Eulogies and Unmarked Graves: Plotting and Character Disposal in Trollope’s Barsetshire Novels

by Harry Heuser

Corpses and Carriages

“A novel,” Anthony Trollope remarks in his Autobiography, “should give a picture of common life enlivened by humour and sweetened by pathos.”  The

plot is but the vehicle for all this; and when you have the vehicle without the passengers, a story of mystery in which the agents never spring to life, you must have but a wooden show.  (126)

While an author of whom it has been said that he “can be as flat as a secretary writing the minutes of a meeting,” whom one “could paraphrase [. . .] without losing anything essential to his flavor” (Cecil 270), cannot be expected to develop his occasional tropes much further than the one faithfully transcribed above, it may be worthwhile to take him at his word after all and picture the Barsetshire set in a commodious horse-drawn carriage, with Trollope holding the reins.

Much has been said about Trollope’s attachment to the numerous passengers he helped into suitable conveyances, his provision of transfer accommodations for some of his favorite travelers, his continued interest in the wayfarers as they step out into the world, and his relative indifference to—if not abhorrence of—a four-wheeled affair so intricate that it threatens to override its riders.  “There must, however,” Trollope insists, “be a story.  You must provide a vehicle of some sort” (Autobiography 126).

Now, what sort of vehicle is the Barsetshire omnibus? Does it always serve the characters it carries? Or does its itinerary, from Barchester to Greshambury, from Framley to Allington, from St. Ewold’s to London, reveal at times a subordination of the passengers’ individual demands to the maintenance of viable business for the author’s carriage service? As a Victorian novelist convinced that “[s]hort novels are not popular with readers generally,” Trollope felt compelled to “cover a certain and generally not a very confined space”; he allows that the “burden of length is incumbent on [the novelist].  How shall he carry his burden to the end? How shall he cover his space?” (237).

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