Monday, February 05, 2018

The Palliser Novels

Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels are a series that grew out of his beloved Barsetshire Chronicles. The Duke of Omnium, wicked and politically liberal, is a minor character in the Barsetshire books. He serves as a symbol of moral looseness and he's the head of the family that forms the central core of the Palliser novels. While the Barsetshire books focus on the dealings of the Church of England, the Palliser novels focus on the British parliament. British government is not my strong suit, but each Palliser novel has its human interest angle in the form of a love story, so don't be intimidated. I enjoyed the whole series, but I did skim over some of the dense passages about politics.  And now onto the summaries.

Can You Forgive Her? (1864) If you're wondering who it is you're supposed to forgive, it's the protagonist, Alice Vavasor, for behaving like an idiot. Alice is a young woman, who, owing to her mother's death and her father's negligence, is rather more independent than most Victorian young ladies. She is engaged to the eminently respectable but boring John Grey. She also has a dashing cousin, George Vavasor, who has ambitions of getting into parliament and who seems more romantic and exciting than plain John Grey. George's sister Kate lobbies hard for Alice to dump John and marry George. Meanwhile, Alice's cousin Lady Glencora has recently married Plantagenet Palliser and things are not going well. Lady Glencora, immensely rich in her own right, had been in love with the dashing, romantic, but also profligate Burgo Fitzgerald. Her family conspired to force her away from Fitzgerald and into marriage with Palliser, who is the heir to the Duke of Omnium. Lady Glencora teeters on the edge of infidelity, while Alice Vavasor makes one stupid decision after another. There's a third, comic relief plot line involving George and Kate's aunt, the wealthy widow Mrs. Greenow and the competition for her hand between two bumblers. This book sets the stage for the other books in the series. The marriage of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser is the core of the whole series. George Vavasor's foray into politics introduces us to the parliamentary angle of the books. Overall, this was an absorbing story, with a few scenes of shocking violence.

Phineas Finn (1869) The title character is a young Irishman, charming and extraordinarily good looking, who gets a chance for a seat in parliament. And so begins his political career. I've heard people say they didn't like this book. There are some long, skimmable passages about politics, but there's plenty going on in Phineas' personal life to keep you interested. He has a girl who loves him back in Ireland and manages to fall in love with two different women in England and a fourth falls in love with him and he fights a duel, and in general behaves pretty badly while also being mostly likable. Also, the story of Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser continues in this book.

The Eustace Diamonds (1873) One of my favorite Trollope books overall, and hands down favorite of the Palliser series. There's not much about politics in this one and the story shifts away from the Pallisers, who are mere observers of this drama. Lizzie Greystock, no better than she should be, marries and is soon widowed by Sir Florian Eustace. A valuable diamond necklace, belonging to the Eustace estate was given to Lizzie by her husband. She refuses to give it up and obstinately won't understand the difference between something you own outright and a family heirloom that is really only on loan to you. In the meantime, she looks around for a new husband and is attracted to her cousin Frank Greystock, who is already engaged to a lovely but impoverished girl but that doesn't stop him from dallying with Lizzie a bit. (Trollope's novels often feature young men who are basically good, but behave like jerks where women are concerned. See also Johnny Eames, Phineas Finn, and Silverbridge Palliser.) If the BBC made a movie of this, I'd watch the hell out of it.

Phineas Redux (1873) Takes up the story of Phineas Finn again, a year or two after the end of the previous book about him. This time, there's been a murder and our friend Phineas has been accused! Also continues the adventures of Lizzie Eustace.

The Prime Minister (1876) Our old friend Plantagenet Palliser (now Duke of Omnium) is the Prime Minister of England. His wife, the irrepressible Lady Glencora bestirs herself to help him in his career by inviting all and sundry to visit them and plans numerous parties, much to the PM's annoyance. Even worse, she uses her influence as the PM's wife to help the career of a blackguard with whom she has a passing interest, which leads to scandal and humiliation for the Duke. This novel is also the story of Emily Foster, who marries a man her father doesn't approve of and has to face dire consequences as a result.

The Duke's Children (1879) Not even being the Duke of Omnium is protection against young adult children doing stupid and infuriating things. Plantagenet Palliser's three children, Lord Silverbridge (the eldest and heir), Gerald, and Mary, collect gambling debts, get expelled from Oxford, and fall in love with people the Duke doesn't approve of.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Chronicles of Barsetshire

I've finally finished reading all of Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire and Palliser novels. Trollope is enjoying a resurgence of popularity and I know lots of others are reading these books. This post is a little summary of the Barsetshire novels, to be followed with a second post about the Palliser series.

The Chronicles of Barsetshire are all set in and around the fictional cathedral town of Barchester, located somewhere in the southwest part of England. As far as series are concerned, this one is loosely constructed. Some key characters appear in each novel, but each one has an independent story line and works more or less as a stand alone.

The Warden (1855) Many Trollope readers express affection for this short (for Trollope) novel. It introduces us to the characters who will feature in all the following Barsetshire books and who can help but love the kindly Mr. Harding, the novel's main character. This book is about a manufactured church scandal. Mr. Harding presides over a "hospital" (really just a charitable home) for indigent old men. He receives a handsome salary and free house in exchange. The papers get ahold of the story and present it as a scandal of monstrous proportions - blood sucking clergyman getting rich on backs of old men, etc. Mr. Harding's daughter Susan is married to archdeacon Grantley, and the Grantleys are the family around which all the Barsetshire novels revolve. There's also a love story concerning Mr. Harding's younger daughter Eleanor, and the church reformer John Bold.

Barchester Towers (1857) In this novel, the Grantleys grapple with the appointment of a new bishop of Barchester. Archdeacon Grantley is the son of the late bishop and has some expectation of filling the role himself. Instead, Bishop Proudie is appointed and he comes with an odious wife, Mrs. Proudie, who will provide entertainment in all the following Barchester novels. In addition, there's their sanctimonious assistant, Obadiah Slope, who pursues the widowed Eleanor Bold. (Alan Rickman played Obadiah Slope in the BBC series based on the Barsetshire Chronicles.)

Dr. Thorne (1858) This novel takes us outside of Barchester itself and away from the Grantleys. Dr. Thorne, respectable, but without an excess of money, lives with his niece Mary, who is illegitimate. Her mother is dead, her father unknown. Mary and Frank Gresham, the son of the local squire are in love. Frank's mother is one of the aristocratic de Courcy family and she is not going to accept a marriage with a penniless girl of dubious birth. This book has a plot twist that I don't want to spoil, but ultimately it's a satisfying love story and I've seen it mentioned several times as the favorite of the Barchester books.

Framley Parsonage (1860) I've seen people mention this as their least favorite Barchester novel, but I enjoyed it. It concerns the young clergyman Mark Robarts, who, although not born into any great wealth, enjoys a happy marriage and a position as the rector of Framley, which comes with a comfortable income. It's painful to watch him make a series of stupid financial mistakes and bring his family to the brink of ruin. Perhaps this is why some people have difficulty with this book. There's also a love story, involving Mark's sister Lucy and his friend, Lord Ludovic Lufton. This book has a secondary plot involving the marriage of Archdeacon Grantley's daughter Griselda, to Lord Dumbello, which allows for some brilliantly catty scenes between Mrs. Grantley and Mrs. Proudie. Finally, this novels ties up the story of Dr. Thorne in a most satisfying way.

The Small House at Allington (1864) A love triangle between Lily Dale, Johnny Eames, and the caddish Adolphus Crosbie. We also return to the family fortunes of the de Courcys from Dr. Thorne. I loved this book at the outset, but later grew frustrated with Lily Dale, who is absolutely bent on self-destruction. We are also introduced to Plantagenet Palliser, the young man who will be the focal character of the Palliser series. He considers (shocking!) a dalliance with the married Lady Dumbello, or Griselda Grantley of Framley Parsonage.

The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) This novel concerns Reverend Josiah Crawley, the curate of Hogglestock, a less-affluent region of Barsetshire. We first meet Mr. Crawley in Framley Parsonage, when his wife becomes ill and Lucy Robarts moves in to take care of her. The Crawleys are desperately poor, and Mr. Crawley is of a stern and upright nature and firmly resists any efforts to help him. In this book, Mr. Crawley is accused of stealing a check for fifty pounds. Now, it's obvious to everyone that Mr. Crawley is the last person to steal anything, but the stolen check is in his possession, he can't say how he got it, and he refuses to bestir himself to fight for his innocence. To add to Mr. Crawley's troubles are Mrs. Proudie and a sycophant clergyman who has an eye for stealing Crawley's curacy, once he's in jail. The love story (because there's always a love story) concern's Mr. Crawley's daughter Grace and Henry Grantley. The Grantleys all agree that Grace is a lovely girl, but they don't want to be connected with the daughter of an accused thief. We're also treated to the conclusion of the Lily Dale/Johnny Eames love story and some glorious angry scenes between Mrs. Proudie and Reverend Crawley.

I can't name a favorite Barsetshire novel. I loved them all. These books are the comforting sort that you long to get back to at the end of a long day, but not so comfortable that you're bored. You'll rage at the injustice that some characters face at the hands of Mrs. Proudie and others of her ilk, and you'll laugh as Trollope mocks annoying human traits that are easily recognizable among your own acquaintance.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

New Orleans Part II

Brigid's porch on Sunday morning

Bright and early on Sunday, Brigid and I walked from her house to the Wakin' Bakin' Cafe for breakfast. I had a delicious bowl of yogurt topped with hemp granola, berries, and Louisiana honey. Then we headed for the famous St. Charles Avenue streetcar and rode into the Garden District. This is the oldest continuously running streetcar line in the world. We hopped off at Washington Street and walked to Lafayette Cemetery.

During an earlier visit to the cemetery, Brigid had found a tomb with a bit of the top broken off, a view of the bones within, and a mysterious mason jar containing a mysterious thing that, viewed through the clouded glass, could easily have been an eyeball, or was perhaps something innocuous like a tulip bulb. At any rate, we searched for it at some length and finally stumbled on it, just as Brigid had remembered it, only now, offerings of coins and a string of Mardi Gras beads were piled by the hole in the tomb. It's funny about Mardi Gras beads - here at home I see them as clutter and toss any beads that make their way into my house, but they look so right in New Orleans. They're everywhere, draped on fences and houses - we even saw a huge pothole in the street that was filled with them. They're like an integral part of the city itself.

Mystery mason jar
We left the cemetery and walked over to the Irish Channel, on the other side of Magazine Street. This is where the Irish settled when they first came to New Orleans and I was curious to see it. My own Irish ancestors went to Pennsylvania, but there's a long and interesting history of the Irish in New Orleans. And we shopped a bit on Magazine street and I bought Jon a leather card holder made by a local artisan.
In the Irish Channel

My house in Cville has a similar stained glass window

(Side note: most of my pictures are awful. I forgot to pack my camera and had only a phone. Plus, I was mostly focused on absorbing the surroundings and talking to Brigid, so I left my phone in my pocket and missed several good photo ops.) Anyway, we headed to lunch at the house of one of Brigid's friends, who, with a group of friends, transforms her backyard into a restaurant or theater. It's called The Pepper Lantern and is in the Faubourg Marigny.  

You squeeze yourself through this tiny alley and emerge into a backyard where there was a fire, a bar, tables and chairs arrayed on the grass. We ordered a sampler plate to share - one of each dish on the menu, which was a hot African groundnut stew, sweet potato hummus with flatbread, a delicious salad with chard, beets and oranges, and a latke topped with pickled red cabbage. We also ordered a yummy cinnamon oatmeal baked apple for dessert and ordered mimosas from the bar.

Our sampler platter

New Orleans is THE place to see vintage typewriters in the wild

There was live music, so we hung around for a while, drowsing in the sun. It was a cold day, but we were in the sun and sheltered from the wind. (It was so cold and windy in New Orleans that my face is as chapped as if I'd spent the weekend skiing.) We left after a while and stopped at a market to buy a bottle of Gingeroo (a bottled rum/ginger cocktail) and headed to City Park to drink it and watch the sunset under the Singing Tree, a live oak, hung with wind chimes. There's no open container law, so it's totally acceptable to do this. Brigid says you can pop into a cafe on Sunday mornings and order a bloody Mary to go. It's not like I want to run amok in the streets but honestly, some alcohol laws are ridiculous. Why shouldn't you be able to stroll about with a beer - an eminently civilized activity, in my opinion - if you feel like it? .

The Singing Tree

Live oak in City Park

But now it was late afternoon and I was acutely conscious that my flight left the next day at 5:30 am. We ate a simple dinner in a French restaurant and then said our goodbyes. The whole trip had been magical and it was just so wonderful to see my daughter in her own surroundings, meet her friends and see her life. I think what struck my the most was when Brigid said that in New Orleans, people don't ask what you do, they ask what you make. I love that.

The trip home was uneventful except for one incident I'd like to relate because it was so silly on my part. First of all, the rental car area of the New Orleans airport has a very robust anti-theft system. In my experience, you stop at the kiosk, are given keys, and you drive away. In New Orleans, once you're in possession of the car, you must stop at a second kiosk, where, while you show your contract to an agent, a security bar comes down and a plate of vicious spikes elevates from the floor, ensuring serious damage to the car should you decide to make a run for it. That's right. At the New Orleans airport, they would rather wreck the car than let you steal it.

So anyway, I was anxious about several things that morning, including missing my flight and not being able to find the rental car return. And then I was delayed leaving my hotel because my windshield was frozen and the car didn't have an ice scraper and THEN, despite my maps app, I got onto the highway going in the wrong direction and had to loop back and wasted several precious minutes. I finally got to the rental car return, a multi-level parking garage, and I missed the Alamo sign on the second level and drove up to the third level which was for cars from different companies. I realized my mistake immediately, but now I was stuck because of the above-mentioned theft precautions, it was literally impossible to exit the garage and drive down to the second level, and of course no one was manning the kiosk at 4:00 am. So I left the car with the "Thrifty" company and went off to catch my flight.

In Atlanta, where it was now a more reasonable hour, I called the "customer care" phone number from the email about my reservation and explained the whole situation. The person I spoke to was very kind but when she tried to call the Alamo office in New Orleans, no one was answering the phone. She told me not to worry and I hung up and then realized I'd called Orbitz' customer service number and not Alamo's itself. But here is the thing, I'm one of those people with a phone call phobia. It had taken much resolve to make even the call to Orbitz. (I had considered just not calling anyone and hoping it would sort itself out.) The thought of making another phone call and having to go through the whole rigamarole again was unbearable. So I left myself in the fate of Orbitz customer service and consoled myself with the thought that surely I wasn't the first person to make this mistake and that the Thrifty people would probably soon notice that a car that didn't belong to them was in their lot and it would all be sorted. Which it was, apparently. I can see from my credit card statement that I was charged $10 more than the contract, but if $10 is the fine for being a dumbass, I am OK with that.

Otherwise, I got home with no problem to find that Jon, in my absence, had painted a surprise mural on one of our walls. It's growing on me. I mean, why not?