My shift as “lead” reader on the Trollope Big Read has now finished and I have handed the baton on to Lucia Costanzo who will lead us through from Chapter 42 of Barchester Towers to the end.
I thoroughly enjoyed providing the synopsis for each chapter and kicking off the discussions with thoughts on the chapter just completed. We covered many aspects of Trollope’s writing (did we think that his authorial interjections broke the “fourth wall” and interfered with readers’ immersion in the fictional world he had created or did they add to our enjoyment?) as well as picking up on social mores of the Victorian era (Just how could a “lady” respond to an unwanted proposal of marriage that is followed by a clumsy attempt to physically embrace her against her will? Answer: However you do it, you mustn’t cause a scene!)
We also noted the delightful satire on the supposedly worldly wise men of the clergy who are totally out of their depth in dealing with real human relationships – other than the internal political manoeuvring required for career advancement in the church hierarchy.
For those who have missed it so far, here is the synopsis of possibly my favourite chapter (by anyone ever – there’s a big claim):
Ullathorne Sports – Act II
Eleanor has left the dining room and Mr Slope hastens in pursuit. He has drunk more champagne than is good for his judgment in part to screw up the courage to do what he plans. Trollope observes that it would have been good for him to have encountered Mrs Proudie while he was so fired up. Certainly that encounter would have provided fireworks for the reader but this one is surely even better.
Eleanor tries to manoeuvre her way out of what she recognises will be an awkward situation by first saying she doesn’t wish to take him from the main scene (Victorian woman’s preferred option to avoid a scene) but then she outright asks him to leave her alone (Victorian woman’s option of last resort).
Mr Slope’s lack of self awareness attributes her anger at him to his having put her in a potentially embarrassing position socially (by being seen with him at various times) without giving her the appropriate cover of being her affianced suitor. There are truly none so blind as those who will not see.
He then begins to trot out the cliches he used first (and successfully) on Olivia Proudie with suitable, as he thinks, adjustments.
He puts on a sanctimonious air and Eleanor sees there is nothing for it but to hear him out. She berates herself for having misjudged the situation and credits the Archdeacon (wrongly) and Mr Arabin (ditto) with having called it right.
She tries to dodge the bullet but Slope, fuelled by the champagne, blunders on. Eleanor resorts to being downright rude to him (directness that might now be regarded as positive assertiveness would be beyond most Victorian women). But still he persists.
He calls her Eleanor repeatedly, which she points out to him in no uncertain terms, he has no right to do and to which she objects strongly.
Unfortunately for Eleanor at this point they enter a narrow and secluded part of the garden path and Slope tries to put his arm around her. She resists his clumsy embrace and slaps his face. This action is so far beyond the pale that she almost instantly regrets it and Trollope, with half an eye on maintaining his readers’ sympathies, owns that she may have overstepped the mark here. However, it is the only sort of rejection that Slope really understands and she is finally able to make her escape.
When she outright rejects his offer in this way, Mr Slope becomes angry.He immediately fantasises about denouncing her from the pulpit as he had done with previous people who had crossed him (remember the sermon about Sunday observance) using the special privileges of his clergyman role to lambast his enemies without fear of reprisal.
Again his lack of self-awareness leads him to blame her rather than him for the predicament in which he now finds himself.
Finally he returns to the party and there, reverting quickly to type, forces himself on the company of the Bishop and the Master of Lazarus College who are having a private conversation. Here he discovers that the Dean is dead and career ambitions take over causing him to leave the party early to get back to Barchester to further his ends in that direction.