Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset is the sixth and final book in the The Chronicles of Barsetshire series. Within the novel’s 928 pages, Trollope fits both an independent story and a comprehensive wrap up of what has gone on before in the fictional county of Barsetshire. Many threads that were opened in the series, as well as the fate of multiple characters, are resolved here.
What is more or less the main plotline involves Reverend Josiah Crawley, whom we met in some of the earlier books. A strict and at times harsh man, Crawley is extremely complex. When he is accused of stealing a small amount of money, he is threatened with jail and with the loss of his dignity and of his religious procurements. Making matters worse is that Crawley is often in a state of mental fog, causing everyone, including himself and the reader, to wonder if the clergyman actually did appropriate the money in a moment of incoherence. His predicament quickly becomes entwined with the ongoing ecclesiastical conflict that was begun in Barchester Towers. This conflict, between the diocese’s Bishop Proudie and his allies and Archdeacon Grantly and his allies, is still going on years after it began in the earlier novel. This struggle is acrimonious, but it is also at times portrayed with a lot of humor.
A major subplot involves Major Grantly, the Archdeacon’s son, who is wooing of Grace Crawley, the Reverend’s daughter. This potential union is opposed by Archdeacon Grantly.
Another important subplot concerns the now very self-confident and successful Johnny Eames, who is still pining for Lily Bart. Lily, for her part, still seems to be in love with Adolphus Crosbie, who jilted her years earlier. This aborted engagement was a major component of the plot of The Small House at Allington.
As I alluded to above, there are numerous additional subplots and characters contained in this voluminous novel.
This book is so long and involves so many characters and situations that it is difficult to write about it in a concise way. As is typical of Trollope, it is filled with complex and dynamic characters and interesting plot developments, as well as creative and lively writing.
Other than the aesthetic and emotional payoff of reading about the marvelous characters previously introduced in the series one last time, this book really shines with Trollope’s superb depiction of Crawley. Introduced earlier in the series, the clergyman here is depicted as an extremely multifaceted and enormously flawed character that, nevertheless, is not lacking in virtues.
On the outside, Crawley is a strict and puritanical religious figure. Rhetorically intimidating, he endures great hardship for his beliefs. Unfortunately, he also allows his wife and children to suffer as a result of his refusal to accept charity from others. He also takes some questionable stances based upon his unbending, and at times illogical, principle. Though a strict and sincere Christian, on the inside the Reverend is self-pitying, prideful and resentful of the success of others.
Yet, Crawley is no monster. He has a conscience despite his stubbornness, and he sometimes compromises his principles to alleviate the suffering of his wife and children. He is shown to minister and provide assistance to the worst elements of society that no one else will have anything to do with. He firmly stands up to some pernicious people who seem to get away with bullying and intimidating everyone else. Despite some ill advised and irrational stands on principle, he is an ethical man who often refuses to waver from a moral path.
Crawly is shown alternately to be mean, kind, stubborn and hypocritical as well as noble. Trollope’s portrait of him ranges from tragic to the downright hilarious. Ultimately, he is a brilliant literary creation.
One of many outstanding passages involving the Reverend occurs at a point when Crawley is preparing for a confrontation with Bishop Proudy and the Bishop’s wife, Mrs. Proudy. Mrs. Proudy is malicious, hypercritical and overbearing. She schemes throughout the diocese to achieve her own agenda, which is often harmful to others. She has successfully intimidated her husband, as well as many others, into accommodating her agenda. As Crawley is walking to meet the pair for a match of wills, he begins to ruminate as follows,
And yet he would take the bishop in his grasp and crush him,—crush him,—crush him! As he thought of this he walked quickly through the mud, and put out his long arm and his great hand, far before him out into the air, and, there and then, he crushed the bishop in his imagination. Yes, indeed! He thought it very doubtful whether the bishop would ever send for him a second time.
Then he stalked on, clutching and crushing in his hand the bishop, and the bishop's wife, and the whole diocese,—and all the Church of England.
The ensuring confrontation indeed sees Crawley verbally “crushing” the pair, in a hilarious manor.
There is so much more to this novel. Since it involves so many subplots and characters, as a stand-alone work, it can seem a little unfocused. Furthermore, it picks up so many threads from previous books. As such, I would recommend that this one be read only after completing all of the other series’ entries. When read at the end, it offers an enormously entertaining and satisfying wrap for the magnificent Chronicles of Barsetshire.
My commentary on the second book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Barchester Towers is here.
My commentary on the Fourth book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Framley Parsonage is here and as it relates to gender roles here.
My commentary on the Fifth book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series The Small House at Allington is here.
My commentary on Trollope’s unusual Point of View is here.