“‘Tis the season.” Yep, it’s that yearly occurrence when we get stuck in a time warp somewhere in the era of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It will be almost impossible to escape our brief imprisonment inside the period without re-reading the story for the umpteenth time, or without viewing our favorite film version of that famous tale.
So, while we reside in this annual time warp and allot our free holiday time for reading or video watching, I will recommend to you one of my own very favorite authors: Anthony Trollope, from the period covered by our time warp.
Prolific writers, Dickens and Trollope both were English. They lived during the same times and shared similar traumatic, debt-ridden childhoods. However, striking differences in their environments guided their writing voices. Dickens came from humble stock of rural Portsmouth and Southampton areas, and Trollope was the son of a London barrister who was a very poor businessman.
One rainy day several years ago, I came upon my first Trollope novel in a bin of sale books at the university bookstore. I didn’t know Trollope from Adam and picked up the book for one reason only. With more than 750 pages, The Last Chronicle of Barset was the heftiest book in the bin. My basic theory about a good epic novel is: the more pages, the more characters and the more intricate are the characters’ characteristics. (My sister always accused me of judging a book by its weight instead of its cover.) I thought the $5.00 sale price was a bit on the high side, but the bookstore probably needed the money and I was desperate for reading material. I forked over the cash and carted my prize home.
To my great delight, Trollope’s characters were a wonderful mix. From the very beginning of the tale, I was drawn to them. The Church of England played a substantial part in his Barsetshire stories. As a political scientist, I enjoyed seeing Trollope’s critical view of church politics and how he brought his reader willingly into the middle of the muddle made by those in charge.
Much the same as some of Dickens’ works of the time, The Last Chronicle of Barset was published in weekly parts over a seven month time span. The third in a series of stories, this book was hugely popular in its time and can stand alone even though there are two earlier Barsetshire stories.
Immediately after I finished reading my sale book, I searched for copies of the earlier books in the series, The Warden and Barchester Towers. Happily, finding them was easy and they lived up to my expectations, which sometimes is not so easy. When I began to read the books, in order this time, a bell of familiarity rang somewhere in my memory. I placed a bookmark between pages and wandered over to the video cabinet.
Aha, there it was. Anthony Trollope’s The Barchester Chronicles. A two disc video featuring some of my favorite actors: A young Alan Rickman (of Professor Snape fame), Donald Pleasance, Nigel Hawthorne, Geraldine McEwan and Susan Hampshire. Happily, I finished reading the books, then watched the video again for the umpteenth time.
My advice to you: Read Anthony Trollope. If you like sagas, you will love his books. Also, get the video. As the Reverend Obadiah Slope, the young Alan Rickman plays a marvelous villain.