Oh, Anthony Trollope! I’m besotted with you. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” In my twenties I binge-read the Palliser series and the Barsetshire novels; then I discovered two of his most powerful novels, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right; and in the last ten years have read most of the others. (Many are superb.)
So I was thrilled to find a link in an email to Laura Miller’s essay at Slate on Julian Fellowes’ new TV adaptation of Trollope’s Doctor Thorne. (I still erroneously think of Slate as a kids’ paper, but I’ll read anything on Trollope.) Miller enthusiastically reread Doctor Thorne, the third book in the Barsetshire series, before she viewed the film. She loves the book, but considers the new miniseries the worst Trollope adaptation ever.
Nonetheless, Miller will make you want to read Trollope, if you have not yet discovered him.
Anthony Trollope’s “great, inestimable merit,” Henry James once wrote, “was a complete appreciation of the usual.” He was right: You won’t find a single uncanny moment in that Victorian author’s 47 novels. Yet reading Trollope in the 21st century can nevertheless be a bit spooky. That’s because seemingly everything that happens today has already been covered in one of his books, albeit in a less technologized form.
Yes, Trollope does write about everyday life, as Mr. James says, but he also has great psychological depth, for which he is not given sufficient credit. As Miller points out, he has written about all things modern. I have been astonished by his insights on love, marriage, divorce, church politics, Ponzi schemes, psychological abuse, and corrupt elections. And I do think he had his “uncanny moments”: he even wrote a science fiction novel, The Fixed Period.
Miller is very slightly condescending about Trollope. That’s the way of critics with nineteenth-century novels. She trots out the cliché about Trollope’s digressive fox-hunting scenes and descriptons of Tudor houses. At this point I no longer think those are digressions. Does that mean I’ve read too much Trollope?
Ellen Moody, the author of Trollope on the Net, also panned the new Julian Fellowes adaptaion at her blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two. Ellen, who recently taught a class on the Barsetshire novels, has read all of Trollope multiple times and knows more about his books than almost anyone.
Julian Fellowes has managed to turn the novel Michael Sadleir ended his ground-breaking study of Trollope on (the book that first attracted respectable attention to Trollope — with preferring Dr Thorne to The Way We Live Now) into an embarrassment. A telling travesty. Reviewers veer from lamenting the very existence of this throw-back to picturesqueness as a travesty to earnestly showing how it has eliminated just about everything that counts in the novel. Viv Groskop of The Guardian suggested we take a drug to forget this disgrace. The courteous and judicious Alison Moulds of the Victorian clinic demonstrated the central matter of the tale, medicine and illness, comic and tragic, is left out. As might have been expected, Philip Hensher of the Telegraph demonstrates that the point Fellowes gets across (and by implication, Trollope’s) is that it’s impossible to cross (ontological?) class boundaries.
So what say? Do we skip the TV adaptation? No, I have to see it!
3. Looking for something light to read? Check out Jeff Somers’s “10 Tricks for Book Nerds who Want to Fit in Reading Time At Work” at Barnes and Noble Reads.
4. I very much enjoyed this post by Random Jottings on Robert Barnard’s superb mysteries, which Pan Macmillan has reissued. (I’ve long been a fan of Barnard’s books.)
Thanks for the links Kat! I wouldn’t touch a Fellowes adaptation with a barge pole – he just turns the books into cliched pap for the masses. The book is *always* better!
Downton Abbey wasn’t for me! Honestly, I don’t watch costume dramas much now. I couldn’t even bring myself to see the recent film Far from the Madding crowd, though I understand it was good.
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Thank you so much for the generous praise. Miller needs to read more Trollope and more recent good (readable too) critics on Trollope. She does condescend: she has not thought much about what’s she’s read and quickly (being hurried) adopted the old fashioned perspective and consensus. Trollope’s greatest gifts are not just “for the usual” and “realism.” His far more varied writing includes the bizarre as part of the usual, and he delves into psychological experience outside the purviews of versimilitude and probability. Fellowes does not go near this terrain while, for example, Andrew Davies makes them a staple of his adaptations. He’s also subversive as Alan Plater sees (Barchester Chronicles) and troubled by social life, wanting to escape too (Raven’s The Pallisers exploits this).
Yes he can provide a lifetime of support and knowledge and fun too
I did wonder what you would think of the Miller essay. Reading a lot of Trollope has made me think very differently from the cozy view so many seem to take of his books. I’ll probably see the film eventually, but often these costume dramas are disappointing. I’m always behind: I still haven’t seen Davies’s War and Peace.
I’ve been patiently making my way through the Barsetshire series.
The Last Chronicle sits on my shelf, awaiting me.
(It will have to wait longer, now that I’m “binge” reading John Williams.)
I’ve made a note of THE WAY WE LIVE NOW and HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT.
T’s body of work is so massive, it’s nice to know where to put one’s time and attention.
Thank you for the post.
Have a good week.
Oh, the Barsetshire series is such a treat! The Last Chronicle is the best of them. His standalone novels are also excellent (most of them). I was surprised when they were all out of print and thought it was because they were trivial. Then I started reading them and was pleasantly surprised by how good they are! Of course now they’re all in print and free onilne.
I hope you like Augustus: naturally all we classicists like it!