high qualities, and who had gradually learned to acknowledge to herself that she must distrust his judgment in many things. She knew that he was good and yet weak, that he was afflicted by false pride and supported by true pride, that his intellect was still very bright, yet so dismally obscured on many sides as almost to justify people in saying that he was mad. She knew that he was almost a saint, and yet almost a castaway through vanity and hatred of those above him. But she did not know that he knew all this of himself also. She did not comprehend that he should be hourly telling himself that people were calling him mad and were so calling him with truth. It did not occur to her that he could see her insight into him.”
I won’t tell you whether or not Crawley really was guilty of stealing the money, but as the story progresses it starts to look less and less likely that the truth will ever be discovered. To make things worse, his daughter Grace is romantically involved with Major Henry Grantly, the son of Archdeacon Grantly. While Crawley is suspected of theft, the Archdeacon is opposed to the idea of his son marrying Grace – and although Grace is sure her father is innocent, she doesn’t want to damage Henry’s reputation through association with her family. Two other people with an interest in Mr Crawley’s fate are the long-suffering Bishop Proudie and his formidable wife. Mrs Proudie is a real masterpiece of characterisation and their conversations continue to be hilarious.
“Under these circumstances,” continued the bishop, “looking to the welfare of your parish, to the welfare of the diocese, and allow me to say, Mr. Crawley, to the welfare of yourself also—”
“And especially to the souls of the people,” said Mrs. Proudie.
The bishop shook his head. It is hard to be impressively eloquent when one is interrupted at every best turned period, even by a supporting voice.
Lily Dale and Johnny Eames, who we first met in The Small House at Allington, also return in this book. Their storyline was left unresolved at the end of The Small House and is picked up again here several years later. Will Lily agree to marry Johnny at last or will she stick to her decision to remain single forever? And although Johnny does still seem to love Lily, he also becomes involved with another woman in London, Madalina Demolines, while his friend, the painter Conway Dalrymple, begins an affair with the married Mrs Dobbs Broughton. My only criticism of this book is that I felt some of these subplots were unnecessary. I didn’t have much interest in the new characters such as Miss Demolines or Mrs Dobbs Broughton and their storylines were a distraction from the much more absorbing storylines involving the Crawleys, Grantlys and Proudies.
Looking back at the series, my favourites are still Barchester Towers and Doctor Thorne, but I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed all of them. I’m looking forward to starting the Palliser novels next, but I’m sure I’ll be returning to Barsetshire again in the future!