I honestly do not know how I got through so much of my life without hearing this man's books recommended. But, as I explained in my review of The Warden, all that changed when Mrs Sonnemann introduced me to him and then sent me a little starter pack of my own! I have just now finished the sequel to that first book: Barchester Towers.
The differences between The Warden and Barchester Towers are pretty obvious. Barchester Towers is, to begin with, at least three times longer. It also contains everything that I enjoyed about The Warden—but much, much more so. My original thought was that Trollope is the man to read when you are all out of Jane Austen. I would like to modify that view now. Trollope is in many ways different to Austen. He has the same satiric bite, but a somewhat freer hand: no Jane Austen heroine, for example, would box an unwelcome suitor's ears. In addition Austen's satire was more directed at people's foibles in private life than their public behaviour and institutions. In short, Trollope is all himself—quirky, compassionate, chatty, and gurgling with quiet humour.
Five years on from the events of The Warden, the bishop of Barchester dies and is replaced by the appointment of a Whig government: Dr Proudie, a clergyman with low-church leanings, who comes complete with a Gorgon of a wife and her revolting hanger-on Mr Slope. Hitherto, Mrs Proudie and Mr Slope have seen eye-to-eye in matters of doctrine, but with the bestowal of the bishopric on Dr Proudie, Mr Slope revolts in earnest: Mrs Proudie intends to be the real bishop of Barchester. Mr Slope, installed as the bishop's chaplain, has ambitions of his own and is determined to supplant Mrs Proudie's control over the bishop. Mr Slope and Mrs Proudie's pungent mixture of arrogance and ungraciousness in their intended reforms soon antagonises every one of the existing Barchester clergymen, especially the archdeacon, Dr Grantly. Injury is soon added to insult: Hiram's hospital, without a warden since the end of the last book, is to be given a new warden, and despite expectations that the humble and deserving previous warden, Mr Harding, will be restored to his old home, Mrs Proudie and Mr Slope determine to give the wardenship to another clergyman, Mr Quiverful.
Meanwhile, other storms gather on the horizon. Dr Stanhope and his feckless family--conniving Charlotte, useless and idle Bertie, and man-eating divorcee Madeline--return from Italy and settle in Barchester, where Charlotte incites Bertie to marry Mr Harding's wealthy younger daughter and Madeline sets about her favourite pastime, even ensnaring Mr Slope. Despite his passion for Madeline, Mr Slope too decides to marry Mr Harding's daughter.
As romantic complications pile up, the war between Mr Slope, Mrs Proudie, and Dr Grantly intensifies. There's only room for one shadow bishop in Barchester; but who shall it be?
This book was wonderful: I enjoyed every minute of it, though I read it slowly at first. Trollope's plot is detailed, with a few unexpected turns, and a wholly satisfactory ending. His characters are, as I mentioned in my review of The Warden, wonderfully drawn, with great flaws but also with great compassion. All his good characters have faults, but all his bad characters have their good points.