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 first book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, The Warden is here.
My commentary on the second book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Barchester Towers is here.
My commentary on the third book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, Doctor Thorne 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.
Great commentary on a wonderful book. I appreciate your emphasis on the connections between this summing-up novel and its' predecessors in the Barsetshire series.
Trollope's characters are what I remember as the aspect that made this an enjoyable read several years ago.
Hi James - Thanks so much.
This really was a wrap up novel and I think that it is helpful to look at it as such.
I absolutely love Trollope's characters they are among my favorite in all of literature
Trollope does create wonderful, memorable characters. I'm looking forward to encountering Crawley as I progress through the Barsetshire series.
Great commentary as ever, Brian. I've enjoyed reading your posts on the Barsetshire Chronicles; they are another reminder that I ought to find time for these novels at some stage. I'm sure I would enjoy Trollope's observations on society and the social dynamics of the period.
You may have seen it, but if not, The Guardian ran an interesting article to mark Trollope's 200th anniversary - a range of different writers were asked to pick and discuss their favourite Trollope novel. It's worth a look.
"It is filled with complex and dynamic characters and interesting plot developments..." This sounds excellent, Brian. Wonderful post!
Ah, Trollope, I wondered when I might see him again on your blog. :) You read so many classics you make me want to pick up one.
Great review, as always.
Hi Lory- You are in for a real treat, as there are so many wonderful characters in this series. I will be putting up additional posts on several of them.
Thanks Jacqui. I think that you would enjoy Trollope. I actually find his observations on human nature relevant to our time also.
I had seen that article. It is very insightful. There have been many interesting articles as a result of the 200th anniversary,
Thanks Suko. The entire series, was indeed excellent.
Hi Delia - I do think that post on Trollope will continue to appear here:)
Good for you for finishing the series.
I like to see reappearing characters--esp when they've perhaps appeared in a minor role and then become 'bigger' in another novel. It sounds as though whether or not he might be guilty added to the interest.
It must be so satisfying to finish the series. I haven't read anything by Trollope, but hope to one day.
Hi Guy- Thanks. Indeed some minor characters grew importance during the series.
Crawley's innocence was indeed in question as there was real possibility that he misappropriated the money due to a mental lapse.
Hi CJ - As it was the first series that I read in a long time this was very satisfying. It was also bittersweet as I will miss the residents of Baretshire.
I have this series and I need to get on the stick and read them. Your post has inspired me to do so. I know what you mean about trying to comment on all the characters. It could get very lengthy. We just can't comment on everything in a book.
Hi Sharon - I think that you would like this series.
I know that you recently read Dostoyevsky so the huge cast of character thing is fresh in your mind. Trollope is not as bad, bu this book still had a lot of them.
Glad to see you back posting, I was beginning to worry.
Wow, 928 pages that's some weighty tome.
A wonderful and insightful post as always, thank you.
I suspect I might actually enjoy this author if only because of his wonderful characters (though the social commentary appeals as well) if only I could get past my reluctance to do so and bring myself to pick up one of his books.
I'll be getting to this one in a year or so--I still have Small House at Allington in the series to read before I get to the concluding book.
It does sound complex with multiple threads and many characters, but that's par for the course with Trollope.
I do like that even the "villains" have their good points--in Trollope's world, there are no monsters and everyone has a story, and by golly, he gets around to telling just about all of them!
Hi Tracy - Thanks so much. I have been a bit bogged down with long complicated posts and long books. I recently completed this, Ulysses by James Joyce, and I am finishing up David Copperfield.
I think that you would really like Trollope. If you wanted to give this series a go, the first book, The Warden, is the shortest.
Hi Jane - We have been on somewhat parallel reading tracks with Trollope.
He really was great at showing the greys in people. No monsters indeed, but lots of very difficult people.
One of the major threads in this one picks up right where Small House ends. You may want to consider a small time gap between the books if you want it to be fresh in your memory.
A super review of this one Brian, and well done on reading them all, a series that I would like to try one day, though I am daunted by books as long as this, but I may try and read them on kindle.
Thanks Lindsay - The early books are not nearly as long. It turns out that each book in the series gets progressively longer and longer.
Hi Brian, it's been years since I read any of this writers work & these posts remind me of such times and the enjoyment I got from devouring works like these. Thanks.
Hi Gary - These works are so rich that I do suspect that they will also stay with me for years to come.
This sounds like an excellent end for the series. Creating a character like Crawley isn't an easy thing to do. He really sounds so complex. I feel I might be ready for book two now. As always your thoughtful enthusiastic review makes me want to pick up another Trollope.
Hi Caroline - this book really was a great cap to the series.
As much as I liked The Warden, I think that the second book in the series, Barchester Towers, was much better. If you liked The Warden I think that you will really like it.
I know you enjoy this series very much and it shows through in your posts.
Crawley's imaginary crushing of those he dislikes definitely sounds humorous.
Enjoy your week!
(I deleted the previous comment because of typos....lol.)
KUDOS to you for completing such a long novel, Brian! Much as I love to read, I'm not sure I would ever do such a thing.....lol.
Your analysis is, as always, great reading in itself! I know that, despite its length, this work has many rewarding aspects to it. Trollope's main strength as a writer is obviously characterization, and that's SO important in a novel -- of any length. The people he has created are as flawed as any in the real world, but they also have their virtues. That's precisely what makes them so very interesting!
I also like the fact that there's humor in Trollope's novels. That prevents them from getting either boring or tiring.
In short, Trollope seems to have something in common with Jane Austen: he's an astute observer of human nature.
Another reason these novels are interesting to me is that they depict the workings of the Church of England. It's so unusual, for someone brought up Catholic, to see bishops' or priests' wives mentioned. Lol. In this particular area, I am definitely on the side of the Anglicans (Episcopalians in the U.S.). I firmly believe that priests and other clergy SHOULD be married! Of course, as you know, I also support the idea of women officiating as priests and bishops, and why not eventually becoming Popes, as well? I wonder if this will ever happen in the Catholic Church, though....
I definitely MUST make some time to start reading Trollope!
Thanks for another incisive analysis of a great literary masterpiece!! : )
Hi Nadia - I laughed out loud as I read Crawley's imagining crushing his enemies.
Hi Maria - I find that Austen and Trollope to be very similar writers. I find Trollope richer and more nuanced. However he came after Austen and was influenced by her in a major way. I like to say that he built upon her brilliance.
I too grew up in a Catholic Culture and even now the idea of married clergy seems a little unusual. These novels have so much going on and commentary on what was going on in the Church of England is a fairly major part of that.
I really think that you like Trollope and this series. The novels start off shorter and get progressively longer so early on you could avoid these marathon like books.
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