I’ve been re-reading Barchester Towers this week. As often happens when I read, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the writer is going about the business of telling a story: what hook does he use, how does he pace the story, what’s the dialog doing — that sort of thing.
Trollope is a wonderful writer. I’ve gotten about 100 pages (maybe less) into the novel and already there’s a fully formed cast of characters and a conflict that’s perfect for the comedy to come. First, the characters — I like it so much when a writer is fond of his characters, but knows their shortcomings so well. Dr. Grantly is a good example of this — he’s a man who’s quick to anger, to revenge, but also a gentleman and a man of the world. He’s flawed, he’s angry, and he has power. That’s the sort of character you want to see in action: what’s going to win out, you wonder — his quick temper, his sophistication? And maybe he’s not the one who’ll put things right. If that’s true, will he be chastened?
And then of course, there’s his enemy, the oily-tongued Slope (like Snape, you imagine his hair in need of a good wash and trim): a man who’s a lot smarter than his boss, the Bishop, but whose skills don’t extend as far as they should — women like him, men don’t. How far will he get in his project of teaching Slopian ways and worship to the lovely town of Barchester?
And the conflict? A new bishop comes to town, bringing with him two of the finest conflict creators I know — the awful and deliciously greedy and power-hungry Mrs. Proudie and, of course, the oily Slope. Put these two down into the green world that is Barchester and, well, that’s how you set a terrific novel in motion.
There’s so much more here, but I just wanted to record how interesting it is to watch a great writer like Trollope creating characters and setting up his story.