One aspect of Anthony Trollope’s first two books in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, The WardenBarchester Towers, is the shifting and playful point of view that the author presents. Both novels are written mostly in third-person point of view. However, at times in the narrative, the prose shifts into first-person. Trollope actually uses at least two different forms of first-person. Very occasionally, he puts himself into the story and recounts conversations that he has had with various characters. At other times, quite often in fact, he actually refers to himself as a novelist and refers to the story as something that he has created. He also directly addresses the reader, calling him or her, “reader”.
One of my favorite instances of this occurs in Barchester Towers. The widowed Eleanor Bold is beginning to be wooed by several men, including the scheming and manipulative Mr. Slope and the buffoonish and narcissistic Bertie Stanhope. These attempted courtships become a major narrative thread that weaves itself around much of the balance of the novel. At this early stage, Trollope reveals the ultimate outcome,
But let the gentle-hearted reader be under no apprehension whatsoever. It is not destined that Eleanor shall marry Mr. Slope or Bertie Stanhope.
Why does Trollope reveal this milestone in the plot so far advance? The reader has no need to speculate. Trollope explains exactly why he does this.
And here perhaps it may be allowed to the novelist to explain his views on a very important point in the art of telling tales. He ventures to reprobate that system which goes so far to violate all proper confidence between the author and his readers by maintaining nearly to the end of the third volume a mystery as to the fate of their favourite personage. Nay, more, and worse than this, is too frequently done. Have not often the profoundest efforts of genius been used to baffle the aspirations of the reader, to raise false hopes and false fears, and to give rise to expectations which are never to be realized? Are not promises all but made of delightful horrors, in lieu of which the writer produces nothing but most commonplace realities in his final chapter?
Trollope goes on for several additional paragraphs, explaining why he eschews this form of literary suspense. He even mentions Ann Radcliffe by name, as well as several of Jane Austin’s characters, as he playfully criticizes books that rely too much upon suspense as a plot technique. Within this digression, he also creates a mini comedy as an example. A loose-lipped girl named Susan reveals vital plot details to her sibling, Kitty. Susan and Kitty are not characters in the main narrative. They are just a duo that Trollope creates to make his not so serious point. After the secret is revealed, he presents us with a dialog between the two,
"How very ill-natured you are, Susan," says Kitty with tears in her eyes: "I don't care a bit about it now."
Trollope next directly addresses Kitty,
Dear Kitty, if you will read my book, you may defy the ill-nature of your sister. There shall be no secret that she can tell you. Nay, take the third volume if you please— learn from the last pages all the results of our troubled story, and the story shall have lost none of its interest, if indeed there be any interest in it to lose.
I find this marvelously inventive and amusing. I think that Trollope does succeed in creating a certain intimacy with his readers here. It is insightful as well as fun the way that he is letting us in a little on the details of his writing process. Though these variations and digressions seem to be presented in a tongue in cheek and ironic style, I do think that they are meant to say something about writing. Before reading the above, I thought that I was the only one that thought that sometimes too much suspense can actually mar a story that includes very strong and aesthetically pleasing characters.
There is another passage included in the book that once again cleverly plays this game. At one point, Eleanor is speaking to a much more honorable love interest, Reverend Francis Arabin. A misunderstanding occurs and Eleanor is angry, essentially because Arabin does not explain the situation,
Everything would have been explained, and Eleanor would have gone back to Barchester with a contented mind. How easily would she have forgiven and …had she but heard the whole truth from Mr. Arabin. But then where would have been my novel?
That last line is priceless.
There are many additional examples of all this sprinkled throughout the narrative.
Without a doubt Trollope’s unconventional twists in his point of view liven up these novels. I tend to be a hound for innovation and variation in storytelling as I think that such experiments add diversity and spice to literature. As I continue to read Trollope I will be persistently watching for more of these intriguing digressions in his prose.
My commentary on The Warden