The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

The Last Chronicle of Barset 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!

20 thoughts on “The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

  1. Alex says:

    I’ve never managed to get to the end of the Barchester Chronicles; I always get stuck in the middle of ‘Dr Thorne’. On the other hand I love ‘The Pallisers’. Have you read that series?

    • Helen says:

      No, not yet, though I’ve had a copy of Can You Forgive Her? on my shelf for a few years waiting for me to finish the Barsetshire novels!

  2. hopeinbrazil says:

    I loved this series. My only complaint was with Dr. Crawley who I never could abide. But I stuck with the books because Trollope books are treasure chests of insights and wit.

  3. Lisa says:

    I think this may be my favorite of all his books (of those I’ve read). I too love Mr Harding – I’ve seen him described as Trollope’s only truly good character, but he isn’t sappy or Too Good. I also agree about the subplots in London, they kept interrupting what I thought of as the real stories, that of Mr Crawley and Grace (names that reappear in Angela Thirkell, by the way – as does Grantly).

  4. Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp) says:

    I’m so impressed that you’ve finished the series! I read The Warden last year and liked it, started Barchester Towers in February, read half and…stopped. The writing and plots are so dense that I get confused and lose interest, but I’d like to try again. I think Mr. Harding is wonderful.

    • Helen says:

      I love Trollope’s books but have to be in the right mood for them as they do need a lot of concentration. I hope you have better luck with Barchester Towers next time if you decide to give it another chance.

  5. Caz says:

    I’m a long-time fan of Trollope – I think he’s quite possibly my favourite 19th Century author and has been long underrated. His sense of irony and the accuracy of his observation are tremendous, and while I also love Dickens, I think Trollope’s manner of displaying the absurdities of many of his characters is more subtle and therefore more realistic.

    The Pallisers series is wonderful, too – I hope you enjoy it. And if you’ve not read “The Way We Live Now”, do add it to your TBR list; it’s probably my favourite of his. I also remember thoroughly enjoying “The Belton Estate”, although it’s been quite a while since I read it!

    • Helen says:

      I’ve enjoyed some of Dickens’ books but I’m not really a big fan – I prefer Thomas Hardy and Wilkie Collins as well as Trollope. I was planning to start the Palliser novels next, but thanks for the other two recommendations. I’ll add both of those to my TBR list too.

  6. Karen K. says:

    I love this series too, and I just finished earlier this year. However, I’m not ready to commit to the Pallisers — I want to read some of the stand-alone novels first (though my library does have an audiobook of Can You Forgive Her? narrated by the wonderful Simon Vance, so that’s tempting). I second the suggestion of The Way We Live Now, which is just amazing.

    Barchester and Dr. Thorne were my favorites too — Lily Dale and Johnny Eames just dragged on too long for me. I also agree about the subplots in The Last Chronicle. I would have liked a bit more about some of the earlier characters, like Miss Dunstable and Mary Thorne. I did love the return of Mrs. Proudie though, she’s just priceless.

    • Helen says:

      There were some wonderful characters in the earlier books – I would have preferred The Last Chronicle to focus more on some of them rather than introducing so many new characters. And yes, it was great to see Mrs Proudie again!

  7. heavenali says:

    It’s years since I read The Barsetshire chronicles – I loved them so much, and have started to re-read them, I re-read The Warden a few months ago – he is probably my favourite character of all the Barset characters too.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you continue to enjoy re-reading the series. I would like to re-read them myself sometime but not until I’ve tried some of his other books.

  8. Jo says:

    I tried to start these a while back but could not get in to it. Maybe I will have another go, as I feel I am missing out.

    • Helen says:

      Which one did you try to read? It might be worth trying a different one instead, as I don’t think it’s completely essential to read them all in order (though I would recommend leaving this one until last).

  9. BookerTalk says:

    Mr Harding and Mrs Proudie are back?? Yeah. But where’s my other favourite – Slope??
    I’ve read the first two in this series but have yet to open Dr Thorne. I’ve also read Can you Forgive Her but wasn’t that taken by it ….

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