Isolation reading: ‘What a little bitch Anthony Trollope is!’

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When we closed the shop, I made a rash promise on Twitter to read all of Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire during lockdown and write a blog series about them. I was not expecting my brain to be so totally addled by the current situation – by refreshing Twitter every two seconds, refreshing the Guardian live blog in the seconds when I’m not refreshing Twitter, coming to terms with relentless WhatsApp, Slack, email, Zoom, Houseparty communications as an unrepentant introvert – and so to the people who (wholly inexplicably) told me they were looking forward to my Trollope blogs, I’m very sorry to disappoint.

I have managed to wade through The Warden, the first (and shortest) of the Chronicles, but it took literally all my brain power and the only reflection I have on it is, ‘yeah, I quite liked it?’ which does not a blog series make. Luckily, a reader whose brain is clearly coping with this situation much better than mine – Andy Miller of Backlisted Podcast – is on a Trollope jag too, and in the latest episode of Locklisted, the lockdown version of Backlisted, he joyfully discusses my favourite bit of The Warden, where Trollope gets expectedly sassy about a certain contemporary rival, one ‘Mr. Popular Sentiment’:

In former times great objects were attained by great work. When evils were to be reformed, reformers set about their heavy task with grave decorum and laborious argument. An age was occupied in proving a grievance, and philosophical researches were printed in folio pages, which it took a life to write, and an eternity to read. We get on now with a lighter step, and quicker: ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince, when learned quartos fail to do so. If the world is to be set right, the work will be done by shilling numbers.

Of all such reformers Mr. Sentiment is the most powerful. It is incredible the number of evil practices he has put down: it is to be feared he will soon lack subjects, and that when he has made the working classes comfortable, and got bitter beer put into proper-sized pint bottles, there will be nothing further for him left to do. Mr. Sentiment is certainly a very powerful man, and perhaps not the less so that his good poor people are so very good; his hard rich people so very hard; and the genuinely honest so very honest. Namby-pamby in these days is not thrown away if it be introduced in the proper quarters. Divine peeresses are no longer interesting, though possessed of every virtue; but a pattern peasant or an immaculate manufacturing hero may talk as much twaddle as one of Mrs. Ratcliffe's heroines, and still be listened to. Perhaps, however, Mr. Sentiment's great attraction is in his second-rate characters. If his heroes and heroines walk upon stilts, as heroes and heroines, I fear, ever must, their attendant satellites are as natural as though one met them in the street: they walk and talk like men and women, and live among our friends a rattling, lively life; yes, live, and will live till the names of their callings shall be forgotten in their own, and Buckett and Mrs. Gamp will be the only words left to us to signify a detective police officer or a monthly nurse.

As Andy says, ‘what a little bitch Anthony Trollope is!’


You can listen to the episode below – they also discuss Anita Brookner, Uncut Gems and a lost Pet Shop Boys/Elton John banger, so well worth a listen. AND the next proper episode of Backlisted is on – finally! – Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. Something to look forward to!

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