The novels of Anthony Trollope offer critical insights into the working of men and their misunderstanding of faith.

Anthony Trollope’s reputation has been dwarfed by the other great English Victorian writers, Thackeray, Dickens, and Arnold. Whatever their shortcomings, however, Trollope’s novels possess insights into psychology and into the workings of political and ecclesiastical institutions that his contemporaries did not surpass. The great New Englander, Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote to a friend that Trollope’s books are “just as real as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth, put it under a glass case, with all its inhabitants going about their daily business, and not suspecting that they were being made a show of.”

In his Barsetshire series, which begins with the two novels recently televised on Masterpiece Theater, The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers (1857), Trollope gives us a picture of the Church of England in the turbulent mid-nineteenth century. The novels are set against the backdrop of the controversy provoked by the Oxford Movement whose most visible symbol was the famous convert to Roman Catholicism, Cardinal John Henry Newman. The Oxford Movement emphasized the Church’s tradition and liturgy more than the Bible, and this produced a reaction among the evangelicals in the Anglican fold who wanted to reform the Church. A major theme in Barchester Towers is the struggle for power in a mythical cathedral town between Archdeacon Grantley, and his associates of the Oxford party, and Bishop Proudie, Mrs. Proudie, and Chaplain Slope of the evangelical party.

Trollope was not interested in theology and his novels do not treat the theological ideas that gave rise to the ...

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