Chronicles of Barsetshire

Anthony Trollope, 1815-1882 (a contemporary of Charles Dickens, 1812 to 1870) was a prolific English novelist. This year, I’ve listened to the first three novels of his six novel series, the Barsetshire Chronicles, his most well known works.

While the six books are all loosely connected, involving the fictitious county Barsetshire, the first two are very tightly connected and are essentially the same continuous story. These first two have been turned into a six hour mini series in 1982, and the third book (an unrelated story, but for its fictional time and place setting) Doctor Thorne was turned into a 2016 tv series. There are very few cross references of people and events from the first two stories to the third.

All three were excellently narrated by volunteers on Librivox.org. The first two by Nick Whitley (reads a tad slowly, but you can listen at a faster speed) (he is in the process of narrating Doctor Thorne, it appears).

Doctor Thorne is read by Nicholas Clifford.

Regarding the narration—Nick Whitley I’m sure will do a fantastic job with Doctor Thorne. At first, listening to the third book by someone else was a bit jarring, but I quickly came to appreciate the effect of the different voice. Rather than becoming accustomed to one voice for all things Trollope—as if it was the author himself reading—I was able to feel a difference in the very different stories in the very voices reading the story.

Clifford’s voice and the personality behind it, dictating the various voices of the characters of the story, could very easily be the voice and personality of the hero, Dr. Thorne himself. It is a clear, mellow voice, not given to dramatic exuberance, and perhaps somewhat proud of its clarity and fluency.

Whitley, on the other hand, has a calm, intellectual, English voice and accent, slow, sonorous, and also happy to erupt in the bellow of Dr. Grantly’s righteous anger and brilliant in a perfect interpretation of good old Mr. Harding. It is a perfect voice for two novels concerning themselves primarily with the internecine church conflicts among the many prelates, deacons, prebendaries, etc., of the Church of England in 19th century Barsetshire.

Doctor Thorne, on the other hand, has very little to do with the church and its servants. It is much closer akin to a Jane Austen romance with its stuck up aristocracy looking down its collective nose at doctors and attorneys, dashing young men falling in love with the right ladies while seriously flawed family members are trying to get them suitably rich and well-bred brides.

Attorneys play important but not particularly extensive vital or dramatic roles in all three stories. They are not excoriated in any vicious manner, yet Trollope does pike quite a bit of fun at them. He is definitely a master at intertwining clever whit throughout his books.

Of the three, the first, The Warden, was rather dull with an extremely simplistic storyline. It served nearly as a prelude to the second, Barchester Towers which continued the story and added a good bit more interest and complexity. Read together, these two are a good and worthwhile read. Doctor Thorne is also a good read – worth a pleasant read or, as I did, a listen.

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